Diary of a New Life: Day #12

I stumbled out of the car, slightly merry from the Japanese beer and ran to the edge of the water with my friend. The music from the car stereo grew quieter as we ran away from it, laughing. We stopped by the edge of the lake and peered down into the darkness to the surface of the water. Every so often, white reflections cast down from the street-lamps caught on the blackened surface of the water, causing fluid, moving patterns of white light on the waves. Even on the coldest, darkest night, this lake held such beauty. I edged down the stone steps closer to the water and reached into my pocket. I pulled out a small, cobalt blue, glass bottle. I had washed it out earlier in the evening, but I could still smell the essential oils it had held. Remnants of another previous life. I leaned down closer to the water, unscrewed the cap and dipped the bottle into the freezing water. I stopped laughing. Instead I concentrated on remaining steady, as the water froze my hand. I wished it would freeze my heart. I no longer wanted to feel.

The bottle filled almost instantly. I quickly screwed up the cap and stood up. The final few seconds. I kept my back to my friend standing at the top of the steps, as I watched my quickening breath against the night sky; carrying my wordless, heart-breaking message into the night. It's over. Goodbye.

I ran back to the car with my friend, giggling, shouting once more, hiding the desperate feeling inside; that I had lost everything, that the little freezing cold bottle in my palm may as well have contained the last traces of my soul.

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Waiting in the security queue at the airport, watching my children say goodbye to their father. A six foot three man, crying his eyes out, bending over two tiny bodies, their faces beaming up at him, he's holding them so tight I think they'll disappear into him. I clutch the family passports to my face like a shield. Usually four, now three.

I want to hide behind them forever. I want to disappear.

I cannot take this pain.

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Today I spent most of my morning in Ipswich Job Centre. I had been asked to go there for a meeting about benefits, mainly income support. I arranged for my friend to take my daughter to school and for my mum to pick me up and take my son and I to the meeting. She could look after him whilst I was in the interview.

Of course, I hadn't counted on the fact that my son would have the biggest meltdown known to parenting precisely five minutes before we were due to leave. Not just a bit of a tantrum, but full on screaming, "I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!" at me. I've been getting a lot of that lately.

I got to the interview twenty minutes late, sweating, apologising, teary, frustrated.

But Joe was there to calm me down. Job Centre Joe as I have christened him. His "I am here to help" attitude got me through the next hour of questions, his "hey, everyone needs assistance sometimes" message I found heartwarming. I was beginning to feel less of a disaster-zone than when I had first walked in.

An hour later, after Joe had carefully taken details down about my previous relationships, my varied and colourful work history, my financial status, my lack of any incoming financial support or benefits, and my reasons for why I was actually sitting down in front of him in the first place, he printed off my application form, handed me a copy, shook my hand warmly and lead me to another waiting area to take a seat.

Another twenty minutes later I was summoned to another desk. I gave my reasons for being there for a second time. The lady was very polite and kind, once again gave me that look as if to say "don't worry, it will all get sorted out in the end. There there…"

Only it won't. Or at least it feels right now that there will never be an end to this.

Ten minutes after checking through all final details, she announced to me that I wasn't entitled to Income Support because I wasn't claiming Child Benefit. My application was unsuccessful.

"But I don't understand," I stammered, "how am I supposed to have a Child Benefit claim already in place when I have not received the application form in the post yet and I only arrived back into the UK on Sunday? And more importantly, when I was told I should attend this interview, WHY was that not one of the FIRST questions that was asked??"

"Our telephone team are not Benefits-Trained," she explained helpfully.

So basically, the first point of contact you have when you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, when arriving back into the country, not knowing anything about benefits and entitlements, this seemingly uber-efficient telephone team with lists of "helpful numbers" at their fingertips, know FUCK ALL about the system itself.

I was told that the only thing I could do was to ensure I made my Child Benefit claim as soon as possible. She could also help me to claim Jobseeker's Allowance (in itself a falsehood, as I am not seeking a job, I am being Mummy to two tiny kids).

"What do I have to do to claim it?" I asked. "Is there a form I need to fill in? You already have all my details."

Upon which she handed me a leaflet and underlined an 0845 number. "You need to call this number and make another appointment," she explained.

"You are JOKING," I cried. "What happens to the information I have just spent an hour giving to your colleague, Joe?"

"It's deleted," she admitted. "You have to start the process again."

"So that's it? I am deleted?" I asked incredulously.

She nodded nervously, her eyes not leaving mine, recognising the look in them, her hand moving slowly under the desk, in preparation for ringing some kind of security alarm, no doubt.

Instead, I cried. I put my face in my hands and wept. My dignity is long gone, so I really didn't care.

And after a few sobs, I gathered up my things, took the telephone number from her, thanked her and left quickly.

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Too many times, TOO MANY TIMES in this life, I have been sent back to square one, sent back to the start. I am tired of it. I know I must remain positive and I do know that I will eventually get through all of this. I just wish that I didn't have to earn so many battle scars, I wish I didn't have to constantly swim upriver.

I've just taken my little bottle of water out of my suitcase. I hadn't dared look at it until now.

As I look at it, I just cannot work out WHY this is happening.

So many questions.

I feel like I am only just beginning to find out what the questions are, let alone the answers.

bottle

 

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