Step 3: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a higher being as we understand them.
PETEY’S STORY – MARCH
As quickly as winter, with its freezing rain and endless dark days had taken hold at The Lostings – then it was gone and March took its place instead.
It was not exactly tropical but rain stopped, chilling you to the bone, the nights didn’t draw in as quickly and everywhere I walked I found carpets of daffodils –yellow and bobbing in the early spring breeze which carried the scent of crocuses, early hyacinths and brave early March blooms.
When I sat on my bench – for by that point I had been here for going on three months and had started getting as territorial as the others when it came to benches and my place in the great order of things on a daily basis.
I had spent the early part of March listening to others, sitting in groups, spending time with new patients who were as lost and confused and angry as I had been and counting the days I had been here – not an easy thing when watches were not allowed, newspapers frowned upon and TV just not in existence.
I had also started to find myself counting the days that my family had not been to see me – the only way that I could keep track was by collecting little twigs from the tree that stood by my bench and placing a twig a day in the hollow of roots at the base of the tree.
I did the same to mark the days that Dave had not been here to visit – but in his case I collected dead flower heads that seem to litter the grounds of the place.
Sad to say, even though I knew exactly how long it was between seeing my family – I still found myself counting out the little piles every day I returned to my bench.
It was midway through the month when I started thinking a lot about Mum – and not always with the annoyance and dislike I normally felt when I gave her time in my head.
I might have mentioned before but my Mother could Moan for Gold at the Olympics – so great was her capacity to moan, wither and deflate the most happy occasion.
To be honest, I can vaguely remember that when I was much younger she sometimes was happy, but as the years went by, the times of happiness and contentment grew less.
She came to visit me on Mother’s Day and whilst she moaned and complained about absolutely everything else she didn’t really bitch about me – which made a nice change.
It was only after she left that I thought that maybe I should have bought her a card, some flowers, a box of Milk Tray, but as there wasn’t a shop here and leaving the grounds just didn’t seem possible – I guess that finished my plans for being daughter of the year.
But as the days followed her visit went slowly by – I really decided that I wanted to give her some flowers – not that I was getting soft in my old age but I hadn’t given her flowers since I was at school and that was under duress from Janie, the wonder child.
It just shows how bored I was that I was fretting because I couldn’t remember what flowers my Mum liked – had I ever really asked her? And if I had asked her, had I ever listened to what she had to say? I guess not.
So, really that was all I could say about March – daffodils, my Mum not moaning at me and my sudden compulsion to be nice to her – I’ve already told you – I was bored!
The only other thing that happened was the big meeting where I met Petey and my chair was marginally more comfortable than last time.
And so, to the tale of Petey – a man only a Mother could love.
“My name is Petey and I’m an addict!”
I looked at Petey and knew automatically what his problem was – but then anyone with a pair of functioning eyes would be able to see.
Petey was huge – not just a bit tubby, not curvy, not voluptuous, not in need of dropping a few pounds but absolutely mammoth. He was about average height, had average looks – grey rather straggly hair that hung forlornly to his neck, rather non-descript faded blue eye and that’s where the average ended.
It was like someone had played a seriously sick joke on him – he had this tiny potato head superimposed unto this bloody monstrous body. Of course I’d seen the fat bugger programmes on Channel 4, I’d laughed myself silly to Jerry Springer shows where the object of ridicule – sorry, interest – where huge chunks of fat with a person stuck in there somewhere who bleated that they didn’t want to die but I’d never sat in the same room as one of them.
Petey stared directly at me and I thought for a moment of no-inner monologue – did I just say out loud what a fat pig he was without realizing it?
He stared and I met his stare and for a split second I felt the pain he must have felt, been feeling every time someone looked at him, as I had, with revulsion and so little respect, understanding and compassion.
At that moment I felt maybe a little twinge of guilt but as I said before, I don’t want you thinking that I am going soft in any shape or form and with that in mind my drop of human kindness dripped away and I settled back to listen to the blubbery Petey.
“I can see that it’s pretty obvious what my problem is – isn’t it?”
Let me guess, Petey, you’re an anorexic and deep inside all that man fat you’re actually a perfect size 0?
“I have a problem with food – I like it a little too much.”
A little chuckle went round the room – but it was noticeable that it was a ‘We’re laughing with you, not at you’ response and this seemed to please Petey no end and he beamed to all concerned.
“As I was saying, I’ve always loved my food.”
No shit, butterball bloke!
“I was always big as a child – my Mum always used to believe in feeding the men up in the family. My Dad was quite big as well and because he was in the fire brigade – he kept himself quite fit and all the extra helpings Mum gave him would always end up on my plate.
As a boy I was always teased at school, but being the youngest, I had two big brothers and a very over protective big sister who would thump anyone who ever upset me.
My Mum was never happier than when she was cooking huge meals for the family – and I was never happier than when I was eating them.
I spent a lot of time at home with Mum when I was younger as I was sickly – always had a cold, a bad tummy, a sore this or that and in those days schools didn’t really bother if you weren’t there.
As long as you weren’t getting up to no good on the streets then no-one minded.
I think Mum used to get quite lonely with Dad always out ‘fannying around with fires’ as Mum always used to say and having me at home was good for her.
And I didn’t mind, really, I was never the brightest at school, no matter how hard I tried my work books were always ink spattered, my homework always forgotten and the words on the blackboard always used to do a peculiar little dance which made copying them down, let alone understanding them, impossible.
As I grew older, got bigger, got slower, I just kinda stopped going to school altogether – it got so Mum would get so upset if I went to school she’d get one of ‘her heads’ and the silent treatment would start and the cakes and lovely treaties for me would stop.
As I said, I didn’t miss school and its words that made no sense. I’d never really gone there long enough to make friends and the odd friend I had made Mum didn’t like and got all huffy when I bought them back home for a bit of tea.
As Mum said, she was my best friend – so why did I need anyone else?
Slowly, as the years passed my brothers and sister left home, got married, had kids, moved away and then there was just me, Mum and Dad.
To be honest, I never really noticed that Dad was drifting away from us – he was just there less and less. He said he needed to work more shifts to pay the bills – the Labour government had got everyone striking and money was getting harder to get hold of and keep. So, he worked more and more shifts, longer hours away that turned into days and then into weeks.
It wasn’t ‘till a few months had passed that I was on my daily visit to the shops for my Marathon bar and bag of Flying Saucers that I saw him with Bet from four doors down from us that I realized he wasn’t going to be coming home.
And then, it was just me and Mum and that was my life.
And I got bigger, the meals got larger, and I got bigger, the snacks got larger and I got bigger. My Mum didn’t do it out of cruelty, she did it because she loved me – she showed her love for me by looking after me.
My room was cleaned every day by her, my washing done every day by her; she made my breakfast, my lunch, my tea.
She bought me tea in bed every morning.
She ran my bath every night and always would wash my back.
The only place we ever went was into town on a Saturday morning to do the food shop, but after a while, I was too tired to go. I’d get out of breath just walking to the end of my road, let alone all round town and back.
And so I stayed at home when Mum went out, watched telly, ate the endless sandwiches and cakes my Mum left me, just in case I got peckish.
It was strange but even though I ate three good size meals a day I was always peckish.
Mum always used to buy my favourite Penguin bars – I always used to laugh when I saw the ‘Pick-up-a-penguin’ advert on the telly and she would leave me a couple of packets of them when she went out shopping.
I always thought I’d only ever eat maybe one or two – but every time Mum returned – the wrappers would be scattered around my feet like chocolate smeared confetti and my fingers sticky from the biscuit and chocolate cream filling that always seemed to end up on my fingers and under my nails.
And I grew and carried on growing.
It got so that I was so big I just stopped leaving the house, the looks people gave me, the whispers, the outright staring, the comments, the horrible things they would say – almost like they thought I couldn’t hear them.
And Mum always used to tell me to ignore them, not to let it upset me, ‘that we didn’t need them – we had each other’.
Over the years, Mum got older, I got bigger and Mum had more of ‘her heads’ and I started getting pains in my chest, in my legs, in my guts.
I had my first deep vein thrombosis at the age of 27.
My first diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes at 29, my first heart attack at 32.
They were all firsts but they weren’t to be my lasts.
My G.P. put me on a diet which I followed for three weeks until Mum said I was looking ‘peaky’ and made me a lovely big fry up to cheer me up.
There were some days I really didn’t feel that peckish any more – my chest hurt, my legs ached and throbbed and I could taste the acid taste that constantly flowed back up my throat every time I ate or drank.
But whenever I tried to tell Mum I wasn’t hungry, didn’t want her endless rock cakes, couldn’t face the never-ending gravy drenched meat and potatoes, the custard that covered every pudding she ever served – she’d get huffy, get one of ‘her heads’ and then as that didn’t work – she would start fainting.
The first couple of times she did it – it really scared me – I thought she was dying and, for those brief moments, I knew I couldn’t face a future without my Mum.
By then I couldn’t even put my own shoes on without Mum’s help, couldn’t get up the stairs to go to bed without Mum behind me, pushing and shoving me up the wooden hill which seemed to get higher and harder to scale as the days went by.
And so, so Mum wouldn’t go and die on me, I carried on eating and eating and eating. Sometimes I ate so much I’d have to stop to be sick because my tummy was so full it was hurting me, and Mum would hold out the waste paper bin – the one with the map of the Isle of Wight on – whilst I’d fill it with undigested food, half chewed and featuring little pieces of breakfast and dinner and tea and Penguin bars and rock cakes and cheese and salad cream, sandwiches, all made soupy and moist by endless cups of sugary tea and big glasses of sickly sweet Coca Cola.
And then Mum would take the hot slurry away, bring me a glass of water to rinse my mouth and then bring me another plate of food and it would start all over again.
Mum was happy, she loved me and showed her love for me in the kitchen day in, day out and I loved her and I showed my love for her by eating and eating and getting bigger. When Mum was 76 and I was 38, I got up to use the toilet and my legs wouldn’t work – couldn’t work – I called out to Mum and slowly she rolled me to the edge of the bed, where she supported me whilst I used the bucket I kept by my bed for when I was eating in bed and needed to be sick.
After that, I always used the bucket – for all my business – the bathroom was too far away and sometimes I would be caught short and I wee myself and then as I spent more time in bed, I would go to do a fart and something bigger and nastier than gas would leave me – over my bed and over me.
I remember the day Mum stopped loving me – it was actually Mother’s Day and Mum had been busy all day baking and cooking and feeding me and washing me and wiping my bottom because I couldn’t even find it any more.
One minute Mum was loving me – helping me fork up bacon and eggs and a lovely big doorstep of floury white bread and butter and pop it in my mouth and then she wasn’t.
I called for her over and over again but then she didn’t love me any more and wouldn’t hear me.
I don’t remember much after that, I must have called or shouted for help at some point, because when the next door neighbour let themselves in with the spare key Mum always kept under the milk bottle grate by the front door to see what the kerfuffle was – she screamed and ran out of the house to call 999.
It took seven big firemen and a winch to get me out of the house – evidently I put up a bit of a struggle because I didn’t want to leave Mum.
Whilst I think the emergency services could understand my reluctance to leave her there, I don’t think they could understand how I tried to make her comfortable.
I think maybe the neighbour didn’t come immediately when Mum stopped loving me – she was very cold and very stiff when they eventually found us – I’d fed her the rest of the breakfast she’d so lovingly made me – the congealing, rancid egg coated her chin and oozed out of her mouth, the bacon hard and turning from tasty pink to rotting green.
I loved my Mum so much, I’d even fed her my secret stash of Penguins and Marathons – because she had decided not to love me any more – she was being huffy and wouldn’t eat – so, I had to force the chocolate and biscuits into her.
I tried her mouth but that was full of breakfast.
So I put some in her hands, smeared the chocolate on her cheeks, so when she had stopped with her huff, she would see how I loved her.
I was worried that she’d be hungry after her mood, so I shoved the rest of the chocolate treats in her, in her special places she would sometimes show me when I’d made her really happy.
It had made a mess but I knew that when Mum decided to love me again she’d think it was lovely how I’d shown how much I loved her.
I think they gave me an injection to calm me down because I don’t remember anything after that – just waking up hungry here.
My name is Petey and my Counsellor says I am an addict.
Can we stop now and have a cup of tea – did anyone bring any biscuits? I’m feeling a little peckish.”
I sat looking at Petey – feeling disgusted at him, for him, with him and the words of the third step rang in my mind .
– And so had Petey, he had, in some strange way, made that decision to turn his will and life over to the care of a higher being or power – or, in Petey’s case – his Mum?
So was food his addiction?
Was his Mum addicted to him?
Would he ever stop feeling peckish?
Suddenly, I could imagine the smell in his room when they found him and his ever-loving Mum and I felt unwell – cold and clammy and nauseous.
In retrospect, my Mum with her amazing feats of nagging didn’t seem so bad.
In her own way she loved me – always had, no doubt, always would and what had I ever done for her?
Never even bought her a bunch of flowers, never bought her a cup of tea in bed, never made her a snack when she was tired.
Never done anything.
And at that moment, I told myself that when I got out of this place, I would do these things for her – I would make it better, much better.