To My Mother

The summer I turned 18, I came home from college and moved into my old bedroom. I was working in a bar, I had a boyfriend who played in a band, I had friends. I was living the life I always wanted. The life I dreamed about through my early teenage years in a provincial Yorkshire town.

I was a bit full of myself. I thought I knew more than I did. About life, about men, about everything. I recognise it now, when I see undergraduates, with their slightly-too-loud, self-consciously intellectual conversations on trains, their self-conscious drags on Camel Light cigarettes. They know it all, masters of the universe in waiting.

So, when I came home late that night, and you were discussing a fight you’d seen in the pub, I didn’t think twice about saying that violence didn’t impress me, I was probably just parroting something I’d read or heard someone else say. Actually, violence terrifies me. Makes me feel sick. Always has, always will.

It was a stupid thing to say, but the backhander I got from your husband still came as a shock. When people say something is like a slap in the face, I don’t think they really know what they’re saying. When you’re slapped, really slapped, you stumble, try to keep your footing, confusion clouds your mind while you try to work out what just happened. And that’s before it starts to hurt.

I was still trying to find something to hold on to, to keep myself steady when I found myself on the floor, him standing over me, shouting curses, making threats. You threw your body over mine, there was screaming, I can’t remember if it was you or me. And he was raining blows on us, kicking and shouting. “I’ll show you violence, I know what violence is.”

You found your feet first, which is why it was your throat he closed his hands around, pinning you to the wall and demanding, “Should I kill her? Would that impress you?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen him violent, but it was the first time he’d turned on you. That was new. You always imagine you’ll be courageous in that sort of situation, heroic, saying the right thing, standing up for what’s right. As it turned out, I just lost my voice. I could hardly breathe. I was so shocked. How did this happen? Within the space of 60 seconds, it had all gone wrong. An hour ago, I was in a wine bar with friends, smoking cigarettes and drinking damson wine from half-pint glasses.

I backed into the kitchen, praying I wouldn’t fall over. I wanted to run out of the back door, but I was too scared to turn around to look for the escape, and fearful that by the time I opened the bolt, he’d have got me. So instead, I fumbled on the worktop and picked up the biggest knife I could find. I waved it at him. I admit, I wanted to kill him. I wanted him to come for me, so I could kill him and we could finally be rid of him. I don’t think I’d ever felt such rage before.

Emboldened by my hate and anger, I found the breath to tell him to stay the fuck away from us. With my back to the wall, I eased past him towards the front door. You didn’t move. I opened the door, I dropped the knife and I ran. I didn’t look back.

The next night, he was in the pub where my boyfriend worked behind the bar. He leaned over the bar and said I could go home if I wanted; he’d decided not to kill me yet. He laughed. Big joke.

And that’s how history gets rewritten. In that moment, it became a tiff. A family row. Just one of those things. I’d been cheeky, I got what I deserved, I always was one for the big over-reaction. Drama queen. That’s me. 

It took me a while to fall into line. I went back to college without calling home. I stayed with my sister when I came home for Easter. You never called. The next time I heard from you was in May, when you called to make sure I’d be sending a Father’s Day card. Don’t worry about a present, you said, but a card would be polite. 

When I came home the next summer, I came to your house. I watched you standing in that kitchen, washing dishes at the counter where I’d fumbled for a knife a year earlier. You cried a little. You never cry; my heart went out to you. “I don’t want to lose you,” you said. “But I love him.” And there and then, in that moment when you chose him over me, my heart broke a little.

It’s strange but I started to believe the story in time. I provoked him. He wasn’t a bad man, really. He means well. It’s hard for a man to raise someone else’s children. If only I wasn’t so stroppy, so opinionated, so – me. I didn’t want to make life harder for you. So I tried very hard to bite my lip. Most of all, I learned to keep my eyes down when I came home and he had a drink in his hand.

Of course, 10 years on I have my own children. And reading those journals, I feel my heart break all over again. I look back on that moment in your kitchen, and I know what I should have said. I should have told you that a man who hurts your children isn’t a man worth loving. And that as much as I don’t understand what made him do the things he did, your choices will always be a complete mystery to me.


5 Responses to “To My Mother”

  1. 1 Liz (LivingwithKids) March 4, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I am so sorry for you. It is hard to know how you would react in that situation but I do know that I would never, ever allow a man to harm a hair of my offspring’s head and I would walk out with bare feet and no money if I had to rather than let them harm me. I hope you found some comfort from writing this post. You’re very brave xxx

  2. 2 the_moiderer March 4, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I never have or will understand how a mother can choose her partner over her child. My mother made a similar choice under very different circumstances. I will never forgive her. Now I have my own daughter, I understand even less. Thankyou for sharing. It is very brave and I am so glad you have come to realise that there are no excuses for either of them.

  3. 3 Iota March 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Wow, what a story.

    I hope it helped to write this post. It reads as if you chose each word and phrase carefully, and spent time getting what you wanted to say just right.

    I admire people like you who confront these things in their past, and are determined that their children will not go through the same. They are the ones who will break the chain.

  4. 4 brenda March 4, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    What a moving post, I hope by sharing the memories, it helps, thinking of you x

  5. 5 Crystal Jigsaw March 8, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Very powerful stuff. I detest violence too, see absolutely no need for. When a man hits a woman or indeed a member of his family (or anyone but you know what I’m saying), there is simply no excuse for it – it most certainly is not the woman or child’s fault but it is the fault of the man – he is the one with a huge problem which he has to overcome.

    My love to you,
    CJ xx

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