I have heard along the years that if you have had a troubled childhood or teenage you should write about it (like if your parents had a divorce or I don't know). My parents actually got divorced and my Dad lived hundreds of miles away from me for 10 years and he almost didn't care about me anymore but really that is not my major problem so far.
When I was 16, almost 17 my boyfriend practically died in my arms and I spent the next year almost isolated and studying all the time. That is all I am going to say about it. Now, should I mention such a thing in the essay or not? I have always sworn to myself I wouldn't because I have no intentions at all to use his death as a means to get accepted or anything, but sometimes when I am asked to write about me and my life, it inevitably comes to my mind and... I don't know.
I guess it depends on how you look at it. If I do write, it will not sound like I want to be pitied at all because I am a strong person, I never gave up the fight and eventually fully recovered and this will probably show in the essay.
What do you think?
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A cruel choice
Our mother took the three of us to Italy without Dad when I was 13. We stayed in a hotel with full board and went to the beach every day. It was quite wonderful and I don’t remember asking why Dad had not come. One day at lunch, we were sitting at a table, my younger brother and sister on either side of Mum and me opposite. She told us they were getting divorced: Dad was moving out to be with his new girlfriend and would probably want to take one of us to live with them.
My little brother put his hand on Mum’s arm and said: “Not me. I want to stay with you.”
My sister put her hand on Mum’s other arm and said: “He can’t have me, I am staying with you, too.”
Then all three silently looked at me. I felt for a horrid moment that they all hated me. But I was certain that Dad liked me a lot less than the other two. So I said: “Well, me, he won’t want.”
I wonder how my mother felt at that moment. We never talked about it again. In the end, he took none of us but he did take the dog, which hurt all of us kids the most.
Dance of freedom
My mother could have gone to university. She was a working-class London grammar school child and an avid reader. She loved rock music and was considered born out of her time. She got pregnant, aged 18, with me and married hurriedly in 1958. To her young eyes, my father had the look of Marlon Brando. “He was silent and broody and could look after himself,” she said. She was a romantic then.
My father drank and gambled. He used his wife as a punch bag. He burnt her records on the coal fire. She hid books under the settee cushions. We “begged” potatoes from the next door neighbours. They were bemused but generous.
I was 10 years old, one of six, and my youngest sibling was one. I came home from school one day and was met by my mother at the kitchen door. “I’m divorcing your father,” she said. She explained what this meant. Like a bird in first flight I was lifted up but without moving. We had a spontaneous dance around the kitchen. I still had my coat on. It was one of the highs of my childhood and family life.
I still see the pebble-effect vinyl on the kitchen floor when I remember. It was all, O Blessed Mother Mary, a welcome release.
All for the best
My parents split up when I was 10. I was getting ready for bed when they told me that they needed to talk to me. They said that they were separating, and that Dad would be moving out. I burst into tears, though I had expected this. It was the thought of our family splitting up that scared me. My dad moved into the spare bedroom for six months, then got an apartment. At times, I worried that he might stop visiting us and I cried for many nights, feeling so sad thinking about him alone in his apartment. But everything was more peaceful.
I felt relieved that their loud arguments wouldn’t happen any more. Ten years on, I’m so glad they were brave enough to make that decision. So many couples say that they stayed together for the sake of their children, but I think my parents’ separation made us all happier. By being true to themselves, they were proving their strength as parents. They knew that what they were doing was for the best. Now they can have amiable conversations and can reminisce fondly about the good times. It was the best decision for the family.
Milly Burke Cunningham
Birthday to remember
It was at my 11th birthday party in 1946. My mother had made the usual glorious cake and sandwiches. I had just passed the exams for grammar school and was enjoying my presents: a tennis racquet, school blazer and matching set of Conway Stewart pens together with a bunch of pink carnations and blue cornflowers.
My friends were waiting to light the candles on my birthday cake when, in the background, I heard an argument between my mother and father and my father’s friend.
He pushed my mother, I said, “Dad, don’t do that,” and he turned and slapped me across the face – the first time he had ever hit me. Then he announced he was leaving us (my mother and us four children) to go and live with Uncle Dick. The tea party broke up and Dad and Dick left.
For years I thought it was my fault and it took many more years to realise my father had left us for another man.
They made me laugh
My parents split up when I was six. I am nine now. I was downstairs watching television with my baby sister when my gran told me that my mummy and daddy wanted to speak to me. I thought it was going to be happy.
When I got to their room, they told me. They said it in the best way possible – though it doesn’t really matter how you say it, it will still be really sad. When I cried they hugged me and made me laugh by saying, “We’re still friends”, “Hi”, “Hello” and waved to each other.
After a few years, I got used to it and wasn’t as sad (but I’m still sad).
My daddy only lives a few roads away and we visit. We stay at his flat a lot and he comes over to our house almost every morning. My parents are always there if I want to talk and now they are happier and don’t fight often.
I really want them to get back together and it work out, but it is not that simple. We are all happy and love each other, which is the main thing.
Emily Harwell, aged nine
A change of plan
It was May 1974. My dad had been working in Canada for a year and my mum, my seven-year-old brother and I were due to emigrate and join him. I had just turned 12 and on this day my best friend was coming round to my house after school for tea.
As we entered the house I sensed an atmosphere. Mum hastily sent my friend away saying that she couldn’t stay as Dad was home. This was great news as I hadn’t seen him for a year. I was so excited but he just seemed subdued and quiet. Then they sat my brother and me down to talk. Mum said they were getting a divorce and that she wasn’t going to Canada. Then Mum asked who we’d like to be with.
I remember my answer: “We want to go to Canada.”
We’d been surrounded by the prospect of Canada for a year. We’d had our medicals and everything. It was all we talked about. What happened next was surreal. My mum jumped up and shouted hysterically that she’d had us for a year and now it was my dad’s turn. He could have us. She packed some stuff and left.
Life changed drastically. Dad sold our house, left us with my aunt and went back to Canada. He promised to send for us within a couple of months but two years later he announced he didn’t want us and so began another story.
A fait accompli
I was sitting on the back seat of a strange man’s car when my mother told me she was leaving my father. My mother was sitting in the front next to the man, who, it transpired, was her boss.
It was the school summer holidays. I was seven, had just left infant school and was about to enter the juniors. My brother was 11 and about to start grammar school. Big changes!
The day had started normally. My parents went to work as usual. I was in the care of Mrs Dicker, our cleaner-cum-childminder. My brother was spending the day with a friend. Around 11am, Mrs Dicker grumblingly walked me the mile back to our house.
My mother was standing on the pavement outside. Mrs Dicker was dismissed and I was taken round the corner to a spiffy black and red car. As we set off, I was told we were going on holiday to a farm in Cornwall. I liked holidays and farms, but didn’t like what followed.
Although I didn’t really understand what I was being told, I did understand that I wouldn’t be able to see my brother or my adored father every day, just at weekends. “I have to see Daddy every day. I just have to!”
I got off lightly. My brother and father found typed notes waiting on the mantelpiece when they came home unsuspectingly. I didn’t see these notes until my father died. They are chilling.
Our secret flit
Since 1939, we’d had a carpet shop in Huddersfield. In 1945 I was 14 and about to sit exams. I was off school for no reason I can remember, Rodney, seven, and Toby, six, being at home as well. Anne, 11, was at school. Dad came back from his lunchtime booze and went to sleep it off, as usual.
Then a lorry arrived in the back, driven by Fred, an acquaintance of mother’s friend Emmy. Everything happened very quickly. Worried, I asked what was going on.
“We are going to Emmy’s cottage in Bradford,” said Mum.
I was horrified, I didn’t want to leave Dad or school. “Go and get Anne from school,” she said.
The lorry was loaded with beds, clothes and stock from the shop, which mother felt was hers by rights.
Amazingly, Dad didn’t wake.
The cottage in Bradford was one-up, one-down, without kitchen, bathroom or hot water and an ancient outside lavatory. We had a bed in each corner, mother downstairs. We had left Dad before: he was an alcoholic – lovely and charming sober, dreadful when drunk.
This time we didn’t go back, but that night I wept. Mother, courageous and daring (there were no telephones to coordinate the flit), made a successful business selling rugs on Bradford and Knaresboro’ markets.
Cold comfort in Spain
I am 21, a 6ft strapping lad on a study year in Granada, Spain. I had been home at Christmas. All seemed normal. My flatmate in Granada, home too, stayed the night before we travelled back together to Spain. She is pretty and bubbly and my parents assume, incorrectly, that we are an item. Nothing is said. Much is left unsaid in our house.
We have to leave early in the morning and I go into my parents’ room to say goodbye. My father, whose last conversation with me about relationships was to ask if I felt a calling to the priesthood, whispers that I should take care not to get tied down too early.
It is spring 1976. Now I am waiting for my mother at Malaga airport, a flying visit. We chat on the bus and she asks if I remember Bob. I do, he was fun to be with: read comics, played keepy-uppy football.
We sit on the Balcón de Europa in Nerja. My mum announces, “Your dad and I are getting divorced and I am moving in with Bob. Your brothers have known since before Christmas.”
I cry as she consoles me.
I visit my mum and Bob in the summer. In the downstairs loo is a postcard from Nerja, from Mum to Bob, showing the Balcón. I turn it over and read the only two words: “Mission accomplished.”
Voices on the landing
I was lying in bed one night, drowsy and on the edge of sleep, yet half aware of my father just down the corridor, wallpapering the landing outside my brothers’ bedroom. He was talking quietly to my older brother. The gentle murmur of their voices lulled me into sleep. But then, suddenly, I was alert and wide awake as my father said, “I don’t love your mother any more.” There followed more ugly, jarring words to the effect that he loved someone else now instead of her.
This was how, aged 10, I learned of the split that was to come.
At first my brother and I bore the knowledge silently and separately. I sensed that he was burdened by the secret he had been entrusted with, and my heart ached for him. But I couldn’t admit to what I’d heard; this was too big, too frightening, and I feared that speaking about it might make it true and real. Also, I felt guilty for eavesdropping. Part of me hoped I had been dreaming but deep down I knew that I wasn’t, and within weeks things came into the open as matters escalated and our family world broke apart.
Name and address withheld
And then he was gone
I never was told my father was leaving my mother. But then neither was she. Nor was my brother. Nor sister. He just left after a “State of the Union Address” (or not) to my mother.
It was 1970 and I was five. I should have worked out something was afoot. My parents had been to Paris days before they split and returned, unusually, with a gift for each of us. My father assured me that my gift , a model of a Ferrari, had my age on it as its racing number. Much thought had gone into its selection. Really? When I ripped the wrapping paper off I discovered he thought I was eight. The moment of silence between my parents was, I suspect, the decision point. Well, for him at least. And it almost deafened me. I remember consoling my mother, telling her, “Dad can’t have left – he’s left all his clothes behind.”
He came to collect those shortly thereafter, along with his books, our furniture and, subsequently – but for a deft piece of legal manoeuvring by my mother’s QC in the divorce courts – the title deeds to our home. We remained, however.
I was a little surprised this week, therefore, to receive an invitation to help “celebrate” his 40th wedding anniversary to his second wife (albeit a charming lady). I turned it down, saying I would be busy with other things. Like cutting the grass. I now take more care with wrapped presents and expectations too.
Name and address withheld
Into the chasm
I can still see myself standing there. I remember it so clearly after more than five decades. I was 16, in the middle of my O-levels. I heard raised voices downstairs, so I came out of my room and peered over the banisters. In the hall below my father was crying. I had never seen him cry. My strong, glamorous father crying?
My mother was saying, “Just go.”
And he went. As easily as that. He never said goodbye.
This was catastrophic, a chasm opened beneath my feet. Eight months later I stopped eating and had a nervous breakdown. He came to see me in hospital but it was stiff and awkward. Our relationship never recovered and I often blamed my mother. Years later when I was fully recovered and married, we would invite him for meals but he never came. He never knew my children and I am sorry for that. They are too.
I have worked with children for many years and am often told by separating parents, “But it’s fine, the children are OK about it.” I wonder, really? Or are they still numb with shock and gazing into the chasm?
Cakes were a clue
I was 13 when Dad tried to tell me he was leaving Mum for another woman. He asked me if I knew who had been making the fruit cakes we had been eating over the last few months and I guessed correctly. Dad was impressed. “You’re very astute, kid,” he said.
In reality, I was totally confused.
“There comes a time when a working man needs his shirt ironed and a plate of food on the table,” he said.
He also said other, more emotional things that made his voice falter. I felt very important (my 11-year-old sister wasn’t the chosen confidante), but unsettled. Was Dad – a welder and a formidable force – wiping away a tear? I certainly didn’t understand what he was trying to say, even though, at this point, he had already moved out of our caravan and into the barn.
My parents’ separation and divorce were never discussed; it was the physical distance between Mum and Dad that defined their parting. First they sat at opposite ends of the table, not talking. Then Dad lived in the barn, and later a caravan in the farthest field of the farm. He eventually moved into a house an hour’s train journey away with the woman who made the fruit cake. Mum later sold the land and bought a home 300 miles north.
My parents were apart after 13 years together; yet their mutual respect and love for each other grew deeper, right up to Mum’s death this year.
Don’t tell your brother
When my mum and I left home 45 years ago, I was 11. She said one day, “We’re leaving your dad. Don’t tell anyone, not even your little brother. Just put any toys and books you really want to take in a pile over there.” I didn’t have a clue what was going on – 45 years ago, divorce was uncommon and no one I knew had divorced parents.
A few days later, she told me to let my teacher know she would be picking me up from school in the morning for a dental appointment. She collected me, leaving my little brother at school, and we went. She’d left a note on the kitchen table saying she was leaving and had made arrangements for my brother to be collected from school.
And that was it. We never had the big talk about how it wasn’t my fault and Mummy and Daddy both still loved us, let alone why she’d just taken me and not both of us.
She had arranged to stay with an old school friend, where we slept on camp beds for a couple of months. I don’t remember ever missing my dad, but I missed my little brother so much that first night.