A Fading Impression.

Impression

Physically, the wounds of that day remained for weeks but the psychological impact,  the deep impression it left, has always remained and can never be erased. I had already lost respect for Larry, my step father, but this beating bought about something deeper. It changed something within me, and whilst beaten down in one respect, it triggered something, sowed the seeds of survival. There came a realization,  that this was how my life was, but I needed to live it and get through it all.

My head was heavy and ached for weeks, my scalp tender to touch and brushing my hair made me wince and yelp. I had bruises everywhere, especially my forearms, that had taken many of the blows intended for my head and body.  As it was the start of the summer holidays there wasn’t a need to keep me away from school until the bruising disappeared.

The bruises would eventually fade and the aches and pains would resolve, but I continued to shake inside, always nervous, with an anxiety that simmered within me for many years to come.

I would feel sick at the sight of Larry,  but would have to carry out his orders and instructions without question. It became preferable to retreat to the ‘dog room’ and help with grooming the dogs, or to the old back room and tackle a pile of ironing, than have to suffer the sight of him and the wave of nausea that would come over me with it.

Looking back, I can see that with my loss of any respect for Larry, there came something else. I still feared him and had to toe the line, but most of the time, in my head, I had almost disregarded him.

It was still necessary to carry out the numerous tasks and chores, and to suffer the usual physical and verbal punishments, often for little or no reason. However, my overriding memories or this times are of laughter and funny moments, spent with my siblings and, whenever possible, with friends, making the most of every chance to do something I wanted to do.

Even Sylvie’s rages and harsh treatments could often be overshadowed by her hilarious story telling, the mimicking of people, peppering her language with frequent swear words. She would have a saying for everything, commonly known terms, but she would put her own spin on them to apply them to her tales. To this day, I will often smile and chuckle to myself whenever I hear any of these terms, recalling her own unique ways of expressing them.

Larry’s impression on my life has always remained, but thankfully, at that time it was fading, other things were becoming more important, he was increasingly of little consequence, I could suffer whatever he wanted to throw at me.

I just got on with it all and enjoyed the good wherever I could.

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Adrift and Alone.

Adrift

The importance of time with my friends cannot be underestimated. Meeting up with school mates after school or at weekends and holidays was not allowed for me. The journeys to school, time with my friends, during break and lunchtimes, was my only chance of any kind of social life, a time to mix with my peers.

Friends would often ask me to their houses, to meet up after school, go to the park, go swimming or into town, but I would always have to make up an excuse. To a few close friends I was able to admit the truth, telling them that I wasn’t allowed, but I would still feel embarrassed, feeling that it was somehow my own fault,  and I could see that they struggled to understand. Some of them even suggested that I just did what I wanted, “What can they do about it?” they would innocently ask, having no idea of the repercussions I would suffer if Sylvie or Larry knew I’d even thought about it.

Academically I was very able, I liked learning and could grasp subjects well, but chances to excel would be scuppered time and again and in several ways. The sheer amount of time absent from school resulted in a constant catch-up.  Any time I would be doing well at one or two subjects, and there were several times when this was the case, I would suddenly be kept away from school for days at a time.

I don’t think there was ever any deliberate intention to hinder my progress; it was just that my services were needed at home, to be roped into grooming dogs or caring for the ones we bred or boarded, or the mountain of household chores. I would return to school having missed several days lessons and would have to scramble to catch up.

Participating in after school activities was something I would have loved to have been able to do, particularly the sports clubs and being part of the sports teams. Athletics and netball, long jump, high jump, hockey and swimming were all things I loved.  I would look forward to PE lessons and would often being asked to join the athletics clubs, the netball team and such, to represent the school.  If these clubs ran at lunchtime it was OK , (as soon as I stayed for free school lunches), but anything after school or on weekends was out of the question.

Despite loving the sports and the games lessons,  they were always marred by the fact that no matter how well I did at any sport, I wouldn’t be able to represent the school at any level, and I couldn’t be part of the netball or hockey teams.  Watching the teams go off to compete with another school, and the match reports read in assembly the next day, with praise for the star players, would leave me feeling frustrated, angry that I hadn’t had the opportunity, that my chance to shine had been dulled once again.

More than that was the sense of it setting me apart from the people around me, the people I desperately wanted to be like, to fit in and not feel that I was always separate and alone.

And so, again, that cloak of isolation would repeatedly engulf me, leaving me totally adrift and alone.

A Final Belief.

Final

At RAF Alconbury, Pam ( my natural mother), was to meet Grant, a young US airman of the same age. Having fallen in love, it was not long before long Pam was pregnant and so they were making plans to marry. Soon after my birth, and with the evidence of the presence of another man, the relationship crumbled. Pam was left alone with little support and struggling to cope as a single mother.

Sylvie learned of Pam’s struggles, and despite already having four children of her own and an empty, disintegrating marriage, she offered to care for the baby for a while. The arrangement was to become a permanent one, leading to a private and somewhat strange adoption, involving deceit and untruths regarding the situation of my adoptive parents to be.

It was the start of a complicated and chaotic life, eventually within a family of eight children, and at many times various others in the house, including nephews, nieces, cousins and even lodgers. There was hard work, tears and abuse but also love, immense laughter and enduring relationships, that provide a rich tapestry of memories.

The eventual search for my natural family, and for answers to the thousands of questions stored up over the years,  has resulted in a combination of heartache and happiness, revelations and surprise, reunions and first meetings. It has answered some questions but raised many others.

Ultimately, it has provided me with a history, unbreakable blood ties, and importantly, a final belief that I am not purely defined by my status of ‘the adopted one’.

Mum; the person I know least.

Maze

Writing about the circumstances of my early life and my upbringing, has caused me to think long and hard about the maze of people involved, the memories of them and the stories I have been told.

It has struck me, with a great deal of sadness, the realization that the person I know the least of all about is my natural mother Pam. Due to the eight year age gap and very differing personalities, Bessie, her sister,  has told me as much as she can, but she and Pam were never close and did not mix in the same groups of friends.

Bessie left the UK for the USA when Pam was twenty and although she did make a few trips back to the UK, they did not see much of each other. The trips were often several years apart and other than writing letters and the occasional telephone call, communications systems were virtually non-existent compared to today.

Unfortunately, I never met Pam as she is no longer with us, having died in strange circumstances in 1980. There are very few photos of her, but of the ones I have, I am able to see that I look like her, taller and slimmer, big busted and fair haired. A prominent nose and a fondness for the odd gin and tonic I also inherited.

It seems that like her own mother, Pam was a quieter personality, and so am I. It is hard to know if this ‘nature or nurture’. Was I born that way, or is it a result of my upbringing?  Was it the constant suppression of any attempts to express an opinion, to defend an argument and the physical repercussions if I persisted?

Much of what I was told about Pam when I was growing up was, to say the least, unkind and uncomplimentary. Unfortunately it has to be said that a lot of the stories have turned out to contain some truth.

In my head I know these facts and have to face them, but they hurt tremendously. Deep within my heart I feel a need to almost speak for her, to justify her actions of that time and the circumstances involved.

Perhaps it is because she hasn’t been able to speak for herself, to tell me how she felt, or if she had regretted giving me up. Truthfully though, I think it is more of  a desire within me, to see my beginnings through rose tinted glasses and ignore some of the glaring truths.

Unfortunately,  her death robbed her of the chance to have her say, to put forward her side of the story or even to just to be able say ‘Sorry’.

My Pink, Plastic Pram.

Pink

 

Although crowded in the small house, life seemed settled for a couple of years. Larry worked as an HGV driver and this would take him away for days at a time.

I went along to a local nursery, skipping along to it every day with the boy from next door, sometimes wheeling my beloved little pink, moulded plastic pram, or racing along on my tiny scooter. The nursery was in a grand, big old stone house with an enormous garden and I loved going there.

All the children had their own peg to hang their coat and bags, and their own little towels. Above each peg would be a symbol, mine was a squirrel, and there would be the same corresponding symbol on your towel, your desk, your PE bag, even on the deck-chair type fold out beds and blankets, which we were made to snuggle into every afternoon for one hour.

Just before I reached the age of five another house move was made. With the benefit of hindsight, I have realised that the move was one of necessity. Given the age of Sylvie’s youngest daughter and the time of moving into this house, Sylvie was obviously pregnant again. Already cramped in the tiny house, it wasn’t going to be able to accommodate another child.

Still too young to really understand, I vaguely recall standing in a big room in a house, it seemed dark, with a very high ceiling and there was some rubbish on the floor, old screwed up newspapers and some rags. I also have a recollection of standing in the garden, looking back at the house, surrounded by weeds and grass as tall as I was then. I realise now that this must have been when we were taken to view the house. Soon a ‘mortgage’ of sorts was arranged with a local business man who owned the house. The move was made and this was to become our permanent home.

The house was immense, the size of the rooms and height of the ceilings meant that heating them was almost impossible. Waking up in the winter and finding frost on the inside of the windows was normal, as was seeing the warmth of your breath create a cloud as it hit the cold morning air.

There was no central heating and only gas fires in a few of the main rooms. A small gas bottled heater would be wheeled about the rooms and used to keep that area vaguely warm. We had several little paraffin heaters that would be lit and huddled around; These paraffin heaters were to become one of the banes of my life.

Needing to have their little tanks replenished with paraffin every day, I was the one usually given the job of taking two plastic one gallon cans along to the petrol station where paraffin was sold and carting it back home. There was a small station only about 100 yards away, but often they would not have a supply, and it would mean a trek of about half a mile to the next larger petrol station. Half a mile doesn’t seem far but for someone of about seven years old, carrying two 1 gallon cans, one weighing down each arm, it was always an arduous task.

No matter how hard I tried, I would always end up with some of the liquid spilt on me, only a tiny amount, a few drops, or the can would rub on my clothes, but it was enough to result in me carrying around the foul paraffin smell about me all day.

He didn’t Pursue me

Pursue

Thinking it was the end of the matter, I started to make my way back to the house when Larry appeared with a cane in his hand. He had obviously arrived home from work and Sylvie, still in a rage, must have told him what had gone on. I could see from the look on his face that he wasn’t happy.

As he approached me he snarled, “So you think you’d got off lightly did you?”, grabbed my arm and, whirling me around,  proceeded to whip the cane down onto the backs of my legs four or five times. I screamed out and managed to break free, running away to the house. He didn’t pursue me and seemed satisfied with what he’d done.

That night, the lashing on the backs of my legs appeared as raised wheals in horizontal stripes across the back of my thighs and upper calves. Over the next few days they developed into deep, dark bruises and it was obvious to anyone looking at them how they had been caused. Fearing them being seen at school, I was kept at home for about ten days until they had almost faded completely.

I still had it drummed into me that it was my own fault, that I had deserved it, and made fearful of the repercussions if I told anyone. I returned to school and, for the one and only time, Sylvie was forced to write me a note to explain my absence.

According to the note,  I had unfortunately been absent from school due to a particularly severe bout of tonsillitis!

‘A kick in the Goolies twice over!’

Temporary

My time in the Care System was temporary.

During my time in the homes and foster care, I felt wonderfully lucky to be allowed what I thought to be great privileges; pocket money, sweets, time to be a child, to play and the freedom to speak and say what I thought. Not having to spend my days working away in the house, grooming dogs, fearing verbal and physical lashings. This time had given me a glimpse of ‘normality’ and a little bit of what life should be like.

When Sylvie and Larry did eventually arrive to take me home, I think that in my naive, young mind I imagined that life was going to continue in the way it had the past few months, that this is how life was now. It just seemed normal to me that my family would have missed me and would be glad to have me home.

There was no ceremony to my return home, it was a though I’d never been away. There was no indication that I’d been missed or that they were happy to see me. Within days the old regime was restored and it was sinking in that I had returned to exactly the same situation I had left several months before. I wasn’t given any explanation why I had been kept away for so long and it wasn’t spoken about. Given the way anything and everything else was always brought up, I suspect that there could possibly some feelings of guilt on Sylvie and Larry’s part.

In recent times I have had reason to recall my feelings after my return home.  A few years ago, when we moved to the country, my husband and I were invited by our new neighbours to a dinner party.

Another set of neighbours, a couple who were foster parents, also came along.  They had talked about their latest foster children, a brother and sister, and although they didn’t go into detail, they spoke, in derogatory manner, of them coming from a poor housing area and living in a family with ‘difficult circumstances.’ They seemed quite pompous and spoke with an air of smugness at it being so satisfying for them, glad to be able to ‘take the children away from it all for a while’.

The host of the dinner party was quite an opinionated, straight talking man and immediately exclaimed, “Well it’s all well and good for you, but as I see it, it’s like getting a kick in the goolies twice over!  You get the first kick from living a shit life, then you get taken away to a big house in the country, with horses, big four wheel drive cars and going to the nice little village school. Then just when you’ve been given a taste of the nicer things in life, you have to go back to your old life and things must seem worse than ever. Like I said, like getting kicked in the goolies twice over!”

Everyone else present had seemed stunned by his opinion but it was to strike a chord deep within me.

It perfectly summed up my feelings soon after my return home. Having gone from the hard work, physical and mental abuse, I had been shown a different side of life, kindness and freedom and privileges. Then to have it all taken away again and be returned to my previous life.

I could agree entirely, ‘It was like being kicked in the goolies twice over!’