PART OF THE “BREAKING THE CODE OF SILENCE” SERIES
I walked into the woman’s house a mess of blonde curls, tears and streaked mascara. I was shaking with fear and from the struggle minutes earlier, the sprint for freedom and the panic of being pursued. My father followed, already demanding her attention with his diatribe about me.
“Can I use your phone to let the police know where we are?”
She pointed to where he could find it, then sat me down at the table in the kitchen, pulling her dressing gown around herself, no doubt wondering what the hell she’d got mixed up in. Through the doorway to the hall, I saw a furtive figure, halfway down the staircase, watching through the bannisters. I recognised the shape and features of a girl from college. We’d never spoken and didn’t mix in the same group, but all the same – my heart sank even lower. It was humiliating enough being seen like this by a stranger, without it being all over the student network the next day.
I sat silently, my breathing slowing to normal. It would have been different if He wasn’t here. I could have talked to the woman, thanked her for taking a chance and letting me in, told her what had happened. But there was no point trying to explain anything now, He would just shoot me down. I didn’t want to be reduced to tears in front of her.
As if on cue, he came striding in from the hall,
“They’ll be here in a minute.” He announced, looking pleased with himself as he sat down opposite me. He began to talk in a loud voice about the trouble children could be, asking her if she had any in a clumsy attempt at parental camaraderie. He didn’t seem to realise her reluctance to chat, or if he did he didn’t let on. The look on his face as he eyed me across the table left me in no doubt he was enjoying my humiliation. He searched for more opportunities to twist the knife;
“This one’s a real ungrateful little bitch. I just paid for her provisional drivers licence for her seventeenth birthday but she can kiss that goodbye. She’s more stupid than she looks if she thinks she’s going to get it now – doesn’t deserve it.”
The woman was uncomfortable, but my father seemed oblivious. I could see her relief when the police finally knocked at the door; she fairly sprang up to let them in.
A male officer spoke with my father in a separate room while a WPC sat down at the table with me and asked what had happened. I told her everything: about my parents separation, my fathers violence, how he still came round and caused trouble, how I had gone out without permission but left a note explaining where I was and when I’d be back. She listened patiently, interrupting me only when the harsh static of her radio demanded a response.
“Do you have any space in the jail?” I asked earnestly, after I’d finished recounting the events. What would happen after the police left still worried me, I was desperate not to be left with my father – my punishment would be even worse after all this.
“I can’t go home, he’ll kill me. If you just let me stay there tonight, he’ll be gone by tomorrow, he has to be back in Oxford to do the breakfasts.”
She shot me a look I guessed she reserved for unruly kids and cheeky adolescents; well-meaning, but ultimately patronising. Instinct told me she didn’t have children. Maybe she didn’t realise I was serious.
“Don’t be silly. There’s no need for that. He’s on his way to Oxford. My colleague is taking him back to the guesthouse right now. I’ll be dropping you home, and I think you’ll find things’ll look better in the morning after everybody’s had a good night’s sleep.”
Used to unquestioningly following the instructions of those in authority, having never had a choice about it, I let myself be spoon-fed the alluring picture she painted of a fresh start tomorrow morning. I felt a lot calmer as she escorted me home, even optimistic. What an idiot I was, but I so wanted to believe it.
My mother and sister were in the kitchen, but said nothing as I ran the tap for a glass of water. The silence made me feel stiff and awkward. I figured it best to follow the WPC’s advice, so I said sorry about what had happened and wished them goodnight before heading upstairs to bed.
Moments later, my mother entered as I was changing into my night-clothes. I expected a reprimand but was completely unprepared for what followed. She looked at me dispassionately, like a sniper eyeing a target. In a cold, level voice she said,
“If you value your freedom that much, you can leave. I want you out by the weekend. You can keep your stuff here until you have somewhere to move it to.”
Then she turned and left. In just a few seconds my fleeting sense of returning equilibrium had been destroyed. My world began to spin away, out of control, for the second time that night. The words of the WPC came back to mock me… ”things’ll look better in the morning after everybody’s had a good night’s sleep.” Seems she didn’t pass on her wisdom to my mother.
The weekend found me adjusting to new concerns. My mother’s resolve didn’t crumble, she had no pangs of regret – I was homeless…
I never forgot those words – what bigger betrayal is there? Many guilt-laden years passed before I came to understand that she had been playing a long game. A compulsive liar, she hadn’t separated from my father to protect us from his explosive temper and unpredictable violence, any more than she had been a nurse in the Congo, as she liked to have us believe.
The stark truth was that she had already met the man who would become my stepfather and her next husband; she just needed to free herself from her present encumbrances first. She began to dismantle her life, starting with separating from her husband, and cutting ties with her eldest child at the first opportunity. It wasn’t about me, or anything I had done, at all – I was just collateral damage in her pursuit of “the love of her life.”
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