Beyond Caring is the story of Aaron. On admission to Templewood, a children’s home, he met Rebecca, his keyworker, but he did not settle, and on Christmas Day he tried to run home to his mother. Since returning he has struggled with his keyworker, met his mother again, lost his pet, had a brilliant holiday, and been let down – again – by his mother. At school, but he is uneasy about the teacher and a stranger hanging around. In the latest episodes Aaron was sexually bullied, had a tantrum, and suffered a nightmare. If you would like to read the earlier chapters first, please click here: Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
I get off the long, long train ride to see mum with the words of the music I’ve been listening to turning around in my head. Rebecca and I walk through lots of people on the platform; my eyes search out mum; my mouth twitches as I hold back my “Hello” smile. I see my social worker pacing towards us; I look beyond her.
“Rebecca, I’ve been desperately trying to call you,” she says.
“What? What’s up?” Rebecca says.
“Aaron, I’m afraid your mum was not at our arranged meeting place. I tried calling Rebecca’s mobile to let you know but I couldn’t get through.”
The train pulls away noisily beside us. Mum? I catch up with my social worker’s words. No mum. Again.
“I suggest you two go and have a drink. I’ll make some phone calls and go back to try and find your mother,” my social worker says.
“Haven’t you told mum that I’m coming up today?”
“Of course I have; she certainly knows.”
“Go and find mum; she has to be around now.”
“Aaron, she may not be but I will go and see.”
Rebecca fiddles in her bag and pulls out her mobile; it bleeps several times as she turns it on.
“That’ll be messages from me,” my social worker says.
“God, I’m sorry. I didn’t have it switched on. I didn’t think … I mean, I guess I didn’t want to be bothered by personal calls. I meant to bring one of our group’s mobiles with me.”
The bubbles of the lemonade Rebecca buys me collect in my tummy, a few bites in and my flapjack becomes too solid to swallow. I get up from the table and Rebecca does not speak; she just follows me as I walk along the pavement with the sound of traffic filling my head. Shop windows and people slip past me; nobody notices me in this town I’ll always call home.
I’d given up thinking I’d ever see mum, when Rebecca’s mobile rings. It’s my social worker; she’s got mum and they are coming to meet us. Suddenly there are only five minutes between mum and me seeing each other. I pull my cap over my head and walk quickly beside Rebecca. I need the toilet but I daren’t go in case we miss finding mum.
“Jesus, Aaron, you shocked me; you look even more like your dad now.”
These are mum’s first words to me. I sit in the back of my social worker’s car beside her. Mum’s alone with no Kara. She smells of too much perfume and illness. I see the yellow tint to her eyes and how her nose has erupted in rough red blotches.
“I was told we were meeting Sunday,” mum mumbles and then chews on the side of her unpainted nails.
“No,” my social worker calls back to her from the driver’s seat. “I spoke to you about this visit only yesterday afternoon.”
I lean against the car door and look outside. A light rain has started splashing dots against the window. People rush along; a cyclist swears at a car.
We stop for lunch and my social worker buys me a burger, chips and a coke.
“What about you Julie?” she asks mum. “What can I get you?”
“You must have something.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Let me at least buy you a drink and maybe some chips to go with it.”
“You can’t be buying me stuff. I couldn’t take your money.”
“Julie, I’ve bought you lunch before.”
“I don’t want anything.”
Mum lights a cigarette, a waitress comes over and tells her smoking’s not allowed in here. Mum walks away from our table; I watch her outside huddled tightly forward around her cigarette. She looks so thin and she’s not even wearing a coat in the rain.
When mum comes back, she shivers then settles back to sitting opposite me. She fixes her eyes on me while I eat; I tell her to share my food but she shakes her head. I push three chips into my mouth wanting this meal to be over.
“Don’t scoff, Aaron!” mum says. “Aren’t they teaching you any manners at your school?”
I stop eating; I don’t want more. Aware of some sauce around my mouth, I reach forward for a napkin.
A cup on its side, a straw rolling to stillness in a bubbling pool of brown liquid, mum shot up to standing shaking the wet from her hands, coca cola dripping down her jeans. All this just happens from my moment’s clumsiness as I went to pick up a napkin.
“My jeans are ruined!”
My social worker tries to pass mum a napkin; a man comes over and offers her a cloth; she refuses them both. The man throws down a yellow cone and starts bashing a mop around.
“What to do?” mum says just standing there.
It’s my social worker who bends over and wipes at mum’s legs.
“How will I ever get another pair of Armani jeans?”
“It’ll come out in the wash,” my social worker says as she leads mum away to the ladies.
“Don’t worry, Aaron,” Rebecca says to me. “These things happen.”
A girl looks at me; I let out a large burp and she turns away. When mum returns, her jeans have a damp stain on the front.
“I’ll buy you more jeans, mum.”
“You? Where are you going to get the money?”
“I’ve got my pocket money.”
“Pocket money can’t buy these jeans. Anyway they …” she stops and nods towards Rebecca and my social worker. “… They won’t let you use
your money on me.”
Mum says she’s too embarrassed to be seen outside in wet jeans but my social worker finally persuades her that no-one will notice, especially in today’s drizzle and even if they do, it doesn’t matter. We start down the high street back towards my social worker’s car and mum’s not happy at first but then she starts noticing things in the shop windows and that cheers her up. She stares at a pair of boots in a shop window; they’re so tall they’d swallow her legs. She asks my social worker if she can take me into a card shop. The shop door swings shut behind us.
“Here reminds me,” mum says. “Keep meaning to ask you – did Stanley ever send you a Christmas card? He was asking for your address.”
“You remember our old neighbour; it was his son that your dad saved from drowning in the canal. That boy’s a big twelve-year-old now; he’s not a nice kid. I never liked Stanley much either but he sometimes asks after you.”
“No, Stanley never sent anything.”
“I told him he had to send stuff to your social worker, not direct to Templewood. That probably put him off; he hates social workers. Or maybe he did send something and your social worker opened it and never sent it on.”
“She doesn’t open your letters to me.”
“I know that.”
While we’re talking, mum’s flicking through one display of cards after another. I see Rebecca and my social worker watching us through the shop window.
“Here, Aaron,” mum says.
I walk towards her knocking into a postcard stand which wobbles back to standing.
“Careful! … Aaron, I’ve gone and left my purse behind; lend us some money.”
I look at her and realise I’ve grown taller; I’m up to her chin now.
I get a £2 coin from deep inside my pocket, check that my social worker and Rebecca can’t see, then toss it over to mum. Mum misses catching the money and it lands on the floor.
“Pick it up, Aaron.”
I don’t move.
“Pick it up.”
I look up at her.
“Aaron …” She walks over the money towards me then whispers in a tight voice, “Fucking forget it. I was only going to get a card for you to send.”
I step towards the door then suddenly can’t bear to waste the coin so I turn back and quickly pick it up. I see mum shoving a card up the back of her shirt, now I’ve gone and made it so she has to steal.
I ask my social worker if we can go to the cinema but she says today’s visit is about me seeing mum and chatting to her. We get back in my social worker’s car and she drives us down streets that lead to more turnings and other roads. We stop at traffic lights and go along fast roads. Finally the car stops in an empty car park outside a low building that spreads greyness across the ground. The solid door is covered in graffiti, my social worker fiddles with different keys until it unlocks. She leads us through quiet corridors to a room of chairs. She takes some milk and biscuits from her bag and suggests a cup of tea for the adults and a blackcurrant drink for me. Me, mum and Rebecca sit alone on our separate chairs listening to the distant kettle boiling and my social worker moving cups around. Mum’s ankles twist around each other; she bites down on a corner of her lip.
My social worker comes back with a tray; there are no tables so Rebecca and mum have to put their mugs on the floor. The sound of tea being drunk fills the room. Me and mum could be at the cinema now being taken away into some story – being sat here is no way of having a mum and my social worker knows that.
“Do you two want time alone?” my social worker suddenly says to mum and me. “It is officially allowed, and Aaron, it is something your mum has been asking for.”
It’s what I’ve always wanted – but here and now?
“Rebecca and I would be over there,” my social worker says pointing through the glass panel. “From that adjoining room we can see you but not hear you.”
Me and mum are left in the room, I see Rebecca and my social worker settle into chairs in the next room. I start to tell mum how her jeans are back to normal and then her mouth also opens making our words stab into each other. We both stop short; I wait for mum to speak but when she says nothing I start up and again we speak at the same time shutting each other up. This time mum doesn’t smile.
“This place is a dive,” mum says. “I’m not complaining, at least I’m with you. It’s hard on a mum to live without her sons … Tell me everything you’ve been up to.”
“Everything.” She shifts to sit a little closer to me and rests one foot on the bar of my chair.
“Not much to tell.”
“I worry about you; do they treat you okay?” she glances through the window at my social worker and Rebecca then whispers. “What’s Rebecca like, does she look out for you?”
“Don’t worry mum. I’m okay and Rebecca’s not so bad.”
“You like her?”
“We get on all right.”
“She makes her money by hanging around you,” mum says sitting back. “And it’s easy enough for her she doesn’t have all the worries. Saying that, she doesn’t look good. I don’t know why; I mean she gets days off and time away from children at night. She can go to her own home and forget about you lot and get a good night’s sleep.”
“Sometimes Rebecca does sleep-ins.”
“Sometimes! Anybody can do that. Looking after you is her job not her life; she can walk away from you. For a mum it’s every day and every night. That lot, you … you’ve got it easy. You go on holidays; you’ve got a warm home, food … Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased you’re happy.”
“I’m not happy.”
“I don’t mind that you are; you’ve got your life. You don’t need me anymore; it’s what happens as children grow up.”
“Life’s no good without you.”
“I can see the truth; my life’s miserable and you don’t want to be near it. You’re changing so fast, you change every time I see you. Look at you. And you should see Kara; she’s changed too. None of you children are my babies anymore. I love babies.”
“You’ve always said you didn’t want me, that when you found out you were pregnant with me you wanted to get rid of me because you were too young.”
“Don’t say such things!”
“It’s only what you’ve told me. It was dad who made you keep me so you had to give birth to me.”
“God, don’t take me back to your birth. I was induced with you, taken straight to a knife-edge of pain. Shit that pain was a shock. And nothing was ever the same again.”
“It was time for you to be born but you didn’t want to come out of me so they had to give an injection to get you moving.”
“An injection! Drugs. I hate injections.”
“Me too but you didn’t want to be born.”
“A needle?” Poisoned from the start.
“Then you came out all slippery and covered in blood.”
“You looked like an alien and you were yellow.”
Yellow like her ill tired eyes.
“That’s what Rebecca thought it was.”
“Rebecca! What’s Rebecca been doing talking to you about all this?”
“It’s not her business.”
“Were you very unhappy after I was born?”
“What’s happiness ever had to do with my life?”
“But did you hate that time?”
“Aaronee, don’t think like that; you were my baby. I loved you; I knew what to do with you.”
Mum’s hand reaches across; it touches my arm. I feel a heat coming up into my cheeks.
“You were mine then. I’d walk you around and tell you about the cars and things outside the window; I’d even find myself humming. You made sense of my life and I was going to make it all work out.”
“Was … was dad ever there then?”
“He was fucking useless,” she removes her hand from me. “Came and went as he pleased and got angry when you cried. No, those special times were just you and me. I remember you had this little blue and white babygro with a matching hat; people used to stop and talk to us.”
“What did they say?”
“Nice things; they looked at you and they’d smile and chat to me about baby stuff. They made me feel normal; I was a mother.”
“Then were you glad I was born? Did you love me then?”
“I was so proud of you.”
“… Are you proud of me now?”
She looks down; she says nothing. What a stupid question. What the hell is there to be proud of in me?
“When did it all go wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. What are you doing Aaron? I was enjoying being with that baby in its blue babygro.”
“But it didn’t last.”
“Don’t take that moment’s dreaming from me.”
“Mum, I need to know. Mum, I’ve been having terrible dreams.”
“You as well as me.”
“There’s this monster of a man, I’ve realised he’s got blue eyes, such strong eyes. Who is he?” the words blurt out of me.
“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”
“Please, mum, who is he?”
“You’re making him up.”
“The strongest blue you’ve ever seen.”
“Don’t make me cross; you and your nonsense talk again.”
“When I told you about my teacher, you said …”
“And there’s some ill old dosser in a Chelsea windbreaker out there by Templewood who says he knows me. Who is he? You’ve got to know,
mum; you have to.”
“I heard about that man; that’s horrible. I wish no-one had told me that; it’s made me worry. Who the fuck is he?”
“No-one seems to know … Mum, that man with blue eyes; I can feel him around me, in me. His face is starting to come back to me in bits.”
“I thought you could help me. Mum … mum I think he and his friends might have hurt me.”
“Nobody hurt you. What are they doing to you at Templewood? What lies do they tell you?”
“They’re filling you with bad ideas.”
“Mum, it’s not that.”
“You shouldn’t stay at Templewood; I’ve never trusted that place, never liked Rebecca.”
“So can I live with you instead?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“It’s all I want … You don’t really want me, do you?”
“So have you been fighting to have me back with you?”
“Fighting? Aaron, what’s got into you today?”
“Take me!” I grab her arm.
She shakes me away and I watch the red mark I made on her arm fading away.
“You were never happy with me, Aaron. You weren’t easy.”
“I can be good. I’ve changed, I can change more.”
“You were different; everybody could see it. You can’t help it; you’ve got your dad in you; you had that from the start. Having a baby is hard but you were worse than that.”
“But …” For a moment she had me believe I was born okay. That time of no pain, no mistakes.
“You didn’t want me to hold you; you’d arch back in my arms, even bite me then you’d calm when I put you down. That was upsetting. You never loved me; you didn’t want me.”
I did love her; I must have loved her.
“It was cruel on a mum.”
I feel a pressure building in my chest, a horrible tightness.
“All I wanted was for it to work out; I did my best; I nearly killed myself for you. I’ve always been there for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“So why didn’t you turn up at Templewood for my review?”
“Do you have to bring that up?”
“And then today you nearly didn’t come.”
“And you’ve never even bothered to ask me why.”
“Mum, you don’t want me do you?”
“I’ve always wanted you.”
“When I think of all I’ve done for you! It was you who didn’t want me.”
“No, mum. I know how you were with me … and then with Lee … you threw us away.”
“What the fuck are you saying?”
“Well, what about Kara? Where is she? Are you fucking her up as well?”
“You’re mad, not normal,” mum hisses. “You do everything today to upset me when all I do is love you. I’m not strong enough to take this. Do you want to kill me with heartache, Aaron? Do you? You’re no son.”
I’ve gone too far. What am I doing going on and on at her?
“You bring me nothing but trouble, Aaron; you never tried to make living with me okay. Even that fucking cap you’re wearing today, you did that to hurt me; it makes you look so like your dad.”
“I didn’t know that, mum, I didn’t! I love you!”
Mum stands up and races to the door with a shriek of tears.
“Mum, I love you!”
My social worker and Rebecca rush in and mum swings round to face Rebecca.
“And I don’t know what lies you’ve been poisoning him with!” she shouts at her.
A door slams; mum’s gone.
“Leave her,” my social worker says to Rebecca. “It’s Aaron who’s our responsibility.”
A chair scrapes along the floor and comes to rest beside me.
“It’s all right, Aaron,” my social worker says.
It’s never been so wrong.
“It’s all right.”
“Shut the fuck up!”
“Try and calm down. I expect in talking to your mum that you’ve been very brave today.”
“Brave! Fuck you, fuck you!”
I kick into the table, charge towards my social worker and it’s Rebecca who stops me, Rebecca who catches me in her arms.
“Let’s get you home,” my social worker says.
Home? What fucking home? I have no home to go to and I come from nowhere. I collapse forward under Rebecca’s hold; I stab my nails into my folded arms. I sway back and forth digging deeper into my skin. I see mum’s chair knocked over and beside it a card with a teddy dressed in a T-shirt that says “I love my mum” and below him the words “Happy Mother’s Day”. So that must be what mum stole; all she wanted was for me to send her that card, from a son to a mother.
I stand with the toilet door closed behind me and hold myself steady against the train’s movement. I look into the mirror. I stick out my tongue. I swivel my cap round so the peek is facing backwards. I stare into the face of the boy who looks back at me. A boy alive only because his dad said to keep him.
Who is this boy? ‘Daddy’s boy’. Becoming ever more his dad. His eyes are flat and hard. I pull off my hat – did dad’s hair stick up in tufts like this? Was it mousy coloured? Did he have the same skinny nose? This muddle of teeth? I pull my hair forwards, then I try a parting. I scratch across my head until my hair stands on end. I slap it down. Was dad as ugly as me? Was his life as bad?
Dad unliked, unloved. Dad, not part of the family. Dad best off dead.
I come out of the toilet and slip back down into my uncomfortable train seat. A baby held on a seat near to mine is awake now and she starts screaming out in darts of distress. I wish I could join in with her noise.
Aaron saw his mum today. He was incredible – he stood up to her and though I don’t know exactly what he said it was enough for her to end up walking out on him. A year ago, he wouldn’t have dared challenge his mum in the way he did today.
Aaron is facing the truth, facing his aloneness. And me? … Bloody hell, what the fuck am I doing?
I bury myself in this work, distract myself from my aloneness. I write to you. These words – a crazy self-delusion. You don’t care about my life, you’re not listening, you can have no influence. My beautiful twin sister.
Why the fuck did you have to go and get yourself killed? Why? Were you serious or was it just carelessness? Were you always drawn towards death? When our gerbil died, you wanted to keep its body for ever, it was bloody strange the way you clutched onto it. After three days, you screamed when mum took him away. Were you fascinated by death because you somehow knew you’d die early or did that fascination lead you to an early death? We’re twins, we were meant to know each other and yet I can’t understand if there was intention behind your death. The survival force in me is so strong, if it weren’t I wouldn’t still be here.
What were you trying to do to me? I don’t know how to grieve for you, it’s like grieving for a part of myself. It’s been so hard to carve out a singular existence. These letters are all about me. You’ve become my imaginary friend. My imaginary 28 year old sister. You died at 15.
Once I sensed the wings of some ethereal butterfly going past and I believed it was you. That’s it. One fragile image in over ten years. You’re gone. The end.
I hate to say good-bye. I have to, got to face truth.
The next chapter will appear in next month’s issue.