The Sandbox Writing Challenge — Exercise 3

This week, in The Sandbox Writing Challenge, my good friend Calen challenges us to explain; What is it that keeps you from being still?

Since I became a parent, I have always found it difficult to relax. My daughter needed me, so I had to survive. As a child I had thought myself indomitable – surely, nothing could kill me, but the responsibilities of adulthood forced me into a new reality, and suddenly I found myself walking carefully on slippery surfaces, avoiding climbing ladders, being over-cautious when I crossed the road. I became secretly nervous of sharp knives; fearful of inadvertantly cutting my throat as I was slicing carrots.

I knew I was not immortal after all, and that meant I had a limited time to do everything that needed to be done in this life. My obsession with work, of any kind, started gradually, but accelerated. Throughout my mid to late twenties I found it hard to sit and watch TV unless I had sewing or crochet in my hands.

At about the age of 30 I left a good, caring, non-abusive husband and father. I brought misery onto myself and my two young children by living with the man who became the father of my third and fourth child, even though I had quickly realised that I should get away from him fast. I felt tangled, unable to make the necessary break .

I got a nasty gall-bladder infection which wasn’t treated until one of my older daughters found me collapsed late at night on the stairs, clutching the bannister, weakly crying and groaning, unable to go back to bed because the pain was so intense. She somehow made my step-father accept that which he had so far ignored; my for urgent medical treatment. Up until that moment he had pretended that there was nothing wrong with me – that I was being a drama queen, and I didn’t have the strength to stand against him. I suppose Sarah must have shamed him into action that night. I expect that she and her sister thought I was dying, and I felt as if I was.

The doctor told me that his medical intervention had probably saved my life, but without the quick-thinking of Claire, and the courage of Sarah, in standing up to her intimidating step-father, I would not have been taken to the hospital.

I was ill for ages, bedridden and exhausted. I don’t know whether it went on for 3 months or a year. I was in too bad a condition to be aware of the time. Gradually I recovered, spending less and less time in bed, until at some point I regained some kind of normality.
I was more aware than ever before, that, like all mortals, my time on this earth was limited, and that is when my obsession really took over.

I could die at any minute. Any of us could. I had to decorate the bedroom, crochet a bedspread, build shelves in the kitchen, strip the paint off every wooden surface in the house – and then seal the timber, build a wall in the garden from vintage bottles, re-model the bedroom furniture we had just bought for Paul, so that it fitted exactly…

This went on for years, until I left that man, and lived in a series of tatty flats with my older daughters, who were teenagers by this time. They needed to get away from him. He wanted to keep the two younger children, pointing out that he was only two minutes away from the school. I agreed, provided I could have them with me over the weekends and any other time that they or I liked, AND provided he found a way to undo the damage that he had done them. He had turned my beautiful Laura and Paul into nightmare children, with his inconsistant behaviour as a father, bullying and creeping in turns, shouting and yelling, and then giving in to things he shouldn’t have. I thought, and still think, that his bad parenting was more an attack on me than anything. I said we must be consistant, so he just had to do the opposite. I really believed that once I was out of the picture he would sort his crap out. As it turned out, he made no effort whatsoever.

Away from him I felt safer. I didn’t have to be constantly improving things. This is a revelation – it’s only as I write it that I realise it to be true. I was no longer under his thumb, so the fear of death was removed. All of these years I’ve revisited the horror of the fact I could have died because he actively discouraged me from going to a doctor, but it never occurred to me that he made me feel endangered!

Life became more fun. I began to re-connect with Sarah and Claire, and to feel like myself again. They brought their friends back. I learnt to smile and to laugh again. Claire fell in love. Laura was very fond of her boyfriend, and Paul adored him. Nobody had ever treated paul in quite the way that Mark did. Time went on, and Claire became pregnant. We took this shock in our stride. She was young, but they wanted the baby. We’d get by. I was going to help them to bring him up. Everything would be fine.

When Mark died, suddenly and unexpectedly of acute pulmonary pneumonia – seven weeks before the birth, our lives spiralled. I had to take care of Claire, but Paul was devastated. He hadn’t realised that death could hit so cruelly.

A few months after little Mark was born, my ex-partner began a campaign to win me back. I was impervious to his serenading me, but he worked on everyone he could think of – every family who would listen to him, and my friends. He told them that he was lost without me. That Laura and Paul needed us to be together, as they were still reeling from the tragedy. That he loved me, and if I came back he would behave differently. Paul begged me to return. I knew he was crying himself to sleep every night.

I was torn. I wanted to be with Claire, but also felt that I may be stifling her, making it impossible for her to move forward with her life by babying her. She was a lovely mum, and didn’t need my support any more than any single mum does. I could give her what support she needed without living with her. On the other hand, while the thought of going back to my ex-partner was repugnant, Paul – and Laura needed me.

I went back to that man. Within four weeks he was telling me that he had fallen out of love with me eighteen months ago. That didn’t hurt me, but it made me angry. What on earth was wrong with the dickbrained dick?

But I’m straying from the point, which is that as soon as I went back to him my obsessive workaholic behaviour returned with a vengence. When my gardening obsession hit, I used to pull weeds by torchlight after it got too dark to see. I avoided going to bed until I was dropping from exhaustion, for fear that I would die before my work was finished.

Although I finally left him for good about seven or eight years ago, the need to keep going was firmly fixed by then. Lately I have taken to visiting family and friends as a form of relaxation, because if I don’t, my only moments of relaxation are those enforced on me by visitors to my house – when I don’t truly relax (unless it is a visit from one of my children, which is always a welcome pleasure) because I want to get on with whatever I’m doing, and I’m being forced to sit around doing nothing, and those times when I look up from my laptop as I am working, and watch the wind-turbine turning, or the sun setting. But even then my mind is obsessively searching for lines of poetry.

But sometimes I look up, and a blanket covers my mind. I stare at the metalic angel on the horizon, and the word Angel repeats itself over and over, and everything slips away; my awareness of mortality, my damaged children, the death and the pain and the sickness of the world. For a few moments I am still.

Angel, Angel, Angel.


Please accept my apologies for the length of this post, and for any typos. I can’t edit it. I can’t re-read it. I can’t look for an image to head it. This is probably the most difficult, shameful, and painful post I have written since I started blogging. If I pause to think it won’t get posted. I promised you honesty, and I give all that I can offer without causing too much pain to those I love.

©Jane Paterson Basil


25 thoughts on “The Sandbox Writing Challenge — Exercise 3

  1. Oh Janey, I think you’ve been carry around a lot of guilt that really was you just trying to figure out why your life didn’t fit you. If that’s a cause for guilt, then I think EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US is guilty of that at some time or other. You did the best you could with the you you had to work with. That’s all anyone can ask. And you are NOT responsible for any damage your second husband did to the kids. The decision to leave them close to school would have seemed logical to me at the time, too. I’m curious though about your first husband — and maybe this is fodder for another blog post. Is he still a part of yours and Sarah’s and Claire’s life? Did he provide any support, emotionally, for you and the girls through all this?

    I’m so glad you got brave enough to post your story. No one reading this would think anything bad about you. You were just a young mother trying to figure out her life. I hope this was therapeutic for you. It sounds like you had a revelation there in the middle. Thanks for taking on this challenge. What you wrote was awesome, girlfriend! {{{Hugs}}}

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kind, kind words. I’m lapping them up.
      My first husband was always there for his children, but why should he support me after the way I treated him. I’m grateful that he was never unkind to me. He’s happily married to a lovely woman now. She’s better for him than I ever was. I see him at family occasions. He’s friendly to me. It’s more than I deserve, but a lot of time has passed, and I doubt that he has any regrets. We had two beautiful children together. I hurt him, but then he met Sylvia. It could have been much worse. I wasn’t suited to marriage. I had high ideals, but low expectations and even lower self-esteem.
      I love living alone xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wasn’t suited to marriage. I had high ideals, but low expectations and even lower self-esteem. I love living alone xxx Do you think that’s why there’s no animosity between you now? Because he came to understand that, too?

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I think there is another reason for filling every minute and that can be an appreciation for life and not wanting to waste any of it. That you are writing about this is very very good. I felt the same way while writing my Devil #3 poems. Women tend to think it is their fault..even when people do terrible things to them…they somehow caused it and so they feel guilty. You have come through this and matured and found a better way to live. I think this is what troubles are for and concenrating on what you came from rather than what you are now is self-defeating. Look at yourself now and pat yourself on the back. You aren’t perfect. None of us are. But we are here and you’re writing wonderful essays and poems. Making something out of your pain. Applause.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Done – I’ve patted myself on the back. Thank you for those thoughtful and generous words.
      The belief that it is all our fault is deeply ingrained, and probably subliminally taught at a very young age, or possibly built into us. I was writing about something that I haven’t quite managed to lay to rest, and it has been aggravated by recent incidents. My son has a need to feel as if we’re a family, so that man – his father – has had dinner at my place a couple of times when Paul has stayed here. The old fool behaves as if he’s wooing me all over again, and it makes me sick to my stomach, but I know that, for the present, Paul needs for us to spend time together.
      So, can I read your Devil #3 poems? Please?

      Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s a weird thing – I read the first one, and then i couldn’t find it again, or a continuation, so i thought you must have deleted the first, and not written any more. I couldn’t find anything about them. I’ve looked again, and found them. I must be losing the plot!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. So brave of you to write this. It must have been horribly hard to do and it is clearly from deep within. I hope this was like ripping off a bandage and now you can heal. We all have to deal with the fault of being human so cut yourself some slack and forgive yourself for being one. My guess is that no one is harder on you than you.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Apart from psychopaths. We can reassure ourselves that we obviously don’t have that condition.
        What’s going on? I went to reply to this comment and it disappeared. It’s not in the trash, but I have found it below my post.
        The other day you asked me how my son was doing. I replied, and then both your comment and mine disappeared. Somebody up there doesn’t want us to talk to each other.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re so right – nobody – except me – blames me, but I realised on the day we moved in together and he (for the first time) suddenly flew into a rage over something that was not my fault, that I had made a terrible mistake. Too ashamed to walk away and have everyone see what an idiot I had been, which would have been complicated anyway, I tried for years to make it work, while he abused and belittled me until I no longer knew who I was. When I left the first time it was because he wanted me to go, and he helped me to leave. In no time at all he wanted me back. It took him years to succeed – with the help of friends, and family, including my unhappy son, and then he abused me all over again.
      I’m no longer that person, but it sickens me that I once was, although I know that it was those experiences that taught me the things I now know.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Jane. even though it must have been very hard for you.
    You’re not alone. I know someone who was with a controlling, psychologically abusive partner for eighteen years. She tried to leave him a few times, but with his persuasion, always went back. When you have children with a partner, it always confuses the issue, making you try to balance what’s good for the kids with what’s good for you. She’s left him finally, but he’s still in her life, giving her stress, still trying to control, still upsetting the kids, whispering lies to them about their mother – and when she tried to sort things out legally, her solicitor tried to convince her to go back to him!
    The only shame in these relationships should be felt by the men too insensitive to realise they’ve done anything wrong- and that it made you so unhappy for so long. I’m so glad you’re happier alone. It’s the best, braver option 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Her solicitor tried to pursuade her to go back to him. I should be surprised, but I’m not.
      When my ex and I went to Relate – he obviously agreed to it because he knew he could manipulate the visits – my counsellor thought I was a silly girl and I was lucky to have him. I’ve never forgiven her. There must have been clues to the abuse.
      Nobody believed me, and I didn’t even know the most horrible thing of all,something which I learnt a few weeks after leaving him. I’d like to share it, but people could get hurt. Just think of the worst thing a person can do, and you’ll have it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m so sorry, Jane. Too awful to to say any more X
        I appreciate that some couples can work through their problems and perhaps certain people see single parenthood as more of a problem to society than troubled partnerships.
        But you’d think people working in professions such as Relate would have an instinct for sniffing through the B S, wouldn’t you? But then, some people are very good at being more than one person – all charm in public, different in private.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. These days if I meet someone who is overly charming my guard goes up. To be honest,I’m guarded with any man who takes an interest in me. Right now there are two trying to get in my face, and one of them is – wait for it – MY EX!!!!!!!!!!
          Please excuse me. I rarely use multiple exclamation marks…


          1. Not THAT ex? Good lord, doesn’t the man know when to drop it? What’s the matter with him? Must be hard to have to keep seeing him for your son’s sake, even though you’d maybe rather not. Keep fighting him off 🙂
            Hope the other guy’s more promising, though I don’t blame you if you think it’s all too much hassle. If I lost my chap, I can’t see me bothering with another. Men worry me a bit, even now. They always have and part of me is very happy with my own company now. No, the single life would be for me 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh God Jane, my mind went THERE and I am not forgiving of abusers of women or children. I’m sorry to hear that you were involved with a cruel man similar to, but worse than my ex-husband. We (females) are so quick to absorb the emotional fodder that floats around. I believe you are right we are conditioned from birth to think we are responsible for making the dolly cry or not pleasing those around us. Its a set up from birth. (Pessimistic)

        You are a survivor of adversity and abuse and you did what you thought was best at the time, sacrificing yourself in the process. You had to learn the hard way that you are more important than those around you. That does not mean that our children are not important, but they are not more important than ourselves. It took six nurses and case workers to jam it into my head that a mother cannot take care of anyone else if you can’t take care of yourself.

        I love my children, but I will never sacrifice what little I have left of myself for them. They are demanding wee creatures who can and will suck the life out of you.

        No one believed me in court and still my former friends don’t believe me now. My children are growing up and beginning to understand the position I was in. I believe in you and hope that you believe in yourself from now on. You have strength and perseverance that shines through into the dark and treacherous paths we walk leading us into the safety of the woods.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah – the woods…
          It’s horrible – lonely and frightening when nobody believes you. I bet your ex-partner is a man with tons of charm. Am I right?
          I’m glad to learn that your children are staring to see the light. It’s hard for a child to pick out the truth when surrounded by game-playing and gainsaying.
          I have a feeling that it will all turn out well for you eventually. I don’t have the feeling of dread that usually accompanies bad futures.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes. His father is a community actor and he has a lifetime of manipulating people to give him help with things. He told everyone he was a single father while I was still living with him.
            Part of the game was torturing me and moving my things around the house. He used the kids to to that. Things are changing. I just have to develop patience as I start the next leg in my journey.

            Liked by 1 person

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