Spieglein Spieglein an der Wand

I was three years old when I ran my father over. I can assume safely it was an accident, for I am sure that a three-year old does not intend to run someone over, even their own father.

Now 50 years on I have been thinking about that strange incident. Two things have made this memory surface. I was on a train in Northern Israel when an army recruit opened fire at a person he thought was acting suspiciously, I was sitting next to that person.

Even now I don’t remember the full course of events, but instead I can remember 50 years ago, slipping the hand break off on the taxi and gripping the wheel whilst standing on the driver seat in the black cab and rolling the cab across my father!

I can remember that Candy our white German shepherd was sitting in the luggage compartment next to me. I can remember the taxi continued rolling after passing over my father’s body. I remember laughing because I was driving like daddy, it had of course escaped me that I wasn’t driving like daddy and I had actually had to run over daddy to achieve this precarious position of not being in control of a taxi.

We were on a hill and I continued to roll, I remember laughing and hearing my father shouting and seeing through the mirror him running after me. His face a mixture of fear and something else, something I had forgotten, love. He had loved me once.

I remained silent about the shooting, but then someone started to mess with my head. Started digging around my mind like an old woman at a jumble sale looking for a particular item.  But I don’t give up my thoughts and feelings that easily or so I thought.

But the digging has revealed bones of a long gone spectre, one I buried before it had actually stopped breathing.

At the moment I am in a dark place and I have realised that for me to move on I have to move back to another time and place. A time when again I was in a dark place, one which I thought I had moved on from, but now I know I have been living in the darkness ever since.

I’m only going to go back 14 years you will be relieved to know, but this is not about my travels round the world, the furthest we get is Toulouse in France. This is about the end of the relationship between me and my father.

But of course there has to be a beginning for there to be the ending.

When I was a child, I like many little girls put my father on a pedestal. It didn’t help that he had the good looks of a 1950’s Hollywood star, resembling Cary Grant. It seemed every woman wanted to sleep with him and every man wanted to buy him a drink. Even my girlfriends at school thought he was lovely.  However by the time he died he had become a very public alcoholic. The two persona couldn’t be further apart and I often wonder how on earth he was reduced to the later.

I suppose now as an adult it was obvious he was an alcoholic all along, but my perception like many people was of the Hollywood star not the sad tramp he grew into.

By the time of his death, very few people had much contact with him, any of his respectable friends had either died or had begun to keep my father at arm’s length. The only people he had contact with were people who had stooped so low as to cadge drinks from him, but thought themselves so high that they were being kind to him. And of course me the one constant in his life, the annoying wayward daughter, she was still there.

As a child I ran in his footsteps. Walked the roads he walked, sat in the pubs he drank in and smiled at the friends he talked with. His cab driver friends knew me almost like their own.

He understood me then, my belligerent way with the children at my school. My refusal to accept because a child had Alice in wonderland hair that did not make them better than me and certainly did not make me want to be like them.

I was not in the clique, never wanted to be. I ran alone, ran amok, and created upsets and havoc, but always on my own. My father seemed to understand me, seemed to endure the constant visits to the school where teacher after teacher listed complaint after complaint. He understood my way of ignoring what was told because it only suited the adult who was trying to control me. The word autistic had not been coined then. The words difficult, awkward, disruptive and uncontrollable seemed to be used on a regular basis in these talks at school. He remained silent, if he believed them he did not say, he was there for me as a child who was at odds with the world.

But my relationship with him as I grew older became more and more confrontational especially as it became glaringly obvious I had no intention on settling down and marrying. I started to travel to more and more obscure places and we grew further and further apart. When I picked a country that was troubled to visit, he would say I was doing it just to annoy him, I wasn’t, I just wanted to visit troubled countries. A population of troubled people had to be investigated.

And then I seemed to become the coat hook for him to hang all his own failures on. Anything that went wrong became my fault. I became the reason he drank. I was the reason the taxi broke down, the crucifixion of Christ was my fault, the holocaust, my sister having her house repossessed. My brother going home to Tasmania. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders literally. And so I kept moving, I was a free spirit and the world was mine to explore and enjoy.

After a trip whale watching in New Zealand I phoned him waxing lyrical about my sightings of whales and dolphins , it was 6.00 in the morning where he was and he was drunk and then the enormity of his problem hit me, how could he be drunk at six o ’clock in the morning?

Travelling back  home via Australia, I was mugged in Sydney and naturally I tried to phone my parents, by making a reverse charge phone call, my mother was forced to refuse to accept the phone call, by what I now realise was a very nasty drunkard.

When I returned from my trip I went home and to see the transition was frightening, a blood stained drunk sitting in the corner of the room. Still in the same clothes that he had been wearing for longer than was acceptable.

Not long after that my mother left him. It took guts for her to do so, not only was he the love of her life, she was in her 60’s and would not find it easy to move on from nearly forty years of marriage.

I watched my father descend so low that it actually became too painful to watch, it ripped me apart in fact. It was eviscerating, a word I was reminded of when I worked in Madagascar – their largest carnivore the Fossa eviscerate their prey, usually a Lemur.  But I just couldn’t’t look away. Eventually stories would be passed to me of his drunken behaviour in a club or pub and it started to take its toll on me.

By now I was walking across the common in the dark 5.00 in the morning to walk the family dog and to turn the gas fire off where my father had fallen asleep slowly cooking his legs. Then a young girl was raped on the common by what later would become known as the M25 rapists. I knew something had to give.

I had a phone call one day to say he had collapsed in a car park and the mini cab driver had driven off and left him on the ground unconscious. Whilst he was in hospital I took our last family dog Branston to a vets and he was found a good home. It was not easy.

When I walked into the hospital I looked at a man with a purple face his bruising was so bad and yet he still rejected me. Nobody else visited him that night, just me and my guilt and my anger.

Nurses and Dr’s stared at me as if I had done something wrong. I realised what had happened was he had cooked his legs on the gas fire and they blamed me. I wanted to tell them that we couldn’t be in a room together he hated me but I remained silent and took their silent condemnation and agreed I was the worlds worse daughter, I had failed.

When my father returned home having rather ungraciously discharged himself from hospital, he came home to an empty house. He phoned to demand his dog back. I refused.

And then I packed my rucksack and took a one way Euro star ticket to Paris. I made my way down to the Languedoc region of France and thought I could hide from it all.

I embarked on a fling with an art student. I had met him “begging” outside a church, but it was his way of getting money to subsidise his fees. He was beautiful I could have stayed for longer. Lost in his eyes and his free spirit love.

I got a job as a waitress at a restaurant where the owner didn’t want to speak to English people. But even I knew that it could not be, to run away was denying part of what I was but to stay and watch my father’s self-destruction would take away a central piece of me.

But return I did, to find him lying in the living room, almost dead, skeletal but still defiant, as soon as I touched him he managed through his dehydrated mouth to say, “Leave me alone, stop mauling me.” Those words often linger in my mind, even when he was at death’s door he did not want me.

Whilst I was in France he had shown his last act of defiance. He had taken me to court to have his dog returned to him. Of course I was unaware of this fact and therefore did not attend the hearing. In my absence I was told to return the dog to him. After his death I had to explain to the courts that I could not comply with their request, at first they were most unsympathetic, but when I wrote asking how I could return an animal to a dead person, they finally relented and had the CCJ dropped.

I still am not completely sure why he had taken me to court. Was it to show me he still had some moral fiber left in him when it came to his responsibilities? Or was it to show me he still had reasons to live, I don’t know. I don’t bear him a grudge about it. And although painful to part with Branston I had acted in the best interest of the animal.

I miss my father of course. I miss the brutal honesty that we had, but I don’t miss that eviscerating pain of watching him slowly him kill himself with alcohol and how it took away the real Gordon. The kind funny person who everyone had liked and admired.

I hear people talk about their alcoholic husbands and fathers and I get the feeling with some that they use them to obtain sympathy from their listeners.

That is something I never want. I think I had an unorthodox upbringing, and I certainly wouldn’t’t have changed my childhood. But sympathy? No way.

I would just change those last minutes when I found my father lying on the ground, a shadow of a man, but still a fire blazing in his eyes, the bit where he hates me I want to change.

I once asked my father once why he couldn’t love me, we were in a pub, an alcoholics’ favourite place, they can hide in there for years, his reply was – “It’s like looking in a mirror with you.”

I should have guessed there would be no denial, no “Of course I love you, you are my daughter”.  I was never the family favourite, too much of a rebel apparently.  If I was my sister I would have played the feminine card and cried, and he would have perhaps patronised me and said something nice. But that was not his way or mine.

For years I stopped believing I deserved love or had right to be happy.

Of course years later I now realise it was himself that he hated so much. The shabby alcoholic he had become had taken all trace of the proud handsome man he once was. Apparently I am very much like him. He was a very strong man in all other aspects and very charming when sober, I am a very strong woman and apparently very funny when I want to be.

But sometimes when I take a sip of wine, I wonder is this the day that I will truly become the mirror of my father, that refection he so detested and slip into alcoholism? It’s a fear that can never really go away. I live with it on a daily basis.

Many partners have described being married to an alcoholic as a horror show, well for the offspring, it’s like walking through the hall of mirrors at the fun fair. Grotesque at one moment and then deceptively normal at another.

And how can you reject that which created you?

Now all these years after his death I want to draw a line under his own self-loathing and ultimately my own. I have got to move on. The last few years I have slipped to a place of darkness, of ghosts and demons. Creatures crawl through my mind constantly devouring my positive thoughts before they can grow. It’s not a good place.

The hall of mirrors I walk through hover now between grotesque and deceptive, not even normal anymore.

When my father died I did not grieve for him. For I had buried him deep within me many years before, but now it’s like a flood has washed away the soil on his grave and the bones of the dead are stacking up on the pavement for all to see.

I now have to start again, begin from where we left off. Move on from this place I have found myself in.

And Dad if you are looking down on me, I forgive you for not loving me. I forgive you for not liking the reflection you saw. I can’t make people love what they don’t want to but I’m going to learn to love myself. And perhaps eventually when I look at myself in the mirror I may just like what I see.

And Dad forgive me for making this so public, the bullet on the train missed me but the person digging around in my head , well they found a nugget ,but were too selfish to realise what they had found and threw it back as worthless.

I was asked recently was I sorry the bullet on the train missed me? No I was glad it missed the innocent person on the train.

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