The young man calls to me across the set. “Fifteen minute call, Ms Florence. Mic live in 14.” “Please, call me ‘Vanessa’,” I say again to reinforce the years of work honing this warm, engaging persona – the new ‘me’. Anyway, Florence is my ‘pen name’ and I still don’t always register when someone calls me that. The new ‘me’, a successful author with ‘fake it till you make it’ locked and loaded – most days.
The guy smirks like the cat who got the cream. I wonder what his story is – good-looking, cameras would like him but he is support crew. Climbing through the ranks from a tough background? It could explain the smile – an empathetic ‘I’m like you’ or perhaps, a rich kid whose parents bought this job to get him into the business and he was thinking ‘I’m about your age and already worth four times your net worth’?
Focus Nessie, you’re the one who is being interviewed for your international bestseller – this is your IT moment, your dream. God knows what the live streaming numbers will be and online views, new book tours and a film deal to follow. Yes, it could all be mine; dreams do come true!
What will Daddy think – I don’t know if he even has TV privileges or if they’re allowed to watch American talk shows. He probably saves his TV time to watch the church service on Sunday mornings. Yes Daddy, you can repent but God will turn you around at the Pearly Gates and deliver the best Dan Carter kick all the way to hell when that day comes.
There you go again Nessie – angry, insecure – wondering if he genuinely cares about you or if he might be proud of how you’ve turned everything around and become such a success? Are you seriously still trying to prove something to your father? Get a grip, this man made Mum’s life a misery and almost destroyed any chance of happiness for you. Breathe in, breathe out …
“You deserve all the success you’ll achieve.”
I look around, hoping no-one else heard – phew, all clear – although hey, that mantra put me thousands of kilometres (I wonder how many?) from Wiri Correctional Facility back home, to sitting here in the studio of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on the brink of global fame (well, maybe not quite, but a much bigger reading audience than just New Zealand!). A bit different from ‘practise what you preach’ as a child of a Pentecostal minister who said one thing and did another. The hypocrisy of the man, the only person he ever served was himself, his own needs.
Thanks for trying to teach me what was right though, Mum – although it killed you in the end and I lost a childhood and 2 years, 3 months and 21 days of freedom because of him. Bastard.
I wish she was here.
She must be though, in spirit, otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am. To dream the impossible dream etc – her favourite song.
“Got it Ma, doing it for you … for us!”
Who would have thought that a God-fearing girl from ‘the Tron’ would dare to be here in New York City … yet that is exactly where I am. I smile – ‘there is only one way from the bottom and that’s up, to God’. That’s what Daddy would say every Sunday from the pulpit. Bullshit, whoever said that didn’t know anything – when you reach the bottom you can fall through, die – emotionally, mentally or physically and for some, it’s the best choice for them.
It still hurt, losing my cellmate Aroha, but she’d known no-one was going to forgive her after what she’d done to her baby. I’d often wake up at night in our cell and hear her singing the same lullaby, rocking forward and back, but with no baby in her arms. At times I just wanted to scream, ‘Shut up, will you!’ but knew that life was hard enough for her living with the guilt, without her cellmate also being a bitch to her.
She eventually topped herself but I want to believe she’s with Mum in heaven, that there is a God who understands that sometimes people snap and there is no coming back from what happens next. It has to be a better place for them on the other side, otherwise what’s the point. As for those assholes responsible for putting them there – the devil does exist, I’ve looked him in the eye on many occasions.
Other inmates play victim and are repeaters – on the institutional merry-go-round. Case managers encourage you to do courses – ‘break the cycle’, but those women know how to work the system and they do, all to their advantage. Entitled and angry that lot, blaming everyone and everything for being inside but they know they are better off there than failing outside the wire. Sad – pathetic, really – ‘Do what you’ve always done and get what you’ve always got.’
That was one of the posters the trainers put up for our workshop – lots of quotes from people who have no idea what abuse or addiction is. It looked like a good gig to enrol in though, two hours in a classroom for weeks with others also about to be released, and they give you a wardrobe of clothes when you get out the gate! Huh, didn’t think it would be the start of what changed my life – not that I knew that until I shared my story with a reporter following up on my case. She should have asked about that headline – ‘“I’d do it again if I had to” says daughter of murder victim just released from prison where she was incarcerated for grievous bodily harm to her father’.
Weird, I still wonder why normal folks want to know about this drama, in fact any real-life drama – the news is full of other people’s failures, issues, upsets, violence, the worst of human behaviour on a daily basis. Funny, does ‘the grass always looks greener’ apply to dramas and crises? ‘What happened to me was worse than your story’ – seriously, get a life. It’s like that on the inside too, like a badge of honour for every conviction and year – some of them should never get out. Ever.
“What were you feeling when you pulled the knife from your mother’s chest and turned on your father?”
I couldn’t believe it when the reporter asked that – seriously, like I know what I was feeling in that moment?! Anger. So, so angry. Year after year of demeaning Mum, nasty, belittling, like she meant nothing to him – just his sex slave and token wife and mother playing a part. I had no choice, I just saw red …
“It was pure survival, he had to be stopped and so I did the only thing I could in that moment.” But no – you lot, society that is, don’t like us to play the vigilante card and right wrongs in our own way, in our own tormented world.
Actually, the trainers on our course taught us about the fight/ flight/freeze response in our brain – yep, that kicked in, which is why I am still alive. Good to know that I’m a fighter, maybe I am like Dad, just in this instance. Nothing else.
If only Mum had yelled, pushed back, told a counsellor, a friend, the police or just left (with me of course). She was unbelievable: “Don’t go making a fuss, Ness, be patient, your Dad has a lot of pressure – we’ll sort it out, it will be alright.”
You think, Mum? That’s no excuse for Dad abusing you as he did for years, the beatings and how he taunted you. I had to listen to it all – almost every damn weekend. Pretty bloody smart too, not one bruise was visible with your pants and long-sleeved tops, but being beaten into submission did take its toll. The tears we cried together, my beautiful Ma. Florence was where we went to in our minds – dreaming of a life where we were safe, maybe even happy if we were totally free of him. We’d look up images on my phone, so beautiful.
“One day I’m going, Ma – for you and me.”
What was I feeling when I looked at my dead mother’s face on our kitchen floor, with her eyes wide open, staring at me – ‘You will never hurt anyone again, Daddy, this ends here and now.’ That’s what I was thinking.
I guess if that reporter hadn’t taken that angle, like I was some sort of hero in the moment, being brave and justifiably vengeful (her words, I liked those ones), then I might not be where I am today. Free and a kind of celebrity in little ol’ New Zealand since the release of my book. Reaping the rewards of being successful, because I deserve it – don’t I.
Ma taught me so much but probably had no idea what would really count in the long run. Like how to live a double life, a public face and barely coping at home. She did that for me, I know, to keep me safe until I was older. Anyway, who was going to believe the wife of the region’s most revered minister who had assisted in the saving of thousands of souls over decades of dedicated service to those in need of the word of God.
I often think of what life would be like if I had run that Saturday night when I heard the snide remarks, one after another. Why didn’t I grab Mum and walk out the door – taken flight? For starters, I wouldn’t have a conviction and be an orphan. Not in the true sense of the word but Daddy is as dead to me as anyone whose father is no longer alive. I can never see him again; how could I with everything that happened? It’s hard enough having to keep this positive, empowered self-talk up when I have to discuss him day in day out with the book promotion, but I could never see him and you can’t change history. ‘Fight I did and fight I will, to be free of the burden of my past, forever.’ That goes down really well with interviewers and my fans.
“Mic going live in one minute, Vanessa.”
Hmmm, that smile again. Definitely cute, we could hook up after the show, just for fun … you can’t trust them, men, but they play a role in the bigger scheme of things, my scheme. Just for fun.
Jeepers Nessie, thoughts back on track – stop this racket now. Focus.
Your past was a nightmare but you’ve taken that and turned your life around and now your future is the one you wanted – except for not having Ma with you. But what happened is a blessing in disguise, you know that. You have years before you’ll be with Ma again, and your maker – to explain ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. God help me.’
And yes, God better help me then as we are the only ones who know the truth – that I was the one who snapped that fateful Saturday night, taking the knife Daddy was threatening Ma with and thrusting it into her belly – to save her, to free her, to put an end to the nightmare we were living because she was too scared to leave. I still see Daddy’s face every night when I wake up with night terrors, looking at me like I was the monster!
Then he took the knife and stabbed himself – the truth was never going to set us free, we both knew that. He finally did the right thing – a bit late for Ma, though.
I smile as I walk out on stage, I think you might be proud of me Daddy, just a little bit!
About the author
Margot has enjoyed a successful business career across Australasia and been involved in charity work in Auckland for the past seven years. She also has a performance background and a post-graduate degree in Arts Management from the University of Auckland however this short story is her writing debut. Moving home to Hawke’s Bay this year, Margot is looking forward to her 3rd Act enjoying time in her new role as ‘Granny’, developing her services as a celebrant and maybe writing some more!