When I was 14, at Easter we moved back to London and I had to start afresh at school, with one term to settle in before starting on O’ levels. I was scared and miserable.
My father was starting a new job and got ill for six months, something he apparently did with every new job, no doubt stress-related except that he didn’t believe in such things. We were in a temporary flat for the first few months while my parents found somewhere to buy. My mother had lost all her social network that she’d built up and was trying to cope with everyone else. At some point she got depressed, took prescribed anti-depressants and did six months or so therapy although she has never really talked about it, except for when she’s pointing out that she knows all about mental health issues as she once needed help. I don’t think any of us really wanted to move but it was financially practical due to changes my father’s work situation. My sisters had more or less left home.
So it was the three of us, each having our own problems in adjusting to a new life. Rather than share our problems and let them bring us together we separated and it felt like we stopped talking to each other. It was lonely and difficult for all of us.
That Autumn, my parents went out to dinner with friends and made new friends, with an extraordinarily vivacious and warm person who challenged my father in a way my mother didn’t. She held lots of parties and my parents and I went a lot, feeling that this new friendship had lifted us out of our hole and introduced us to many interesting people, one of whom would become one of my closest friends until his death. I would visit for weekends and feel relaxed and stop worrying about home and school, chill out, drink and smoke (tobacco!).
By the time I’d taken my O’ levels things had got worse at home. My father greeted my results with ‘well that’s what happens when you don’t do any work’; I’d got 10 A-Cs (or thereabouts). My parents had been under huge financial pressure buying a house and money was tight. They didn’t tell me any of this and I remember once refusing to collect the school form for a refund of fees when I was off for a couple of days with the flu. I was too embarrassed that my parents were quibbling over the £50-60 when they could afford private school fees (relatively inexpensive school, to be fair). It didn’t occur to me that buying a house meant we had no money and it certainly didn’t occur to them to tell me.
There was a school trip that my father refused to pay for but wouldn’t give a reason for. If he’d said he couldn’t afford it I would have accepted, but he didn’t then or now. It still rankles today which I know is petty but I felt that my opinion had been dismissed for reasons that weren’t explained (Russia, 10 days, 3 cities, £300, seemed a bargain).
We had one bust up, the only argument that I really remember. How it started I do not know, but I complained that they’d never told me that they loved me. My mother answered “But I thought you knew.” True, but missed the point. My father asked me, for some reason why I loved him. I replied ‘because you’re my father’. ‘That’s not a very good reason’ he said. ‘No, but it’s the only reason I’ve got’. The rest of that conversation is a blur.
Shortly afterwards, my parents suggested that since I spent so much time away with our mutual friend that I might like to move in with her for a bit. I jumped at the chance, never thinking what this really meant or what the consequences might be, just being ecstatic at the thought of leaving a house where I was only happy snuggled up in my room.
So at 16 I left home, with the good wishes of my parents. What I didn’t know at the time was that a few months after that initial dinner party my parents attended, my father started an affair with this woman who we all had became friends with.