Please just love me

I was pulled kicking and screaming from my mother’s womb. Forceps clamped around my tiny head. There I was. I’d arrived. A small miracle. A small, jaundiced yellow, miracle.

My mum was born with a hole in her heart. She was told she could never have children due to the amount of strain it would put on her heart. She was a little stubborn my mum. Hence, I came into the world.  It wasn’t my birth that harmed her heart. She was rather unlucky in love.

I was an accident. My ‘sperm giver’, a name I used for my biological father as I was growing up, was apparently appalled when he heard of my embryonic existence. He was having an affair of the heart, shall we say, with my mum. He’d apparently drowned the kittens in the toilet when the cat fell pregnant and if he could have done the same to me then he probably would have.

Needless to say, or at least thankfully, their relationship ended and he returned to his wife, children and grandchild. He was twenty years older than my mum and now that his young filly was with child she was not quite so appealing.

They’d kept her in the hospital for bedrest for the final three months of the pregnancy. The only exercise she undertook was sneaking outside for a cigarette.

Why in the hell was she smoking while pregnant? Firstly, what about her own health — and her heart? Secondly, and from a purely selfish point of view, what about my health? The health of her unborn child? It was written on the cards right at the beginning. Even before I took my first tiny gasp of air, I wasn’t necessarily going to get preferential treatment.

And so it was. Thanks to my mum for defying the medical profession and being stubborn and I presume brave enough to go ahead and give birth to me. Despite the fact, we could have both lost our lives.

So here I was. And here she was. Both of us alive. Ready to start our new journey.

She met my step-dad shortly after I was born. My baby brother was born a few years later. They were happy, I presume, back then. She didn’t know the strain this man would put upon her heart. Maybe he didn’t even know what he was to become.

It wasn’t right to rub himself against my little body on a Sunday morning while mum got tea and biscuits for a lazy morning lay in. I don’t remember how often, I just remember thinking it was rhythmic and funny how it always stopped when mum came back upstairs.

She couldn’t have known it was happening, so I shouldn’t hold it against her.

I don’t quite remember when all the shouting and madness started. He became an alcoholic you see. I don’t know if the alcoholism caused the problems or the problems caused the alcoholism. Either way, it didn’t matter. I was still the ‘bastard’ whenever things got loud. It wasn’t just the alcohol either, because sometimes he hadn’t even been drinking and things still got loud. Very loud.

 When I wasn’t so lucky to be out of the room, he’d lean in, so close I’d feel his hot, rancid breath on my cheek, as he spat out how worthless I was. How  mum and I belonged in the gutter. I was probably about seven or eight then.

I’d listen at the top of the stairs, sometimes with my little brother, just in case we heard too many bangs and thumps and crying out from mum. It became routine. If things got too loud, I’d creep downstairs into the living room to check if mum was still ok. He’d invariably spot me and unsteadily reach out to grab my interfering little wretchedness. But I was nimble and quick. I’d scoot around the back of the sofa, dodging his rage and escape out the front door. That always felt good — no matter that I was a ‘bastard’, I was faster than him.

My nan and grandad lived seven doors up. My step-dad only followed me up the road once, but he never caught me. I didn’t keep count of the number of times I ran the gauntlet to fetch my grandad, in the early hours of the morning.

My nan would put me to bed  and my grandad would go down to the house to calm my step-dad down. The next day, we were all to pretend and act as if nothing had happened. More often than not, I had to apologise for taking off the night before and ‘telling on him’. I never understood why. Mum would whisper to me in the kitchen and tell me that it takes a stronger person to say sorry when they haven’t done anything and it would make things go back to normal quicker. So I did.

Life went on. Like a shaken ‘etch a sketch pad’, a new day. Start from scratch. But it always ended the same, maybe not that night,  or the next but we knew what was coming and how it would end.

One time he shoved me in the cupboard before I had a chance to escape. That night I had to listen to his rage from inside the pitch-black pantry. I had to listen to the scream when he broke my mum’s jaw. She let me out sometime later, once he’d fallen asleep.

I was nine when I slipped at swimming lessons spraining my wrist. This was the first time I’d ever really hurt myself. I had to go to emergency and had time off school. Mum gave me lots of attention. The arguing stopped for a while. Everyone seemed to love me all of a sudden. I was no longer a ‘worthless bastard’. I was a child with a swollen throbbing wrist, arm in a sling and they were actually noticing me. Fussing over me no less.

I was ten when I faked appendicitis. I’m not sure how I got the idea, or whether I had a pain and then it just got out of hand. I must have been a pretty good actress because after a day of crying and crying they operated. There was no physical pain, but as I look back now, there would have been a mountain of emotional pain. I was screaming out for help. There was certainly pain after surgery though. However, the attention I got for that short while, was all worth it at the time.

As I entered my teenage years, I started to get some attitude. Not a real rebellious sort of attitude – I was always a quite a goody two shoes really, but I had a sense of right and wrong. I had a sense of what was sense and what was nonsense. Apart from the night he forced himself on me, fondling my breasts and trying to kiss me. Where was my attitude then? I just took myself to bed and tried to block it out. Like it never happened. Tomorrow would be a new day and all that.

A mini pork pie was the tipping point. Upon the dinner table, there was a plate of eight mini pork pies. Along with these, a salad and some hard-boiled eggs. There were four of us at the table. I took one pork pie and my hand reached out to take a second. A knife got wrapped across my knuckles, and my step-dad growled that I could only take one. I reasoned back, that there were eight, which meant two each.

Now, I must mention I had a certain penchant for pork pies. We had eaten this same meal on several occasions and we always got two each. I feel the need to let you know this, just in case you think I was simply ‘being difficult’.

So, given the nonsense of my stepfather’s request, that I could only have one, my hand went out for that second mini pork pie… It probably shouldn’t have.

The uproar that ensued was likely not the pork pie’s fault, or even mine really, but I never got to eat one, let alone two of those pork pies.

The table and its contents were upturned. Who the hell did I think I was, taking ‘ his’ food. I had no right to any of the food. He was the one who went to work and put the food he put on the table and he would say who got to eat it.

Even at fourteen, I saw the funny side of this. At least it would have been funny if it wasn’t so real. For the first time in my life, I started shouting back. I didn’t even know I could, but it felt good. I countered his ridiculousness, stood up for myself. Because, mum, well she never did. Not for herself and not for me. My whole life, if ever my step-dad was upset over anything and had been yelling at this bastard child, or yelling at her, it was me who had to apologise. Ha. Well, that wasn’t going to happen here.

While mum was in the kitchen cleaning up the mess, my stepdad and I went head to head. I had a voice. I actually had a voice and I was using it. It felt right, it felt justified and I felt free. I have no recollection of the words that were strewn across the room that day. I just remember that feeling. An uprising of my soul. The last part I do remember though. As long as I was under his roof, I’d have to do as he said.

So I left. Right then. At fourteen years of age, I packed a bag of things and I left home. I said sorry to mum and set off up the road to what was to be my new home for the next six months. Just seven houses up.

That night, everything I owned was dumped out of drawers, wardrobes, shelves and thrown over the landing at the top of the stairs into the hallway below. Everything smashed. It would have looked like a piece of abstract art. The hallway installation. My purple nail polish had shattered and artistically splattered itself all over my clothes. I’m glad I wasn’t there… but my poor mum.

Life carried on down in that house — as if I never existed at all. Mum visited and said he was trying to get help. Things seemed to be pretty much the same. My brother was ok though. Of course, thank goodness, he was pure, not a bastard child, so had a golden shield to protect him. The sun shone over him, so to speak and I was pleased. I didn’t have to protect him too.

Six months later, mum said I should come home. Things were getting better. He was seeing a counsellor. I was wary but I did it for her. Things were ok for a few weeks. The counsellor thought it might be good to have a family session. So, there we were, all four of us in a semi-circle facing the eager counsellor.

I doubt she knew the damage she was about to cause. She meant well. We had to speak honestly you see. Nervously I did; she encouraged me. My step-dad acknowledged what I said and even agreed with my concerns. We talked about how this little family of ours and how things might be done differently.  Hope hung heavily in the air. It hovered over us on the drive home and it exploded into a million shattered pieces that night.

Because that night he kicked me hard in my shin whilst shouting obscenities in my face. I thought it might just be a good time to leave again.

Things went from bad to worse. Mum even came and joined me for a few days at a time at my grandparents up the road. But she would then go back home again and give him yet another chance. I’ll never understand that. I’ll never understand how she let all of that happen, for all of those years. I’ll never understand how she let that happen to her children, let that happen to me. Why was I the one who had to move out not him? I will never understand those things.

She was so courageous to bring me into this world. I began my journey with a kick-ass mum. She defied the doctors. She was brave enough to go ahead and have me. What happened? Where did that mum go? I will never understand.

But most of all, I will never understand why she called the ambulance. Why she dialled the emergency number that would save his life. If only she had stopped to have coffee with a friend on the way home. If only she had just sat on a chair and watched him sleeping. The concoction of pills he had swallowed would have performed their intended role. It would have been too late.

They pumped his stomach and he survived. They put him in a mental hospital.

I moved back home.

He discharged himself a month or so later.

She knew I’d leave again if he ever came home.

I had to help my mum to not let him back. To be brave. To be courageous. To be that kick-ass mum that brought me into the world.

I had to encourage her to give me a little bit of preferential treatment this time.

So here I was. And here she was. Both of us alive. Ready to start our new journey.