That means ‘a cry of great distress’ or a ‘scream for help’.  Some translators call it a ‘shriek’.

Once upon a time, about 26 years ago, I sat in a small car on a deserted road and I screamed. I screamed for several minutes, until my head was pounding and my throat was sore and I could scream no more.

George and me, with our daughter Lou,  had washed up in the Midlands after a few years in South Africa and Canada. George – an engineer – had been unable to find a job, and for the first few years back in the UK we were broke. Really broke. Lie in bed and dread the bills arriving broke, unable to look at the overdraft with feeling sick broke, that sort of broke. All that had kept us afloat was my low paid job as a care worker. And then, miraculously,  I wrote a play. I wrote it simply to win an award of £2,000,  to get the money for new tyres and pay the bills and maybe have enough left over a treat or two. It never really occurred to me that I would win, but I was doing every competition that came along at the time, from Fairy Liquid competitions to Spot-The-Ball.

Writing that first play was the most exciting experience of my life. Wonderful. Giddying. And it changed everything. I discovered a new language, drama, and I discovered a new me.

In just two years our lives were transformed;  the Royal Shakespeare Company produced that first play, on tour, and my second play was produced by The Bush in London and my third by Derby Playhouse. At the same time I wrote my first screenplay for ITV ‘A Small Dance’ and my first for the BBC ‘Testimony of a Child.’ and slowly but surely the money began to trickle in. I was commissioned to devise and write my first series, ‘Soldier, Soldier’ and life was a topsy turvy mad adventure.

When did I get to the scream? Patience, my little fumblings, I’m getting there.

I had left school at GCSE stage, no A levels, no Uni, no college…. I was a mum and a wife and a nurse. But suddenly I was someone else too. One day I could find myself on a film set, the next in a room full of University Graduates, producers, TV stars…. the next hunched up in the kitchen at my make-shift desk churning out another episode…. I remember when my second series was about to be commissioned, going to London to meet the actors and standing outside the room, nervous and unsure of what was required, totally lost in this new world. It was a wonderful time in my life, but it was a terrifying time too.

I am hopeless with figures. That doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m trying to tell you. Now, as a child, I would be given the diagnosis of dyscalculia, but back then, in the 60’s, I was classed as ‘educationally subnormal’. I was kept in main stream education only because I could write and seemed to have normal intelligence (debatable!). I was taken out of maths lessons and excused sciences, told to concentrate on cookery, needlework and art. The thing is, I can’t make sense of numbers. I don’t understand why 4 is not d. I know it isn’t but I just don’t get it. I can make no sense of bank statements, I don’t understand noughts, I don’t see the point of them. And geometry – I don’t get it. But because of George, none of that mattered. He sorted the bills, put the money in the bank, helped me out when my agent was telling me what I would be paid. He was my rock. My engineer rock, Scottish granite. Made in Scotland from girrrrderrrrs. (if you get that joke, you’re as old as I am)

When writing took over my work life, George took over as Mum to our daughter! When he realised that I needed more than a make-shift desk in the kitchen, he did all the mortgage stuff to get us to a new house where I would have my own study. He took Lou to school, he did the shopping, he budgeted, he walked the dogs, he thought my work was brilliant (easily fooled), he kept me grounded and secure, he was my sanity.

When Lou was 14, one Sunday afternoon, George dropped dead.

We’re getting very near to that scream now.

I was about to start writing my second series, Peak Practice. I was still involved with the first series, I was writing screenplays for the BBC, the Bush was asking for a second play. I was contractually committed up to my eyeballs. ITV were interviewing maybe 70 people who would be employed on the new series. So we would provide 70 jobs in the East Midlands! But these jobs would vanish without scripts – so I had to buckle down and write them. Our daughter, who had been so close to her Daddy, was grieving and lost. It was August and the schools were starting again in a few brief weeks and I didn’t know how Lou would cope with that… and how would I be there for her and for the series team and for the theatre people too? How would I cope with the banking stuff? How would I pay the brand new mortgage when I wasn’t even sure how to write a cheque? Who would walk the dogs? How could I catch the train to London – what would Lou do all day?

I wasn’t out of my depth, I was drowning. There was no one, no one, I could turn to. I had to stay strong for Lou, I had to keep it together to write the scripts, I had to be present and responsible at production meetings, I had to get onto the train to London, drive to the set, talk sense to my agent, meet my contractual obligations. And my darling had gone.

I couldn’t dissolve into tears of longing and loss, because in that smart new house there was Lou and me, and no one else. Four bedrooms and her and me. Did she need a bawling, snotty, grief-torn mum in the next room?

Between the house and the supermarket was a new road. It was wide and usually empty because people hadn’t yet got used to it. One day, just before Lou went back to school, I did the ‘big shop’ and was heading homewards, to that quiet new house, with its spanking new furniture and a broken child, and it all became too much to bear. I stopped the car, there on that wide great road, and I sat in my little metal box.

And I screamed. I screamed for several minutes, until my head was pounding and my throat was sore and I could scream no more.

And then I went on my way, and life went on.

That was a tsaaq.

I came across the word as I prepared for the first ever ‘message’ that I’m going to give in church! I’m no preacher or teacher, I’m a story teller, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.When they saw the Egyptian Army bearing down on them they let out a great ‘tsaaq’.  Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

Was my scream to God or at God? It’s an academic question, – when you’re drowning there’s little room for rational thought. I don’t think I ever blamed God for anything but I know I was angry, angry and bewildered, broken hearted, shattered. A weeping child afraid of the future.

Anyway, I’m telling my friends in church about the Israelites’ tsaaq next week, and I thought I’d tell you about mine today. Why? I’m not sure. I don’t know why I’ve been moved to write this. But here it is. What am I trying to say? I think it must be that when I thought I was drowning, I survived. When all looked grim and chaotic, there was unseen order. Grief is painful, it seems unbearable, sorrow can be overwhelming, but there is hope. There is always hope. And you can find that hope, that sure and certain hope, an assurance of the future, in Jesus. That’s the only place you’ll find it.

Tsaaqs are good. God hears.

I didn’t know I was going to write this today. It just happened.

POSTSCRIPT: a blip on the blog site meant that I couldn’t edit this piece and it may not have made much sense to some of you… it wasn’t 2 years ago that I met my tsaaq, it was 26!

3 thoughts on “Tsaaq

  1. Wonderful. Did I ever show you one of the ludicrous poems in My American later 20th Century “independent” poetry anthology?! I will bring it next time I come. The TITLE alone is “THE YIDDISH SPEAKING SOCIALISTS OF THE LOWER EAST SIDE”. And the poem itself – all 10 pages of it – doesn’t disappoint in terms of using 5 words where one would do. I love this piece of writing Luce. Thank you for sharing it. Em xxxx


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