Late one night Eddie was in terrible pain and had already used up all his prescribed medication for the day. I knew his next prescription could only be picked up the following day and realized it would mean my Mother would have to make yet another trip to the late-night Dispensary in Central London. She absolutely hated going there so I volunteered to go for her. It was a well-known 24hr Pharmacy, all the addicts used it because on the stroke of midnight you could collect the next days’ prescription. My ‘good deed’ led to what turned out to be one of the most chilling experiences of my life! I arrived there at about two minutes to twelve [midnight]. It being so late my Mother had given me money for a Taxi. I climbed out of the Cab and nearly collided with a man who looked as if he’d stepped straight out of a Horror Movie! He just stood there in the middle of the pavement, staring blankly with dark, unseeing eyes at the large Clock hanging outside the Store. His clothes were torn and dirty and streaked with both fresh and dried vomit. His thick black hair stood out in hard, spikey, unwashed tufts and he was muttering angrily under his breath as his fingers traced the time showing on the huge Clock-face above him down onto his non-existent wristwatch and his befuddled mind desperately tried to work out if it was midnight yet or not. I gave him as wide a berth as I possibly could and stepped into the large front foyer that led directly into the Pharmacy. Addicts in varying states of consciousness were slumped against every wall, while others stood swaying unsteadily in a long, filthy, ragged line that led through the door all the way up to the Dispensing Counter where others already lay, passed out on the floor. There were so many of them, all heart-breaking, pitiful remnants of the people they had once been. It was an awful sight…one I shall never forget. Fortunately, one of the Pharmacists saw me standing there undoubtedly looking every bit as shocked as I felt, and he called me forward as if I was collecting a prescription that had already been handed-in. I was grateful beyond words and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I never volunteered to go again.
Eddies’ health was steadily deteriorating again and my Mother told me he had been complaining about a nagging pain he kept getting across his shoulders. She had decided it was nothing more than a touch of rheumatism and that he was making a fuss about nothing but after a while he insisted on seeing a Doctor, which turned out to be just as well because he began having the first of what turned into a series of heart-attacks whilst hooked up to the ECG machine in the Doctors’ surgery! Not long after that my Mother managed to get him accepted into the Rehabilitation Unit of a well-known Hospital that specialized in the treatment of War-wounded and disabled Ex-Servicemen and there he DID finally overcome his addiction. The phantom pain hadn’t magically vanished however, so he still had to be kept on strong medication but this was very carefully monitored. It was clear that the only way to help him in the long-term was to find and remove the source of his Phantom Pain, so the Hospital Physicians decided they should recut the stump of his missing leg to see if that would fix the problem. They had performed similar operations successfully in the past but Eddie had distinct reservations about it because he’d had the stump operated on before with no beneficial results whatsoever, but because of their considerable experience and the fact that they were widely-acknowledged ‘experts’ in the field he decided to go ahead with the operation. Initially, as had happened previously he didn’t feel any real improvement, but as the wound slowly healed and he underwent several weeks of rehabilitation and convalescence he began to experience considerably less pain, so much so that he was eventually put on milder, and non-addictive medication. Sadly though, all those years of intense pain and drug-addiction along with a poor diet and extremely unhealthy living-conditions had taken their toll…Eddies’ body had simply been through too much. Just when his final period of rehabilitation and convalescence was nearly over he had another more serious heart-attack that was soon followed by a third which left him very weak and frail. After one of his regular check-ups a few weeks later my Mother pressed his Doctor for information about his general state of health but all the doctor would say was that Eddie “would not make old bones”.
Since Eddie now needed constant care my Mother decided it would be best if I left School and looked after him during the day. I think she fondly imagined that given such a ‘wonderful opportunity’ we would ‘bond’ again, and I would instantly be transformed into a devoted and loving Nurse/Companion for him, neither of which happened needless to say! Our relationship had deteriorated far too much for that to have been at all feasible, and only my Mother would have imagined otherwise! She had such a convenient way of looking at things. Although she herself had been largely responsible for creating the very real division between Eddie and I it was apparently up to ME – a truculent fifteen-year-old to rectify the situation! Oh Yes! THAT was going to happen! I didn’t object to leaving School to look after Eddie though, I suppose I was like any other teenager by then, moody and introspective…I didn’t really care much about anything at all! My grades were mostly pretty average at School but my prolific reading certainly paid off when it came to English Language /English Literature, and History. I still had all the usual problems with bullies of course and had been physically attacked on a number of occasions, once actually in the Classroom and the constant stress both at home and School undoubtedly took its toll of me too, so much so that I began playing truant a lot, much to my Mothers astonishment! I had never exactly been the ‘rebellious’ type but some mornings I just flatly refused to go, and at that age there was nothing she could do to make me! The Truancy Officer had actually called in at our flat once, luckily I’d been talking to my Mother on the phone when she’d arrived at the door so I’d handed the receiver over to her. My Mother spoke to her for quite a while, then the woman left without saying anything other than ‘Goodbye’! I’ve no idea what my Mother said to her but whatever it was it seemed to have worked! I expect she told the Official what she had in mind about taking me out of School to look after Eddie but just hadn’t bothered discussing with me yet! As far as I recall Eddie was in Hospital while all this was going on. I can’t say I felt that I would be walking away from a promising future if I left School early, I wasn’t excelling in any particular subject, so I didn’t think it mattered. I didn’t have Simons’ brilliant mind so I didn’t think I mattered. I had never been foolish enough to think my success at Tennis actually meant anything either because I had always known there was no chance of being able to pursue the Sport beyond School level to see if I had the talent to go any further. Everything eventually boiled down to money, and that was always in short supply in a one income home. I think I was just under fifteen years old when I actually ‘officially’ stopped going to School.
I don’t know what was going on in my Mothers’ relationship with her boss at the time but I remember my fifteenth birthday all too well! It fell on a normal week day and my Mother hadn’t bothered buying anything for me ahead of time, she just told me rather impatiently before she left for work that morning that she would nip out at lunchtime and buy a small gift for me and also bring in some little cup-cakes from her local Bakery that evening. It sounded feasible since she worked in an Arcade that had a variety of very nice shops in it so unusually for me I actually started looking forward to it, mostly because I was taking care of Eddie full-time by then and every day seemed to be extraordinarily long and depressing. Evening finally came… six o’clock, seven o’clock and moments before eight o’clock she arrived in a Taxi in a RAGE! She pushed past me as I opened the front door for her and stormed straight off into her bedroom carrying a couple of shopping bags! As she slammed her bedroom door shut right in front of my astonished face she snarled that she “hadn’t had a chance to get anything for me but maybe she would at the week-end”, and that was that! I could hear her ranting on at poor Eddie about something that had happened at work, I couldn’t quite make out what, but whatever it was it had quite obviously totally incensed her! She hadn’t even calmed down by the week-end and was still stomping around in a fearful temper… needless to say I didn’t bother mentioning my Birthday!
I don’t suppose I was a very brilliant ‘Care-giver’, I was probably quite inept. I didn’t know anything about looking after an invalid, nor did I receive any particular guidance or training, I just basically made Eddie whatever he wanted to eat or drink and emptied his commode whenever necessary, but at least he had somebody there with him during the day. It was better than nothing, better than being left there by himself, and that’s probably the only good thing you could say about it! We weren’t close, we didn’t talk, we were just there …together…yet alone. I never spent a moment more than I had to with him - I hadn’t yet seen the truth - that he was the injured party in their relationship, not my Mother. He was hurting in so many ways that I didn’t see or understand, but I was too young and too immersed in my own sorrows.
The next instalment of this true life story will be posted on 1st October 2021.
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