You would have done it too I reckon. If you were me, that is. Eight kids, one with Downs Syndrome, and a useless bloody arsehole for a husband. No money, no house, no food, let alone a job or future. Just one clapped out station wagon and enough money to keep the arsehole in cigarettes. Nothing but my faith, and my eight beautiful children, to keep me going.
Me of all people, sitting here waiting to be told what happens next. I heard you talking about me to the cop on duty. Something about ‘down and outers’ and there being no hope for us. Funny that, ‘cos at sixteen I thought there was hope for me. That’s when I met my Harry. I thought he’d come to take me away to see the world and save me from my dad. How was I to know when he came along he wasn’t a good catch? All I knew at the time was that whatever he offered me must have been better than the way the old boy treated mum.
Poor mum. She was a peculiar little thing. Her and me, and my sister Annabel, we were like the whattayemacallit, the Secret Service, the way we’d silently pass messages between each other. Just about anything we said or did would start my father off, so we all got pretty good at saying a lot without saying much. No wonder I fell for Harry, anything was better than home. For years after I left I couldn’t sleep at night, ‘cos of all the guilt I felt at leaving mum and Annabel behind. Deep down I knew I had to though.
We moved north not long after getting married, and started a family straight away. I didn’t plan on that happening so quickly, but you can’t always choose the way the world works. Being that I was seventeen and knew nothing about kids, it was all a bit much really. By the time I was 32 we had eight kids, and the oldest ones were having to help me with the youngest. Harry never helped; he just came home from work, yelled at everyone, then went to the pub.
When Harry got a job driving trucks, I thought it would be better for us ‘cos he’d be away more often. But truckies are a bunch of pigs and the blokes he worked with were the bloody worst. He’d get home in the middle of the night after being away for a few days, full of wind about how all the blokes’ wives give ‘em a bit of slap and tickle when they get home. If I didn’t want to, which I mostly didn’t, I’d get the slap and he’d get the tickle, if you know what I mean. Eventually I realised it was easier just to lie there and take it than cause a fuss. He’d get his way anyhow, so may as well make it easy on myself.
He lost that job not long after he started anyway. I don’t know why, he never told me about it. All I knew was that it meant I had to work four jobs to keep us going while he sat at home smoking his fags. The kids were miserable at home with their dad, and they were mad at me for not being there. Every time I tried to talk to Harry about looking for work it’d start a blue, so I gave up. Then one Sunday after church he belted the youngest, our Catherine Elizabeth, over nothing. I couldn’t take it anymore. That night after he’d gone down to the pub, I packed the kids up in our old station wagon and started driving. Harry’s reaction when he got back must have been something fierce, but I’ll never know. I didn’t think about what I would do once we got where we were going. I just knew I had to get my kids out of there before I talked myself out of leaving.
The oldest ones came with me, and it was okay the first couple of nights. All bunked up in a room at the Flag Inn. But for the past week we’ve slept in the car outside a surf club. I can’t believe that the kids haven’t gone mental. I suppose they know what I’m trying to do for them. The boys have taken turns sleeping outside in sleeping bags, making sure I was always in the car with the girls. I just lay there while they slept, crying silently at what I’ve done, knowing that I’ve got to get somewhere for us to live, and that the little ones are missing school, but that there’s no way we’re going back.
Perhaps I should have phoned a women’s shelter, but I grew up being told that the church was the cornerstone of society, that if you had a problem the best person to talk to was the parish priest. So, this morning I drove me and the kids to the same church we’ve been to every week. We got there early to try and catch Father Dean before the 10am service. I spotted him in the car park. He remembered us, asked how the kids were, how Harry was. I told him I’d left Harry, that I want to try and give the kids a better life. I told him I was hoping the church could help us get sorted. He just shook his head and said how sad it was when adults put their personal needs before the children. He told me that children deserve the benefit of both a mother and father, that with eight dependant children there isn’t time fore selfishness and that I need to return to Harry and sort things out for the sake of the kids.
Can you fucking believe he said that? Selfishness! For 22 years I stayed for the sake of the kids, and because I thought that’s what wives did, and here was a priest telling me he couldn’t be seen to condone a wife and mother leaving her husband at the ‘first sign of trouble’. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I would have expected that crap in the days when Tommy was a newborn, when the doctors were still describing him as my ‘mongoloid son’, and advising me on how best to handle the embarrassment of a deformed child. But nowadays? How could they do that to me? Abandon me like that, after I’d been to church every Sunday since I can remember, and done my bit for the cause by giving birth to eight more Catholics!
I was a bit dazed, so I pushed the kids into a pew at the back of the church, and sat down. My head felt like it was going to explode. I feel like I’ve been let down by everything I’ve held on to my entire life.
When Father Dean got to his sermon, he started on about the value of family, having children, and giving them a loving family to grow up in. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Is stood up, and made my eight stand up, and then I yelled out
“What makes a family if we don’t?”
Father Dean spun round. The doddery old shit almost keeled over in shock when he saw it was me. A woman in front tried to calm me down, but I was too bloody cranky to stop. “I came to you for help in keeping my family together, and you’ve turned me away.” Father Dean went to say something, but I couldn’t bear the thought of hearing one more word from him.
Now, I know I shouldn’t have done what I did, the truth is I never stopped to think. I just did it. I stood up, turned to face the back of the church, and hitched up my skirt. Then I pulled down my knickers and mooned Father Dean.
I heard the noises of people gasping in shock, but I heard a whole lot more people laughing and whistling. Through my legs I could see Father Dean recoil in horror. In an awful moment I remembered the kids, and quickly got myself together. Eight faces, eyes wide, mouths open, glaring at me, their ears and necks crimson, totally embarrassed. I whispered I was sorry and covered my face with my hands. Then, you know what? Someone started to clap, then a few others joined in. Not everyone, a lot of people were obviously disgusted by me. But definitely some there were trying to show me support.
Some loyal parishioner must have called the police, because the next thing I knew I was being led up the aisle by a female officer, who was saying something to me about a report of a disturbance and they’d come to sort it out. I guess when they’d heard my story, and seen my kids and the state I was in, they decided the best thing would be to bring us here and work out if I am actually a head case…
So here I am, being assessed by you, waiting to find out what happens next, and what you lot will do with my kids. All I wanted was a life for me and my eight beautiful children, and I’m fed up with being let down. You would have done it too I reckon. It’s easy to say otherwise in hindsight, but I reckon you would have done it too.