We were waiting outside the classroom to go into Maths. I must have been in 2nd or 3rd year at school. Around 13 maybe? I was leaning against an abandoned desk. I can still remember my right hip digging into the edge of the rough wood through my scratchy school skirt. If it had been now I would have been scrolling through Instagram on my phone but mobile phones didn’t exist at this point – it was all about the car phone (showing my age). Thinking about it I was probably examining the ends of my hair for split ends – something I still regularly do now. I had no friends in Maths. I was no good at maths and my friends had all left me for a more advanced class. A boy, known for his dope smoking and not much else, moved towards me. I stood watching him, frozen to the spot. Before I knew it he had pushed into me, his groin pushing painfully into my crotch, his leering grin in my face, his hot tobacco-scented breath on my cheek as I turned my head away from him. I held onto the desk as he thrust into me accompanied by comedy grunting. The other kids started to laugh and cheer as I lifted my hands from the desk and pushed at his chest. I can’t remember what I did once I pushed him off. Did I laugh it off? But now when I think about it, after all these years, I am utterly mortified. Still.
It was Friday June 24th 2016. I was lying in bed, I’d woken early as usual yet I had no kids to get out to school (their dad has them on a Friday) and no work (I’d booked a day’s leave). I could hear my parents’ snores competing in the downstairs bedroom. They were over from Scotland and we had gone out for a boozy dinner the night before, my mum declaring she was pissed after one glass of wine (“it’s the travelling!”). I was reluctant to wake them up with the Brexit news but I contemplated starting the day by boiling the kettle – a cup of tea would soften the blow. I was about to get up when I saw my best friend Katie on my instagram feed – resplendent in her European Union sweatshirt won 23 years earlier.
I had met Katie on a school trip to Strasbourg. We were both 16 turning 17 in our last years of secondary school. I went to the local comprehensive that would literally take anybody (and did); it was only a Grammar by name. Katie attended the local catholic school. Her school bus would pass me and the girls every afternoon as we ogled the ‘exotic’ catholic boys; much more sophisticated than the rat bags in our school.
I can’t remember why I’d been chosen for this school trip. I was quite frankly shit at French despite my mum being a French teacher so it couldn’t have been based on my ability. Perhaps it was to encourage me to focus more, to improve, as I was competent in all other areas (with the exception of Maths). Anyway, I found myself in a strangely German part of France at the wrong time of year (we would have caravanned every summer in Provence) with a girl from my school I wasn’t friends with (Kate Barrie – I’m sure she’s an astrophysicist by now) and what seemed like hundreds of students from other local schools.
After a couple of days I started to gravitate towards Katie. She looked very similar to me. I remember her large NHS-style specs. I wore similar and this was before geek-chic was a thing. She had rosy cheeks like mine and we soon discovered we held a mutual appreciation for the locally brewed golden lager. My French teacher, Mr Park, who incidentally was deemed ‘cool’ but in hindsight was inept at teaching French -our lessons consisted of watching a French-style Hollyoaks – would inappropriately buy us a couple of these lagers every night at the Hostel bar thus facilitating our underage drinking. Perhaps he felt it preferable to be in control of the situation rather than let us drink furtively.
There were differences between Katie and myself too. Coincidently her mum was also a French teacher but unlike me Katie excelled at French. It was obvious why her school had chosen her to be in Strasbourg she conversed fluently and with ease to bank managers (we took a trip to the local bank dear reader; I cowered in a corner praying that I wouldn’t be asked to speak), French students, shop owners and the like.
On the last day of our visit we descended on the European parliament. I remember the flags flying outside, not fully understanding what took place in this building or why we were here. I think by this time I was ready to go home although my 16 year old self would never admit to being homesick. There were hundreds of school pupils there from schools across the UK and immediately my hackles were up, remember I was woefully inept at French and a week spent in Strasbourg had not improved my abilities. I clutched Katie’s hand in fear as she guided me through the crowds to take our seat in the round-lecture style theatre – the main debating chamber within the parliament building. We took our seats and got our notebooks and pencils (mine’s would be pretty much redundant throughout the session) and then without fuss Katie got up and walked down to the central stage. She was given her European Union sweatshirt – which I was to see again 23 years later – and a jaunty cap (sadly the latter didn’t make an appearance on Brexit results day) and ably took part in an inter-schools quiz all completely in French, of which, for the entire duration, I was inevitably completely lost. Until the last five minutes. Question time. As I twirled my pencil around my hair, lost in my own thoughts, the quiz compere took this to mean I had a question lined up. She pointed at me and wrote something down onto her pad. Up until that point I’d never been more petrified in my life. What was I going to say? And up until that point I’ve never been more grateful for the buzzer that signalled the question time was over. Time had run out and there was no time left for further questions. I stared down at the central stage and I will never forget Katie beaming up at me as tears of pure hysterical joy ran down her face.
Let’s take a walk up Fairhead M said. The views will be magnificent. Let’s take the dog! I drive up. Our relationship is in it’s infancy and I didn’t want Z to puke in his immaculate car just yet. We get to the car park after Z whines most of the way – such an anxious traveller. The man tells us dogs aren’t really encouraged as he glances at my red saltwater sandals disapprovingly. But the cows shouldn’t go for a wee dog like him and they’re certainly used to people. If they start to chase let go of the lead – save yourselves! M asks if he can pick him up and run with him? The car park attendant, mounting a muddy quad, reiterates: No, drop the lead and let the dog run. He will find his way back to you.
We start to walk. I squelch into what I hope optimistically is just mud, not dung. It’s not entirely unpleasant I have to say. Fellow saltwater sandal-wearers will know that they are just as comfortable and practical as the most expensive walking shoes and I can’t abide the feel of wet socks on my feet. The views are indeed magical. The weather is perfect as we take our first selfie together above intrepid climbers far braver than us. I remind M that the reason Z was handed into the dog pound was because he was found in a field with sheep; the farmer had threatened to kill him…we walk on.
We reach a gully, I step gingerly across the stream. M is a gentleman lending a hand and lifting Z over numerous stiles. We come across sheep on either side of the trail. One has curled horns. They look at us with interest. Z strains on the lead excited to see his old enemies – funnily enough I have kept him away from livestock for the 6 months I’ve had him – but M has a tight grip on Z. I’m not panicking. Yet.
In the distance I see cows and calves. I can feel my heart racing. As we pass a large black beast he starts to follow us at a slow trot, I start to speed up as M scoops Z into his arms like a baby and starts to jog. Another starts to moo loudly; a warning call, gathering up the troops. Z rather unhelpfully starts to bark as if to draw attention to himself – small dog syndrome. I’ve started to run, my wet muddy feet slipping around in my sandals, following the man I have known for just over 3 weeks cradling my badly behaved dog in his arms. And soon we are out of the cow-danger zone. The car park is in sight. I start to giggle as I look towards M thanking him profusely for not dropping the dog, in fact doing the complete opposite and protecting Z at all costs as if he were his own. My lovely, twinkly-eyed, grey-bearded hero.
I reward M with a delicious fillet steak for dinner, cooked medium rare. I give Z a bit of mine as he waits expectantly at my feet. The irony isn’t lost on me.
Saturday. My son brings me a cup of tea in bed and a slice of toast with butter and passion fruit curd. He snuggles in beside me (and the dog) and we have the following exchange:
A: I licked the butter knife.
ME: Did you rinse it before putting it in the curd?
A (with a raised eyebrow): Come on, it’s a mother and son thing…can you taste my saliva?
We then proceeded to have an America/North Korea discussion.
Sunday. Spoiled with breakfast in bed again. This time with both son and daughter. I can hear A being the foreman, directing the proceedings. My daughter H comes upstairs to announce the first slice of toast is burnt but she ate it as that’s how she likes it (who knew?) then the tea and toast come up again and the two of them (plus dog) get in to snuggle up and remark on the dog licking his ‘willard’. Not the peaceful breakfast in bed I’ve longed for for so long but do you know what? Near bloody perfect in my mind.
I would have been married 11 years ago today. And whilst I have been separated for nearly 4 years this date tends to creep up on me; ambush me and leaves me so emotional and teary that I have to sit with a tissue at my desk at work and dab my eyes frequently so I’m not left with mascara tracks down my face and I can have some semblance of professionalism. I think about how it would have been had we still been together these last 4 years. If, instead of leaving me, he left his mistress and really focused on our flaws. Attending counselling as I’d suggested and working on our marriage. I wonder if there would be a third baby by now or whether we would have decided against it, counting ourselves lucky and focusing all our energies into bringing up the two precious amazing kids we have already.
And then I think would I have thrown in the towel a year or two down the line? Would I have broken the habit of being a doormat – keeping the peace for somebody who clearly had zero respect for me and still to this day thinks he can walk all over me and I will just take it.
He has been so all over the place lately that it makes me think I should have just arranged alternative childcare for the summer holidays. Texting me saying he’s going to the gym when I’m about to drop the kids down or bringing them back late when he’s been texting me all day asking when I’m picking them up. I mean the holidays are always chaotic, routine gets thrown out of the window but this year, with his new son, it seems to be worse and I feel sorry for our two. I’m sure they feel that they’re not welcome anywhere which is hardly fair on them.
In other news I started dating again and the guy I’m seeing is lovely! I was reluctant to write this as it has only been a fortnight but I guess I see this as a record of my life so if things go wrong and it’s not as amazing and romantic as I believe it to be now well this is how I felt at the time and it’s good to record things – good and bad.
First off he has been so open and honest. He has nothing to hide and although his past relationships have been rocky he will not let the past define his outlook for the future and how he embarks on new relationships. His attitude is so refreshing and positive for somebody that has been through so much. He showed me his driving licence to prove his age (5 years older than me). I didn’t ask for it but he knows I won’t tolerate lies and deceit and is willing to open up to me in order to put me at ease.
Anyway, it’s early days. I’m trying not to get carried away. Date 4/5 (they merged into one weekend) went really well. Date 6 last night was lovely (although he’s a bit poorly at the moment but he muddled through). Date 7 won’t be until next week as this weekend is all about me and the kids…oh and a 3 hours life drawing class that a dear friend bought me for my birthday. Can’t wait!
Counselling is so different this time round. It seems to be more about affirming that my ex did behave appallingly and that I’m right to still feel hurt and still be working through things. It’s about managing my feelings so that I can remain neutral and almost detached for the kids in terms of how I feel about their new little brother. We have started working on building my self-esteem and my need to be more assertive in all aspects of my life and she has set me some homework this week. She believes if I learn how to say no and train myself not to apologise for things that aren’t my fault that I will feel better. I will have more energy, more head space for me and anxiety levels will reduce. Here’s hoping.
The French lady gave a disapproving look as they both heard her phone ring in the pocket of Emily’s unflattering work trousers. She ignored it for as long as she could. It felt like an age.
Emily reached for her phone. “Apologies, I have to get this. I do hope you enjoy your day”.
The woman turned sharply and walked away as Emily held the phone to her ear and walked to a more discreet corner.
“Can you pick Andrew up a lunchbox on your way home?”
No ‘Hi, how’s work? What do you fancy for dinner?’ The pleasantries had stopped a long time ago.
“I’m not sure what will be open by the time I’m coming home. Why?”
“I lost it with him. Yet again he’s not finished his lunch. It’s such a waste of fucking time and money”.
Her mind started to race. Surely Conor hadn’t thrown the Tupperware at their son? Is he having a hypo? Recently they seemed more frequent and during each episode Conor seemed more belligerent, verging on violent as Emily desperately tried to rub sugar into his gums. She always imagined what the pain would be like if his sharp teeth were to clamp down on her index finger piercing the thin skin.
“Are you okay?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean have you tested your blood sugar?”
“For fuck’s sake Emily, just buy a lunch box on the way home”.
And with that the phone went dead
Conor sat on the armchair in the cold living room. He looked down at his bare feet on the threadbare 70’s carpet – a psychedelic-style the landlord seemed to favour, so different from the rug he and Emily had chosen for their living room. Rory squirmed on his shoulder as he gently rubbed and patted the back of his second son; his third child but Jen’s first (“Never again” she’d declared as she sat cradling him in the hospital bed).
He should have grabbed his dressing gown before he’d lifted the crying baby or at least grabbed the blanket from the foot of the bed but Jen had mumbled that her feet were cold as she’d turned and settled into a gentle snore. How could she not hear his crying? It was like a pleading chant in the dark: please lift me, please lift me, please lift me.
The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to think:
“Let’s try for another baby Emily”.
Emily was sitting across from him looking so pretty in the dress he had bought her on the way here – a guilt gift for the thrush he had probably passed onto her by now. She really suited that shade of red. Strangely so did Jen and she was blonde. Not naturally as he’d found out. It had taken him by surprise as he’d peeled the delicate lace down her narrow pelvis for the first time revealing the dark strip of hair beneath.
Conor shook the thought from his head. He gestured his glass towards his wife. The glasses clinked. His attempt to bring himself back into the present moment was futile.
He remembered that night clearly, three years previously. He had woken and reached out for Emily but her side of the bed was cold. He rubbed his eyes as his feet fumbled for his slippers. He found her in the living room, blanket round her shoulders tears rolling down her face, Cara hot and red at her breast as his wife gently stroked the wispy dark hair of their second child. In that moment she looked so beautiful.
“How long have you been down? Let me take her, you go up. Try and get some rest.”
She’d handed over the baby wordlessly, pulled the strap of her top up and went to make them tea to take upstairs.
His wife sat up in the bed, grey-faced sipping from her favourite mug as he rocked Cara violently stepping from side to side as if in a silent disco. Every time he stopped the baby’s eyes would open, her lips trembling ready to let out another desperate cry.
“Never again Emily, I’m too old for this shit.”
“Never say never.” she had gently replied.
Back in the brightly-lit hotel dining room, Conor noticed the grey hairs at the parting of Emily’s hair as she sipped her glass of wine across from him and reached for his hand. He gave what he felt was a reassuring squeeze.
“Let’s enjoy tonight. Order dessert, finish this wine and if you still feel we aren’t complete in the New Year we can start trying then”.
There. That had won him some time. Six months to be exact to sort his life out. End it with Jen once and for all. He looked down at his half-finished steak so as to avoid the look of disappointment on his wife’s face. He pushed the bloody bit of meat to the side and stabbed a piece of broccoli with his fork. The cold vegetable turned his stomach as he tried to forget the fact that he had just committed to a third child with his wife. Why had he said anything? He should have just put a finger to her lips and filled her wine glass up. She would have thought that was romantic.
Suddenly Conor felt uncomfortably hot and the pianist they had both enjoyed so much earlier began to irritate him intensely.
“I’m knackered Emily. Work is shite at the minute and Cara still isn’t sleeping through. Andrew is no better. You let him play on your mobile far too much you know.”
A single tear rolled down his wife’s face and she reached for her napkin to wipe it away, leaving a smear of mascara across her cheek
“Look Emily, I didn’t say I didn’t want another, I just want to relax tonight
“I just thought seeing as it’s our wedding anniversary…”.
“I want to get up and swim before the pool gets busy. I didn’t get to the gym enough this week.”
“Do you not want to lie in? I thought we could order breakfast in bed?” she reached over and placed her damp hand over his.
“You know I can’t afford room service. I bought you that dress on the way here. You lie in. I’ll swim”.
They’d made love earlier. Wasn’t this enough for her? He’d thought of Jen the whole time. It was the only thing that could push him over the edge. She seemed to enjoy it. She was strangely silent but he’d felt her reciprocate. Surely that was enough?
He saw the waiter approach the table.
“Do you want dessert?”
“No” She replied curtly.
The waiter hovered at their table, menus in hand. Conor felt old as he noticed the acne blooming from the young lad’s shirt collar. The teenager could see Emily was upset. Typical Emily, making me out to be the arsehole in every situation. She always played the victim.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything? I’m going to have the tiramisu”.
She’ll remember this was our favourite honeymoon dessert and things will be okay again. He was sure of it.
“I’ll have an espresso with an amaretto on the side please. With ice”.
The waiter nodded, turned and made a sharp exit.
“Well you’ve recovered enough to have more booze” He sneered.
“Don’t be an arsehole Conor.”
The couple stood side by side at the kitchen sink. Conor began to fill the basin with lukewarm water and flicked on the kettle to boil. Emily was always using all the hot water for the kids’ baths, he thought. Surely at the age of 3 his youngest could learn to love a quick shower? Much more economical.
Meanwhile, Emily loaded what she could clumsily into the dishwasher. The less he has to wash and moan about the better, she thought. I can’t be bothered with the silent treatment and rumbling resentment tonight.
“It’s unlike anything I ever imagined”, Conor mused as he stared out of the window.
Here we go again, Emily thought. Please don’t start on about how we should all be following the fucking paleo diet. It’s hard enough getting the kids to eat anything other than fish fingers every evening but he wouldn’t know, she thought resentfully. He’s always at the gym and if I have to hear about Crossfit and its myriad of benefits one more time I’m going to lose the will to live and scream very loudly directly into his annoying face.
Instead she replied rather curtly and with more than a hint of sarcasm:
“I can’t wait to tell my mother about this.”
Emily’s mother was constantly criticising Conor at the moment. As a teacher he had 8 weeks off during the summer and he’d done nothing around the house. Instead he chose to neglect the kids, abandoning them with his parents so he could go to the gym. Almost obsessively it seemed. Who goes twice in one day?
“That shouldn’t go there” Conor announced.
Oh for fuck’s sake, she thought. He’s such a patronising arsehole when it comes to packing the dishwasher. She felt like telling him she wasn’t one of the kids in his class but she bit her tongue and started to noisily rearrange where she had put the saucepan and colander. No more fighting tonight.
Emily straightened up from the opened dishwasher: “Can you move a bit, to the left.” she requested.
She didn’t want to slam the dishwasher door into his knee as she was closing it although she often felt like doing just that. Repeatedly. A smile crept across Emily’s lips as her mind drifted into a bloody fantasy involving her husband and his right kneecap.
Conor replied “Yes.” A one word answer delivered in a rather monosyllabic tone. His mind was already wandering to the rather filthy episode he’d enjoyed in the car whilst dropping Jennifer home from the gym that evening.
Why couldn’t Emily perform blowjobs the way Jen could? He thought. In the last 4 years had they ever even shagged in the car? I’m sure she hasn’t realised how it takes me an extra 5 minutes or so to get back from the Box. He concluded.
What was he staring at? Emily thought. He had become so distracted lately and if he wasn’t spending his life at the Box he was attached to his phone. He even took it into the toilet with him for God’s sake.
Emily’s attention moved from her husband’s vacant profile to the basin of suds in which she was sure his hands were by now shrivelled and prune-like.
“Look at that!” She exclaimed as she pointed out the almost perfect heart-shaped bubble that was resting on Conor’s newly tattooed wrist. It’s a sign, she thought. Everything is going to be okay.
Conor withdrew his hands from the basin, destroying the heart in one foul swoop. He shook them dry and silently walked out of the kitchen.
They saw one another from across the park. Maeve was on the swing and Katie was making the same ‘weeeeeeee’ noise every time she pushed her daughter through the air. Maeve giggled and kicked her little legs with excitement. So much so that Katie feared she may lose a shoe. Nicola was sitting on a bench scrolling through her phone tempted by the latest tacky offer on her facebook feed: ‘Pop-a-ball – a sherbet that will turn your prosecco into a magical unicorn elixir!’ She was about to click ‘buy now’ even though she knew, deep down, that it would be a pile of pish yet again when something about the ‘weeeeeeee’ struck her as familiar. She looked up from her phone and spotted Katie. She might not have recognised her if she hadn’t been in her standard striped Breton top that she had admired whilst scrolling through noseybook.
Nicola slipped her phone into her bag and walked across towards the swings.
“Nicola?” Katie was surprised to see her and couldn’t quite work out what a perennially Glasgow girl would be doing in a park in Edinburgh at 11am on a Saturday morning. Surely any sane person without kids would still be in their jammies?
“Katie!” Nicola grabbed Katie and pulled her into a hug which took her by surprise. “How are you? What are you up to?” Katie asked as she quickly regained her composure. She kind of felt that “What are you doing here?” sounded a bit too accusatory – it wasn’t a crime for Nicola to be here after all it was just strange.
“I’m killing time before I meet Emma for lunch. I got the earlier train. God forbid I was on time or even worse late! Your brother lives around here right?”
Maeve smiled sweetly at her mum as she craned her neck to see who this unfamiliar person was. “Yip, me, mum and Maeve stay at his every week.” Katie continued to push Maeve on the swing. She knew she would only protest if the swinging stopped prematurely. “Maeve woke early and I had to get her out of the house or we may have overdosed on Peppa Pig. “Isn’t that right my darling girl?”
“How long have you got to wait? Why don’t I drop Maeve back with my mum and we could go for a quick drink? There’s nothing better than a sneaky pint…am I right?”
“Damn right! Shall I wait for you here? I’m meeting Emma in the Cloisters so could head there and wait for you?”
“Let’s do the latter” Katie replied. “It’s cold and you can get the drinks in!”
Nicola retrieved her phone from her bag as Katie abruptly stopped the swing and pulled a kicking Maeve from the seat. “Before you head back shall we take a selfie and tag Eleanor? I’m sure she will be more than amused that we have randomly met”.
The girls crouched down on either side of the small blonde haired toddler as Nicola stretched her arm out as far as she could to fit three faces into the frame. “Right Maeve, best smiles for Auntie Eleanor!”
Haven’t written in a while but thought this was a really worthwhile reblog…although I’m starting an online creative writing course tomorrow which I wouldn’t have known about if it wasn’t for my mindless Insta-habit so I’m into the P.S. big style 🙂
Social media – “connecting” you to people on the other side of the world but not in the same room.
When did we start living through a screen? When did we start placing more importance on our social media “presence” than our actual presence? Our filterless, flawless and fabulous selves. Our lying on the couch in our sweatpants eating sour lollies loveable selves. The answer is irrelevant, what matters is where do we go from here? We weren’t taught how to cope with this devotion to self-promotion at school. There was no “how to survive without social media 101” or “how to love and accept yourself as a real person, not a profile 102”.
Do we continue to scroll through mindlessly judging, regretting, wishing and fantasising while staring blankly at a screen? With no external expression of emotion visible beside the occasional LOL from a good meme. We all do it…
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H & I were sitting watching TV. Between 8 and 9 is our TV time. Favourites include don’t tell the bride, anything dog-related, bake off and masterchef. She asked me if I preferred chocolate or strawberry milk. I told her that whilst pregnant with her brother I was majorly addicted to the latter. I told her these were called cravings. Did C have cravings? She was unsure. I omitted the fact that I was consistently told off by midwives because of the extent of my craving, my pee was 90% yazoo at all times.
An ad break came on and she got off the sofa. 5 minutes later she returned with a mug of strawberry milk. Such a sweet, sweet girl.
When I was raped (that’s basically what it was) he rolled over on top of me and opened my legs and forced his penis inside me. I shoved his chest and said ‘it hurts’ and he said ‘oh baby, does it?’ and continued. I chose not to say anything else but from my body language he knew; how couldn’t he?
I let him finish. I lost most of my respect for him. I felt angry, scared, confused, used and ultimately disappointed but we remained as a couple for some time afterwards. This wasn’t the last time.
I’ve written this down so as to leave it in the past. I will never let this happen again.