As Heaven Is Wide

If flesh could crawl my skin would fall, from off my bones and run away from here.

But.

I didn’t have a father I had a buyer of presents, awesome presents, a bike, a garage, a Gemini capsule with an Action Man in a silver suit. All the Thunderbirds toys, but this meant nothing to me. My Dad was an alcoholic, he didn’t know how to Dad. Not surprising really, his father committed suicide, his stepfather ran away (or the other way round, I’m unsure). His Mum was I suspect autistic; precise and seemingly bereft of emotions. Through all the ignorance, abuse, baiting, drinking, and untimely death it is hard to hate the man. He bought me the coolest car for my 21st. My Mum grew up tending to her alcoholic mother, in the absence of her own father who worked on the merchant ships after the war. Not surprisingly she became an enabler of alcoholics. In this life I was expected to play a role in the enabling game at great cost. I was always expected to be responsible.

So I sit.

I was abused for the first time by an acquaintance of my father. When my father got off ship he would take me to play football. The football and I got to sit in the back of the car, in the hope of going to the park for a kick around. The reality was the ball, some crisps, a pint of orange cordial and I sat in the back of the car while my Dad went for a pint. One time a man came by, he brought more drink, crisps and…….tickles. I hate being tickled, violently so. The tickles became groping, I couldn’t scream because I was laughing and frightened of adults. What would say or tell? I wanted to be with my Dad, I didn’t want to be stuck at home. Who would believe me? How much trouble would I get into?

The next time was a young man who masturbated in front of me. I took me into the bushes and showed me how it was done, wiping the result on a Doc-leaf. What was I going to tell my Mum and Dad? I had no words to describe what I saw. Being bidden to be quiet and inconspicuous, would I have spoken up anyway? I was frightened that it was somehow my fault. I wandered if this was normal?

Me at 13 years old

At age eleven I was talked into going to boarding school while my family moved abroad for work. The school was the worst caricature of public schools, bullying was the least of it. Lord Williams’s school was host to two known abusers and one probable abuser. I know this because the two known ones had me, and the behaviour of the probable one fitted a pattern familiar to me. The first known, Phil (the cook) was the classic dirty old man. A bag of sweets and groping hands that we all had to fight off at some point. I have no account of how many kids went to his room for some biscuits or what they came away with. The other known, Colin Brookes was different. He was a resident housemaster in the boarding house. A Biology teacher, short with thinning hair he was popular and much loved by the community. He staged musicals and cared for us boys between times. He groomed me, fed me Carlsberg Special Brew and groped me. One night he raped me. I was 12 years old, my parents were abroad. So I did the responsible thing and said nothing.

I was thrown out of school before my final year, my rapist would have helped me stay. For a while I wanted to stay, the day I left I cried. Even after I left, I went to see him. After what was to be my final visit with him the full horror of it all started to seep in. I remember sitting in the kitchen and having to go and be physically sick as I ran it all through my mind; confusion, anger, disgust, self-loathing all at once. It was another eight years before I sought any help, at a point where was no longer functioning as a human being. It kind of worked, but what followed was still another decade of dysfunctional, toxic behaviour.

My two most vivid memories of the rape were firstly the sense of surprise and betrayal, I’ve never trusted any man since. The other was the desire to peel myself away from the inside of my body, in an attempt to abandon it, hoping to preserve something of me. My body became a vehicle after that, a useful device for living a protected life. In some ways the strategy has proved effective. I still have a well-developed disposable outside persona that can suffer enormously, while inner self does what it does.

Since my Mother’s death two years ago things have gotten worse, it has been harder to get off the intermittent carousel of anxiety, depression and rage. These emotions and the thoughts of loss and abandonment that go with them, now stalk me for days on end. They are destroying my internal life, outside me acts happy, while inside me screams and howls. The arrangement that I made with my body is breaking. In the absence of a focus for my anger, external events often trigger a state of despair, which is unfamiliar and frightening.

I do not share this with people in my life because:

In the past I have been looked at with a mixture of disgust and disbelief when I tell people close to me. At the worst they simply ignore it. I do not want pity; I want control over my life so that I and those around me feel safe. Pity does not work that way for me. Please don’t ever ask why I didn’t say something. I constantly question my memories and the account of what happened. I’m burdened with survivors’ guilt, relatively speaking I still feel I’m doing better than expected. I certainly don’t seem to have suffered as much as others I’ve read about. Unsurprisingly a sense of control and the feeling that I have choices is essential to my well-being. That trapped feeling I had at school, alone, my parents literally thousands of miles away and with no one to talk to, frames my whole life. I am never free of that burden.

My sexuality is a mess that at one point saw me become a manipulative sociopath desperate to prove my masculinity through a series of toxic relationships. I truly, truly regret all of this and the harm I did. While that phase of my life has ended, I am still far from complete. My partner has been incredible, she should never have had to put up with sexual midden I find myself stuck in. She has suffered too, I owe her every day, as I do all the people who give me second chances without understanding why I fail. It took me forever to finally find the will to raise I child. I was worried about becoming an abuser myself. I was frightened of physical contact when my son was born. But here, there is some hope; I have a close loving relationship with my son, nature did it’s work with great power. I will not be that man and while I have to figure out parenting as I go along, it is not the terrifying process I imagined.

When finally, I told my Mum (Dad was dead by then) she just said, “I thought as much”. She never spoke of it again, leaving me as usual to “sort myself out”. Like most people, she decided to pretend it never happened. For me that is the damning problem. Sexual abuse, assault and what surrounds it is confronting, so much so that people prefer to believe that it doesn’t happen and when it is unavoidably present, it is treated as uncommon. When people began to question the actions of Colin Brookes on social media (friends reunited), the conversation was quickly shut down by those who felt “uncomfortable”. This attitude dovetails with the day-to-day experience of living around abusers. How can the other housemasters have not noticed? I simply don’t believe this all passed by without complaint for what may have been 30 years. To my knowledge Colin Brookes died without ever being held to account publicly for what he had done. I suspect that most people still think of him as an amiable “heart of the school” fellow. This is wrong, and I am encumbered with the guilt that I never spoke out when I should have. I didn’t act to prevent the suffering of others, despite being so courageous in other areas of my life. I feel somehow complicit by not challenging and tearing down the fond memories of others.

So who am I angry with?

The only people who tend to take an interest in these issues are journalists, I have very mixed feelings about their motives and the way abuse is portrayed in the media. Something underlined by my recent experience with metoo journalists. Events like those in the NZ Parliament where an attack was exploited for the benefit of politics are triggering. Where people of power don’t act on known abuse, I feel distrust and contempt. Where it is weaponised I despair. This is what I’m struggling to live with daily, still not feeling safe, never being truly free. Society needs to cope with the fear of knowing that abusers exist, it needs to learn how to confront them. Survivors cannot solve this problem. Either care or not, but don’t lie and live in ignorance, it is an appalling way to go on. Yes, I am still angry, not with my parents but with all the people who tut, duck and hide, all the people who are still willing to let this pass them by.

Your turn.

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