Bad Mum

Magazine

8 June 2018

Are we there yet?



‘Is your Mother scared of flying, dear?’ asked a concerned elderly lady sitting in the seat just down the aisle from me. I suppose the easiest reply would be ‘yes’.
Mum isn’t scared of flying at all, actually she is a very confident flyer and would be up in the air every single chance she had if she could but the tears that flowed from Mum’s eyes painted a different story. It is easy to put two and two together and get five these days.
No one asked us about the empty seat we had in-between us both. Maybe they thought we had got lucky and gained some extra leg space for free. Lucky us! But, if only they knew the longing I had for that seat to be filled.  
The same cheerful face painted air hostess kept placing a reassuring hand onto Mum’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. One of those squeezes that utters a thousand words and whispers the words ‘I know’. Mum never once looked up at her just looked out the window or down to the floor. In fact Mum never had any eye contact with anyone else except me.
This annoyed nosey praying eyes even more as they assumed Mum was getting special treatment just because she has a fear of flying. I bit my tongue very hard. They most probably thought we had extra luggage too and an airport assistant to help us carry them on as the bags must be far too heavy for our little precious hands to cope with... stupid people.
Everyone was preparing for lift off and the crew were running through the normal procedures and the Health and Safety routine that we both half watched. To be honest we didn’t care too much and surely we had used our batch of bad luck up tenfold.  I felt like being careless and screaming out ‘Don’t worry everyone you’re safe and sound! This plane won’t burst into flames and we all crash to our deaths. Just stick with us two and you’ll all be fine!’ as surely how many people can die in 72 hours?
Little things really did annoy me. I had no time or patience for tedious tasks, even things like tightening my seatbelt correctly and putting my seat in the upright position. Who cares?  We didn’t.
We both had a mutual understanding with each other. Like an invisible string had been tied to our unhappy hearts and linked us both on a deeper level which will be eternal. It was beyond a mother and daughter relationship, it was so much further than that now. We had both witnessed the same terrible experience and we knew we would never forget the images for the rest of our lives, not to forget the grief we will both suffer for months to come. Spoken words have been thrown out the window and have been replaced with fleeting looks, nod of the head or a half-hearted smile. I was OK with that; it suited me just fine.
When we took off Mum wept uncontrollably. Her broken heart was being left behind. We felt as though we were just leaving him behind and just going home alone. The guilt swamped us both and it felt like we hadn’t done enough, that I should have done so much more and that we were just leaving him alone…cold…with no one he knows there to hold his hand.
I wanted to run into the cockpit and yell at the top of my lungs ‘STOP, WE HAVE FORGOTTEN SOMEONE! YOU HAVE A PASSENGER MISSING! DON’T YOU CHECK THESE THINGS?!!’ but I just sat in complete silence and gripped tightly on to the seat rest until my fingers were numb and white.
As we ascended into the air and settled into the flight Mum and I were in complete silence, well apart from our thoughts and memories that kept us company. I had a feeling they would be sticking around for some time so I might as well get to know them. My mind will be accommodated for the foreseeable future and the auto pilot switch will be switched on. My mind has hung a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door handle and closed the door firmly tight. My eyes had darkened and become lifeless; if you were to look into my eyes you would see darkness, sorrow and pain. These eyes had already seen too much pain.  
My mind started to drift and I began to listen to the conversation of the couple sitting in the seats directly in front of us. I overheard a woman speaking, from what I could make out in the small gap in between the two seats she was a large lady as her broad shoulder took up most of the view. The man next to her looked like he was small and bald, as I could just about see the top of his head. I would hazard a guess that they were both in their sixties and most probably travelled a lot too as they both had an oak wood coloured tan. The type of tan that you would need to sunbath for at least twelve hours a day to achieve. I could make out that the woman was moaning about something as trivial as her inflight magazine was missing from the pocket in front of her. I got the impression that she had been moaning a lot and this was the tip of the iceberg. Then out of nowhere the man suddenly snapped at her and told her to ‘shut up and be quiet’ in a hushed angry voice. The woman was taken aback, as if she had never been spoken to in that way before by him or anyone for that matter.
I felt like tapping the top of his shiny head over the chair and congratulating him on his well-deserved outburst but I thought against it. A few minutes had passed and thinking the whole magazine matter had been put to bed, when the brash lady turned around and said calmly near the man’s ear ‘go and jump off a cliff…’
Something inside of me must have snapped, like someone had pressed a big red switch within me that set an alarm off throughout my whole body. I was livid with this women who was a complete stranger to me.
How dare she speak to him like that! What would she do if he did jump off a cliff and never to return? She really doesn’t know how lucky she is!! I would do anything in the whole world to get him back…
Mum reached over and held onto my arm tightly. I looked to my right so I could see her properly and she knew what I was thinking as she too heard the couple’s conversation and it annoyed her far more than it did me and so it should. Mum had more of a reason to lose the plot then I did but she didn’t. Mum just shook her head to say ‘leave it’ and I had to.
I could scream this plane out of the sky! I could shout so loudly that the whole world could hear me word perfect. I could do a lot of things.
But I won’t.
I finally gave in and tilted my head back. Straight away I could feel the exhaustion flooding over me and pouring into my eyes. My eyes slowly and reluctantly closed. My heavy eyelids weighed down onto my cheeks and covered my eyes like a heavy blanket. How long could I keep sleep at bay? I thought to myself just as I slowly drifted off. I had no more stamina to stop it.



Immediately the dark scene began to play out before me. I was there again; just looking on and not moving a single muscle. I could smell the sweat on my skin mixed with suntan lotion and I could feel water running down my face but not knowing if it was a tear or water from the swimming pool. At the time I couldn’t move my hand to wipe it away but now in my restless sleep I am brushing my cheek which wakes me for a moment.
It doesn’t take long before I am back again, it is like I am being dragged in against my will to witness the nightmare over and over again, running my fingernails along with me to try and slow it down. Isn’t once enough for any one lifetime?  
Then the questions crept in slowly but surely. I pushed them away but they needed answering eventually. When is he coming home? I wonder how the other holiday makers are. And then, the question that had been worn to death and trodden down so hard it was barely visible to the human eye…why?
I came to realise pretty quickly it was pointless to ask that question. The damage was done as they would say. It couldn't be undone no matter how much I hoped it would. It was a weightless word that carried no depth and would drown in a sea of despair. But not to disappoint me it was always there, eyes closed or not.
I didn't want to give that question the time of day. I was angry that it kept disturbing me and bombarding me persistently. Now, that could jump of a cliff!
When I woke it was the old cliché and just for a moment everything was normal again. The three of us were happy on holiday and eating breakfast perfectly normally like normal people do. But then reality hit me like a gigantic wave and once again I was drowning in my new reality, struggling to breathe fresh air.
I looked over at Mum and I was pleasantly surprised to see her asleep with her head placed on her coat which she had folded up for a pillow. She looked peaceful which I was very pleased about and I hoped she was having a more restful time then I just experienced. I looked upon Mum for quite some time and re-evaluated my new priorities. I only had one and that was Mum. I gently reached over and touched her soft skin. It was my time to be the parent now and bring her home but how do you bring a broken person home?
I looked down at my arm and noticed I was slightly tanned. More tanned then I expected or noticed. It must have been the first two days in the sun... It was hot. A tan used to be my main goal from a holiday and if I didn't achieve that then I had failed. Now, I wish I could wipe it off! I don't want any signs of “enjoying” myself when I returned back.
I would be stepping off this plane and touching new ground. I will be walking a path I thought I would never be wondering down and facing many people waiting for us with bemused eyes. We are going to be the centre of attention like the main stars of a travelling freak show and be caught in a never ending Q&A show. But oddly I didn't mind as it was something I needed to do. This is something I might be good at after all. I have to tell the story of what happened and they have to listen. I have to take them there so they can almost smell the chlorine and nearly feel the heat of the sun and then that way I wasn't carrying the memory alone or the guilt.
They had to know that I tried my very best to rescue him and everyone tried to save his life but with limited resources and no first aid training it was more or less a foregone conclusion. He wasn't there anymore. We had lost him. Forever.
I needed to be a magical storyteller; where every word was absorbed and engraved on your mind forever. Where you would listen to every single word or crumb of detail I throw at you. You wouldn't be able to get enough and become extremely greedy just wanting more and more of the story until you too knew the tale inside out and upside down or better than me.
‘Chicken or Fish?’ said the same lively air hostess. Whoa!! Where did you pop up from? You sure know how to make a girl jump! I must check her name badge... it said Poppy. ‘Erm, chicken please’ I replied but not wanting to eat either of them but I thought I should appear to be normal. That word again, normal.  ‘I am not too sure how I should say this...’ whispered Poppy closely to me as she bent down in the aisle. What is she going to ask me? I just looked on and hoped she would carry on speaking. Now, people are starting to look.
‘...but there is an extra meal as one was ordered for your missing passenger and it's all been paid for... and...well would you still like it?’ She knew that had gone badly. I simply replied with "missing?" and the awkward silence spread through the plane like wild fire. Now, the orange couple in front of me and the nosey old lady was also staring at me too; the whispers had begun. ‘I am so very sorry, what I was meant to imply was that he is...’ The words got stuck in her throat and Poppy froze to the spot. I stared and with a stern voice I said ‘dead? Is that the word you're looking for? Would I like his meal as he won't be needing it because he is dead?’ You could hear a pin drop. I didn't leave it there, ‘funnily enough I can barely eat, so eating one cardboard cut-out meal will be a struggle let alone two!’ Poppy was bright red and I should feel terrible but I didn't at all. I finished her off and said ‘give it to someone that wants it! Maybe that lady there would like it?’ while pointing.


The old lady couldn't spin around quick enough in her chair and was obviously embarrassed that I caught her listening. Poppy looked at the lady and then back to me. ‘I am sorry...’ and before she could speak any more thoughtless words I gravely cut her off with ‘its fine’ and looked towards Mum and the window. Poppy got up slowly, looked around her and walked away towards the curtain behind me. Don't they teach people tact these days?
Mum started to stir and I didn't want her to know that people around us had more or less worked it out or of my outburst over the dinner situation or Poppy's best moment of her short lived career either. She had missed a lot! After a few minutes Mum was awake and working through the same thought process as I had earlier. I informed her that dinner was coming soon and that I had checked they had a vegetarian meal for her. That should work as my cover story. 
The meals started to be served to all the passengers on the plane working from the front to the back. As we are right at the back of the plane we had a long wait but we were in no rush. Time had stood still anyway.
Poppy finally arrived with our meals and she looked rather sheepish to say the least but I give her dues for returning back again. She had painted her jolly smile on and was doing a professional job to serve us. The lady in front casually turned around and had a quick look at the situation to judge if anything was going to kick off or not. She wanted her front row seat for some more action but she was sadly disappointed as nothing happened apart from some exchanged cold looks towards Poppy from my part. You would never know that anything of sorts happened here at all and Mum didn’t suspect a thing. To be fair I think a wing could fall off the plane and it would take Mum a good while to register what was happening let alone some bitchy looks between us girls. The old lady had a meal too. Was that the “spare” meal or had she already ordered one? I hope it went to someone that needed it or wanted a meal as he would have liked that.
Astonishingly enough we both managed to eat most of our meals and even had the odd conversation too. It was like our minds had been switched off for half an hour and we had resumed back to a human being again. It was nice.
After some food I thought I would continue with the 'being a human being' thing and get up to go to the toilet. For years I never would go to the toilet on a plane. I thought I would get locked in there or sucked down the toilet with the extreme suction power to never be seen again! I felt brave and went for it. It was nice to stand up and stretch my legs. To try and regain some feeling back in them and my whole body. I put my hood up like I was some kind of famous celebrity and hid my face. I informed Mum where I was going as we haven't been apart yet and that the toilet was only behind us so I wasn't too far away. When I approached the toilet door I could hear Poppy and the rest of the crew giggling and talking in low voices so the passengers couldn't hear them. They didn't know I was standing there as they must of thought the curtain was soundproof and I wouldn't be able to hear them speaking. I could.
‘...well apparently he drowned in the swimming pool in front of everyone! That’s what I heard anyway!’ Said a voice I didn't know but wanted to. ‘No, he had a heart attack and they couldn't save him’ said Poppy. I knew that voice very well. The conversation continued... ‘Imagine being on holiday and that happens, how horrible!’ said an annoying high pitched voice. ‘Well, the other guests that were around the swimming pool were horrified, crying, like proper scarred for life and some even complained about it! How could you moan about someone dying? I know it’s not nice for the children but it wasn’t exactly part of the entertainment and in bad taste! Someone died!’ said the same voice. ‘You go on holiday as a three and come back as a two, you couldn't make it up! You save all that money to go away and relax and you end up dead! Now that is relaxed... This got a round of giggles as they all found it highly amusing.


Out of nowhere I ripped open the red curtain and made every one of them jump around to look at me. When they saw it was me their faces were an absolute picture. ‘Hello’ I said calmly but my hand was shaking while still holding on to the curtain. ‘Just thought I would let you know that we can all hear you out here and this magical curtain I'm holding isn't soundproof, amazingly enough! Funny that, eh? But don't let me stop you gossiping about your passengers, no you crack on!’ I ended with a look that could kill someone. I pulled the dusty curtain back over and nearly off the hooks then returned to my seat, completely forgetting to go to the toilet.
‘Mum would you like a drink? A real drink?’ I said immediately as I returned, then smacked the red button above me to call over one of the crew. I sat down and just held on tight to the arm rests. ‘Yes thank you that would be lovely. I'll have a brandy and coke please love’ replied Mum. As mum told me her request the high pitched annoying women that was within the gossiping gang was standing next to me. ‘How can I help you?’ Said the voice I knew. That was a loaded question! ‘A double vodka and lemonade and a double brandy and coke’ it felt strange not saying please. Taken aback the guilty air hostess replied ‘of course you can and that of course will be complimentary to you both’. Yes, of course. I looked over at Mum to say 'don't question it... I've got this'. ‘Anything else I can get you? Some nuts maybe? Crisps? A snack pack?’ She was really going for it now and I was going to take full advantage too. ‘Yes, all that would be lovely’.
‘...sure, of course’.
She strutted back towards the famous red curtain and we looked upon all our free goodies in front of us, on the plastic trays. We needed to move everything around to make room for it all and put our drinks in the very shallow drink holder indent on the tray. I've never understood the concept as the circle dent does a poor job in keeping my drink still and safe.
‘They really must stop treating us differently as everyone is getting the hump with us and the couple in front have been complaining about us too!’ Mum said in a worried voice and she only knew the half of it. ‘Just make the most of it Mum. We won’t be seeing these people ever again…’ that’s all I could think of. ‘That’s true’.
We quietly got on with our drinks and I felt the effect of my vodka almost instantly. Due to lack of sleep or food it went straight to my head and I felt rather giddy. I opened some Pringles with difficulty as the air pressure had caused the foil to rise and looked as if it could explode! I began to eat again as I didn’t want to feel the effects of the alcohol even though I needed a drink to calm my nerves.
I think Mum enjoyed the feeling and lent her head back upon the head rest then closed her eyes. I really don’t blame her. If that was me I would be living at the bottom of a bottle just laying on my back staring out through my glass walls at the world wondering by.
I relished in the peace and quiet and I too joined Mum in closing my eyes. I am not sure how long my eyes were closed, it felt like seconds but it could have been much longer before I felt a tap on my shoulder. I jolted suddenly and opened my eyes. At first I couldn’t see anyone and then I heard “over here, dear” from the old lady sitting near me. She had asked some man to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention for her. ‘Could you please come here, dear? I would like to say something to you’ Oh, thank you! Firstly I am woken up and then you want me to get up and come to you! My curiosity got the better of me and I got up to see her.
When I got to her seat I could see the little old lady sitting with an elderly grey haired man which I presumed to be her husband. They both looked up at me while I wasn’t too sure what to say or do. ‘I’m sorry dear, we are sorry dear. We didn’t realise what had happened to you and your mother’ she said sympathetically. So, everyone does know then. How far has this gossip travelled up the plane? I hope Mum doesn’t find out.



 ‘You poor, poor girl’ and she reached out to hold my hand. The moment her warm hand touched mine my eyes began to water and fill with tears. I couldn’t control the tears that quickly started to run down my face and I let them. Mum and I had been in our confined bubbles since the tragedy had happened. I had protected myself from receiving anymore hurt. I had to in order to survive what was coming next. My body had shut down, my feelings had been put into glass jars and placed on the top shelf, out of reach and my mind had been pickled. I felt as though a mad scientist had all my body parts in jars all over his mad laboratory and was going to make a monster version on me. I had been shown lots of human kindness the last couple of days but no human contact. The touch felt electric and gave me an unusual sensation inside. It was like when your Nan hugs you and you know it contains so much love and you also know you're safe and sound. It was like that.
I was really sobbing now but trying my very best to conceal it from the other passengers looking at me. I always feel so self-conscience standing up on planes as your hip comes up to someone's head, when they are sitting down and you are within their personal space. Not to mention being bumped around and nudging into people.
‘Come here dear’ the concerned lady said as she was holding out a hanky for me. ‘Take this and you keep it. You need it far more than me’. ‘Thank you’ I said through my tears and sniffles. ‘I didn't mean to make you cry...I'm sorry’
I returned back to my seat again and I strangely felt better after having a little cry. There is only so much I can do and this brick wall I have built around my heart will eventually start to crumble away in time. Brick by brick it will come down and hopefully I will learn to be happy again but for now I was happy to keep it under lock and key.
I was miles away when the ‘please put your seatbelts’ sign lit up above me. Is it that time already? I am home. I took a deep breath and prepared myself. I can do this.
I gently woke Mum up and informed her we was getting ready for landing. We tided our area up, put all the rubbish together and put our belongings away. We put our seatbelts on and waited to be checked by one of the wonderful crew.
All checks had been done and that’s it, we just had to wait, wait to land.
This waiting time was like an out of body experience. It felt like I was looking down on myself and I looked so worn out and sad. Mum and I looked completely lost. Our eyes were lifeless and our bodies were limp. We were empty and running on nothing. We had nothing to give anyone except our story and bad news. Who would want that?
As the plane descended the kind little old lady turned right round to look at me and gave me a reassuring smile and a little wink too. That made me smile in return as it was unexpected and her goal was achieved.
The bulky woman sitting in front of me turned her head back so she could just about see me and gently said ‘You’ll be fine love. Your loved ones are waiting for you’. Where did that come from?! ‘Oh, thank you’ I said in shock and tried my best to smile back. Mum looked at me just as surprised as I was and I simply shrugged my shoulders back.
As the wheels of the plane touched the runway I felt huge relief that I had got Mum back home. I did it. We were back home again and we now needed to face the questions. In a minute I will turn my mobile phone back on and it will light up like Blackpool illuminations; full of texts, emails, tweets and voicemails of concern, worry and despair. Maybe I will just leave it on the plane after all. 
Everyone was in the aisle of the plane waiting to get off and bumping their heads on the lockers. Everyone is so impatient when waiting for those doors to open when you don’t get anywhere fast in the end. Mum and I joined the queue to the exit in silence with our heads down. We slowly approached the exit door and I could feel the fresh air on my skin. My feet dragged along and felt like I was wearing lead boots; they weighed a ton. I was in front of Mum in the queue and I was soon approaching Poppy at the door.
I looked up and we exchanged gazes. I stood in front of her and I didn’t move a muscle. ‘I hope you enjoyed your flight and we look forward to seeing you again very soon’ said Poppy in a highly professional voice.
‘Oh, I am sure you will’ I said while brushing past her.
My foot hit the first step and I looked towards the airport. I can do this.
I was home.       
I began to walk down the metal silver steps one at time, watching my footing with Mum closely behind me when I saw a flicker of blue light reflect off the steps, into the corner of my eye. They were here for me.
‘Miss Anderson, can you come with us please, I think we need a word…’
I can do this.

Written by Sophie Farrow, founder of Bad Mum. 

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