June 03, 2005

The wicked witch of the West

My father left when I was thirteen years old. It wasn't a good thing to happen. It wasn't, at least, a good time to happen and it had the profound effect that such desertions have. It will, I assume, always do so, and if I am often fearful, often angry and permanently distrustful of my fellow human beings, the sudden departure of my father, all those years ago, may be as much of a reason as anything else. The feeling of being screwed up and thrown away, like an abandoned piece of paper into a waste basket, has stayed with me ever since, and brought about its own echoes, desertions small and large, repetitions of the original catastrophe.

The desertion of a father is one thing. The denial of one's children is another. Some years after he left, I found out that he had started a second family. I had two half-brothers, therefore, that I'd never known existed. But that much, I was all right with. That much I understood. Even the guilty must be allowed to get on with their lives. What I had rather greater trouble understanding was that these half-brothers did not know I existed. The existence of a previous family, my father's two sons and his daughter, had been hidden from them. We had been written out of history. We were something to be ashamed of. We were not convenient. We would get in the way. We were screwed up, and thrown in the waste basket.

It's hard to describe how devastating it is to know that your existence has been denied by your own father. I don't propose to dwell on it. I don't know that I could. I'm sure that I could not explain it to those who do not understand, and sure also that it would need no further elaboration to anybody who does understand. It is not, that said, that difficult a point to grasp. In fact, though I have mentioned it many people, the only one who has failed to understand it is my father. (I have met him twice since I found out about it. The first time, he denied that he had done any wrong. The second time, when he started to tell me it was good to see me, I replied "who the hell are you?")

The mother of these children is a woman called Sharon Bowles. An ambitious woman called Sharon Bowles. It is impossible, of course, that any decision to deny the existence of a previous wife and children could have been taken without, at very least, her consent and support. If she had thought it important that children other than her own should be acknowledged rather than abandoned, it would not have happened. If she had thought that the feelings of another mother's children mattered, it would not have happened. If she felt that anything mattered other than what suited her, it would not have happened. But it happened. And the other, despised children were devastated when they heard about it. But they were not her children, and so they didn't matter. So it happened.

She is, as I said, an ambitious woman. Private school and professional career: she also has a high opinion of herself. She has made several attempts to get herself elected, to the Westminster Parliament and the European equivalent. I cannot say, not accurately, nor with any sense of levelheadedness, how angry and how futile this makes me feel. It's not just that this is the woman for whose benefit I was consigned to history, it is that this is the career for whose benefit I was consigned to history. I am the screwed-up paper - the career is the brand-new sheet. And I am screwed up about it. Of this morning (for I have learned something, this morning) I am shattered.

The point is that if the career succeeds, then she is vindicated. If she prospers, then the route she took and the means that she selected are rewarded. By God, it fills me with rage, with hopelessness, with an inexpressible loathing. I have tried to express it. I have even tried to express it to her face. When she stood in the last Euro-elections, I went to the length, the pointless and vindictive length, of attending a hustings in Dartford just so that I could make it clear to her how much I hated her.

I asked a loaded question, wondering how the electorate could trust politicians who trod all over people in their personal lives, asking whether they would not to the same when it came to their careers. She replied, evasively, that everybody was human, even politicians, and that people who make mistakes should be allowed to get on with their lives providing they had once apologised. This was good answer. It was an answer I agreed with. But it was not just an evasive but a specious answer, since she never has apologised, not once, not ever, not a word. She has not, and he has not. Not a word.

After the meeting I confronted her in person, and told her what I thought of her, and did not do so gently in my tone or my vocabulary. I also told her that she might like to pass this on to my father, such that he might then remember who his children were. I told her this, and told her what I thought she was, and then I left, as angry afterwards as I was before, as angry then as I am angry now. But I was delighted some days later when she failed to be elected. She then failed to emerge as a candidate in the General Election last month. And I rejoiced. And I rejoiced too soon.

Because, as I found out this morning (I had been warned that it might happen, but I didn't know until today) one of her fellow Lib Dems, already an MEP was elected to Parliament, and chose, therefore, to resign his Euro-seat. The rules state that when this happens, the seat should be taken up by the candidate of the same party who was next on the party list for that consitituency. That unelected candidate was Sharon Bowles.

So, without even being elected, without even having done anything to serve it, my stepmother, my Wicked Stepmother, has been achieved the pinnacle of her career. Has been appointed, not even elected, but appointed to the European Parliament. She has got everything she wanted, and all her ego, all her arrogance, all her callousness - to the eyes of a deserted son, all her wickedness has been rewarded. And I feel cheated. I feel, today, today, once again, like the screwed up paper in the basket. I feel again, once again, like the thirteen-year-old boy deserted by his father, bewildered, lost, unable to understand anything that has happened - except (as children feel, as children always feel) that it must have been his fault.


At June 03, 2005 3:40 pm, Anonymous Sean said...

My father died in 1982. I was six years old when I saw him collapse and die. The panic attacks, the chest pains and the depression that began in my teenage years can be traced back to that day. I still carry that image around with me and I deal with the repercusions of that day continually. I shun crowds, fear rejection and take disloyalty like a wrecking ball to a crumbling building.

He would be 86 this year. He had been married before, to a devoutly catholic woman he had met when he lived in Ireland. They had three children. I have two half-sisters and brother - it seems odd to say it. I have never met them. I'm not sure what I would say to them if I ever did meet them. She taught his children to spit on him in the street, such was the anger and revulsion she felt towards him. I guess forgiveness doesn't come easily to those who bask in the self-righteousness of their faith. Two years ago I travelled to see an elderly aunt. I wanted to know more about my father, more than the faded memories I have and more than the six years together that my mother could tell me about. Whilst I was there, unbeknown to me, my aunt called his first wife, now also in her eighties. She refused to speak to me.

My partner went through a similar experience to you. Her father left one evening when she was thirteen. He would return, in the weeks and months later, to place notes through the door denouncing his three children as the spawn of the devil. As far as he was concerned, he wrote, he had no children and he never wanted to see them again. Michele's mother, driven to several suicide attempts in the years that followed, blamed her for his departure. A breakdown and years of counselling followed, as Michele battled with the immense feelings of guilt that threatened to overcome her. Seventeen years on, Michele still does not have relations with her family. The issue is still raw. She hasn't seen them in years.

I shall find out the address of the library you work in. A pack of small cakes dusted with hundreds and thousands, as requested elsewhere, will be on their way to you, along with a card expressing my wish that you find happiness Justin, and also thanking you for helping me to understand the world better. I make sure to follow the links you post, to attempt to get my brain around the arguments you make and to read about the culture you mention. I will never be able to look at a Swiss Roll in the same way again. For what it is worth, I hope you manage to take something from your upcoming trip to colder climes and have something approaching what they call 'a happy birthday'.

Your writing is a constant source of fascination; by turns intellectually stimulating and at times heart rending. I read it every day, if only to weep silently when I realise that I will never, even if I lived to be a thousand, be able to write like you do.

Kindest regards, and say hello to the cats for me...


At June 03, 2005 4:36 pm, Blogger Fist said...

I had a difficult childhood too, in somewhat different ways; I do hope you come to terms with it all Justin.

At June 03, 2005 6:58 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday I got a desperate call from my sister-in-law to say her husband is having an affair and wants to leave her after 13 years for a younger woman at his work.
She is in turmoil for herself and her child.
She seems to partly blame herself which is illogical to me.
Your situation as a child was out of your hands completely. It was also not your fault you had a weak and selfish father.
I prefer to find satisfaction that there will be punishment and reward in the after-life. Otherwise it is hard to make sense of today.
Meanwhile it might be fun to plot some way of trying to ruin your father's current wife's career.....

At June 04, 2005 3:15 am, Anonymous martin togher said...

blimey, that is powerful stuff. I can't imagine how you feel as my dad never left my mum, and at 40, my parents are still together. I'm not sure if i have the rage within me, that you undoubtedly have.

At June 05, 2005 3:26 pm, Anonymous David Duff said...

Normally I have far too many words to unload into 'Comments' boxes on blogs, but your post leaves me .... wordless. Try, if you can, to dominate your rage rather then letting it dominate you, other than that, my very sincere good wishes.

At June 07, 2005 10:55 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a sad story Justin. I hope you feel better about this soon and are able to move on.

I'm not sure the European Parliament's all it's cracked up to be anyway- the wicked stepmother will have to endure many hours of numbing tedium debating such things as supplementary central funding for road signiage in Latvia. No political institution is so successful in making those elected to it so insignificant- and no electorater more hostile or indifferent to Euro MPs they studiedly ignore than the English.

A career in politics almost always ends in bitterness, loneliness, personal frustration and failure. Doubly so when the career is in European politics.

At June 09, 2005 1:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have known Sharon Bowles for a long time - she is one of the warmest and most kind hearted people I know.

At July 16, 2005 9:24 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother held me in her arms and we watched in silence as the taxi carrying my father disappeared round a bend in the road. For years, I would climb out of my bed and lie down across the doorway of her bedroom as she slept so she could not leave me too. For 36 years he has returned every christmas and shown up on my doorstep as if nothing happened. I want to pound his chest with my fists and scream at him about the pain and hurt and shame and fear which has underscored my life because of that taxi journey. Instead, I let him buy me a meal, nod politely at his New York stories and try not to notice that his hands look just like mine.

At March 18, 2008 11:10 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin, like everyone says, this was no way your fault. I am sorry you have been made so angry and miserable. Although I do not know you, I read you a lot, and I admire what I read, and I value it enormously (which is why I was so glad to see this blog back, and commented when it returned - "hurrah"). Be kind to yourself. And remember; "if you wait by the river long enough, the body of your enemy will float past".

At March 18, 2008 11:47 am, Blogger ejh said...

As it happens the photo of my enemy was in the last Private Eye I saw, which isn't quite the same thing..

At March 25, 2008 8:56 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, yes, fair enough. There's a sarcastic Polish proverb, similar only in form, which says "if you sit in the street with your mouth open, then eventually someone will put roast duck in it".

And besides, there are presumably people waiting by rivers for *our* bodies to float past...


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