Caitlin had found herself at The Haven, and had had an upsetting night. If you want to read the first episode in last month’s Webmag, click here.
Eventually I dozed a bit, but every time I closed my eyes the pictures started up again and I tried to stay awake, so as not to see them.
I must have gone to sleep in the end because the next thing was that someone was shaking my foot and saying, “Time to get up, Katy.” Why was everyone calling me Katy?
“I’m Caitlin”, I said. Then I remembered my manners. “Good morning. What is your name please?”
The youngish woman smiled and said, “I’m Jane. I’m going to be your key-worker. The kids call it being your ‘special’, because all the staff have some children they take special care of.” Sharon made some strange noises from across the room. “What shall I wear Jane? Where are my things? Where’s my Mum? Where’s my dog Spotty?”
Jane reached out and squeezed my shoulder a bit. “I’ve brought you some things for now out of the emergency cupboard. I think they will fit and after breakfast I’ll sit down with you and have a good talk about everything.”
From across the room I heard Sharon muttering, “Just don’t hold yer breath, kid.” Jane pretended not to hear and went off to the next room, from where soon there were raised voices and some awful language.
I turned to Sharon. “Don’t ask, kid. Just don’t ask.”
But she did wait for me to struggle into the unfamiliar clothes and we went to breakfast together. Sharon said I should sit next to her, to make her look good with the staff, but I think she was also sorry for me and wanted to be kind, deep down.
The dining room was light and bright, but so noisy. There were about eight children and one or two staff at each of several big, round, Formica-topped tables, so everything clattered and banged. I soon noticed that some of the children were banging things down harder than they needed to, just to make it more difficult for the member of staff who was trying to speak to them all.
It was all about who was going to the dentist, who needed gym kit, who was in detention after school and who wanted to go swimming after tea. I thought none of it mattered to me because I would be home by tea time, so I put my head down and tried to eat the cornflakes which Sharon had decided I wanted. I heard her voice saying, “Caitlin wants to go swimming.” Of course I had to start a “Yes, but …” but stopped when Sharon’s nails dug into my arm.
Then a whole lot of the bigger children got up and headed for the door. Sharon, whose face was now clean and who smelled of nice soap leaned towards me. “See you tonight, kid. Try to keep out of trouble. Remember keep buttoned. And no answering back.”
I smiled weakly, wanting to tell Sharon this was goodbye and thank her for looking after me, but she was gone with the others. I looked around. Now there were some younger children left and some who I had thought were older kids, but was about to find out were staff.
Jane came over to me and together we cleared the tables and put cutlery out for lunch. Then she said it was time for our chat. We went into a little sitting room and in a few sentences Jane destroyed my world. She said that my mother had slashed her wrists in the bath and despite my quick action in calling 999 and the hard work of the ambulance crew she had died soon after getting to the hospital. The Police Doctor and Social Services had been called because after telling the policewoman who I was I had refused to speak. The doctor had given me a sedative and the social workers had brought me to The Haven.
Someone popped their head round the door and called Jane away. When I was on my own I let go and the tears poured down and splashed onto my knees. I had no hanky and didn’t know what to do about my runny nose. I could feel myself shaking, but I tried not to make a noise. I didn’t want anybody else to hear me and come in to see me like that. After what seemed a long time Jane came back. She took one look at me and went out again.
This time she brought a box of tissues and without saying anything she put them down beside me. I blew my nose, mopped my face and dabbed at my damp knees. Then I didn’t know what to do with the used tissues. O why was life so complicated? I never had any of these problems at home or at school. School. I had watched everybody else go off, but nobody had said anything to me. I would be in trouble and according to Jane, I now had no-one to write a note to explain my absence.
Someone came in with a tray with some tea and biscuits. Jane fussed about pouring the tea and offering me biscuits. I was not allowed biscuits in the middle of the morning and I suddenly remembered I hadn’t yet cleaned my teeth after breakfast. My world was falling apart in every way. I knew Mum would be upset that I was letting her standards slip like this.
Then Jane started to talk about what would happen. She checked on my name, date of birth, address, school. Then she asked if I knew where my father was.
I never knew anything about my father. My mother just said he had left us before I was born and didn’t even know about me. We were so happy together that I never thought to ask her anything else about him. There were no photographs and no relations of his or hers. Instead of big family gatherings at Christmas the two of us went somewhere nice together. There seemed to be enough money from her job and although I had friends at school we didn’t do much visiting each others’ houses out of school. So it was just the two of us, but now it was just me. Just me. Only me.
Jane was looking at me, waiting for an answer. “ I don’t have a father,” I replied. My answer about other relations was the same. “I don’t have any.” When Jane pointed out that at least my mother must have had parents, I replied, “I don’t know of any.”
No Grannies or Granddads in my life, no aunties or uncles, no cousins. No photographs, no cards, no letters, no hugs, no falling out. Just the two of us. Now just me. What was going to happen? I so wanted somebody to hold me, to stroke my hair, to tell me not to worry, but Jane was grinding on through her list. I quickly got used to lists and to boxes for answers, not to mention the problems when your answers don’t fit the boxes. Just questions, and lists. No hugs. No idea what was going on in my head. No understanding. Apparently no imagination, or perhaps no real concern. Just another job to get done.
Eventually Jane told me that I would be staying at The Haven until there could be a Case Conference to decide my future. I asked about Spotty. He had been put into Kennels for a while she said. I wanted to see him. I asked about school. Jane would contact my school, but it was too far from The Haven for me to go there. I suggested perhaps they could send me work to do. I asked about clothes and some of my things. Jane said I could go to our house with someone and pick out some things.
I asked to go for a walk. I didn’t tell her, but I had so much to think about and I knew that soon I would cry again and I wanted to do it by myself.
Jane was called out again and I sat there looking at the biscuits. Not knowing when lunch time was I crammed one biscuit into my mouth and put a few into my pocket. Now I had done so many things which would make Mum cross. I hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast, but that wasn’t really my fault. I hadn’t cleaned my teeth after breakfast. I had eaten a biscuit mid-morning and I had stolen some biscuits. I had also found somewhere to put the screwed up tissues. I had pushed them down the side of the chair! So many things I had been brought up not to do. Who cared now? Suddenly everything went red. I kicked over the table, threw cushions across the room, smashed a plant pot and started yelling and screaming.
A couple of staff rushed in and before long I found myself flat on the floor, which I later found out they called, ‘being restrained.’ It was quite nice to be held by someone in a complete all over hug, especially when they relaxed it a bit because I seemed to have calmed down. I tried it out quite a few times when I was feeling lonely and miserable, but I soon learned which staff had your needs in mind and which seemed to enjoy an excuse to hurt you.
When I was left alone for a few minutes I emptied the biscuit crumbs out of my pocket onto the floor and moved the chair to hide them.
To be continued next month …..