If anyone asks, she fell down the stairs

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A secret I have kept for nearly 40 years...

Submitted: December 29, 2011

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Submitted: December 29, 2011

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Looking back I suppose I did see the warning signs of my parents’ divorce, but as a pre-teenager I hardly had the wherewithall to recognise them for what they were. My mother was at home alone a lot, drinking large amounts of sherry. My father would always be somewhere else and the reason always seemed plausible – he was the fire brigade union representative and he was at a meeting, he was pricing a building job for a friend, he had to go and “see a man about a dog”. I don’t think either of them was seeing anybody else at the time, I just think they were at the stage where they didn’t want to be around each other any more than was absolutely necessary. Divorce was inevitable.

I clearly remember the day sometime after their split when my parents had a meeting to discuss us kids, and my mother told my father that I wanted to go and live with her and her new man. My father, being the wonderful stereotypical “mustn’t make a fuss” Englishman that he is, simply looked at me when he got home that day and said “Your mother tells me you want to go and live with her.” Without even looking at him I said “Yes.” He said, “Oh... right...” Then after a pause, “I hope it wasn’t anything I did.” I cried when I wrote that. My father is a wonderful man. I should have stayed with him and spared myself the emotional trauma of the following two years and him the heartache of thinking he had disappointed me somehow and driven me away. The strange thing is that I cannot for the life of me remember why I opted to leave my father, my brother and sister, my school and all my friends, to go and live in an entirely unfamiliar city with my mother and a man who turned out to be a complete asshole. It was a terrible mistake and I regretted it bitterly for many years.

Very early one morning, shortly after I moved in with in with my mother and “John”, I was woken up by the sound of someone shouting my mother’s name. I slowly gathered my senses and realised that the noise was coming from my mother’s bedroom. I walked there apprehensively, knowing that what I was about to encounter could not be a normal situation. I peeked around the open door and I could see that it was a paramedic who was shouting her name, while another took her pulse. She was lying there motionless on her bed, eyes staring at the ceiling, her lips moving but no sound emerging. My stepfather stood ashen-faced in the corner, pathetic in his underwear, the telephone still in his hand. On the bedside table there were pill bottles of every size, all open, empty and laying on their sides. The paramedic slapped her face hard and her head lolled loosely towards me. She looked straight at me but she didn't see me, and a white frothy fluid dribbled slowly from the corner of her mouth.

Suddenly they picked her up and dumped her roughly on to a stretcher. They maneuvered her swiftly and precariously down the stairs, out of the front door and into the back of the ambulance. My stepfather and I followed in the car. It was the longest journey of my life. I arrived breathless in the emergency room and saw my mother lying naked and limp in a cubicle. I watched a doctor stuff a tube down her throat before a nurse whisked the curtains closed. My stepfather was allowed to stay but I was shut out. I felt useless and alone. Nobody said anything to me, the skinny wide-eyed kid watching his mother die. I just sat outside in the corridor on my own, wondering what would happen to me with my mother dead and hoping that my father would forgive me and take me back.

But she didn’t die. A few days later she had recovered enough that they sent her home. She was covered in bruises from the resuscitation and rough handling and she didn’t speak for weeks. The only thing my stepfather ever said to me about it was “If anyone asks, she fell down the stairs.” It was never spoken of again.


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