Ben was making a bad habit of being really untidy around the flat and I was starting to get sick of picking up after him. His guitar lay aimlessly in the middle of the living room floor, surrounded by cigarette butts, beer bottles, socks, and old newspapers. I had been trying to be as patient as possible with him as I could, trying to be understanding but it was becoming too much.
I had just about cleared everything up when there was a knock on the door.
“Mum, hi, this is a … surprise.” I smiled and embraced her. “You should really call before you come around though, you’re lucky I wasn’t out.”
“Or dead,” she added.
“Excuse me? Why would you even…”I didn’t even have to finish before it dawned on me, “…Sarah.” I was shaking my head now in disbelief at the audacity of my so-called best friend. To go behind my back and call my mother, it was so beyond the line. “I don’t even - you don’t even -“
“Honey, you can talk to me about this,” she said.
“There’s nothing to talk about?”
“You don’t have to be afraid, sweetheart. Your father and I will keep you safe, there’s no need for you to be frightened we’re both here for you. If anyone can understand what you’re going through, it’s me.”
“Why? Because you’ve been there, you know what it feels like? Just because you hear some pathetic rumour, and you jump to ridiculous conclusions with the rest of them, don’t assume that I’m like you. I’m not and I never will be. In fact, you’re the one person I never want to resemble. You’re pathetic and you’re weak. If I ever actually found myself in that position, you’d be the last person I’d want to talk to. What advise could you possibly give me, how to stay with a man that hits you, how to pretend everything’s OK when it really isn’t?”
She tried telling me how great my father was; how it wasn’t his fault that he lost his temper sometimes. The drivel just wouldn’t stop; I love him, I need him, I can’t live without him, blah, blah, blah. Don’t get me wrong, I know that he’s a great Dad, but as a husband he doesn’t score so well. What I realised now was the fact that this was the first time Mum had openly admitted to being hit by him, ‘sometimes he loses his temper’ she’d said ‘I forgive him because I love him.’
It was sad seeing that look of desperation in her eyes when she spoke about him, I couldn’t help but pity her. I wasn’t entirely sure what could possibly happen to make a woman become so weak, or if she’d simply been born this way. Either way, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like who she was, how much she forgave, or how she never felt the need to run away and never look back.
“I don’t want that for you,” she said, “you’re still so young, you have so much time to fall for someone who won’t ever hurt you, someone who appreciates you. I don’t want you to end up like me either, it’s the last thing I’d ever want for either one of you girls.”
It was the one and only thing we had ever agreed on, our desire for me to never be like her.
“I appreciate that, Mum, and thank you for finally being honest with me about Dad. But I’m telling you, I’m fine. Ben and I are fine. You have no reason to worry about me at all.”
Being raised in the Appleton household taught me a couple of things. Firstly, appearances really were everything, especially when your parents are constantly trying to climb the social ladder. Secondly, trust can neither be bought nor earned; it is an element of life that simply does not exist.
Luckily for me, I had always rebelled against that particular aspect of Appleton life. I preferred to trust easily and thoroughly. My parents, on the other hand, couldn’t even trust each other.
“Where is he now?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I told her truthfully, “I don’t feel the need to know exactly where he is every second of the day and Ben doesn’t always need to know where I am either. We have a lot of trust in our relationship, you should try adopting a little of that yourself sometime.”
“Trust isn’t the issue here…”
“No? Then why can’t you trust me for once? I’m telling you the truth but you don’t want to hear it do you?”
What hurt the most was the fact that I really was telling the truth. I was screaming it so loud, hoping that people would eventually listen. Instead, they just shunned my words, unable to believe that what I told them was real. They were all so convinced that I was lying to cover up for Ben. I dreaded to think about how much this was hurting him. I know that they all think that they’re protecting me but if they’d only listen to me then they’d know I don’t need their protection.
“You’re obviously in denial,” she said, “I know what that’s like. Soph, the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem.”
“I’m not an alcoholic or a drug addict, Mum.”
“The same rules still apply,” she said.
“Maybe that’s true for people suffering abuse but not for me. It doesn’t apply to me.”
“I can’t take this.” She said. That makes two of us, I thought as I followed her into my bedroom.
“What are you looking for?” She pulled my suitcase down from the top of my wardrobe and began frantically packing my things into it. “Stop it. Mum, let go of my things. What are you doing? Would you please stop? This is insane.” I was fighting with her, snatching away my clothes as she pulled them out of my drawers and wardrobe.
When she suddenly stopped I couldn’t help but do the same. I stood there awkwardly, not wanting to be the first to speak. We were both breathing heavily, it was the only sound that broke the silence, and yet it only added to the tension.
“You’re not staying here,” she said quietly, “I won’t let you. You can fight me all you want, but I am not leaving here without you.”
“Let me? Let me? You have no say in what I can and can’t do. You lost that privilege a long time ago. I won’t let you dictate my life to me anymore. If you really think that it’s okay to come into my flat, into my life, and preach to me about the way I’m living, try and tell me what to do, you’ve got another thing coming. You have no fucking right.”
“Hey. Hey.” She shouted. “That’s enough. I have had enough of the filth and the lies that come out of your mouth and I won’t listen to it anymore. As your mother I have every right - “
I couldn’t muster the right words to stop her. All the anger I had been controlling for so many years took control over me. I didn’t even realize what was happening until I saw my saliva running down her cheek and into the corner of her mouth.
“Get out of my flat, get out of my life.” My words were calm but spoken with such venom that I didn’t recognize the woman who spoke them. “I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“I don’t even know who you are. I was wrong; you’re not my daughter. You’re just some low-bit slapper who is one mistake away from prostitution.”
“The only mistake I made was letting you in. And just so you know, the feeling is mutual, I’m not your daughter, I’m not anybody’s.”
I cried in anger, spitting out my spiteful words hoping that they would hurt her. I had so much frustration pent up, a thick black residue left from my teenage years when she controlled every little thing I did. Now that I was finally letting it out it was such a release.
“You may have sunk to his level,” she said, “but I will not let you drag me down there too. You can kick and scream and even spit at me all you want, but I am more determined than ever to stick by my words and I am not leaving here today without you. Not while there’s a heart beating beneath my chest.”
As she started packing my things once again, I fought with her. I pushed and I pulled, I yelled and I screamed in her face. I made such a raucous that I didn’t even notice Ben until he was restraining me and pulling me back into the hallway.
“Let go of me, Ben. Let go of me.” I said.
My mother had followed us out. She reached forward and grabbed hold of Ben’s shoulder. Startled by her touch he quickly swung around. He hadn’t meant for it to happen, I knew that for sure. But as my Mother sat on the floor, her hand clutching her neck where Ben had accidentally struck her, I could see the accusation in her eyes; for her, this was no accident.
“Oh, god, I’m so - “ he tried.
“Don’t,” I said. “Don’t apologise, she brought it on herself. I really think that it’s time for you to leave now.” Ben offered his hand to help her stand and as he did I pushed it aside. “She’s perfectly capable of seeing to herself.”
“I’m not leaving here without you,” she said as she stood.
“Yes, you are leaving without me, and you’re never coming back. If it comes to it, I’ll have Ben escort you out - hell - I don’t care if he has to throw you out by your hair; either way, you’re leaving. And just so you know - just to make it clear how I feel - I think of myself as having no mother, you’re dead to me.”
It was a complete overreaction to the situation. I knew my Mum hadn’t done anything bad enough to equate to losing me all together. But in the moment I felt it all with such conviction that I even convinced myself that it was true. Once I had said it, I had stand by it and the more I did that, the more I believed what I had done was right. She had spent too many years controlling me and for the first time I actually felt like I had my own free life and she was trying to take control of that too. If I let her in now, even just a little bit, I’d lose everything I worked so hard for.
My mother was not a defeatist. So when her eyes blanked and she left without a word, without even a tut or a huff, I knew I had finally won. For the first time, in my entire life, I had actually managed to overcome my mother. I should have felt triumphant, elated and maybe even a tad ecstatic. But no feeling could overcome the instant sense of loss I felt, and without thought I went into immediate mourning, my chest suddenly carried the weight of a thousand boulders and it hurt like hell.