That's Life ( Pt 4 )
Dear Diary...this was a particularly hard part to write about, due to one memory that almost tore me apart. I don't want the readers to feel that this kind of action goes on at all refuges, but it did in this one case. So I continue.
The days came and went and were spent finding out what I was entitled to and getting to know how the system worked as a single parent. I didn't go out for the first couple of days, too afraid that someone who knew me, might recognize me, but as my confidence returned slightly, I went out with groups of other women for support. I found out later that it wasn't a good idea to go out alone, hence the reason I was always with another mum.
For anyone reading this that wasn't around in 1983, we never had mobile phones, they might have been invented back then, but I never knew anyone who had one. We relied on a payphone which was attached to the wall next to the front door in the refuge. I was so glad I'd got the carrier bag of change, it was much needed to use on that phone. One of the first of my learning lessons, was that if I definitely wasn't going home, then I'd need to make quite a few phone calls to various people, one of them being a solicitor, the refuge had their own, so an appointment was made and she came to see me. Soon my new life was up and running, though far from perfect...that old saying; 'you have to take the rough with the smooth!' Was so right.
I'd only contacted my mum and dad once while in the refuge, which was enough, they were both fuming and said that my husband wanted to see his son and that how could I just leave without any explanation. It was all too much for me to cope with, so I told them I'd made my decision and that I'd be in contact with my husband through my solicitor and that was that.
Most of the other mothers were great and we got along fine, each one with a story to tell, my eyes were definitely opened to the horrors they'd been through, I felt it made my situation seem unimportant compared to theirs. One particular woman who became my son's godmother, had an appalling story to tell, I found it so hard to understand how any man could treat this beautiful woman and her children so badly, I won't go into details...this is about my life, though the shock of her situation was unbearable to imagine.
But there was an older woman who they called granny, she just happened to be the mother of the woman with the black eyes I'd met when I first arrived. This woman I learned to avoid at every cost. Though one night I came out of my bedroom as I needed a wee, as I left the toilet, I happened to notice the fire escape door was open so went to close it, when all of a sudden granny came out of her room. I cannot remember her exact words, as this was about thirty five years ago, but I do remember her husky, gruff voice swearing at me and saying something like. “What the f...ck you doing?” It was so scary and unexpected it made me jump.
“I was just closing the door,” I replied, quite taken aback and scared.
“Leave it alone and mind your own business.” She turned and waved her daughter out the fire escape door, turning to me with a bladed pen knife and threatened me. “Don't you go blabbing your mouth off to the aid workers about what you've seen, or I'll cut your f...ck of a tongue out...okay?”
She held the knife to my throat, I've never been so frightened in all my life, I'm glad I'd already peed, because if not, I'd have done it right there and then. Thinking death was on the horizon, my whole body shook as I stuttered. “Prom...promise, I won't...won't say a word.” I couldn't move with fear and she knew it.
“Right!” She said, “then get back to your room you stuck up bitch.” Again these are only memories, but I did find out later, that she thought I was a stuck up bitch.
“I...I just needed the toilet!” I stuttered, afraid she'd get angry again.
“Well! Think I give a shit what you do.” She uttered, turning and going back to her room and slamming the door behind her.
That was the last time I ever had a run in with her, but I found out later that her daughter would go and meet her pimp a couple of nights a week and she'd prostitute her body. It was the children I felt sorry for, being looked after by granny, who's every other word would be f...ck! It wasn't the kind of person I'd want looking after my son. Yes she was to be avoided at every cost.
After a couple of weeks of being at the refuge, it amazed me at how many women actually went back to their husbands, even though they'd been beaten to a pulp.
One Friday night when me and one of the other women were sat watching Cagney and Lacey, the door bell rang and my friend and me went to see who it was, as we were the only ones on the ground floor.
She opened the door, a woman stood there with...I think it was five children, all clinging to mum for dear life. She was bruised and cut, her face was a mess. We quickly got her in out of the cold and my friend took her to the utility room to try and clean her up, while I got some toys out for the children in the play area, though they weren't that interested, but more concerned for their mum. I was desperate to help, but had no training with this kind of situation. Their mum was in tears with shock and pain. My friend said they would need to get her to the hospital, so I went and phoned for a taxi and when it arrived, my friend went with the mother to the hospital, while I stayed with the children reassuring them that their mum would be all right.
None of us got much sleep that night, I made up some makeshift beds on the floor for the children in the lounge area and bought my son downstairs in his carry cot. Some of the women had gone out dancing and drinking as it was a Friday night, but that wasn't my scene...which was just as well.
The children didn't sleep too well, they just kept asking for their mum. She finally returned having had some stitches, but looking like she'd walked into a brick wall. Then came the part I could never understand, the next day she went back to her husband and nothing we could say would change her mind, it was so shocking to me, but I knew there wasn't anything we could do, it was her choice.
It came about that over the next couple of weeks my confidence returned, even granny never challenged me anymore. It was as if all the stress of so many confrontations just disappeared. I learned to conform to the rules of the house...keep out of trouble and stick with the close friends I'd made.
We had weekly meetings that all the women had to attend, where any problems or disputes could be put forward, It was only the brave that would go up against granny and her family for any reason, she would just shoot a gaze of spite in their direction and you'd be left trembling with fear, though there were two women that never batted an eyelid at saying what they thought, for some reason granny never posed a problem for them; luckily I was liked by one of those women, her daughter who was about nine, adored my son and would often be seen mothering and cuddling him.
It was a lot of fun when it came to arranging birthday parties for the young ones, we'd be allowed to decorate the meeting room and place a couple of tables in there, that would be loaded down with sandwiches and cakes, that all the mums donated.
We'd never go out alone, as I've already mentioned, but always went out in pairs or with a group of us shopping. One woman would be in charge of buying a gift and putting the first layer of paper around it, then it would be passed to someone else to wrap the next layer and so on, until it was as big as a football, then the children would have great fun playing pass the parcel, unwrapping and finding a sweet between each layer, though there were squabbles if two children held the parcel when the music stopped, then a parent would need to intervene.
Of course my son would lay in his pushchair completely oblivious to the noise or anything else that might be going on, he was such a good baby and I couldn't believe my luck. But soon my luck was about to change in a big way.
To be continued...