By Lauren Turner
It was a small but lively borough of Wolverhampton. The Scotlands was where I played, explored and grew… all within the boundaries of a small street and the cul-de-sac that led off it.
My mom never let me go far. There were always groups of boys hanging about and sometimes they would pick on us girls, calling us names and chasing us. In the summer, me and my sister would play blind man’s bluff in the garden across the road, within our mother’s sight. We would sit on the ‘green box’ as we used to call it, knowing nothing of the maze of wires inside, and eat ice cream, kicking our legs against the worn metal. We rode our bikes with the kids who lived on the corner house, everyone showing off their one-handers. My bike got rammed days after I had it, jealousy leaving an ugly mark on the paintwork. It’s still there now; it never washed off.
During the winter we would make a snowman, only to come out an hour later and find the lads had dismantled it and rolled it off down the street. We would be sitting in the living room, watching the television as a family, and suddenly hear a great big thwack as a rock encased in snow was lobbed at our window.
There was all sorts of drama, looking back… people always coming to our house, arguing and picking fights. I didn’t understand why at the time and I still don’t. There was a gunshot one Christmas and a fight next door one New Year’s Eve. The woman who lived there was playing her music far too loud. It was a common issue, and dad went over to complain. She decided she’d finally had enough of him nagging. My big sister stepped in as things were getting heated. She lost a chunk of her hair that day.
When I was thirteen my parents broke up and I moved to a new house in the street next to our old one, where I lived with my mom and new stepmom. Turned out my mom was gay. I was too young to wonder about how that affected my dad. I was horrified at the thought; I didn’t understand, had never been exposed to it, and it scared me, but I didn’t have a choice. The house was nice considering the others, but the nights were filled with break-ins and fear. Our new house was broken into and our car smashed up. We got home one day to find our belongings, our identity, trashed on the floor: mom’s bank letters and my toy bear on the wet tarmac, surrounded by shattered glass. The next morning the group of lads over the road claimed they ‘day do it,’ but their sly smirks gave them away. That was the third time we’d been broken into.
It wasn’t long before the ugliness of The Scotlands, the rot and the unkempt lawns, spread inside as it probably did in so many other houses. Words became sharp, alcohol flowed and I found that I was living with strangers. Every weekend there would be parties, people screaming and shouting, jumping to the bass that shook the house, not caring that we couldn’t sleep. My stepmom joined in, not a single care for me, my sister or my mom. There were people I didn’t know sleeping on my sofa and my floor. I’d wake up in the morning to find I was stepping over bodies. At first, my mom was mad about my stepmom, but as more of her character was revealed, I noticed my mom slowly starting to fade away. I would cry and tell her that this woman was ruining our lives. But she didn’t seem to be listening. I think she was drowning and couldn’t hear us; didn’t want to hear us.
One night, my stepmom took my leg, pulling me down from my bed, laughing, and dragged me down the stairs. I screamed for my mother and cried out with fear as the carpet stung my skin. When I reached the bottom, she dumped me outside on the grass, still laughing, her lager glass spilling over. I looked my mom in the eye, pleading. But her expression was blank, dying. When I look back it’s a miracle she ever came out alive, that any of us did, but to everyone else in the area it was just a normal event. Screaming and arguments were the norm, and no one ever called the police.
Slowly, I felt that I had become a target in my own home. If I left a bag around, it would be thrown at me. If I shut the door too loud, I would be shouted at. If I ate too much food, I would be called fat. Hands became harder than stone and words sharper than blades; they sliced through self-worth and shattered self-confidence. I felt like I was being chipped away, day by day. This was a power game, and I was losing. I began to blame myself for what was happening, sometimes believing that I deserved it. Though I spent much of my time holed up in my bedroom out of the way, drawing, writing or crying, she would bother me whenever she had the opportunity
I told my dad, and he had a word, fuming. I thought that it was over… until I came home to find all my books, my laptop, TV and my PlayStation had been taken from me. My mom was too scared to defend me, and my dad was helpless. I couldn’t live with him, he was sleeping in a tiny room at my nan and grandad’s house and he couldn’t come near us; god knows what she would have done if he had. She spoke of doing awful things to him, and none of us wanted to see any of it played out for real. For the first time in my life I felt truly alone; I missed my dad very much, but more than that, I felt like the filthiness of human nature had been revealed to me. It was hard to tell anybody. No one thinks a woman is capable of that.
It was during all of this that I found myself walking up the road where I lived when I was younger. Past the green box – I could almost still hear our feet kicking away at it – and past the cul-de-sac where I learned to ride my bike. I stared at the place that I used to call home. I saw the dirtiness, the grime of the street and how my family sheltered me from that. Yes, there were bad things that happened outside of our home; we’d witness it all the time. But I never witnessed it in my home. That was where it was safe. After all these years it was like, finally, the dirtiness was invading us, growing bigger and bigger, until we could no longer resist it and embraced it instead. I wished that we could go back. I wished that I was the snowman that stood on our garden all those winters ago. I wished that someone would dismantle me and roll me away; away from all of this.
The Scotlands. Its name belies nothing of its nature. It’s not green and full of life; it’s black and full of crime. Shops that barely get by and people that barely smile. The houses look as dead as the people inside.
For two long years I was lost until at last, I escaped the semi-detached prison. My mom came home one day just when my ‘stepmom’ was threatening me. That was it for my mom. She finally lost it. She couldn’t do it anymore, even if it meant being homeless. We ran away. I went to my dad’s – he’d got his own place, at last – and my mom went to my nan’s. I never went back in that house again. She wouldn’t let me. My mom was only legally allowed in because her name was on the tenancy. I wasn’t sure how much stuff she packed and what she left.
We eventually found a house by Northycote Farm, Bushbury. It was lovely. There were sheep and cows across the road. I would watch them from my window. It was calming. I even saw a bike left outside for days and it didn’t get stolen. I never saw any fights or rowdy behaviour. It was serene in comparison, just so very quiet, like the houses were sleeping, and the people inside were sleeping too. I had a feeling that my mom’s partner would have never have got away with treating us like that here. People seemed to care. Our house and car were never broken into again.
I returned only once to The Scotlands, a year later. I walked past the new Domino’s, which did little to brighten the streets, past the newsagents where I had my first job, past the wallpaper shop where I had my first kiss. Then finally, to the house that wrestled to take my soul from me. The door was hanging off. She had obviously moved out and the squatters had taken advantage. It looked worse than when we left it. An atmosphere hung over the place like someone had plugged the sky with something, blocking out the sun. I never noticed it as a child. I briefly wondered if the council had given up on the entire place. I tentatively walked over to it, bad memories coming from everywhere I looked. I walked through the door and into what looked like a homeless shelter. My life and childhood were scattered all over the place. Trashed and rifled through. My mom didn’t pack a lot of our things, I found out that day. They were meaningless things to most people, but not to me. I picked up a blanket my nan had knitted me, eyes pooling with tears. It was dirty, the horse on it almost unrecognisable. I wanted to take it home. With the blanket still clutched in my hand, I walked up the stairs and to my old bedroom, where skin was torn and tears were hot on cheeks. There was a disgusting mattress on the floor. An old dreamcatcher hung at the window; its feathers had seen better days.
And here I was, hurting and wounded, but very much alive, heart pounding strongly in my chest. I felt as though this house, and my stepmom, had taken everything from me: my parents, my sister, my safety, and my happiness. But somehow, despite it all, I was mending. We were mending. The bonds with my family were stronger than before. I was going to make the most of every day now I was safe and with the people I loved, knowing what it was like on the dark side, determined never to go back.
On that day, a survivor was born.
The Scotlands is the first in our new series of Black Country memoirs. We have life-writing from young and old coming to you over the next few weeks.
Lauren Turner is a student at the University of Wolverhampton, where she studies Creative and Professional Writing. She is the first person in her family to go to university, and believes you have to work hard to get what you want. A horse enthusiast from a young age, Lauren hopes to own a horse of her own one day. She is currently working on a novel.