We were watching old videos today. My nan has hundreds of VHS tapes from years and years ago and since it’s quarantine, we decided to borrow a video player and play them. I sat with my mum and dad watching them, they were from ’94 / 95, and then when I was born (’98) and onwards.
My grandad used to carry a video camera with him everywhere he went, he was vlogging decades before it was even a thing. He’d document everything and he’d commentate over it, definitely having no idea that decades later we’d be sat in our living room watching it, remembering every single word.
My grandad basically documented my life every day up until the age of 5 – he made a video for me so that I could watch it when I was older. There’s a part in the video where I’m in the bath, not even a year old yet, and my nan is saying how it’ll be nice for me to have a tape to watch back one day when I’m older. I looked across the room at my mum and tried not to cry.
My nan and grandad adored me, and watching those videos made me realise how loved I was. I was really, really, fucking loved. My grandad would spend hours videoing me, doing nothing special even, just waddling around and playing with my toys. He’d talk to me and I’d listen, I’d hear my nan singing random songs in the background and I’d copy her, bobbing my head trying to sing back what I’d just heard. It was the nicest thing to hear my grandad calling my name, he’d keep calling me so that I’d look at the camera, and then I’d blow a kiss or pull a funny face. At some points I’d see him videoing me from across the room, my nan would be changing my nappy or something but all I’d be interested in was the camera, and I’d see him and I’d call “Grandad!” and he’d call my name right back.
He took a video of me where I have his big headphones on, they practically drowned my face and squished my chubby cheeks together. There’s another video where I’m in the back garden with my paddling pool, my nan splashing in the water with me, but I’m a bit uncertain about the bathing suit I’m wearing and so I keep trying to take it off because I think it’s the bath and therefore I shouldn’t be wearing anything. There’s another video where we’re at the park, my nan has put me in a swing and she’s on the one next to me, swinging high and making whooshing noises so that I laugh. At this point my grandad calls us “two babies together”.
He documented all of my early life, and now at the age of 22 I look back and it’s hard for me not to cry. The first time his face appeared on the screen I did, because it’s a shock and it’s sad and it hurts, and then it’s comfort, and it’s safe and familiar and it feels like he’s never been away. There’s videos of my nan trying to make me dance, and I’m jumping around and copying her. In another I have a Winnie the Pooh teapot and I’m pouring everyone a drink using the water from my paddling pool. In another I’m eating cake and my grandad asks if I’ll share it with him, though I was only 2 at the time and apparently asking for everyone else’s cake since I’d already eaten mine, so I don’t know if I ever gave him some or not. Everyone wants to talk to me and dance with me and pick me up and have me sit on their lap because I’m the youngest, and it’s strange to see little old me trying to navigate that world. My nan is constantly on the lookout for me to see where I am or where I’ve wandered off to so that I don’t hurt myself or go anywhere I shouldn’t, in one video everyone is dancing around merry and happy, and all you can hear in the background is her saying “Where’s Chloe? Where’s Chloe?”. She’s the grandparent everyone wants to have and I’m so grateful that I do, in one video she took me to the park and she even wiped the swing seat down before she picked me up and put me into it, just so my nice clothes wouldn’t get dirty.
Hearing so many people I love say my name or call it because they wanted me to look at the camera, made me realise that I love my name, I love being Chloe. I loved being her then and I love being her now. I love how my name sounds in other people’s mouths. It sounds soft and full of love. My name is safe there. There’s a video of us at a barbecue we had at our house, I was maybe 2 at the time, everyone is dancing around and my mum is trying to make me copy her dance moves but I tell her I can’t do it, and she picks me up and says “yes you can do it, you’re brilliant”.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a baby, when I was looked after by everyone else and didn’t have to make any decisions, no one could say you were a good person or a bad person yet because you were just a baby. That’s all you could be. I like that. Seeing these videos makes me realise how loved I was, because I was loved down to the absolute bones of me. Tiny little me who didn’t grow hair until way past when I should have, tiny little me with the big eyes and the chubby cheeks that you just wanted to squish. I was so loved. Looking at that person, it doesn’t feel like me. I know it’s me but it doesn’t feel like me, but I look at that tiny person and I’m so proud that I am her, and I think to myself that I want to protect that little human with my entire life. And then I have to take my own hand and realise that that tiny human is me, which fits I suppose, because on the inside I still do feel very little.
I wish I could still be pushed in the swings at the park, I wish I could still be picked up and swung around by people who were bigger than me, I wish I could still sit in my nan’s lap and cling onto her. I wish people could try and teach me dance moves or ask me to blow a kiss or play pat-a-cake because they wanted to capture such a nice moment on camera. I wish my grandad was still here so we could have grownup conversations and watch those videos back together, I wish I could still hear him call my name and I wish I could call his right back. It just made me realise how loved I was, because I really, truly, was. My nan adored me with every part of her being, she has 20 odd grandkids but I was special and I was a favourite. You shouldn’t have favourites, but I had a connection with my grandparents that was different, I practically lived with them the amount of time I spent at their house, because they were everything to me, they made up my whole childhood, and tiny little me loved them more than anything in the whole world. I still do. It just made me so thankful that I grew up around so much love, there wasn’t a second that I wasn’t loved and adored and cared for. There wasn’t a second that went by that someone didn’t think I was magic.
These are the things that I often forget, due to being 22 now and what I’d like to call “damaged by the world” and scarred by the society we now live in. Full of depression and anxiety and not feeling good enough, feeling like I don’t belong on this earth anymore, feeling like someone who went through so much pain so young when she didn’t deserve it, someone who’s felt lonely more times than she has whole. Someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing and doesn’t believe in herself half as much as she should. Someone who think she’s easy to forget and easy to leave. Someone who thinks she’s hard to love.
And then I look at little Chloe in the videos and I ache, because she was just Chloe, then. She was just little Chloe who danced around and blew kisses and loved her nan and grandad and everyone loved her, and she wasn’t damaged yet and she didn’t hate herself or believe she didn’t belong on this Earth anymore. She didn’t believe she was hard to love, the only thing she knew was love. How to love and be loved. That’s all she knew. She was perfect, she was everything, and I look at her and think I will fiercely protect you with my life, and the fact that as she grew up it all faded and changed breaks my heart. And it aches. And I wish I could scoop her up in my arms and say hey, you’re gonna grow up and things are going to happen, you’re going to have feelings and you won’t know where they came from and you’ll feel sad and you’ll cut your skin open with blades and you’ll lose your best friend and you’ll stop eating and you won’t sleep at night and you’ll try to take your own life more than once and you think you’ll find people to put your love into but they won’t be it, but it’s okay. It’s all okay, baby. And I’d stroke her hair and I’d tell her that I’m what she’ll be in 20 years time, and look at me, I’m still standing, aren’t I? I’ll still stand for her, because she deserves it. Because she didn’t deserve a lot of things and life isn’t fair, and the Chloe I was at the age of 3 deserves so much more than the Chloe I was at 16, and 17, 18 and 19 and 20.
Chloe was set up with love ever since her soul reached the Earth, ever since she opened her eyes and clasped a tiny finger around her mum’s hand. Ever since she threw her squishy toddler arms around her nan’s neck and never wanted to let go. Ever since she high-fived her grandad and blew kisses at the camera when asked. Ever since she copied silly dance moves and wore headphones that were too big for her because she could suddenly hear her grandad’s voice through them and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.
Chloe has been set up with love ever since she was born, and oh my God she was loved. She still is. So much. And it’s something she forgets every day but something she needs to remember more, and any time she doubts it, she needs to think of baby Chloe on those videos and see how much love and hope was put into her ever since the moment she was first laid eyes on, and that still stands. It always will. She was set up for life, set up with enough love to last her a lifetime.
So you’re loved, Chlo. Remember it. And from Chloe to Chloe – I loved you when I was 1, I loved you when I was 2, I loved you when I was 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and I love you now at 22. Please don’t forget it. Look how far you’ve come. You’ll always have me to hold, even when the people that first clasped your tiny little hands and held them tight are no longer here anymore, even when time is up and they have to let go, I’ll still be here at the end of it all. I’ll still be here to hold your hand, until we drift off to the sky and meet again.
We will all meet again.