Before I commence the next part of this story (and it doesn’t get much better if I’m being totally honest) I would like to reflect on a quotation from Sex Education, a truly hilarious series which I urge you to watch – probably after reading this for some bloody light relief!
‘If you grew up knowing that the people who were meant to help you survive just left you, that leaves a lot of scars. But those scars make you special.’
When I knew I was going to write this blog and I would have to expose the part you are about to read, this quote seemed timely and hit me as being particularly poignant. I’m not quite so cock-sure as to describe myself as anything extra ‘special’ because I know and fully accept I am a damaged person, but I think it was the failures of those around me in those times of hardship that left me with the deepest of my emotional scars. The abuse I can tuck away and not think about – I’ve squared myself to what happened and rationalised why I think it did. But each and every family member who knew of the true connection between Dad and I aided my parents in sweeping the truth under the rug and watched from the side-lines as I was forced to carry on with life as if nothing was wrong and the heavy burden of the trauma was crushing down upon me. The saddest part? I don’t think it occurred to a single one of them that I wasn’t OK.
It makes sense to pick up where I left off with the last incident with Dad and what followed thereafter. However, I need to provide you with some background information before the story commences:
About two months before Daniel witnessed his father raping me, Mum walked downstairs in the middle of the night to catch Dad masturbating to pornography on TV. A deafening argument launched between them which woke both myself and Daniel from our sleep. Dad was once again thrown out with immediate effect. Mum was appalled by what she had observed; she telephoned all our relatives and all his relatives to let them know what a disgusting human being he was, doing such a depraved thing with his wife and children asleep upstairs. Daniel and I were told our father had been ‘playing with himself’ and that we wouldn’t be seeing him again but we had overhead her audible conversations with anyone who would listen about what a perverted individual her husband was so we already knew what had happened. We took her protestations to be hyperbole – he’d be back within a week. However two weeks passed…and then three…and then four. Six weeks he was out of our lives and I was liberated, enjoying a bath time without the predatory attentions of my father’s penis harassing me for the first time I could remember.
Until one day we came home from school and there he was, back once more to cast a shadow over our childhood. We had always known the longevity of familial bliss without him would be short-lived; Daniel and I counted ourselves lucky he had been gone longer this time than any time before.
Two weeks later Dad was going through the usual motions of our bath time routine. By then he had branched out into changing position during the ordeal and was, at the moment when Daniel walked in, lying on top of me. My skinny legs were crushed uncomfortably between the sides of the bath and his wet, adult body. There was a moment frozen in time as the bathroom door blasted open and Daniel took in what was going on in the bath right ahead of him: his father laying atop his sister looking decidedly like he had been caught out doing something he shouldn’t be, which was entirely the basis of the scene. I cannot remember whether Dad told him to leave, or whether he walked away of his own volition, but Daniel left the room and closed the door behind him. I mentally willed him to save me from what was happening but I acknowledge that was a stretch too far for an eight year old boy who was petrified of his father. Inconceivably, when the door had shut, Dad continued as if nothing had happened.
A sense of hopelessness descended over me in that moment as I came to the realisation that nobody was going to help me. My only chance (other than confessing what was happening) was that someone walked in, witnessed my suffering and took control of the situation when I seemed incapable of doing so. However, the very thing I had been wishing for had just happened and yet here I remained trapped beneath my step-father.
When it was over I sorted myself out and tucked the bath scenario away in the back of my mind until next Wednesday when it would replay all over again. Daniel came in from playing outside. We ate dinner. We watched TV. Mum came home from work. Mum was pissed off, as usual. Dad was nonchalant as ever. Daniel was as mischievous as always but was remiss in acknowledging the scene he had entered into just hours before. I became convinced he had either refused to believe what his own eyes had seen or else was practising under the assumption that he beheld something different to what was actually happening in the bathroom, he was eight after all. We went to bed. The evening passed just as ordinarily as any other Wednesday evening in that house of secrecy and lies.
Except, at that time, I was having my bedroom redecorated and by a sheer miraculous stroke of good fortune, my mattress had been placed on the floor of Daniel’s room while the high-gloss skirting dried. The lights were off in the bedroom and all was quiet except for the muffled sound of the television downstairs. Mum and Dad would either have been arguing or having sex, possibly both – who could tell with those two deviants?
‘Why was Dad on top of you in the bath?’ Daniel blurted out, suddenly.
And out the whole story poured.
I told my eight year old brother the things I had been yearning to say for many years of angst and anguish. I do not know whether I would have made any confession at all, perhaps I would still be keeping the secret to this very day, were it not for the fortuitous circumstance of being in my brother’s room that night.
When I had finished my tale Daniel simply said, ‘You have to tell Mum.’ Neither of us realised this was a sad, sickeningly common thing that was happening in every corner of every country of the world. We hadn’t comprehended the stigma around paedophilia…I doubt either of us would even have known such a noun existed and we certainly wouldn’t have attributed it to our father’s actions. There was no doubt in my mind that Mum would believe me; I absolutely knew she would. We made a plan that we would tell her in the morning – Dad always left the house before any of us awoke so we would be free to speak.
The next morning Daniel and I sat our mother down and I began my confession. I started to tell her that Dad was getting in the bath with me and made me touch him. I knew Mum to be perpetually riddled with jealousy of everyone and everything and I needed her to understand that this attention was in no way welcomed by me. I felt that if I eased the story in gently, beginning with the early phases of the abuse before detailing just how awful it had become this might make for an easier experience for Mum. However, her reaction to the story scuppered these plans and it all went awry. I was telling her how Dad had coined the phrase ‘exercising his willy,’ when a look of absolute defeat and knowledge seemed to invade her entire face. She stood up frantically and paced the living room. I stopped the story to allow her time to let what I had told her sink in – I understood this was news no mother, no wife, wanted to hear.
She was asking so many questions, throwing them at me in her maternal hunt for detail. ‘How many times did this happen?’ I told her I didn’t know for sure. ‘Was it always on Wednesday nights?’ I confirmed it was. ‘What kinds of things were happening?’ I paused to consider. I had clearly just told her about him laying on top of me on their bed and the touching in the bath and she had already reacted so badly…it felt like telling her the gruesome, gratuitous details would push her into a frenzy I wouldn’t be able to control. I repeated he had made me exercise his willy and that he touched me with his fingers and his penis and pushed himself against me, simulating sex. She grew quiet, and she asked me in a most reluctant voice, ‘He didn’t ever put his willy inside you, did he?’ I instinctively knew the answer she wanted to hear, I could tell from the way she had asked the question. I felt in that moment that I needed to protect her from the reality of what had really been going on. So with Daniel watching on, I lied to her and told her he had not put himself inside me. She seemed to visibly relax at this falsehood, comforted to know that her husband might be a paedophile but at least he was not a rapist. I sensed I had done the right thing in saving her from the facts.
As Daniel and I dressed for school that morning we could hear Mum making frantic phone calls to my Nan and Grandad, my Aunt Karen and my step father’s brothers and sister. Of note, nobody ever asked me if I was lying – and I could understand if they had done; children make claims that are false an awful lot and this was an atrocious allegation to be made against a man nobody considered to be a threat to children. Dad’s own brother, when Mum began to relay my story, had said ‘Oh no, not my niece!’ before she had even mentioned who had made the accusation. I perceive these details as a clear indication that on some level, everybody knew what my father was, or what he might be capable of at the very least. I would caveat that, however, by saying I do not think for a moment that a single person suspected the abuse that was happening and if they had done, they would have acted to prevent it. I hope. Though time would perhaps suggest otherwise.
I had grown skilled in being able to switch the tap pouring the turmoil of my home life off when I was outside the house so that day at school was like any other. When I arrived home that evening it was like Dad had never existed. He had been erased from our lives without prejudice. Every item belonging to him or evidencing his being was scrubbed from the tapestry of our lifespan. Coming home to that felt almost womb-like in the safety of its nature. Mum was being kind to me and Dad could be bleached out of my memory with ease if there were no reminders of him.
That evening, Mum called me into the bathroom while she was having a bath. It may sound odd or even wrong, her calling me to the room which was the venue for all those unspeakable crimes. But on the occasions where we were getting along I would often sit on the loo seat while Mum was in the bath and we would chat like friends. It didn’t feel uncomfortable in the slightest talking to her there, though I knew what she would want to talk about.
She wanted to tell me what had happened that day after Daniel and I had left for school. By all accounts, she had telephoned her work to notify them she would not be in and from there, all hell had broken loose. My Auntie and Uncle had presumably followed suit and called in sick to work on the premise they would sit at our house to ensure Mum didn’t stab Dad through the facial cavities when he entered the hearth – she said there were points throughout the day when she had planned to. When Dad had arrived to what he must have assumed would be an empty home, he was shocked to find not only his wife there, but her sister and brother-in-law. If memory serves, my Aunt and Uncle were left downstairs, chaperoning the confrontation from a distance. Mum said she asked him what he had been doing to me and he projectile vomited right where he stood (she must have freaked out at not being able to go and sit in the garden pretending to be scared while he emptied the contents of his stomach all over the room). I imagine this reaction was the physical realisation of all his deepest fears coming true and the knowledge that now his secret was out, the punishment would be unthinkable. He needn’t have worried.
She told me he did not try to deny a thing and had admitted to touching me when she was out at work. He had, apparently, known the truth would come out after Daniel had interrupted the night before. I noted that when he had shockingly continued the rape it must have been as his final hurrah before punishment came knocking on the door and he was forced to cease his carnal pleasures.
I felt relieved that he had at least admitted what had been happening and had not tried to battle against me in a quest for the truth. However, my feelings of release were short-lived as she followed up his disclosure with the news that he had informed her the instances of abuse had occurred just a handful of times, only in the most recent weeks and only ever in the bathroom. As I write this I wonder why these details of where it happened and how much were of such importance to Mum – the fact it happened even one time, even the limited amount she knew, should have been enough surely? He had also alleged that he had never had sex with me and that what happened involved touching only. She ended by telling me I was very ‘lucky’ because he could have made me put his penis in my mouth. She sat in the bath, hot water dripping from her little upturned, nipples and her top lip sweating in the steam, daring me to dispute these details. I told her it had happened more times than a handful and that he had made me follow him to my bedroom a couple of times but I knew there was very little point in arguing the toss over how many times it had happened and how long I’d had to endure it; the matter was closed as far as she was concerned. I was a little insulted at her comment that I was ‘lucky’ I’d never had to give him a blow-job and I knew intuitively that it would have been a very terrible thing to confess the full extent of all that had happened; she could not handle the realities imbibed in the rapes that had taken place. I decided that she knew enough to be empowered to get rid of the man staining our lives with perversion and disrepute without knowing those most intimate of details and I recognised her inability to truly handle the minutiae of what had taken place.
In truth, our lives were a delight in the weeks after the semi-truth emerged, just the three of us clubbing together in a little team against the rest of the world. My Mum’s family made it clear they were devastated I had not made what was happening known to any of them; my grandmother seemed personally offended that I had not felt close enough to her to tell her what Dad was doing but I believe that came from a place of love and concern. Daniel, Mum and I got into a routine and even Mum seemed happier and better for it. The horrible, rotting secret moulding at the core of our utopia was not discussed any further; we simply pretended that the abuse and perpetrator did not exist and that was fine by me. I had become adept at blocking it all out so it came easily to me to convince everyone, including myself, that I was a normal girl.
In years gone by, friends have asked me why the police were not called, why I was not taken to a doctor to be checked over and why social services were not involved. I have to answer all three questions as honestly as I can. I have no idea why nobody called the police the day everything came out; if I were a parent I know I would have done. The simple fact is that nobody did. It might sound strange but there is a part of me that, even now, wouldn’t have wanted that outcome anyway – I wasn’t asked whether I did at the time; I had no say whatsoever in what punishment was given to Dad – but I believe that to know what happens to men like him in prison was happening to Dad would have simultaneously brought me feelings of satisfaction and guilt. I absolutely understand that feelings of guilt are the furthest thing I should feel for being responsible for sending such a monster to rot in a penitentiary for the remainder of his miserable days but perhaps the grooming is so deep rooted that I still have an instinct to protect him. The second question is easier to answer; I wasn’t taken to the GP because my Mother was irresponsible and because she didn’t (and still does not) know the full extent of the abuse. It would be extremely naïve of her not to have figured it out though; as time has passed I have divulged enough for her to know the timeframe around what happened and if she thinks he was satisfied with heavy petting on a weekly basis for three or four years then she is not as astute as I give her credit to be. However, in truth, I have never verbalised what happened and therefore she believes I was a fully intact little girl when I began my revelation that morning. I am sure that, as a mother, it is more of a comforting thought to think your daughter was not violated in the most brutal and aggressive manner. It has only been in the last two or three years that I have told anybody that I was raped; I had made the decision in those tender years to bury the desecration deep down within myself and never talk or think about it again. However, I found people around whom I was comfortable enough to share my heavy load eventually and it feels good to talk about it in a strange kind of way.
With reference to social services being notified, I believe that ties in with the most difficult pill to swallow of them all: even then, Mum knew she did not want to split with him permanently and that her actions in removing him from our home were more about saving face than about protecting her children (let’s not forget Dad was unpleasant to Daniel also). Maybe my family were with her on this, or maybe at that point they stood behind me…the jury is still out on that one.
She started to bring Dad up in conversation around a fortnight after he had left. She told us that she had spoken with him and he was doing well at his sister’s. She mentioned he was very apologetic towards me for what he had done and ashamed of himself. I made very little response; Mum was still a prickly character after all and I was the face of the reason she no longer had a husband. I knew it was coming and sure enough after week three, she could contain herself no longer. She called me in to the bathroom for another heart-to-heart.
‘How would you feel about Dad coming home?’ she queried seriously.
How would I feel? How on earth did she think I would feel? I had been desperate for them to break up for years; the thought of him coming back into this lovely, innocent life we had begun to rebuild was absolutely devastating. It dawned upon me that when it came down to a choice between her children and herself, Mum would never fail to prioritise her own needs and wants even in the most dire of circumstances. To argue with her or protest would have been fruitless and to admit the full extent of all I had endured would now seem like a lie used to convince her to keep that man away. In my 12 year old mind I was convinced that if I conceded I did not want Dad to come back she would argue that I had endured the abuse for many years, why now could I not put up with it any longer?
‘If you want him back, that’s fine.’ I thought that was a happy medium; I wasn’t saying no…but the decision was very firmly placed on her. I found it difficult to grasp how she could remove him from our domestic life for six weeks after catching him having a wank to free porn but touching her daughter earned him only a three week stint in the doghouse.
She got the answer she had been looking for. ‘OK, that’s a very grown up decision. Your Dad has agreed to go to counselling to discuss his thoughts and I will never, ever leave you alone with him.’ I didn’t believe either would come to fruition and I was absolutely right on both counts. The agreement to go to a counsellor was a total fabrication – it was a lie told to me to make his moving back home more palatable. Perhaps they were even lying to themselves and fully intended to go to a counsellor at that point but I now know they never visited anyone. In any event, he allegedly attended a single session and they dropped the façade – he’d paid lip service to appease any concerns and that was the end of it. A counsellor of my own later told me that even divulging he had experienced inappropriate thoughts regarding his infant step-daughter would have been cause enough for a medical professional to report him.
Family members questioned whether I was absolutely sure I was fine with Dad coming home and I assured them that I was. I even laughed off their continued faux-concern. At the end of the day, if they were truly bothered about whether I was alright with the decision they wouldn’t have asked me in the first place. No child, having been abused by their father, would happily welcome him back into a home that felt like heaven when he wasn’t there. Everyone knew what he was and everyone knew parts of what he had done but they turned away and sought my permission to allow him back into our lives because they didn’t want the weight of such a poor choice on their own conscience. By letting it be my decision to welcome him into the family once more it negated any feelings of responsibility or guilt on their part. In truth, they simply must have preferred him to me – what other explanation is there for wilfully putting a young girl in such danger?
When Dad returned it was all very awkward for a long time. Dad was, of course, on his best behaviour but I still found myself leaving any room I was in when he arrived. One such awkward incident stands out more than any other.
I had a beautiful yellow nightie made from linen with strawberries all over the body and little straps – it was perfect for the balmy summer nights we were in the midst of. I wore my little nightie one evening shortly after Dad arrived home and when I descended the stairs and entered the living room Mum eyed me up and down scathingly and exclaimed ‘I hardly think that’s fair on your father, is it?’ It is difficult to say who was more mortified by her words, him or I. I changed into something that showed off my 12 year old body less and made a mental note that I was not to wear clothes or nightwear that might arouse my father anymore.
Despite her loyalties to him when it came to his attractions towards his adopted daughter, the ferocious arguments between Mum and Dad continued and were worse than they had ever been. She now had a case Dad could never defend himself against and could never have grounds to fight back on. She dragged up what he had done to me time and time again – little did she know Dad and I were reluctantly bonded in a down-playing lie that would blow apart the semblance of a life she had pieced back together if it ever came out. She ordered me to join her in her verbal attacks and when I refused she would regurgitate thoughts I had definitely had but never uttered: how I hated him, how I resented his presence, how afraid of his sexual attentions I remained. Of course, I hid myself away in my room and refused to be dragged into the maelstrom she fashioned but these squabbles were valuable in proving to me that Mum recognised my abhorrence towards Dad and was therefore actively choosing to ignore it. Another piece of me turned to stone in these moments as I hardened myself against the warfare under that roof.
By Christmas that year, Dad had begun to grow unwell. He was snappy yet vacant within himself (which we put down to the stresses of trying to cure himself of paedophilia and make his marriage to such a psychopath as my mother work) but also taking days and weeks at a time off work with sickness bugs that would wrack his body into submission. On Boxing Day, Mum called the emergency doctor out to our house and by New Year the excess fluid the GP found behind his left eye was diagnosed as a Grade 4 malignant brain tumour the size of a man’s fist. I felt absolutely nothing when I received the news of this cancerous lump growing in his head but the rest of my family were behaving as if his impending death would be some great loss to the world. I was not sad, I was not happy – I was perfectly ambivalent.
Unhelpfully, at the hospital just before his surgery his brain surgeon made a flippant, off-hand remark to my Mother that any changes in behaviour could be put down to the presence of the malignancy. It was the salvation they had all been desperate for. Justification enough to both his family and my own that it was the brain tumour that had instigated his attractions toward me and not a deep-rooted mental sickness at all. It felt as if this was their reason to finally be rid of the awfulness that had plagued us since I inconveniently told the truth back in the summer – the chapter was closed. It was made very clear to me, if it hadn’t been already, that all was forgiven and I simply needed to move on from what had happened to me. My revulsion towards him was inconsequential; the ugly truth flew the minds of everyone but me like pollen in the wind.
Dad’s decline into death was painstakingly slow. I never felt emotions toward him in that time; of course I pretended I was upset when the news was bad and I feigned concern before hospital appointments…but I felt almost nothing. The air was pregnant around me with animosity towards both my parents for various obvious reasons and I occasionally felt something close to pity for Dad when Mum harangued him for his hair loss and criticised him when he went out in public without a cap on. But on the whole, I was totally numb to it all. I had been abandoned by everybody and worse, they were rallying around this absorbent sponge of a creature in his final days when I was silently watching on, screaming out for somebody to notice my heart had turned to ice and flint against them all.
At some point during these years Mum divorced Dad, too embarrassed by the strange hairline his radiotherapy had given him to remain in a lifeless relationship any longer. However, they ended up back together and engaged again before she finally realised he was of no use to her in his broken, dying, bloated state. He could no longer work as he was constantly having epileptic fits or staying in the hospice for weeks on end and he therefore contributed nothing financially. He had lost the good looks she had once enjoyed and he had no personality whatsoever, the brain tumour stealing any measure of the man, good or bad, that had once been. These years are blurry for me and I find it hard to place a timeline on the events. I know I was crushed when Mum told me she was getting married to Dad again after I thought we were finally rid of him, but I couldn’t tell you how far into the battle against cancer that was. All I know is that from the age of 13 when the tumour was diagnosed, to the age of 17 when he finally gave up and gave in to that cankerous scourge sent to wipe him from the planet like dogshit smeared on the shoe of my life, I was unhappy and I was struggling within myself. No one would ever have known – my school teachers loved me, Mum thought I was a teenage demon and my friends never noticed a difference. But I knew there was a hatred gnawing in my mind, growing stronger and more resentful with every day Dad continued breathing and every moment Mum set about being more putrid to me than the moment before.
Fate was, however, to throw one final spanner in the works before Dad’s ever-dimming light petered out for good. And for once, fortune favoured me.
As mentioned in Part One of the story, when growing up Dad had a number of ‘Housekeepers’ who were brought in by his father to Nanny the brood of children he had sired before his wife passed away. These Housekeepers seemed to habitually become the partners of his father; one such Housekeeper/Nanny had a very young child of her own – Francesca. When Francesca grew up, she confided in a boyfriend that she had been abused as a very young child by the older son of her mother’s boyfriend. She divulged the abuse always happened in the bathroom of the house and only ever when she and the son were left alone together. The son was, at that time, 15 and she was too young to remember how old she actually was. Francesca was pressed to tell her Mother all that had happened and, upon doing so, Francesca’s mother felt compelled to let Dad’s sister know the horrible truth that the perpetrator had been her brother, my Dad.
Naturally I felt sheer horror that such a thing had happened to another girl but, at the same time, I felt vindicated. Now, finally, everyone had to accept what happened had been nothing to do with the brain tumour and admit this had been a cop-out excuse to comfort no one but themselves. Even if they didn’t come right out and say it, they had to know this. It was also a relief to be able to talk about it again – I had gone so long pretending those years had not happened it felt good to be able to acknowledge that they did.
My Aunt felt compelled to confront Dad, despite him being almost ready to knock on the doors of hell and ask to be allowed entrance. Apparently Dad was less than receptive to her accusations and implored her to ‘drop it,’ asking what the point was in dragging all this up now. This is surely not surprising to anyone, that he would wish to deflect back onto his malignancy the grim reality that everyone now had to face – he was, and always had been a paedophile.
As if he knew his vile ways were about to be exposed, mere days later Dad breathed his last mortal breath. He lay in a hospice bed with his feet turned black as death crept up on him, finally ready to drag him down to the depths of oblivion after tormenting him in a slow deterioration for years upon years. At his side was the baby beaker he now had to drink from, a catheter draining the last fluids from his spent and wasted body. He had lost the ability to speak, to wash himself, to feed himself or even swallow. He had regressed back into nothing more than an oversized baby. I looked down on his soon-to-be-corpse and felt he had suffered enough for what he had done to me, and the other girls. It was time to let it go.
At his funeral I watched as his coffin sank into the cold, hard ground. I took a handful of dirt, threw it down on the lid of the box and heard the finality of the grainy thump with gratification. He had melted into the abyss in the most unflattering and torturous of ends. He would never harm another child and his death was his final gift to me.
So, to bring us back in cyclical structure to where I started, this was a case of those I loved and shielded to the detriment of myself failing in every single way to protect me back. I kept the full story secret because I didn’t want to cause additional pain to a family already blown apart by my revelations and yet it pains me to say that my Mum, my Nan, my Grandad, my Aunties and my Uncles were all in a position to do something, to act out against what had happened but they left me to fend for myself. They seemed to unite against one common enemy, and that enemy wasn’t Dad – it was me. It did leave me with scars and a reluctance to ever put my trust in humanity again. However, in times when I allow myself to wallow in how truly shit that whole situation was, I remind myself that I am fucking great despite of, and because of, what took place throughout my childhood. I am grateful to be the black sheep of that family – I originated from a broken world of sin but I have raised myself on pure will-power to be the woman I am today. I’m a damaged little soul, but I’m actually totally fine with that. I wear my scars with no shame because I’ve walked on a path of broken glass and taught myself how to glide along with grace.