The Night My Childhood Ended.
I was nearly 8 years old when my childhood ended. I remember because my next youngest sister had just been born. She was born in May, and I was 8 in July.
I’d known before then that something wasn’t quite right in the house I grew up in, but I hadn’t realised just how wrong things were.
I was woken up late at night by the sound of my mother whimpering and my father shouting. I crept into my sister’s room and we held each other all that long night. She whispered to me, telling me it was all right, that they were just arguing. But I could hear the smacks when he slapped her, and the awful thuds when he punched her. I knew she was trying to be quiet, trying not to wake us. He wasn’t so considerate. He grunted like an animal, while she whimpered and cried out like a child. It felt like it went on for hours, though it may have only been a few minutes. It felt like it lasted all night.
When we got up the next morning, he had gone out. We went into the kitchen to see my mother, and my first, childish thought was that she looked like the moon, because her face was so round and swollen. She was eating weetabix on one side of her mouth, because it hurt too much to eat with the other side. Whenever I see someone eating weetabix, I flash straight back to that morning.
She was wearing her blue dressing gown, the one that was so soft and warm. I always felt so safe when she hugged me wearing that, but after that day, I knew none of us were safe and for a few years, when we got up and she was still wearing her blue dressing gown, I would wonder if he had hit her again during the night. It’s strange, the connections that a child’s brain will make.
One of her eyes was swollen completely shut, and had blood all crusted in the corner. He had fractured her left cheekbone, the same side as her shut eye, and it was twice the size of her right. Her mouth was so swollen she could barely eat and her lips were almost shredded. Her whole face was dark blue. A few of her ribs were cracked and the rest were badly bruised. There were crusted teeth marks in her arm, where he had bit her and she told us that he had hung off her arm, shaking his head and growling like a dog. He didn’t let her leave the house for 3 weeks.
She told us she fell down the stairs. My 9 year old sister and I looked her straight in the eye and told her that we knew and she didn’t have to lie to us. She broke down then, and for the first of many times to come, we comforted our mother.
She told us that she was sorry, and that she tried her best to stay quiet. She told us she had to keep moving around the bed, so that the newborn baby lying between them didn’t get hurt. The baby didn’t wake up. Thank god. In the state he was in he might have killed her.
She told us that there was madness in his eyes, that she looked at him and it wasn’t him looking back. But the whole thing started because she hadn’t been keeping his house clean enough. My mother, who was the sole breadwinner and and caregiver, wasn’t keeping the house clean enough while he lay on the sofa and drank and smoked and slept. She spent the whole day cleaning the cupboards out with a sponge, nursing her poor ribs.
That was the day I realised I wasn’t safe. That was the day I realised my father was quite insane. That was the day I realised that my mother could die at his hands. That was the day my childhood ended.