Alan's Mental Health: Running Away

When you can take no more...

If you're a new visitor to the blog, or to the Alan's Mental Health feature, take some time to read this introductory post. It explains a bit of the background behind the posts.

This post contains descriptions of violence which, whilst not overly graphic, may trigger some readers.

I remember one incident in the late eighties, where my parent's were arguing. I know that there were actually lots of incidents, but although my brain has completely blocked the painful memories, I still retain an awareness of them. This particular time though is fairly clear. It's a little like the light from a lighthouse - powerful and forcing its way through the thick fog of my childhood to warn me of the pain ahead. I've come to realise that I remember this one for an extraordinary reason. It was the first time I fought back...

I think I was probably about 7 years old. We were all at home one day, and my sister and I were playing in the living room. Then we heard it. There was an almighty thud. The following silence was punctuated by a scream of "No! [name redacted] don't!" and "The kids are downstairs!" My mum was the one screaming. There was lots of shouting and banging. I heard the springs of the bed as she lept across it to try to escape. I heard the door slam as he blocked her path. I knew exactly what was happening, though I didn't know why. You see, this was now a fairly regular pattern in our house. Because it was the eighties and this kind of thing was ignored, the neighbours never (to my knowledge) said or did anything. It was so painful having to listen to this two or three times a week.

My sister looked at me and asked "What's happening?" I said they were just "playing 'elephants'". I explained that elephants were big and heavy, and they made a lot of noise moving about. I told her the screams were just them trying to make elephant noises, and they weren't very good at it. In short, I lied. Thankfully, she was far too young to understand. I understood though, and I'd had enough.

I stormed upstairs, kicked open the door and told him to stop. I told him that if he so much as touched her again he'd have me to answer to. Unsurprisingly, he did not take this intrusion too well. He picked me up and threw me out of their bedroom. Literally threw me - as though I was a ball of paper. As the door slammed shut, my head thudded against the wall at the top of the stairs. It was only a small wall, and if he'd thrown me any higher I'd have gone straight down the stairs.

The top of our stairs was similar to the one in this picture,
but with a narrow wall in place of the cupboards and without the windows. 

I slumped down the wall, wailing in pain. He'd hurt me, both physically and emotionally, but this only served to strengthen my resolve. I shouted through the door "I'm sick of it! I'm sick of you and what you're doing to this family! You're never ever going to see me again!" I went downstairs, put on my coat, grabbed some snacks and a drink out of the kitchen, put my meal in my bag and went to talk to my sister.

"Where are you going?" she asked. I said that I was going on an adventure. "Can I come?" I explained that she was too little, and mum would miss her. I promised we'd go on an adventure when she was a bit older. I kissed her, told her I loved her and told her we'd see each other again soon. As I walked out of the door, I whispered to myself "She's safe. He doesn't hate her..."

I didn't really have a plan, I just knew I had to escape. I walked down the street and entered the woodland at the end of the cul-de-sac. I wandered around for hours, just exploring. Picking up rocks to see what was underneath and kicking piles of leaves up into the air. Climbing trees and pretending I was the lookout in the crows nest of some distant pirate ship. Wading through the brook which ran behind the gardens of the houses in the street, and then continued through the woodland and onwards towards the neighbouring city. Lying on the grass in the open spaces, just looking up at the clouds. Walking through the graffitied tunnel which went under a busy dual carriageway, then over the railway via a rusty metal footbridge, on through an always sleepy industrial area and to the nearby lake. I'd wander all the way around the lake, watch the swans fighting amongst themselves, then retrace my steps, back into the woods.

Eventually I became tired and hungry. I went to my favourite tree at the edge of the woodland at the end of my street. I'd climb it (quite high as it happens - the tree was perfect for this!) and from my vantage point I could look out upon the urban decay of the city. The smoke from chimneys, the cars and lorries whizzing by on the dual carriageway. I always wondered where the people were going. Perhaps to some far away place filled with love, where fear was forever banished. Where nobody ever fought. Where there was no violence, no pain. I wished them well on their journeys, wherever their destination may be.

I'd been sitting high atop my perch for hours. So long in fact, that it had gone dark. I hadn't even noticed. My peaceful solitude was rudely interrupted when I heard the brutal snapping of twigs underfoot. "Alan?! Alan, where are you?!" It was one of my friends. A very tiny number of them knew where I'd disappear to when I went wandering. He'd come to tell me that my mum was worried about me. He spent quite a while trying to persuade me to come home. I was so very cold, and eventually I relented - but only on the condition that he wasn't there when I went back. My friend promised me that he wasn't home, and that it was safe.

I climbed down from the tree and my friend hugged me. I don't know how, but he seemed to know what had been going on. He seemed just as worried as my mum did when I returned home. I stood in the doorway and looked around. It was eerily quiet. There was no sign of him. I noticed the clock - it was past 11pm. I don't recall saying anything to anybody, but I do remember going upstairs to bed, and crying myself to sleep.

* Just a side note: The photo of me was taken in my paternal grandmother's back garden. I'm running out of photographs of 'young me' and I have no relevant ones for this time period. It has nothing to do with this post.

If you feel you need immediate help with your mental health, then contact one of the organisations below (click the logo for their website):
Samaritans (UK)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)

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