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Childhood Part 2

Posted Dec 09 2010 10:30pm
A lot happened between the ages of about 9 and 12. My brother moved out, to move in with his now wife. Although obviously before that he was out a lot with friends and at work etc, I do remember being upset when he moved out. My maternal grandfather, who I was very close to, died when I was 9 or 10. I remember going to see him in hospital, but he wasn't the person I knew really. And then he died. I wasn't allowed to go to the funeral because my parents didn't agree with children being at funerals. I was sent to C's house for the day to play. I have a vague recollection of playing in the garden with her, but feeling upset about my grandad dying, and everyone apart from me being at the funeral. My paternal grandmother died a few years later (I am very hazy about dates throughout my childhood). I hadn't been close to her - she lived further away and I only remember seeing her about once a year. My mum and I went to see her in hospital, but I don't remember anything about it, I just remember going. My dad was in Japan on a business trip when she died, and was still away for the funeral. I remember he wrote a poem which my mum read out at the funeral. I was allowed to go to that one. I suppose I was that bit older. I don't remember much about it.

The main thing that happened in my childhood was my parents splitting up when I was 12. I remember that quite vividly. I remember seeing my mum upset a few times, and my dad comforting her, but I didn't know why. Then one day, I was at C's house, and my mum called and told me to come home. I didn't want to because her cousins were there, and we were all having a good time, but she insisted. I went home and my parents told me that my dad was moving out. I was incredibly upset. I had absolutely no idea that there were any problems - it was completely out of the blue. My parents were the type of people who everyone expected to be together forever, so it was a complete shock. I remember getting very upset, and I remember my mum getting very upset. She phoned my brother and he came over. I was told initially it was just going to be for a few days, to give them some time apart, and I believed that. My dad took some things off and went to stay in a hotel. For some reason, they must have decided it would be a good idea if I went with him for the evening and went home later. I think my mum was too upset to look after me. So I went off to this hotel with him, and I suppose I went home later that night, although I don't remember. I have only just remembered that he took me with him. Obviously it wasn't just for a few days. He started looking for somewhere to rent. I went shopping with him one day and helped him buy things he would need - I remember choosing a duvet cover for him. It all feels quite surreal. Again, I am unsure why they thought it was a good idea for me to go shopping with him to buy things for his new home, when I was still being told it was temporary - it had just been changed from a few days, to a few weeks, to a few months. I was told at some point, I can't remember when, that he had been having an affair with a girl who worked for him. I say girl, because that was how I thought of her. I think she was about the age I am now. It had been going on for some time, but nobody knew. As soon as he had moved out, he broke up with her anyway. I never met her.

My sister had been at university in Edinburgh, but was upset by my parents splitting up, and took a year out and moved back home. I am not entirely sure why it affected her so much, as it wasn't her dad - my siblings have a different father to me, and although she always got on fine with my dad, she had never called him dad or anything like that - she never thought of him as her parent. But she did come home, and her attitude towards me had completely reversed. When I was a young child she had been besotted with me, and spoilt me. As I got older she was still very fond of me, and when she was living in London she used to take me there and we would go to a museum or something, and she took me to the ballet once, and the theatre another time. She used to buy me lots. I went to stay with her twice in Edinburgh. We were always close. But when she moved back for the year when I was 12/13 her attitude had completely changed. That was the point where she started having issues with me. She would say that I was a spoilt brat and a little witch and just generally wasn't very nice to me most of the time. I certainly never, ever had any support or understanding from her.

Parents splitting up is nothing unusual - it is so common for couples to split up, and children just seem to deal with it. But I think in a lot of ways I didn't. I think there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it was not a straight forward case of parents not getting on and fighting, one moving out, then getting a divorce a little later. In fact, that couldn't have been much further from what happened. There had been no fighting, or certainly not that I had ever witnessed, and our house is not so big that I wouldn't have heard screaming matches. The separation itself was I suppose unusual to say the least. Despite my dad having an affair, my mum still loved him and did not want him to leave. And they still got on. As I have already said, I was told initially that is was just going to be a few days, then that time period gradually extended. But it was always assumed they would get back together - this was just temporary, and there was never any talk of divorce or anything. I think that my mum had convinced herself it was temporary, which meant she could easily tell me that. However, as it was a temporary thing and they had not actually split up, that meant that we didn't tell other people. For years. Obviously a few people knew - family, and a couple of friends of my parents, and C and her family. But that was about it. It was all very secretive. My mum was devastated by him leaving. She didn't cope well with it at all. I remember her losing quite a lot of weight, and she is naturally very tiny anyway, and being prescribed anti depressants. She went to see a counsellor. They tried couple counselling a couple of times, but my dad was very against it, and so it only happened a couple of times. Apart from a couple of my mum's friends who knew, and this counsellor who encouraged her to punch cushions, she didn't really have anyone to talk to, so sometimes she used to talk to me. We were very close, but of course I was only 12, and I didn't understand why my dad had moved out when my parents got on so well, and everyone had assumed they would be together forever. I never told anyone about my dad leaving. My mum worked where I went to school, so nobody there knew, until one day in a PHSE class when there was something about divorce etc being discussed and I had to leave because I was feeling very upset. My mum then told my form tutor, who said she would avoid talking about that in PHSE again, but still nobody else knew.

To everyone else we kept up the facade of being a happy family. I don't know why. After my dad left, in some ways things didn't change much. He used to come over and see us some evenings and weekends. He still came on holidays with us. He always came and stayed for the Christmas period. I have never had a Christmas or holiday without both of them being there, despite my dad not living with us. I have friends who I didn't even meet until years after my dad who had left who thought that my parents were together, because my dad would come and stay when needed, and they would still do things together. My dad phoned every day and spoke to both my mum and I. The few people who did know that they had split up said how lucky I was that my parents still got on so well, and that he still spent so much time with us, but actually I think it was just really confusing. At first of course it just perpetuated my belief that this was a very short term arrangement. Later I didn't really know what was going on. Sometimes there would be a period when either my mum or I would get angry with him, and refuse to speak to or see him, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. If I was still speaking to him but my mum wasn't then he would take me out, although I only remember that happening a handful of times. If I wasn't speaking to him but my mum was then they would still talk on the phone but he wouldn't come over. If neither of us were speaking to him then obviously that was that.

One of my strongest memories of that period in the first year or so after he left, or perhaps longer, was of how incredibly distressed I used to get when he came over for the evening and then left. He would come over, and we would all be getting on fine, and it would just seem normal. And then he would leave. I think pretty much without fail this made my hysterically upset. I used to sob for hours. I remember trying to chase the car up the road as he drove away, crying hysterically. When I was really upset I used to lie down in the road outside the house. My mum used to try to get me inside in case someone saw me. She used to cry as well. We would both just cry inconsolably sometimes. And most of the time he was coming over at least a couple of times a week, unless it was a not speaking to him period. So it was an emotional time. It was at this time, when I was 12, that I first remember wishing I was dead. I wasn't suicidal, and I certainly wouldn't have acted on the thoughts, but I do remember thinking it.

I was also increasingly unhappy at school. Probably partly because I was unhappy generally, and partly because I was being bullied. Not badly - it wasn't physical or anything. But I didn't have any friends. I went to a very small school, with very small year groups and classes. From age 13 or 14 onwards there were only 5 girls in my year - before that there were maybe 3 more. One was H. The one who used to lock me in her bedroom when I was little. H was a bully - there is no denying it. When we were younger, up to the age of 11, there had been far more girls, and there was a little clique of popular girls, who could be quite nasty, and did tease her, although I always stuck up for her, despite her not always being nice to me. However, they all left at 11 to go to other schools, and somehow, when we started back at school in September, she was the leader of our year group. I have no idea how that happened, but she had a very strong personality, and somehow just took over. She didn't like me. She made best friends with the one remaining girl of the clique who had previously bullied her - this girl was actually quite nice, but rather sheep like, and would just follow others. Throughout school from 11 to 16 I was very lonely. Some days would be ok, but other times I would just get constantly teased. I was very naive and young for my age, and one of the things H liked to do to embarrass me was stand there with everyone around her and ask me what certain words and phrases meant - about sex or drugs, or other things I just knew nothing about. Of course I never knew, and then everyone would laugh at me. And then the usual childish name calling. Despite not doing much in the way of work at school and perpetually leaving things until the last possible minute, I still did well, and so got the usual 'boffin' comments etc. And things like making sure I didn't have anyone to sit with in class whenever possible, and obviously staying away from me at break and lunch times. Nothing major by any means, but all things that were upsetting and confusing to me as an 11 - 15 year old child. Particularly as some days she would suddenly turn and be nice to me and ask me to sit with her and things like that. I never knew where I was. My attendance rate at school got worse and worse. More and more illnesses - some real, some minor but exaggerated, some psychosomatic, and some just faked. I was at an age where I could actually stay home from school rather than go and spend the day in the sick bed, so it was even more appealing.

In restrospect, when I look back I am quite confused by some things that did, or didn't happen. A lot of it feels very painful to think about, but I feel pathetic for thinking that, because so many people go through such horrific things, and parents splitting up should surely not have affected me at all in the long term? But when I was talking about it with L she pointed out that actually it was probably quite traumatic for me, as a 12 year old, to be in such a confusing situation, and to have to keep it all a secret. During the appointment, when we were talking about it, I would get little flashes of vivid memories, and some of them were really quite painful. I remember one day being at a friend's house to play, and her mum was one of the few people who knew that my parents had split up, and I remember her asking me how my mum was and how she was coping, and me just desperately wanting her to ask ME how I was, and how I was coping. But nobody ever did. My parents obviously knew what a state I was in, as they saw it. My siblings never once asked how I was. And apart from that very few people knew, and those who did only thought about my mum - after all, it was her and my dad who had split up, not me. It was nothing to do with me. Except of course it was. But I never had anyone to talk to. My mum had her counsellor she used to go and see, and even my dad saw the counsellor a few times on his own, because my mum wanted him to, but I never had anyone to talk to. I was never asked if I wanted to talk to a counsellor or anything, and there wasn't a school counsellor, and even if there had been I wouldn't have been able to speak to them because it was a secret of course, and my mum worked there, which also ruled out talking to any teachers. I remember one time when I was particularly upset my mum asking if there was someone I would like to talk to, and suggested a couple of people I knew from performing. I said that maybe it would help to talk to this one girl (although in retrospect it wouldn't have been fair - she is only 5 or 6 years older than me, so would have only been 17 or 18 at the time, although of course that seems completely grown up when you are 12) because her parents had split up when she was younger so she would understand. And my mum got very upset and started crying because I had said about this other girl having parents who had split up too, because of course my parents hadn't split up - it was a temporary arrangement remember? And so she got very upset and left my room, and me talking to someone was never mentioned again. So I learnt to bottle everything up. Because actually, I didn't have a choice. Of course I could talk to my mum, but that just resulted in her getting upset every time, so that didn't help at all. I was angry with my dad. My siblings didn't seem to care, or even think about me. And the few other people who knew would ask about my mum, but not about me. And there was no option of counselling or anything like that. So I learnt to put on a happy face, and started developing my happy mask. Looking back on it now, I don't know why my mum thought that she needed a counsellor, and that my dad needed a counsellor, but that I didn't need anyone. It seems strange in retrospect that she could see my lying in the middle of the road sobbing hysterically and not think I perhaps needed to speak to someone. But I think she was genuinely in such denial about the whole thing that it didn't even occur to her. My dad had just moved out for a little while, and would be coming back, and so maybe she thought there was nothing to talk about. I don't know. But I think that actually it would have helped me to speak to someone - both then, and further down the line. Because of course by the time I got older I had become an absolute pro at keeping my mouth shut and keeping everything bottled up, and not telling anyone anything, and never mentioning feelings or emotions, that I think I had become completely detached from my emotions and how I actually felt, and so consequently found therapy virtually impossible.

There is more to come in the saga of my parents' relationship and my childhood/adolescence, but this is quite long enough already, and I am feeling vaguely emotional, although I don't know why, so yet again I will continue this tomorrow....
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