My first time away from Home – December 1997

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Your first time away from home is supposed to be a milestone in your life; the beginning of the end of your childhood, some might say it’s a monumental occasion, built up by much anticipation and excitement. Mine wasn’t.

It happened about three years ago, though it could have been yesterday, so real and vivid are the memories. It was a dull, dreary evening in Mid-December, if I recall, and darkness had long since claimed its title as ruler of the night. I was sauntering alone leisurely, without a care in the world, on my way home from music practice, when, as though pricked with a pin, the heavy, black skies opened, spilling its contents generously downwards.

I was momentarily stunned by the suddenness of the outburst, but the wetness seeping through my clothes soon brought me back to my senses. I desperately needed shelter. Through the torrents pelting down relentlessly, I saw what appeared to be a light, if somewhat distorted, a little way off. It could have been a star for all I knew, or cared. I fled recklessly towards it, numb and saturated.

As I neared the light, it became clearer and, to my relief, I realized it was a house, I’d seen beckoning so temptingly to me. As I neared the front door, my courage was a midget compared to the mountain it had been previously. Doubts were growing like uncontrollable weeds in my mind! What if…. I stood, a frightened mouse on the doorstep, hesitantly I raised my shaking hand to the door, paused then knocked.

Three purposeful booms, which were truly alien to the insecurity I felt at the time. I heard footsteps, a handle turning. The door opened to a narrow crack, then opened completely to reveal a small, fragile-looking woman of about sixty years, framed by the doorway. She stood aside, an unspoken invitation. Her wrinkled old face cracked into a toothless smile. “Come in, child”, she croaked. “You’re home now”.

She led me through a dimly-lit hall, from which a number of rooms, behind closed doors, branched out. She stopped abruptly at one, opened the door and walked in, motioning to me to follow. A small, cosy room was revealed, warmed snugly by an open fire. Perched king-like into one of the threadbare armchairs, was another woman, as old looking as the first, yet she had an almost transparent look to her. I thought initially that she was sleeping, but my theory vanished when she whispered, softly yet with a hint of excitement, “Welcome back, Sarah, I knew you’d come”.

I was given the honour of sitting next to the glimmering fire and was presently presented with a steaming mug of cocoa and a thick slice of toast, dripping deliciously with butter. I began munching my way through the mouth-watering feast, while the two old damsels chatted away to me and to themselves at times. I turned a deaf ear to most of their conversation, but I realised that they thought they knew me, saying “Your Auntie Marge”, and “When your daddy was young …”. They also continued to call me Sarah. Outside, the torrential rain was worsening.

Soon, the ladies’ chat subsided and the strain of overexertion was evident on their drawn faces. They were silent, apart from the occasional sniff, or, yawn. I asked if they had a phone, as my mother would surely be hysterical at this stage. Unsurprisingly they hadn’t and informed me quite forcefully that I would stay the night, as it was too wet to go home, and too late.

The snugness and warmth of the room, created overwhelming tiredness in me, and I just couldn’t refuse. Eyelids closing and worn-out limbs dragging, I was shown to my room, where I fell into a wonderfully soft bed, and slept.

I awoke the next morning, completely relaxed and content, I felt as though I could sleep forever but the glorious stream of sunlight piercing through the curtains shamed me into rising. I pulled on my clothes, all laid out neatly on a chair and dry since the torrents the night before. I gently turned the handle on the door – careful not to make noise and wake the two, but found, to my astonishment, that it was locked. I heard footsteps approaching, and stop outside the door, then a low, muffled voice, “I’m sorry Sarah, you’ve got to stay there, we can’t lose you again”.

I spent the next four days behind that pink door, trapped within pink, flowery walls and surrounded by mementos and ornaments of hers – Sarah’s. The women came regularly with tasty snacks, to which I turned up my nose, or just idle chat. They continually apologised for keeping me locked up, saying it was for my own good, and I’d be back to myself again soon. Those days, which should have been spent outside, enjoying myself, with friends, I spent living another girl’s life. I had to get out.

I turned many ideas over in my troubled mind, on that fourth day. After much deliberating I came up with a plan, and it just had to work. I began calling weakly from my bed, stretched out in pain. The lack of reaction urged me, though it hurt, into a somewhat louder wail. Finally, I heard the key turning slowly in the front lock and the door creaked open, two worried faces appeared. Then, I did feel a twitch of pain in my stomach, though it was from nerves. I told them, most convincingly that I was dangerously ill, I needed help.

They approached my bed cautiously. Then, cat-like, I sprang from the bed, and fled. I raced blindly through the house and out the door I’d so foolishly entered days before. On and on I went, splashing through puddles left as a reminder by the rain. Pain pierced my side and my throat was numbed. Eventually, I spotted our cream-coloured bungalow nestled among trees, never looking so homely or welcoming before. As I unlatched our grey, creaky gate, I heard a screech and it was followed by a thundering crowd of footsteps. I was engulfed by a swarm of smiling and relieved-looking faces.

I explained the story time and time again to them, but each time was presented by more and more cynical faces. “The Allen sisters wouldn’t harm a fly”, was all I heard and it was probably right, but if all “stays” away from home are like that ….

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About this record

Written by Aine Heaney

Published here 16 Feb 2023 and originally published December 1997

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