I doubt I will ever forget the day my Mother and Step-Father at the time, decided my Auntie Deb who suffered Downs Syndrome should be removed from her abusive home life with her Father and Step Mother to come and live happily ever after with us, in the safety of our non abusive home. What a joke.
I remember very clearly her being sat down and made to record a message to my Grandfather, telling him she was over 18 and could make her own decisions. That decision being to leave. According to my Mother, Deb had nothing but a crappy busted up bed with springs sticking out of it, was made to eat her dinner separately from the rest of the family and whose clothes were always soaked in urine, particularly her slippers. This is a mantra she would repeat many times. Especially when questioning her own ability to care for Deb herself. But I will come on to that.
I don’t know the ins and outs, if this decision was fought by her Father or not as i was very young, but she was allowed to come and live with us. We were in a 3 bedroom house at the time, myself, my older sister, Mother and Step Father, also my brother who had moved out stayed with us a lot. As i was the youngest I had to share a room with Auntie Deb. Again I don’t remember a great deal about this time, however i will never forget her snoring. I still to this day can not sleep with a snorer in the vicinity. But that is the only real negative memory I have of sharing with her.
I won’t say her life didn’t improve at all by living with us. She was certainly fed and clothed better and was treated as one of the family. So much so she began to call my Mother (her sister) Mum. Due to her lack of previous care, Deb had very few teeth left, they had all rotted away. The story I am about to tell horrified and confused me for a long time. So much so that fairly recently I contacted my Mother’s ex husband to make sure I had what i remembered straight. This is what i remember…
There was a party going on….there were a lot of parties in my household. My brother had these disco lights that changed to the sound of a beat and i remember that flashing away. Everyone as usual was drunk and somehow the discussion of Deb’s teeth came up. I have a very clear visual image of Deb being held down and her teeth being removed with pliers. I certainly vividly remember her face after the ordeal. She looked as if she was about to pass out. As an adult now, having had issues with my own teeth and having had several removed, I am more than familiar with the pain afterwards. However, I had the luxury of being anaesthetised during the procedures. Deb did not.
I broke away from my family several years ago and was on a very deep soul searching mission trying to make sense of everything, including this memory, hence me reaching out to my mother’s ex husband. He had no current ties to my family and so i contacted him through Facebook to ask about my recollection. I was aware both due to memories and my Mother’s account of their marriage that he was an alcoholic at the time. He never did anything directly to me as far as i can recall, there was just a lot of stress, drama and arguments. He was very forthcoming about his alcoholism and seemed very regretful. His version of events of that evening, which I have in black and white, was that Deb only had one tooth left that was on the verge of falling out. He insists that a piece of string and the door was used to remove the tooth and that it came out easily. Apparently, the pliers were “a joke”. But i remember talking to my mother when in my early twenties about it and saying “Remember when he (Step Father) pulled Deb’s teeth out with pliers?” Her response was a simple “I know, terrible.”
Anyway. A few months later I contacted my mother having worked through a lot of the bad memories and feelings from my past, only to tell her I forgave her and that I needed to do so to move on. That whilst she was a weak woman riddled with faults that she never directly abused me and that my hate for her and the rest of my family was eating me up. Her response reminded me that during the time I had contacted her ex (which as far as I know she is unaware of), I had also contacted an old family friend who stayed with us a lot during the time in question. He had a few years previously told me he had broken away from our family because of “all the drama” so I had hoped he could help fill in more blanks. I had been drinking at the time and i referred to my family as sick people. I never had a response from him and now i know why. He went directly to my mother.
My mother’s response to my message forgiving her was to start going off on one about me contacting said friend and saying they were sick. INSISTING that I had made the entire thing up and that “Deb had all her teeth removed at the dentist while she sat there and held her hand” Aaaaaw right? Nope, too late, I already have it in black and white that at least part of what i remembered at such a young age is accurate.
There were other ways in which she was treated badly, often being the butt of their jokes. Every party they would let her get drunk and do a strip tease for us. They would give her toffees so that her false teeth would stick together and fall out of her head. I am thoroughly ashamed to say this rubbed off on me. Once when i was about 10, I was left alone to look after her and had a friend round. We were messing around with Tabasco sauce, putting drops on our tongue and decided it would be funny to put a few drops on Deb’s false teeth. At the time, her fanning her mouth and panicking seemed amusing. I look back on it now and cringe with horror that i did that to her.
During her first few years with us, we relocated to a larger house, 4 bedrooms. Not long after being in the new house, my Mother left her husband. Very quickly after that she met the man who would become her fourth husband. I won’t go too much in to him in this post as it’s a whole post in itself, maybe even a few, so for now I will just stick to his role in Deb’s story. He became our “New dad” very quickly and was given responsibility for the discipline in the house, something I had previously had very little of, but again, i will come on to my story with him another time. He has two sons, both older, so our family expanded greatly in what was a very short time span.
Eventually we moved to a house out in the country, a very isolated little village that didn’t even have lamp posts. The house was beautiful and came with an old barn that was used as a garage and a large insulated shed. The barn had an outdoor toilet built in to the side of it. Inside the house we had a huge bathroom AND a spare toilet. This is important for later. The bungalow only had 3 bedrooms and at the time living “at home” was just myself, my two step brothers and Deb. I had the smallest room, one step brother had the one next to mine and the insulated shed was converted in to a bed room for the other brother. Our living room was massive so my step father added a fourth bedroom, more like a cupboard, for Deb.
The general teasing continued to everyone’s amusement. The strip teases, the drinking, hiding her false teeth etc. Eventually my half brother’s relationship broke down and he also moved in with us, sharing the room next to mine with my step brother. One night the lads came in very drunk and decided it would be funny to barricade Deb in her room using every item of furniture they could get their hands on, even the toaster. Everyone, including myself at the time, thought it was hilarious and that story would be told many times after the fact. But Deb had health issues,one of which was in the toilet area. She struggled to hold it in, she was constantly peeing on herself and had been panicked that morning because she couldn’t get out. Again I look back and wonder how she felt and feel sick about it all.
The toilet issues got worse as her health did. My mother who liked a very clean house was not happy with this as there was constantly excrement all over the small toilet which had been allocated for Deb’s use. I admit, it was disgusting and smelt awful, but surely that comes with the responsibility of caring for an ageing lady with downs syndrome. Because of this Deb was then forced to use the outside toilet. Even in the freezing cold winters. She would have to get up and get fully kitted in her slippers and dressing gown before trundling outside across the courtyard to do her business. Even then she was constantly shouted at for the mess she made by my step father.
This went on for years and as i got older my mother began opening up to me about it to me. We had so many conversations in which I would suggest perhaps it was time for her to be moved in to residential care. Originally my mother would claim that she didn’t want to upset her life again, move her away from her family, but eventually the real reason seeped through. I wasn’t aware until it did, that my mother received a carers allowance for Deb which was quite significant. She was concerned about losing the income.
After many years of chewing this over and the home situation becoming worse and worse, Deb was moved to a residential home. It was not long after that, that she sadly passed away.
So, whilst in many ways (if we are to fully believe my mother’s story of her life with her father) her life improved by being with us, I cant help but think that her entire life was miserable in one way shape or form. That she still must have felt very confused, alone, isolated and at times terrified of everyone around her. But what gets me the most, is that my Mother let it go on for as long as she did for the sake of money. She fully took advantage of Deb’s vulnerability and needs for her own purposes and played the hero to the outside world.
Believe me when I say, forgiving my Mother was a hard road.