I wake up in a state of panic. How long have I been asleep? Am I late picking Mia up? I check the time. Shit. It’s eight o’clock.
I stand up too quickly. And make myself dizzy. I lean against the wall to steady myself.
Then I remember that it’s Friday. And Mark picked Mia up from school today. But my relief is short-lived because I also remember that I was supposed to meet Jake thirty minutes ago.
I grab my phone; fourteen missed calls from him. He picks up straight away “What happened? Are you ok?” I assure him that I’m fine “I just had a little nap”.
He says he has been very worried about me. I’m a little confused. Then alarm bells start to ring; he has called me fourteen times in the last thirty minutes.
Damn it. I knew he was too good to be true. He is about to turn obsessive psycho on me.
The disappointment is evident in my voice “I think you’re over reacting a tad”.
He responds with “Really? You don’t turn up for our date last night and I don’t hear from you until this morning and you think I’m over reacting?”
Apparently it’s eight o’clock Saturday morning. I am fully dressed, my feet are filthy and I have been asleep for almost seventeen hours straight.
I apologise profusely and promise that I’ll make it up to him tonight.
Then I realise that the house is eerily quiet. And that just adds to my sense of disorientation.
They must be having a lie-in. But why aren’t they snoring? Oh my god. I didn’t smother them in my sleep did I? I run into their (thankfully empty) bedrooms.
Then I go downstairs. The living room is empty but there is a pillow and duvet on the sofa. Who slept there and why? What is going on? I feel like I have woken up in some kind of twilight zone.
Then I have a flashback to what happened before I fell asleep yesterday afternoon (or lost consciousness, I’m not sure which);
My mother had started shouting at me the moment I walked in through the door “Why did you run off? Where did you go? We’ve been worried sick. You should have more consideration for us”.
And that’s when I snapped “I should have more consideration? What about your bloody snoring? And your noisy friends and canary and radio and television? I can’t sleep. It’s driving me mad. I want to smother you with your pillow just to shut you up”.
She ignored my outburst and put her hand on my forehead. “You feel hot” Then she looked down at my muddy feet. “You’re barefoot! What did you do with the slippers?”
I proudly declared that I threw them in the river. And when she asked me why, I told her that I didn’t want her life thank you very much. Then I went upstairs and collapsed on the bed.
I feel terrible. I must apologise to her. Where is she? The kitchen is empty too. Then I notice her through the window.
She is climbing up a ladder in the garden brandishing a hedge trimmer. And wearing her high heeled slippers.
My father is six foot four to her five foot nothing. So she wears heels all the time. And the fact that they caused her to break not only her own leg but my father's as well hasn't deterred her in the slightest.
Of course her version of events absolves both herself and her heels of any blame. Apparently my father lost his balance as he was getting in the taxi. She had tried to steady him. And he had fallen on top of her.
My father’s version (and the one we were all more inclined to believe) is that my mothers’ high heels had caused her to stumble on the cobbles. She had grabbed hold of him to steady herself as she fell backwards and pulled him down on top of her.
They were on holiday in Turkey at the time. And my father had refused to allow the surgeons there to operate on them. So my brothers had flown out to bring them back home.
We all dined out on that particular story for some time. They even featured on a BBC documentary about Guy’s Hospital when a doctor was asked about unusual cases and cited my parents.
There was a hilarious shot of them sitting opposite each other with their right legs in plaster.
I remind her about the metal plate in her leg. And suggest that she either gets off the ladder or takes off her heels.
She is (understandably) giving me the silent treatment. But her anger is evident in the ferocious way she is trimming the hedge.
I apologise for what I said yesterday. I explain that I was very tired. And that I didn’t mean it.
She brushes the trimmings off the top of the hedge. And right into my face. Then she gets off the ladder without acknowledging me. I stay a safe distance away until she puts the hedge trimmer down.
Then I follow her into the kitchen. The silent treatment is usually followed by lots of shouting and screaming.
I prepare for it by getting her the glass of water she’ll need when she feels faint because her blood pressure has gone up.
Then she throws me by asking (very quietly) “Do you think this is the life that I had wanted for myself?”
I wasn’t expecting that. And I’m not sure how to respond. I had always assumed that she was satisfied with her life. But I think I may have confused satisfaction with acceptance.
I know her life hasn’t been easy;
Her abusive bastard of a father died when she was ten and in that time widows could not remarry. So my grandmother took her out of school and engaged her to my father at the age of thirteen.
My mother never forgave her for that. Her friends were playing hopscotch while she was being a little housewife. She had five children (and a nervous breakdown) by the time she was twenty four.
Then the 1974 invasion happened and she had to leave behind everything she knew and start again with five children (I wasn't born until years later)
My father had suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and temporarily lost his sight the moment he got them all to the safety of the UK.
He was hospitalised for months. Meanwhile my grandmother had a stroke that left her partially paralysed.
I am still contemplating her life and my response when she answers her own question “No Kitty. This was not the life I wanted for myself and it is definitely not the life I would ever want for you”.
I suddenly feel very small. We sit in silence for a while. Then she says “I’m sorry my snoring has kept you awake. I’ll sleep on the sofa. You won’t be able to hear me from there”.
I tell her that I would rather find somewhere else for us to stay than force her out of her bed.
She shakes her head “No. You mustn’t leave. Give me the chance to take care of you, even if only for a few weeks”.
I tell her that I don’t need to be taken care of. She shakes her head as her eyes fill up. I hand her a tissue. “I know you don’t. You have always taken care of yourself. But I need to take care of you.”
I wait for her to continue. She nervously twists the tissue around in her hands “You were born at a very difficult time”.
She pauses as her voice falters “In Cyprus we had been rich. In England we became paupers. I was always busy working on that god forsaken over-locking machine when you were a baby. Then as you were growing up, I was either taking care of the grandchildren or my mother. You had to bring yourself up. It was easier for the others. They were a lot older and they had each other”.
The tears are streaming down her face “But you were alone. I never had any time for you. And I’m very sorry for that”.
I’m not sure what to say because what she is saying is true. And for a long time I simply thought she didn’t love me.
That's why I was angry with her for years. I tried to hurt her as much as possible because I held her responsible for every single thing that ever went wrong in my life.
Then I realised that there comes a point when you have to take responsibility for your own life and stop blaming other people for your bad choices.
So I decided that I would only ever look back to gain understanding, not to apportion blame; that allowed me to make peace with both myself and my mother.
And helped me to understand that she loved me as much as she possibly could.
I tell her that I have a lot to apologise for too. She says we are both guilty but that she is guiltier “I knew you were going through your own hell but I never asked you about it because I was afraid of the answers. I thought your pain would kill me.”
And I finally understand why she never reached out to me.
When Mia first cried because she missed her father, I did everything I could to make her stop. I offered her chocolate and when that didn’t work I tried to make her laugh by wearing knickers on my head and doing a silly dance.
Then I realised that I was being selfish. I wanted her to stop crying because I couldn’t bear her pain, particularly when I thought I was responsible for it.
So I took her in my arms. And I told her that it was ok to cry because she missed her daddy; her need to express that emotion was far greater than my selfish need to suppress it.
And had my mother’s life been different; if she were capable of those thought processes then I am certain that she would have come to the same conclusion.
I reassure my mother that I would have been a fucked up teenager even if she had spent every waking hour with me. And that there isn’t a single thing I would have changed because I am the sum of all my experiences.
I tell her that I couldn’t have asked for a better mother.
And I mean it because she was the best mother that she could possibly have been in those circumstances.
She gently strokes the scars on my arm and whispers “Thank you".
The mixture of gratitude and relief on her face is heartbreaking. I lean over and kiss her forehead.
Then she looks down at my bare feet “I’ll buy you different slippers. You can choose them”. I stand up and take a pair of fluffy pink boudoir slippers out of the box.
I squeeze my feet into them and smile “No mum, these ones are fine for me”.