I know sometime soon I’ll hear the song that makes me think of you. ‘War is over’ by John Lennon was your Christmas song. You would play it on Christmas Day each year, wear your Christmas skirt and lock away the presents so we had to play hunt the key to get them. The Christmas traditions are family traditions and we wanted them every year and enjoyed them. I can’t remember that last Christmas I know it was filled with tension…
I do remember the day you left. You cooked dinner; you knew it would be your last. Did you plan the meal, selecting each item with us in mind or the new life you were going too? We were in our bedrooms and you called us into the living room sat us down and told us you were leaving. Within an hour after R and I phoning J from the phone box at the top of the road you were gone. Half-hearted explanations were given but not fully understood by a very innocent 14 year old. You said you’d be back the next day but you didn’t come I was disappointed but life carried on though my world had fallen apart. Your clothes were cleared from the house, I can’t remember exactly when but I did go into your room and open the wardrobes to see the empty hangers left there. Their emptiness reflected my heart. I don’t remember those early days; looking back I don’t seem to remember many details.
I do remember the drunken phone calls from you, I remember the concert you came to covered in bruises (I was told by my father not to tell my elder brother) you’d swapped one life for this life and you tried to convince me it was better, you were happy but I just couldn’t understand. Your world became him and you climbed into the glass box so we couldn’t reach you. We saw you as the same on the outside but you didn’t hear us and so you left us again. I couldn’t take the phone calls, the repercussions, the name calling from your step children and husband I was a teenager and life was confusing. Money was short, shoes were needed, clothes were desperate but I did learn to be different (I had to be) so for that I thank you.
I cut contact because I needed the arguments and the phone calls to stop. You filled up answerphone tapes rambling on and once wanting to be picked up and brought back to us as he’d beaten you. To hear this was devastating, what had we done that was worse than this to make you leave?
You made your choices and I made mine. You’ve missed graduation, weddings and grandchildren. You live on your island alone now and want to come back into my life. 10 years since I last saw you (drunk at your father’s funeral) and a whole sea has flowed under the bridge. I look like you more as I get older that’s one thing I have noticed lately. You want to leave money to me but you don’t see that I can’t take it. I can’t cut contact and now take your money that would be hypocritical. I know I won’t see you again. That’s the choice I make though it hurts me like I wouldn’t believe it could to think that my sons could ever do this to me. But I am saving them from you as no one could quite save me. The anxieties I suffer with I believe are from you, from all you did and all the heightened anticipation of your next phone call that damaged a teenager. My sons will not know this and they will never be afraid of the ringing of a phone. I will put us in our glass box and the alcoholism and violence will not touch us as I finally have control back. They ask after you, well, they ask after their other grandmother as they know they don’t have the matching pair others do. I tell them that you were ill; that you made other choices and that I wasn’t your choice. They hug me and promise never to leave me and I always fight back the tears because this is what you should have said but you didn’t.
The scars are fading but they will never disappear. I am who I am because of, and sometimes despite, you. Take all the credit you want as 14 years were yours but the 22 years since are mine and I survived because of me…
So this Christmas when ‘War is over’ comes on and I may catch it in the distance I will pause and think of you. I may close my eyes and breathe a little slower and be taken back to being that 14 year old whose mother has just left, whose world has broken beyond repair and whose damaged mind will take years to mend but I will open my eyes and see the world I have created and know this is all from the choices I made. I will open presents this Christmas day with the grandchildren you’ve not seen and the husband you’ve not met. I’ll see the nieces and nephews you don’t know about and the sister-in-laws of mine that haven’t ever heard your voice. I will have my family with me and you will not be mentioned, you haven’t been for years. The wounds really are healing as every day is calmer without you. I don’t have a Christmas skirt and I don’t lock the presents away and have the children play ‘hunt the key’. My children are always at home and they wake in their beds to find their stockings they have hung filled with presents. There will be no violence, no alcoholism and we are building memories for our children that don’t include you. My need for a mother will never be sated but the need for you is no longer there. I don’t want to hurt you but you need to know that there is a consequence to your behaviour and actions. I can’t trust you’ll not be aggressive and I will protect my children.
I’m not sure I’ll ever hear the song and not think of you but each year that passes is both an ending and new beginning. The Ghost of Christmas past will always haunt me but I will keep you in my glass box in my mind and know that I am in control over how you affect me. You do not scare me anymore. I am smiling…
So this is Christmas
I hope you had fun
Another year over
And a new one’s just begun.