I came because I needed to be safe and I needed my children to be safe. My life was no longer just about me. When my beautiful children began to be harmed it was time for us to move away.
We agreed to rent a tiny two bedroom terrace, went on a month long roadtrip in our vw polo to save the money for the deposit and came full of hope and new beginnings. We were given notice to move out on the day we moved in. I had no job and the benefits office said I was not entitled to anything, I had voluntarily moved without the means to support myself. We took a lodger into our two bedroom house, one of my daughters slept in a walk in wardrobe and I slept in a cupboard. We settled and I began to look for work.
I had a lot of energy having freed myself of my chains. No longer my fathers daughter and no longer my husbands wife I was now free to make my own decisions for the first time in my life. We moved five times in the first three years of being here. I took a day supply teaching but left after half a day, couldn’t manage, ran away from it, but then returned to volunteer my time and eventually took a contract there.
Some of the children I was teaching walked in mid morning, eyes encrusted, hair and clothes unkempt, unfed, brought themselves to school but without the internal emotional or physical security to manage the boundaries of a classroom.
One day the door burst open just as most of the children had settled for the register, a child was pushed in and scrambled under the tables, wailing loudly. Her bedraggled mother stood in the doorway with three other crying children and yelled across the room ’fuckin get out, fuckin get out, fuckin get on the carpet. I’m sorry miss, ill get the ‘oover pipe on her when she gets home’. I encouraged the mother to leave, reassuring her that I was happy her daughter was at school and left the child wailing under the table, asked her to join us on the carpet when she felt ready. Her wails continued but we began again.
A girl sat cross legged, showing knickers stained with semen, theres nothing else that looks like that. I reported this to the headteacher, said social services need to come and interview her. At lunch time I kept her in, asked her to help me with jobs in the classroom, gave her space to talk but she said nothing. By the end of the day nobody had come, nobody came talk to her or me to ask about it. How can I let her go home? I asked the headteacher, she said you have to, you cant keep her here, its probably just dirty knickers, let her go you have done what you can.
Later they said I should have removed her knickers, given her a clean pair. Really? How? I did not know we had spare knickers in school, would never have comprehended that as an action. Why did help support and advice not come? Why did another member of staff not come to support us both. That girl remained silent until she was twelve when I read her fathers name in the papers it transpired that her father was a previously known abuser and was again sent to prison. I would like to see her today, bump into her in the street, look into those beautiful blue eyes with spiky eye lashes and say, I’m sorry Amelia, I’m so very sorry, I did what I could but it was not enough.
Stefan, aged six, was known to be being sexually abused by his older brother, it was ongoing, they both received input from child mental health services but it continued. He was removed for a while but returned to the family as was seemingly too disturbed to be cared for, he is more secure in a family environment they said. His older brother continued to live at home.
Seamus was very overweight, used to wet the bed and sleep with his grandmother, with whom he had a very close relationship. One can never know his situation but his actions bore signs of precocity towards girls, grabbing at their knickers. Where does that come from in an eight year old?
Some parents were in prison, dealing or addicted to one drug or another, others third generation unemployed. Clear the slums after the war and put them all together in an estate, separated from the main body of the city, cast them adrift, isolate, remove.
These children became my drug, they taught me about love and strength and community, about patience and tolerance and respect for those with less than ourselves. Often when a child was being particularly difficult, another would say, its ok miss, s/he just cant at the moment, its ok, s/he just can’t, so we all agreed that s/he did not have to and we became a democratic entity with the children making the rules and keeping me in check if I asked too much, expected more than any one could manage.
Sometimes children climbed in through the windows, they came from other classes, other rooms, other teachers. Naomi used to like climbing in and sleeping in the dressing up box. We adopted her into our class, it was less disruptive than climbing in through the windows with other adults arriving, disrupting more by trying to remove. And after her came Jiles, actively sexually provocative, alluring with a glinting, knowing smile and a quick stroke of my arm or leg if he caught me off guard. He was a demon of spitball and fur but was well versed, it seemed, in sexual matters. He came into our classroom and he too, slept in a box.
Sorry, I lost track, what was your question? Graveyard of ambition did you say? No, graveyards are fertile places. This for me was the birthplace of ideas of hope and salvation, new beginnings. When you are so low down there is only one way to go.
It was later, much later that the city sapped the life out of me. I wanted to leave, the place I had thought might offer us security felt too cosseted, too safe, too white, too middle-class. I wanted to move to Leeds or Manchester, Nottingham or Bristol but it seemed my life was not my own after all. My desire to parent emotionally healthy children meant I needed to stay, to put aside my own aspirations and accept that what was, was.
Three jobs I had in my first six years, moving on, skilling up, moving wider until the last sucked me in, sucked me in and moved me around the county, Yarmouth, Thetford, Norwich, Kings Lynn. Moved me around, denying firm relationships, changed the boundaries of my work over and over, until I no longer knew where I was or what I was doing or who with. I no longer sensed that I might make a difference.
Beaten down by bureaucratic inconsistencies I left. Groundhog Day, is it always the same everywhere?
I arrived with a sense of hope and new beginnings. I wonder maybe, was this not quite what you expected, when you asked about Norwich?