According to the medical experts of the day, I should never have been born. My mother was 37 and had never had children before, and had a heart condition as a
result of having scarlet fever when she was a child. Early in the pregnancy doctors told her that if she tried to carry this child to full term either she would die, or I would die, or we both would die. They pressed her to have an abortion.
My mother, however, was possessed of a stubbornness which would make the average mule look soft and compliant. She defied them all and in due time produced a squirming three-and-three-quarter pound (approx 1.5kg) bundle -me. (She did, however, act on the doctors’ advice that I should be the one and only.)
With a beginning like that, you would have thought there would be a very close bond between Mum and me, but that was far from the case. In fact I have often joked that we only ever had one fight – it started the first day I spoke and ended when I left home.
The reality, however, was far from a joke. I don’t have many memories of my childhood, but most of those that I do have involve hiding under the bed to escape the beatings. Then there was the verbal abuse – tirades that would go on for what seemed like hours at a time.
There was also an enormous sense of isolation. Not only was I an only child, my mother was also, and my father’s family were back in England. Both sets of grandparents had died before I was born. There were no aunties, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins etc. My total family was Mum, Dad and me.
To make this worse, we moved constantly. By the time I was nine, I was in my eighth school and, as far as I can figure, the fifteenth place I had lived. Mum and Dad had split up at least 5 times, on 3 of which occasions I went with Mum and on 2 with Dad. The result of all this was that I was always the new kid on the block, and all the friendships had been established before I got there. Before I had any chance of fitting in, we had moved on again.
The official reason for our moving was that “Mum was sick”, but in truth I think it was more the fact that she inevitably ended up in bitter quarrels with the neighbours. She was known to all and sundry as “the crazy woman.”
I don’t want to dishonor my mother’s memory in this. She did the best she knew how. I know now that she also had had an horrific childhood, and carried masses of emotional baggage. More than that, from what I have learned in my studies in counseling and psychology I would say that almost certainly she was schizophrenic, a condition which was in no way her fault and which in those days received much less understanding and treatment than it does today.
None of that, however, made it any easier to live with!
The result of this was that I not only had trouble making friends, but most of the time was actively picked on by other children. They would take my name, Fowler, and turn it around to call me Fowlhouse and Chookpen, and teased me mercilessly. (Funnily enough I now call myself Chook – growing up really does make a difference!) At times I was physically attacked, once so badly that I ended up with concussion. Most of my days at school were spent in tears.
|Mum and Dad on their wedding day.|
In the midst of all this Dad was my hope – not that he was terribly effective in standing against either Mum or the other kids, but at least he loved me and was kind to me. Yet even he was capable of a violence that was terrifying. He had a very long fuse, but when he blew, he really blew.
In spite of this, however, he was my life raft and my hero.
Then, when I was 12, two days before I was due to start high school, he died….