Will my mum go to prison?
I knew the answer to that question, the gravity of the situation I understood even though I was only thirteen. I felt like I was dreaming, not just dreaming but swimming in this nightmare not able to see through a thick jelly like soup. The grey haired, spectacled policeman couldn’t answer me; either he didn’t want to because he could see a crumpled thirteen year old in front of him, or he was just being stuffy and unhelpful. Maybe he just did not know what to say to me – he was trained to catch the bad guys after all, not console young girls.
It began as a normal August day, my sister and I were at home off school for the summer. As a teenager I was slightly but not completely oblivious to the problems my parents had. They were after all always arguing and had been more so recently, and that day was no different. Frequently as a child I would wake to hear the sound of arguing and plates being thrown around, but I didn’t give it a second thought as it was strangely normal to me. Like a silent movie I never spoke about my home life to anyone – thinking that my peers would think of me differently almost like a leper. These thoughts dissipate as you get older and you come to realize that for the most part there is no normal.
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My sister was eighteen at the time about to leave for University in the fall. She was going as far away as she could possibly get, the University of Plymouth a seven hour drive from us – the opposite end of the country. She was home that day wearing her new retro fifties style skirt and top, it had big blue flowers on it and stuck out in a bee bop style, she was going through a vintage phase at the time. I didn’t care for outfits like that; I liked my tomboy look – jeans and a yellow sweater. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never see those clothes again after the events of that day unfolded.
We were told, almost forced, to go out for a walk to the park which was unusual but we didn’t mind. It had been an unusually hot and dry summer for England, the grass was brown from lack of summer rain; it was dry and crunchy underfoot. My sister and I did everything we could to pass the whole afternoon.
We had been gone as long as we possibly could; we were starting to get hungry as the shadows of the great oak trees grew long. We sat on the bough of one particular old oak tree that hung low to the ground, it formed a natural swing. My father used to put us on this bough when we were younger and bounce us up and down. Now we were there awkwardly alone, not really sure what to do subconsciously sensing something was going on.
Eventually we went home, where everything that I had become accustomed to as a child had been destroyed. The first thing I had to do was go to the bathroom, and as I was I could hear my father’s voice.
I paid no attention – I thought he was joking. My father had a broken collar bone at the time from a motorcycle accident and his pain coupled with his natural impatience and narcissistic tendencies made him a very unpleasant patient. He was like a cantankerous wild animal. I was in no hurry to rush to his aide. Had I known what was really going on, maybe I wouldn’t have been so quick to judge.
It was my sister who ventured upstairs to see what was going on; it is incomprehensible to me what her first thoughts were as she entered the bathroom, the scene was like something that comes with the TV warning “viewer discretion advised”. My petite mother had decided to take things into her own hands after discovering that my father was having yet another affair; and had stabbed him whilst he was lying vulnerable and unable to move.
I would have given anything in my entire core to not have to call for the emergency services, my father and my sister yelled at me to do it. I sat there for an eternity wondering if I really had to. Our old cream rotary telephone stared angrily at me as if was my arch nemesis. It sat there on top of an antique roll top writing desk. The desk always had a musty, oily old smell to it mixed with the smell of the beeswax polish that my mum furiously used to use on it; it still smells that way now. It reminded me of my Grandfathers workshop, he was carpenter and would use all kinds of wood and oil in his work, and it had been around since he was a child.
As I forced myself to dial the numbers time seemed to pause. Nine…I watched the dial get back into position before I could dial the second emergency number ..nine…and then the third…nine. As I sat there, I wondered …How do I tell the person at the end of the phone what has happened? How do I get those solemn words out? Somehow, I did it; I managed to tell the voice at the end of the line that I needed an ambulance and the police. ? I wondered what she was thinking having to send them out to this sleepy little village where nothing ever happens. At this point I felt a certain amount of indifference to what was going on upstairs and went and sat out in the garden until the policeman came and got me. I was in my own world, I didn’t hear the sirens of the police cars or the ambulances; and it was still the nice sunny afternoon in the park, sitting on the old oak tree again.
Seeing my crushed mother being led away was heartbreaking. My mum although small in stature was formidable to me, she could just give me one look and I knew. She had a tone of voice and a way of saying things that could be very dispiriting, when she thought we could do better. She was not a disciplinarian; she didn’t have to be, we did not misbehave. Now, she was a broken person, her world had collapsed around her.
It was our turn to leave the house and be taken to the Police station. A collection of people had gathered outside of our cottage, staring like old fish wives, wondering what had happened and impatient to go and tell the next gaggle of villagers about the events of 80 Village Road that summers afternoon. It was like a scene out of a Miss Marple movie, a summer’s afternoon in a quiet sleepy village in the English countryside; the cottage on the village green next to the village Post Office swarming with policemen and ambulances, the mild mannered mother and wife being led away.
Being questioned by the police I felt that internal struggle again. I had felt it earlier in the day- not wanting to call the police. Now, I didn’t want to tell them anything about what I had seen or heard. I did not want to get my mother in any more trouble than she already was. They had taken away my clothes and given me spare ones, and sat me in a comfortable room with a bed. It was on this bed I sat and picked at the shabby yellow chenille bedspread whilst a pretty, young female officer tried desperately to pry some information out of me. My sister had been placed in a different room, where they questioned her separately. I had no idea where she was, I wanted to go home. After all, what was all the fuss about? In my mind my mum would be able to go home and take care of me like she had every day of my short thirteen years.
“I didn’t see or hear anything”, I lied.
They kept asking me over and over, if I had seen or heard anything. I remained tight lipped. I wanted to go home and everything be normal again, it was a long time before anything was conventional in our house again.
My grandfather came and picked my sister and I up later on, my father was in the hospital and my mother was placed in the Psych unit at the hospital. We spent the night at my grandfather’s house, no one said a word about what had happened, did I dream it? Or was it just so embarrassing and disgraceful for this to have happened that my grandparents were just going to pretend that it hadn’t happened.
No one ever seemed to know what to say to us and we didn’t speak up. It didn’t occur to me until later on in my life working as a Victim Support Counselor, and even later as a Mental Health Counselor that the way this experience was handed to me had shaped my future. I was naturally drawn to giving people a voice, as I teenager I had not felt the desire to disclose any details with the adults in my life. Like many teenagers I felt that adults were an alien species almost talking a different dialect; I wanted to help the quiet ones too timid to speak up – like lost souls not exactly sure enough of themselves to say anything.
I went to see my mother in the hospital before I went to see my father, I knew he was OK. Being only thirteen I could not drive so I biked the four or five miles to the hospital by myself. I was the only person that had gone to visit with her. Her panic stricken face dissolved in relief when she saw me, she was no longer the formidable lady I had once known to be my mother, but a woman who was defeated by years of physical and verbal abuse. A sense of unclutteredness came over me like when you first jump in an empty swimming pool and all you can hear is the bubbles and see the clear blue water. The constant fighting, the arguing I knew what it had all been about. My mum… she was worried about me, who was taking care of me, feeding me ….typical mum stuff, but she needed my help now.
She did in fact go to prison for what she did, she was given a three year sentence, reduced to six months, and eventually quashed. My father repenting for his actions, was the person who advocated getting her out of prison. My mum really was no danger to anyone. Naturally, she had lost her nursing job at the hospital and her self-esteem had nosedived. However, twenty five years later my parents are still married; I scratch my head and wonder why sometimes. I came to the conclusion that they deserve each other, they are like a couple of old gargoyles on a church- they look miserable next to each other but remain permanently stuck in the same position and will remain so for the rest of their lives.