Work to Forget
I knew I’d never go back this time when he went ahead with the burglary on his house to get the insurance money. Minnie’s parents had strict instructions to chain me up if I tried to go back. He phoned me three and four times a day, sometimes sober and simpering, sometimes abusive and drunk, but always making everyone’s lives a misery. Asking me what he should do about this and that, telling me how the kids were missing me, how he was missing me. But finally I knew I wouldn’t go back.
I went to the agency that had got me the job at Royal and they got me another one. It was on a building site. A big building site. The M20 motorway widening project. I copied a lot of paper the first day. Then the contract manager walked past me and asked me if I enjoyed my job. I said it seemed a waste to put someone with my skills on a photocopier, but it was after all a job. I didn’t know who he was then. The next day I was working as his personal assistant.
My new boss expected me to work when he worked. He kept a sixteen hour day. The Drunken Gambler still phoned me three times a day, still tried his tricks to get me to go back. I was less likely to go if I kept working the long hours, so I did.
Before long he started coming up to see me on weekends. I told him that there would only ever be a chance for us if he did things the right way, started going to church with me and really worked at changing his life. Instead of him dragging me down there was going to be more of me dragging him up. I told him that if he wanted me back he would have to court me properly, the old-fashioned way, and if he wanted for us to get back together again the way we were he would have to prove that he was worthy of me. First he would have to come to my church for the RCIA course on Friday nights, then convert to Roman Catholicism. Once he’d done that he and the kids would have to move up to Maidstone. Then, if he’d proved himself in all the other parts of the equation he would have to marry me. I told him there were no guarantees. This was purely performance rated: his performance, which I rated!
No drugs and no sex were prerequisites. Yet the first time he came up he was on sherbet and kept pawing me. It was horrible. The second time Minnie’s parents invited him to tea. He was so awkward with them that I couldn’t wait for it to end. I started to see him differently, not the way I wanted him to be but the way he really was. He was rough, ill-mannered, had no social grace and his particular brand of charm didn’t work on Mum and Dad at all.
There was nothing good about him. I could see that then. Even his reactions during the interviews he had with the police about the staged burglary were full of stolen emotion. He told me how he’d managed to appear convincingly upset about it all, that he just conjured up a picture in his mind of how he felt when he realised he’d lost me for good. He said it was ironic that the staged burglary was my reason for not coming back and it was my refusal to come back that gave him the ability to make it seem real to the police. I felt there was more irony in his inability to understand that had there been any remorse for what he’d done I might have considered coming back to him. But he even used our breaking up as a tool to his own fiscal ends.
When the insurance came through it was a substantial enough amount for him to book a holiday for himself and the kids in Hawaii. He asked me to go with him, but I said I’d rather have stuck red-hot needles in my eyes than help him to spend that money.
When he went I’d been working sixteen hours a day for almost three months. I’d been keeping a lid on all my pain because I knew that if I let my guard down even once he’d manage to find a way back into my life. Working the long hours helped keep up the vigilance. Once he was safely across the other side of the world I could let go. I did it spectacularly. Walked out on the hundred and twenty or so burly civil engineers who depended on me for their daily instructions from the boss, locked myself in my room at Minnie’s parents house and stayed there for a week.
It took me a week just to cry out all my pain. I’d been strong for so long while he did his falling apart. Now that he was over me and in Hawaii I could do my own falling apart. I cried buckets for all the times he’d taken advantage of my better nature. For all the times he’d got drunk and abused me verbally, tearing little chunks out of my heart each time. For all the verbal lashings he’d given the kids, and for having to leave them with him again. And for all the years of her life that Daisy had put up with all his crap, years of her life that she’d invested in him because she had loved him too. I missed her so much. Another friend died that week in the same way as Daisy had. A wonderful person, who had driven me from prison to church and back again every other week, then welcomed me into her life when I got out. Another malignant cancer had claimed the life of another of my friends. I missed her too.
I saw a lot of Adam now that I was back in Maidstone. We tried out the idea of revamping our relationship, but somehow we liked being friends so much better that we decided to keep it that way. He liked being the reason I’d left. There was some justice in that, he felt. The Drunken Gambler had been the one to take me away from him, and now he was the one to take me away from the Drunken Gambler, even if the Drunken Gambler didn’t actually know about it. Roddy, my gay mate, thought it was a hilarious romp that I’d lied about being with him and the others. He said it was absolutely the best hoot that I’d been trying to save the situation with a lie that described the very situation the Drunken Gambler most feared. I just thought it had nicely precipitated the inevitable without me having to work out how to do it myself.
I was in the middle of writing chapter two of The Music Makers when I left. My heroine, Julianne, was about to meet Wayne, the man who would change her life. She’d found him stuck in her door when she got home from work, well, not him exactly, a leaflet offering his services as a spiritual guide. He had a green voice. She’d sussed that much about him when she called him on the telephone, she couldn’t explain quite how and I was working so hard at the M20 widening project site office that I was probably never going to write about how her meeting with him went. But apart from the work, which seriously kept me away from my first little baby Amstrad computer, there were some other very good reasons why I was never to finish that particular gem of Mills and Boon type slushy fiction.
I didn’t appreciate how dangerous it was for me to be dabbling in all that occulty New Age stuff. I knew that the Catholic Church didn’t exactly encourage it, but I didn’t understand why. I just thought it was all a pretty cool way to construct a novel. My story line ran something like this:
The heroine is bored with life as an insurance clerk and with being pushed around by her dweeby boyfriend. She responds to this guy with the green voice’s leaflet because she instinctively feels he can help her to change things. She meets him. He leads her into all the kinds of esoteric clap-trap that I was finding interesting about that time and teaches her how to really find herself. He is the lead singer in a way out flower-powery trendy band and coincidentally she has a good voice and starts singing with them. There was a lot of me and Adam in there. She falls in love with him. He falls in love with her. But it’s a Mills and Boon so it’s not that simple. They have to have some form of tension that needs to be resolved. The band makes it into the big time and they become so famous that they never have time for each other, and there’s a deeply buried secret hidden in Wayne Green-Voice’s closet. Like I said, it was a Mills and Boon, so I couldn’t do anything truly exciting like make him turn out gay and wreck her life, or even have the overlords of darkness claiming them back after all their dark efforts to procure the band’s success. So, inevitably, there should have been an unrealistically happy ending, if I’d ever got that far.
As it was chapter two never got finished while I was working that hard for the tyrannical contract manager, and when I hid myself in my room for that week after I walked out I had other things to cry about. By the time I thought about it again I realised that I’d been getting too heavily involved with the wrong side of spirituality and my efforts were far more focused in the right direction so that I could see how for me it had been so wrong. I should have been heading straight towards the light and there I was wasting time staring at the stars.
During that week I locked myself away I prayed more than I’ve ever prayed in my life. I actually picked up the Carmelite prayer books that I’d got from Aylesford priory during a trip with the Drunken Gambler and studied how to use them. I felt so guilty for the way I’d let my life slide downhill that I tried to make up for it by praying solidly. It helped. I felt closer to God and much more in touch with my own feelings about my life. I began to want to set myself on a course so straight for heaven that I thought I was now ready to become a nun just like I’d told the Bishop.
I studied the passages in the Bible that related to mediums and using psychic phenomena such as astrology or crystal balls to predict our futures. I found out that far from being useless these arts actually work, but because God wants His people to entrust their whole lives to him, body, mind, soul and spirit, rather than to the fortune-divining methods of manipulative charlatans, He forbids it. Ours, the Bible quite plainly said to me, is not to look into the future but to accept and give thanks for the present, and if we are doing His will in that present we should have no worries about the future, safely in His hands as it is. I felt reborn again. And I hadn’t even needed a re-birthing chamber, just the word of God and the grace to read it.
By the time the Drunken Gambler came back from Hawaii I was so sure of my sense of vocation to the religious life that I talked of nothing else when he phoned. He didn’t phone much after that. I went down to collect what stuff of mine he still had. He’d stashed all the stuff that had allegedly been stolen during the burglary at his brother’s house in Southampton, most of it mine, none of which I ever got back. He was so disgustingly rude to me when I asked for it that I lost my temper more spectacularly than I’d ever done before. No Reverend Mother would ever have believed I wanted to follow a path to her convent. I laid into him with all the power my small fists had in them, again and again and again. When he retaliated by pinning me up against a wall with his hand around my neck all the anger I should have felt every time that had been done to me welled up in me and exploded through my kneecap and into his groin, hard. The last time I saw him he was writhing around in agony on the floor, screaming. Tania, who happened to be in his house that day, had come running to see what he was screaming about. She asked me what I’d done to her dad. “Nothing that he didn’t truly deserve,” I’d replied, calmly, before stepping over him and walking through the door to number 51 Ellington Road for the last time.
My life back in Maidstone after that day took on a far more serene aspect. I prayed more than I had ever prayed in my life, morning, midday and evening. Then I’d say a whole rosary before bed every night too. I tried to practice living the life of a nun right there in my little room in Minnie’s mum and dad’s house overlooking their large and peaceful garden. I didn’t really know much about convent life and I had a lot to learn. The Australian series Brides of Christ started on Channel 4 just at the right time, and I watched it every week. A lot of it horrified me, but it was set in the sixties, so I supposed some things would have changed, and it gave me ideas about what kind of questions I should ask when I managed to find a convent I wanted to go to. At least I wouldn’t have to contend with the backdrop of Vatican II and all the changes it imposed upon convents and congregations, not directly.
19th December 1999
It seems like someone lit a bright shining torch in my life at that point. It didn’t seem like it at the time but as I look back from here I can appreciate those moments when I let God work in my life. I still resisted, periodically, by dragging myself kicking and screaming back into the past and letting it exercise the hold it had over me. Then there are the more serene moments like these. They stand out head and shoulders above the rest from this distance away from their conception. I can’t remember exactly when that first moment was, the one in which my heart decided that Jesus was the only man for me. And I can’t say that my heart was truly steadfast from that moment on. There were many such moments as it strengthened itself against the onslaught of worldly thoughts and deeds and I taught it to beat its physical path to a more spiritual reality.
I’d finally stood strong against the Drunken Gambler. He had no more hold over me in any way. That was a good feeling, even if I cheated by putting his criminal intent between him and me to get it. I still had to learn to stand strong against despotic bosses.
I still had to learn to stand strong against some other demons too.
Minnie’s parents gave me the ideal environment from which to do so. They showed me what it was like to grow up in a loving family with a mum and dad who knew what being a parent was all about. They were such a contrast to my own parents. When I came back to Maidstone and found the torch burning brightly enough to make me want to turf out all that was wrong in my life it was like I’d just stepped out of my childhood and into my teens. Minnie says it’s like I grew up there, that her mum and dad were the real parents I’d needed for so long and never had. My room in their house overlooking their garden was indeed the safest haven I’ve ever known.
I dealt with a few more demons on Friday nights too.
It meant that much more now that I’d tried the other side of the coin again.
Christmas that year was a real family Christmas, the first I’d experienced. And being back in my safe, warm, friendly little church in Bearsted made it extra special.
I didn’t get much writing done that winter, but that probably wasn’t a bad thing. I was aiming my efforts in entirely the wrong direction. I read through that one chapter of The Music Makers that I’d already written today. I’d forgotten most of it. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t what I should have been concentrating on. I read through my diary too. It was full of long and boring explanations for the Drunken Gambler’s bad behaviour, most of them excuses that I used to hide his true character behind so I wouldn’t have to do anything about leaving him sooner. I wrote down some of the stupid things that he used to say to me during our frequent arguments. I found it embarrassing just reading them. Was I really such a dopey sap that I let him talk to me like that? Have I really changed that much?
He left me in so much debt that I hadn’t a hope in hell of ever paying it all off. I kept him afloat for over a year. I wrote him a book because he thought I’d get rich quick and be able to keep him. I tried to help him change his life, make a fresh start somewhere else so that he could get away from all the stuff that made him bad. Yet he was the one that shouted at me all the time. “I’ve carried you for over a year, you bitch. Sod your book. Start getting’ some dough in, or you’re out!” That was near the end of The Ace of Hearts. “We don’t wanna go anywhere else, me an’ the kids, so if you can’t live in Ramsgate you’d better get the hell out!” That was after we’d got back from a harrowing camping trip to Devon, most of which we spent in estate agents’ offices. “You’re spinnin’ me. You’re very clever, very devious, but I see through it. I heard you talkin’ on the phone to Minnie outside Jemima’s door. I don’t trust you. You’re spinnin’ us all!” I can’t even remember what I said to Minnie that was so awful.
Yes, it does embarrass me to think of how stupid I was. Even now, nine years away from him it still smarts, but the one that hurt the most, that really made my blood run cold, was this one: “Hit me again, cunt, an’ I’ll put you where Daisy is!” That was the point at which he had me pinned up against the wall by my throat during an argument he’d concocted. All he wanted was to get out of the house on a Sunday lunchtime without fulfilling his promise to take me and the kids out for the day. If he’d just said that he wanted to get away to the pub on his own we wouldn’t have minded. What hurt us the most was being treated so badly. I suppose I only really stayed at all to become the barrier that would shield Daisy’s kids from his treatment, and somewhere along the line I fell in what I thought was love.
Did I really expect him to change into Mr Right overnight?
He came with me to my little church in Bearsted once. It was the day he’d come to tea at Minnie’s parents’ house. I think he was hoping that if he humoured me a bit I might relax my conditions. He fidgeted all the way through mass and kept looking around him in such a suspicious manner that people stared at him. I tried not to be embarrassed but it didn’t work. I introduced him to a couple of my good friends, but he just couldn’t fit in. I saw the stark reality of my two lives. My old life and my new life. The two couldn’t go together. I had to discard the old if I wanted to keep the new, and I couldn’t carry any of it over. If I hadn’t seen the difference before I did that day.
As soon as that torch had been lit I became vehemently opposed to anything that was outside the edges of my page. That meant sex. I knew then that the no sex thing really did apply to me and I was determined to uphold the principle and honour it.
Adam didn’t take that one too well. Maybe that was the real reason for our not getting back together. He wouldn’t get the sex he still remembered! He also liked the idea of having a book written about him. He didn’t like the idea of that book being shelved because I didn’t want to dabble in esoterica any more. Even our friendship drifted into obscurity once he got a girlfriend who would give him sex.
I was finding out that once you stop doing the things people want you to do, and start changing yourself into a better person, they don’t try to change themselves into better people too, they just go away and find someone else to do those things with.
Only six days to go now until the event we’re all waiting for: the last Christmas of the second millennium, the celebration of the 2000th birthday of Jesus Christ. Has anything really changed in those two thousand years, I mean, in the heart of man, not in his technological ability? I’m beginning to get a little more excited about it all now. Fairy lights and plastic trees that look more realistic than the real ones have been in peoples windows for a couple of weeks, but I haven’t really paid any attention to them. They never seem real to me until this close to the event. Five more shopping days to go. I’ve always been the one to leave the commercial aspect until the very last minute. Something to do with never having any money, or maybe a genetic leftover from mother’s attitudes.
It was a year ago today that mother put herself into the mental hospital. The panic attacks had got too much for her and she couldn’t handle life at all. Forces of darkness seemed to be gathering around both her and myself as my stepfather delivered that news to me on the phone. Forces of darkness are gathering around Elysia tonight too. I’m sure she’ll handle it a good deal better than mother or I ever have done.
What are your thoughts this close to Jesus’ birthday? Do you, like me, wish that you could shake the world up, make it understand why we celebrate His birth? Or are you one of those people who care more about having a jolly good holiday for yourself and your family? What’s behind the nineteenth door of your advent calendar? The milkman’s order? Or your spiritual freedom? It doesn’t matter which, so long as you’re at peace with your choice. Your peace gives those around you their peace, and that’s what Christmas is all about. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men, and women.
What will Elysia find in her Secret Garden today? She’s so close to undertaking that difficult journey. A little piece of me feels very deeply for her. I’m almost as apprehensive about it as she must be. Maybe I worry unnecessarily, after all, her Beloved did say that He’d never ask her to do anything she wasn’t capable of doing, didn’t He? And she herself said that she was itching to get started, to do battle with all those nasties that lurk in the tunnel. Mind you, that was before she learned that she must forgive them all in order to save them from themselves. There must be some pretty nasty things down there she’s going to have to show mercy to. I’m not at all sure I could forgive them for all their sins.
Elysia’s Crystal Droplet
Elysia sat in her drawing room praying her Rosary.
Outside birds sang and grass grew, but she had more important matters to be tending to than merely enjoying her Beloved’s creation. She prayed to His mother, asking her to petition His Father for strength and courage, for patience and determination, for wisdom and knowledge, for grace and humility. “And may all these things,” she asked, “be added unto me during my journey to seek His righteousness, that I may do only His will and win the souls of those I meet for His kingdom. And may they rest there, victorious in His glory.”
From outside she heard the sound of many wings beating surely but softly all around. She rushed to see what was happening but there was only her Beloved sitting alone on the swinging chair on the veranda.
“What was all that noise? It sounded like—”
“Choirs of angels beating their wings in unison as they flew to applaud your steadfast prayer? Well, angels it was my darling. They came for instructions and now they’re gone. Off to oblige, as usual.”
“Do they usually fly around collecting instructions? I’ve never heard them before.”
“They do. You’ve never been in tune to them before. But carry on praying as you have been today and you’ll see them everywhere you go.”
“Wow yourself. You’re getting to be truly awesome.”
“Awesomeness does not go unrewarded.”
“Look up in that tree over there!” He pointed to an almond tree overhanging the lawn on the edge of the orchard. “What do you see there?”
She looked at it. At first she couldn’t see what was there. She strained her eyes to see, searching the branches of the tree for a clue. Then she heard it and in that same moment she also saw it. Its notes were crystal clear and beautifully refined; its body small and brown, almost insignificant. “It’s my nightingale!” she exclaimed in her excitement. “It can sing! It’s grown up!”
“It has. Did I not say that it would sing when you were ready to undertake your journey?”
“Yes, you did.” Her voice was solemn. No amount of preparation could make the moment her journey would begin an easy one.
“The time has come, Elysia. Now we must make the final preparations. Where is your Golden Egg?”
“In my leather knapsack along with my armour and all my other gifts.”
“Will you fetch it here please.”
She ran off into the house again and when she came back she held the Golden Egg in her hands. “Why do you want it?” she asked.
“Because your nightingale is not the only thing to have reached maturity. Hold the egg in your open palm.” She looked at him askance but opened her hands so that it rested in the middle. “Hold it up a bit more.” He lifted her hands a little higher so that her arms were a little more outstretched. “That’s right. Now watch!”
The fully-fledged nightingale flew out from the branches of the almond tree and landed neatly on top of the Golden Egg. It looked at her, tipping its head at an angle to see her better. It looked at the egg. Using its beak as a hatchet it deftly broke open the shell. Once the shell was open it flew away again, up into the branches of the almond tree.
She looked at what was left in the palm of her hand, in among the wreckage of the egg shell all broken and golden, and saw that there was a jumble of jewels that looked like small flowers all linked together on a golden chain.
“Pick it up and look at it!” He said, smiling at her.
As she picked up the chain she noticed that each of the flower-shaped jewels was as different from the next one as each real flower is from the one next to it. They were exquisite.
“It’s a crown,” he said, still smiling. “It marks your maturity and your readiness to do my will. When you wear it you will know how loved you are and how precious to me you always will be.”
“It’s so beautiful.”
“And so are you.” He took her in His arms and kissed her.
For several moments she stayed in His embrace just soaking up His love.
“Is that my present for today?”
“No. That’s the reward you’ve been waiting for since I gave you the Golden Egg. Remember, I told you it would hatch when you were ready to receive what was inside?” He stuck his hand inside the folds of his robe and from somewhere deep inside them he produced something else. “No. This is your present for today. Something altogether more practical, I’d say.”
It was a small spherical ball made out of something transparent, rather like a large marble. Two circular bands of silver encompassed it, crossing each other at right angles at the top and bottom apexes, and a length of fine leather rope held it fast through a silver loop at the top.
“If I didn’t know better I’d say this was a crystal ball.” She laughed at herself, expecting Him to laugh with her and then tell her what the object was really for.
“That’s exactly what it is.” He wasn’t laughing.
“You thought crystal balls were forbidden?”
“Not if I give it to you for the specific purpose of guiding you through the darkness in my absence.” He stroked her cheek gently holding his hand there for a few moments. He looked into her eyes. “It’s not things that cause the damage. It’s people and their attitudes, the things they want to achieve and the evil they want to set free by doing so. But your purpose is not for evil Elysia, and this is my gift to you so that I can be with you in spirit more easily.”
“Thank you,” she said. She could hear the beating of wings again.
“It comes with a price though. Just as you will be able to see me when you look for me in the crystal, so too will the forces of darkness be able to see you. It will be as a bright shining beacon to them and they will be able to discover your whereabouts. It would be best used only when all else has failed to guide you. Or as a shining light to guide those you have healed towards me, and my angels towards you.”
“Is that what I can hear all around us? Angels?”
“Yes, my beloved. They have always been here, all around you.”
“Why have I never seen them, or heard them, before? Why can’t I see them now?”
“Your heart was not in tune to their heavenly vibration. You can only hear them now because your heart is just beginning to tune into them. You will see them, Elysia. At the end of your journey, when they will bear you upon their wings and deliver you at my feet in victory.”
See you all on December 20th with Chapter Twenty! Happy wishing. Oh, how I wish I could tune in to the vibration of those angels!
Brightest Blessings and a Happy Advent Journey to any and all of you who are reading this,
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