This story is by Rhonda Valentine Dixon and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Bliss, sheer bliss, sitting here in the sun without a care in the world,” said Jocelyn to her three companions.
They were four friends, Jocelyn, Glennie, Deborah, and Merilee, on their Mothers’ Weekend away.
The local association which offered support to children with autism took their mothers away for a weekend once a year. Here, among friends who understood the complexities of raising difficult and different children, they felt comfortable talking about uncomfortable issues. At Mothers’ Weekend, they weren’t judged as others in the community judged them. All the women had been scrutinised by, lectured to, and suffered harsh barbs from others. ‘Give him to me for a week, he’ll soon learn who’s boss’ or ‘I’d smack him from here to kingdom come; you’re too lenient’ or ‘Come to the barbeque on Sunday, but don’t bring your kid – he’s too disruptive and we’d all like to enjoy ourselves, thank you’. Here on their annual sojourn to the seaside, the women didn’t have to hear such unhelpful remarks.
“People can be so cruel,” said Glennie. “They wouldn’t last a day with our children, let alone a week.”
“Don’t they realise we love our kids? Aled deserves everything other children have, and I’ll work hard to ensure he gets those entitlements and that he learns to function as best he can,” Deborah added.
The others voiced words of agreement and took another sip of wine.
The subject of husbands came up, and specifically, how the men were coping.
“Jonathan’s great,” said Glennie. “Why wouldn’t he be?” hahaha, she laughed. “Glendon is a mini Jonathan and Jon gets that.”
Jocelyn’s husband, Brian, wasn’t coping. He never had, but Jocelyn hadn’t disclosed much about it.
“The situation is worsening,” Jocelyn said. “I think that he considers that autism in his son is an affront to his manhood. He can’t possibly have produced a child who is less than perfect.”
“It sounds like he’s missing the point, doesn’t it? Autism isn’t about being broken and there’s no point in apportioning blame. We’re all products of countless preceding generations, not just the two people who made us,” offered Merilee.
“I believe that too, Meri,” said Jocelyn. “How anyone can think autism is the fault of one or both parents is beyond me. Besides, Andrew is a delightful child despite the challenges. I wish I’d listened to Mum though. She had reservations about me marrying Brian. She thought that Brian having children and a former wife and that he was much older than me, would be problematic. And once, Mum witnessed him objecting to me wearing make-up. But I reassured her that the kids wouldn’t be a problem because they were a thousand miles away and the ex-wife didn’t allow Brian to see them. He said he’d accepted that and didn’t want to see his ex-wife anyway. And I didn’t mind that he was twelve years older, I felt cherished. I thought it was endearing that he liked me au naturel. But now I see what Mum was alluding to. Wanting children immediately, not wanting me to wear make-up. It was controlling.”
“How do you cope with the make-up issue? You’re in that industry; you’re expected to show your beauty,” Glennie asked.
Jocelyn answered, “I tell him it’s just while I’m at work. I usually reassure him that I’m his with or without make-up.” She continued, “When Andrew was born, I think Brian saw him as a threat. He behaved as if Andrew had pushed him into second place. Yet it was he who wanted babies. And he seems to have overlooked the fact that babies are dependent on us. My sister had babies. I knew what I was in for. That’s why I wasn’t in a hurry. I should have realised that his impetus for having kids with me could have been grief for the loss of the other two. But I was young, and I loved him. I didn’t see that. And when Andrew did come along, I was truly enamoured. I wanted to be the best mother I could be. Almost immediately I noticed Brian getting short-tempered when I picked Andrew up. And I picked him up a lot because he was so unwell.”
“You’ve got a lot more on your plate than just the autism, that’s for sure,” said Deborah alluding to Andrew’s gastrointestinal problems and Brian’s attitude.
“I’m going to have even more on my plate if I take that promotion at work. But there is one good reason to take it,” said Jocelyn.
“You’ll be making more money, so you can take Andrew and leave. Then you’ll be able to help your beautiful son to realise his potential,” said Glennie.
“Exactly,” said Jocelyn. “I hope you’ll be okay with me ringing you at all hours. I expect nothing less than strong opposition from Brian. He won’t be able to control me if I leave. I know I’m going to need moral support.”
“I’ll be there for you, you know that,” said Glennie.
“We all will be. Leaving an abuser is never easy. You just don’t know what could happen when he realises he’s lost control,” said Meri.
Life resumed as usual when the women returned to their homes. But Jocelyn instinctively felt Brian was boiling, fit to burst. When he was at work, Jocelyn began to pack. Shopping bags mostly, bags she could take inconspicuously out of the home. She arranged to meet her friends one lunchtime.
“I need your help girls,” she said. “I’m packing small bags, but I’ve got to do it cautiously. I’m using shopping bags so that if Brian sees them in the boot of the car, he’ll think I’m taking old clothes to the op-shop. Can I give them to you? Will you hide them for me? He threatened us. It’s time to leave. But I have to do it slowly, without Andrew realising and obviously without Brian knowing. Andrew won’t cope with the changes, but I’ll explain everything to him when we get to a hotel, when I know we’ll be safe.”
Deborah, Meri and Glennie readily agreed.
“You’re going to want to take Andrew’s bed, to minimise the differences for him in the new environment,” said Glennie.
“Yes, but I don’t have the physical or emotional strength to do that. Andrew’s anxiety will elevate the minute I begin to dismantle it.”
“Jonathan will do it for you, while Andrew is at school. We’ll keep it in our garage until you need it.”
“It’ll have to be done the day I leave the house permanently,” Jocelyn said.
“No problem, Jonathan has Monday the 18th of next month off work. Can you be ready by then?”
That was three weeks away. Jocelyn thought she would be ready. No, she knew she would be. She had to be.
Brian had stopped short at hitting Andrew, but his threats towards Jocelyn were more menacing and increasing in frequency.
“You’re going to have to stop molly-coddling that boy. He’ll end up a namby-pamby. A spineless son of the tart that you are. Do you hear me, Jocelyn? You’re a tart with your painted face. I know you still do it. I’m not stupid,” Brian spat threateningly with a knife inches from her face.
It was hard maintaining a pleasant demeanour around Brian in those last three weeks. Jocelyn put make-up on after he’d gone to work and washed her face before he came home. Thankfully, it was still sunny in the early evenings and with the dinner maintaining heat and ready to serve in an electric bain-marie she could take Andrew to the park.
“I’m not around when he gets home”, she told the girls over coffee. “And I’ve been saving madly in a separate account in a different bank, so I’ll be able to get an apartment straight away. I’ve got a real estate agent looking for me – I’ve given him my work number only.”
Nights alone with Brian were the scariest. He took her indiscriminately in every way he could, thrusting himself into her without compunction. Having to feign enjoyment made Jocelyn feel physically sick. She was now petrified of him. When he’d finished, she lay still, on her back, not wanting to face him and not wanting to turn her back on him for fear he would accuse her of avoiding him.
The 18th couldn’t come soon enough and Jonathan, Glennie, Mari and Deborah all arrived soon after Brian had left. They not only dismantled Andrew’s bed, but they’d brought a big enough trailer to load other household items onto it too. Jocelyn didn’t take anything of Brian’s nor anything he considered his, such as the television or computer. She took her jewellery, her remaining clothes and Andrew’s clothes and toys. She made sure the house was spotless, put a curry casserole in the crock-pot and turned it to ‘Low’.
‘Let him think we’ve just stepped out like always,’ she thought.
Then it hit her. ‘Have I done the right thing?’