Three years ago Marcel broached this topic, this year it was Charlotte's turn. When asked to write a 'personal reflective' essay on a theme close to them, they both opted for the same one. The Higher English folio is an important part of the university entrance exams in Scotland so both times, I was concerned about their choice of subject, in case they weren't up to analysing their feelings, so young. Both got full marks for what they wrote, so I guess I should learn to worry less... I suspect they were both somewhat constrained by the 1300 word limit, and at a later date, they might find themselves writing more on the topic.
So here it is: Charlotte's Higher essay about her relationship with her biological father. It is terribly sad that things have come to this, as it never needed to be this way. I can't even imagine how I would feel if my child wrote something like this about me. They do say the thing you remember most vividly in life isn't what you did or saw, but how someone made you feel. That definitely seems to be the case for both of them:
An Unimaginable Ultimatum
I am upstairs in my room with my older brother, Marcel. He is six and I am four. Mum is with us, whispering us another story from our favourite book. Dad doesn’t like it when we make too much noise when he is trying to work. I want to jump and dance and play with my toys but that always makes mum look worried so we sit quietly, listening. My brother chooses a story I don’t want to hear. Maybe I’m tired, maybe I’m just tired of sitting patiently so I start to wail. Mum looks panicked: Shhh, please! Her eyes plead with me to be quiet. She cuddles me, she strokes me lovingly, she begs me to quieten down, but when you’re four, it is sometimes beyond your control. I cry louder and she looks like she might cry too. Suddenly the door bangs downstairs and his heavy footsteps start their approach. My brother too looks terrified. The door swings open. They hold their breath as I rage but this time he walks over and picks me up. He carries me gently to the bedroom window. It overlooks a field. Look outside, his voice is sweet and patient today, let’s see if there are any foxes playing in the field. Mum and Marcel breathe again. Tonight, he is kind.
Two years later mum finally became tired of his moods and moved out. Fast forward… I am now about nine and it is a horrible winter weekend. Freezing rain bites my face as I walk with him to the shops. Let’s have a movie night, kids! he announces happily. I’m excited. The poster in the window of Blockbusters proclaims this week’s special is ‘3 films for £10’. Dad picks an action movie, and it’s an action movie for Marcel too. I proudly hand over ‘Just dance 2’. I’ve been desperate to see it for months. What’s that nonsense? he asks scathingly, We’re not watching that! Put it back! I walk back to the shelf trying to stop my eyes from betraying the hurt and rage I feel as he laughs and adds a third Bruce Willis film to his basket. Don’t I exist?
Another lonely weekend is over and I am relieved to be returning home. We pile into the car and I try to hide my overwhelming anticipation of the return to normality. I make sure not to show it because I’m not allowed to mention my step dad or my sisters. Dad likes to call them the people we hate and I know the reaction any contradiction of this statement would cause. I try to focus on nothing, anything but his words as I feel the anger build inside me. I might explode, if I don’t tell him to stop putting his words into my mouth, but it is only a few more minutes till we arrive, so I concentrate on not answering him. The girls are playing in our garden. They toddle unsteadily towards the gate, grins on their pudgy faces, their arms outstretched, as he pulls up. Would you look at those ugly brats! he laughs, and turns around looking for our agreement. Does it not occur to him that those are my sisters? I adore everything about them. Has he ever tried to see anything from anyone else’s perspective? Inside I am screaming at him, I am even swearing at him. I can see the scene in my head, but I step silently away from his car, seething.
Dad’s bitterness about the divorce is something he takes out on us. Every weekend, as if on replay, he rants about my mum stealing all his money. Ask your mother to get you it, he hisses, when we say we’ve outgrown our clothes. He goes as far as to show us receipts for bank transfers of large sums of money to my mum’s name. I feel confused and upset. At home everything seems so warm and loving but is my mum lying to us? She struggles to make ends meet. I mull it over silently at night as I lie in this alien bed miles from home. Who is telling me the truth? Are mum’s caring smiles just a façade? It was only years later I learned that the one who keeps the house in a divorce has to buy the other out and those bank transfers were only her half of their house.
Over the years, I tried to stand up to him but every weekend started with a blazing battle and ended with me banished to my bedroom. I was finding it increasingly difficult not to contradict his twisted view of reality. And then came 2012. My grandpa had cancer. He passed away six weeks before I finished primary school. Dad showed no sympathy: I would have gone to his funeral but he took your mother’s side in the divorce, so I really don’t care! This was my grandpa who I adored. He was warm and cuddly, and he made me laugh. He read me books, he gave me a camera and took me out on photo shoots, just me and him. He made me feel special. Could dad not put me first just once? Could he not see my pain? I rang him up, after hours of gathering my courage and announced: I’m not coming with you to France. I want to spend the summer here with mum and gran. I want to get to know the other kids who are going to my high school after the summer holiday! A holiday of fights with dad while becoming the only kid no one knew on their first day at high school was the last thing I needed that summer. Of course he would be mad at me, but he would understand.
I’d just got my first phone for going to high school. It buzzed. My mind raced as I wondered which of my new friends wanted to meet up in the park. You have until tonight. If you do not get on the plane, you are no longer my child! My blood turned to ice. Surely he didn’t mean that? Of course, he didn’t. He liked to bully and intimidate but he never carried out his threats. The plane left and I went to the park with my two little sisters. We sat by the waterfall and relief swept through me. Three whole conflict-free weeks stretched before me. I finally felt free. I felt calm for the first time since my grandpa had died. No one would say anything hurtful to me for three whole weeks!
Nearly five years have passed since that text and still I wait. I have neither seen him nor heard from him. I no longer need to worry about his unpredictable moods. I have a very close and strong relationship with my sisters despite them being so much younger than me. It’s mystifying to think how little he knows of his own daughter’s life. He doesn't know my school subjects, or my exam results. He has no clue of my interests or future career paths. Looking forward, there are so many things he will not get to do and see that a normal father would. He won’t get to see me grow up. He won’t get to walk me down the aisle. He will never know my children, his future grandchildren. When I think back all those years ago, snuggling into him as we looked for the foxes, I know he is warm somewhere deep inside so it is hard to contemplate everything he chose to give up that day. It is strange to think I lost my father just six weeks after losing my grandpa. Maybe he still thinks about me but the terrible truth is I don't miss him.