Saturday, 11 January 2014

Heroes and Villains

I honestly believe only people who have suffered from depression can truly understand the impact it has on their life and only those who surround you at the time can understand how much it impacts on theirs.

As I sat there staring at the cuts on my arms the voice of my mother and the doctor echoed round my mind, not really registering and holding no meaning to me. It was like listening to a radio in an area with very bad reception, only a few words reached me. My mother cried as she explained to the doctor that all I did was talk of not wanting to be of this world any more, how the physical pain of the cuts was more bearable than the real pain and how I couldn’t feel anyone’s love. She couldn’t watch me all the time, she had a business to run and couldn’t afford to leave it but couldn’t risk not being with me. Is there anything harder than watching your child want to kill herself and not being able to hold her because if you do you may not be able to afford to feed her. These are the choices she faced.

Today this is the thought that hurts me the most. Knowing she suffered more than me and that I was too caught up in my own sadness to see hers. All she wanted was to have her little girl back. The little girls who once wrote, “I love the world and the world loves me”. The little girls who smiled all the time and gave her all her pocket money to a homeless man because she loved the music he played.

Her little girl.

Not this depressed teenager.

She just wanted to fix me.

The doctor suggested somewhere I could go. A special hospital that specialised in looking after broken children like me. He placed his hand on hers, looked her in the eye and promised I would be ok.

As we pulled up outside the building it looked more like a prison than a hospital. Tall grey walls topped by barbed wire. Cameras and locked doors. As we approached the doors someone came outside and greeted us. “Please don’t worry, she will be fine with us, we will take it from here.”And with that she was forced to leave.

We went into the building and up some stairs and into an office. A woman there handed me some tablets and preceded to ask me to hand over my shoelaces and belt. At this point I started to panic. There were bars at the window and a long corridor of closed doors. I was led to a tiny room with a metal bed and bedside table. There was no TV, no books and the walls were a pale blue bordering on grey with a concrete floor. As the door slammed shut behind me my silent tears turned to sobbing.

My voice caught in my throat and I coughed and spluttered on my tears as I screamed over and over again. “Please, Please help me.”

Eventually a man came and unlocked the door. He was so big his body filled most of the frame of the door, he barely let any light through. “You need to stop all this noise now or we will strip your room so all you are left with is the mattress. Nobody cares that you want to leave. You might as well get used to it. You are going nowhere.” I could tell by the menace in his voice that he wasn’t joking. My mouth closed but my body heaved with emotion and tears splashed gently to the floor. As I lay down on the bed I looked at the barred windows and wondered what I had done that was so terrible that I deserved to be locked up.

The following day I was allowed out of my room to sit in the TV room with the others. There sat other teenagers, drugged up to their eyeballs, lying around smoking. No one looked anywhere near getting better and I asked myself how long must they have been here to be so detached about it all. One by one they were led out of the room to speak to councillors and to take their medication. Mindless drones just doing as they were ordered to.
I knew that I had to get out of there before I ended up in that state.

That afternoon torrential rain fell and everyone seemed entranced by it. As they sat there staring out the windows I decided to leave the room and explore. I quietly slipped out and got towards the office at the top of the stairs. There the staff were drinking coffee and chatting about what they did at the weekend. Hoping they were distracted I slipped past the room and down the stairs. I waited behind the wall at the bottom of the stairs barely daring to breath and waited. Eventually someone came through the front door. I prayed to a god I barely believed in anymore that the person would walk down the corridor and not come up the stairs and somehow my prayer was answered. As their footsteps subsided I grabbed the door with the tips of my fingers before it shut, bending back my nail in the process, but I didn’t care. I was out.

The rain was pounding on my skin so forcefully that it hurt but I didn’t feel it. I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me towards the dual carriage way as I knew that farther along the road was a big hospital. My plan was to get to a phone and call my mother for help. As I reached the main road cars whizzed past me, drenching me more. I could almost see the hospital when a car pulled up alongside me and wound down their window. It was one of the women who had welcomed me yesterday.
“What are you doing? Where do you think you are going?” she said in a kind voice. “Everyone is looking for you.”
“I’m going to call my mother.”

“How? You don’t have any change? You are in your slippers for God’s sake. Get in the car. I can take you back, you can change into dry clothes and call her then. I promise.”

Reluctantly I got in the car, my slippers squelching on her car mats. She locked all the doors and almost immediately she changed.

“Have you got any idea what you have done, running away like you did? People could lose their jobs because of you.”

Anger dripped from her voice and fear coursed through every vein in my body. I knew then that I was hated by the staff and now I really needed to get out of there.

I was ungracefully thrown into my room where I screamed and cried until eventually she came back to my room. She stared at me as if I was an animal.

“You promised. You promised I could call my mother”

“I can assure you your mother doesn’t want to talk to you. However, if you are calm for the next hour we will let you call her. We will listen though and if you sound distressed we will hang up.”

So I sat quietly on my bed and waited. True to her word a little over an hour later I was allowed out to call her. As I spoke to my mother in English two of the French women stared at me intently, waiting for my voice to change.

“Hi mum, it’s me, I know I sound happy but I’m terrified. You need to get me out of her now.” I smiled gently as I spoke in jovial tones.

“I’m on my way.” Four words I will never forget.

A few hours later I was led from my room to the office and I watched her argue with the staff, demanding I be released. The staff argued I wasn’t healed, I needed help and they wouldn’t release me in this state. It was then that I noticed my mums boyfriend standing near the door and he quickly left the room. When he returned he was holding a sledge hammer.

“The lady wants her daughter. Now.”

This man covered in muscles and tattoos, who had repeatedly beaten my mother black and blue, who I loathed more than anything was standing there fighting for me to be released. They knew he wasn’t joking and handed over the paperwork for my mother to sign. As she did so the woman who had bought me back looked her in the eye and told her on her head be it.


When we got back home I fell onto my bed of freshly washed linen and looked at the glass of water my mother had just placed on the bedside table before she left the room.

I picked up the glass, looked at it, smashed it against the wall and used the jagged edge to cut my wrist. Home less than an hour and I watched as blood and water mingled onto the covers.

What happened next is something I will never forget. Amidst my mother’s cries and tears, the blood and the drama, my brother walked into the room. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and we barely spoke.

He ushered my mother out of the room and slowly started picking up things and throwing them out of the room. Books, cosmetics and clothes went flying out through the door way.

“If she won’t go to the hospital then the hospital will come to her.

My brother and my mother’s boyfriend emptied the room of everything while she physically held me in the room. Eventually, except the bed, there was nothing left. They used metal wire to tie the shutters shut and locked the window so only a meagre amount of light came through the slats and I couldn’t escape through the window as I had as a child. As he left, my brother told me that I would have to earn my things back.

I sat there in the dark. I screamed, I cried, I sobbed, I waited and eventually I fell asleep. When I woke I thought of the people who loved me. I thought of the pain I had put them through and made a vow I wouldn’t do it again. Slowly I tried to put the pieces of my heart back together and waited for it to heal. Slowly I got my things back. It started with one book, and one by one my room was filled again. I was fixed.

Sometimes I think about these two men. The man who beat my mother and used her, and my brother who bullied me mercilessly and never had a kind word to say to me. For that one day, my villains became my heroes and turned my life around. You never know who will have an impact on your life and who will help you heal.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Common Denominator

I didn’t see the many fields covered in sunflowers or the dark woods as they flew passed the car window, my vision too blurred by tears. They pooled at the bottom of my eyes, until they were too heavy to stay there, then they dropped onto my arms. I felt, more than watched them trickle along to my hands all the way to the tips of my fingers and fall onto my jeans, slowly but progressively soaking them. I couldn’t understand why I was crying for I had been given what I had been asking for since my father passed away.
She had tried to keep us both with her but my brother had run away after my father had his accident and when my father finally died, after months in intensive care, I blamed my mother for everything. All my looks conveyed contempt and all my words venom, I was merciless in my actions towards her and the arguing was relentless and exhausting. Yet she struggled to keep me with her for months, happy to withstand my actions so long as I was with her. Until money became so tight she started to struggle to feed us. Only then, after months of fighting and with the real fear of not knowing where the next meal would come from, did she finally lose the strength to keep going. I don't know whether she called social services or whether they just finally felt the need to intervene but one day I found myself in that car, making the journey to the first foster home I would stay in. My actions had clearly conveyed that being away from her was all I wanted and yet there I sat, drenched in tears, my stomach in knots, trembling, every inch of me screaming to be let out of the car yet knowing it would make no difference for if I was taken back I knew in my heart that the anger would return and so my lips remained silent.

I have no idea how long the journey was, just that to me it seemed interminable. It was only the click of my car door opening that made me realise we had arrived. I’m sure that the house was perfect, for I recall that it sat atop of a little hill, surrounded by little country lanes and fields, ideal for a child to explore and enjoy but this isn’t how it seemed to me at the time. In fact, it’s the floor that I remember the most.

I didn’t want to look up, didn’t want to run the risk of anyone catching my eye and seeing the depth of the pain that resided there. I was guided around the house by people I didn’t see. If I was made to look up I just looked right through them like they were ghosts, fortunate enough to be able to pretend that I couldn’t understand what they were saying to me, that my French wasn’t that good. And so I was guided round the house.

First came the concrete steps leading to the front door, then the terracotta tiles of the living room floor, the pink slippers of the woman who was to look after me, the Wellington boots of her farmer husband, the tiled floor of the kitchen, the wood flooring of the bedroom and the wooden frame of the bed I would have to call my own for a while.

One by one I was introduced to the other children who were staying there. First came a small, tatty pair of trainers belonging to a boy about the same age as me. Next was a little pair of brown boots belonging to a girl younger than me but who was leaving that same day. Finally, a much larger, newer pair of trainers on the last boy. They belonged to a teenager a few years older than me, but it was his name that made me look up. My eyes followed up the jeans, the t-shirt, then found the face of the boy I knew as my brother.

I had no idea this was where he had been staying for the past few months and by the look on his face he didn't know I would be there either. My mind raced at a million miles an hour with only my heart keeping pace. All of my other family was in England, I hadn’t really made any friends to speak of in France, my father had died and my mother couldn’t be with me anymore and I thought I was alone. But here was my brother, my final link to my happier past, I wouldn’t have to be alone, I didn’t need to be afraid...I had my brother again.

But he took one look at me and with the hardest and coldest eyes I have ever encountered in my life he said in an even voice: “If she's staying here then I won't be.”

Shock ran through my body. Why? Why wasn’t he pleased to see me too? What had I done to make him despise me so much, to abandon me? He was older than me by almost five years, surely he was meant to be there for me, protect me. Even if he stayed but refused to acknowledge me because I was his annoying younger sister I could have understood that reaction, liked it even, as it would have been much like the siblings we were, always ready to disagree, known as chalk and cheese when we were growing up. But this I couldn’t understand.

“Please” I chocked on my own tears, “Please stay with me”

He looked at me and for a fleeting moment I thought he might reconsider...but the moment passed, his eyes hardened again and he walked away.

I have no idea what followed in the hours after that exchange just that he did indeed leave me there. I do remember laying that night in a strange bed, shaken to the core and in my mind as a child I put two and two together and realised that of all these people who were no longer there, that I was the common denominator. There was something wrong with me.

I stayed at that home for some time before being moved on elsewhere but it was months before I saw my brother again. His reaction was never mentioned and it became a moment that belonged just to us. I'll never forget the feeling I had that day, I don't hate him for it, he was suffering just as much as me and couldn't cope with my sadness as well as his own.

That fateful day did however define me as an individual for years to come. It was the beginning of some of the biggest battles off my life. I had to battle against depression which went on for years and almost cost me my life and I had to fight against my own mind set that I wasn’t worthy to be loved or stood by. To this day I try desperately to make people like me and I question over and over again the things I say and conversations I have trying to make sure that I haven’t slipped up and said something that could turn them against me. I know we all have these kind of scars, gained during our childhood. These are mine and I bare them every day, I have just learnt to hide them well.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Accident

When I sit on the wall opposite the shop window I can observe him sitting behind his desk but because the wall is a few meters away and at an angle I doubt he notices me. I often come and sit here, never for long to ensure I remain undetected.

I’ve got questions to ask him, hoping his recount of what happened that night would give me an understanding of the incident, an insight and ultimately some peace.

Bleak. I don’t think there is any better word to describe that night. Probably the bleakest night of my life. We drove along in silence, the rain pounding on the roof of the car, hard and fast like my heart.

“I don’t want to leave you.” My voice came out squeaky despite my best efforts to control it.

“You can’t stay with me, the place is barely habitable. Your brother and I are going to struggle as it is and you’re a young girl, you need your mother.”

There was no point arguing, even at ten I was sensible and could see the logic. “An old head on young shoulders” people would always say to me, a title I endeavoured to live up to often to the detriment of my childhood, far too busy at being sensible to have any fun.

They started arguing as soon as we arrived. They argued like only a couple who had been happily married for as many years as they had could. Every slight infraction from the past fifteen years, ignored at the time, suddenly reappearing in greater dimension. Every sin stated with the venom that came from years of lip biting and overlooking the little things. Invading each other’s space, spittle traded like bullets with each insult fired. And before my eyes they turn grey, becoming puppets I can manipulate, tugging on their strings until they stop screaming, until they stop waving their arms and instead slowly place them round each other, heads nestled in their necks, hearts beating, souls forgiving…

…maybe that might have happened if they had had more time. Maybe.

I don’t remember saying goodbye. I wish I did. Instead I just remember waking up.

When I woke the next day my mother was standing at the end of the bed. Quietly looking at me, waiting for me to wake. She moved to the edge of the bed as I sat up, bleary eyed, wondering why she was there.

“Last night, there was an accident.” But the words come out so quietly that I have to strain to hear. In my heart I blamed her for the breakdown of the marriage. I know now that I shouldn’t have, but at the time there was no one else.

“What did you say” The words are spat out, in disgust.

“I said, last night there was an accident. Your father is in intensive care.”

I laughed. I laughed out loud. I don’t know why, I couldn’t stop it. Surely this stupid play in which my life had become the main tragedy had to stop soon. I didn’t want to contemplate another chapter.

“You evil Bitch! How could you! Haven’t you done enough damage without making up evil nasty stories, to scare me.” My voice trembled as I screamed the insult.

She just stood there and took it and for years to come this would be her stance. She would stand there and take the abuse as all around her accused, probably because she felt guiltier than anyone else could make her. Maybe because she felt it was justified.

She shouldn’t have. She needn’t have taken the blame. It wasn’t her fault.

As I looked into her eyes I knew it was true and as the tears fought their way to the surface I had to ask, “how?”

“After he left here he drove off on the wrong side of the road. I don’t know why. It’s possible he was distracted and thought he was driving in England or he may have been confused, it was late, dark…he drove straight into another car. Your father was taken straight to hospital. The driver of the other vehicle is fine…”

And there he sits, in his office, behind his big desk, absolutely fine. I walk to the shop front, finally finding the courage to ask him what happened that night and why he gets to go home to his children and my father doesn’t. My hand rests on the door handle and suddenly my eyes meet his. I can tell he knows who I am and he almost looks afraid. I unexpectedly lose my nerve, faltering in my movements, my mind racing at a hundred miles per hour. I realise at that moment, after weeks of sitting on that little wall, that none of this is his fault. So instead I find the courage to walk away for good.

He didn’t know that when he set off that night that he would go over the brow of a hill and hit a car driving on his side of the road. He wouldn’t know whether the man in that car had accidentally found himself on that side of the road, confused in the aftermath of such an emotional moment. Or whether that man would be devastated enough to take his own life and heartless enough to involve someone else.

Yes, he gets to go home to his children and why shouldn’t he? He is an innocent in all of this.

But then, weren’t we all?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The value of innocence.

I don't like wine. I don't like the taste of wine and I like the smell of wine even less. Coming from someone who spent most of her teens in France you would probably find this surprising, or at the very least, rather unusual. You might think that maybe it's because I haven't tried enough wines, or have only ever consumed cheap, acrid wine. Or maybe, as someone accused me of once, it is because I have “an immature pallet” (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean!)
But I don't need this analysed. For once I know the answer. I can tell you exactly why I don't like wine and it all begins with a hello.

There are so many ways of greeting someone in France. A handshake, a kiss on the cheek, one, two, three and even four isn't uncommon. These greetings change depending on where you are in the country. One kiss on the cheek would suffice at one end of the country, less than four would be rude at the other end. It also depends on whether you are a boy greeting a girl, a girl greeting a woman, a man greeting a child... innocent daily gestures...

I stand there suddenly unsure of myself. It had seemed so appealing just moments before when I was tying the strings of my pretty white apron into a big white bow which rested gently in the small of my back. The café had fascinated me from the moment we had opened. Sparkling glasses lined the wall behind the bar, bottles of different shapes and sizes stood to attention next to them, liquids of various levels, all intoxicating, waiting to be chosen. The stainless steel beer pumps reflected my image, distorted and grotesque, like the mirrors you would find at the funfair. I was enchanted by the idea of helping my mother in the café who, reluctant at first, finally agreed, after I had refused to give her a moments peace, begging her daily.
I anticipated that it would be like playing shop when I was a child, only this time I would be allowed to use real money and serve real customers. It was, except that here, in France, you had to greet your clients. It would be rude not to and we couldn't afford to be rude to the customers.

“It's the custom” I'm told, “just the way we do things here” a hand placed in the small of my back as I'm gently but firmly pushed forward towards the table of old men.

The group of old men are all deep in discussion and have yet to notice me, quietly waiting for an opportunity to take their order;

“Now, Maurice, did you finally get your tomatoes to ripen”

“Of course! Do you take me for a novice! They are big and red and juicy”

“Ha, Tell me, did you take your wife to the fields and do things to her that would make your tomatoes blush? How else would they have turned so red!”

I gently cough to get their attention and in unison they turn, look at me and smile. They are all missing most of their teeth and the teeth that remain are brown and broken. They look at me expectantly

“Come now child, don't be rude, come closer and say hello.”

And then it dawns on me. Before I can take their order, before I can have the fun of choosing the glasses and carefully pouring their choice of tipple for the day, before I can take their money and give them their change and hope for a tip, before I can do any of this, I have to kiss each of them on the cheek... twice. So I approach them slowly. They smell of wine. Sweat and wine. All of them, without exception. And I don't just have to get close enough to serve them, I have to get close enough to kiss them on the cheek.

So I took the plunge. I held my breath and kissed the first elderly gentleman twice. He looked at me with kind blue eyes and ordered red wine. So far so good I thought to myself. Get it done quickly, just get it over and done with. The next two went much the same, both ordering red wine. One more to go and then the job would be almost done and I would be onto the best part. I lent forward but as I did he grabbed my wrist.

I could see his bony hand wrapped around my wrist. These guys may have been toothless and old, but weak they were not. They used to be farmers and since retiring would spend hours everyday in their gardens, toiling soil and chopping wood. And right now his bony muscular hand was wrapped tightly around my delicate little wrist.

I felt my breath catch in my throat, gagging at the smell of him and the fear of what he might do.
“Come here child, he said in a deep whispered tone akin to one you might imagine of a snake, do not be so very quick to run away.”

He pulled me towards him so I could kiss his cheek. His eyes, narrow and dark, never left mine.

“now hold out your hand”

As he still had hold of my arm I had no choice, slowly I uncurled my fingers.
He placed his hand over mine, so it was completely covered and left it there, and then slowly he dragged his hand the full length of mine till the tips of our fingers were touching. It sent an icy shiver down my spine and made me feel sick at the same time. He had complete control over me and there was nothing I could do. I wasn't brave enough to shout or scream and with three other elderly men sitting there watching and doing nothing, I assumed not only that I couldn’t do anything but that I shouldn't.

I realised then that there was something left in my hand. Covered in filth and barely recognisable ten centimes sat in the palm of my hand. It's value, at the time, was one penny.

I looked at the ten centimes, then at the red marks left on my wrist by his grip, then my eyes tried to find those of the other men sitting at the table but theirs refused to meet mine. And then I looked at him, I looked at him in pure bewilderment.

“That, in the palm of your hand young lady is your tip for greeting me well...remember what you are worth”

Monday, 6 June 2011


At nine I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. To me it was just a grotty, old brick building which was completely creepy and yet to my parents it was the corner stone of a much bigger plan. It's only now, looking back, that I realise how big an achievement that first purchase was.

My Father, who was a Londoner born and bread, struggled with English and though he was fluent in cockney rhyming slang and was an avid reader he didn’t know how to write. Being over fifty, for him, learning any French would have been an immense struggle. My brother and I were young enough to pick up the language relatively quickly but even then it would be years before we were fluent. And so the burden of communication fell upon my mother’s shoulders who, with only school girl French, was faced with a wide spectrum of daily conversations, from having to discuss property purchases and law with French solicitors, to doing a weekly shopping trip.
Considering all of this, to finally be standing in the property which was now in their name must have felt phenomenal to a point that I can’t even imagine. To me however, as a child, it was horrific.

The narrow building was in the town centre, four stories high, with no garden at all. The roof was full of holes and the walls were damp, I wasn’t allowed up to the fourth floor as the floorboards were full of woodworm and there were holes everywhere. A tiny enclosed staircase lead to the third floor which was bare and uninviting, even with two windows little light seemed to enter the room making it bleak at all times of the day. The path to the second floor was a much more treacherous one. To get to the second floor you had to climb a wooden ladder and at the top you had to balance with one foot on the top of the three inch newel post which belonged to the stairs below and swing the other leg over to the floor above, if you missed you would have fallen two floors below, it was unbelievably dangerous and yet we all did it repeatedly nearly everyday for months. The second floor also had windows at the front and back which for some reason gave more light, I remember feeling less afraid there and discovered that eventually it would be where we would eat and sleep.

The first floor was the shop floor. It had previously been a hairdressers and had pipes which poked out of the wall and a huge glass window at the front. All of the sinks had long ago been ripped out and there was no running water or electricity and yet this was the main source of excitement. This was where my parents would walk around, arms flapping, sometimes pointing at walls, scribbling drawings on bits of paper and smiling with affection at each others suggestions. They were so passionate about what was to come, so full of vision that they refused to see the difficulties which laid ahead, convincing each other, in a way only they could, that everything would work out if they believed it would. It’s the way I like to remember my parents, full of passion not anger, excited not afraid, a team that no one could tear apart... though eventually they did that themselves.

The basement was for me the scariest part of the building. There was a creaking set of stairs which lead to a near pitch black room. There were no windows, just a coal shoot which let through droplets of light and big wooden garage doors. There was a single light bulb which hung from the ceiling and which almost made the atmosphere worse as its dim light revealed the dreary mud coloured walls. The floor was stones and earth and right at the back was a round hole dug into the ground which was the toilet. Around it was a thin cloth curtain hung by what appeared to be a washing line, there to preserve your dignity despite not quite reaching the floor. It would have been the perfect place for a horror movie and frequently I imagined people being chained to the walls and tortured. If I was ever left there alone I could feel the tension grip every part of my soul and my breathing became laboured. When I was older I realised that it was just a panic attack but at the time I was sure I was going to die.
My brother (who like most older brothers had a sick sense of humour when it came to his younger sibling) took a perverse pleasure in coaxing me down there, pushing the light bulb so it would swing, creating an even eerier feel to the whole place, and then running back upstairs leaving me there, in my own personal nightmare. And yet to my parents, this was the stuff of dreams.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Intensive Care

He remained in intensive care for more than three months and yet I only recall one visit.
I see the grey concrete playground rush beneath my feet as hand in hand with my mother I run towards the exit of the school. I don't recall that day as being the one on which he passed away but I do remember the urgency we felt. The need to get there and be by his side. Maybe we had been told that it was almost time, and so we ran.

When we arrived we were led into a small room with bright florescent lights and handed clothes made of paper. Paper robes which were hard and rough to touch, elasticated plastic bags for shoes and hats that resembled shower caps. Any other time we would have laughed. We would have mercilessly teased each other at how silly we looked but this time the room was too quiet, the nurses who surrounded us too serious, the atmosphere too sterile. So sterile that it took your breath away. The grazes on my little hands, caused by tripping over whilst playing hop scotch with my friends, stung from the sterile soap we were forced to use. Those little hands reached for the door.

When it opened my eyes became mesmerised by the dozens of wires, all different colours, intertwined, leading to the man I knew as my father.
Weeks later I was talking to a boy the same age as me and told him my father had died. “I'm sorry” he said “what happened” “He should have lived” I replied “he was strong enough to, but a nurse tripped on the wires and pulled them out, by the time they put them all back he was gone. He could have survived, he was strong enough” I don't know why I lied, why I needed a reason, why I couldn't let go and accept that he held on for three months and that in itself was exceptional. I can only speculate that like most children perceive their fathers I had only ever known my father as an invincible hero.

He was a lean builder, who even in his fifties could carry multiple bags of cement over his shoulder and had a six pack that would put most twenty year olds to shame. I imagine I didn't understand why he couldn't fight back. I don't think I even believed the man I saw that day was really my father.

The man in the bed attached to all those wires was pale, his face haggard and old. The small tube which seemed to enter his nose scared me the most as it was so small and insignificant, yet it looked so painful. A ventilator pumped up and down, spewing air from a tube near his mouth. He resembled Frankenstein's monster, not my lean, strong, tanned father. He tried to talk but only managed to make harsh rasping sounds, so little air in his lungs and not enough in the room.
He looked at me with desperation in his wide deep brown eyes, dying to tell me something. Literally dying to tell me. His trembling hands reached for big marker pens, handed to him by the nurse, and a pad of paper. He tried to write, with his skeletal hands, hindered by the drip, held back by the wires, trembling. Eventually he held the pad up for us to see, merely for a few seconds, any longer would have been too much. His pleading eyes found mine again, stabbing at my soul like nothing else ever had. I stepped back and gripped my mothers hand. Sensing my distress she stepped forward, wrapped her arm around me and told my father “we know, darling we know you love us.” My eyes searched the scratchy lines on the paper trying to see what she could but all I could see were wavy lines, lines which in his drug induced eyes made sense, lines which were supposed to have meaning. But to me they were just lines drawn by a stranger.

He sat back in the bed and seemed to relax. I walked towards him knowing I should do something but not entirely sure what. So I lent forward and kissed his arm. I could feel the tears as they filled the wells of my eyes but I wasn't crying for the man in the bed. I didn't know this stranger. I was crying because I knew my father was no longer with us, that he was already gone, and that I would never be held again by the strong loving father figure that I knew.

Now when I think of my father I always try and remember him standing on the roof of a house he was repairing, my neck craned all the way back as I try and look up to see him. When I do all I see is a shadowy figure standing there with the sun shinning behind him. Strong, happy, healthy, looking down on me, with sticky tape holding the bridge of his big old glasses together. Proud that I didn't run away from the scary man in the chair and that I remembered who he really was.

The funeral

Since my first post I have been asked by many either how did I end up in that situation or to recount what happened next. There seems to be some frustration in the fact that I started at what appears to be the middle of my tale. I can understand the frustration felt but it's hard for me to do anything but trust my mind in where it leads me. As I said before I can't start from the beginning as my memories are tangled like a ball of wool and I have to tug at strands here and there to try and unravel them one by one. I promise I will try and be more organised.
I suppose before we can go forward we need to go back. Not too far. I can't go back too far. I will, eventually, but today I will try and go back to the day of the funeral.


It seems that the more emotional the memory the more my mind has erased. I couldn't tell you what I was wearing, though something black would seem fitting. I don't know what the weather was like but I guess drizzle and grey skies would be appropriate. I wouldn't even know what time of year it was, though autumn, with it's golden leaves and chilling winds that make you feel the need to wrap your arms around your chest to protect yourself from the cutting cold would be poetic justice. But in reality I couldn't tell you for sure.
I remember sitting on the hard wooden pew in the church and feeling quite important as I was sat right at the front. It didn't dawn on my young mind that the reason I was there was simply because it was my father in the coffin before me.
Faceless are the people who surround me, I can't even see in my memory whether my brother was there or not, though I guess he was. The man standing in front of the coffin in his long robes, droned on in an old French that I couldn't be bothered to try and understand. I recall feeling perplexed that I wasn't feeling the way people imply you are supposed to. If you believe the way these things are recounted in books or films I should have been clinging to the coffin, heaving with racking sobs, distraught and unable to let go. I didn't. I didn't cry, I didn't scream, I didn't even whine a little. I just felt numb and feeling numb made me feel guilty. So there I sat at my fathers funeral feeling guilty and wondering if I should try throwing myself on the floor just to save face. Fortunately the service was over very quickly and I didn't have time to act on my concerns.

What happened next is like a misty haze. A hole in the ground, soil, gravel, staring at my shoes as we walked back to the wake. Non of this matters, it's not relevant in my mind, just a series of events that didn't leave a firm imprint on my mind. What happened at the wake though, is another matter.

They blamed her for everything. Acted like she had been the one driving the car when in reality she hadn't even been there. Three of my five half brothers and sisters had travelled to France for the funeral and they only had a few hours to make their feelings towards my mother clear and they took the opportunity with both hands. We stood in the big family room above the café. The voices from the punters below floated up to the silent room, loud, creating evidence for my siblings to use against her.

She's left the bar open, yet more proof that she's all about money, money, money”
I suppose they were not to know that we had had bailiffs coming into the café demanding payments. Only a few weeks later there wouldn't be enough food to feed my brother and I and my mother knew that day was coming, she just wasn't able to admit it to herself, let alone them. They were not to know that by leaving the bar open on the day of the funeral wasn't because she didn't love and respect my father but that she loved my brother and I more and was prepared to look bad in their eyes if it meant keeping a roof over our heads for one more day. They didn't know these things but they didn't ask why either. They just judged her.

Vile witch, probably killed him so she could get more customers in”

Their tear strained faces turned to me as I stood quietly looking out the window still wondering why I felt nothing.

Don't you worry honey, we'll look after you. We won't let her hurt you.”

And then I felt something. I felt anger. Everyone else in the room was angry surely I should be too.

When she entered the room she was met by cold hard stares. Her pale tense face filled with grief and guilt didn't register with me.

You decided to keep the bar open even during your husbands funeral. What kind of woman are you”
you don't understand, it's our livelihood, without this we...”
We what! We won't be able to afford another romantic evening with our new boyfriend? We won't be able to afford another packet of fags? You disgust us and I hope you get hit by a bus!”

My father had just died after a horrific car crash and here my half sister was wishing my mother to die in a similar manner. Surely you would think I would realise then that these were not the people to side with, that they were twisted inside to the point of being damaged. But their sentiments were so strong they overpowered anything else. I let myself be swept up in the crashing waves of their anger and turned on her too. As she came to me to take my hand and lead me from the room my fists clenched and my arms went rigid by my sides.

Come with me”

She stared at me. Willed me mentally to stay with her, to leave the room, to be a compatriot in arms against all those who wished her ill. But I didn't, my resolve stayed firm and my heart like ice, I turned away from her. She quietly left the room, defeated and broken.

Don't worry, we'll be there for you” And when my half brother said that with his hand on my shoulder, his grip firm and strong, I believed him. But they weren't. They left France the following day and apart from a couple of phone calls, I didn't see or hear from them for many years. On that day though, their actions had the same effect as dropping a pebble into a still pool of water. The damage rippled out throughout my childhood, affecting everything and everyone around me.