Ashley’s parents arrived in Leeds for the weekend, but would be staying elsewhere at a friend’s house. They, of course, were welcomed with open arms. It frustrated me how Ash allowed his mother to cook meals for us, clean the house and do a big supermarket food shop for us even though he denied my mum of doing the same. Never the less, I put on my happy persona, was welcoming and friendly. Ash’s dad helped him cut a new piece of wood to replace the broken slat on the cot and then they put it all together in Summer’s nursery. It looked as good as new. It was only a short visit and they left Sunday lunch-time. Before they finally left to return home to Cornwall, his mum pulled me to one side.
“It’s been lovely seeing you and seeing Summer but we just want to apologise.. About what was said when you was pregnant… About you getting an abortion…” She said looking at me.
“And I just want to apologise on the behalf of his dad, too. After seeing her, he weelled up with tears and felt really bad for what got said before. It was wrong of us, but at the time, emotions were running high and.. you know… So I just wanted to let you know he’s sorry, okay? We feel terrible.”
I didn’t really know what to say but I accepted the apology. I couldn’t see why he couldn’t apologise to me himself, but he was a very proud man. I was just glad they felt some guilt for the horrible things that were said.
“Your mum and dad apologised.” I said to Ash after his parents left.
“Oh.” He said pulling a face. “For what?”
“For what they said when I was pregnant. About me getting an abortion and that.”
“Fair enough. Not like they needed to , like. It was fair what they said, it was their opinion. But they’re like that, my parents, they’ll apologise anyway.”
I rolled my eyes and avoided any arguments. I was just happy to relax whilst Summer napped.
By six weeks old Summer had slept through the night. It was also my first full nights sleep in a little while, although unfortunately it was to be a one-off. I started to get to grips more with motherhood and created a bedtime routine for her, to try and get her more settled before bed and give her more chance of sleeping through. Even though I was constantly shattered and fatigued, I began to love motherhood more and more, yet felt further and further away from what I used to be.
To be a mother I felt like I must be ‘mumsy’. I cut my long hair in favour of a bob, my wardrobe was less and less Topshop and Miss Selfridge and more and more Next and M&S. I wore less make-up, sometimes not even wearing any at all. I barely recognised myself, but I felt that’s what I had to do. Being a teen mum, I was desperate not to be stereotyped. I wanted people to take me serious, no different from other parents. I felt that the image overhaul was necessary.
We spent our first Christmas together as a three-some and I loved it. Summer sported baby grows saying ‘My first Xmas’ and ‘Santa’s little helper’. She even had a Rudolph bib that sang ‘Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer’ whenever you pressed the nose. Ash bought a real Christmas tree; it was beautiful and gave the house such a homely feel. He cooked a huge Christmas dinner for us with all the trimmings as well as champagne. Money was tight but he’d still bought me a fluffy night robe, slippers and a hat and scalf.
“Aww.” I said as I opened my gifts. “I love it!” I smiled as I unwrapped my pink night robe. “It’s even got a hood, just like I wanted. Im going to put it on now.”
“I knew you’d like it. I was going to get you one I’d seen in M&S, but it didn’t have a hood.” He smiled.
“I love it, thank you. Look, Summer.” I said as I looked down at her lying under the Christmas tree, touching a bauble. “Look at mummy’s presents, isn’t daddy kind?”
We had a lovely Christmas. We stayed in our pyjamas all day and ate our dinner as Summer slept. It was so relaxing and nice to spend time together as a family.
It was in the new year of 2008 when everything changed. I was 19 and Summer was only a few months old when life took a road I could never have predicted.
I was quite used to Ash coming home from work a lot during the day or coming home early. He was a heating engineer and between jobs he’d come home for breakfast or lunch or a cup of tea. But one morning he returned home early from work and it wasn’t for a brew.
“I’ve been fired!”
“What!” I exclaimed as my jaw dropped.
“They’ve layed us off.” He said walking in with his work partner.
“But, why?” I said dazzled.
“Just some bullshit reason. They just don’t like us, never have.” He said angrily.
“But…but… What did they say?”
“Apparently we made one mistake with some radiators, but it wasn’t even our mistake.” He said walking to the kitchen and telling me the reasons why they’d been fired.
“What we going to do?” I said panicking. “We’ve got a mortgage to pay.”
“Exactly.” He said. “They know we’ve just had a baby. I told him I’ve got a family to feed but they don’t care.”
I began to feel angry with his employer – how dare he. Although I would later find out that not all was as it seemed.
“I don’t believe it.” I said. “It couldn’t happen at a worse time, it’s not as if I can go back to work even,”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Since I’d known him (which at the time was two years) he’d been through five jobs. And he’d either been made redundant or been fired. He was so unreliable when it came to work. He had been lucky his work pal had stuck with him, as he had a driver’s licence and Ash didn’t; so he relied on him. But this time, he wouldn’t stick with him, and we’d be left in a difficult position.
I did think that one benefit of him losing his job would be we’d get to spend some quality time together as a family. But it wasn’t quite like that. He was reluctant to sign on for job seeker’s allowance at first, because of his pride, but we had a mortgage to pay and food to buy and were living off my tiny amount of maternity allowance. My parents and his, both urged him to sign on, as they said they’d spent years and years paying tax and felt we deserved to see some of that money.
Nobody seemed to want to hire a plumber without a driver’s licence – it held him back. After an initial few knock backs, he just gave up. My mum would ring everyday to see how things were going.
“How’s the job hunt going?”
“Not good.” I said feeling glum. “Still nothing.”
“I know he’s finding it difficult to find a plumbing job but how about just any job he can get? You need money and he’s got a family that needs providing for, he should be looking for anything.”
“Yeah, but he won’t.”
“Because he thinks he’s above all these other jobs that are vacant.”
“Well, pride shouldn’t stand in the way when you have a family to provide for. Pride before a fall.” My mum said sternly.
“I know.” I sighed. “But what can I do? I can’t make him.”
“And how are you doing for money?” Mum asked.
“Not good.” I said. “His mum and dad had to help us out with the last mortgage repayment because we couldn’t afford it and we keep paying for everything on my credit card.”
“You don’t want to be racking up debt.”
“I have no choice.” I said twiddling with zip on my hoodie.
“I’ll put some money in your bank account to get some food shopping with.” Mum said.
“Thank you mum.” I sighed. “I appreciate it.”
“I know you do, Darling. I don’t want that granddaughter of mine going hungry do I? We’ll help out however we can. We can keep paying for your food shopping for now.”
“Thank you mum.” I said again.
“But he really needs to get a job.” Mum insisted.
After a few weeks of looking, he’d pretty much given up. He wanted a job to land at his feet. I tried to help, looked for jobs with him, encouraged him to look elsewhere, but it was no good. Instead, he’d spend his days stuck on the Xbox. An average day would include this: me going out to Tesco in the morning, buy food and half an ounce of blue Old Holburn tobacco (im sure the staff in there thought I was a serious smoker), come home, cook him breakfast, watch him play the Xbox, have lunch together, watch some TV together, watch him play Xbox, take him to Blockbusters to exchange a game for a new game, come home, eat dinner and go to bed. It was depressing. Sometimes, his friend would come over and I liked that as it was nice to have someone different around, but then they’d just sit in the kitchen, on the stools and smoke weed. Sometimes my friends would drop in, but they were all so busy with jobs or university, that it wasn’t always possible to see them all the time.
He came up with a stupid idea of becoming a drug dealer. But there was just no way on Earth I would have stood for that. Once, when I was pregnant, he planted some seeds he found in a bag of weed. He put the plant pot on the kitchen window sill, and to my surprise, it actually grew. It also stank the whole house out! He eventually gave it away to one of his dealers, as he knew it would die unless it had the proper treatment. We even toyed with the idea of me going back to work at Topshop full-time, but no matter how much we needed the money, Summer needed me more.
Finally, after eventually getting bored with the Xbox, and racking up a substantial amount of debt, he got offered a job. He had reluctantly applied for a job as a chef. He loved cooking and was good at it and so with a bit of persuasion, he came around to the idea. I drove him to the interview and he came out to tell me he had the job – brilliant! But he never started…
“I’ve been speaking to mum and dad.” He said, sitting on his stool by the patio door, smoking a joint.
“Oh, right.” I said.
“They’ve come up with an idea.” He said looking at me.
“Okay…What is it?” I said inquisitively.
“We move to Newquay.”
“What?!” I exclaimed. “Are you joking? How will that help?
“No, hear me out.” He said. “Mum and dad have got friends down there who are plumbers and apparently there is a real shortage of decent plumbers down there but plenty of work. One of them said that with my qualifications he’d hire me tomorrow.”
“Okay…” I said wide-eyed. “But what about our life here?”
“They said we could just go down for three months, give it a trial.” He said with a smile. “Then, if it doesn’t work and we don’t like it, we could come home. Or, if we love it, we stay. But at least I have a guaranteed job down there and we can pay the mortgage and not lose the house.”
“But you’ve been offered the chef job…”
“I’ve been talking to mum and dad about it and it just doesn’t pay enough.”
“But for the meantime…”
“I might not be able to find another plumbing job without my driving licence up here. But they know someone who will take me on straight away.”
“But this is home.” I said pointing to the table beneath me. “Here. Leeds. This is home.”
“What’s so good about Leeds? Cornwall is awesome. Imagine living by the beach, by the sea, and Summer being a beach baby. She’d have a right life! Mum says she sees all the school kids come home from school then go straight back out again with their surfboards and bodyboards, I wish I could have done that as a kid.”
“I’m not denying it’s a pretty place but, do I want to live there? No, I don’t think I do.”
“Oh come on, think about it, it could be a fresh start.”
“But all my friends are here.” I said.
“You’ll make new friends. You’ll make better ones, ones you’ll have something in common with, other mums.”
“I don’t want new friends.” I said stubbornly. “I like the ones I have.”
“Really? Well where are they now? Where have they been recently?”
“They’ve been here.”
“Have they? I think ever since you’ve had Summer they’ve barely been around. They don’t care anymore.”
“That’s not true.” I said. “They’re just busy…”
“Too busy or maybe they realise you have nothing in common anymore. They’re all immature, Kat, you’re not. They just wanna go out clubbing, get pissed, pick up lads and prat about.”
“Maybe I’d like to go out once in a while.”
“Pfft! I don’t think so! You’re a mum now. You want to go out and act like a little girl like them? So you can go out and pull and cheat on me?”
“I wouldn’t be going out to cheat, Ash.” I said frowning.
“That’s the only reason anyone goes out. I don’t go out anymore.”
“That’s your choice. Wouldn’t mind if you did.” I said, swivelling on my stool.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to!” He said angrily. “And neither should you! You’re a mum now, start acting like one.”
“I am!” I argued.
“Don’t say stupid things like that then.” He said as he got up to close the door after finishing his joint.
“And what about you? When are you going to give up that?” I said nodding to the cannabis sat on the table.”
“Oh here we go.” He said sitting back down. “You have to turn everything into an argument about weed.”
“Well you said you’d give it up before Summer was born, she’s now four months old!”
“That’s why we need to move to Newquay!” He said “Because I just can’t quit up here.”
“So you are addicted then?” I said, knowingly.
“I’m NOT addicted!” He said raising his voice.”It’s just more difficult. If we’re in Newquay then I’ll have to quit, I can’t be smoking it under mum and dad’s roof can I? Plus, I won’t know any dealers down there.”
I thought about it for a moment. I was desperate for him to stop smoking weed. Cannabis took over our lives and controlled everything. If he ran out, we would have to drive to wherever he could get his hands on it, right away. It didn’t matter what time it was of what he had planned, we had to go get it. If Summer was asleep in her cot, id have to wake her just to put her in the car. Just before he lost his job he made friends with a new dealer. He’d met her through work when fitting a boiler in her flat. She lived in a rundown area of Headingley. It would be a good hour round trip in rush hour, if not more and I hated driving there. Sometimes, Summer would be crying n her car seat because she had missed a feed, or simply wanted attention but I was driving and couldn’t soothe her. I’d try talking or singing to her but Ash would just blast the radio out full volume just to drowned out the sound. He just found it irritating and would sometimes shout at her to ‘shut up’ and play the radio until she cried herself to sleep. I hated how this drug controlled her life too.
If he stopped the weed them maybe he’d lose the paranoia, the mood swings and the dependence. Maybe we could have a fresh start, start over again. Living in the same home as his mum and dad may just help. Maybe finally, someone would see how he was treating me, Summer and see his addiction and help him.
“I’ll think about it.” I said standing up. “But this is home, I will never feel that way about anywhere else.”
I sat down in the lounge and flicked the T.V on. I just couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. We’d visited his family in Newquay a couple of times and it was nice; I liked it. But I never considered living there, even though his parents had mentioned it to us plenty of times. When my mum had talked about moving down south for my step-dads job, I had point-blank refused, citing reasons such as not wanting to leave my friends behind and the places I knew. When mum finally did move down south, she asked me to come with them but I still refused, saying I would never leave Leeds behind. I still felt that way.
We went upstairs and got into bed, still discussing the idea.
“I reckon you’d love it, Kat. We could have a fresh start together as a family.”
“But I’m happy in Leeds.” I said. “I don’t even know anyone in Newquay.”
“You know my mum and dad, and me and Summer would be there of course. Just think, I could get Summer a little wet suit when she’s older and she could be a surfer girl.” He smiled.
“What if…” I said, thinking. “You went to Newquay, got the job and we saved the house by keeping up with the mortgage. But I stayed here?”
“No.” He said shaking his head. “No, we stick together. I’m not living like that.”
“But I could look after the house, just until you get enough money together then you could move back up..”
“What? So you can invite lads around here and go out town with your little girly friends and cheat on me?”
“No! Of course not.”
“They wouldn’t look twice at you anyway.” He said turning his back on me.
“What do you mean?” I said angrily.
“Kat, if you ever left me no man would ever look twice at you.”
“Yes, they would.” I said adamantly.
”No they wouldn’t” He said turning back around. “Stretch-mark Sue.” He said pointing his finger to my tummy. “Trust me, no-one will want you.”
“Yes, they WOULD!” I said looking at him.
“Good luck with that then.” He laughed. “Besides, if you ever left me, I’d just bump you off.”
“What!” I said in horror.
“I’d just find a cliff to push you off, straight into the sea, no-one would ever know.”
“How can you say that! Are you being serious?”
“Do you really think I’d just let you leave me and go off with another man? With my daughter?”
“You’d get caught, Ash! You’d get locked up!”
“I’d pay someone else to do it.” He said up-straight. “There are ways and means. No one would find out.”
“You know what?” I said sitting up. “Maybe me and Summer are better off without you! Why would I want to live with a complete psychopath!?”
“Ha! You and Summer? Nah. I’d make sure I got custody of Summer.”
“They always give custody to the mothers.” I said, arms folded looking at him.
“Not when I tell them you’re a bad mother, and you abuse her.”
“What?” I said, as I felt tears gathering in my eyes. “You’d say that? You’d ACTUALLY say that?”
“If that’s what it took to get Summer.”
“But it’s not true! They’d never believe you.”
“I could make up the evidence.” He said bluntly. “Just face it, it’s not really worth leaving me.”
“You’re so nasty.” I cried. “You’re a fucking animal! I would never ever hurt Summer! Never! I absolutely love her. How could you ever say things like that.”
“Well, don’t ever say your going to leave me then!” He shouted. “You selfish cow.”
I layed back down and put my hands over my face and tried to stop the tears but I couldn’t. We layed their in silence until eventually he asked me to ‘stop crying for attention’ as he couldn’t sleep. I lay there awake for a while and eventually calmed myself down. I stroked my hand over my bare stomach and felt the indents of my stretch marks. They felt like a Braille version of the map of the London Underground. I was trapped. I was desperately unhappy but felt I had nowhere to turn. “No man would ever look twice at me, would they.” I said to myself. “It’s either this, or nothing at all.”
The next day, we barely spoke. In the evening, he went out to play football with his friends and I turned the computer on to check my emails. I signed into my hotmail account and then decided to have a quick nosey at my old MySpace account. As I did, my brother popped up on MSN chat.
“Hey bro, how are you?”
“I’m very well thank you And yourself?”
“I’m okay, thanks.”
“And how’s my little niece?”
“She’s great. She says ‘Hi’ too.” I wrote.
“Wow, speaking already?” My brother replied playfully?
“Oh, shut up.” I replied.
“What you up to?” He asked.
“Ash has gone to football so I’m just browsing online. Looking on MySpace.”
“You should sign up to Facebook. That’s where all the cool kids hang out ” He said, sending me a link to Facebook.
I had a quick look at it. “Maybe I will.”
I signed up to Facebook and created a profile. Ash didn’t like me using social media and had banned me from using MySpace, hence why I only looked at it when he went out. But maybe he’d be okay with Facebook, it seemed more ‘grown up’.
As I looked at my new profile, I wished I didn’t have to do all this in secret. Why was he so controlling? Why didn’t he just trust me? I opened up a new window and typed in the web address for Google. In the search bar I wrote: “Am I in an unhealthy relationship?” And pressed the return key. I clicked on one of the first pages to come up and on there was a 10 question quiz to answer if you were in an unhealthy relationship or not. I answered the questions and one by one felt like every question was just aimed at me. At the end of the quiz it told me what I should have already known – “you are in an unhealthy relationship”. I quickly deleted my search from the Internet history, along with MySpace and Facebook and turned off the computer before he caught me. I tried to tell myself it was a silly little quiz and meant nothing, but deep down, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The sad thing was, I believed everything he said about me.
The next sad thing was, I was too scared and ashamed to tell anybody.
The most sad thing was, things weren’t going to get any better anytime soon.