When your parents divorce while you’re fairly young it can be difficult to accept what’s going on, what’s changing and how it’s all going to affect you. They may sit you down and tell you that it’s not your fault and you mustn’t think you did anything wrong, and while this may be true, no one actually tells you what you should expect from that point onwards or how it’s going to make you feel. Ever since I was 6 years old I feel as though my family has changed in many ways, and the dynamic is so different from where it started that I wouldn’t even recognise us as the same family if I didn’t know any better.
One of the biggest changes since the divorce was the introduction of Dad’s girlfriend, Tori (name changed for privacy reasons and all that), who I did not take a liking to from the very beginning, and her to me. It was hard enough that this was the first person Dad had been with since my mum, and the first real sign that he was moving on from their happy marriage, but it was made even harder by the kind of person that Tori was. I feel like it would be an understatement to say that there was a personality clash between her and I, as we’re very different and don’t see eye-to-eye on most matters. I was only 10 years old when I first met her, but over the course of the next six years, nothing really changed and I soon realised that as she continued to be a big part of my dad’s life, I did not have a relationship with her and if it ever appeared to be anything else on the outside looking in, you can bet whatever you were seeing was completely fake and not genuine in the least.
Even as a 10 year old, her odd and inappropriate behaviour stuck out like a sore thumb to me, and not for one second did I think that this was normal or right. Things like criticising my dad in front of us, passing judgment and making hurtful comments to both me, my sister and my dad and pretending like we didn’t exist were just some of the things that I picked up on at an early age, making for an uncomfortable and unpleasant stay at dad’s house (which was a lot, as our time was split between staying at mum’s and dad’s). The atmosphere always felt really awkward, tense and negative, and it definitely got to you after spending night after night there every week for many years of my life. Neither me or my sister felt comfortable or happy while we were at dad’s, which was supposed to be our ‘second home’ but we felt more like guests or visitors who had overstayed their welcome from the minute we stepped foot in their house, quite frankly. The only positive thing about staying at dad’s house is that we got to see dad, and as a young child who’s parents have just gotten divorced, you obviously want to spend your time equally between the two. Other than that, though, I dreaded going to his house and it remained this way for many years.
I felt so uncomfortable in their house that I would spent 99.9% of my time in my bedroom, watching movies and DVD’s on my TV just to pass the hours and get through the night there. Looking to escape, I would watch the same stuff over and over again, wishing to get lost in another world so I wouldn’t have to think about how unhappy I really felt. I forced myself into the lives of the character’s of dramatic soap operas like The OC and Gossip Girl as a way to temporarily forget about my own. The truth is that I felt miserable there, and it become more like an obligation rather than genuinely wanting to be there, and most of the time I couldn’t wait to leave and go back to Mum’s. Mum’s house always felt like a huge contrast; we always had fun there and the atmosphere was so relaxed, chilled, positive and easy. We always did things together with her and we were always included in conversations and activities. Overall we just felt wanted.
In the last house that I lived in with my dad at Tori, there was a wooden door in the hallway separating the bedrooms from the back lounge and kitchen area. So, both me and my sister’s bedrooms were on one side with the living area on the other. Dad and Tori would always sit in the back lounge, on a black leather couch with a glass of wine in hand, and they would have shut that wooden door to block off the living area from the rest of the house. To keep the cold out, perhaps (it was a really dark, cold and wooden house which creaked in the wind, and kind of reminded me of a small church), but it also felt like it was to keep us out. I started to think of that closed door as a metaphor for how I always felt cut off from Dad and from them collectively, like there was always something in the way of my relationship with him that I couldn’t get past.
The wooden door had a small glass window above the handle, and so many times I would come out of my bedroom and look through the glass window at the two of them, chatting and laughing as if we weren’t even there. Then if either me or my sister opened that door to get something from the kitchen (even so much as a glass of water), they would stop talking mid-conversation and watch us, as if we had no right to be in their house or helping ourselves to food or water. You know that awkward moment when you walk in a room and everyone stops talking and looks at you, making you feel super self-conscious and like you’ve done something wrong even know you know you haven’t? That’s what it felt like for us, but in a place that was supposed to be considered our second home, plus this was my own dad sitting there, not a group of gossiping teenagers like back in school.
I found it very, very hard to connect with Tori, and a result, she believed that I wasn’t trying hard enough or putting enough effort into getting to know her. Remember that I was doing my best, and given my age (10 – 16 years old), I don’t blame myself for not wanting to engage in conversation with her or for basically giving up, knowing that it wasn’t going to achieve anything – we were just too different.
There was only one bathroom in this house, and one night I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed. Tori came into the bathroom to get something from the cabinet and I stepped to the side so she could get in. She didn’t say thank you or even look at me. She refused to acknowledge me in any way. Then, on her way out, she turned the bathroom light off and left me standing there in pitch blackness. Even though I was probably only 13 or 14 at the time, I couldn’t put this out of my mind and told my mum when we were staying at hers next. She told me that I should tell Dad what had happened, as it was very strange and rude of Tori. I texted him and told him what she did, and he said he would talk to her about it. The next time I spoke to him a few days later, he told me that Tori had said “Lucy makes no effort with me and pretends I don’t exist so why should I with her?” I came to realise that there is an answer for her question, and here it is: she was the adult and I was the child in this situation. No matter how she felt she should have known better than to act in such a childish manner. If she had a problem with me, she should have been mature enough to raise it with me so that we had a chance to talk about it and clear the air. Instead, she chose to act like a child (or someone similar to my age at the time) and take a passive aggressive approach over honest and direct communication to solve the problem. I found it very difficult to think of Tori as an adult when she was often behaving as a child who didn’t know any better.
Because Dad lived so close to my high school I would just walk to his house on a night where we were staying with him. However, one day, I just couldn’t bring myself to start the walk to his house. I was so sick of going there, so sick of being treated like sh*t by Tori and for feeling invisible, unwanted and unwelcome in that house, for being stuck in that nasty, negative atmosphere that hadn’t changed over the course of six years, at least. It felt toxic to me, and as I was now 16 years old, I felt old enough to make a decision to not let myself go through that anymore. I had simply had enough. I went to speak to a school councillor and told her all about it, and what it was like living between mum and dad’s house for the last 10 years, constantly having a bag packed every few days to go back to the other house. I remember her reaction to that, and that was ‘what a shambles’. She was right, in a way. It was hard to be constantly moving around, packing a bag for House A, unpacking, then going back to House B the next day, unpacking for the weekend etc., then packing back up to go back to house A come Monday. It was unsettling for me, at least, although it came to be routine after all those years of doing it that way.
Note: This is only the start of the story, but because it’s already quite long I’m going to write this in parts. I’ll be writing the next part shortly so keep watching for that.
Lucy Rebecca x