My father left home in September 1984. My mother had, in a drunken rage, thrown a crystal ashtray at him, catching him squarely on the temple. In fear, he fled, bleeding heavily.
My sister and I had seen arguments between my parents before. Just like every other parental argument, this one didn’t seem any different. As the Toyota was heard heading down our road, we returned to our slumbers. The only difference was the next morning, when he still hadn’t returned home. My mother was still in bed, and Susan and I prepared and left for school in a solemn mood.
We started to realise things were different when we got back home. My mother was still in bed. A neighbour was sitting with her, consoling her. She had bruising on her arms and face, but it was far from the kind of bruising we’d seen on TV. This bruising was yellow and brown, and was spread out like a thin virus just underneath the top layer of skin.
As the next few days panned out, conversations with my father on the phone and a brief meeting outside my school, he’d told me he didn’t want to hurt her. He’d just been holding her arms, holding her back, where in a fit of fury she’d laid into him. My mother made the most of showing the bruising to our neighbours. She told everyone how he’d done this to her. The neighbours all consoled her, and each evening she’d have another friend over to talk to her, whilst she had another gin and tonic, to steady her nerves.
I was brainwashed by my mother into believing my father was selfish. I even helped her drive around areas of London, looking for his motorbike that he rode to work. I genuinely believed that she was innocent, and his leaving was "for the best." Craving security, I would sleep in his place in her bed each night. I wanted to feel secure, and being beside my mother was the closest thing I could think of.
A few weeks later, I awoke to bright lights in my mother’s bedroom. A quick glance at the clock had shown it was past 2 in the morning. A policeman and policewoman were in the bedroom, asking me where my mum was. I half expected her to be in bed alongside me, and was surprised and baffled when she wasn’t. My sister had her best friend staying overnight in my bedroom, and I went into her room to ask if she’d seen mum. The police were asking me if I knew where she might have gone, any friends she could have gone to see. I was at a loss, almost speechless, descending into shock, as another neighbour turned up saying she was at his. The ambulance was there, and she was going to the hospital.
She’d overdosed. She’d left the empty packets of Hedex all over the dining room table, with the empty bottle of Gordon’s Gin. My aunt got a taxi over, and stayed with us that night. I went to school the next day, in a daze, almost shell-shocked. I remember going to my aunt’s house for tea, but I certainly don’t remember the next few days. I don’t even know if I visited my mum in hospital. All my friend’s mothers were asking how I was. They were telling me my mother was going through a hard time. It wasn’t my fault. All I could do was be supportive. Life went on.
That Christmas, I had my present from my father a few days before. I got a phone call from him, but I didn’t see him. My mother had taken to spending most days in bed until lunchtime, then doing housekeeping etc, and by the evening she was returning to the bottle. She would sometimes wake me up in the early hours, to tell me how much she loved me. She’d be slurring, swaying, almost falling unconscious as she sat there. Sometimes I’d plead to be let back to sleep, other times I’d ignore her, and she’d eventually leave in a huff or say goodnight civilly. The visits from my father grew further apart. We’d stay in touch by phone, him normally phoning me and my sister before school (and before my mother would be up). He’d gotten fed up of her drunken calls to him at work in the afternoons, and told her if she needed to get in touch, the only way she could was through his sister in North Wales.
The mother’s day in March 1985, I’d been out the house with my mate Steve. In a moment of madness or just plain mischief, I’d broken into my school, and got arrested. My mother was (understandably) in a blind panic, and got in touch with Menai, my aunt in North Wales. A couple of hours later, both my parents were there as I was charged with breaking and entering, and in absolute silence I was taken home. Whilst I sat there in the lounge watching TV, not knowing what was going to happen to me, my mother sat in the dining room. My father took the opportunity to tell her he was filing for divorce. She sat there, glass in one hand, cigarette in the other, sobbing uncontrollably. Eventually she left the house, and my sister came in to say she was 2 doors down. I don’t remember much about that summer. I don’t think life was that uncivil. My mother had taken to drinking more and more. A bottle of gin one night, a bottle of Cinzano the next, the constant smell of Colt 45 on her breath when we got home from school. Susan would stay at her best friend, Cynthia’s house most of the time. I would avoid my mother by shutting myself into my bedroom.
A few days after my sister’s 16th birthday, and on a Friday night, I was once again awoken by the lights all being on. This time it was my sister. The police were there again. Mum had taken another overdose. I could hear her being sick in the bathroom, and Cynthia’s mum was consoling her. She was blaming the overdose, not on my father, but on us. As she was led away, by another paramedic, I was taken to stay at Cynthia’s house. Early next morning I was greeted by my father and we bundled a few things into the car, and took the 250 mile trek northwards to his family in North Wales. For the next few months I lived, breathed Wales, I was even schooled in Caernarfon. I even spent my 14th birthday there. My mother, meanwhile, was admitted to the local mental institution. Completely cut off, it was only reports from my aunts in London that told us how she was getting on. To start off with, she was even locked in a padded cell. She wasn’t restrained or anything, but it was apparent there was something dreadfully wrong. She was diagnosed unsurprisingly as a manic depressive. She had also been showing paranoid schizophrenic symptoms, and even worse, had psychotic "episodes." She was discharged, and life returned to relative normality. She’d laid off the booze, was attending a day clinic each day, and life was okay. My father, meanwhile, moved to Sweden.
Not surprisingly, the peace didn’t last. I am not proud to admit that I didn’t help matters. The confusion and anger I felt had manifested itself as violence. I would lash out, hitting my mother. I remember being off school one day because whilst trying to cower from another kick from her, she’d caught me squarely in my face. I had a shiner that a boxer would have been proud of. She switched from my sister to me and back again, not with only physical abuse, but mental abuse as well. Emotional blackmail was very high on her list, along with almost brainwashing. She’d wake us up, tell us how we were making her ill, it was our entire fault. She’d take overdoses bizarrely each full moon. The neighbours would see the ambulance outside our house again, and console us. They’d tell us it wasn’t our fault. In one nasty fight one weekend morning, I remember another argument sparking off. My sister was screaming in pain, almost hysterical. I rushed downstairs, and my mother had Susan’s hair firmly grasped and was pulling with all her might. I grasped my mother’s wrists, and with all my might, I almost broke her hands as I forced her to loosen my sister’s hair. Susan fled, blubbering as she went out the backdoor. I warned my mother to back off, and fortunately (and rarely) she actually did. I returned to my room, shaking, confused.
Meanwhile, my father was doing everything he could. A judge had visited, with regards to the custody battle, and we told him we’d rather live with my father in Sweden. My mother objected, saying that it was the attraction of living in another country, and not actually living with him that appealed to us. She could offer a stable (!) home, and we wouldn’t have to be moved from our schools in what was a vital year for my sister’s schooling. The courts unsurprisingly sided with my mother, and the hell that was my home life was apparently going to continue. The situation at home didn’t improve, and as my mother found out my father had a new partner, she made our life even more hell. Once again, waking us in the night, she’d ask us about Jane. Would Jane be as good a mother as her? We didn’t dare tell her the truth, which would make her go off on one. My mum had realised life needed to go on, and would go to a singles night in the local hostelry. She was returning with a different man each time she went. She’d settled down with 2, a wide boy compulsive liar called Dave, and a slap head fireman called Eric. Dave didn’t hang about, but Eric did. He seemed to like my mother, especially when she was drunk. This eased the burden on us. My sister, now at college, was dating a guy called Chris. Chris was a saviour in my eyes. He’d always be there, he’d take us out when my mother was threatening to get drunk and flare up. He’d be around a lot. It was because of him I took a genuine interest in electronics. And I wasn’t the annoying kid brother. He genuinely wanted to know me. He’d hang around when my sister was at college, or out with Cynthia. My mother never dared show her colours when he was around. It turned out Eric was still married, but this didn’t stop him still being on the scene.
So domestic life had quietened down, and most of the time things were bearable. The overdoses continued. The arguments also continued, but were a lot less often. As my sister finished her time at college, she took the opportunity to get away from home as soon as possible. She moved into digs at Cardiff University. I was now at college myself, and as the attention moved from the two of us to just me, once again the psychological warfare restarted. My mother was once again hitting the bottle hard, regularly drinking 1 litre bottles of Gordon’s or London Gin. She’d be staggering around by 10pm, sometimes in a good mood when she’d be cooking in the kitchen or something, or in a bad mood. When she was like that, it was one of two things that would happen. She’d either start a fight, so I stayed out the house, or she’d take an overdose, so I’d stay out the house. New Years Eve 1988, and I had the opportunity to go to Hammersmith to spend the evening bopping away at the "Hitman and her" New Years Eve party. On her own, she’d been invited to another neighbour’s party, and I’m not sure completely what happened, but she’d made a spectacle of herself and had to be taken home by the other neighbours. She’d shown her true colours, apparently shouting abuse at someone else, drinking much too much, and almost getting the police called when she refused to leave. For once, I was respected and welcomed into their homes. I was exonerated of any previous misdemeanours, and my mate’s parents understood if I didn’t want to go home. Life had become black and white. Outside of home everything was white, normal, friendly. Meanwhile I had a black, dark world, when I got home.
Finally things started to come to a head in April 1989. Following a blazing row one Saturday morning, I’d lost my temper. Instead of hitting my mum, I hit the wall. I smashed the bones in my right hand, ending up in hospital for a week whilst they rebuilt my fingers. My father, now living in Reading, visited everyday. My mother, working not a mile from the hospital, didn’t visit once. I knew the relationship was on the ropes, and when I left hospital I’d arranged to go and spend a few days up in North Wales. Upon returning, within 24 hours, another argument flared up. This time I left. I phoned my father in Reading, and he picked me up within the hour. My mother sat on the settee, I couldn’t even look her in the eye as I left. I’ve never seen her since.
I still have nightmares about seeing her on the street, and her chasing me. I lash out in my sleep. I told this to my sister and she sneered, saying I was exaggerating. I have since found out my father has similar nightmares. I still worry about her getting back into my life. In 4 years John will be old enough to contact her. I can’t stop him, I won’t stop him, but I’d like to think I can trust him. The one thing I know is if he went behind my back it would be one of the most hurtful things. I know she doesn’t drink any more, but can a leopard really change its spots that much?
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