Here’s Johnny!

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It’s not often you get to see Johnny Depp in the flesh. In 2010, not only did I get to see him in the flesh (so to speak), he also stopped to say hello to me twice; once at the People’s Choice Awards and then a week or so later at the Golden Globe Awards.

It had been a truly horrendous year. We had moved to LA with almost no money to our names but with the knowledge that our property in the UK was on the market and that we would soon have some money with which to live and to endeavour to make our dreams come true.

At that time our biggest dream was to become a family; instead of there just being the two of us, there would be at least three. I had already suffered two miscarriages and because I was already over the age of 40, the NHS had written me off and no one was remotely interested in helping with, finding out why or fixing the problem.

Knowing that money was soon to arrive we started doing our research into IVF clinics and a friend suggested that we check out a clinic in Glendale where she knew the proprietor. The friend was an acupuncturist who specialised in women’s issues, specifically fertility and so we trusted her judgement to a great extent. Didn’t think for one minute that perhaps she would be getting a ‘bonus’ for any referrals. We still don’t know for sure but it seems quite likely.

We went to visit the clinic and were impressed by it’s state of the art equipment and everything we saw and read about it underlined our friend’s recommendation. The doctor was young and enthusiastic and the staff all seemed very friendly. We had a free consultation and during that time we were given a prescription for a drug called Clomid which increases the chances of natural conception by fooling the body into releasing two eggs instead of one each month. All it did was almost overnight fool my body into putting on 30lb and turning me into a bloated whale.

After three months we returned to the clinic with the proceeds from our property sale and signed up for three attempts at IVF. It was extremely expensive: $21,000 for the IVF and then more money to cover the cost of drugs and the anesthetist etc.

At that initial appointment I explained that I don’t take any drugs (not even caffeine), never have done and would respond very quickly to anything that I was given. Just check out the whale transformation from the Clomid! The doctor said that he would take note of that and prescribe accordingly. He estimated that for all three IVF’s (should we need them) all that we would have to pay for the drugs would be an extra $1,500 total.

So, we waited until my period started and the first IVF cycle was underway. It starts with drugs to put you into menopause so that they can control what happens there after. Then drugs are given to start a period, then a drug is given to ‘ripen your eggs,’ then a drug is given to stop you ovulating, another to make you ovulate and so on. Some days, most days poor James would be given me up to five, or was it seven injections?

If during the natural course of a monthly cycle women get PMS, just imagine what it’s like to go through one cycle of IVF! Your body has no idea what the hell is going on, your weight goes sky high and emotionally you haven’t got a hope.

Presumably it’s a medical way of stopping you get pregnant the natural way because nothing romantic is going happen, I can assure you!

During all of this you visit the clinic every other day to have internal ultrasound scans to see how your ovaries are doing, to make sure that they aren’t going into overdrive and producing too many eggs. No worry about that for me. The doctor may have made a note that my body would go into shock if given too many drugs but clearly he didn’t take any notice of it. For that first cycle alone he prescribed me $9,000 of drugs and it was too late once I had started taking them to do anything about it.

Everything looked fine, albeit only a little ovary activity and when it came to D-Day we had three eggs removed under anesthetic. James meanwhile did his thing and we waited for news of whether any eggs fertilised and survived.

Two of the three eggs did fertilise and I was asked to go in to have them implanted. Firstly, however, I headed over to my acupuncturist friend and had a special IVF treatment that supposedly makes your uterus super welcoming.

Back at the clinic you watch the process on a screen as the doctor uses the ultrasound to guide him as he placed the embryos into my uterus.

For three days you are advised to be on bed rest and then to spend the rest of the next two weeks doing next to nothing. I was very good at this part of the process.

On day fourteen you return to the clinic to have blood taken to ascertain whether or not you are pregnant.

We were not.

During the follow up meeting with the doctor, I expressed my shock at how many drugs I had been given, especially after having explained to him what would happen and he again said that he would take note.

For our second unsuccessful cycle I was given a prescription for $3,500 worth of drugs – still more than twice the amount he had quoted for all THREE cycles being given for this one alone.

By this point I was enormous, emotional and desperate.

I had taken a job on ‘Extreme Makeover – Home Edition,’ and it seemed that it wasn’t going to be as easy to take time off for appointments etc as I had been led to believe.

I left the job after a few weeks. At this point, regardless of how amazing the job was or how lovely the team, I was invested in and hoping that the IVF was going to work and had to do everything I could to help that happen.

But it didn’t during cycle 2. Not helped by the acupuncturist friend who the night before implantation and my appointment with her, decided to up the price from $75 to $400 (or something equally ridiculous). I told her where to stick her $400.

By the third cycle, I was done with the doctor and his drugs. James and I both felt far less confident that the treatment was being tailored to us in particular and felt that we were on a baby-making treadmill. I obsessively read everything I could on every forum and made friends with people who had successfully started their families with IVF.

Instead of being injected many times a day with too many hormones, I had a far more natural cycle. I found another acupuncturist who was wonderful and dedicated to helping. I religiously did a routine of yoga exercises that forced blood into the ovary area and also pressed down on the artery that does the same for 90 seconds a time every day. Wheatgrass and royal jelly became staples and I rested.

By the time we were ready for egg retrieval I had three big eggs – the same as the two previous cycles – but this time without any drugs. Two of the three fertilised, as before, but this time one of them was referred to as being text-book perfect.

We felt hopeful that this cycle would be successful.

A couple of days before I was due to have my pregnancy blood test, we went out to dinner with a friend and a soup that had a lot of garlic in it made my nose run and my throat hurt. I have never been allergic to garlic and so we all sat there and wondered whether something magical was causing my symptoms.

It was.

I was pregnant!!

We were called in for our first ultrasound to check that the embryo had implanted in my uterus and not my fallopian tube. It had not.

The doctor then started making weird comments about the pregnancy only being 50/50 because there was no heartbeat that could be heard. However, you could see it beating clearly on the screen.

As soon as we got home I did my research online and every pregnant woman on every forum said that the heartbeat for them could not be heard until around week 9 and even then it wasn’t guaranteed.

Ten days later we went for another ultrasound and the doctor again started talking about 50/50 and complaining that the heartbeat could not be heard although it could be seen.

My heart started beating out of my chest as I began to panic that he knew something that he just wasn’t telling us.

I began to get a rounded tummy and feel very pregnant but now instead of every twinge and thought being joy-filled, I was instead filled with panic that we were about to lose this baby. We did everything by the book but I was getting more and more anxious with every passing moment.

By the time we returned to the clinic for our nine week scan I was beside myself and hyperventilating.

I lay on the bed could see our baby was clearly on the screen. It looked enormous and baby shaped, where it had previously looked like a pulsing white blob.

The doctor shook his head.

Not this 50/50 crap again, I thought to myself.

What?!

“I’m sorry. There is no heartbeat,” he said.

What?!

“Look again!” I screamed.

“No. There’s no heartbeat,’ he said.

Time stood still as James and I looked at each other and the screen.

No one said anything else.

A minute or many went by and the doctor said that he would leave us alone for a few minutes.

James and I were in complete shock.

When the doctor returned we asked for another scan and again he said that he couldn’t see a heartbeat. He then said that he could prescribe me something which would cause a miscarriage, or I could be given a ‘procedure’ to remove the now dead baby, for which I could have an anesthetic or be given a painkiller.

I was in shock and suddenly felt sick to my stomach that I had a dead baby inside me.

It was December 23rd and our Christmas which was going to be full of dreams and hopes for our future and our child would now be a day of mourning.

As James didn’t drive, I couldn’t have an anesthetic because I would be unable to drive and at this time of year it would be difficult to find someone to not only collect us from the clinic but to also bring us back the following day so that we could fetch our car.

I didn’t like the idea of the drugs that would cause a miscarriage. Having already had two miscarriages, I wasn’t keen on going through that again, so after discussing it with the doctor and each other we opted for the procedure and the pain killer.

The doctor said it would take one minute and would only be a little bit painful.

I was given a painkiller – like a Panadol – and 15 minutes later taken into theatre. Everyone was in a rush as it was their Christmas celebration that afternoon, which may explain why no one asked me whether the painkiller was working yet. It wasn’t.

For at least twenty minutes I underwent what was ostensibly an abortion but without any form of painkiller. One of the staff held my hand throughout, as I lay there and didn’t make a sound. Having just been told that our baby was dead and having been sexually abused for 15 years, what was happening to me as I lay on that operating table under the glare of the bright lights was the stuff of nightmares. Only I wasn’t asleep and could feel every single scrape and hack of the blade that was inside me.

At one point the doctor shouted at a nurse to put the blood pressure and heart monitor on me. In all of their ‘excitement’ no one had thought to do the basics, including to sterilise me. Hopefully at least the instruments had been.

At the end of this interminable horror, the doctor in a jolly voice said that it was all over and left the room. I looked down and saw that the table was saturated in my deep red blood.

It was everywhere.

I was in shock.

It was instant. PTSD.

Who wouldn’t have PTSD after having been operated on without any anesthetic, especially after just losing a baby?

Eventually I was able to leave the clinic and was given a prescription for the drug that would cause a miscarriage anyway. At the pharmacy, to add insult to injury, the pharmacist asked whether I was pregnant because if I was she couldn’t give me the drug. After what I had just been through, I wasn’t even able to speak. I just shook my head at her.

We got back to our apartment and I started to cry like I never have before.

I went to the bathroom and peed on a stick. It said I was still pregnant. I wasn’t. As I wiped, bits of grey baby remnants were on the paper. There are no words.

A few days later, on Christmas Day, I was aching from head to toe and running a very high temperature. We were both worried that perhaps I had developed an infection and so followed the instructions we had been given by the clinic, to call one of the nurses.

Clearly the nurse was too busy enjoying her Christmas Day to answer her ‘phone.

Eventually a couple of hours later, as my temperature got higher, she called back and said that she would now call the doctor to tell him what was going on and she would call us back with his instructions.

Talk about cutting out the middle man. They didn’t.

Again, at least an hour passed and she called back and told me to take Tylenol. Paracetamol for the English amongst us. What?! That’s it? Hours spent waiting to be told by Chinese Whispers that I needed to take Tylenol?

I managed to sleep and when I woke up the next morning, not only was I aching and hot, I now couldn’t breathe properly. We got in the car and I spent the day in A&E as I was checked over for every possible cause, including having the horror of an internal scan to check whether any baby had been left behind and causing and infection.

Nothing.

The doctor saw a shadow on my lung and thought perhaps I had a blood clot but they couldn’t be sure.

They wanted to give me a CT scan, nuclear thermo imaging or an MRI. With my PTSD and severe claustrophobia, I wasn’t willing to do anything further and asked to leave. The doctor tried to terrify me that I was about to die from a blood clot, so I signed my life away whilst asking what would they do if I did have a blood clot? Give me Aspirin?

The doctor said yes, so I said that I would take Aspirin every day for a week and if anything changed I would call him immediately. It is now more than six years later and I am still here and if there is a clot, it has been behaving very well up until now.

We went back to the apartment and for the following two weeks I could barely speak. James let people know that we would call them when we were ready. It’s surprising how many people over-ride your wishes, even when something this awful happens arrogantly thinking that their call will magically change everything.

The worst thing was that I discovered upon emailing the woman who had held my hand throughout the procedure (with an official complaint), was that the doctor did the 50/50 thing with everyone. He’d seen nothing untoward.

Even worse, when my cousin was pregnant and went for a scan at around 15 weeks the baby’s heartbeat couldn’t be seen or heard. She was told to walk around for thirty minutes and then they would try gain. She gave birth to a perfect princess.

After all of that horror, our baby may have been shredded for no good reason at all.

During this time, a lovely friend emailed me to send her condolences and her love. During the course of this email conversation she asked whether I wanted to work on the People’s Choice Awards with her – if I was up to it. I asked her if James could sit with me in the office because I was in complete trauma and she said yes.

With red-rimmed eyes, one of which had started to develop a massive stye, a red flakey nose from all the crying and the inability or energy to match the rest of the team’s excitement, I took my place at a desk and carried out my duties by email. No one knew what I was carrying in my heart and because of that I was able to do my job.

Many times a day I had to wipe away tears that would just start to fall slowly down my cheeks as James and I sat there and looked at each other.

On show day, the excitement around the office built and when someone announced that Johnny Depp was in the building about 40 of us somehow found ourselves standing in the corridor that he would soon be walking down.

Moments later, as if it was the parting of the Red Sea, everyone moved out of the way as Johnny’s bodyguard cut a swathe through the congregating staff.

I stood apart from the crowd feeling like the saddest person on the planet and had tears in my eyes – including the swollen, stye infected one.

“Hello,” said Johnny. His face had a gentle smile and he looked right at me as he said it.

“Hello,” I weakly said back as he walked past us to his dressing room.

James looked at me and I said, “Did you see that? Did he just say hello to me?” James smiled and said yes.

A few days later, both James and I were working on the Golden Globes and Johnny was there.

As I was about to walk through a door, Johnny walked through from the opposite direction and held it open for me. Again, he smiled his gentle smile and said, “Hello.”

Things are supposed to happen in threes, so whenever you are ready Johnny, just let me know.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/

 

 

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Nature Or Nurture?

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Most of you have a father who has always been a part of your life. Your father has never been a shadowy figure who one moment was a handsome prince in your imagination, and the next a degenerate loser. No.

I only met my father once or twice when I was a tiny little girl. Not enough to know him. He had a red convertible sports car and he and my Mother took me to a Wimpy Bar in Tottenham. I remember that clearly. I just could never remember what he looked like. I didn’t realise that I would have to, spending most of my life without even a photograph of him.

There was one other time that I almost saw him but I was out with my foster mother and the car had broken down. Whilst we sat in a service station waiting to be rescued, he had visited our home and left a package of sweets for me. Clearly he was a busy man and couldn’t wait around until we got back an hour later. Clearly my foster brother was a hungry child as he ate every last morsel in that package before we got back. They were the only things my father had ever given me. The only proof that he existed. Gone but not forgotten.

It was clear that talking about my father to my Mother was not ever going to be received well. She was furious with him and I always knew to keep well away from the subject matter. I remember as a very little girl being led by the hand along a very busy Archway Road underneath suicide bridge to a court, where my Mother (I was later to discover) sued him for maintenance money. He gave none. In fact, when I moved into her home last year I discovered paperwork from the court where he said he couldn’t afford to give her £2 a week for my care and upbringing.

No wonder he was a sore subject for her.

So, as I have said, I had no idea what he looked like or even what his last name was. I knew he was ‘Nick the Greek,” because I heard that often enough but no one ever said his last name. Unless it was: the Greek?

When I say that I didn’t know what he looked like, I was given clues. Anyone who knew him would always say when they saw me: “Oh, you are the spitting image of your father.” Yes, I am sure they were right – he looked like a cute little girl with plaits.

Then when I was around 12, my grandmother whispered as if confiding the world’s biggest conspiracy, telling me that she had a photograph of my father and asked if I would like it. My Mother had successfully destroyed all evidence of his existence – except for me – and so all of our photo albums had pictures with bits cut out. Rather disconcerting in many ways.

Of course, I excitedly said yes and whilst my grandmother rummaged around in her piles of hoarded treasures I wondered what face I would see on that photograph. Would I recognise myself in his face? Did we share features? Would I feel like, “Of course! I’d know that face anywhere? That’s my dad!”

The answer is no.

I would have passed the man in the photograph on the street and wouldn’t have had a clue we were related let alone related so closely. He looked to me like a Greek Errol Flynn. Thin moustache, great cheekbones and a sharp suit. I took the photograph and hid it in a book and when I got home I put it in amongst my many books on my shelf and knew that whenever I wanted proof that somewhere out there in the big wide world there was a man related to me, I could take that book out and look at him.

Until that was, the day I went to look at that photo and immediately realised that it was no longer there. I did what people do when the blindingly obvious just seems to blind them and pulled out and shook every book on that book case. I leafed through every page of the particular book I knew I had hidden the photograph in but it was nowhere to be found. It was gone.

My Mother didn’t know I had the photo (as far as I was aware) so I couldn’t ask her if she had seen it. If she had……taken it. So I didn’t. I kept believing that it would somehow turn up one day because I had misplaced it and had forgotten that I had done so.

I tried so hard to remember that face so that if I was ever walking around town and saw it I would immediately know it was my dad. The fact that in my mind that face had totally morphed into Errol Flynn’s wasn’t helpful. I kept looking at pictures of the Hollywood actor to try to remind myself of my dad’s face and soon they become one and the same.

Years later, when I was sixteen, we were on holiday in Cyprus. It was a boring and extremely hot six week summer holiday and I was tuned out from the heat and from the horror of spending time trapped with the ‘stepmonster’ and my mother, who by this point I could barely speak to.

At one point during that trip we were in a taxi that pulled up at a junction in the town of Paphos. They got out and started talking with a group of men outside a cafe and then eventually I got out of the taxi and stood on the pavement watching all the gesticulating and listening to the loud voices. It wasn’t difficult, they weren’t hard to ignore.

For some reason, that moment always stayed with me and I had no idea why. If I had been given prior warning, I would have been able to prepare my memory and to know why: one of those men in that group was my father. He knew it was me but my Mother hadn’t seen fit to let me know that the most significant man in the world was standing right there in front of me.

No matter how hard I wracked my brain, I just could not picture anyone in that group who looked like Errol Flynn. Even an aged Errol Flynn. Nope. Not one of those men was familiar to me and that tore my heart in two. I was standing only inches away from my dad and I didn’t know him.

My torn heart didn’t heal. The desperation to ‘know’ who my father was and to be able to recognise him became a very heavy cross to bear. Everywhere I went I was always looking. The fact that I wasn’t told that my dad was in this group for years afterwards really upset me. Perhaps if I had been told sooner I would have still known him?

When I was twenty-two, I went travelling around Europe with my boyfriend. Somehow, unplanned we ended up in Paphos, Cyprus. I was on the look out. I even recognised the corner in which the taxi had pulled up and wondered whether, if we hung around long enough, the same group of middle-aged men would appear. But no. They didn’t.

We stayed with family of the ‘stepmonster.’ They ran a haberdashery shop in the town and after we had spent our days wandering, we would go there to meet them and be driven home. On one of these days a dapper man came into the shop just before we were leaving and the atmosphere changed. I noticed the change but didn’t think anything of it. Why would I?

A few evenings later, my ‘auntie’ asked if I wanted to go out for a drive with her (in her broken English) as she was delivering some food to her son. I said I did. Within moments of setting off the woman asked me if I remembered the man who came into the shop. I said I did. “Well,” she said. “He is a tailor. He came in to buy fabric to make a suit for your father. I didn’t think about it at first but then it was obvious – you and your father have the same face.”

Rather like with the group of men standing on the pavement, here was another moment when I tried to magic a memory of my father onto the recollection of the tailor’s face. There must have been a clue in the way he walked, the way he looked, the fabric he chose that would lead me to my father.

No need to worry about it. My ‘auntie’ then surprised me by saying that if I wanted, she would introduce me to my father. Whaaaaat?! I was suddenly filled with so many feelings that I can’t even name and before they had even settled, she followed up with, “Of course, you mustn’t tell anyone, promise me that you won’t even tell your boyfriend about this conversation.”

I promised.

“Your father married recently. They have a small child. A son. Let me know if you want to meet your father and I will let him know that you are here.”

We got back and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Suddenly after all these years of wondering who my father was and where he was, I was given some of the answers. He was the man who had a tailor currently making him a suit and he was here, nearby, with a wife and a son. A boy who had a father. My father. Whilst I had all of this to metabolise and had made a promise not to talk about it with anyone.

All night I lay awake. Not a single moment of sleep. The shock of ‘discovering’ my father’s whereabouts turned into a growing fury that he was playing happy families with his new wife and child. A child, who through no fault of his own, was growing up with two parents – his own biological parents and as far as I was aware, no paedophiles.

“What would be the point of meeting this man?” I started to wonder. “What could he possibly give me that could make up for abandoning me. For handing my mother £20 and telling her to abort me.”

The only answer I could come up with that was remotely useful was that he could give me all those year’s worth of maintenance payments that he hadn’t bothered to pay.

By the morning I was in a complete state. I was emotionally and physically exhausted and had to say something to my boyfriend. I told him what had happened and explained that although I did want to meet my father through curiosity, I didn’t want to meet him after all of the damage his absence had caused. I could not play nice. This man could not meet me now I was fully grown and get the reward of knowing me without having been a part of that.

I told my ‘auntie’ that the answer was no. Right now I didn’t want to meet him. Possibly ever.

Somewhere in my psyche, I made a promise to myself that I would possibly meet this man when I no longer needed anything from him, emotionally or otherwise. He would be my Nanny McPhee.

Fast forward to my thirties. Ten years had passed and I at some point in that time I had heard from my Mother that my father had been sick. ‘Sick’ with a capital C.

Knowing that my dad had had cancer made me rethink my views on meeting him. I still wasn’t ready but remembering the wise words of one of my counsellors, I realised that if I met him and didn’t really want to that was fine. But if I didn’t and he died and then I couldn’t, would I want to live with that regret for the rest of my life?

I confessed to my Mother that the ‘auntie’ who had informed her of my father’s cancer had secretly offered to arrange for me to meet him years earlier. I asked my Mother (with fear and trepidation, knowing her views about my dad), whether she could speak with this woman and let him know that I would like to get in touch.

Give my Mother her due, however much the idea was distasteful to her and it was, I know, she agreed to help. She called the ‘auntie’ and as I am unable to speak Greek, I have no real idea of the exact conversation but the bottom line was, “No. You should have said yes back then. His wife is a Rottweiler and I don’t want to get involved.”

So, there we have it. The one route that I knew to my dad had collapsed in a landslide.

I spent the best part of a year wondering what to do and occasionally asking my mother if she had any good ideas of how to find him and we came up with nothing. I still didn’t know his last name or any other details about him, other than he had once run a floristry shop in the town (apparently) and so there was very little I could do without also learning to speak Greek.

Then I had a brainwave.

Years earlier my Mother had gone on holiday to Greece when there had been a massive earthquake in Athens, where I thought she was. No amount of calling  – me to her – resulted in a response and there was definitely no call from her to me, so I had eventually called the Greek Embassy in the hopes of hearing whether she had been hurt or killed in the quake. 24 hours passed and then I got a call from them telling me that she had travelled out of Athens to spend time with her brother and was fine. You would have thought that it would have occurred to her to let me know that. But no.

The Cypriot Embassy, therefore seemed like a good place to start. I called them and they asked me to put my request in writing. I explained that the amount I knew about my father wouldn’t even fill half a Post-It Note even if I wrote it large. I sent a letter requesting help to find my dad. I gave his first name, the name of the large town in which he lived, the fact that he may or may not have run a floristry shop (on a corner) and that he had also in the 60’s lived in London.

Exactly one year later, when I had totally forgotten about my request, I got a call from my Mother saying that the ‘auntie’ had been in touch and that my father knew I was looking for him. He had said that it was okay for her to give me his ‘phone number.

I was in shock. Just think how you feel when watching ‘Surprise, Surprise,’ or ‘Long Lost Families’ and you get all emotional, well – this was my reality.

I didn’t know whether my father spoke English or not and as I have an issue with the ‘phone, I asked my Mother whether she could ask her friend to call my dad and get his address so that I could write to him. Obviously, I didn’t ask her to – that would be going one step too far.

She said no but a week later I was given his address.

I immediately wrote a jolly letter and put together an album of images of me from childhood.

Three days later the ‘phone rang and it was my father’s cousin-in-law calling to say that they had received the letter. She then put my father on the line and he sounded like every Greek man you have ever heard. Think Harry Enfield.

He was very happy to talk with me and thanked me for my letter and photographs, He very proudly started telling me about my brother (then a strapping 17 year old) and his wife and saying that they would all love to see me.

After that call I sat down and wrote another letter. A real letter. One explaining what my life had really been like – not like the one full of achievements and make believe. If I was ever going to meet this man, he needed to know what his absence had caused. I wasn’t going to pretend that everything was okay. It wasn’t and it was about time he knew.

I sent the letter and counted the three days that the last letter had taken to arrive. Nothing.

Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.

And on the tenth day I was awoken at 6am by my father calling me.

He said it was the first time that he had been alone in the house since he had received the letter. He apologised for the life I had had but told me that he never wanted me to speak of it again. He said that if people knew that I had been sexually abused for fifteen years since the age of five, it would reflect badly on me. He went on to tell me many truths about him and why he had disappeared. He told me his version of the relationship he had had with my Mother (the only version I have ever heard) most of which did not put him in a good light and he took responsibility for it all.

I could not have been happier to have had this conversation. He had said sorry and he had behaved like a grown up.

During this conversation I agreed to visit but I did not agree to meet the waiter he thought would make a good husband for me.

“Wait until you meet me, I’m not a typical Greek girl,” I said.

A few days later I was sent off on a business trip to LA, producing a short segment for the BBC with the actor Tim Roth. Mr Roth obviously had no idea what important things I had lined up and changed the filming dates which delayed me. My arranged trip to meet my dad got moved by four days. Thank God that was all.

Finally, I arrived back home late at night and by 6am the following morning I was at Stansted Airport awaiting to board a ‘plane. I couldn’t help but wonder if any one else was on their way to meet a father they had never met before. No sign of Cilla or Davina, so I guess not.

I had no idea who I was going to meet at arrivals in Paphos Airport. I walked out into a large crowd and hoped to see a sign being held up with my name. There was no way I would recognise a man I had never seen before.

No signs.

I looked around and no one seemed remotely familiar so I hoped that perhaps if I made my way to the front of the crowd, he would see me.

Nothing.

Time went on and the area emptied and almost an hour later I was the only person standing there, as a cleaner swept around me.

I hadn’t contemplated the fact that perhaps he wouldn’t show and so was unprepared with what I might do if left alone in the airport.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry as moments later two middle-aged Greek men and an embarrassed teenaged boy wielding a bunch of flowers came running though the airport.

I would never in a million years have known this man was my father. Not at first sight. As I got to know him over the next few days I would have recognised many elements of his personality as my own.

My brother on the other hand, was my twin. We had the same face. The same smile.

We were driven back to his home and I was introduced to my step-mother. She doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Greek but her kindness and love was so clear. What an incredible woman. He did well. No Rottweiler in sight, just a beautiful and loving pussy cat.

I planned to stay for two weeks.

The first day after my arrival, my father proudly took me around and introduced me as his daughter to a million different people: uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours and so on. We all smiled at each other politely and when appropriate my father would translate. The one thing everyone said after taking a sharp in take of breath was that I looked exactly like my late grandmother. His mother.

The following day my father complained of not feeling too well. He was looking a bit yellow and the cousin-in-law who had made the first call to me weeks earlier, a nurse, suggested that he go to the local hospital for a blood test.

The results came back that he had severe jaundice. His bile reading was off the scale.

As he had suffered with cancer and had a specialist in the capital city of Nicosia, an appointment was made and I suggested that I hire a car and drive him there. There were lots of arguments to-ing and fro-ing about me driving him anywhere. I was a girl.

I explained that I had been driving for a hundred years and it would be fine. We set off the following day and got to the hospital. My father was taken off for tests and my brother and I hung around and waited in silence.

We were then called into a room with the Consultant and my father, in English, proudly asked the doctor to tell him in English what the results of the tests were so that I, his daughter, would understand.

Without any preamble, the doctor said in English that my father had about three weeks to live. The cancer had returned and a tumour was blocking the tubes from his liver. They could try to put a stent in there to let the toxins drain but if they were unsuccessful he would be poisoned to death.

Alrighty then. Great.

So, with that happy news we set off back to Paphos.

If I ever wondered where I got my strength of character from it was clear in that hour and a half as we drove back. My father took the news on the chin. Here was a man who had just been given a death sentence and there wasn’t a flicker of fear. I have no idea what he thinking on the inside but on the outside he was practical and strong. I suspect on the inside he was practical and strong. What more could he do?

Nature not nurture?

We got back to the house and the news spread like wildfire. We all sat in the living room as the millions of people I had been introduced to two days earlier came by to express their shock….and to express their sorrow for my brother. “Poor Andrew,” they all said.

Don’t mind me sitting here trying to get my head around this news. Don’t worry that I have only had a father for four days and now he is being taken away from me. Don’t worry that I have never had this man to protect me, to care for me, to love me and never will – just worry about my brother who has had everything in life that I never had because this man, this dying man, chose to hang around here rather than runaway.

During those four days I learned that until I was eleven, my dad had lived only a mile or so away from me. During those four days my father started every sentence with ‘I.’

I did this, I did that….

He even told me that there was at least one more brother who had been born eight months before me and asked would I try to find him.

I politely declined the offer and told him to do it himself.

I also asked why he didn’t ask me anything about me. “I don’t want to,’ he said. “I will feel guilty.”

The next day I changed my travel plans and headed home.

I did see my father again, two weeks and six days later. He was flown to London for emergency surgery. The doctors had been unable to insert a stent into his liver and instead had given him an infection. With only one day before his life was supposed to end, a Cypriot doctor at St. Thomas’s successfully and ironically gave my father back his life. For now.

The following day I drove him and his brother in law to Heathrow and knew that I was saying goodbye for the last time.

He died six months later.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/

 

Sold: My Reason For Being

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It’s a fallacy that all children within a family have the same upbringing.

Instinctively, even though you are only a child you know when things are just not right. It was clear to me that I wasn’t being treated the same way my older foster brother was being treated by our foster mother. Yes, she was proud of my accomplishments – to other people – but it was clear that me being able to read and write before the age of three, being able to do long division by the age of four and so on really got her goat, even though it was she who had taught me to do those things.

Whatever I did I was criticised for, or belittled, or embarrassed and that has stayed with me my entire life.

As an innocent four year old I remember singing and splashing around in the bath but was shouted at to shut up, with, “You sound like a fog horn!”

After a great deal of persuasion she came to see me perform as a five or six year old at a school performance evening and all of the way home kept telling me how amazing so and so was but that I was a ‘fairy elephant.’

And on it went. Nothing I did was ever good enough even though it was better than most other people’s efforts. It had to be better, clearly I and my abilities were not enough as they were.

The thing is, though, that I can sing (and was part of the school choir) and I can dance – I even got honours and distinctions when taking my ballet grades at the Royal Opera House, achieving the highest marks in all of London but instead of those achievements feeling good, I didn’t believe in them. Or myself. They didn’t matter because I was going to be made to feel bad about them anyway.

Being singled out for this behaviour didn’t stop with things like that – there were other obvious ways to make me feel dreadful.

Going back to when I was only four, there was a night when I felt suspicious about being sent up to bed early. Both me and my foster brother went up to bed and clearly, although all signs pointed to me being bright, my foster mother didn’t realise that meant across the board, not just in class and so I was aware that something was ‘up.’

About fifteen minutes or so after we had been sent upstairs, she came creeping along the landing, so I lay as still as possible and pretended to be asleep when she peered into the room.  She then wandered back along the hallway to my foster brother’s room and started whispering to him and then I heard the two of them go back downstairs. They went into the living room and the door was shut behind them but I could hear lots of laughing and talking – not difficult at all, my room was directly above them.

A little while later there was a knock at the front door, a few words exchanged and then more talking and laughter.

I know that curiosity killed the cat but was too young to pay heed and so very carefully snuck out of bed and down the stairs to see what was going on that they didn’t want me to be part of. Although the living room door was only slightly  ajar there was enough of a gap at the hinge for me to peer into the room and observe clearly the goings on.

Well, wasn’t that lovely! What they didn’t want me to be part of was a secret dinner and film evening! The knock at the door had been a delivery man arriving with a take out order of Chinese food and there were the two of them gorging on prawn crackers and giant spring rolls!

I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t that I was hungry for the food but I was hungry for a share of that kind of attention. Really? She had gone to all of that trouble of pretending to send us both to bed just so that they could do this?

Where do you go with that information? The truth that you are being lied to so that your foster mother can spend ‘special’ time alone with your eight year old foster brother sits heavy in your heart. It may not sound very serious but that moment fundamentally changed me. I felt rejected and unwanted. Being lied to and knowing that I had been lied to meant that I was no longer able to trust anything I was told. Everything time I left on a Saturday to spend the weekend with my Mother, I couldn’t help but wonder what ‘fun’ they would be having without me, what lies I would be told upon my return, although of course, they didn’t have to wait for me to be gone to make me feel separate.

Each time I arrived back on a Sunday evening, I walked into a house that no longer felt like my home, like I was part of what went on in there. I was an outsider and have always felt like an outsider. I can play act a good version of being one of the gang, at home, at play and at work even now, but the smile never quite reaches my eyes.

One of those occasions left me reeling from the obvious favouritism for my foster brother and sheer nastiness of my foster mother towards me. We had an old biscuit tin filled with building bricks, like Lego but all white, that would keep me occupied for hours. In fact, playing with those bricks and building all manor of houses, palaces, forts  – you name it, was my reason for being. When I returned home on this particular evening, it seemed my reason for being had been sold whilst I had been away. Not to any old outsider you understand. That old biscuit tin full of bricks and hours of fun had been sold to my foster brother and because of that I was no longer allowed to play with them.

When I was seven, the Brownies had arranged a camping trip. My first ever. I was very excited at the thought of all the adventures that were to come having never been away from home before (apart from with my Mother and the various places she left me when she was working each weekend) and knowing that all sorts of new fun was to be had.

The coach was picking us up outside the school gates on the Saturday. We were to congregate there at a certain time with our bags and a packed lunch and then we would be on our way.

The time came and off I went carrying my bag and a jam sandwich. When I got to the school gates there were families everywhere waving their children goodbye. You know: mums, dads, siblings and even some grandparents, too. It seemed to be a big deal and everyone else and their family had received that memo.

It was apparent that if we had received that memo, it hadn’t been read, or adhered to. It was the first time in my life that I realised that I wasn’t part of a real family as I sat alone on the coach and looked out of the windows at all of the people who were sharing something that I was to never know. It was the first time I really felt a pang of grief for not having a dad, as I sat there and watched classmates being hugged by these kind men who kissed them on the tops of their heads and walked with them to the steps of the bus. The waves and blown kisses continued even as we drove up the lane out into the big wide world and I sat there, in a vacuum, feeling an emptiness, a void that has never been filled because there was no one there saying, “goodbye, have a great time!” to me.

People who say that you can’t miss what you’ve never had don’t know what they are talking about. In that moment and forever more I missed not being like everybody else, or missed what I believed everybody else to have: love and security. We do know what we are missing – it’s everywhere; in all the people that we know, films, books, TV shows – everyday everywhere there are messages about what a real family looks like. All of those other children were valued, they were going to be missed, they had strong arms to hold them and caring family to send them on their way. I was the odd one out.

I had no family of my own to speak of. The families I had were not satisfactory when presented with examples of families who were doing it right. I had two mothers. One who made it clear I was not really a part of the family, a foster child and one who had forsaken me for the sake of her dysfunctional and codependent relationship with a perverted bully and her freedom. As a tiny child I was being forced to take on situations and feelings that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for and had no experience of how to deal with.

I survived because like those children in Romanian orphanages who stop crying when they realise no one is coming, I realised no one was going to change my situation any time soon.

In fact, my situation did change that year but only in a way that made my eyes open even wider. It was the year my youngest foster sister was born. My foster mother’s biological child.

It was soon very obvious that handing over an agreed fee each week got you only so much mothering and no more. Maybe it had nothing to do with the money; maybe I was just unloveable? This new baby was treated completely differently from the outset. I guess having already been primed by years of not feeling connected in a comfortable way meant that this child’s appearance in our lives did not make her responsible for her good fortune, in my eyes and so I loved her with all my heart.

However, the true love of a mother for her daughter was expressed clearly in that: we, not being true offspring, were never allowed to have friends to the house but my new foster sister had play mates over at the house all the time. We never had birthday celebrations but extravagant parties were held for this child and not only that, we were not welcome. I remember being sent out of the house to ‘play’ and ended spending hours on the school field at the end of the road whilst a dozen toddler’s tucked into a feast in my absence. I made my own way to and from various places – including being sent on a bus into town at the age of six – whilst this child was always accompanied by a familial bodyguard. Good! That’s exactly as it should be but it seems that it wasn’t important enough for me to have it, too.

My foster brother and I had been left in situations that would make your hair curl as young children. Yes, he was four years older than me but that would only have made him seven and eight years old and upwards when we were left sitting in the car outside pubs with a bottle of pop and a packet  of crisps for what seemed like hours, on a regular basis.

When we visited family out of town, there was a pub that ran alongside a deep walled river. Instead of being left in the car all evening, we were allowed to make fishing rods out of sticks, string and curved pins and would spend the time with our little legs dangling over the edge of the wall trying to catch anything we could.

Thankfully, we neither drowned nor were kidnapped but that was down to luck more than anything else. Yes, lucky old me.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/

 

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

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‘He’ didn’t ever rape me but the fear of ‘him’ doing exactly that hung over me from the time I realised what rape was. With each passing year I lived on the heightened edge of terror that today would be the day that ‘he’ finally did.

However, the fact that ‘he’ didn’t doesn’t lessen the fear that renders every cell in my body ‘hyper-vigilant’ and in many ways that was probably as detrimental to my mental health as if ‘he’ had. It certainly left my soul fatigued.

It was during those nights filled with terror – each and every one of them- when I would lie awake in my bed, in a room without a lock on the door even though I had begged and begged for one, that I prayed to fall into a deep enough sleep that I could sleep walk and kill ‘him’ and  not be held responsible.

I didn’t want to do anything knowingly that would upset my Mother. Or go to jail.

Obviously, no matter how hard I prayed for that situation to occur, it did not and now many years later of course I am glad. However, in return, I was hoping for some sort of divine retribution to be carried out and for ‘him’ to suffer. Instead of us. Instead of me.

At a very young age I started going to nightclubs. My logic told me that it was safer for me to be out in the big wide world than indoors with a definite threat. Of course, anything could have happened to me on those nights out but thankfully did not.

I was almost always surrounded by a wonderful flock of gleaming gay bodyguards. Not that they knew it but their presence certainly kept me safe.

From the age of eleven until I was twenty I spent my nights clubbing. I was too young to have been a Blitz Kid but I tagged on too the tail end of that by growing up in clubs like the Camden Palace, The Circus, Pyramid, TFV, Delirium, The Mud Club and of course Taboo.

I would get home from school on a Thursday and call Leigh Bowery and we would sit on the ‘phone and chat about his ability to play piano or speak Japanese and he would tell me about his day and then he would kindly add me to the guest list. Thank goodness for guest lists otherwise I would never have been able to seek sanctuary amongst the crowds of beautiful people who soon became like a family to me.

It was after one of those nights out, after walking home alone from Soho – using the my teenage logic that it was safer to be out of my home than in it – that after letting myself in, I crept to my room and I actually got into bed and fell asleep.

I’m sure very little time had passed but all of a sudden I was awoken by an almighty crash of thunder outside my window and a massive flash of lightning that lit up the entire room…but only for a split second. It was in that momentary flash of light that I saw that I wasn’t alone in my room.

There are no words to describe how terrified I was. ‘He’ was standing only inches away from me looking at me whilst I had been sleeping and had for a split second had been fully lit up by the lightning as if he were in a spotlight. Like a scene from a horror film.

Thankfully most people will never ever know what primitive feelings of terror flood your body when your realise that you are not alone in a room when you are supposed to be. Was this the night ‘he’ was going to rape me? What had ‘he’ already done to me that I didn’t know about?

I was probably only about 13 or 14 years old and instead of being able to spend my evenings with my family, go to bed at a reasonable hour and be fully refreshed and prepared for school the following day – I was lying only feet from my Mother who was in the next room, whilst her husband stood over me as I slept. Or ‘touched’ me.

‘He’ took a step towards me and then sat on the edge of the bed and tried to kiss me. The absolute repugnance of that moment (and every moment with ‘him’ in it) makes every cell in my body feel like it’s trying to make a get away. It’s hard to describe the sensation other than my skin is crawling off me at the memory.

Clearly, in this situation and most similar situations, being a fully grown and large man, he had the upper hand but I fought ‘him’ with every thing I had. I just fought ‘him’ in silence as I didn’t want to wake my Mother. How would I explain the situation?

I didn’t realise that the situation wasn’t for me to describe but somewhere in my growing up, roles had reversed and I felt like I was the only adult in the house and it was up to me to keep my ‘Mother’ safe and unharmed.

I can’t remember exactly what happened next on that particular night. I don’t want to remember. There are so many nights like that that I silently endured. And days. ‘He’ would have tried to slobber all over me. ‘He’ would tell me that he loved me. ‘He’ would tell me that I was beautiful. Even typing that turns my stomach. Those words turn my stomach. It was as if by using those words ‘he’ was making me responsible for ‘his’ actions.

I know for sure that I would have hit ‘him’ and pushed ‘him’ away with all my might and depending on how determined ‘he’ was to ‘touch’ me, ‘he’ would or ‘he’ wouldn’t and would then just laugh and walk away, leaving me to spend the rest of the night in a zombie state where I was neither awake nor asleep and surviving on pure adrenaline. For the attack that had happened and for the one that might.

If you have ever been attacked you will know the feeling that stays with you, sometimes for many weeks afterwards. Every noise, aroma and movement that reminds you of the attack, or could be an attack is heightened and you can barely function because it’s as though new attacks are imminent from all and every possible direction. Well, it was like that. All. The. Time.

I would eventually get up, get ready and leave for school. I would turn up to school with a smile on my face and my homework completed on the bus, at my desk or in the library just before registration.

My grades were good and more importantly than anything else, no one suspected what was going on at home. I wanted them to know so much. I really wanted them to find out but it couldn’t be me who gave the game away.

I am pretty sure that many of my school friends thought that there was something odd about me but they just didn’t know what it was. Perhaps the teachers though that too? But none of them guessed at what was going on behind closed doors as they were all too busy reading the obvious signs explained to them by the local education authority and social services. What do they know? Clearly not a lot as other girls I was later to discover who were being abused also kept the signs very well hidden.

It’s usually the strongest people you now who are shouldering the most. What other reason could there possibly be for developing that emotional strength?

If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/

 

2003: In Threes

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Dementia.

What does that actually mean in the real world?

It means an incredibly beautiful, funny, cheeky and intelligent woman of only 66 being given a life sentence. It means filling us all with absolute fear of what will happen next and that fear being dragged out over years because no one knows the answer.

It means worrying each and every day whether this day, today, is the day that Mum will no longer recognise or remember who I am.

It means watching Mum’s face as she opens the diagnosis letter, (which arrived on her 66th birthday) and losing her mind upon seeing the words written there in black and white. Literally.

The diagnosis had been a long time coming. Or maybe it hadn’t. I don’t know for sure. Mum hadn’t been ‘right’ for a long while. She wasn’t happy. Hadn’t been happy for as long as I can remember. Neither of us had been happy since ‘he’ appeared in our lives.

I can only imagine that at first, in the very first flush of romance, ‘he’ had made Mum happy but that was very short lived because I don’t really remember much of that. I just remember that one awful day when she dragged me all the way to Heathrow Airport to meet him for the first time. It’s imprinted on my memory the same way a hot iron imprints a brand on a baby lamb.

So Mum’s not being ‘right’ had been the norm for ever, for at least as far back as I could remember. Her taking overdoses regularly also (I was to later discover) was also the norm. She was taking them out of frustration, to manipulate, to get her own way with ‘him.’ It was never going to happen. ‘He’ enjoyed the drama of her losing her mind and would continue to behave in a way that encouraged her to continuously be at the end of her tether. ‘He’ wanted to drive us both mad. Literally.

The descent into total oblivion reached a crescendo in 2003. I didn’t know. I was too busy surviving my own nightmares to give either my Mother or ‘him’ much thought.

In the May I had had been in two car crashes in the same hour. The first one in a car driven by my friend who was collecting me from Euston station. I had taken myself off on a residential crime writing course in deepest, darkest Wales and had left my car parked at hers whilst I was away.

We had only managed to get halfway back home from Euston – to the traffic lights half way through Camden Town to be specific – when a car driven by a man who was clearly under the influence did not realise that a red light meant ‘Stop!” so did not stop.

He went careering into the back of us and jolted us quite forcefully a few feet forward. Not fun.

After giving statements etc, we managed to get back to my friend’s home in Swiss Cottage without further incident and calmed ourselves with a chamomile tea and shrugged it off as best as our whiplash would allow.

I then headed home in my own car and set off along the Finchley Road towards the M1. Somewhere between Junction 1 and 2 of the motorway the heavens opened. Without any preamble it was like some sort of biblical flooding where there was suddenly no visible sign of the road ahead. Without any preamble there was no communication between my steering wheel and my wheels. The car was aqua-planing at 70 miles an hour in heavy traffic. Try as hard as I might (which was as hard as it is possible to do so when the outcome will be either life or death) I tried to steer my car away from the other fast moving cars in the next lane.

The steering was completely loose – no response to my twisting and turning of the wheel at all – so as time slowed down to frame by frame moments I tried to remember all the things I had learned about what to do if the ever car is skidded. It didn’t make any difference. With an almighty graunching noise my car collided with the car in the next lane, also travelling at 70 miles per hour, which resulted in my car spinning in the opposite direction even faster.

I couldn’t see anything around me as the rain was so heavy but felt the car do two or three full spins as it then hurtled head first towards the central reservation. I was braced for the fact that in such heavy traffic and in such abysmal conditions I would either be killed by the traffic racing towards me as I ricochetted haphazardly across the lanes, or as I broke through the barrier into oncoming traffic.

Death felt certain.

My car, miraculously just slightly off-centre, did hit the barrier and bounced backwards. Had it been totally head on it would have activated the airbags, which I understand is quite dangerous in itself. The barrier seemed to have taken the full force of the motion of the car and so my car came to a stop sideways on to oncoming traffic, just before the services at Junction 2.

I was alive.

Somehow I managed to get my car to limp over to the hard shoulder and judder to a standstill right behind the car that my car had originally collided with. I wanted to get out and say something to them. To explain and apologise for what had happened. But I couldn’t.

My legs had turned to jelly and it was all I could do to remain calm and count my blessings. Someone had called the police. I could hear their sirens shrieking and in my side mirror now that the rain had completely stopped falling, I could see them holding back all the traffic as policemen on foot scoured the road and picked up debris. Like my mangled front bumper.

A policeman appeared out of nowhere and spoke to the people in the car in front of mine and then walked towards my car.

“I’m for it!” I thought.

He looked extremely serious and avoided making eye contact with me as he walked purposefully around my car. All of a sudden he dropped to his knees in front of the car and looked as though he were praying. He then stood and walked over to my window, which I only just about managed to open with my shaking hands.

“God must have been holding you in his hands,” he said. “There is no way you should have survived that.”

Yikes! It’s one thing to have been in the spinning, hurtling car but to hear from someone else the absolute severity of what you had just survived was a shock. At that moment the reality of what had just happened minutes earlier really hit home. I had no idea what the outside of my car looked like but inside everything looked fine – no broken glass or jagged edges. I really was lucky.

An AA recovery truck also appeared as if from nowhere and just as swiftly almost disappeared back into nowhere as I jokingly asked, “Don’t things happen in threes?” He didn’t think it was funny at all that I had had two accidents in an hour and was expecting the third one to occur on the journey back to my home. Fortunately that was it on the car accident front for now but not in the way of unfortunate incidents for the year.

A few weeks after all of this drama I received a letter from my Mother’s friend. She started by telling me that she had bad news to tell me and then went on to say that a week or so earlier my Mother had tried to commit suicide and was now incarcerated in a Mental Hospital in North London. Why she had to send me a letter to tell me this important piece of news and hadn’t opted to pick up the ‘phone immediately still strikes me as odd. The letter was signed off with a  request for me to call her to get more information and the details of where my Mother was etc. Odd. So, obviously I picked up the ‘phone and called.

It was clear that there was an element of judgement from this woman who started making comments that I ought to see my Mother more often and to try harder to have a relationship with her etc.

I responded politely that if she knew more about the circumstances she wouldn’t see things the same way and would understand why things were as they were. She dismissed that comment as if there was no reason good enough to excuse me from having distanced myself from my Mother, but more specifically distancing myself from the ‘stepmonster,’ so I felt obliged to explain myself. Again.

I explained without fuss that the reason I couldn’t spend time with my Mother was because her husband was a paedophile who had sexually abused me from when I was only five years of age, for the following fifteen years. It didn’t happen once, or twice – it was a constant barrage of unwanted and unwarranted attacks. I explained that my Mother knew and had done nothing to help me and the response I got was this,”That’s a very serious allegation to make, Toula.”

“It’s not an allegation, it’s the truth and you are right, it’s extremely serious and yet no one seems to give a damn!”

Literally everyone I had told didn’t seem to care about the effect it was having on me but I was supposed to care about everyone else’s feelings, regardless.

Off I went to see my Mother with no idea of what I was going to be confronted with when I got to the pale green, shiny painted walls of the mental institution. There she was, wandering around amongst a sea of clearly damaged people, many of whom were so drugged they had no idea which way was up, pretending that all was well in her world.

Well, it wasn’t well at all. She really had gone and done it now.

The result of being put under the care of Camden’s Mental Health Department was that along with all of those severely mentally ill people was that they also drugged her. I can only imagine that it was those drugs that they were giving her that then caused the symptoms that they then misdiagnosed as Bipolar. Mum has never been Bipolar ever. Depressed, yes. Anxious, yes. Bipolar, no.

Unfortunately, without my knowledge, mainly because Mum was so drugged up over the next ten years, she had no way of telling me what was going on, if she even knew. Week by week, month by month she got more and more like Howard Hughes on the high dosage of tranquilizers/ antipsychotics that they gave her, so that for all those years she barely functioned…and then she was diagnosed with dementia.

I spoke with her often on the telephone and for the most part she sounded fine. Some of the time. The thing with illness is that the person’s voice generally sounds the same, so I naively assumed that all was well and believed her when she said it was. I had no idea that she barely, if ever, knew which way was up.

It was only when I actually saw her that I was shocked to the core. She had lost a great deal of weight – at one point more than 30lbs in the space of only 3 or 4 weeks. Her hair was unwashed, unbrushed and unkempt. Her eyebrows, perfectly groomed in years gone by were now giving Denis Healey a run for his money and no one had thought to cut her finger nails or toenails. She had facial hair and was wearing nightclothes that had food and coffee stains all down them. The husband she had chosen over me had never lifted a finger to help her in his life and now that she was sick and unable he didn’t know what to do or how to do it.

Her home was filthy, she was filthy and as we know, he was filthy.

Without ever questioning the doctors he happily fed her all of the drugs they told him to. It was only when I saw the state she was in and questioned her GP that I even discovered what was going on. I had no idea that her condition was being caused by the drugs she was taking and wasn’t an actual illness.

The GP said the drugs were prescribed by the Consultant Psychiatrist. The Consultant Psychiatrist tried to convince me that her misdiagnosis of Bipolar was correct. It wasn’t remotely true and even if it was, clearly the treatment she was administering wasn’t working. My Mother was not functioning at all. I read the contraindications for the drug and spent hours on forums where other people also taking the drug discussed their reactions and soon learned that it was nightmare drug and the dose my tiny Mother was being given was more than a 22 stone man of 6′ 3″ with paranoid schizophrenia had been prescribed. What the hell were they doing?

I took my Mother to her GP and explained that I needed someone to step in and help me get Mum off the drug because it wasn’t working, was extremely dangerous and most importantly of all, Mum did not have the condition it was being prescribed for. The side effects were enormous and dangerous and if she had other conditions like dementia, it could prove fatal.

A meeting was organised and the GP and the Consultant Psychiatrist spent fifteen minutes together alone prior to me joining them. The GP backed the psychiatrist up in everything she said, even though he barely knew my Mother and certainly had no knowledge of anything Mental Health related. He was an arrogant arse.

I explained that I thought perhaps Mum should be tested for dementia – her memory was not good and getting worse. Heck, she had no memory at all to speak of and if it was dementia the medication they were giving her could kill her. They laughed it off. I left the meeting horrified at my total lack of power when up against the NHS. I even called the police to explain the situation and they were not remotely interested either. Who to turn to?

No one seemed to care.

Weeks later on Mum’s 66th birthday she was finally and unfortunately diagnosed with dementia.

Two weeks later Mum was admitted to hospital as an emergency case because she had almost died. If you have ever seen anyone with clinical anxiety you will know what we were seeing (although until she was diagnosed months later, we didn’t know that that was what it was).

Mum hadn’t eaten in ages and was tiny – just skin and bone. Her eyes were glassy and unable to focus. She couldn’t speak at all, just grunt and her body would jerk constantly. She was put in an adult nappy and every day I would either drive from Hertfordshire to London to visit or call to make sure that she was still alive and tried to avoid coinciding those visits with the ‘stepmonster.’

I have never felt so despondent in my life.

But…I digress. I was telling you about the unfortunate events of 2003. I had had two car crashes in an hour in May, Mum had tried to kill herself and ended up in a Mental Institution in June and then, because things do happen in threes, my house was broken into in September. Whilst I was in it.

It wasn’t even 10pm and I had decided that I would watch the final of Fame Academy in bed. I was living alone in an enormous detached five bedroomed house in the country (not alone by choice but because I had been in a relationship with a cheat who I had asked to leave).

I switched everything off downstairs, put the mitten in her bed in the kitchen, making sure that she had plenty of food and water to see her through and had then locked all of the downstairs doors from the internal hallway. Once in my bedroom, I had locked that door, set the house alarm and got into bed.

Less than 10 minutes later the alarm started to go off. My heart started beating fast and I hoped that it was a mistake. Perhaps Princess Adorabella had tripped the alarm somehow and it would switch itself off shortly.

It didn’t.

You could tell by the code that appeared on the screen whether it was a mistake or whether security really had been breached and where. The code said very clearly that someone had opened that patio doors into the kitchen.

It was right. All of a sudden I could hear someone, or many people going crazy in the kitchen trying to smash their way into the rest of the house. The noise was incredible and terrifying.

Remaining as calm as possible, I dialled 999 and explained to the operator that there was someone in my house and they were crazily smashing the place up. The operator did not seem remotely worried about this and instead spent ages asking me how to spell my surname and repeatedly asking whether I was sure it wasn’t a pet making the noise.

I was sure. I explained that someone clearly wanted to get further into the house and the only thing holding them back thus far was a wooden door that they were doing their utmost to break down. Still she wasn’t bothered. Instead she said, “The officers will be with you shortly. Can you go downstairs and let them in?”

Huh?

Had she not heard what I had just been saying to her. There were crazy violent people in my house. Downstairs.

Was she seriously suggesting that I walk past them as they axed their way through the door with a ‘Good evening, Sir!” as I sauntered past to the front door?

Yes, she was.

The officers did arrive and they then asked me to come down and let them in. I told them that the burglar(s) had climbed over the fence and broken in through the kitchen door at the back so why didn’t they also climb over the fence and do the same? They looked nonplussed. Even the German Shepherd dog.

All this time the alarm was still screaming and the crashing and banging was still going on. And then it stopped. For about 10 seconds.

Then the alarm of the house directly behind mine went off. The burglar(s) had heard the police, or had given up as the internal doors hadn’t been easy to break down (they tried to smash their way in through two different rooms) and went off to pastures new.

The police hung around for a while and did what police do. Not sure what that was and then they left me alone with a couple of young police officers – a boy and a girl. They were very sweet and clearly extremely concerned about me. That scared me more.

Again I was asked (like the time I was attacked in 1996) whether there was anyone they could call. No, unfortunately my Mother is drugged up to the eyebrows, my biological father had donated £20 to get me aborted and then scarpered and I knew not to where and my ex boyfriend was a lying cheat who was the last person I wanted to see.

This time I was more resilient that after the attack in 1996. With the entire back of the house now boarded up and with shards of broken glass and smashed wood everywhere, I scooped up my terrified furry Princess and went back to bed.

Same process as before; locked the door, set the alarm and put the television back on.

Life goes on.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/

 

 

 

It Felt Like Cannibalism

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Is it just me or do you also hang on to all manner of items because of their sentimental value?

I have every envelope that James and my Mother have ever written my name on because it has their handwriting. Not such a silly thing because when Mum first got ill with her Alzheimer’s and Dementia and almost died, she had no idea of how to even hold a pen let alone write with it. I had to try to get her to sign a form and once I had put the pen in her hand (the right way up after a number of attempts), she didn’t even know how to hold it let alone mark an ‘X’ in the box. I had to take a photograph of her with the form and the pen etc to send with the paperwork. The irony being that it was a formal complaint to the NHS about her appalling mistreatment and misdiagnosis which had lead to this moment.

Nothing stays the same and there are no guarantees in this world of anything, including seeing your name written on an envelope by those who you love most in this world.

James bought me a Caramac bar at least six or seven years ago. I still have that. I kept it because he ‘found’ the Caramac for me after I mentioned that I hadn’t seen them in ages and really fancied one. Then he came home with a big grin wielding a Caramac and it moved me so much I couldn’t bear to eat it. It has even travelled back and forth to LA with us each time.

Talking of LA, I still have an ‘Oscar’s biscuit’ (baked in the shape of an Oscar with gold icing) from our Oscar’s brunch at the Four Seasons a year ago, just before we moved back to London. Our friend had flown out to spend a week with us helping to pack up and have a mini holiday and so the biscuit has all sorts of emotional memories attached to it. James is horrified and has asked me to throw it away. It’s in an airtight Ziploc bag and will never be consumed (obviously) but I am not yet ready to say goodbye to it.

Perhaps I am a hoarder in training?

My grandmother was a fully fledged hoarder. She lived right next to St Giles Church near Centre Point and would go for a wander along Oxford Street each evening after the shops shut and would bring home all sorts of treasures that had been thrown out. There was so much ‘treasure’ that you could only open her flat door wide enough to squeeze through. The downstairs hallway was literally full to the ceiling with stuff. Her bedroom was so full that it was FULL and her husband’s bedroom (her blind alcoholic husband) had to feel his way through a pathway only inches wide but solid up to the ceiling to get to his room. The pathway went all the way up the staircase to the living room, bathroom and kitchen. There was nowhere to really sit down apart from Jack’s chair, or to climb high and perch on stuff that was all over the sofa and other armchairs. My grandmother would sleep perched aloft, like the Princess and the Pea. Sort of but more dusty.

I’m not like that. I hope. I just keep small things and am more than happy to throw out others but all of the things I keep have a memory attached to them.

Perhaps I do it because I can. When I was a child, there was so much instability and lack of security in my life that I always needed proof that my Mother existed. Sometimes to this day, I even need proof that I exist. I think it’s a side-effect of the trauma.

The proof can take any form and I cannot know in advance what will or will not evoke feelings in me one way or the other. The bad things are discarded as much as the good things are kept.

After I was attacked by the pretend supply teacher in my primary school, I got rid of all of the clothes I had been wearing that day and changed the way I did my hair forever more, thinking that somehow those things had been partially responsible. What I had chosen to wear and the way my hair was parted had obviously made a random paedophile walk in off the street and attack me.

Likewise, things that evoke positive emotions need to be kept safe.

My therapist calls it magic thinking, which sounds way better than a lot of other things she could call it.

Once, when I was seven there was an item I wanted to keep safe but was not allowed. It was Easter. My Mother had bought both myself and my foster brother Easter eggs. My Mother had also bought me a weird Greek plaited loaf of bread thingy that will no doubt have a starring role in the new ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ film.

I was going to save both the egg and the bread. There was no fixed plan of how long I would keep them but I didn’t want to eat them as my Mother had just said goodbye and gone on her merry way back to her life without me. I was filled with a sadness at being abandoned again and worrying that I might never see her again.

My foster brother ate his egg and I didn’t. He didn’t share a morsel. I kept my Easter goodies on the table in front of me and was just revelling in their existence. As long as they existed, so did my Mother. And so did I.

My foster brother wanted more chocolate or was complaining about the fact that I still had my egg and the weird plaited loaf thingy to our foster Mother. As usual when he complained, without her hearing both sides or even caring what the truth was, I was automatically in the wrong even though I was four years younger than him and had done absolutely nothing. At this point I was seven and he was eleven. I am not blaming him for this. He knew what the situation was but as with any child he was going to milk it for all he was worth.

My foster Mother took one look at my Easter booty laid out on the table in front of me and assumed (I can only assume) that somehow I was being greedy. She ordered me to share my egg and the bread and I when I refused she got angry.

Instead of hearing what I was really saying, my words, “I don’t want to eat them!” was taken as defiance. Instead of doing what she should have which was to tell my foster brother to mind his own and then doing that herself, she decided to punish me for defying her.

I was forced to eat every last crumb of both the egg and the bread right there and then in front of them both with a torrent of tears falling down my face. My positive proof stuck in my throat with each bite and mixed with my feelings of immense loss and humiliation. It was sickening and painful.

Even now as I write this I can feel the injustice and sadness at not only being totally misunderstood but at the loss of a tangible connection to my Mother with each bite of food that I was made to consume in front of them. It felt like cannibalism.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/

 

Sleep Would Be A Fine Thing

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Now that I have opened the flood gates about my early years of childhood sexual abuse and growing up in a foster family, my mind is constantly flooded with memories that want to be acknowledged and if I am not careful will begin to drown me unless I write them down.

If for any reason I write something here that doesn’t make any sense or just seems disjointed, it’s because it’s better out than in. Please bear with me.

One of the overwhelming memories that keeps knocking on the inside of my brain, asking to be set free is one of the numerous times where I wake up in a different place each weekend and for a few long moments have absolutely no idea where I am.

I think most people will have experienced this one or twice in a lifetime but as a child, this was something I experienced on a regular basis.

My Mother would come to collect me from my foster home on a Saturday but that was no guarantee that I would actually spend all of the weekend with her. Oftentimes I would be left with her best friend as Mum would be working during the Saturday evening.

We would all spend the Saturday daytime together – they would gossip (in Greek) whilst making their way through a couple of packets of cigarettes each and drinking strong coffee – and I would be bored.

Mum would then leave to go to work, painting on her liquid eyeliner (that I would peel off when she came home later) and I would sit up late with my babysitter watching films on TV. Films that a child should never see, especially a child of only six years of age.

One of those films was Hammer’s ‘Taste The Blood of Dracula.” Scenes from that film stick with me even to this day, although I have to say that meeting the incredible Christopher Lee a number of times did help lessen the fear a little but not enough for me to watch horror films as an adult.

After a disturbed and horror dream filled night, I would then awaken early, as young children do and panic about where on earth I was. The darkened room (wherever I happened to be) would be unfamiliar to me for a minute or two until I could work out where I was.

I was always under strict instructions not to wake my Mother’s friend, so would be as patient as possible (or as patient as a bored to tears little girl could be) and tip-toe about for hours until it was about eleven o’clock and then launch myself onto the bed to wake her up, with an ‘Are you awake?” She never was.

For the most part, I understand that many children have the joy of growing up without ever encountering too many bad guys, or situations. Unfortunately for me they seemed to be everywhere, all the time.

During those weekend visits with my Mother there were a handful of occasions (not including the years of dread at the hands of my ‘stepmonster’), where I was terrified for my life.

The first time I can recall was when I was about three or four. Mum and I were asleep in her bedsit just off Tottenham Court Road. Someone must have been babysitting me until Mum came home from work in the early hours (I think it was the best friend I mentioned before, who at that time lived in the building next door). Mum was soon fast asleep but I was disturbed by a noise that wasn’t going away.

I could hear what sounded like someone trying to open the door, so sat up in bed to listen more easily. Bearing in mind it was a bedsit, the door was only feet away and someone was very definitely fiddling with the lock.

All of a sudden as I sat there, the door opened and a Chinese man came creeping in. I must have gasped because Mum suddenly sat up, saw the man and started screaming and swearing (like a trooper) at him to get out.

She was furious and loud and must have frightened the man who tried to pretend that he had made a mistake, apologising and backing out of the door. Considering that he had been fiddling with the lock for quite some time he clearly knew exactly what he was doing but wasn’t prepared for Mum’s reaction perhaps or had hoped he could steal things without being noticed. I have no idea but have always been grateful that the episode ended like that, although would rather it hadn’t happened at all.

To this day I can still see that man coming through the doorway.

There was another scary episode possibly that same year. I was no older than four and on this particular occasion Mum was staying in a room above the place she worked. She was a barmaid of sorts (as far as I can work out) in a private member’s club (before Soho House and all the rest) called ‘Maxim’s just on Charlotte Street. From the outside it looked like any other Victorian townhouse but inside there was a bar and rooms that were rented out.

Mum had taken me out for the day and we had had a wonderful time. First we had walked the short distance to Oxford Street and the Dolphinarium. Yes, where there is now a clothes shop and previously a gaming arcade, there was once a dolphinarium. A theatre of sorts with tiered seating and a tank where dolphins did what they do when they are in captivity and want to survive and be fed. Obviously, at that time I was overawed to see the beauty and magnificence of the dolphins and had no idea just how awful their circumstances were. Thankfully, as far as I am aware, it wasn’t too long before the place was closed down.

Mum had then taken me to see cartoons (specifically the Aristocats) at a small cinema in Piccadilly. I think there is now a GAP store in the same spot.

We had had a great day and I was full of excitement at all of the magical experiences we were having and mostly because I was with my wonderful, beautiful mother (it was pre-stepmonster, so she was full of joy and laughter), only to return to the work place bedsit to discover that in our absence it had been broken in to.

I was terrified. I had no idea what to think but when I heard that the police thought the person responsible lived in the next room, my imagination went into overdrive and I thought he was going to reappear at any moment and cause us harm.

The police left and soon after so did we, in order to get me back to my foster home at a reasonable hour. What a downer! I remember panicking that entire week, until the following Saturday, that perhaps the burglar had broken in and killed my Mother and I would never see her again.

Following on from that unpleasant incident is one that filled me with fear but nothing actually happened, I am delighted to say.

About a year after the burglar had trashed Mum’s work place bedsit, for some unknown reason we were again staying overnight there once again. Not sure why because Mum’s real home was only a few hundred feet along the road. Perhaps she had guests staying there? Who knows. I was too young to question the whys and wherefores and as my visits with Mum often ended up with me sleeping somewhere new, I just went with the flow.

On this occasion, however, as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t.

As soon as Mum had told me where we would be staying that night, I was filled with apprehension. The last time I had been there, her room had been broken in to and I had been extremely frightened. I didn’t want to stay there in case the bad man decided to break into her room again. He wouldn’t she assured me because this time, the room we would be staying in was the one he had lived in. Oh. My. God. The terror that that information filled my young and impressionable mind with.

In my little girl’s head, I didn’t believe that the bad man had really gone. I thought that he was hiding in the room and at any minute, he would jump out and get me.

We went into the room and it didn’t look at all how I expected. Not sure what I was expecting exactly but it didn’t look like a bad man’s lair of any description…other than there was a wall-hanging opposite the bed. In the light, it looked acceptable (if you like that sort of thing) and like, well…a wall-hanging. However, the minute the light went out, it looked like the gateway to hell.

My little girl imagination decided that behind that ‘convenient’ wall-hanging was a doorway and at any moment now, the burglar was going to open that door and appear…

My heart was beating out of my chest as my mother put me into my pyjamas and tucked me into bed. She was leaving me. Alone. In. That. Room. Where the burglar lived. Behind. The. Curtain.

Even though I have been in real life situations where I was under attack or there was a real possibility of being attacked, I have never felt so scared for my life.

I lay awake for hours in that room afraid to open my eyes in case I saw something I didn’t want to see. Every noise was magnified and I imagined all sorts of horrors about to befall me. I held my breath so that whatever was in that room with me, mainly the bad man, would think that I was dead and leave me alone and eventually, many hours later, my Mother came to join me in that hell hole, oblivious to my panic.

Sleep perchance to dream? You’ve got to be kidding. Sleep would be a fine thing.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/