Imagine this: you’re scared of the dark and you remain scared of the dark until adulthood. Why? Because bad things happen when the lights go out.
It took me a while to acknowledge and accept this, to underpin and address why I was fearful of the dark even as an adult. It led me to look at what happened in my childhood: domestic violence & sexual abuse.
I know we were in refuge a couple of times but the one I remember most was when I was 9. We moved out of the city at a moment’s notice, driven by a grandad I hardly knew to a part of the country I had never been before. I remember the day we left, my mum came into class before the end of the school day and hurried us out, explaining to the teachers that my nan had been in an accident. I was so worried. I followed my mum and my three siblings to a car I didn’t recognise. She lied. As we drove away, we were told we were now moving to Yorkshire. Some of our clothes and toys, and whatever else she could grab, was in the back of the car. I know I was confused, I know I wanted answers but I also believe part of me understood why. He wouldn’t be able to hurt us anymore.
We stayed with those distant relatives for a few days, maybe a few weeks, I can’t remember. The refuge we stayed in seemed enormous. We had one big bedroom for our little family, everything else was shared. I had a camp bed that wouldn’t stay up and it was strange sharing a room with my siblings and my mum. I remember one of the other residents in refuge, a woman and her young son, sometimes stayed with us in our room. He would cry and cry and cry. I think she just didn’t want to be on her own.
The playroom was a magical place. Open twice, maybe three times a week when the children’s worker, with her long dreadlocks and colourful attire would come in and create magic with us. I know we were in there a few times, but the first time we made papier-mache. She invited us to explore our ideas, make a mess and create masterpieces out of paper, glue and newspaper stuck to a balloon. We waited until she next came in, peering through the glass while our creations dried, eager to get back in and make some more. It was fun and freedom, and we hadn’t had that for a while.
The school we started was just down the road from the refuge. I loved school but I didn’t want to start a new one. Everything was moving so fast. When my mum left me in my new classroom, I had a meltdown and screamed for her to stay. I was terrified she wouldn’t come back, I don’t know why. We had moved around lots of times before, been to different schools but this felt different. I type this and I feel sad because I wonder how difficult that must have been for her as a mother. As that child, I was an emotional mess and oblivious to the concern or curiosity from my new classmates. I couldn’t settle in the school, couldn’t find my way around it and didn’t feel like I had a chance to make friends. I hated it. Nothing felt like it was mine and nowhere felt like I belonged.
I had my birthday in refuge just a few weeks later. It was lovely. Someone got a caterpillar birthday cake and there were candles, and my friends in refuge sang happy birthday. It was like a little family in there. It was so nice, so relaxed and I loved being there. We got to know the staff too and one support worker, Marva, helped us even when we moved into our brand-new place.
We were rehoused before Christmas, which was exciting because it meant it was all ours and we could start again. It was like a house on top of a house, a maisonette, and Marva helped my mum get the furniture so that it felt like a home. Mum made friends with the lady next door, who had two children and we were soon all inseparable. Marva was still around for a while, she arranged for me and my brother to go to groups for black children. They would pick us up and take us home, we’d go ice skating or have sessions at the main building, and it was interesting. I see now why they made us go there, my brother and I are mixed race so it makes sense we have access to cultural groups to teach us more of our heritage. I remember not feeling like I fit in but then I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I went for a while, while feeling out of sorts and out of place, because it was something new and different. It was something for me.
My memories of refuge are good ones. I reflect on it with happiness because that was my experience there. We could be children again, play loudly, argue over toys and suffer no serious consequences. There was no treading on eggshells or anyone taking me out of my bed at night. There was no more noticing my mum with a new bruise on her face or going without dinner because he’d spent all the money on alcohol. And we got our mum back. All the other times she’d left she was always so much happier and more fun without him. This was the last time she left him, this time she stayed well away.
Annika Spalding is a writer; a Birmingham-born survivor of childhood and adulthood domestic violence, an Ambassador for Free Your Mind, a former Birmingham & Solihull Women’s Aid employee, an activist, a single mother with a dream and a woman who is passionate about inspiring women to pursue their dreams. She currently has four books, mainly written about women overcoming adversity, which are available on Amazon, and an empowering free ebook via her website. She holds events for authors, has released a video on Youtube for her most powerful poem yet: I Am A Woman, hosts online networking hour #HelpAQueenOut on Twitter and is in the process of writing her fifth book.