I wish I could write this so that if anyone else ever picked it up it would self-destruct. I can’t do that, so let’s just hope I can hide it well enough until I decide to destroy it myself.
So–why am I writing about this if it’s so personal? Well, my therapist has been on my back for ages to do it. He said that this would be a good way of getting things off my chest, a good way of talking about things–without talking. It sounded a bit dicky to me, but I finally tried it and you know what? He was right.
I like my therapist. I call him the dark side of Santa, DSS for short. He’s big and fat and miserable. He has thick shoulder length wavy hair and the biggest, bushiest black beard I have ever seen. So you see why I call him the dark side of Santa, but besides that, he’s kinda cool. I promised him I’d write about “The event” as we refer to it, one day, and today is that day. This is for you DSS.
Mum had been freaking out big time; the Mulligans were due to arrive in half an hour and she had only just realised that dad had forgotten to buy the wine. Mum met Jenny Mulligan about four months before “The event” when she walked into the shop where mum worked. Jenny was beautiful, successful, funny and really, really nice. Her and mum had hit it off instantly and when Jenny invited mum for a cup of coffee in her lunch break, their fate was sealed. If there is such a thing in this world as soul-friends, then mum and Jenny Mulligan were it.
After a few dinners over at Jenny’s place it was finally our turn to play host, and as I said… mum had been freaking out. She had been planning this night for weeks, and had spent the two days prior to the “Royal visit” cleaning and preparing a sumptuous feast for Jenny and her husband Brad. Everything had been going to plan until mum realised that dad had forgotten to buy the wine.
Robby, my little brother, sat down on the sofa next to me and we waited for mum to go ballistic. The conversation went something like this.
‘How could you forget the wine?’ mum shouted.
Robby poked me in the ribs and whispered, ‘this is gonna be a good one.’ Watching mum and dad fight was one of our favourite sports, as long as they weren't fighting about us.
Dad tried to defend himself, ‘give me a break luv, I've been running around all day for you.’
‘You've bee…you've been running around all day. That’s rich that is!’
‘Oh for God’s sake Beth, I’ll go back out now and get your bloody wine. What do you want?’
‘It’s on the list!’ mum yelled at the top of her voice, ‘or are you too stupid to read now?’
Whoa, Robby and I looked at each other; we’d never heard her call dad stupid before. At this point we thought it was time for us to slip out of the room; we didn't make it.
‘Where do you two think you’re going?’ Mum immobilised us with her glare.
We looked at dad for help but didn't get any. We were on our own.
‘Rosie, go and finish setting the table then go and get changed. Robby–you go with your dad; he might need your help with his list.’ The implication of that last comment wasn't lost on anyone.
‘Do I have to?’ Robby whined.
Dad spoke up for him, ‘Let the boy stay at home Elizabeth. I’ll go and get your wine.’
I remember thinking to myself; you shouldn't have said that dad.
‘My wine!’ Mum was off again. ‘It’s not my wine. It’s the wine I asked you to get for our guests, and no. He can’t stay at home. He’ll just end up making a mess again.’
Mum turned and stomped out of the room, shouting over her shoulder, ‘they’ll be here in twenty minutes!’
I looked at dad and said, ‘she really went off the deep end this time.’
He just smiled and said, ‘She’ll get over it Rose-Bud. Tonight’s important to your mum and you know how she gets sometimes. So– I’ll take Robby, we’ll get the damn wine and then everything will be back to normal.’ He turned to Robby, ‘come on son, grab your coat and we’ll be back before you know it.’
As he walked past me, dad placed his hand on my unruly red curls and ruffled my hair. As usual I pretended that I didn't like it with a drawn out, ‘Daaad, stop it.’
But I loved it, and he knew it, he was my dad.
The Mulligans had arrived and been there for more than fifteen minutes, but there was still no sign of dad and Robby. Mum was livid. I could tell, but she hid it well from our guests. Thirty minutes after the arrival of the Mulligans mum’s anger was fading and the first traces of worry were beginning to show on her already frayed nerves.
She moved constantly from the dining room to the kitchen and back again, tweaking this or straightening that, and apologising profusely for her husband’s tardiness. Her perfectly coiffed hair was beginning to look worse for wear as she kept pulling strands down and twirling them in her fingers, a nervous habit of hers. I remembered I giggled to myself because I thought she looked like Medusa, with thin, red squiggly snakes sticking out from her head.
Ten minutes later the doorbell rang and mum froze. Dad never rang the doorbell. Even if he had forgotten his keys, he never, ever rang the doorbell. He would walk around to the back door, which was rarely locked, and before he came in he would knock his familiar knock on the back door. Knock, knock–kncokknockknock–knock, knock.
I still had no idea what was going on, but I’ll never forget the atmosphere in the house that night. It’s really hard to explain; the best I can do is this. Imagine the anxiety you feel before you open an exam paper for your worst subject. As you open the paper, you still cling on to the weak hope that the questions will be based on the one lesson you actually paid attention to but, after scanning through the questions you realise you are doomed. All you can do now is to try not to step on your hope, which is now lying shattered on the floor underneath your chair.
Then mum opened the front door and our lives changed forever.
Two police officers were standing on the door-step looking professional, sympathetic and serious all at the same time. When they asked to come in mum’s knees buckled. Luckily for her Jenny and Brad had walked up behind mum and Brad caught her before she hit the floor.
I still didn’t know what was going on, a bit naive I know, but other than the police asking, Mrs Gardener, can we come in? No one had said a word. Besides, when you have a near-perfect life, you don’t expect it to come crashing down at the ring of a doorbell.
Jenny helped mum onto the sofa and sat next to her, holding her hand tightly while the police officers talked.
I stood in the doorway, apparently forgotten, as my brain tried to make sense of the words that my ears were pushing into my head.
I am so sorry…the man ran a red light….nothing that Mr Gardener could do…the driver of the other vehicle was drunk… your husband and your son….they were both killed instantly…killed instantly…killed!
I let out a stifled sob and Jenny's husband came over to me and wrapped his strong arms around me. It felt nice. Then he lifted his hand and placed it on my head.
‘NO!’ I screamed as I slapped his hand away and ran upstairs nearly blinded by the tears that were pouring down my face.
There was a knock on my bedroom door. I didn't reply; I couldn't. I just wanted my mum to come in and wrap me in her arms and tell me that it was all going to be alright, that there had been a terrible mistake and it was somebody else’s dad and brother who had been killed.
But it wasn't mum who came into the room it was Jenny. She sat on my bed, placed her hand on my shoulder and began to stroke my arm slowly. I found the contact comforting. We sat like that in silence for a long time before she spoke.
‘Are you okay sweetie?’
I just looked at her thinking; Am I okay? What kind of a stupid question is that? I’ll never be okay, ever again.
‘Oh Rosie, I am so sorry. I know that there is nothing I can do or say to make this better, to make it go away. Believe me…I wish there was.’ I noticed that there was a tear running down Jenny’s soft, pink cheek. I knew she had more to say, but she didn't know how to say it and I didn't want her to say anything.
‘Where’s my mum?’
‘Your mum–Rosie your mum wants to be here with you but…’
‘But what?’ Why isn't mum here with me? I need her. Why is Jenny Mulligan the one sitting with me?
‘Rosie, your mum’s in shock. She’s blaming herself for this and...’
‘That’s because it’s her fault!’ I spat the words out.
Jenny’s hand stopped its soothing motion and gripped my upper arm–hard.
‘Don’t say that! Don’t you even think it; you know it’s not true.’
I tried to wipe the tears and snot away with the back of my hand, but it was a losing battle. In between sobs I said,
‘Dad didn’t want to go out, but she made him. She called him stupid and she made him go out and she made him take Robby as well. And do you know why?’ I paused for breath and then yelled, ‘because, she wanted him to buy some wine…for you!’
Jenny let go of my arm and I rubbed it to ease the pain. Watching the tears rolling down my cheeks was too much for her. She grabbed me, pulled me to her and crushed me against her chest, her tears flowing into my hair as she whispered, ‘oh sweetie, I am sorry. I know this must be incredibly hard for you, but you’re going to have to be strong to help your mum. I know you know that this is not your mum’s fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s a horrible, tragic accident that should never have happened.’
My body seemed to melt away from me and my head began to spin, deep down I knew she was right. With Jenny’s arms wrapped around me I cried like I had never cried before, and never have since.
Jenny was a great support to me over the next year or so, which was a good thing because mum might as well have not been living under the same roof. I think it is true to say that Jenny became my surrogate mum, for a while at least. She taught me how to cook, helped me with my homework and was there to listen to me when I wanted to talk.
Mum was unresponsive and depressed, and, unlike my hysterical accusation that dad’s and Robby’s deaths were her fault; mum truly believed that she was to blame and for that she could never forgive herself. She bore the weight of their deaths every single day and it was destroying her.
Then Jenny fell pregnant. It wasn't a planned pregnancy and it turned out to be a very difficult one, eventually she had to stop coming over. I didn't blame her. How could I? She had to look after herself and her unborn child.
Soon after the baby was born I invited her, Brad and their new son, to come over for dinner–my treat. I was never one of those girls who get clucky and gush over babies, but I was secretly excited at the prospect of meeting baby Ryan. Jenny had spent so much time with me I guess I felt I could claim the title of honorary big sister, on top of that, we both thought that a new life in the house would lift mum’s spirits.
I had bought mum a new outfit, and managed to get her into it, but she refused to wear any makeup and new outfit or not, she was still just a shell of the woman she used to be. I had done all of the housework, had cooked a passable meal and even had a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge.
This was going to be good, a normal evening with friends, and a new baby to talk about. What could possibly go wrong?
Jenny and her family arrived on time and I ushered them into the living room where mum was waiting. I prattled on and on about the baby, and in my desperation to have just one normal night, I didn't sense the atmosphere in the room plummeting towards the black hole that had become our reality.
Mum asked Jenny if she could hold the baby. I could tell Jenny was a bit nervous and I didn't know why, but she agreed, walked over to mum and gently handed over her baby.
‘What’s its name?’ mum was staring at the baby.
I answered, ‘he’s a boy mum; I told you that. His name is Ryan.’
‘He looks like Robby.’
‘No way mum,’ I laughed, ‘Robby had red hair like yours and mine and hazel eyes like dad’s. This little fella is as blonde as they get.’ I looked up at Jenny, ‘I bet he’ll have the most beautiful blue eyes, just like yours.’ Jenny smiled a moved to collect her son.
‘No–he looks like Robby; I think I’d know my own son when I see him.’ Mum looked up at me her eyes dull and asked, ‘When will he be home? That boy’s always late for dinner.’
Anxious to change the subject I asked, ‘does anyone want a glass of wine?’
Mum went limp and Ryan began to slip from her arms, but Jenny was there to catch him.
‘Wine…’ mum mumbled. ‘He didn't buy the wine.’ She looked at me and my heart broke all over again, what had I done?
Mum looked up at me with such sadness in her eyes and I hated myself for being so stupid. Then she said, ‘they’re not coming home are they Rosie?’
‘No mum, they’re not coming home.’ It took everything I had not to turn and run out of the room, leaving all of this sorrow behind.
The evening was uncomfortable beyond imagination and we were all happy when Ryan began to cry at the top of his voice. Jenny was quick to use this as an excuse to go home and within five minutes mum and I were alone again.
I didn't see Jenny for another seven months after that night; even then it was by accident. I bumped into her at the shops but she seemed embarrassed to see me and was very eager to leave, not once asking about mum. I knew then that any chance I might have had of being Ryan’s honorary big sister, had been thrown out with the bath water.
Mum never really came to terms with the deaths of dad and Robby. She went through the day to day rituals, made me breakfast and got me off to school; though she wouldn't have cared had I not gone, washed and cleaned and pretended to smile at the appropriate times. In short, she went through the motions but she wasn't really there.
On her really bad days, I found myself living with the fear of coming home from school, to find her lying on the sofa, an empty bottle of pills dropped carelessly on the floor. That never happened, thank God, and I’d like to believe that I was the reason why.
You’d think that seeing a therapist would be something you’d want to hide from your fellow students, and I did for a while. Then I found out that seeing a therapist gives a girl a certain kind of dark reputation. I’d had a lot of stick from the other kids at school. At first they were all nice and pitying–I hated that. I found I had a lot of “new” friends, who all wanted to “talk”. I hated that too. Still–they gave me more attention than my mum ever did. Anyway, they soon got tired of me and my problems, and that’s when I started acting out.
I became a model rebellious teenager, skipping classes, giving cheek to the teachers and not doing my homework. All of this, of course, led to many, many afternoons of detention. The teachers cut me a lot of slack, because of my circumstances, but I didn't want that.
I then spent an eventful year wearing my punk persona. More attitude, more trouble, more detention–more slack, and no reprimand at all from mum. Her response to all of the letters and calls from school was, ‘it’s just a phase, she lost her dad and brother you know. Give her time she’ll change.’
Change–now there’s an interesting word. Have you noticed it gets used a lot, change your clothes, change lanes, change your attitude, change the way you think, don’t let him change you, change is good, change is bad, yada, yada, yada. Well I have decided I like change, I feel at home with change. This was, I found out, a good thing because change was coming at me like a raging bull.
Puberty led me down the dark path of depression where I battled with all kinds of emotions that I am sure a girl of my age is not supposed to battle.
Guilt - Why wasn't it me?
Anger – Why the fuck did mum have to be so fucking desperate for the fucking wine?
Despair – I can’t live without my daddy and Robby.
Remorse – How could I have blamed mum?
Mourning – Oh God I miss them.
Selfishness – What about me? I’m still here you know mum.
Rejection – Why did Jenny stop coming to see me?
Anxiety – Will I come home one day to find mum will be–gone?
Of course there was more than one topic under each heading, but I don’t want to bring you down, besides you’re smart enough to get my meaning. I was one screwed up teenager.
About three years after their death, I was about as low as I could get. Mum didn’t care; I mean I was the mother in our house. I comforted her, helped her, held her when she cried, but who was there for me? I needed to escape, and the only way I could do that, I thought, was by using drugs. To simply get high or to kill myself–well–your guess would be as good as mine. Luckily, I never got the chance to find out.
I was trying to find a source, and I happened to ask some Goth dude if he knew where I could buy some stuff, I didn't even know what to ask for. Anyway, he looked like the sort of person who’d know how to get some. Boy was I wrong. Not only did he not do drugs, he tore strips off me for wanting to try them! To be honest I didn't understand half of what he was saying, come to think of it maybe he was stoned, whatever. The point is–he cared enough about me to try to stop me. He didn't know me, but he knew I was heading down a dark path that would lead to nothing but misery.
Twenty minutes with him in a dark alley, and I happily said goodbye to Rosie the punk and hello to Rosie the Goth.
Through all of this DSS was great, he questioned my decisions but never, ever judged. While the kids at school viewed me as some kind of oddity and watched with fading interest as I morphed from poor Rosie, the girl whose dad and brother got killed by a drunk, to the girl who sees a therapist because her dad and brother are dead. Next was poor Rosie the punk kid who sees a therapist, then quite simply–Rosie the crazy goth, I have to say–it was my favourite tag, still is in fact.
So DSS, not that you’ll ever read this, but let me tell you why I've decided to write about it now. Quite simply, it’s time for me to get over myself. I had just turned thirteen when Dad and Robby died, and that was nearly 5 years ago and I want, no–I need to get this off my chest. You see in a few short months I’ll be finished school, and as soon as I am free, I've decided–it’s time to get my life back on track, it’s time for me to start living and that is precisely what I’m going to do.