Lucy's Story
She would of been a better person if she had left
My father came from a very well-to-do family. He never laid a hand on my mother, but he abused her in every other way he could, including financially and emotionally. He was an alcoholic – as was she – and a gambler.

They lost a child after I was born and then my mother became obese. She said it was because of going on the pill, but I think it was partly a way of punishing my father. She was very intelligent and artistic but she didn’t do anything. She didn’t do any housework, and outside was the male equivalent because my father didn’t do anything either.

My father was a plumber so he made good money, but it was “half for me, half for you – and you take care of everything”. My mother couldn’t take care of everything with that amount of money although she also made money from hobby things.

I know she wanted to leave Dad. For years she saw a shrink who told her to. But it was a big thing back then to leave a marriage, and she didn’t have the confidence, partly because of her obesity I think. She would have been a better person if she had left. Instead, she spent her whole life being unhappy and taking it out on us kids. She tried to make me hate my father by telling me adult things – what a bad husband he was, how greedy he was with the money and how unhappy she was.

I loved my father. He never hurt me. He did give me two hidings but only because my mother told him to. He had quite a few clues on kids but he didn’t have much to do with us because he was out being a man, going to work, and in the weekends going out drinking and playing cricket. I have a letter he wrote to me when I was three, when my mother was in hospital and I was staying with my grandmother. It says, “Read this to Lucy and tell me what she thinks” on the top, and it starts: “To my darling baby, When are you coming home to be with your Daddy? He misses his baby”. He wrote it to a three-year-old level, which a lot of men would have difficulty doing.

My mother made me her slave. The housework became my job when I was very young, even though my mother was at home all day. I had to do the washing – even though I had to stand on a chair to put it through the wringer.

I was not allowed to be further away from my mother than she could yell. If I was, I’d get a hiding for not being there. She’d shout for me because her hands felt sticky, and I’d have to get a facecloth and a towel and wipe them. Or she’d call out for three yellow pills and two pink ones; she was a prescription drug freak and took six lots of pills a day.

Because life was so horrible I used to lock myself in my mother’s wardrobe and bang my head with her sharp stiletto heels – trying to kill myself.

I couldn’t work out why the family didn’t stop her treating me the way she did. I finally realised that she only did it when nobody else was around. She picked the time, the place and the person, and that’s how she got away with it.

I never thought of telling anyone. I was too scared. In talking with young people in the youth groups I work with now, I find that children who have these things happening at home tend to silently mix together without actually talking about it.

The only person who did know was my Aunty Maureen, who was married to Mum’s little brother. She was my saving grace and her house was a haven for me. I used to go and stay with her in the weekends. She knew and acknowledged what was going on for me. She told me she’d try to have me at her place as much as she could. She was a lovely role model for me with her three kids, and I started thinking then of what I would, and would not, do with my children.

School was a nightmare for me. I’d get out of bed in the morning and try to sneak out of the house as quietly as I could so that my mother couldn’t attack me, because otherwise I’d go to school crying – which was so embarrassing.

I went through my school life shell-shocked. I was too preoccupied all day, wondering what I was going to get a hiding for that night, to be able to learn anything. It didn’t matter what I did, there’d be a hiding for something.

We didn’t do homework at our place. Mum was well educated for a woman then, and I think she worked in accountancy before she got pregnant. She had encyclopaedias and books, and she loved being a know-all, but there was no emphasis on our education. I’m doing my social work diploma now, but I didn’t find out I had brains until after I started working at the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project (HAIP).

I never invited anyone home, partly because it was such an embarrassing mess, but also because I never knew if Mum was going to attack me when my friends were there. She could be charming. She had some lifelong friends who had daughters, and she became a sort of guru to some of them. They’d come to her for advice, and after she died they wrote me letters saying how wise and knowledgeable she’d been. But I didn’t learn anything from her – nothing about cooking or knitting or the hobbies that she had.