I wrote an autobiographical story about the relationship between my mother and I back in 2012 (so it’s not written in my current style), and I thought it’d be nice to finally publicise it.
It starts when I am about 14, and our situation wasn’t resolved until I went to university. It was very painful to write, and although written a few years ago, still holds completely true. I hope you enjoy it.
“Are you on something?” she screamed at me. “Are you on drugs, because I don’t recognise you any more, not at all.” The plate was cracked on the floor, the beans sliding down the wall. “Your brother has night terrors because of you – he’s scared of you!”
I looked into her face and saw my mother. And I hated her. I was filled with so much anger that it was almost surreal. I wanted to scream and shout, and believe me, I had done, but now all I felt was shame. I created a hellish atmosphere in our family home. Emptying entire bedrooms worth of things down the stairs, deliberately going out and night, turning my phone of and not coming back, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to sleep not knowing where I was.
She had betrayed me. When my father finally moved out, we had huddled together on my brother’s bottom bunk bed. “I won’t find anyone else, not for a year or more. We’ll be the three musketeers.” Three weeks later, she had entered into a relationship with Mark, a man she had met on a dating site. I remember going out bowling, to meet Mark, and seeing them kiss on the lips, in front of us. I also remember being out for dinner and Mark referring to it as a ‘family night out’. I wished I could pour my drink on him, I was horrified; my father had left only three weeks previously. After a year of coming to terms with this, my mother overlapped breaking up with Mark with entering into another relationship with Mark II.
If I was bad before, that was nothing comparing to how I was during this period. Looking back, I wonder how Mark II managed to stay in the relationship for three years – I made his life hell. I barely spoke to him, and even less my mother. This was the absolute breakdown of our relationship. There was a point when it felt totally irreparable. How could I have changed so much in a few short years? From being a timid girl who still asked my mother to plait my hair for me in the morning, to a gobby, opinionated bitch who drank cheap vodka, which only made my behavior worse. I was popular and thought I was cool.
Everyone has their fair share of teenage angst, the mood swings, the puberty; but this was unreal. That entire period, from the age of 14-17 passed in a complete blur. I can’t remember much about it, except that it was terrible and I hated myself.
My mother suffered an ectopic pregnancy in 2005, and I barely cared. It hardly touched me. We visited her in hospital, and it’s a strange thing. I was embarrassed. She was in so much pain, I had to take her to the toilet, and I was embarrassed. Not of her, of myself. My mother needed me more than she had ever done in her life, and I had let our relationship deteriorate to the point that I was unmoved by a potentially fatal condition. I was in an awful place, but I was consumed by so much hate and anguish that I couldn’t, and wouldn’t ask for help, even though it needed it, truly.
It wasn’t always like that. There was once a time when I’d line up my dollies, cover them all with a blanket, and nurse them back to health with kitchen-roll bandages and plasters. When I’d sit in front of mum before bed, having my hair played with; always allowed to stay up an ‘extra’ fifteen minutes. I don’t ever particularly remember being unhappy. My brother and I were nightmare children. I can gather this much from the amount of bruises and plasters we each have on our legs in family photos, and the fact that my mum’s little toe on her left foot is still not quite right from the time she broke it running up the stairs because my brother and I had flooded the bath. I remember countless meals that were cut short; one or the other of us sent to our rooms for being ‘silly’ at the table. The worst thing I did was accidentally poison him. I made him drink Olbas Oil. I remember it happening, but also remember that I was not being malicious; I don’t even know if I was aware of any dangers. I recall sitting on the stairs when my mother had returned from an emergency appointment where the doctor had taken his blood, who had called back with a toxicology report. I heard the word ‘poisoned’ and saw my mother begin to cry. I was in a lot of trouble that day.
However, the worst punishment that could happen to us kids was if we had stepped so far over the line that mum ‘rang Santa’. She’d pick up the phone and dial a number (later I found out it was my Grandmother on the other end), and tell ‘Santa’ exactly what we’d been getting up to. Apart from the torturous idea that we’d be getting no presents on Christmas Day, my childhood was mostly happy. It always seems to be summer in my head – when summers were ‘real’ summers: blisteringly hot, and smelling like fresh-cut grass. Yes, definitely: the smell of my childhood is fresh-cut grass, greasy white suntan lotion, and sticky coloured rocket lollies.
We went on annual holidays to Burnham-on-sea, where we stayed in a tiny caravan rented from a friend. We’d be given little lunchboxes filled with treats for the way down; they were shiny blue and red plastic, shaped like treasure chests. The sea was grey, the sand was like mud, and the entertainment consisted of a hall where the adults would drink, and the children would be given balloon dogs and be made to sing ‘Agadoo’ by a 40-something magician just dying to get pissed with the other adults. We’d wander down to the town, be given messy ice creams and ride on the Ginny horse carousel. It was heaven, and I remember those holidays vividly.
Most of all, I remember Sundays. I can’t focus on a particular Sunday because they blur into one. From the age of about three, Sundays were always the same. I would wake up with my brother, and we would wait patiently until 11am when it was time to go to the pub with Dad. We’d take the 15-minute walk through the village, to meet the other brickies that were wasting away the week’s wages that they received on a Saturday.
We’d find our friends. There seemed to be thousands my age – the 90s baby boom perhaps? We’d be given a pound (a fortune!), and sent off to play. Essentially we’d be paid to not bother the men whilst they drank. It’s only recently, thinking back, that I realise that my fathers was an alcoholic for a long time before it was obvious.
The day used to feel like it went on forever, although we’d have to be home for the roast dinner my mother was cooking by 1:30pm. We’d laugh and laugh as my Dad struggled up the hill, swaying about. The fact that I was only three years old makes the Sundays decidedly more tragic, in reality, than the summer afternoons with my father that I think I remember.
As I got older, I became more aware of my parents arguing. I never knew what about, particularly, and my brother, being two-and-a-half years younger barely noticed. Around the time of my parent’s first separation, I have a vague memory of a knot being in my stomach, as if something was going to happen. The answer came to me as I was taken to my Aunt and Uncle’s house by my mother, and told gently that ‘Mummy and Daddy are splitting up’. I was hysterical. I only remember the event, not what happened afterwards, or what it was like seeing my Dad after I was told.
We moved out shortly afterwards. My mother rented a house just around the corner, with three bedrooms and a garage. This was heaven to us: we had our own Mecca. I don’t know what was so great about a grotty, old leaky garage, but we loved it.
It was 1999 and the period in that house was wonderful. It was full of visitors, of family, of mum’s friends coming over on the weekend, to have a few drinks. S Club 7 were top of the charts, Britney Spears was the world’s sweetheart. I had bunk beds that meant I could have sleepovers, and best of all, my school had got wind of my parents’ separation and had told me ‘not to worry about homework’. Life was pretty fantastic. There were three of us, but none of us had quite forgotten that we were supposed to be four.
There wasn’t a set plan of childcare, like most separated couples have, as we lived so close. We’d stay the night on weekends occasionally, and sometimes visit during the week. It wasn’t long before my father began trying to win my mother back. Writing out lyrics he heard on the radio, making dinner, attempting a strawberry jelly that somehow turned out orange, leaving things on the doorstep for her to find in the morning. She told me later that at this point she was completely blown away, and wooed all over again. He used to try out poems and song lyrics on me, to get my opinion on whether they would work on mum. My father began to stay the night at our place, secretly at first, until it became a regular occurrence, too difficult to hide. Slowly, things fell back into place.
Christmas in our family has always gone the same way. Even minus one of two members over the years, the routine is pretty much the same. I have never woken up first on Christmas day. Or, no Christmas Day I can ever remember. Maybe I was an early riser when I was a baby, who knows? My mother, with a scream of “HAPPY CHRISTMAS”, will wake me up. My brother will be bouncing around behind her. I remember where I am, and my brother and I head to sit in bed with my mum and dad and open our stockings. Every year, without fail we always have the following in our stockings: a tangerine, a pound coin, 2 or three Quality Street sweets (usually ones I don’t like), a bag of chocolate coins, a small chocolate Santa, and Christmas cards from our family. Mum then heads downstairs and we follow and stop at the bottom of the stairs at the closed door. “Can we come in yet?” Wait, says Mum. She’s putting on the Christmas CD, boiling the kettle, turning the tree lights on, and letting the dog out for a wee. Okay, she says, and we come in. Neat piles of presents, in the same position as last year. We seek out the dog, and give her her present first. It’s always one of those dog stockings, which is filled, with a couple of toy, and enough treats to give her a heart attack. She knows what it is and wants everything at once. She tries to hold both toys in her mouth.
My brother gets straight to it. Present opening is always the same. I love everything, and read notes on the tags, and get through everything in around an hour. Jack rushes through his, and is left waiting for me before we have breakfast. Christmas breakfast. Always, always mimosas, and smoked salmon and soft cheese bagels. Heaven. Jack does not join in because he’s a fussy eater and has a bagel and marmite, which is still, heaven.
After a couple of hours we head to my Nan’s house, which is a three-minute walk away. It’s chaos usually. Everyone’s excited and cracking the usual, rude, bad-taste jokes that my family cracks. I love every second. Lunch takes forever because my Nan chose the menu three months ago and it has to be perfect.
We sit down, and we each have a cracker, and a present on the table. There is always ridiculous amounts of food and we sit at the table for at least 3 hours, talking about Grandad , talking about the past, drinking, laughing, loving. After that, the adults get to seriously drinking, and trying to play a board game with sober children and drunk adults is an absolute trauma, let me tell you. When I was a child it used to drive me mad and I used to always tip the board up and sulk. Later into the night someone always falls asleep on the armchair, and the rest of us start eating turkey sandwiches and twiglets.
At around 2 or 3am, we head home, clasping hands. The dog is angry to have been left alone and she grabs her toys possessively. She soon snaps out of it when the twiglets are opened. I forgot to mention – there’s always an argument at Christmas. Always. Always petty, always alcohol-influenced, and it doesn’t really matter, but it’s basically guaranteed. I fall into bed, smile, and think “everything’s still the same and it always will be”.
If this was the marker for every Christmas I’d ever had, then Christmas 1999 couldn’t have been more different. Mum had decided we’d spend the day with my Dad, at his house, our former home. I remember wanting to cry when we arrived. I felt a kind of collective shock settle over us. The house was bare. Mum had taken all of her ornaments the day we moved, and the only things in our former front room were the sofa and chair, and an odd-looking, greying Christmas tree, without any decorations or lights on it. The house was a shell, a husk. A skeleton, which used to have the warm, beating heart of a family, but not anymore. My parents got back together shortly afterwards.
Two years passed without much event, until the same situation as 1999, but much worse. I remember the hot summer day when my dad told my mother he was in love with another woman. She ran blindly from the house and didn’t come back for hours.
It was obvious to me what was going on, it’s easy to detect something as adult as an affair when you could spread the tension in the house on toast, and your father has moved into the spare room, is barely home. Once again, they separated, this time for good, with divorce proceedings, animosity, and the simple fact that my father was moving in with his whore. She wasn’t the only one of course, oh no.
Slowly, slowly, things began to deteriorate for me. Off the bat, I’d say that my parents’ divorce didn’t particularly upset me. I didn’t pine for them to get back together, for us to move back into our home, the house where I was born. I wasn’t naïve enough to think that we’d be a happy household. However, the more in-depth I think about it, and the way I acted out later on was clearly a repercussion of that period.
When I was at my very worst, around fourteen, I jumped out of my bedroom window and caught the bus into town. I was grounded, but nothing would stop be being with my friends. These friends were mainly older teenagers, who thought nothing of staying out all night and coming and going when they pleased. At the time, I thought that they were so cool, and how cool their parents were, letting them do that. It’s only looking back that I realised that their parents didn’t really give a shit. Unlike my mother, who cared very much. Hindsight is always 20-20.
I turned my phone off that day, and sat with my friends all afternoon. As the light started to fade, I got a knot of anxiety in my stomach. That seemed to happen a lot around this period. It was as if I knew I didn’t want to do the things I did, but yet, I did them anyway, regardless. As friends began to saunter home, I realised I was pretty stuck. I didn’t have any money, nor and food on me. I hadn’t really thought this one through. I turned my phone on and received numerous missed calls and texts. The next thing I knew, a police car pulled up beside me and I was told to get in. I’d been reported as a missing person. I felt sick and ashamed, and knew I was in the wrong. When I got home however, I punished my mother instead of myself, by screaming, shouting insults, ruining things. Although the police car incident happened only once, the drama of that period was pretty much at that level the whole time.
I began to be funny with food. I had never had trouble with food. I had never eaten too much, or too little. I began taking water-absorbing tablets, and cutting down my meals – limiting myself to eating only once every six hours. I wasn’t fat, not in the slightest, and couldn’t for the life of me tell you why I began acting that way. I never starved myself, or made myself sick, thank God, it was only extreme limitations. Only. I’m not sure if it’s possible to ‘give’ yourself a disease, or a complex, but if it is, I’m certain that this period gave me the body and food issues I still have today. My mother wasn’t particularly supportive or helpful at this time, and I can’t say I blame her. I would be faced with a lecture on how I would be ruining my chance to have children, how my stomach would shrink and never get better, how I’d end up in hospital. I think she thought I was doing it for attention. Maybe I was. However, these lectures only encouraged me to carry on and to frustrate my family further. You often hear of girls with eating disorders describing how if they can’t control anything else, at least they can control their bodies. I think that’s maybe what I was trying to do, in a round about way. It never became much of a problem for me however, I wasn’t obsessed, and I didn’t want to be a skeleton.
Around this point, the month before I turned fifteen, I got a boyfriend. I had longed for a boyfriend since I became interested in boys at age 12. I’d had various silly crushes, and very sporadic boyfriends, the ones who you’re ‘going out with’, yet you never even hold hands. It was true love with Luke, or what I thought was true love. The knotted, sick feeling of falling in love for the first time, the excitement escaping from your throat like butterflies.
We began to have sex quite soon into our relationship, as I knew I loved him, and I knew it would happen sooner or later, so why not right then? It was excruciatingly painful, and it was a couple of weeks before I let it happen again. After a couple more attempted at clumsy, fumbling sex, both of us still children really, I contracted chronic cystitis. I had no idea what this was, as I’d never had it before. I was unworried about an STI, as I knew that Luke had a virgin, as I had been.
It was agonising. I couldn’t sit down, stand up, lie down; I was on the toilet in secret, wondering what was happening. Eventually I owned up to my mother. This is probably a good time to mention that I had not told my mother I was having sex, nor even discussed it. We’d always been rather open when I was younger, and I think she thought I had my head screwed on in that sense. I was taken to the doctors, with me wriggling in the waiting room, desperate for the toilet, but knowing nothing would come out if I went. The doctors asked me a few routine questions, and then dropped a bombshell: “Are you in a relationship? Is it physical?” I was stuck. My mother was sat beside me and didn’t know, I was sat in front of an authority figure and about to admit to having sex underage, but I was desperate to know what was wrong with me so the pain could be taken away.
“Yes.” I said. I heard my mother gasp quietly beside me. I was prescribed fast-acting antibiotics, and we walked to the chemist in near silence, until she exploded. I promised we were being careful (we were), but after her initial outburst, she tried to convince me to go on the pill. The problem with that was I’d heard that the pill could make you gain weight. Something I outright refused to do. Sex was still agonising in general and I was unsure I even wanted to do it ever again, let alone protect myself against pregnancy if I was engaging in ‘regular sex’. Let’s not forget I was only just fifteen.
As fate would have it, around six months later I had a pregnancy scare. We had been using a condom, but afterwards, it had slipped, spilling some of its contents on, and what I thought was inside me. I began to bleed on the day of my period, a tiny spotting, and then it stopped. Nothing. Nada. I kept quiet about it for a few days before I got scared, as my period still hadn’t made an appearance. I wrote my mother a letter, put it on her pillow, and sat downstairs with the TV turned up loud, waiting for her to read it then come and kill me. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it was something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry’, and ‘If I am, then I don’t know if I was to get rid of it or not’.
She was devastated, I could tell. She had me at 21 and spent her whole life telling me that she could not live without me, without my brother, that she didn’t regret us, but if she’d had her time over, she would have waited. I recall her shaking her head and saying “Well that’s it now, isn’t it? You’re just another statistic.” I hadn’t yet completed my GCSE’s, and I think she was imagining her 15-year-old uneducated daughter with a baby, sitting on the sofa and claiming benefits, something that she has always been too proud to do, even if she may be better off.
She rushed to the chemist to buy a twin-pack of pregnancy tests. They were blue, and you had to pee on the stick. Whilst she was gone, I imagined a baby growing inside me. I felt sick, and knew that there was no way I could cope. I was in love, but the idea of becoming a parent was absolutely alien. This event is a perfect example of my relationship with my mother at the time. Because I considered keeping the baby just to piss her off. How sick is that? Not only sick to consider bringing a life into the world as means to an end, but also just to want to piss my mother off, to upset her, to hurt her.
What had she done? She had brought my brother and I up almost single handedly. A man she truly loved had treated her like garbage, and was now living with a woman who lorded it up over my mother whenever she got the chance. She had tried to start again with a new boyfriend, who treated her like a princess. But then there was me, a daughter she’d hoped and prayed for, who ruined everything. Spat on her efforts and love, made the life of the man she now loved hell, and terrorised my brother, her only son. Add to this a very difficult childhood of her own, you have one very unfair life.
She thrust the pregnancy tests into my hand. “Do it,” she said, “now.”
“I don’t need a wee.” I said.
I went to the bathroom and followed the instructions. I left the test facedown on the toilet and hid in my bedroom for two minutes. As I walked towards the test, my heart was beating so hard it was almost ejecting itself from my body. I turned the test over, looked, and broke down. My mother ran in, grabbed me, and asked if it was positive. I shook my head. I don’t think I’ve ever cried like that before. I’ve also never felt so relieved in my life. To this day, I still don’t know what I’d have done had the test turned out to be positive. We sat there for a long time, huddled in the bathroom, embracing and crying. It was the start of a new chapter for us, I think, that day.
I started to become the type of daughter that someone might like to have. I began to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, without an attitude, began to give, rather than receive hugs, and even made her boyfriend feel slightly more comfortable. I began spending nights at home. To my mother’s relief, I realised halfway through my last year at school that I wanted to continue my education, and worked hard to get eleven GCSE’s at A*-C, rather than the five at C-E that I had been predicted. I got into sixth-form; doing four A Levels with flying colours and I also got myself a job. I was still with the same guy, although cracks had begun to form. It was around this time that my mother and I moved past the point of being just an amicable mother and daughter: we became friends.
My beloved boyfriend had asked to meet after school. We’d been together around two years. We met on our favourite bench; he wouldn’t hold my hand. I knew what was coming and tried with all my might to stop it. Crying, begging. No change. I don’t know how I made it home because I don’t remember it; I was so blinded with grief. For the next few days my mother tried to coax me to eat. Everything tasted and felt like cement. She discreetly removed the painkillers from my bedside table and any sharp objects around the room. I asked her how I could ever feel right again. You will, she said. Time heals.
We sat for the whole night talking feelings, boys, her past, and her experiences. I saw her as more than just ‘my mum’ that night, and saw her for what she was: a person. I never realised, or rather cared that she had a life before me, life went on before me. She’d been in love, had boys hurt her, and not just my dad either. She’d fallen out with her friends at school too, been reprimanded by her parents (although Grandad used to hit her and her sisters with a slipper, not just send her to her room like she did to us). I stopped being so narrow-minded, and for the first time since Luke had split up with me, began to feel a little better. And I did feel okay in the end, it took a while, but I did. I will give the same advice to my daughter when she needs it. Luke is now an adult with a potential career in art, we have remained friends, and I will always remember that period of my life.
I am the first, and only, of all my family to go to university. This is a fact I am incredibly proud of. Leaving home has been one of my best decisions and greatest achievements. I am the person I am today, because I am independent, bright, and a newly fully-fledged adult. I know it hurts my mother to know that I am never going to move back home. I spent weeks planning what I would take, how I would act, which societies I would join, and wondering who I would meet.
My mother drove me to university on move-in day. Both in silence; both holding back secret tears. That entire journey I was fighting between knowing this was something I had to do, and begging her to turn back home. We opened the door to the box where I was intending to spend the next year of my life. It took us a while to get all of my things inside. When all my stuff was shoved haphazardly into my tiny room, she left, quickly.
It was a strange goodbye. We both knew we’d be away from each other for the longest time in our lives, which was heartbreaking, but it was also more of a ‘see you soon’, than a real goodbye. It was more than that, though: I was taking the next big step in my life. Moving out, moving on. She would never hold me back; she wants me to have more than she had. At the same time, she doesn’t want me to leave her. We’d come so far, since the drama of my early teenage years, it was almost as if I was a child again, unwilling to let go of her mother at the school gates. I felt it was unfair that we’d only just gained our relationship, after fighting for it for years, and I had to let go of it so suddenly. As she got into the car I realised that if I ran, I could catch up, get in the car; go back to where I started. A true case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. She drove away. I watched the car drive out of sight. I took a deep breath.
My mother is blissfully happy, and this year we shared a perfect Christmas – not unlike the one previously described, but different because it was just us. ‘The Three Musketeers’. Me, Mum and Jack. We talked and laughed into the night, sharing memories and secrets, and some nice wine too. We became even closer, if that is possible. My brother is catching up with our close relationship too: he was still a sulky teenager when we began to learn to love each other, but now, often, he shows signs of being a real human being with a lovely heart. My father spent Christmas, unfortunately, alone. You can only shit on so many people before you get shit on yourself. We all agreed that it was karma’s doing. I haven’t seen my father face to face since I was fifteen. I’d say that he has no right to see me even if he wanted to, but I don’t need to, as I know that he stopped asking after me long ago. It does not affect me. I have a mother, and a father all in one person.
Writing our story has been incredibly emotional. There’s more, of course, but we’d be here forever. I think just the plain and simple fact that anyone who reads my memoir can see that I love my mother, just the way she is. And that was my intention when I began. I often see mothers and daughters, when I am out and about. The mother cooing over her toddler, who thinks her Mummy is the prettiest lady in the whole wide world. The sullen teenager of around thirteen, rolling her eyes and walking either a few steps in front, or behind her mother, trying to keep her street cred intact. After this age however, the mothers and daughters are a rare sight to see. The daughters are out with their friends living it up, expressing an opinion on everything, whereas the mothers are sat at home, wondering what their daughters have become, where that chubby cheeked toddler went. Then, however, are the slightly older mother and daughter, the ones who walk down the street linking arms, sharing a secret, giggling. They’re the lucky ones; they’re the ones who’ve come full circle, like us.