The Knock in the Night

***If you are visiting this page for the first time, please do look at the previous posts in this section. This is my story and it will all make more sense if you begin to read where I began to write***

1974

I recall a time when I idolised my dad, this was before I knew the truth of what he’d done. He was my ‘go to’ parent, but this was when I had no idea of the affair he’d had when I was seven, let alone any others I’m pretty sure he had, but we just don’t know about. My outstanding memory though, is that he was always really busy. Too busy.

Discovering that my dad was not the man I had believed him to be was beyond devastating. I couldn’t absorb the fact that he would do this to us all and that he could leave us for a woman other than my mum. Where would he be going? Where would he be living? How and when would we see him? It was the most awful time for us all, but for me it was going to get so much worse.

Dad moved out and moved in to a flat above my cousin’s print shop. Of course this was well before the days of mobile phones so there were great gaps of time when I had absolutely no idea what was going on with him.

But then his visits home began and with them an emotional nightmare I’d never imagined. Dad began to bring me letters and gifts from the woman he was seeing. He told me her name, where she lived, who she was married to, in fact everything I didn’t want to hear about her. He told me that he wanted me to accept her, if not as a second mum, at at least a friend. He continually pestered me to meet her. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t!

My brothers and sister were not involved in this emotional rollercoaster. Just me and I was a mess. It was more than I could cope with, but I had no idea then that I would have to cope with so much more than dad’s unfair and unreasonable demands upon me.

It is probably no surprise to read that we had the most awful Christmas that year. I tried to make it as ‘normal’ as possible for the two younger ones, who were then eight and ten years old. But our family was broken. My mum was broken. She was on medication from her GP; she was taking Valium, which meant she spent most of her time in a zombified state. Grandma helped me as much as she could during the day. But night times were to become far, far more difficult.

In the early hours of one morning just after Christmas, I was awakened by a loud knock on the front door. I was immediately awake. I had become a light sleeper by necessity, always checking that mum was OK. I slipped out of bed and closed the bedroom door so as not to wake my sister. I popped my head round mum’s bedroom door. Her bed was empty, the bedclothes pulled back. I assumed she had already gone downstairs to answer the front door. It did seem strange though, there were no lights on in the house.

I made my way down. The front door was closed tight and there was no sign of mum. The knock came again, seeming more urgent than the first.

I cautiously opened the door. I was frightened. I’d never known anybody knock on the door in the middle of the night. Who on earth could be knocking at this time? Why would anybody be knocking at this time?

I soon had my answer: outside our front door were at least two policemen and with them, my mum, wearing just her nightdress; her wet nightdress.

“This lady says she lives here,” said one of the policemen.

“Yes,” I answered, suddenly shaking with fear and anxiety. “She’s my mum.”

“We found her trying to drown herself in the canal,” he explained.

I can’t even describe the horror I felt at that moment. My dad had left us and now my mum wanted to kill herself and leave us too.

“Mum…” was all I managed through my tears. She just looked blankly at me.

“Well, now she’s safe, we’ll be getting along, love,” said the policeman. ‘We’ll leave her with you.”

That was it! I was sixteen and my mum had just tried to drown herself. My younger brothers and sister were up stairs in bed. This couldn’t really be happening. Could it?

Amazingly, the younger children were all still fast asleep, spared from this horrific awakening in the middle of the night.

I had to treat mum like a child, drying her off, warming her up and tucking her safely into her bed. There was to be no more sleep for me that night, or for many nights to come.

That wasn’t mum’s only attempt on her life. She tried overdosing on several occasions and each time I prevented her doing it by physically wrestling the tablets out of her hands.

One night, things got even worse. Dad came home and there was an almighty row. Before I knew it they both had handfuls of pills goading each other to take them first. I had to beg dad not to do it, whilst fighting with mum for the tablets in her fist.

I ended up hiding all mum’s pills and just giving her the prescribed doses at the allotted times. She found where I’d hidden them more than once. I ended up putting them at the back of the top shelf of the airing cupboard on the landing.

I didn’t sleep at night for a very long time (I still don’t sleep wonderfully). I was sixteen years old, I was studying for my A Levels and my life was a living hell.

The knock in the night

This was the day, when the world fell apart

Called home from school, a new nightmare to start

At 16 years old, here we were again

In that place which would cause such ongoing pain

Caused by a man, with selfish intention

A fling, an affair, to massage his ego

The consequences of which he’d never know

He’d never acknowledged the distress that he caused

It was all about him and his ‘happiness’

Not a thought at all for the unbelievable mess

he made of our lives –

and this was the day when

A teenage life was destroyed

Having to grow up before it was time

If it happened today, it would be a crime

To leave a young girl in such a situation

Not of her doing, not her creation

The knocking that came in the middle of the night

The knocking that caused pure panic and fright

To be made even worse, when answering the door

To the vision of police – two, maybe more

Holding there, shivering on the doorstep, a mum of four,

just in a nightie,

Her daughter, shocked and more than slightly

Bewildered – where had she been?

What had gone on?

Why that strange look?

What had mum done?

           Brought home from the canal in the early hours of the morning

The intention, her mission, now suddenly dawning

upon this terrified teenage girl.

A suicidal mother, three siblings in bed

‘She’s all yours, now’, the officers said

As they handed her over into the care of her daughter

Who was left thinking that her life ought to

Be so different from this nightmare she lived

Caused by her father

Could she ever forgive

His actions that led them into this place

And all the horrors she was too young to face.

 

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