A few days ago, I watched The Godfather for the umpteenth time. I’ve always loved gangster films; Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale, The Untouchables and Scarface are some of my favourite movies of all time. The blood, violence and loose morality of our anti-heroes have never bothered me – in fact, I think they’re necessary to the genre.
I watched the horse’s head scene, the restaurant scene and the Luca Brasi strangulation scene without blinking an eye as usual, but there was one scene that made me flinch this time. As Carlo whipped Connie with his belt, chased her into the bathroom and then beat her as she screamed for mercy, I started to cry. It was partly to do with the Fallen Soldier syndrome (i.e. becoming more sensitive after the loss of a loved one), but it was also caused by memories of my childhood.
I’ve alluded to the fact that I grew up in a violent household with a drug addict brother, but I’ve never really spoken about it on the blog. I don’t want to exaggerate the situation; the actual violence wasn’t frequent (depending on what you define as ‘frequent’). It possibly happened 5-6 times a year and usually to one of my less headstrong sisters who wouldn’t defend themselves as carelessly as I would. It was the weekly threats and screaming matches that were worse; the smashed plates and broken furniture when he couldn’t get a fix; the knowledge that my parents would continue to support his habit with money they couldn’t afford so he wouldn’t flare up. It was the anger at their inaction and the feeling of total instability and insecurity. It was having to lock my bedroom door every time I went to the bathroom so that my money, phone, books, shoes, clothes, underwear wouldn’t go missing, peddled for pennies or maybe a few pounds where possible.
Life is difficult in that type of situation, but I don’t think we realised the severity of what was happening. Despite having to call the police to our home several times every year, for us, it was just par for the course. It was getting up and going to school and coming home and getting through the day, and then doing it all over again. And so it went for years and years. Only now I look back and realise that it was an unacceptable environment in which to raise children. What breaks my heart is that this is happening all over Tower Hamlets. I got out. Most of my sisters did too. But my mother still spends part of her weekly state pension supporting his habit, same as mothers all over the borough; mothers who can’t or won’t let go of sons who have been hopeless for almost two decades. Perhaps that’s what mothers are meant to do. Perhaps that’s why I never want to become one.
The one thing that helped me survive was my sisters’ presence. The eldest two left home after marriage, but the three of us in the middle bore the worst years together. I was usually the one who spoke out, unable to bite the tongue that has got me into much trouble over the years, but I couldn’t have been strong without them. My youngest sister is still at home. I tell her I know how she feels, but, more than fear or anger, I know she feels abandonment. And it’s true. We all abandoned that house the first chance we got.
Today, I live alone and I’m happy. Or, at least, happier than I used to be.
The dedication in my second book says:
For my sisters, five of the strongest, most beautiful
women I know.
And I mean it. They truly are the strongest women I know. And I’m more thankful for them than anything else in my life.