When you are a child, it’s funny. You always want to be a grown up.
You want to be treated like you are older, wiser, like you know more… can do more.
And then when there comes a time that you are treated as older, you can be suddenly hit with a chilling realisation, that this wasn’t what you meant at all.
This isn’t what you wanted….. But by then you have no choice.
You see, that was me. I was a little girl, who was utterly convinced that I wanted to be a grown up. Right from when I was tiny. And being the eldest in the family it was easy for me to slip into that position of more responsibility and to be treated as if I was much older than my years belied.
I would be allowed to stay up later at night.
I was able to stay with family members unaccompanied by my parents.
And I was put into situations that rapidly spiralled out of control. With adults who should have known better and who should have protected me. Who were trusted to care for me, and who didn’t.
But I don’t blame anyone except the person who decided that instead of getting what he needed from his girlfriend, he would rather take it from a very small child.
It began as a game. And I remember feeling ten feet tall with the attention. It was so wonderful and happy. I was happy. I loved being the one someone wanted to have around and I would have done anything to make him smile at me.
I thought I made him happy, but I had no idea what was coming.
So the first time he laid a hand on me, he was so charming and made out it was completely normal. And I remember feeling embarrassed… and scared. But this trusted person reassured me. This is normal. This is okay. And the hugs and smiles got bigger.
So I pushed it aside.
Lesson : My feelings were invalid.
That was the first of a lot of huge life lessons which followed me through many years.
There were more vacancies to come.
I call them vacancies because a lot of it I don’t really remember anymore. I remembered them clear as day when I was 12. But now I’m so much older…. too much time has passed and too much time has been invested in supressing everything.
I still get snippets though. Randomly, something will trigger a memory. And a flashback of a voice… a moment in time that my brain has trapped and tried (valiantly might I add) to erase.
A hand here. A body part there. A feeling. An emotion.
Sometimes I wonder if it was real, and others, the chill that goes right through to my core instantly takes me back to that place. Those days and nights.
And then they are gone. Just like that. And for a while, you will bury it. Forget it. Make it go away again.
Lesson : Your body belongs to him. His right to you, trumps yours. Because you let him do this to you.
I spent about a year, before completely out of my control, this situation was halted.
It felt like I was rescued, but with no rescuer other than fate.
So while I felt like my world was falling down a hole, and I had nothing to hold on to, life clearly decided to throw me a rope.
And when the trapdoor was closed, so too was I.
I shut down completely. And pretended that nothing ever happened and life was perfect.
Lesson: Life is perfect if you never tell anyone.
And because this is so incredibly historic… this story I can add to.
I managed to keep everything buried for years. And then I made the mistake of telling a friend. Someone I thought I could trust, who wasn’t in my family. Wasn’t connected to them in anyway and seemed like a safe space.
But I wasn’t brave enough to talk in person so I wrote a letter – because actually in those days, letters were pretty normal. You would meet people and want to remain friends, so you would be penpals.
And of course, penpals were so much easier to talk to, because you didn’t have to look them in the eye. You didn’t have to see the pity. Or the disbelief.
This particular penpal was a person who I had met while on holiday. Who lived across town (eons away to a 12 year old with no transport) and who had over the course of that holiday, become a protector and confidante. Logical step that seeing as I had already alluded to issues in person, I’d share them in a letter right?
Which, all going to plan would probably have been great.
Except of course, having overprotective parents who liked to snoop, they decided that private mail was not in fact private at all but should be shared with them. So my mother, bless her. Read my letter.
Lesson : Your privacy doesn’t matter.
And I will never forget the day my world imploded again.
This one I remember much more clearly as I was so much older! I was 12. And I won’t ever forget the moment I was called into the lounge by my incredibly angry mother. Who had my letter in her hand, as I noticed as soon as I walked in the room.
I knew it was mine, because back in those days, we had beautiful stationary sets. And something people seemed to like to gift was these sets, of beautiful paper, with matching envelopes and fancy pens.
My letter, had been painstakingly handwritten onto stationary my Grandmother had bought me. It had a border of pink roses and the paper was cream, and lovely and heavy.
I’d used up more than half a dozen pages, it barely had fit into the envelope.
And my handwriting was always fairly distinctive. I worked hard on it!
So I saw the paper. And I felt sick. Because I didn’t want my family to know.
I felt sick at the thought of them knowing.
And because I didn’t know how they would react.
Part of me, a tiny part, wanted my mother to take me in her arms and just tell me that everything was going to be okay. But I think I always knew deep down that my mother would be the most upset at her family being torn apart because they were so close.
Less upset at her daughter who was violated and abused.
And I was dead right.
My father was angry, and I always felt he was angry at me because of it. But we don’t speak of it, so I have never known if I’m right or wrong there.
But my mother was furious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her more angry. She was convinced I was making it up to destroy her family. And not a single thing I could have said could have convinced her otherwise. Even though I knew things about a certain person’s most private parts, that a little girl should not know and could not know, any other way.
I remember the yelling… the accusations… the contempt directed my way…
I could see the embarrassment on them. The outrage that I would dare tell a “stranger” first.
I remember standing there, just listening to them yell at me, and at each other. Occasionally they would demand an answer, which at times I couldn’t give. Because quite frankly all I wanted was to be a million miles away right then.
If I could have gotten out of there I would.
Lesson: Your truth is a lie. No one will save you.
I remember being dragged up to my Grandmothers, as my mother battled with how to deal with my accusations.
And I remember my Grandmother’s pain. I saw it on her face. That flash of disbelief, followed by a fleeting wonder, merging into damage control.
I wasn’t privy to the discussions that happened after that, as I was sent away so the grown ups could talk.
All I knew, was that we were to never speak of this again for fear of destroying our family.
Lesson: Your silence, makes you worthy of family.
I don’t think I really ever spoke of my experiences again as a child.
Although I do blame never dealing with my issues, for many of my transgressions in my parents eyes as I transitioned from child… to teenager.
Running away. Alcohol. Smoking. Stealing. Cutting classes. Rebellion in general.
An even more constant desperation to become an adult, to escape my reality. Get away from my ‘family’ and go places where no one knew me, or what I had done.
I was consumed with guilt for my failings. And I went through so much self-doubt. Self-harm and even attempted suicide several times. Failed at that too….
12 year old me was a handful, and really not the most fun to have in the house if you ask my parents!
My always much older friends would beg to differ. I was often the life of the party!
I will go into some of those stories later….
At various times in my teens, I would attempt to trust someone with my story.
One of whom was a person who I will go into more detail about. Because of the abuse I suffered at his hands, for such a long time.
And many others who used my pain to manipulate me into a position where I was abused at my most vulnerable. People who made me question my existence and my ability to judge (terribly) the characters of them.
Lesson: You can’t trust anyone.
But it wasn’t until my late 20’s that the unthinkable happened and I was brought face to face with him for the first time since I was a child.
I had somewhat kept tabs on where he was and what he was doing. And I honestly never in a million years expected him to turn up where I lived. Knock on my door and ask to be let in. So the day that happened, was one of the most terrifying, and jarring days of my life. Nothing I have ever done could have prepared me for that.
I was at home, minding my own business. At this point, in a fairly stable relationship and living over a business. So random knocks at the door were fairly commonplace. I answered as usual with a smile and a “hi, how can I help you?”
At that point, I made eye contact and it took me a minute, the feeling of familiarity striking me enough to make me look closer at the person in front of me.
And when it clicked who this was, standing in front of me, my blood ran cold. I felt slightly dizzy, and I knew my face was going red as I could feel the heat.
And I realised right then, that he had no idea who I even was.
Not a clue.
He was talking, and saying I have no idea what, but he kept talking and I just stared at him until he stopped.
And I asked him quietly if he knew who I was.
Because that was about the most coherent thing I could think of to say to him, with flashbacks of him clouding my mind and tears prickling my eyes.
He looked puzzled at me, for a good few minutes. And I remember feeling his eyes looking over me, as if his hands were on me again. And I remember feeling like I couldn’t move a muscle to get away from him.
And he remembered.
When he thought about it, he knew who I was. Which I don’t know if made it worse, or better, but he knew who I was.
And then he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me and hugged me close.
Which was just about as much as I could take. As at that point, I was realising that I was alone with him, there was no one around me I could call on and I didn’t know how long my legs would let me stay standing. I was so nauseous and dizzy and I just wanted to escape.
He was trying to speak to me, and I was trying to breathe and stay calm. Pretend like I remembered nothing, when every, single, thing, was flooding back into my mind.
And the most terrifying thing, was that even as an adult… a grown woman. I couldn’t say a damn thing to stop him putting his hands on me.
It’s extremely hard not to want to punish myself for my inability to do anything useful.
Lesson: You are never truly safe.
I got lucky that day. Because moments later, my partner arrived, served him, then he left.
And afterwards, I melted into a heap on the floor and had to explain what the heck was going on to my oblivious partner, who then wanted to hunt him down and damage him.
So in keeping to myself my hurt. Another person was hurting, as my protector felt like he hadn’t protected me.
Because he wasn’t to know what was going on, but he still took that day very much to heart and it hurt him a lot feeling like he had failed me.
Lesson: Admission causes pain.
It’s funny, I read back on this, as I’ve thought about it so many times before. And I wonder what I did when I was small that made me deserve this? What it was that attracted him to me?
How he knew I would be so obedient and not allow him to face any consequences for his actions? Even as an adult, that I wouldn’t have the courage to act?
And later, as I survived other assaults, I would wonder if maybe it was me after all…….
Because this was the beginning of my story.