The people who witnessed the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 said that one of the first things they noticed that morning was the unnatural silence and the strange sound of fish flopping and gasping on the white sands of the beach. The fish had been stranded by the rapid drawback of the ocean; the silence was caused by the rapid receding of the tide – of the ocean being drawn deep into that cataclysmic wave. Locals immediately knew that there was a problem. However, tourists had no idea that the quiet and calm of the empty beach was unnatural and that something was very wrong.
If tsunamis were everyday events, we’d all spot the signs immediately, we’d all be safer, we wouldn’t stay on the beach to stare at the fish, we’d head for safe ground immediately. But they’re not and we don’t. Some things are beyond our experience and we have to learn, sometimes in the hardest way possible, to spot the signs of trouble.
In February 2018 the anti-depressants were beginning to put me on a slightly more even keel, the kids seemed a little more settled and, whilst GCSE pressure was building for Youngest Daughter, and she was still seething about her Dad and P, she did seem a little happier in herself and a little less angry at the world. She was still having one or two problems with friendship groups at school (nothing major, just the usual stuff that kids her age go through), so as half-term approached, I was grateful for the relative calm and the break from the daily school-related problems that this meant.
That half-term Oldest Son was on a school ski trip so Youngest Son went on his first ever solo day trip with his Dad. They went to London for the day, which he usually loves, so I was a little bit surprised when he got home that evening with a face like thunder. He stood there, frowning, his arms folded mutinously over his chest, and said “I’m not happy!” Apparently, as he and E were due to leave for home, E had said: “I’ve just had a text from P, she wants me to pick her up from work. Is that ok? She’d have to stay in the car with us whilst we drop you home.” With what took considerable guts, given that he was on his own and feeling under pressure, Youngest Son replied that he wasn’t comfortable with that. E didn’t push it further, and they didn’t pick P up, but according to Youngest Son, E wasn’t happy and, as they were driving home, he kept talking to him about the possibility of meeting P.
I was so cross that I think I inadvertently prompted the tectonic-plate-shift that came next. Whilst Youngest Son messaged Oldest Daughter to tell her what had happened, I texted E asking him what the actual fuck he’d been thinking, pointing out how upset Youngest Son was, explaining to him that the reason the kids hadn’t met P yet was because they didn’t want to and that it was up to them if they wanted to meet her (not because of any pressure I’d put them under). Because I was hurt and wanted to hurt back, I also added that if one of my kids ever felt the way about me that Oldest Daughter felt about him, I would be inconsolable. Obviously E didn’t reply to me, but I think my words stung, because just two days later he texted Oldest Daughter asking her if they could speak.
They spoke on the Monday of half-term, which just happened to be the day that Youngest Son, Youngest Daughter and I were heading up to Durham to visit her. Later that evening, she told us about what had been said between them. She felt it went ok but, during the call, she was increasingly frustrated by the fact that E seemed to expect her to carry on as if nothing had happened (just like he was doing every time he saw the boys) and she challenged him on this behaviour. She told him that he couldn’t keep treating his life with P as if it was somehow separate from his life with his kids and had to stop treating his kids like they had no right to know what was going on in his life. She then came round to the fact that nobody even knew if he was married or not because he refused to answer the question every time he was asked it. Predictably he went silent at this point, but she wouldn’t let it drop and asked him again if he and P were married. This time he replied with a reluctant “well…. yes” (adding “I thought everyone would have gathered by now”).
This, of course, then left her with the task of telling me, Youngest Daughter and Youngest Son that E was married. Another responsibility he’d shirked.
I’m not sure why, because we’d suspected that he was married for nearly six months now, but having the marriage confirmed was like a punch in the stomach. I tried my best to keep smiling and to enjoy the evening with the kids, but thundering through my head the whole night were the words ‘he’s married, he’s married, he’s actually married’. It thudded through my brain all night and echoed in my consciousness for the whole of the time we were in Durham.
I was so upset, I was so busy staring at the stranded fish, that I didn’t notice the effect it was having on Youngest Daughter. She had initially responded to the news with bleak humour and making jokes for the whole of half-term about “secret marriages”, she was also posting edited pictures of her Dad on Snapchat and Instagram accompanied by increasingly sarcastic comments. I could see how angry she was, I knew how upset she was, but I didn’t see that behind her increasingly bitter joking was a dangerously increasing pain. I didn’t spot the signs that she was struggling a little bit too much and that perhaps she couldn’t cope after all. I was so hurt and wounded myself that I wasn’t paying enough attention. I didn’t see how hard she’d taken the confirmation of her Dad’s marriage.
As half-term ended and the kids headed back to school, things seemed calmer. I thought Youngest Daughter was ok. I didn’t notice how unnatural the quiet was. On the Wednesday night, I gave her a massive hug before I want to bed and she hugged me back and told me she loved me. I just didn’t see.
On the Thursday morning, I got a call from her school. They told me not to worry. They told me that she’d said she’d made herself sick immediately and they thought it was out of her system. They reassured me that they thought she was ‘ok now’.
They told me that, in a moment of extreme pain and confusion, on Wednesday night, she’d taken fifteen paracetamol and tried to end her life.