A few weeks after the book is released, I hear from Mum. I’ve been expecting it, but not right at the moment it happens. After teaching a course all day and John having been at an interesting conference, we are both animatedly chatting when my phone beeps and I glance at it because it happens to be next to me.
I hate you. I wish I never had you.
I stop talking and stare at the message. My heart sinks but there is no time to process it because that message is just the first of a barrage. The phone beeps incessantly.
You are the WORST thing that has ever happened in my life. Not meeting your father … YOU! Everyone told me to have an abortion and now I wish I did. You have always been jealous of your sisters and the family I built, but you will never be part of our family again.
Before The House of Lies was published, I sent Mum a copy with a long note, explaining again why I needed to write it and asking her to read it … I guessed she wouldn’t, but I had hoped. I wanted her to see what she had survived and realise she was still loved. But these messages have to be inspired by the book being released – why else?
The messages go on into the night.
They continue the next day when I’m teaching and the day after that when I’m in the office. When they turn even more abusive I screenshot them and save them all to my computer, partly to torture myself by re-reading them over and over and partly just in case something comes of it.
I am going to destroy your life.
Your father will find you now because of the book – he will track you down!
My sisters say Mum definitely hasn’t read the book. Despite their encouragement, she is still refusing. They had both read it before it was published and approved it, agreed that Mum had nothing to be mad about. But she refuses to listen. They don’t know what exactly has set this barrage of messages in motion but we guess it’s the small news and magazine articles she’s reading. The messages from Mum get so bad I feel anxious every time my phone beeps.
‘Block the number,’ John says. ‘What she is writing to you is disgusting. She is not a mother; she is a monster! Why are you tolerating it?’
‘I can’t block my mother …’
‘Your mother is literally the only person in your whole life who you should block. You should have blocked her years ago.’
I draft and delete a million replies to Mum. I know that no matter what I write I won’t be able to relieve the situation. So I stay silent. As well as beeping messages from Mum all day and night, my phone rings hot as my sisters and I talk through Mum’s current state of mind. Ashleigh calls one afternoon in tears. ‘I’m scared,’ she says. ‘Ren, I know I said I was totally okay with the book and I really do support you in your writing but now I’m worried.’
‘About what? About Mum and this breakdown? Is she being okay to you?’
‘No! I’m not worried about Mum – well no more than usual. I’m worried about you. Mum said your dad is going to find you and kill you and then kill the boys when he finds out about the book. I’m scared that you are going to die.’
‘Oh Ashleigh! I’m not going to die! Mum is trying to scare you.’
‘Mum said you would say that. She says you have no idea what he’s capable of and that we are all at risk.’
‘Ash, Mum has no idea what he’s capable of either, she actually hasn’t seen the man in more than three decades! You know what? He has probably just moved on with his life!’
I feel like the situation with Mum is endless. How can I find peace in this violence when her hate is so relentless? I can barely think of anything else. I try to go for a run and clear my head but the problem refuses to melt away no matter how hard or long I pound the trails. When I get back, there are no endorphins to make me feel better; my heart is so full of sorrow that I sit down with my head in my hands and cry. I cry so hard I wonder if I will ever stop. I can see that this cycle between Mum and me is never going to end. Whether I engage or remain silent, it won’t end until one of us dies. And I feel so broken from all the hateful messages that I wonder if that person will end up being me.