‘BOOM’ he shouts, ‘BOOM BOOM BOOM’.
The ‘B’ of boom bounces around the enclosed space and each ‘BOOM’ is well-spaced for maximum effect. We are driving a dark, fast country road with high hedges either side and the ever-present threat of catastrophe just around the next tight bend.
My daughter Rose is sat in the front passenger seat next to me. She looks at me uneasily.
‘That’s getting annoying isn’t it?’ she says softly. We both know this is a great understatement.
‘ANNOYING, YOU WANT ME TO BE ANNOYING. BOB BOB BOB BOB BOB THE BUILD BUILD BUILD BUILD BUILDING BUILDING BUILDING COZ YOU AND YOU ARE LOSERS DIE LOSERS DIE DIE DIE.’
‘DIE DIE DIE’ is delivered sing song and screechy. A car drives perilously close behind me, it’s double set of headlights bite into my eyes and threaten to unravel the scraps of concentration I’ve been hanging on to. Out of the darkness the road opens out and to my relief we reach houses and streetlights. I slow and the car behind accelerates thunderously and overtakes me at great speed.
‘I AM NOT GETTING OUT OF THE CAR LA LA LA DON’T THINK I’M GETTING OUT COZ YOU WILL NEED A CHAINSAW TO CUT ME OUT.’
The word ‘chainsaw’ is drawn out and given extra emphasis. The small car park outside the village hall is bustling with cars from which children spill out in their green cub uniforms. I park around the corner from the hall in a quiet cul-de-sac and switch off the ignition. The soundtrack coming from my son Jamie in the back seat continues. It is mainly nonsense but spiked with the occasional insult of jaw-dropping intensity. I sit from a moment to compose myself. Rose rubs my back and then I take her hand and stroke her tiny, bitten nails. It is our shared acknowledgement of how difficult the past few hours have been, how wounding the insults, how unsettling the detail behind the threats, however unintentional and unmeant they are.
‘Come on, let’s go.’
The protestations rise in intensity and he leans forward and hurls his displeasure at close quarters.
‘Listen Jamie…. listen …… LISTEN.’
I talk over him; a battle of wills to be heard.
‘I cannot leave you in the car alone, because….. BECAUSE.. you are not in control right now and I need to keep you safe.’
‘MUMMY IS GOING TO MAKE ME WALK OUTSIDE WITH NO SHOES ON!’ he spits.
I walk around to his side of the car, open the door and stand looking at him, arms across his chest, looking up, smirking.
‘Come on, get out.’
He ignores me. I wonder for a moment where this particular conflict will lead.
‘Get out now.’
He slowly unfolds himself, not looking at me and very slowly, agonizingly slowly, puts one foot on the wet pavement. Then the second foot, slowly again, an act of quiet goading. When he is almost out of the car he shouts,
‘MUMMY WOULD NOT LET ME PUT MY SHOES ON.’
Then he notices a car behind us. There are happy noises, children getting out, chatting, excitement. He flushes with embarrassment and I know I have got him. I lock the car and say quietly,
‘Jamie, you chose not to put your shoes on.’
Rose takes my hand and we walk briskly, Jamie sloping behind, quiet now.
We deliver Rose who runs happily into the village hall and I walk back with Jamie hanging behind me. The car journey back home is endured in silence. We pull into our drive and I deliver Jamie his instructions. He wordlessly goes into the house and up the stairs to his room where he plays quietly until bedtime.
My husband Rob is home from work. I try to explain the mess of hours which have passed since we got home from school and which started with my discovery of food, taken from the cupboards and hidden under and down the sides of the sofa. Maybe I didn’t handle it well, but I can’t remember clearly exactly what was said, how things built up. I recall shouting so I have broken at least one cardinal rule.
I know the conversation that I will need to have with Jamie, about shame and anger and blame. He will say he didn’t mean any of what he said and I will say that I know he didn’t, but still. I will tell him that I love him more than any other boy in the world. And we will take another glimpse into the big box of painful things that Jamie has stashed away in his head and I hope that he will start to feel safe enough to prise the box open a little more.
‘Have we got any alcohol?’ Rob asks, ‘you look like you need some’.
The alcohol corner of our kitchen is down to the dusty ancient specimens that no one really likes, so I settle for a nip of creme de cassis that I fear must be at least seven years old.
‘Happy anniversary,’ says Rob.
‘Only another ten years of this. Cheers.’
The sweet, sticky cassis slides down my throat and is warm and comforting. We laugh, rather hysterically. Gallows humour is our release valve at times like this. Neither of us needs to express out loud the deep love we feel for our children, or the joy of adopting them eight years ago now. But sometimes we need to acknowledge to each other just how relentlessly difficult it is to parent the victims of child abuse and neglect. And sometimes we could do with some wider acknowledgment and understanding of that too.