Chapter One: Sophia’s Choice!
The deafening sound of banging tin, and the noisy chatter of men, must have been what woke Sophia.
Lying in bed, she wondering what time it was at this seemingly dark hour. Listening to the racket the dustmen made, and the raining falling, drumming against the window, Sophia realised another wet November morning awaited her.
The dustbins were being collected, which meant it was Monday, she reminded herself. Trying to see through sleepy eyes, she tried to focus on the electric alarm clock, trying to see the time, six-thirty a.m.
She reluctantly forced herself to get out of bed whilst wishing she could return to her peaceful sleep. Once again she had overslept, and would be late for school.
“Mom, MOM, you downstairs?” she shouted, as she strolled into the kitchen still half-asleep, briefly glancing into a vacant smoke stained sitting room. Yet, her mother was no-where to be seen.
She did not hold much hope to be graced by her mother’s presence this morning. Her mother had disappeared into the night.
After having half the tenants of the local pub over all day for a ‘piss-up’, and they must have run out of booze. So they would have returned to the local lair to continue their festivity, there was no particular reason as to why they were getting pissed, just that it was Sunday.
She had not heard her mother and the gang of local drinkers return. Most nights she lie in bed and listen for the door, until the early hours of the morning, hoping her mother would return safely. Perhaps she had fallen asleep, whilst her mother had returned, Sophia mused!
Suddenly, unexpectedly, there was incoherent noise resounding from upstairs.
Her mother’s voice!
She went back upstairs to greet her mother, wondering what condition she would be in today.
Every day, Sophia’s life consisted of unpredictably, and she was regularly greeted by the unknown.
Every morning, she hoped she would not be exposed to her mothers’ addiction, or to discover her mother in a semi-conscious state, yet again.
More importantly, that she would not have to tolerate the aftermath of her mother promiscuity, to be greeted by some strange man, coming out of her mother’s bedroom or the bathroom, semi-naked.
At only thirteen years old, Sophia was much older than her years. She needed to be!
Caretaker to her mother, was the role she had played for a long time, this had been her adopted role for as long as she could remember, well for most of her young life. Yet, she did not blame her mother for her behaviour, or her addiction, nor did she hold her responsible for the countless men that frequented their flat at all hours.
No, Sophia loved her mother, she loved her very much.
Sophia reached the top of the stairs, and stood at the doorway that led into her mother’s bedroom. Where she waited until her mother instructed her to enter, learning from an early age never to run into to her mother’s bedroom unannounced. So, to save her mother’s grace, she would only to enter on instruction.
“Come in silly girl, its ok”, her mother beckoned.
As she entered, she was thankful to find her mother alone this morning, probably hung over from the night before, but alone all the same.
“Morning mom”, said Sophia, as delicately as she could.
Another lesson learnt from an early age was never to be too boisterous, or noisy. From the age of two, she had learnt to be as quiet as a mouse.
“Can I get you anything?” she whispered.
“No Sophia, wait yes, a cup of tea please”, answered her mom, while clutching her head.
“And bring my pack of cigs from the sitting room, oh and my lighter” she added as an afterthought.
Sophia located her mother discarded pack of cigarettes and put the kettle on. She stood in the kitchen staring out of the window and hoped her school uniform would be dry, because the central heating was switched off again last night. Her mother had forgotten to charge the electric key, she forgot many things, and it was up to Sophia to remember the practicalities of life, most of the time.
She was startled out of her daydreaming by the sound of the kettle whistling away, she made the tea for her mother, as she had done on countless morning.
Then she returned upstairs with the cup of tea, and her mom’s cigarettes as requested. Her mother lay in bed with her eyes closed, so she placed the items down on the side and left, quietly. One task done, another awaits her! She went into the kitchen to set up the ironing board to iron a rather damp school uniform.
Life was not always this hectic, Sophia thought as she prepared herself for another day at school. She remembered a time when she was younger, when her mother had ‘managed’ her addiction, and would only smoke marijuana, or drink late at night.
She wondered, when did it all go so wrong for her mother, was it her father disappearance that caused her mother’s drinking to increase, along with her substance misuse. Following his departure, her mother disintegrated, and she stopped caring about her appearance, yes it was then when she became very depressed.
Sophia never understood why her mother was so affected by his disappearance, given their history, and following the legal banishment that prevented him from frequenting their door. But then several things adults did, Sophia just did not understand.
The doctor had diagnosed her mother with bipolar five years ago, and since then she had been on an assortment of prescription drugs. She swallowed so many different pills that in the end, Sophia did not know what medication her mother took for what aliment.
Walking closer to window edge
I feel so empty, cold, alone
Unlucky me, I’ve laid my bed
Would not wish me on another
Blood drains from face
Pale, paler, disappearance
Restless nights, I toss and turn
Deep inside a hunger stirs
Nightmarish pictures consuming me
Don’t stand too close, you’re bound to burn
Drifting in, out of consciousness
Tubes running inward, outwardly
Iron, frame crib to contain me
New diagnostic label, mild to sever
Din noise outside the wall
Voices, perhaps, shall I whisper
Come closer, touch me
Feel me just once
Fading, fast into the abyss,
Until the end,
No-where else to go!
Sophia would visit the chemist, to collect the repeat prescriptions for her mother; however, she never knew what all those plastic bottles of pills were for, or what they were meant to do. Her mother blamed the doctors for her addiction to drugs in the first instance, and claimed if she had not started taking all those pills, she would not be addicted at all.
Sophia believed her, although in reality her mother was addicted long before she consulted a doctor, and Sophia remembers how her mother used to self-medicate, however, she doubted her mother knew what was truth was anymore.
Nonetheless, Sophia needed to believe her mother, otherwise, what else was there to believe in the truth; well the truth hurt!
“Sophia”, her mother said as she came stumbling down the stairs, she looked like hell, and Sophia recognised a throbbing hangover.
“Here, I have some money for you to buy yourself some lunch. Oh, and will you get me some things I need, on your way home from school today?”
“Mom, you can not stay in bed all day today!” pleaded Sophia in a desperate tone. “Social Services are coming to visit today, and you will need to make sure the sitting room and kitchen are spotless”, as she glanced at the disarray that surrounded her.
“Mom, we can not let them see the place in this state, as they are bound to say something”.
Body aches, muscles sore
Pain seeps though every pore
Crawling towards blotted door
Slightly messed up, dysfunctional state
Pitch blackness becomes bitter hate
Choking to swallow, what’s left on my plate
I heard I’m crazy, or slightly mad-hatter
Never destroyed no-one, despite all the chatter
What a fool am I, to think I’d matter
Poor little girl, so full of shame
She hurts for someone else to blame
So incomplete, without her name
Reaches the bottom, approaches the end
They say she truly on the mend
She floats in circles and rounds the bend
Closes door, returns to bed
Sits alone, hands on head
Lights go out, the room turns red.
Social Services featured in their lives for a while now, and Sophia was on first-name basis with their Social Worker named Alice.
Alice was kind, friendly, non-judgemental and helpful, and she had dedicated much of her time trying to reconstruct some kind of normality into Sophia and her mom’s fragmented lives. Sophia had been placed on the Child Protection register, seven years ago, after her mom had tried to commit suicide.
Ironically, she was grateful to be on the register. This guaranteed someone attending to her mother’s needs once a week, while ensuring that everything ran smoothly. And without this extra assistance, Sophia was doubtful that she would manage.
Furthermore, without this weekly check up, she thought her mother would admit defeat. Therefore, this intervention gave her mother some form of motivation.
Sophia was guilt ridden thinking these things about her mother’s inability. But she knew that for both their sakes, other people needed to be involved in their lives.
Her mother complained constantly about Social Services involvement in their lives, and always badmouthed Alice. Sophia knew that her mother was secretly just as pleased as she was that they had Alice, to keep the chaos from spilling completely out-of-control.
“Oh for god’s sake!” her mother protested, “not today of all days”.
And with that she placed a five pound note on the side-table for Sophia, while heading towards the kitchen and scanning the chaos. She started to collect the unwanted cans and bottles, along with the empty cigarette packets that were discarded all over the kitchen, throwing them into a black rubbish bag.
Her head hurt as she remembered vaguely the people she invited back from the pub at lunchtime, and had flashes of yesterday’s debauchery.
“Don’t tell her that I went out again and left you alone again last night, ok!” her mother remembered.
“You know I don’t tell Alice anything any more. I won’t say a word”, replied Sophia.
She dare not speak out, as she knew what would happening if Social Services thought that she was been neglected. She would be forced to live with another foster family. And after experiencing that horrific experience just once, Sophia promised herself that she would do everything in her power to avoid those fearsome situations.
In her reality, her mother did not neglect her. And listening to the stories most of the children she met in care had told, she was more fortunate than those she had encountered in care. Compared to the narrative they told, Sophia’s life seem as if it was a picnic in comparison.
No, her mother loved her, and even though she was partially responsible for the up-keep of the house and was totally self-sufficient, she thought these small insignificant duties she need to do where irrelevant in contrast to what she had heard that other children were forced to endure.
Her mother did not always drink herself into oblivion. There was a cycle that she followed, there was a pattern to her disorganised chaos, and one she would adhere to like clockwork. The rest of the time she was fully-present at home playing “happy families” and cooking dinner for her daughter.
On those days, Sophia felt as if they were best mates, and she was “normal”, just as any other teenage girl she knew. They would sit and watch the television together and everything felt just rosy. Those were the days she loved the most.
Sophia appreciated the difficulty her mother faced when trying to refrain from drinking and using drugs. On countless occasions, she had tried, and even joined a local woman’s group who specialised in drug and alcohol issues.
Every day, she battled against her addiction, and Sophia was fully aware how complex this illness was to cure, and the challenge in staying sober. Sophia was well educated on the struggle that people faced when attempting sobriety. This she had learnt from listening to the woman chatter at the centre.
She had escorted her mother on a weekly basis as she attended these groups that addressed the issues of addiction. She would be left to entertain herself, along with the other children whose mothers would visit the centre. She was a fast learner and eager listener, and she listened to everything that was mentioned about addiction.
For her age, she had a sound understanding of the dangers and perils of using drugs, and the seemingly impossible task of getting one’s life back together.
This experience was enough to prevent Sophia from ever wanting to indulge in drugs or drink alcohol. She told herself on many occasions that she would never go down that dark and lonely road. How did she know it was a dark and lonely existence? Well she just had to look at what it had done, or what it was still doing to her mother to know that it was a ‘mug’s game’.
Sophia blamed her father, and felt it was his abusive execution of her mother’s spirit, that drove her to drink.
He was a cruel man.
Her mother’s account of his character, and the stories she had told, frighten Sophia immensely. Tales of how he would beat her mother senseless almost every day in their existence together, and verbally abuse her too.
Yes, he was a merciless man.
Sophia was aged seven when he was escorted out of the house, and she remembered the blue lights flashing outside her window, and the policemen dragging him out into the waiting van. He was drunk, completely out of his mind and shouting abuse for all to hear and the entire neighbourhood was out that night, “to see the show”. She did not hold fond memories of her father. No, she hated him!
“Roses are red,
Violence is blue,
Scars that I carry,
Reminders of you!”
Violence is blue,
Scars that I carry,
Reminders of you!”
When her father did grace them with his presence, he would treat the flat as if it were a bed and breakfast, arriving whenever it pleased him, and staying only long enough to spend her mother’s child-care money. Refusing him had dire consequences; so they waited until he had exhausted their resources and disappeared, probably to pester some other poor soul.
Intoxicated by your hate
Domination and control
Suffered so long in silence
It’s time to let it go
Suffocating drowning in tears
Can't be a way of living
Catatonic, swimming, sea blue
Unrealistic state of duja-ve
Repeats of movies blue
No longer exist, deranged
Blood completely drain
State of confusion
Rejection, masochistic too long
Constantly in a dream like state
Before I crumble break and fall
Under your spell I have broken
Freedom awaits the lonely child
Dogmatic words too often spoken
All so crazy, hazy, wild
Last exist before destruction
This is where I depart
Before I no longer feel human
Just a cask, which holds a heart
Fortunately, he had not arrived unannounced at their door for some time, rumour has it that he was in prison. But if the truth be known, he had vanished since her mother had an injunction taken out against him, thereafter, he no longer harassed them.
The Magistrate’s verdict was very clear, and she had stated that under no circumstance was Sophia’s father to go anywhere near their neighbourhood. Her mother’s lawyer had presented a case that had highlighted the entirety of what her mother had had to endure since she first met Sophia’s father. And it was not a case for the faint hearted.
The lawyer had explicitly explained in great detail just how challenging her mother’s life was living with his brutal bullying and cruel ways. Sophia had no love lost for her father, and had sworn never to have anything to do with him again, not ever!
Even though she did not want to see him, or speak to him, it still hurt not having a father in her life. She felt so alone without him, and she had to tolerate the mockery she received after the rumour of his arrest spread through the town. And at school, some of the other kids would tease her and call her names.
It felt as if everyone knew that her father was a violent man, and her mother was a drunk, or so they would say.
She had to pretend that she did not care, when she heard the giggling and taunts directed at her, she just kept walking. She could have informed her mother of the bullying that she faced on a regular basis, but she knew that her mother would arrive at the school and cause a scene, and how would that help.
No-one could protect her from the constant taunting and mockery, she had to deal with this all on her own. The same as she had to deal with most things alone.
She would come home and hide in her bedroom, and there she would let her feelings be known. As she wept into her pillow, and allowed all the hurt and frustration to dispel from her body, she would sob until she was exhausted, and then fall into a deep yet peaceful sleep.
Where she would dream of a different time and place, and have visions of another girl in a distant life, yes, she would dream of being free.
“I float upon the ceiling
No higher, to the sky
I dream of life so gentle
As my tears run dry.
I wish I was an angel
Someone who is free
In fact, I would be any one
As long as just not me.”
I dream of life so gentle
As my tears run dry.
I wish I was an angel
Someone who is free
In fact, I would be any one
As long as just not me.”
Gratefully, Sophia had Alice. Alice was the only person she could truly talk to who understood her desperate plight. Alice had been very informative concerning her mother’s illness, and tried to answer most of the many questions Sophia asked.
Questions she needed answered, as she tried to grasp an understanding on addiction.
In fact, it was Alice who suggested that Sophia attend a youth group which was run by the council, and held at the local youth centre. Sophia would do anything she could to please Alice, so she went along to the group.
At the youth centre, she was to encounter some of the local children and young people from surrounding neighbourhoods, who would all meet up once a week to ‘play games’, and gossip, and feel as if they were ‘part of a gang’. Yet the only true thing that they all shared, the one thing they all had in common was addicted parental figures and carers.
This was the place where they could all “hangout” and “identify” with each other, and discuss the troubles and misdemeanours that they had to face unsupervised. Sophia felt so out of place!
After the first time she attended the ‘group sessions’, she determined that she was left feeling low, so she did not return. Moreover, she refused to acknowledge that her family were dysfunctional. She had heard other children at the centre confess, in a nonchalant manner, how their families were so dysfunctional.
Undeniably, these children who frequented the youth centre, they too were older than their years. Attending this group, forced Sophia to face reality about what was truly going on for her family and her life. She preferred convincing herself that things at home were ‘normal’. This way she stood a chance.
If she had to label herself as ‘the child of an addict or ‘drunk’’, then little hope remained. She needed to believe, believe that one day things would be very different, one day things would change. She had faith in her mother.
Sophia knew that the people who ran the Children Services at the Council would possibly judge her mother, and anyone standing on the outside looking into her life, would feel that her life seemed to be in constant turmoil. She had overheard conversations that suggested she should be in foster care, and not have to endure this harsh treatment, as they pointed a disapproving finger.
She listened while they discussed her, and determined how her life should be, and what was best for her, but how did they know?
No-one ever asked her.
What would they know about her life!
As far as Sophia was concerned, her mother was kind and considerate, she would attend to her when she was unwell, and hold her hand when she was frightened. Her mother was the same as any other mother. The only difference was her mother had an illness, but her mother did not ‘do these things’ with an intention to harm her.
More importantly, she had never hit Sophia nor caused her intentional harm.
And her mother had a watchful eye, scrutinizing the men who frequented their home, and would not allow them to converse with Sophia, except to say hello and other such pleasantries. Moreover, she would enquire what they wanted if she saw them chatting with Sophia on the ‘quiet’.
She was very protective over Sophia and would have fought anyone who tried to touch her little girl. No, the only protection that was needed in their home was her mothers’ protection from her own self-destructive side. Her mothers’ protection from herself!
“Enough daydreaming Sophia” she heard her mother say.“It’s time to go to school!”
“Yes mom, I am nearly ready”, she answered, and with that she ran upstairs to dress.
Shortly thereafter, she hurried back downstairs dressed and ready for school. Amazed to see how her mother had cleaned the entire downstairs and was now sitting down having a cup of tea.
“After this cup of tea and ‘cig’ I will go upstairs and have a bath, and then I will be ready for our Alice”, said her mother.
She smiled, then she walked over to where her mother sat and kissed her goodbye, while embracing her with all the love she could manage.
“Hey honey, everything ok?” asked her mother, taken aback by her daughter’s sudden overtly display of affection.
“Sure mom, everything is just fine”, she replied and with that she raced out the door towards the bus stop, where her best-friend Zoë was waiting for her.