Those old Scissors
And Proper Friend
The packed lounge chanted my name and like a doe caught in the headlights, I turned to see they were all looking at me.
“What the hell's going on?” I thought as a rush of panic moved through me.
“Karen, Karen, Karen,” they all chanted, then the horror revealed itself.
“Could Karen please step up onto the stage,” the lead guitarist of a country and western band said into the microphone.
My mouth went dry and was unsure if I was having a stroke at seventeen, but the lights seemed to dim awfully low and something unholy had made my feet move towards that stage.
You’d think that was some horrible nightmare, that I’d wake up and be thankful, but no, it was real. It all came about because when I sixteen I auditioned, not successfully (I didn't go to the next audition), for a television show much like Big Brother today, to sing. I love to sing, but by the time those chants had begun, I’d relegated my singing to only being a hobby.
I did sing once that my new boyfriend at the time, we’ll call him Groucho, was aware of and in attendance for at a local pub, but that time was different. I was free of years of abuse and oppression, of being led like a lamb to a soft slaughter at church meetings to sing country songs for my grandmother and her friends. My Bio-ma would trot my sisters and I out and we’d sing on command.
Being in a small group was not as scary as going it alone, but I’d been free from that kind of pressure for several months. I would sing for my friends and my style was beginning to flourish, so when the small three-man-band at a local pub asked if I would sing for them, I did.
There was no pressure, and I comfortably sang a John Denver song. Groucho, on seeing this thought nothing of it when, at a much larger pub with a much larger crowd, had the band call me up... after he’d whipped the crowd into a frenzy that is.
I don’t know what came over me, but I stepped onto the stage. The microphone was lowered, and the room fell to a hush and when I opened my mouth to sing, I was so scared that my voice was so low even the microphone had trouble picking it up.
The whole scene that was laid out before me reminded me of the song, The Animal Fair, cause the birds and the beasts were all there... and they had beers in their hands, all waiting for my angelic voice to sweep them away. Instead, they heard the noise of slurping beer and the odd cough. The silence was deafening as I exited the stage and an eerie silence followed me to the bathroom, and the band began to play again.
It was my first panic attack and I remember it like it was yesterday. The church crowd weren’t as rowdy as the pubs, and they never chanted my name again. So traumatic was that event that I stopped singing until I had children. I would sing to them each night as I rubbed their backs to help them sleep.
So traumatic was it for Groucho, who eventually became my husband, that when I started singing again, he did everything to demean and quash that dream. But my sister had married the member of a band and they shifted in three houses down from us. One night I was permitted to participate in their rehearsal, and sang a song they knew but sung a verse they’d never heard before. Because of that, they asked if they could record me signing so they could learn the new verse.
I was having a great time in an intimate setting with nothing threatening about it, so agreed. We recorded the song, and they made a copy for me. I was on top of the world that night as I walked home. I let myself in, checked the children, said, “Hello,” to my husband and his three drunk mates on the sofa, and made my way to the kitchen.
I pulled the door closed behind me so I didn’t bother anyone, then set the tape player up. Groucho had made me feel so ashamed of my singing, I treated it like a dirty little secret. A secret I had to hide from him, but the recording was great. I just had to put it on.
I listened to it as I set about to make myself a coffee. The kitchen door suddenly swung open and startled me as it hit the wall. Groucho stormed in and pulled the cord of the tape player out of the wall.
“Turn this shit off,” he growled, and pulled the cord from the back of the player, rolled it up and scrunched it into his pocket. Before he left, he turned and said, “get us a beer,” and slammed the door.
I cried myself to sleep that night, as I did for many nights. He’d crash into my world with wild accusations about me and those "friends" he surrounded himself with, but he’d never accuse them. He even had beers with a fella who had tried to rape me the night before.
As the years wore on, and there were many of them, I’d begun to wonder about what I was missing in life. I thought about the things I had wanted to achieve, then started doing them.
I wanted to teach gymnastics, so took a course and became a level 1-4 gymnastics teacher for the YMCA. My children, nowhere near as flexible as me, hated it. I also wanted to go to an opera, and the theatre. I wanted to experience culture, but had to settle for museum visits, which I love. It’s a passion my children now share with their children, and I wanted to learn how to sing properly and without fear. I wanted singing lessons and the universe, in all its glory, provided them.
I’d told Groucho what I wanted to do, and he begrudgingly listened. The next day in the community newspaper was an advertisement: Singing Lessons it read. I was so excited that I phoned straight away and set up my first lesson for the Wednesday night of the next week. I got to have three lessons with her.
During the last lesson, I had just begun to sing the songs she’d given me to practice, and she clapped her hands together with glee.
“My dad told me I had to be patient with my student’s,” she said. “That it could take some time before they show any real quality, but you, wow, you have already made this worth my while.”
To say I was feeling super impressed with myself was an understatement. Though while I was there, there was a knock on the front door, so we stopped and remained quiet while her husband answered it. The inaudible sound of male voices could be heard, then after several minutes the front door close and we got back to it.
The next week I phoned to organize a time for my lesson when something strange happened.
“Oh, Karen,” she began. “I’m sorry but I can’t do this week.”
“Okay,” I said, “what about next—”
“No,” she said cutting me off, “what I mean is, I won’t be giving anymore lessons.”
“Oh, why?” I asked unable to hide my disappointment.
“I’ve got a job… singing,” she said, “so I won’t have time to teach anyone.”
I was devastated but thanked her for her lessons and wished her the best, but something nagged at me.
What could've happened, I thought.
There was a strained tone to her voice, and I thought on it for a while before continuing on with my day, my week, but the black dog had begun to nip at my heels. To fill the void, I bought myself a gym membership. I thought it would cheer me up and was pleasantly surprised to see, on my first day, a friend.
She helped to pull me out of the pit of despair I was disappearing into. When I told Groucho about her being there, he began an aggressive, oppressive campaign to get me to sign over my membership to him.
Eventually I did.
I didn’t want to, but his constant whining wore me down. Then, one afternoon while he was sitting in a sauna or having a spa, I got a visitor. He was a friend that after that day, I’ve never seen again.
“Karen,” he said, standing at the front door. He had a pair of scissors in his hand.
A prop for a visit he obviously didn’t want to make? I wondered.
“What’re the scissors for? I asked as he wrenched them in his hands as if he was uncertain of what to do.
While Proper friend nervously looked at his feet, I checked my escape routes… just in case everything went pair shaped.
“Um, no… I’m sorry, what?” he asked, as if he wasn’t able to think straight.
I began to wonder if he was having an episode, and I’d seen that episode where the friend stops round to return the scissors… never ends well.
“Are you okay?” I asked, reaching for the scissors.
I put my right hand over his pale, sweaty, trembling hand to ease the shake he’d built up and, maintaining eye contact, I gently took the length of the blades in my left hand to take them from him.
“Do you want to come?” I asked slipping the scissors into the back pocket of my jeans.
“Don’t think that’d be a good… anyway, um,” he continued
Huge red warning lights were flashing in my head, and my panic was firing on all cylinders.
“What is it?” I asked. My chest tightening the longer we stood at the door.
I'm shorter and wirey enough to make an escape, I thought the longer he stood there.
I thought about closing the door, but Proper Friend had never been violent towards me, or anyone, before.
“Well, you see…” he stammered, and I reached around behind my back and gripped the eye-rings of the scissors so I was ready for anything, “remember when you were taking the lessons?”
“The lessons?” I asked.
Sweating, scissors… now cryptic, I thought and felt the skin tighten around my knuckles.
“The... singing lessons?” I asked.
Had to dig around for that one. So much had happened in the two weeks since; my toddle had sliced her toes open on a pair plastic scissors—don’t ask me how, it remains a mystery even to me—one of my sons climbed a small building at the local park on the way home from school, slid off and sliced his little testicles open—asked me if he was going to die while we waited for the doctor to stitch him up—my eldest son climbed the Pine tree at the back of the house, fell six-feet and fractured his arm and Groucho, with a belly full off piss and bad manners, had gotten up late one night from the chair he’d passed out in, walked to the front door, opened it and began walking towards the highway. Proper Friend had been there that night, so he watched the kids while I ran to turn Groucho around and sleepwalk him back to bed.
“Yeah, those lessons,” he said, bringing me out of my reverie. “Well um, I think you need to know something…”
“What?” I asked.
“It’s about Groucho…”
Well, there’s a shocker, I thought and saw Proper Friends tremors had eased off.
Either he was feeling relieved he’d started talking, or he knew Groucho would be lurking somewhere. Either way, he was getting to some kind of point.
“Well, he um… he, um…”
“He what?” I asked with my initial, what the hell’s going on here, and eventual panic as it subsided into, I can do this.
“He borrowed... well borrowed a rather loose term for what he did… anyway, I heard my car leave the house while I was out back, and well… that last lesson of yours,” he said, the color draining from his face.
“How d'you know it was my last—” I asked.
“Cause he bragged about it when he got back—”
“Back from where? An’ bragged about what?”
“No, stop,” he said, becoming flustered again.
I stopped talking. The way it was going, we’d still be standing there come Christmas.
“It’s not the point—” he continued.
“What is the point, Proper Friend?” I asked.
A large ball of nothing dropped from my chest to the pit of my stomach. I felt as though I’d been hollowed out and that blank space inside me was waiting for a bomb to go off.
“What did he do?”
Proper Friend looked down at his feet, shuffled them, then looked me in the eye.
“He threatened the husband."
“Husband? What husba… you mean Sherryl’s husband?”
“My singing tutor.”
“Yeah,” he said, absently combing his fingers through a mess of blonde hair. Suddenly the penny dropped.
The knock on the door, I thought, the male voices. It was him.
“What did he do?” I whispered. My heart was pounding in my ears, and a warm tear slipped from the corner of my right eye.
“He threatened him. Told him he’d, “Bring his mates round and beat tha’ shit outta him and his wife,” if she didn’t put a stop to the singing lessons.”
I wanted to feel surprised by such a low, disgusting act, but I couldn’t even fake it. Somehow my left hand had reached for the scissors again. I’d gripped them so tight, there was a sensation of thick warm blood oozing around the eye-rings.
“I’m so sorry, Karen,” Proper Friend said, and looked as if it was all his fault.
I knew I must’ve looked like I’d been sucker punched because I had been. I’d suspected Groucho had a grip on my life like the tentacles of a deep-sea octopus reaching into hard to see areas of my family and friends.
I had an illusion of power where I maintained the house, cared for my beautiful children, and his wayward mates. I gave them a home and shelter when they were at their lowest points, then Groucho would accuse me of sleeping with them afterwards. I also got to manage the house budget.
“I want two-cartons of piss when ya go shoppin,” he’d say, but whenever I wanted to take the kids out for the day, he'd say, “we can’t afford that.”
I wasn’t so much surprised about whjat he'd done, but thinking something, and finding out it’s true is entirely different.
“I’m so sorry, Karen,” Proper Friend said, and I don’t know how long I stood with the door open, but Proper Friend had walked back to his car and driven away long before I realized I was standing there in shock like the idiot I was.
I quietly closed the door, found I still had a good grip on those scissors, and realized they were a prop, just in case Groucho was home.
“Hi, just stopped round to return your scissors,” I imagined Proper Friend saying.
I walked to the bathroom, slid the scissors into a draw, and splashed some cold water on my face. Groucho was due home from the gym, so I did what I always did. Buried it. I buried the truth Proper Friend had told me because I wasn’t about to get him in the shit, and I’d learned to bury my pains when I was a small child. Life was easier… or, normal, that way.
Thankfully, Groucho was caught up in his own world when he got back. I was leaving the house to pick the kids up from school. He never even knew I was upset. If it wasn’t him who’d been betrayed, it rolled off him like shit down a sewer pipe.
It’d be another ten-years before I could sing without it being my dirty little secret. I could sing for the kids, but not when Groucho was home.
When I began to sing again, it was one night, about three months after I finally left him. I’d moved into a flat after several weeks of psychological torture, “You thought I was leaving today… didn’t ya,” and the creepy, “we can’t afford for you to get a flat…”
I was so disconnected from him, and his abuse, that when he said, “We can’t afford for you to get a flat,” I openly laughed at the absurdity of it.
I’d never really had friends. There was the odd one at high school, but she was more of an acquaintance than a friend. The “friends I had during my marriage, I met through Groucho.
So, I made friends at the block of flats, at the place we couldn’t afford, where I’d moved to. I enjoyed BBQs with my neighbours. We played soccer at the local park and went on outings together as a group and I finally had genuine friends that were mine.
They weren’t a friend of a friend of Groucho’s. I mean, even the girl at the gym was his ex-girlfriend who suffered dearly because of him. She tried to warn me, Proper Friend tried to warn me, I got a sparkling pair of scissors with his warning, but finally I was free. My friends happy and nonalcoholic.
It was there that my confidence grew again. One night after a game of soccer at the park, and BBQ in the courtyard, we’d gathered together on the steps to the upper floor next to my flat, and I sang for them. The setting was just right. No-one asked me to. No-one knew I could, but I sang for my friends, but more than that, I sang for me.
My current partner is a kind and decent man, I met two years after I left Groucho. He is a musician and likes that I sing, but understands my reservations when I can’t. Yes, that angry black dog, sent to “Skitch ‘em” by Groucho, still occasionally nips at my heels, but he buys me gifts like mixing desks, microphones and gear racks. He knows the true me. He knew her before I did. I’ve even written a couple of songs myself.
One is attached to this story.
It took me a long time to get over the abuse, even now I might react in a defensive manner because my mind flips back to a time where I had no power. Everything had been designed to manipulate and denigrate me and my talents.
Bio-ma quashed anything I excelled at, at every turn. Groucho merely took what she had done and built upon it. I’m only just now coming out of myself enough to make public some of my talents, and the Internet, and those scissors, have played a huge role in that.
If Proper Friend ever reads this, thank you. You showed me the truth in front of my eyes that I’d denied for so many years… and I still have those scissors. I don’t need singing lessons anymore because I am me, but I need those scissors. I pick them up and they remind me of the deep dark pit I’d been kept in all my life, and the light they’d shone into my truth… as dark as it was. I don’t know how to contact Proper Friend, or how to thank him for his bravery. I just want him to know I was, and am, thankful for him. Proper friends are hard to come by, and so are a good pair of scissors.
About the Creator
In addition to her creative pursuits, Karen is also a dedicated advocate for education and literacy. Through her writing, she seeks to inspire and empower others to follow their passions and make a positive impact on the world around them.
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