The Magpie Anthology

24 : A Story

I wrote this some years ago when I worked at the Isle of Wight women’s refuge. It’s entirely fictional but collated from various stories that I heard and things that I saw. It’s a long read…

I am 24 and I have blown it. Completely. No way out and no way back. Of course, they tried to tell me, tried to warn me but well, let’s face it, when have I ever really listened to anyone? Story of my life really, the not listening bit, the not taking any notice. I’ve always thought that I knew it all, cocky from an early age – the sort that parents and teachers despair of, a ‘could do better’ for life. Now it’s all come home to roost and they’ve come. Come for him. Not for me, they aren’t interested in me, they’ve told me that over and over, only interested in him. And now they’ve come, just like they said they would.

When I think back over my life, I wonder when it all began. Wonder when the rot set in. Maybe I was born to be bad, maybe I was genetically pre-programmed to screw my life up, who knows. Mum said I was a lovely baby, good as gold she always told people, a little angel, and when I look at the photos of me back then I can see what she means. Blonde curls and big blue eyes with what my Nan used to call a rosebud mouth. Yes, I was cute, very cute and good as gold. So, I must have been alright then, mustn’t I? I’m sure that I did all the things that babies do, terrible twos, running rings round Mum when I wanted my own way, I even remember nicking a few pennies from her bag when I was about four but on the whole I didn’t do anything different from any other kid my age. No, thinking about it, I was ok then, a good kid, but skip on a few years and things changed, and not for the better.

I am 8 and Dad is back. Mum calls him her ‘knight of the road’. He’s a lorry driver, long distance, all over the continent and away sometimes for months on end. Mum really looks forward to him coming home, gets her hair done and buys something new. Me and my sister are packed off to Nan’s for a couple of days and spoiled rotten, too many sweets and jelly and ice cream, and when we get back home it’s all smiles and laughs. But not this time. This time Mum comes to pick us up and she looks odd, all red round the eyes, like she’s been crying or something. She and Nan go into Nan’s front room and we can hear them whispering. My sister and I are listening at the door, but we can’t really hear anything and the bits we do hear we don’t understand anyway. Mum comes out brushing her eyes and bundles us into our coats almost roughly and straps us into the back of the car without saying a word to either of us. Nan stays at the door and waves us goodbye looking worried and we head for home. All the way there I can see Mum looking at us in the mirror and she keeps saying things like ‘everything will be ok girls, really it will’ and I am nodding at her not really knowing what she’s talking about. She seems really nervous and uptight and keeps wiping her nose on the back of her hand and I want to say ‘Mum you’re always telling us not to do that’ but something tells me that this is not the time and so I sit in the back and say nothing. The journey seems really, really long.

When we get back to our house, as soon as we walk through the door I can tell that something has happened. The air is crackly with atmosphere and there is a really strong smell like the whiff that you get when you walk past the pub down the road when the door is open. Dad is sitting in his usual chair watching telly with a can of beer in his hand which is not that unusual, but what is strange is that he is sitting there in a dirty vest and jeans as though he has just come in from the garden. My sister and I rush over to see him but instead of scooping us up into his arms like he normally does he bats us away as though we are a couple of annoying flies and says ‘not now girls, I’m not in the mood for you two’. My sister starts to cry, well she is only five and a cry baby at the best of times, but I think that he must be joking and try to climb up on his knee. When he pushes me off he pushes me so hard that I bang my head on the edge of the coffee table and nearly knock myself out. I don’t know what to do I’m that shocked and I just pick myself up and look at him. ‘What?’ he says ‘what?’ Mum gives him such a look but she doesn’t say anything. She picks my sister up and says ‘come on girls into the kitchen and we’ll sort some tea out’. When she takes my hand I can feel her shaking and this makes me feel scared and I start to cry. She pulls me after her into the kitchen, shuts the door behind us and starts banging pots and pans around as if she’s really cross about something. I ask her what’s wrong and she turns to look at me and her eyes fill with tears ‘nothing for you to worry about love’ she says ‘your Dad didn’t mean to hurt you, he’s just upset that’s all but everything will be fine I promise’.

I am 12 and everything is far from fine. Dad hasn’t worked for nearly four years and Mum has aged twenty. He says that he has hurt his back and so he can’t work but I heard Mum telling Nan that ‘those bastards had it in for him’ and that he would never steal from the company. And so each day flows into the next. Monday is benefit day and Mum has to beg and plead for some money so that we have tea on the table and don’t look too scruffy. She has got a job in a café when we’re at school and she comes home smelling of chips and grease and looking knackered but she says that without it we’d be out on the streets. Dad spends Monday evening in the pub or has his mates round and they drink cans of lager and smoke while they watch sport on telly. He sends my sister and me upstairs but we can’t sleep what with all the noise they make but that is better than the nights that he goes to the pub. Mum is a nervous wreck on those nights sending us up to bed and then going to bed herself until she hears Dad coming up the street. I hear him too singing and cursing as he falls into the neighbour’s hedge and then can’t get his key to work and I wait for him to start hammering on the door. Mum rushes off downstairs to let him in and I hear her try to get him to come upstairs to bed. Sometimes he comes up with her and he starts to snore as soon as his head hits the pillow but most of the time I can hear him ranting and raving downstairs with Mum and I know that it’ll end badly. I used to go downstairs to try to get them to stop but when he hits Mum I end up getting covered in blood too and it just seems to make things worse. So I lay upstairs and listen and in the morning look for the bruises on her arms and the cuts on her face.          ‘Nothing to worry about loves’ she says to me and my sister ‘just your Dad being clumsy that’s all’ like we’re stupid or something. My sister won’t talk about any of it and I must admit I don’t exactly go around broadcasting what happens in our house – Dad says we’ll get taken into care if we say anything and so we don’t.

I am 14 and we have moved. Into the middle of bloody nowhere. Mum says that it’s because it’s nicer out here but I know that’s not the reason. The neighbours in our old street had started to complain about Dad and the noise coming from our house late at night. The police even turned up one night but Mum managed to fob them off with excuses and so they went away. I was desperate for them to come into the house and see what a state it’s in but Mum was too convincing. She does her best but it’s hard to have anything decent with a drunk who smashes everything up that he can get his hands on. He still isn’t working and now that we’re in this field he can shout and yell and hit Mum to his heart’s content without anybody knowing, except us, and he doesn’t care about us. My sister is doing really well at school, getting really good marks and that means that he leaves her alone. She’s a real goody two shoes and it makes me sick sometimes to see her being all nice to him when she knows how he treats Mum but I suppose that’s just her way of dealing with things. I am doing really badly at school, really badly and seem to be permanently in detention for one thing or another. I want to be good, I do, but I just can’t seem to make it happen. I hang round with a crowd of lads and we smoke and take the piss out of the kids like my sister, the boffins, and that makes me feel a bit bad but they treat me like I’m one of them and that makes me feel better. I haven’t slept with any of them, well not yet anyway. There is this one lad who’s always hassling me but I just tell him that it’s the wrong time of the month and he gets all embarrassed and goes away. I want to sleep with him really but I’m too shy and a bit scared if I’m being honest. What if he laughs at my flat chest and my skinny legs, I couldn’t bear that. So we just hang out at the arcade in town smoking and gobbing off at people and it’s a laugh. I don’t go home too early, can’t be bothered with the questions, concerned from Mum, aggressive from Dad ranting on about those ‘scumbag kids’ like he’s the most respectable person in the world and saying that I should have more self-respect and not be hanging round with the likes of them. I used to answer back but after a couple of swipes that sent me flying I don’t bother anymore. I wonder for the umpteenth time why she doesn’t leave him.  And so life goes on.

I am 16 and pregnant. Well, it was always going to happen wasn’t it.  Dad went absolutely ballistic when he found out and after the lecture about what a slut he thinks I am he told me to leave. Mum was useless, twittering round him, trying to calm him down and looking at me like I’d brought shame on the family. Honestly, it’s rich isn’t it, coming from those two. So I just let Dad rant on, packed a few things and went to stay with Nan for a bit until things calmed down. I didn’t mean to get pregnant, not really. I met this lad, well more of a man really, he’s 25, at our local nightclub. We aren’t supposed to go there because it’s over 18s but we know the blokes on the door and blag it to get in. When I’ve got all my gear on and my make-up, I can easily pass for 18 or 19, and we put bottles of vodka in our bags and just go and have a laugh. One Saturday night I saw this bloke watching me on the dancefloor and I admit, I was showing off a bit, strutting my stuff in my new hot pants and little skimpy top and eventually he came over and offered to buy me a drink. After a few vodkas I was flying and being really witty and holding my cigarette like they do in the films and he seemed really interested, especially when I told him that I was 18. I don’t really remember what happened after that, it’s all a bit of a blur really, but we ended up round the back of the club and we were doing it up against the wall. He was breathing really heavily into my ear and saying that I was beautiful and shoving it into me and I was thinking  that I really liked him, maybe even loved him a bit and then it was all over. ‘That was fantastic babe’ he said ‘let’s get back inside’ and I went back into the club holding his arm and feeling like the Queen of Sheba with a silly grin plastered all over my face.

Of course when I told him I was pregnant he didn’t want to know. Told me that I’d better ‘deal with it’, that he’s got a girlfriend thank you very much and I’d better not make any trouble for him. I went round to his flat and this girl answered the door and looked at me like I was scum. I asked if Dave was in and she said that I needed to piss off and grow up. I ended up looking at the closed door and took myself off home to tell Mum and Dad the good news about them becoming grandparents. I thought about getting rid of the baby but then I thought that finally I’d have something that really belongs to me and I sat down on the seafront and thought about how I’d do it all differently. How I’d be a much better parent than mine had been, how I’d love and look after the baby and how he or she would grow up and do all the things that I haven’t done, become rich and famous, keep me in style. So I floated home on cloud nine and then got thrown out with Mum standing at the front door saying how disappointed she was in me and how irresponsible I’ve been. Nan has been ok actually, I think she quite likes the company and she’s been making me milk jellies and things to ‘build me up’ but I know that I can’t stay there forever sleeping on her sofa and that I need to sort myself out. I’ve spoken to the benefits office and housing and hopefully they’ll find me somewhere to go. They’re talking about one of these hostel places which doesn’t sound brilliant and not really what I had in mind, I’d seen myself in a nice little two bedroom flat, but I suppose I’ll just have to take whatever they offer me and see how it goes.

I am 19 and Mum is dead. She killed herself, took a big overdose of some pills she’d been nicking from Nan for ages and hiding at home. She really meant business this time. Dad found her and you’d think that he’d been the model husband the way he’s been going on, crying all over the place and telling the few friends she had what a wonderful woman she was and the love of his life. It makes me want to puke it really does and I have to bite my tongue in case I tell everybody what he’s really like. I went to see her in the funeral home, insisted actually, just to see her one last time. She looked really peaceful and all the worry lines seemed to have disappeared but you could still see the marks and scars where he’d been battering her for years. They’d made her up really nicely too, except for some greeny coloured eyeshadow that wasn’t really her, but she looked like she was all ready to go to a party. Sad really that she wasn’t. Anyway I gave her a kiss and told her that I loved her and left feeling a bit guilty that I hadn’t seen more of her recently and hadn’t really noticed what a crap time she’d been having. I suppose the problem is that we just all got used to it, Dad beating seven bells out of her, Mum making excuse after excuse and never doing anything about it. We all just gave up on her and concentrated on our own lives. Well to be fair we all told her that she should leave him, especially when my sister decided to move in with Nan for good because she couldn’t stand it any longer but she said that she couldn’t, that he needed someone to look after him and after all that’s what marriage is all about, the for better, for worse stuff. I think that in a funny sort of way it was easier for her to stay with him, familiar, and the alternative was just too scary. She was only 40 when she died.

As for me, well I stayed in the hostel for nearly a year before housing got their act together and found somewhere finally for me and little Jamie  to go. It’s not brilliant but it’s ok and anywhere is better than where we were, that hostel full of bloody weirdoes and druggies up all night wandering about. I used to have to put a chair under the door handle to keep them out  otherwise they’d be in seeing what they could nick and sell for their next fix. Not that I’ve got much, a few bits and pieces that Mum and Nan bought me and some stuff that I bought from the catalogues and that I’ll be paying for till I’m 90 but it’s mine and that’s all that matters. Oh yes and I’ve met someone, Danny but I call him Dan, it’s snappier somehow, and he’s really nice, has his moments sometimes, but we get on ok and he seems to really like me. He’s asked to move in, seems he’s got to leave the place that he’s in. I haven’t really got to the bottom of why but he says that the landlord is a complete thief and that the place was a state to begin with so he doesn’t really know what he’s going on about. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted him to move in but as he says two can live as cheaply than one which I suppose is true and I am quite skint most of the time. I’m not too keen on some of his friends but he says that when he moves in he’ll drop them if that’s what I want and we’ll be like a proper family, maybe even have a baby of our own. So there I am back on cloud nine again and I say ‘ok, move in’.

I am 22 and Dan is in prison. It was ok to start with and we got on really well, so long as I didn’t rock the boat. He didn’t like any of my friends, said they were all just using me and that I didn’t need them now I had him. So I stopped seeing them and we spent time just with his mates who I must admit I was never really that keen on. He got really funny too about what I was wearing, said that I looked a slut in skirts and I wanted to cover up a bit more, that I was an embarrassment being seen out like that. We used to go to the pub quite a lot, when I could get a babysitter and it was quite a laugh unless he caught me looking at any of the other lads and then there’d be hell to pay when we got home. He said that he was only looking after me, making sure I didn’t get myself into any trouble because he loves me and cares about me and I need lots of looking after and he’s the man to do it. I caught him going through the messages on my phone too and he was furious when he saw a text from my sister’s boyfriend and smashed the phone up even thought I’d tried to explain to him that it was actually my sister texting because her phone wasn’t working.

When I got pregnant again Dan was so thrilled, went straight off down the pub to tell the lads and boast and brag about what a stud he is and how his son is going to be the next David Beckham and that’s how it was for the first couple of months until I started to get fat. It’s funny isn’t it, some blokes think that pregnant women are beautiful and some just don’t and Dan is one of the ones who don’t. It started with the names, ‘look at you you fat bitch’ while he’s poking me in the stomach and  then he’s calling  me a fat slag and then pretending that he’s only joking. But it’s moved on from there and now he’s cheating on me. I know he is because my mates have seen him out and about getting up close and personal with the little girls who hang round the club. When I ask him about it he goes mental at me saying that it’s none of my business what he gets up to now that I’m fat and useless. I start crying and he slaps me really hard in the face and says ‘that’s enough of that crap, don’t think you can turn the tears on and get round me.’ And this goes on and on, round and round in circles, bruise after bruise until one day there’s a knock on the door and social services come into my life.

Turns out my sister called them and I can’t believe that she’s been such an interfering cow. I’ve tried to explain to her that Dan doesn’t really mean it and that he’s always really sorry. He cries too and strokes my hair and tells me that he’ll never do it again. And things are ok for a while and then I do something to annoy him and he loses his rag and we’re back at the beginning again. I know that most of it is my fault, I wind him up and as he says, if I didn’t then he wouldn’t lose his temper and hurt me. He’s a good bloke really and when things are going well we talk about what we’ll do when the baby comes, what we’re going to call him and how we’ll be a really happy family. But now my sister and social services have stuck their noses in and that has wound him up even more. They keep going on about my need to protect my children, not just Jamie but the baby too, even though he hasn’t even been born yet. I have to go to all these meetings and I don’t really understand what’s going on, don’t really understand what they’re talking about. It’s like my head is full of cotton wool and sometimes I feel like I could just nod off in the middle of it all, wake up and everything would be like it used to be when it was just Jamie and me. I make the mistake of telling Dan this, not really meaning to upset him, just trying to explain how difficult I’m finding things and he gets this mad look in his eyes and I am scared, really scared.

I wake up and I’m in hospital and I can’t seem to open my eyes properly and my head and body feel as though someone has jumped on me in heavy boots. I ache all over and when I finally manage to get my eyes open a crack I see that my sister is sitting by the bed looking all worried. She tells me that Dan almost killed me and I’m lucky that the baby has stayed put. Apparently it was all a bit touch and go at one stage and the doctors were really concerned about one or other or both of us not making it. Dan has been arrested and she is taking Jamie home with her for the time being. Just till I get on my feet again.

I am 24 and I have blown it. All the time that Dan was in prison he wrote me these lovely letters. He’s not the best speller but that doesn’t matter, I know what he means. If he’s apologised once, he’s apologised a hundred times, says he’ll never do it again as long as I take him back. Only problem is, social services won’t have it. They say that if I let him back into my life that they’ll take Jack away so I have to make a choice, Dan or Jack.  Jamie is still with my sister and doing really well at school and things but sometimes it upsets me when he looks at my sister like she’s his Mum and I’m a stranger. I know in my heart that he’s better off with her at the moment especially since I got into some bother with housing and rent arrears and now Jack and I are living back at the hostel again. It’s not somewhere that an 8 year old should be what with all the goings on and social services are happier that he is with my sister. I feel that I’m kind of getting myself back together again, have got a foot on the first rung of the ladder upwards and then Dan gets out of prison.

I thought about him a lot while he was away and then tried not to think about him at all, but it’s difficult when someone is sending you endless letter telling you how much they love you to forget them. He texts me and says that we should get away somewhere, just him and me and Jack. Somewhere far away from all the busy bodies and do gooders. Somewhere we can be together. Somewhere where we can start again and be a family and it all sounds wonderful. I think about the deal with social services and the threats and promises they have made and I think to myself ‘sod it, why not’. So he turns up at the hostel in his van, well he says it’s his van and off we go, like Bonnie and Clyde,  into the night and we head up north. Of course, needless to say neither of us has much money so we have to camp out in the van while I wait for my benefits to be paid and that’s not exactly a picnic with a toddler who gets bored every three seconds. Dan starts to get really ratty with Jack and I calm him down and tell him that things will get better when we’ve got some money and we can afford a B and B or something and he says he hopes so because he can’t stand this crap forever. And then it all starts to unravel.

It’s not Dan’s van, it’s nicked and he gets a call from one of his mates to tell him that the police and social services are on to us and are looking for us after someone at the hostel saw us leaving and tipped them off. I start to really panic and Dan tells me to shut up while he thinks of what to do. Then I get a call from my sister who’s yelling and shouting at me down the phone telling me what a stupid bitch I’ve been to risk it all for ‘that bastard’ and it brings back memories of Mum standing at the front door all those years ago saying more or less the same thing. I feel completely exhausted, wrung out and I’d give anything for a bath and a comfy bed. I tell my sister that I’m really sorry and she shouts back that this is it, no more chances, no more excuses, end of the road. I’m sick of struggling and worrying about everything and when I hear the police car pull up outside the van, I know that this is it and in a funny sort of way it’s a relief. And so they take them both away, Dan and Jack, one to the police station and one to a foster home God knows where and I feel empty. Feel as though my heart has been taken out, trampled on and put back in again. I wasn’t a bad kid and I don’t think I’m a bad adult, but life sort of got on top of me and I never really managed to get out from under it. I know that I will probably never get my children back and maybe I don’t deserve to but I’m not a bad person. Really I’m not.

Amber Beard 2009

You can get domestic abuse advice and information here: Women’s Aid

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