History is a funny thing. You can ignore it, work round it, forget it. But in little subversive ways, it always comes back to bite you.
It is not a well-known fact that I was sexually abused as a child. I had lovely parents and a very dark secret. A relative of my mother’s started abusing me at a very young age. It is my second childhood memory. The first being of looking at a light in my parent’s apartment. When I recalled it years later and described it to my Mom, she went pale, as I was six months old when we moved out of that flat and there are no photos of the light fitting.
So the first time I remember I being abused I was probably only just speaking. It continued until I was 10 years old and started looking womanly. Many abused children hit puberty early. I am not going to dwell on the detail, suffice to say it defined my childhood and very nearly defined my entire life. It took falling in love for the first time to bring everything to a head and the scar I have on my left wrist is testimony to the ill-fated attempt I made to end the confusion in my head and to leech out the dirt I felt inside.
Having failed to kill myself (so useless, I could not even manage that successfully) and not keen to try past two very painful slashes, I then reached out for help and managed to land myself the most inept, incompetent rape counsellor probably in the whole of the continent, if not the whole wide world. Not only did she insist I feel sorry for my abuser but she also insisted I go public. I could not do neither.
Sorry was the last thing I felt for him (I wanted to kill him). Going public would have meant hurting beyond repair my parents who trusted this man and his wife, who in fact made them our legal guardians (oh boy did I breathe I sigh of relief when I turned 18 and insisted my parents change their wills so that my brother and sister would be under my care, which bless them, they did). Quite simply, my parents would never, ever have forgiven themselves.
When I was young, I was known in the community we lived in as the “cling-film kid”, so carefully did my parents watch out for me. I was not allowed to accept lifts (even from neighbours), talk to strangers, walk anywhere by myself (including to our local school, something that became a bone of contention and only when I was 11 was I allowed to walk home from school). Nor was I allowed to ride my bicycle out past the small block. There was no way on earth my parents, who had sent me off for weekends with this man and his wife, ever, ever going to get over, through or round this.
So I realised it was down to me. I had to learn how to be normal. It was hard. By the time I was 12, my parents knew I was street smart and I could go to town on my own and actually had a great deal of freedom. I never let them down. But I had a whole other life that no-one would ever have suspected. Attracted to danger, dangerous men and a lifestyle years from my own, I fitted in on the edges and nowhere suitable. Years of keeping secrets made it easy for me to lie, to invent sleepovers, pyjama parties, lifts back home with schoolfriends’ parents. Only once did my mother catch me out wearing makeup and I made the excuse that everyone wore makeup at the party, a typical teenage whinge.
Sensing my difference, kids at school avoided me. I became outwardly tough but watched them closely for clues on how to behave, how to interact, how to laugh, how to just be.
Just aware enough to know that sex was going to be an issue, I threw myself into it, determined to know how to be normal, instead of a victim. I was dirty already and there was nothing anyone could do to make me dirtier.
I had the example of my parents in terms of adult relationships but I never managed to have a successful teenage relationship. My love interests were always older than me, wilder than me and in most cases mad, bad and dangerous to know. However I was also incredibly lucky. Only one of them ever harmed me intentionally and one became my saving grace.
By the time I had finished high school, I had pretty much learned how to behave, how to look, how not to attract attention, how to attract attention when I wanted it, instead of having it foisted on me.
I could give love and receive love in an emotional and sexual sense but I bore scars that I kept hidden. As a young girl, I yearned for freedom to make my own decisions, follow my own path. I wanted to run and run until I had outrun myself and make a better life for myself, become a better me.
By and large, I have done that. I never did tell my parents and the asshole himself was a great help and support to my Mom when my Dad died and again to my Mom when she was dying, teaching me that not all evil people are completely hopeless of heart (although he did manage to slip his hand down the back of my skirt whilst my mother lay dying in the room next door).
I also did not want people to judge me against my history, be able to say “oh she does that, because you know … “. I wanted no-one’s pity (I still can’t bear the thought) and I did not want to be the subject of anyone’s gossip. I still don’t.
I did tell my siblings, something given our fractured relationship, that was incredibly hard to do and made even harder by my sister, who, at the time was annoyed with me and put all sorts of barriers in front of meeting up. I eventually gave her an ultimatum, told her I had something important to tell them and it was up to her to decide whether to hear it or not. When the occasion came, I opened my mouth to speak and found I could not. I cried instead and in between choking and talking, finally got it out.
They both had daughters and whilst I was able to keep both my sister and brother safe during their childhood, I could not keep their daughters safe. I was living overseas – too far away to be a threat and way too old by that time to be an alternative lure.
It is a secret I have shared with very few people and in truth, only in the past few years has it been possible to talk about, openly and calmly. But deep down inside, scars remain. Inside me somewhere is still that little girl who yearned for the bright lights and the big city, who chose excitement and danger over security and love.
And now, I realise, I have to guard against her. Because although she is the cornerstone of my compassion (I cannot bear cruelty, cannot and will not walk past it, ever), she is also the source of what makes me again and again, attracted to risk and danger; who, when life is good and things are calm, can go out and take risks beyond imagining
Nowadays there are so many good reasons to court danger, do the unthinkable, to reach out to what is perceived to be untouchable, to right wrongs and to work outside of what is agreed to be lawful. But I also recognise in doing so, I quell the itch in my soul
I have to accept that I will always have an edge to my heart, that I will always be attracted to jeopardy and that in trying to put horrible things right, I am not only seeking justice for all those who have been harmed, but also satisfying a nasty little part of me which cries out again and again for me to walk a tightrope and risk everything for the sheer, awful thrill of surviving it.