Chapter 20 — Off to Uni
My stepfather drove me to Uni with all my stuff. My parents were very good at guilt tripping me and I had to demonstrate gratitude for everything they both did. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the agreement with my father for contributing to my brother and I covered all the time I was in full time education. This meant that he was still paying maintenance for me when I went to uni. My mother kept that money for the first year to ‘cover the cost of sending me’ . When I discovered that the money was available, I had to ring up and beg her to give it to me. It paid for my accomodation in the second and third year of uni and meant I didn’t have to go into crazy debt.
I was in a halls of residence with 8 other girls. There were 3 rooms on the top floor and then downstairs were 5 more, the bathroom, a kitchen and a living room area. I had the first room in the door on the top floor. I could sit and look out of my window and watch the world go by.
On my first day there, I sat at the table watching the world go by. The bottle of strong painkillers that I’d been collecting for over a year was on the table. I felt free. Nobody knew anything about me. Nobody cared.
I realised I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to stop hurting. On my own in that room, all the things that were causing pain in my life were gone.
After a couple of hours, I got up and went downstairs where the rest of the rooms were. I knocked on the doors of the other girls. I met a lovely girl named Kali who was so smiley and lovely that I felt instantly at ease. This was not typical of me. I am not a socialble person. In that moment I had a life changing realisation. Nobody knew anything about me. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I locked away the old Dawn. I guess in many ways I did kill her off because the new me was unrecognisable. I learned to ignore the inner voice and so was no longer limited by all the insecurities that plagued other people.
Chapter 21 — Meeting my soul mate
I loved Uni. I could be whoever I wanted to be and I made friends with such interesting people. And of course, I love learning. On the first induction day we were assigned our tutor groups for the rest of the degree course. I did a degree in Computer Science. I’ve always been a computer geek and it’s the only thing I was interested in studying. I was gutted because my tutor group was different to everyone else’s — it was all older people. I was 18 and straight out of school. Just my luck, I thought, in with all the old gits!
As it turned out, the mature students were way more fun than the rest because they knew how to work and play. Most of the fresh faced kids just lost it and spent their first year out of their heads. My tutor group ended up being the people I spent most time with, and in the second year, I shared a student house with one of them.
Paul was in my tutor group. He’d been in the police and been injured in a training exercise, and it had paralysed him. He had been retired out of the police on an injury pension. He’d managed to get himself walking again, gone back to college and got 3xA grade A-Levels and then ended up at Uni on the same course as me at 31 years old. Some things are just meant to be eh?
I clicked with Paul. Initially we just hung out with the other guys in our group, but both of us felt drawn to spending more and more time together. The advantage of mature students is they have homes and cars, so I was able to take my washing to his house, and go to his house to study.
One day, a bunch of us got a chance to make £20 stuffing envelopes. It was good money for a couple of hours easy work. I decided to spend my money on cooking everyone dinner that evening. The dinner was a disaster. There was a girl in our group that was a bit of a player that Paul had a sort of a thing going with. There was a guy I fancied, but one of my flatmates ended up sleeping with him, and there was another guy that I sort of had something bubbling with (but I didn’t realise because I was so closed off from everything). The girl Paul had a thing with was late but I made us wait. By the time she arrived the potatoes were well overdone, and my friends took great pleasure in bouncing them off the walls. My flatmate got mad at the guy I fancied and poured custard over his groin, and the girl that was late started trying to manipulate Paul.
As a result we both ended up sitting outside on a bench and left them all to their drama.
And then we kissed. It was pure chemistry and connection. It was safe, and together and, as they say in the Hotel Transylvania films, we totally zinged.
From that point onwards we spent every moment we could together. We would sit in his car outside of my flat and talk until the sun came up. I told him everything. I expected him to be disgusted and cut me off. But he didn’t. He kept talking to me, and kept wanting to be with me. We spent the last 2 years of Uni together most of the time. Paul is brighter than me and ended up with a first class honours. I got a 2:1 which is still pretty good.
All through Uni, in the holidays I would go home to my mother and stepfather. Paul would often come with me, although over the summer that wasn’t practical. I didn’t really have a choice as you can’t stay in halls / student accomodation over the summer, but even if I had, I was still pretending everything was ok. Paul was amazing. He didn’t ask anything of me or question me / put pressure on me to confront stuff. He knew everything that had happened and he was with me anyway and would stay at my house anyway. He actually got on pretty well with my mother. He’s closer to her in age than me as there is a 13 year difference between us and only 9 years with my mother.
Every time I went anywhere I would think of my mother and buy her gifts. I carried on visiting home long after I finished Uni and I’m so mad at myself for it. Maybe it was a form of Stockholm syndrome. Maybe it’s because I knew nothing else. Maybe it’s because I was so good at keeping everything a secret that I couldn’t even admit it to myself. Or maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to break free.
Chapter 22 — The time between times
The time after Uni and before you get your first real job is a weird one. Everyone has gathered from all over the country (and maybe other countries) and spent 3 years together. Then you finish your degree and everyone goes back to their old life. Even though I had not yet broken free from my home life, I did not want to go back there to live. So I lived with Paul for a bit until I got a job. He had a job in Manchester and I had one nearly Chorley in Lancashire, so I got my own place and we saw each other at weekends.
It was not a great time for money. I often couldn’t afford the petrol to go and see him. But I was still free to be myself. And there was no doubt in my mind that Paul and I would stay together. I was right. I finished Uni in 1994, and now we are at 2021 and Paul and I are still together. We’ve been through all sorts of hell, but we’ve done it together and I’m only here writing this today because Paul has always been there for me. He loves me unconditionally and supports me in everything I do.
I did my first job for 6 months and realised it was not right for me. I left and the next job I got was doing tech support for Windows 95 when it launched. Paul and I moved down to Watford together. We lived there for 7 years while we both built up our careers.
In 1996 we were booking a holiday to Sandals in Jamaica, and in the brochure, at the bottom, it said you could upgrade to the wedding package for an additional £500. I said “shall we do that then?” and he said “If you want to, sure”. I was still using my stepfather’s name and to this day I kick myself for not changing it when we got married. Everything about my identity was in my name. It was who I had become when I started Uni and I found it really hard to let go of that persona that I’d built — as I thought it was attached to my name. However, when I published my first book (a book about how to run a call centre) I used my married name. I was absolutely positive I didn’t want his name in print associated with me. I eventually switched over to Paul’s name — Walton — in 2006. Unfortunately my hotmail address still has his name on it and that can’t be changed, but everything else has been erased.