I have tried to write this story a thousand times. Every time it has come out a different way because I can’t get my head round it. Can I do it justice? Some things can only ever exist in your mind, the way you see and smell the events, the way it rolled out, the detail, the thoughts, the way you saw it
I was sixteen and at school. I played the flute, go to drama club, yawn yawn, and I have a boyfriend,. Yippee! We get on, we like each other … and all the rest of it.
Mum was over protective. Aren’t they all? Anyway, we were coming home, she’d picked me up from school so that I could drive home. See, I’ve got it wrong already – I had to be seventeen in order to drive. Thinking about it (I don’t keep a diary so I can’t tell you the exact dates), but I was more like 17 and a half. It was early summer and my birthday was in November, so that’s about right. Sorry kids, I thought I was younger. I did not think of myself as a child. The driving, the car, the boyfriend and all the rest of that stuff. I was trying to drive and we got into this blazing row. Looking back on it I see two kids fighting, not a mum and her daughter, I see a playground slagging match. She had to pull over to say her piece. It wasn’t about my boyfriend; he was away on his gap year before uni; it was about someone else I was seeing and how much time we were spending together. I didn’t like him that much … but enough of that … well, this isn’t going to be that kind of story so you can make this bit up. Either way the argument was unjustified. What business was it of hers? I wasn’t stupid. Meanwhile coming out of town the traffic is horrendous. The more het up she gets, the Mother, the most impatient I become with a bus that is getting in my way all the time and my not being able to get passed every time it stops because it can’t get into its stops because of some reason or another. Noting much the Mum version says goes in, just as well. I was aware of it. Got the gist of it, picking out the odd word that could easily be dropped into some sentence or another that meant the same thing. She was pissed off with me. Dropping the piano, the boyfriend, this guy on the side. She didn’t care how I drove so eventually I flipped, got up the nerve did the mirror, signal manoeuvre thing (I hope), pressed hard down on the accelerator and got passed this flipping bus. I wish I hadn’t, for some reason the faster I drove the more words my mother managed to get out, the louder it became and the more graphic the descriptions of what she thought of me. So I flipped, coming to the edge of town I saw an opportunity to pull over – in a bus stop. It wasn’t long before we had this bus, my bus, up my back end. I got out, slammed the door, ran over to the bus and jumped the queue. No jacket, no bag, a handful of coins. I paid what I had for a ride some dozen stops down the road. I didn’t know what I’d do next but I wanted my actions to have an impact. At first they didn’t, but boy oh boy did things go pear shaped after that. At first at least.
This is what happened. Mum sat fuming in the passenger seat. My younger sister was sitting in the back? I forgot to tell you that. During this adult-like, parents in the front of the car arguing thing we had both forgotten that ‘the children were in the back.’ I bet she thought it was all very funny; she had it all coming. Lucky sod had a far smoother ride of it than I did when she got to my age.
So, where am I? I’m on a bus, a red single-decker that is heading out of town on the West Road. I needed enough for an eleven mile trip. I had enough to get me less than half that distance down the road. Sod it. I’d get as far as I could and walk the rest. I was sure Mum would follow the bus all the way home. After all I was only sixteen. Or seventeen and a half 🙁 You see, telling the story as it was again I am starting to see it from the point of view of others. I was after all 17 & a half. I was learning to drive. I could have passed my test by now and be driving myself home. If I had to walk five or six miles that would do me no harm. (That was something else I’d gone off in the last eighteen months. Family walks. They were okayish when I was 12 & 13, but then it became tiresome. Once my boyfriend came on a walk with us and that was fine, we’d drop behind or get ahead and have a snog behind a tree or behind a rock or round the bend). Anyway, back to the bus.
I get into a bit of an argument with the driver. I think he recognised the car that had been bugging him all the way out of town and had shot passed in a dangerous manoeuvre some x minutes or so ago. I begged him to take me all the way, but he was having nothing of it. My being a girl, and vulnerable didn’t wash. My not having my mobile to ring Mum didn’t mean a thing. I could take his bus, pay what I had and then get off. Which is what I did.
Drizzle. Turning dark. A dual-carriageway for four miles then a minor-road that ran down to the river and up the bank the other side. A couple of hours. It would be pitch black. No sign of Mum. If she didn’t turn up in the next twenty minutes she’d not be able to pick me out anyway. So I start to walk. I needed to get on with it. I get home soon enough. What I hadn’t expected were the pesky drivers who kept stopping to see if I was okay, if I need a lift, if my parents know where I was etc: etc: etc:
It got unpleasant, there was this one bloke in a white van who came back, said he’d got home and spoken to his wife who thought it best if he picked me up – not safe to be out in the dark and your age kind of story. Well I wasn’t having any of that, I was straight up this grass bank, over the fence and starting through a field before he had a chance to grab me. I’m sure he reached out to grab me. He got out of the van and took a few steps up the bank. I knew where that could lead, head down in wet ditch after a lot of nastiness. I’d watched Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to believe these things happen – they do happen. So I scarpered.
Looking about me I was worried about the growing dark but could orientate myself with ease. The orange glow of town behind me, street lights coming out of town either side of the valley where I could follow the river. There were also some huge electricity pylons that took me more or less home. If I wanted I could follow the buzz from them and get to a road I new that went into the village. I’d be home before the 10 O’clock news.
I didn’t reckon on the stickiness of the soil; school shoes aren’t the best thing to wear if you’re going cross-country. I cursed not having my bag with me. We’d had P.E. with Mrs Whoppet (sounds like her name) so I had trainers. And money. And my mobile. I so wanted to speak to my boyfriend, the proper one, the one I texted and sent messages too often. Would he be worrying already? He was a thousand miles away and not due home for another two weeks 🙁
This wood loomed up, not so much a wood as a large copse. I was on a farm track in the middle of this field. I was heading west, I knew that. I could see the street lights on the top of the escarpment in the distance; I could even pick out the dual-carriageway to the north too. Sorry girls, I’m alright with Geography and maps and that. My boyfriend (he could drive), we’d gone off on a trip and I’d done the map reading. He was unfairly critical at first but then rather impressed; he’d not shelled out on a satnav-thingy so I did it for him, the funny voice and everything.
This wood was a bit of a pain. It didn’t look as big as it turned out to be and it was bang smack in my way. Did I go round it or through it? Being a sensible wee missy I turned my head skywards for a look at the stars. Don’t ask me to name more than three or four consellations, but I knew with the Plough I could get to the North Star. Sod it. Cloud baked orange from city lights to the North. Anyway, I’d ploughed on with plenty already that day so making this decision wasn’t so hard. I could judge a straight line. I’d go straight through, aiming for the river, the land dropping to the south, on my left, which should get me down to the river. This I could follow inland for a couple of miles to our village, there was bound to be a path by the river. There are always paths by rivers, aren’t there? So this is what I set out to do.