I hear a lot about the ‘unrealism’ of DANNY, in one way or another, and it got me thinking about the usual representations of abuse in ‘fact’ and fiction.
After that, I realised it’s time I made an effort to join in/ put things right. I should write abuse more accurately, more “realistically”. And to illustrate just how ‘accurately’ popular culture handles abuse I’m going to use “A True Life Story” – my own – as the basis for my mainstreaming forays into “gritty reality”.
Yes, here today (and possibly for a few blogisodes after this, if the fancy takes me) you’re going to see the full horror of my childhood laid out far more “realistically” and in a way you will all finally be able to relate to.
My ‘In the Style of…” series starts with Take a Break. I don’t know what the equivalent is in the US, or elsewhere, but if I tell you it’s the UK’s original and best “Real Life Stories” magazine, and features a weekly collection of desperate low-lifes getting a few bucks for their horror stories of abuse, murder, mayhem and dying children, I reckon you’ll know your own country’s version immediately. Think Jerry Springer in print and you’re close.
For the sake of brevity, and because evil mums are great, I have pushed both parents into one. I have also given my story the requisite happy, upbeat, positive ending. Unfortunately, it’s also not true, but I’ve come to realise that being truthful is not nearly as important as being “realistic”, and in the “real world” victims are always saved, and always learn A Life Lesson, so I’ve provided both. When I’m reincarnated I’ll be sure to get that right next time.
So here it is, I SHOPPED MY MUM TO THE COPS!, My Life Story as told by Take a Break…
“But Mum…” I cried, as I begged once again for my mum, Mary Henery (37), to let me go with my friends to the disco.
But all I got was a slap. “Didn’t I tell you to get that washing-up done?” Another slap sent me spinning to the floor. I lay there, trying to keep still, trying not to provoke her rage.
Why did Mum treat me like this? Why? I tried to be a good daughter. I washed and cooked and sewed and looked after my young brother, Andrew (7). But it was never good enough.
Every night Mum came in from work, stinking of perfume, dressed in sexy clothes I wasn’t allowed myself. “What have you been doing?” she’d snarl at me.
“N…n…nothing,” I’d whimper, trying not to cringe in case she struck out at me again. I soon learned to keep my head down and get on with my chores. From early in the morning till late at night I’d be doing all the things Mum should do but didn’t. She was too busy planning her latest outfit, buying sexy mini-dresses from the Bargain Centre (4) in Glasgow (938) and trying out false eyelashes to wear to that Saturday’s dance at Centre 1 (10).
Centre 1 was the Tax Office where my mother worked as a clerk and flirted with all the strange men she couldn’t seem to stay away from.
Years later, when my parents divorced, I was to hear from my Dad that my mother had always had a string of men, but then I never suspected. I just wanted her to love me.
Maybe if I tried harder at school? But I was already doing the best I could, trying to make Mum proud of me. But that night when she came home it was the same old story. “Get that fire made up”, “Isn’t dinner ready yet?”, “I told you to bleach those sheets.” It just never stopped.
I’d fall into bed every night and cry myself to sleep. Why couldn’t Mum love me? What had I done wrong? I must be a bad daughter. “If only I could change…” I shivered, as I turned over in my cold bed. Mum only ever gave me one blanket, and I wasn’t allowed a heater in my room, so I had to study up there every night, my feet wrapped in a coat, frost forming inside the window, trying desperately hard to please my perfect, gorgeous mother.
She was a real sex symbol, known in the district for her red hair and her short mini-dresses and her PVC boots. She even owned green satin hot pants which were all the fashion then. Other mums were dull and frumpy, and I knew how lucky I was, Mum told me all the time, but oh how I wished I had a loving, homely mum who looked after me and made me tea and cakes.
Instead I had to get my little brother up every morning for school and try and get him dressed and fed, then get myself out too. When I came home it was all chores then upstairs to study. I wasn’t allowed to go out anywhere. And the only clothes I owned were my school uniform and a cheap shirt I’d bought myself by saving up my weekly 20p pocket money.
I sighed and gazed out the back window as I did yet another load of washing, my hands red and stinging from the bleach. All my friends went to the Olympia Ballroom (19), but I wasn’t allowed. “They have knife fights there. You’re not going.”
But I’d never heard of any knife fights. Just like her excuse for not buying me any clothes. “Where have you got to wear clothes to?” she’d sneer, selecting a pair of huge dangly earrings from the porcelain bowl she kept in the kitchen sideboard as she applied more bright blue eyeshadow to her eyelids.
“Other girls get to go out…” I trembled.
“Other girls don’t get the benefit of an education,” she spat back at me. “Other girls are made to leave school at sixteen. Me and your father are paying to keep you on at school so you can make something of your life, not waste it in some factory.”
I cowered back from her distorted, rage-filled face. “It’s not fair,” I wailed. “I don’t have anything to wear. Look at these ugly shoes,” I pleaded, pointing at the big black policewoman’s shoes she made me wear. “All the other girls laugh at me.”
Suddenly she was grabbing me and shaking me, pounding my head and body with her fists, swearing, calling me filthy names…
“Oh no. No, Mum, no. Please don’t hurt me again…” I grovelled. But it was no good. She dragged me upstairs and into the bathroom. I knew I was going to die, but all I could think about was my little brother, poor little Andrew. What would he do without me to take care of him? Mum wouldn’t be there to feed him, make sure he got a proper lunch. I had to survive for little Andrew’s sake.
I struggled as she tried to shove my head down the toilet, but she was so strong, like a madwoman. “Mum, Mum…” I spluttered again. But she was beyond hearing me. She was insane with fury.
I had to stop her. I had to. I fumbled back with my hand and found the toilet brush. I couldn’t see, water was going up my nose, I was drowning. Oh no, I thought, as I began to fade away. I was dying. Then, suddenly, my hand found the handle. I swung it round and smacked her in the face with it, hard as I could.
I heard her gasp, her hold slackened. I struggled away from the toilet bowl and coughed up the water in my lungs. I had nearly died. I looked at Mum, crumpled there on the floor.
She was crying now, mumbling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” over and over. But I knew she wasn’t sorry. I knew this time it had gone too far. Suddenly I was filled with a sense of purpose. I had to stop this. “I’m phoning the police,” I asserted.
Immediately Mum was clinging to my legs. “No, please, don’t,” she moaned.
But I pushed her off, mascara running down her face. “Yes, Mum, I am. You need help. This has got to stop.”
Mum dropped her head in shame. The true woman under the sexy skirts and garish make-up had been revealed. She was broken. I left her there in a heap and went downstairs and phoned the police.
Afterwards there was talk about me in the street, all over the district. How could I have shopped my own mother? But they didn’t know her like I did. All they saw was the beautiful façade she put on in front of the world. After the divorce, when all the stuff about Mum and her men came out, people would come up to me in the street and say, “You did the right thing.” But it was too late then. No-one had been there to help me when I was a lonely child going though hell.
I’m not proud of what I did, although I do realise now that it had to be done. Mum hadn’t left me any option. I tried my best, but Mum simply couldn’t accept my love. Really she was the victim. She had lost her only daughter just so she could appear young and hip and trendy and attract the men she craved.
Mum and I still aren’t talking, and my brother hasn’t forgiven me for shopping her – he was too young to understand – but I hope someday they’ll see I only did it because I loved them.
As told to Isobel Dalry @ Take a Break
NEXT WEEK! DARK HEART OF SHAME – My life as an Odyssey True Story