How do I sum up something in the briefest of ways without taking up too much of your time but also having the space to give you a big enough impression of what my younger years were like?
I hate to dwell on my younger years. I don’t like to give my childhood too much “air time” because it’s not something I can change. What is it they say on Love Island?
“It is what it is.”
I don’t want my childhood to define me, but the trouble with growing up is, whether we like it or not, it’s shapes us. It moulds us into the adults that we become. We go from impressionable children to grown up humans who have choices…do we become the worst version of ourselves? Or do we become the best?
I grew up in a sociologically approved nuclear family; two children, and two parents. We appeared to the outside world to be the perfect family. My parents were hard working , my Mum was an Assistant Head Teacher at a secondary school in a unit for hearing impaired children. My Dad started out as a mechanic and I knew from a very young age how hard he worked because his hands and fingernails were always black with oil and grease that no amount of scrubbing could ever clear.
My Dad was rarely in the family home and my younger brother and I were always told that he was “driving”. This meant that he was out doing long haul driving trips from one end of the country to the other in forklift trucks and he would be gone for days…but I never missed him. Whenever he was off on one of his “driving” trips it was a relief because it was respite because he ran our house like a military camp.
The first thing I ever did wrong was be born a girl. In Greek families the first born is expected to be born a boy, I never got to understand the reasons why but whatever they were I had already disappointed him before I even had the chance to learn how to talk.
I grew up with so many rules and regulations that I didn’t realise until I was around 14 or 15 that my friends and my peers didn’t have the same rules in their families. When my dad came home from work we had to be at the bottom of the stairs ready to greet him with our best Greek before he was able to put his key in the door…
We had one of three responses…
- “Bedroom inspection 10 minutes.”
Number 3 was the worst. 1 and 2 meant we could retreat back to our bedrooms, out of sight out of mind and out of trouble. Three was problematic. Bedroom inspection meant we had to blitz our quarters to his satisfaction and specifications and not one of those things was easily obtainable.
The bed had to be poker straight, no lumps in the sheet and the duvet had to be tucked in at all the corners. The bin had to be empty because if it wasn’t he would empty the contents on our beds. He’d run his fingers along every surface looking for dust and if he found it he would wipe it on our clothes. He would check our school bags for drugs and cigarettes and threaten us with strip searches. He would favour one bedroom over the other and whoever was deemed failure in that moment had look at the other person’s success and learn from them because they were better. But neither me or my brother were ever better in that moment, we were just lucky.
We were never physically abused but the verbal torment was difficult to live with. I was a constant disappointment, I was ugly, I walked funny; my brother was naturally clever and bright. He was popular at school and slotted into society like a well-oiled machine. I may have been jealous of my brother growing up but I never resented him. He was my ally. He was the one who after the humiliation would knock on my bedroom door and say,
“Do you want to borrow my Roxette tape?”
Everything in the Spathis family household came down to three things, money, appearances and control. To the outside world we had to look like the perfect family and we were lucky to be in it because we had food on the table, clothes on our back and a month long holiday every summer to Greece. Did I want any of that? Not really. I just wanted to be loved. I wanted my Dad to love me. Looking back I put too much effort in to trying to please and impress someone who couldn’t be pleased or impressed.
My dad made a constant point that money was an important part of life, it was the most important part of life. When I got my first part time job at the age of 16 I had to offer my Dad my £17.50 as a gesture and a contribution to the household because I was earning now. He didn’t take it but the lesson I had to learn was that I owed him.
Everything in life comes at a cost and I was quick to learn that enjoyment sometimes costs a little bit too much. My mum and I love the band James. Their song “Sit Down” is an anthem of my younger years and every time it comes on the radio I can still hear my mum singing along in the car as she drove us to school.
When James announced their tour in 1999 the band were at the top of their game and tickets were like gold dust but with the pay from my Saturday job I could afford to go so my Mum and I forked out for two tickets.
Miraculously we had decent seats but it wouldn’t have mattered, just being in the same room as Tim Booth back then was an honour and a moment to remember forever.
The following morning my mum made a fry up. Bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs and toast. I’ve never been a big breakfast eater and meal times were always stressful at home but I’d been witness to one of the best concerts in my own little history so I had a big smile on my face as I cut into my bacon rasher.
My dad asked how much the tickets were, back then concerts were reasonably priced we’d paid around £30 for each ticket. He asked how much the carpark had cost, I remember it was £5. I’d bought a t-shirt, how much was that? I think it was £15. I remember the mood changing at the breakfast table. He picked at everything, he was angry we’d spent so much money on something so trivial. He left the table in a temper and I stared down at my plate with a bit of bacon and cold scrambled egg remaining. I lost my appetite because I felt guilty. I’d wasted money and I had nothing to show for it that was of any use to anyone else, I had been selfish.
I scraped the last bit of my breakfast into the bin. Just as the last bit of my half-eaten bacon rasher was falling into the dustbin abyss my Dad walked back into the room…now I was wasting food.
“GET THE FOOD OUT OF THE BIN!”
I fished out as much of the scrambled mush and the wet bacon rasher that I could salvage. I don’t remember his exact words, but I had to eat the food that had been in the bin. His words are not relevant because I know how he felt as he stared down at me crying into my dirty breakfast. Disappointment, hatred, disgust.
All the way up until that point I had tolerated him because I had to. But this, this was the final straw. The feelings of disappointment, hatred and disgust were mutual. I wanted out of the Spathis household.
As a child I had begged my mum to send me to boarding school so I could escape. I wanted to be like Pat and Isabel in The Twins at St Clares or like Darrell Rivers in Mallory Towers but the difference was I would never complain the way they did in the books. Boarding school sounded perfect but my only option was to work my backside off and go to university. Leave and just go. Get the hell out and live life the way I never could if I stayed at home.
It’s funny really, reflecting on all of this; because as I said, he really wasn’t around that much. My Dad was a Grade A adulterer. God knows how but he had women falling at his feet left right and centre. I’m guessing he probably made some of them feel like he could save them, I’m not sure what from but I’m certain in most cases he destroyed them.
I caught him once. He had a guy working for him who went to prison, my Dad promised this unfortunate soul that we would watch over his family while he rotted in a cell wearing a prison issued tracksuit. It was only when I saw my Dad with my 13-year-old eyes as he put his arms around the waist of his co-workers wife that something in me said “nah, that’s not right.” I’d seen Saved by the Bell, I’d watched Zack and Kelly get it on and it looked a lot like what was going on in front of me and it was wrong! So wrong.
I talked to my Mum about what I’d witnessed and it was downhill from there. When my dad knew what I’d seen he called me a liar. I was making up stories, I was poison, evil and it was another three years before he admitted that what I’d seen was the truth.
My parents split up twice, once when I was really young and the second time I was 16. When they got back together the first time I remember my Grandma asking me if I was glad my Dad was coming home, I said yes, but I meant no. She didn’t know what it was like at home but I wanted her to be happy.
The second split was only supposed to be a temporary thing. He threw us out of the family home, me, my brother and my mum. He went on holiday with the woman he’d lied about three years before and told us we had three weeks to find somewhere else to live and move out. If we didn’t he said we’d just have to deal with it when he brought someone back after a night out.
It was three months before we found a beaten-up cottage that had more problems than you can imagine. What was intended to be temporary turned into 17 years.
Call it what you will, unfair, cruel, downright unbelievable, but even when the walls were literally falling down around us, at least the three of us were finally safe. We were safe from his hatred and his immediate cruelty but he still controlled us, my Mum in particular, for a further 18-19 years until she was in a strong enough place to divorce him; and now he is nothing.
If I ever say anything to people about my life growing up, some ask…
“Why didn’t your Mum do anything?”
I used to ask myself the same thing. In the moments where it counted, when we were waiting to be told we could eat, when he told me I was a waste of a person, when he picked at how I dressed, when I got B’ s instead of A’s, when I just existed and he didn’t like it, why didn’t she tell him to stop?
Because she couldn’t. Because it wasn’t possible. Because she had it worse out of all of us and I didn’t know that until now.
My mum sometimes says she hopes I can forgive her. But there’s nothing to forgive. In the end she rescued us and she took us to a safer place where we could be who we wanted to be. My brother could experiment with his hair and order a takeaway every Friday night with his friends. I could invite my friends over and we’d sit and listen to music and talk about the boys we liked at 6th from. I could write stories and I could buy whatever I wanted with my £17.50 and not have to hide it. We could live without the fear of being judged or ridiculed and what’s more is, she continues to rescue us every single day; financially, physically and emotionally.
My Mum is my best friend, she’s my oracle; she knows me better than I know myself. She’s the strongest woman I have ever known and I forget about the things she’s been through because she always looks ahead. Even when she doesn’t feel like it she works hard at life to make it better for everyone else. I would never have achieved any of the things I have if it wasn’t for Mum.
She feeds us, pays for the broken toilet, takes in parcels and is a sponge for the trials and tribulations of adult and working life. She is the first person to take a stand when the mental health system bails on me and everyone around us and I know when she reads this she’ll be thinking, “Kat, I really wish you hadn’t done this” and my answer to that is, “suck it up Glenny, because it’s the truth.”
Every story has a hero. My mum is mine…