There is no way, as I said before, to make this particular chapter of my life funny. Dealing with it has made me one of the strongest people I know and I am secure in the knowledge that no matter what, I will get up, dust myself off and carry on – this has been my life mantra. I don’t cry, I find it hard to verbalise my emotions, I can’t bear to be touched by anyone but those very close to me, I have employed every coping mechanism under the sun and I have only ever achieved an orgasm with one man (last year, actually) but I am also intelligent, resilient and funny. I promised myself I would write this blog for my own therapy because counselling has never worked for me (I don’t want to negate from the invaluable impact counselling has on anyone who needs support, it’s just not for me). I’m going to plunge backwards into those years as honestly and openly as I can. There are things to say that I have never spoken of and haven’t allowed myself to think about but it’s important to be totally honest for the first time about exactly what happened.
I don’t remember much of my life before Dad was in it. In more recent years I like to verbally distance myself from him by calling him my ‘Step-Dad’ but growing up, he was always just Dad. He was a hero in my eyes, and those of everyone in my family because he took on the excess baggage my mother had saddled herself with – a two year old: me.
As mentioned when discussing the depraved chasms of the inner workings of my mother, she stole him unceremoniously from his first nuclear family. I suppose when you review his situation up to that point objectively all the red flags were there to be seen but in an early 1990s setting it would be fair to say a firm grasp on the key elements of a paedophile’s behaviours were not in place.
His mother died when he was on the cusp of his teen years and his father was a particularly cruel, harsh man. Bereft of a loving matriarch, Dad and his sister were shunned from the familial embrace and turned out into the coldness of independence very young, but not before their father had introduced them over and over again to women who were welcomed into their home as ‘Nannies’ but who inevitably always ended up in his bed.
He had a relationship with the 14 year old best friend of his sister when he was 21. This in itself would be an arrestable offence in 2020 but in the 1980s I imagine people just saw the 14 year old as a lucky young lady to have enticed the attentions of the local farmhand. And to be candid, he was not an unattractive man. The way I remember him is as a monster with half a head of hair, bloated from cancer treatments prowling round the house like an emasculated pest. But I recently found a photograph of him and me which would have been taken in the midst of the abuse and he was a much nicer looking man than I had remembered. That fact is irrelevant, I know…but it somehow makes his paedophilic nature more shocking.
His first wife was just 17 when she fell pregnant. He had achieved the nightmarish feat of impregnating her the first time they had sex, simultaneously filling her with fertilised seed and also taking her virginity. I don’t know much else about his history prior to that but I assume it is littered with many borderline cases of immorality.
The conclusion I have come to is that it was more likely to have been my mother who pursued him when they met at work. She was a single mother in her mid-twenties; pretty, very youthful in appearance and petite. I know the desperation and tenacity she employs when she goes after a man; he would have been feeble against the strength of her ferocious forces even if he had wanted to resist. An affair followed and he ended up leaving his wife and two daughters (one older than me, one younger) for my mother. I don’t think the thought ever occurred to anyone that a man who was willing to walk out on his wife and children for a psychopath and her illegitimate offspring was lacking in a moral compass pointing Due North.
Mum fell pregnant once again, this time with her much adored son, and they ran off to get married not long after his birth. Dad had always wanted a son so he was happy, and Mum found a human to devote the only scraps of kindness she held within her heart to. We were a desperately unhappy family. Nothing was ever enough for Mum and, try as hard as he might, Dad could not meet her outlandish expectations. He didn’t earn enough to fund her obsession with keeping up with our next door neighbours and he lacked the strength and excitement to enthral or control her; she was a woman who needed a level of reigning in. I can’t tell you whether there was ever truly any love in that house; their marriage and our lives in entirety were as hollow and empty as a bell jar. Dad and I lived constantly on our nerves knowing another of her furious tempers could hit either one of us, most likely him, at any moment. In the early days I think we found allies in each other. She berated him, belittled him and bullied him at every opportunity, overpowering him with her screeching and running ten steps ahead of him in their mental warfare. If she couldn’t get him, I was the consolation. Watching this from the earliest of ages, I believe that the reason I put up with being abused by him for so long was out of pity over the way Mum treated him. I can’t deny he used this fact to his advantage, maintaining my status as his sexual object for maximal time, but I didn’t understand that until I was much older.
One year bled into the next and Dad’s jealousy of my brother took a firm grasp on our family life. He harboured resentment towards Daniel founded upon the obvious preferential treatment Mum showed him in all things. While Dad could barely butter bread without Mum kicking him out for getting crumbs in the pot, Daniel was placed upon a pedestal. So Dad started to punish him. He was violent towards him, giving him a firm hand where he felt Daniel had strayed outside the confines of his increasingly shrinking circle of acceptable behaviour. He and Mum would argue about how heavy-handed Dad was with him, Dad would be kicked out for a few days and then Mum would invite him home. It seemed she couldn’t bear to live with him, but she couldn’t make do without him either. I don’t wish to dwell on her mental state because I will never understand it but the reason for his consistent return to her was completely down to her. He seemed to repulse her; she detested him – at times more than I did. But sure enough, she would hunt down an excuse to be rid of him and he would return like clockwork at her whim soon after.
Dad would lift Daniel up by the sides of his head and shout in his face. He would smack him so hard the hand print would be left there for days. He would push him and pull him with jarring speed, knocking the wind out of him. But more concerning and cruel than that were the vicious mind games he would play. Mum worked a late shift on Wednesday evenings and we would be left with Dad looking after us. I always found these evenings perfectly acceptable, pleasant even, (before I became the focus of his sexual advances) because Dad was delightful toward me. Daniel dreaded them and would stay outside with his friends as long and as late as he could to avoid the bullying that would follow his journey indoors. If we asked for a drink, I would be given a large glass filled with coke while Daniel would be handed a small tumbler half-filled with tap water. If Daniel dared to make himself a drink or grab himself some food, Dad would snatch it away and gulp it down right in front of him. Nothing Daniel could do would go without negative critique by our father. Those small victories seemed to mean such a lot to him.
Mum and Dad argued constantly and furiously about three things; money, Daniel and sex. The symphony of our childhood was inappropriate battles between them over finances, parenting and their sexual life, or lack thereof. When the arguing abated, neither was particularly prudish when it came to having make-up sex in a place where their children could walk in at any moment, which we did all the time. We were desensitised to sex very early on. One particular incident comes to mind where Daniel and I were in the kitchen playing while mum and dad were upstairs having a quick two-minute amends (the time he lasted with her was one of the weapons Mum consistently threw at Dad in the heat of their relentless, vociferous arguments, retaliating to his contention that she never wanted him). Dad emerged in the doorway of the kitchen naked from the waist down, except for his socks, with an erection and he was bleeding from his penis. He stared at me as he walked past to go to the sink and sniggered at my shock at his nakedness, his erection and the blood. I am certain the abuse had not started at this point because I would not have been dazed at the sight of an erection from the age of nine.
Life slithered onwards like this for many miserable years. Mum treated Dad abysmally. Dad, in turn, asserted his dominance over Daniel. I remained on the periphery for the early years, never quite fitting in and turning to books and the solace of learning to escape the grief of home life. I viewed my parents as polar opposites; Mum was dramatic, spiteful and jealous and Dad was weak, patient and quiet. I find it inexplicable now but I simply adored him because he was the antithesis of Mum. I hadn’t worked out that he was always so wonderful to me because I was being groomed. My experience of our life at that time was that he looked out for me, I looked out for him.
I suppose with all tales of abuse, it begins with grooming. But when did this grooming start? I can’t, in all honesty, be sure. Sometimes I see Dad as a calculating monster who was enticed into my family by Mum, who could easily pass for a much younger girl, and then he hit the jackpot when he found she had a daughter of an impressionable age who could be sculpted into a means of gratification however he wished. Other days I see him as an opportunist who started to feel urges he could not control and finally, unable to suppress his impulses, he was compelled to act upon them. Mostly I see him as a weak individual who yearned for control and dominance and was unable to oppress the compunction to assert this over a vulnerable child. It does not particularly matter what the reason was because he is now dead and can never be held to account for what he did. The only reason it matters, on the very rare occasion I allow myself to think about it, is because it helps me to feel better about it all if I understand why.
I can’t pinpoint a moment where my childhood commenced its decline; perhaps there wasn’t one. Moments like the bleeding erection in the kitchen scream unfathomable indecency but I can’t find an exact action, or word or time that heralds the start of the horror. My timeline seems to be spattered more with particularly appalling moments where things periodically escalated from bad to worse.
What I do remember vividly from very early on is that I started to feel a deep-rooted instinct that something did not feel right on the Wednesday evenings when Mum worked late. I know I was in Primary School at this time because I recall reflecting on Dad’s behaviour in the Lunch Hall. Windsor has a three-tier education system so at the very oldest I would have been eight or nine.
I was very, very small – the smallest in my year. But I had an abundance of thick, wavy, long hair. Wednesday nights were one of my scheduled bath and hair wash nights; most likely dictated by Mum who knew she would be working so wouldn’t have to deal with me herself. It became of critical importance to Dad that my hair was thoroughly washed and, even more importantly, the shampoo was eradicated from my hair in totality. He therefore took the responsibility of washing my hair away from me, deeming himself the only one capable of doing a decent job of cleansing my bushy follicles. He stood over me, scrubbing at my head as the suds lathered up and we would play a game where he would spike it up like a punk or a unicorn. He would then take painstaking effort to rinse off the shampoo, leaving me with a mop of soaking wet hair. This became a tradition which was as ingrained in our lives as eating or breathing. However, after a while it became a concern for him that my hair remained wet and would often still be damp in the morning after a full night’s sleep. A new tradition was therefore introduced whereby following on from the cleaning protocols, I would be carried upstairs in my towel to the bedroom he shared with Mum, and I would sit at her dressing table while he devotedly blow-dried every inch of my hair.
Things started to become intense and the feeling in my gut that things were bad grew when he began to ask me for a cuddle after he had dried my hair. He would lie back on the double bed and hold his arms out wide, inviting me in to his clasp. It didn’t occur to me at first to mind and I willingly climbed onto the bed for a cuddle with my Dad. However, the ritualistic nature of this new regime felt uncomfortable. Especially when, after a few weeks of insisting we cuddle after he dried my hair, he initiated a new procedure where he would roll on top of me and hold me there in his grip beneath him. Slowly, he inaugurated pelvic thrusts into the routine a few weeks after that. I knew this was innately wrong, but he was my Dad outside of this one thing he did to me on the bed so, when the cuddle was over, I would be released and the remainder of my week would roll on as usual.
One particular Wednesday, Dad was lying on top of me, grinding his hips against me and he turned his head into my ear and whispered ‘Let’s have sex.’ Even writing that now makes my skin feel as if it has fleas writhing all over it. I lay there, submissive and panicking. In those moments you learn a lot about yourself and I learned then and there that in the battle between Fight and Flight, I was a Freeze kind of girl. I finally accepted that Dad wasn’t the person I thought he was and something emotional within me solidified itself defensively against him. He was now a predator in my eyes and I, the prey, had to be on my guard.
The next significant moment I recollect was when he started joining me in the bath. Rather than washing my hair from the outside, he would wait for me to get in and then undress himself and climb in with me. The space felt so confined, even with my tiny body; his man-sized legs encircled me as I sat cross-legged, arms protectively folded around me, between them. He would always have an erection before he got into the bath and in the moments when I flashback to those times I can see his penis floating in the water right in front of my eyes, excited and always ready to advance. He was so tentative and unhurried in the developmental stages of the abuse that I can’t help but conclude the planning on his part at this stage must have been meticulous. He had long since dropped the hair washing, blow-drying and bed-cuddle routine as he escalated his intentions into the bathroom and concentrated them there.
At first, the bath ceremony simply consisted of him accompanying me into the water and being in the bath with me until it got cold. I could no longer ignore or rationalise away the unavoidable reality that he was weird and liked to have secret baths with me. Could I be such a terrible daughter to him that I would tell on him for this though? Of course not. That would bring down the fury of Mum and I still felt compelled to protect him from that, even if it meant I sacrificed my own happiness to do so. He would tell me this was our secret, and that Mum would make his life hell if she knew – a fact I believed to be true. I never doubted for a moment that she wouldn’t believe me if I told her, I instinctively knew she would. But I didn’t want my weak Dad to have to go through another barrage of abuse because of me. So I let him sit in those baths with me, believing that this was the very worst it would get and I could deal with that.
Quite quickly into this new bath time routine he initiated the touching phase – I always had to touch him, never the other way around. He would call it ‘exercising his willy.’ At such a young age I had completely misinterpreted what I had heard of sex and I believed sperm was some kind of a gas which emitted from a penis (I’m currently resisting the urge to make a humorous quip about that, to be honest). I never made the connection that ‘exercising his willy’ was essentially giving him a hand job until he came. The creamy liquid would then float around us while he lay there, basking in post-ejaculatory glory and soaking up the remainder of warm water. Only when he was too cold to remain there, naked, with me shivering and begging to be allowed to leave, did he allow me to go upstairs and get into my pyjamas. His sperm would often settle in the child hairs on my legs or in the tendril ends of my hair and I would occasionally discover it the next day at school, a crusty reminder of the evening before.
Naively, I became obsessive over formulating plans of how I could make him forget about my responsibility to help him with his carnal exercises. I would wait for him to climb, hard, into the bath and chatter at him about anything I could think of, believing his desire for me would slip his mind and I would be free for another week if I could distract him with conversation. It never worked. He obviously had one thing on his mind and that was evident from the fact he was always visibly turned on before he even removed his clothes. Of course to my nine-year-old mind, this was not sex and he could be befuddled into forgetting to ask me to touch him. But in his mind, he waited for those Wednesday evenings every bit as much as I dreaded them.
His intentions escalated with swiftness following the establishment of intimate touching. Possibly, he was now confident that I was not going to mention Wednesday bath times to Mum and he was in a position of power where he knew he could do whatever he liked to me without fear of discovery. Perhaps hand jobs were no longer enough to satisfy him. Maybe he felt he could rely on my shame over what was happening to hold my tongue. Our baths had taken a sinister turn; he was once again insisting on cuddles with me but this time we were not clothed, I was trapped with him in the confines of a tiny bath and I was forced to wedge myself between his wet body and the side of the tub against my will. At first he would feign it was accidental when he rolled me beneath him and lay on top of me, pleasuring himself between my legs while I endured the ordeal silently. But the pretence must have become tiresome to him or he stopped caring whether I thought he was a monster or not as time swelled on because, before too long, he just put me through the motions as if I was his tiny, fleshy, emotionless receptacle. He would press his penis on me, simulating sex (but not entering me) until he came. This pacified his needs for a while, but clearly he felt the excitement stagnating so he moved on to asking me to get on all fours while he simulated sex, touching me, but holding himself back from pushing so hard he proceeded inside me. I would stare numbly at the plug-hole, praying for the moment when he finished and moved away from me. He pushed himself harder and harder against my body, clearly tempted to take his intentions to the final step but also keenly aware of the physical evidence that would be visible on my miniature body if he did. I vividly recollect the first time I was raped by him.
Eventually and inevitably, the temptation overwhelmed him. Of course it was painful and of course I was absolutely devastated by the encounter. I had known for a long time now that this was his ultimate goal but it had always seemed so far away. Afterwards, I went upstairs to my bedroom and I cried for a few moments, wrapped in my towel, allowing myself to hate him and feel sorry for myself. I was shivering from the tepid bath water and I had wedged the towel between my thighs to staunch the bleeding. Then I stopped crying because, really, what good was that doing? And I dried myself off and I fixed myself up, putting on a dark pair of knickers and hiding the bloody towel in my wardrobe. I mentally put that night away into a box and got on with my life. Until the next week.
Life, for me, became a game of two halves. I lived my life from Thursday morning to Tuesday evenings in relative peace. Wednesdays would come around and I would be consumed with schemes of how I might escape his attention. If I could go to my Grandparent’s house, I would go there. If I could go to an after school club, I’d do that. But there were those nights where I simply could not avoid the repulsion in the bathroom.
Many times I sat opposite my family on a Sunday afternoon as we devoured a roast dinner and I considered just blurting it out. ‘Dad touches me and makes me touch him the bath, Mum.’ ‘When you two argue about sex, is it because Dad prefers having sex with me?’ Something always held me back. Guilt. Pity. Responsibility. I didn’t understand why I felt such a great need to protect this man who had let me down in the worst possible way. I loathed him with every fibre of my being. He repulsed me; the feel of his wet lips on my shoulder in the bath, the sound of the bath squeaking under his weight as he descended down on top of me. The recall of those semantics make me shudder to this very moment, but try as I might, I just couldn’t make those words come out.
The abuse happened in the bathroom almost every time. I think this was another calculated move on his part to keep the evidence to a minimum. However, one of my many attempts to evade the sexual torture I was now enduring on a weekly basis was that I stated (in front of Mum) one Tuesday night, that I didn’t need a bath the following day. I was incredulous to find that this worked. I was encouraged; thinking – or hoping – it would work every time. Switching up the routine! It was so simple and obvious. Dad, however, was not one to be easily outsmarted when it came to his indulgences. The following Tuesday I did the same thing and so, the next day I reclined around the house like a child with no worries and no concerns, confident in the knowledge that he couldn’t make me do those awful things tonight. Daniel happened to be in the house and we were both in the living room. I actually felt smug, sitting in safety and comfort congratulating myself for outwitting Dad. He couldn’t touch me now – I bathed when Mum was in the house and that was it.
‘Have you got a minute?’ I turned my head to the doorway to see Dad standing there, framed by the woodwork, with a towel in his hand. I thought nothing of this as I gave Daniel the remote control and followed the footsteps he had taken up the stairs. I sensed he had gone into my bedroom so I followed him in there.
In all my life, I have never again felt the same creeping sense of realisation and dread simultaneously wash over me. He was perched on the end of my bed, fully clothed, with the towel draped across his thigh. ‘Cuddle?’ he asked, rhetorically. I knew it wasn’t a request and I knew this was going to be really, really bad. Twice it happened in my bedroom on my bedroom floor. Until writing this I never rationalised why he did it on the floor and not on the bed; of course, the floor can be wiped. I was still very young and very petite – perhaps 11 or 12. The trauma of what he did to me would still make me bleed and I found it painful every single time, despite his entreaties that I should ‘relax.’ After these two times, we returned to the bathroom for all subsequent processions.
I withstood the abuse until the summer I was 12 when my brother walked in to the bathroom unexpectedly the final time to catch Dad on top of me in the bath. That is a story for another time, and a much more positive story in many ways. In cyclical summary though, I’d like to return to the beginning of this story and remind you that I am OK. As a woman who has borne abuse from a young age I can tell you that I have emotional scars, of course. But I’m the strongest person I know; I’m irrepressible and I’m fiercely independent and I like to pull myself through the hard times by laughing. Everyone’s problems are relative; what happened to me has messed me up and damaged me irrevocably but there are things that have happened to people on a much less stereotypically traumatic scale that have affected them in more devastating ways. So to leave this harrowing story on a high note, don’t feel too sad for me because I got to throw dirt on that piece of shit’s coffin.