This is an adapted excerpt from Mez McConnell’s new book The Creaking on the Stairs: Finding Faith in God Through Childhood Abuse. Please pre-order the book through 10ofthose. Every purchase made through 10ofthose helps to support to work of 20schemes.
I remember walking home from school with the envelope in my hand. I held it so tight because I thought it would fly away in the wind. There was nothing more important to me in the world.
I was fearful and excited at the same time. Excited because the news within could set the mood in the house. Fearful that if it was bad news then I would be in for a world of pain that night.
I slowed my pace as I walked through the alleyway that would open up onto the street where my house was. I passed a church and thought about God. ‘God, please let me pass.’ I prayed. I wasn’t really much of a prayer and I didn’t go to church. But I believed in God. At least I think I did. ‘Please let me pass and please let her be in a good mood tonight, God.’ I stopped in the street and scrunched my eyes really tight to let God know how serious I was.
I was 11 years old and in my hands were my 11+ exam results. They would determine what High School I would go to. Would it be a comprehensive like the other kids in my neighbourhood, or would it be a Grammar School like the smart kids? I wasn’t sure. I wanted to go to the smart school just to annoy my stepmother. She was always calling me stupid and thick. She told me daily that I would never amount to anything in my life. I was an idiot, like my dad, she said. Well, screamed really. She screamed a lot. Well, today I had the proof. Was I an idiot or not?
I opened the front door and pushed into the living room. As usual, there was a crowd of people there, drinking, smoking and talking loudly over one another. My dad was at work. I walked nervously over to her chair and handed the envelope over. ‘What’s this?’ she spat at me. ‘My exam results,’ I stammered. She ripped the envelope from my fingers and fixed me with a withering scowl.
I took a slight step back, experience teaching me to not keep completely out of striking distance, which would only anger her further, but to be just far enough away for it only to sting when she hit out. She ripped open the envelope and with it tore a part of the paper within. Her eyes scanned the news and I stood there sweating, praying desperately for a good result and a pain-free evening. ‘Please God, please God, please God.’ After a couple of moments, she crumpled the letter into a ball and threw it at me. ‘How did he get on?’ one of the strangers asked. ‘He passed,’ she said. The room cheered and soon people were congratulating me and drinking in my honour. She just sat there very still. Not looking at me. As if she were deep in thought. People were patting me on the head and congratulating me. ‘Well done son. Grammar School, eh? I don’t know nobody who’s went to no Grammar School before.’
Still, she was silent. Finally, she said to me, ‘Go and get yourself a slice of bread for your tea. Put some margarine on it. Not too much though. It’s not Christmas.’ Wow. Bread and margarine. She must be happy with me. ‘Thanks, God,’ I said inwardly as I went to the kitchen to claim my reward. Two minutes later I was in my room reading the good news for myself. I had passed my exams. I had come within the top 2% in the country. That must mean I wasn’t thick (as she always told me). I wasn’t an idiot after all (she said that a lot, too). I smiled to myself and savoured the bread and the creamy margarine. Who knew when I would get a treat like this again?
An hour later I heard the door slamming and the sound of silence descended over the house. Then the sounds of footsteps on the old rotten staircase with the threadbare carpet. My stomach jumped. The all-too-familiar fear came over me. Would she pass by and go to bed, or would she stumble through the door to my room? A few seconds later I had my answer. My fears realized as the handle turned, the door swung open and she stood there, swaying in the doorway, drunk. ‘So, you think you’re clever, do you?’ she slurred. ‘You think you can show me up in front of my friends?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘Please, God,’ I prayed inwardly, earnestly. ‘Please, God. Help me. I did my best. I passed. I was a good boy.’
She stormed into the room and aimed a kick at me. I fell off the bed onto the floor and curled into a ball. The kicks kept coming until she got tired. Then she sat on the edge of the bed and pulled me up by my hair. ‘Look at me, you little rat.’ She spat, ‘You’re nothing. You’ll never be anything. Nobody loves you. Nobody ever will. I don’t care what that bit of paper says.’ She punched me hard, and the darkness came.
That night, something inside me broke. I’m not sure what it was. But I stopped being afraid of her. When I regained consciousness and cleaned myself up, I went to bed happy. I was in pain. But it was a sweet pain. It was the pain of victory. But I was also sad. I had cried out to God. I had cried out to him many times.
But, as usual, there was only silence.
Where was He? Why had He let this happen to me? Why didn’t He like me? What had I done to Him? Did He even care? Was He even there?
I began to believe that He wasn’t.