Old School Tie

Entry by: Olivia

10th July 2015
Old School Tie
She hadn’t expected to find any of these things again. She sat back on her heals as the feelings hit her.
She could smell again the inside of the desks. The stale smell of a thousand books and hundreds of sharpened pencils. The rough patches on the undersides that snagged your pinafore skirts. She smelt the dinners; overcooked and stodgy and remembered the ferocious efficiency of the dinner ladies. They were always fat and hot from cooking all morning. The food dished up with the force and precision of a professional bowler.
She allowed the memories of those years to fill some of the newly created spaces. The indignity of PE in some hideous kit, the anxiety around the first few periods and the unspeakable fear that standing would reveal the shortcomings of her sanitary wear. She felt, too, the sweet joy of that peck of a kiss, not from Jimmy that she fancied herself to be in love with, but with his friend john, who scared her a bit.
The gym slips were bought by her mother, peeved that she had passed her eleven plus and hence caused her ‘no end of expense at her fancy grammar school’. Her mother was firmly of the opinion that her own schooling, cut short by war evacuation, had been more than enough. ‘You don’t need any exams to keep a clean house and feed your husband’ was her working mantra. Molly had long since abandoned any hope of explaining the value of education to her bitter mother. Molly knew that education had made her grow up in a way that no amount of child bearing and house work had achieved.
She found his graduation day photos. The omnipresent academic gown, warn with its usual air of carelessness. How small she had looked stood next to him. He a council house boy on a full grant, a very unique event in the early 70s: perhaps that was what had made him so insular and isolated. Talking therapies didn’t exist in those days. She had battled on. She was, in those days, when feminism only meant something to do with bras, intimidated by the all-knowing Cambridge academics. So many young men, so few women and so many strongly male opinions. She was uncomfortable with their capitalist, elite view of the world but lacked the knowledge or confidence to argue her point. Education changed that. That first seminar of her ‘mature student’ degree lodged in her mind forever, the total liberation of having her voice heard. The realization that ‘different’ didn’t mean ‘wrong’. Molly heard her own voice from that day and it wasn’t silenced again.
Had education really caused the problem? He had said that he ’blamed it on the OU’; was that true or could he not cope with a thinking woman? Graduation meant celebration but her parents were, by then, unable to celebrate anything but her children were pleased (perhaps to regain the attention of their distracted mother), he remained aloof and polite.
She felt the tie as she delved further into the box, her fingers slid over the silky material and her already heightened awareness hit a new high. She could see it round his neck the first day he took up paid employment. After years of grants he actually had a job. Impossible as it was for him to show emotion, he did manage a wry smile that first morning, ’Big wide world then dear’ as he left the house. He never really came back. The world was his education, along with stray women who tempted him with worldly ways. He strayed, he floundered, Molly remained stoically at home. Her degree hung on the wall, like a decoration.
In the end he couldn’t deal with the breadth of life outside the academic world and he simply left. Molly filled the empty days but the nights were worse. Never chatty, she missed his solid presence, his logic and his stability. Without him he brakes were off and she stumbled and fell all the time. He’d left most of his stuff and a generous allowance. He diligently took the children on prearranged visits and she equally diligently avoided letting him see her desperate unhappiness.
‘The new woman’ slipped into conversation and then into the passenger seat. Molly watched him move further away from her. She watched her young self with him, then her learning self, she hung grimly onto her educated self, but the tie had unravelled her.
She had little to hold onto now he was gone. The tie meant so much and nothing at all. She hated him gone and knowing how to find and critique a piece of research no longer felt like a price to pay a marriage for.
Molly pulled the tie through her fingers, school and learning, everything this tie represented had pulled her away from the father of her children, from the framework of her life. She tied the tie round her neck, it was strong and she knew it would hold her weight as she rearranged possibilities with certainty, the one certainty that we all share, educated or not.