The Letter

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The letter arrives while I am eating my breakfast.

Sitting on a bench with about eight other boys, I am part way through watery scrambled eggs or bacon with deep fried bread. I will grow to recognise and happily look out for the loopy script handwriting over the coming years, but this time, this first time, the result will be less pleasant. I tear open the envelope and begin to read.

"My dear Aster..."

Tears begin to form in my eyes and I try very hard to hold them back, but I fail miserably. This piece of paper is the last link between my previous safe, known life and the one that I have now.

As my mum tells me about what is going on at home, about how she hopes that I am settling in, about how she is looking forward to some time in the future when she will see me again, I am suddenly, acutely aware of how, aged eight, I am on my own, isolated, like a person treading water in the sea with nothing around me to hold on to. I begin to sob. I can't eat any more breakfast as each mouthful scrapes and scratches it's way slowly down my throat.

Tim, the boy who has been buddied up with me as my shadow, one of the boys who's already been here a year and is an old hand at this, offers me some support but also knows that this is a phase pretty much all of the boys have gone through. There is little to do but let the sadness run its course. He leaves me to continue quietly sobbing.

Homesickness sounds an old fashioned, almost quaint phrase. But is it visceral. It took me more than two days to read that first letter.

Pretty soon though, I learnt to push those feelings far, far down until even though they were always there, at school they never showed, no one knew, not any more. I had started to learn to just keep going, keep it all in, head down.

That is why as a dad, and making your home life as safe and wonderful and embracing, is so important to me.

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