I guess change had been in the air for a while but as a child, those whispered conversations were not meant for my ears.
My foster mother married her second husband and brought a new sister into our lives when I was seven.
Not sure whether the conversations between my mothers were sparked due to those events of whether it was more to do with my Mother being encouraged by her pedophile partner to bring me back into the fold, to live unhappily ever after with them; a woman I no longer recognised or trusted as a Mother and her abusive and grossly offensive boyfriend.
Still living in my foster family, at some time in the next year or so, I was taken by my Mother to visit the social services somewhere near Holborn. It was a street of terraced white fronted Georgian houses that had been converted into offices where my life began to change.
I had no idea what we were doing there. My mother has never been one for sharing information, rather preferring the enigmatic approach, or just not thinking that I, the person most likely to be fundamentally affected by this meeting, ought to know what it was actually about.
We were buzzed in and told to climb the narrow stairs to the second floor where upon we entered a fluorescently lit room with a small sofa and a couple of desks. We sat on the sofa and the social worker explained to my Mother that she would need to speak with me alone.
No idea why I was there and now I was going to be interrogated without the assumed protection of my Mother. My heart started to beat fast and I was feeling paralysed. All I could think was that they had discovered what the ‘stepmonster’ had been doing to me and somehow, it being all my fault, I was going to be put in prison or sent to a children’s home somewhere.
My mother left the room and I was left alone with the social worker.
The woman put on a patronisingly ‘safe and kind’ tone of voice and proceeded to ask me a few simple questions about my life but mainly she wanted to know the answer to this one question: If I had the choice to live with my Mother or foster mother, who would I choose?
I knew what I had been brought half way across London to say and quite frankly neither situation was ideal. I didn’t feel able to say anything that really needed to be said because no one was giving me the space or permission to do so. I wasn’t happy in either place. Of course, there were positives and negatives to both but overall, at least at my foster home, I had extended family, pets, school-friends and stability. Most of all, though, I was able to go about my business as a little girl and be left alone.
Of course, I said I would prefer to be with my real Mother.
The social worker seemed thrilled with that answer and we left.
The memory of that meeting was soon relegated to the furthest reaches of my mind, when after many weeks of expecting something to happen, nothing did.
My mother would come and get me as usual on a Saturday morning, take me back to her bedsit opposite Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road and then evil would awaken and make my life hell for the next 36 hours.
The bedsit was two separate rooms next to each other. They were on the third floor and one of the rooms had previously been rented by an elderly, alcoholic Polish man, who we would frequently have to step over as we came out of our original room to go down the main staircase. Sometimes he would have blood running down his face as he had fallen flat on it and he would always smell of the urine that stained the front of his trousers and pooled on the linoleum.
My Mother was so proud to have secured the second room which now became our communal bedroom. Their double bed was right there lined up next to my single one in what can only be described as the dormitory from hell.
Whilst Mum was making up my bed with freshly laundered sheets, I was left with ‘him’ in the ‘living room’ bedsit only feet away. I might as well have been locked in a dungeon at the bottom of the building for all the help my screams mustered.
He would come into the room smirking and stinking in a shiny and short silvery grey robe. It was belted at the waist, which on him was bloated but only loosely so that I could see his tiny briefs as he sauntered around.
The door would click behind him and I would start to scream in earnest for my Mother. “Mum! Mum! Tell him to stop bothering me! Muuuuum!”
No sign of Mum. She was too busy ignoring my screams to come running and save me. By this time I had been backed onto the sofa or against a wall and he was touching me and trying to get me to open my tightly curled fists and touch him. I would punch at him and kick out and continue to scream as loudly as I could, which eventually brought some kind of assistance as my Mother, now furious with me, would storm into the room and start beating me.
My Mother had never raised her hand to me until she met him. She had never been unkind to me or looked at me with anything but love and adoration. Now she was always short tempered and angry with me. She was also heavy handed. Sometimes her hand prints on my body would last a few days.
Thank God. It was better to be beaten and screamed at by her than to be mauled at and pawed by her slobbering mate.
Rather than counting down the days to when I would next see my Mother during the week, I now counted the hours until it was time to get on the first bus to return.
This routine continued for years. Yes, I got older and the older I got, the more physical the maulings and the beatings became.
I didn’t get better able to deal with it as I would have needed external input to learn new methods. I was just getting older week by week and more and more unhappy.
Then suddenly it was December 19th, 1977. I was almost 10 years of age and woke up to a flurry of activity in my foster home. A few of my things were packed into bags but most of my things were left exactly where they were as I was told by my foster mother than my little sister would love to have them.
Not today? Please God don’t let it be today.
It was today.
My Mother soon arrived and we packed what few belongings I was allowed to take with me into the boot of a mini cab and we said our goodbyes. I had no reason to believe that this might be the last time I would see my family but nevertheless, it was a moment when my world turned black and white.
The journey into London was endless. We were going to my new home. A new home that I had never seen. Camden Council had purchased the bedsit buildings and rehoused all of the tenants. We were now going to my new home just by Warren Street, in a converted Georgian house (ironically just like the one I had been questioned in by the Social Worker all those years before). It was a two storey maisonette with a garden.
It was raining and dark by the time we got there even though it was still only around mid-day. There was a front door from the street which opened into a lino covered hallway and another door. This one gave us entry into my new prison.
My Mother had literally only had the keys for a few days. Carpet had just been laid. Bright red everywhere including matching velvet curtains. There was no furniture in the living room however, or anywhere really. My room, (the bedrooms were downstairs) was carpet and furniture free but did have the single bed from the bedsit waiting for me.
It wasn’t long before the usual drama began only this time it was themed slightly differently.
My mother had tried to switch on the central heating, a luxury and a first for us. Rather than getting heat from the radiators, a wet patch started to form on the carpet as water leaked out. Turning the heating off made no difference as the leak had obviously been there for a while and was only noticed because of the lack of heat.
I left my Mother and ‘him’ to deal with it and went downstairs to use the loo. I switched on the light – it was always dark in there I was soon to find out – because the downstairs floor was ostensibly a basement – and soon saw water dripping off the light fitting. I immediately turned off the light and told my mother to switch off the electrics. Yes, almost nine but with a desire to live even if it was in hell. My Mother seemed grateful for the instruction as she was still standing in the middle of the living room having a blazing row with her ignorant partner, who somehow made the leak our fault and was shouting aggressively at both of us.
The first night in my new home with my ‘real’ family was as unpleasant as you can imagine. I can’t remember if ‘he’ tried to abuse me. He probably did. Why wouldn’t he, he did it all the time?
I remember lying in my dark and empty room crying my heart out praying that somehow this was all a big mistake and that I would soon be going back to my foster family.
It didn’t happen.
In fact, I didn’t hear from my foster family again really. Very infrequently I would receive a short note from my foster mother but that was it.
On the 19th December, 1977, my entire life and history to that moment in time was wiped out.
No more foster parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, pets, neighbours, school-friends…..no more of anything that I knew was available to me.
Just imagine if you were picked up out of your life right now and never saw or had contact with anything or anyone you had previously known again.
Grief doesn’t come close to explaining having your entire life and everything in it erased in a moment.
After the Christmas holidays I started a new school. It was vile. There was no uniform, no discipline and no kindness. Many of the children were bullies and others didn’t speak English. My education up until this time had been exemplary and here I now was in a dreadful school where I knew so much more than those employed to teach us.
I was given strict instructions by my Mother not to let anyone know our circumstances and that I had only been living two hundred feet away with comparative strangers for a couple of weeks. No one was to know what pain and fear I carried around with me on a daily basis.
Unhappy and afraid does not come close to explaining the burden I carried on my ten year old shoulders.
The loss of safety and everyone you have ever known doesn’t go away or get fixed in time. You do not adapt to the situation. You live with such enormous loss that there is barely room in your chest to breathe.
As an adult, I live each moment convinced that everything and everyone I know and love will disappear at any moment. There is no comfort because it has already happened to me and I wasn’t allowed to talk about it and therefore never understood why. Nothing can be said by anyone to instil any level of confidence in me that it won’t happen again.
On 19th December, 1977, I lost everything and everyone I had ever known apart from my Mother who beat me and her partner who abused me.
It’s definitely a date to remember.