I am one of those people who wants to do everything the right way.
I eat well, until I read an article telling me that the right way is now the wrong way.
I ask for help to solve my problems, however big or small, and then I change that method when newer more scientific reports tell me to do it another way.
So when, at the age of 20, I read an article in Marie Claire telling me that a woman who had been sexually abused by her father had confronted him and it had changed her life, I obviously took note and strengthened my resolve to do the same.
A year or so earlier, I had moved out of home. It was an on the spur of the moment kind of thing, with my substitute mother figure suggesting upon looking at my expression when she was dropping me home, that if I wanted to I could go inside, pack up a bag and live with her, her husband and their daughter: my substitute family. Or family of choice.
I went in, said hi and tried to be as nonchalant as possible, so as not to draw any unwanted attention to myself or my actions. T’was easy. Mum was as usual under a blanket of depression and wool on the sofa.
I scooted to my room and started stuffing things into two carrier bags. They weren’t even nice ones, just the usual crumpled plastic ones from the weekly grocery shop.
If you have ever done something like this, you will know that when it comes down to it, deciding what things to take in a split second is like being told that the end of the world is nigh and you just grab what you can. That’s how it felt now.
I grabbed what I could see and with my breath coming in heavy gasps, ran back up the stairs, opened the front door and shouted out to Mum, “I’m staying with Jane for a few days!” thinking that over the next few days I would pluck up the courage to tell her that I had moved out.
You know that saying about making a plan and it making God laugh? Yes, well that.
Two or three days later, I got a call at my family of choice’s home from my Mother. She was gruff and unfriendly, for a change. She was calling to tell me that my grandfather (my grandmother’s husband) had died. He had had a stroke the night I had scarpered with my few worldly goods in the carrier bags. There, that will teach me.
Even though he had been asking for me since that time, my Mother hadn’t wanted to call ‘those people’ to speak with me and so now, without any choice about ever seeing him again, or him seeing me, I was told that he had passed. Expired.
I immediately jumped on a 24 bus and rushed from Hampstead to Warren Street, ostensibly to see my grandmother but also to officially tell my Mother that I had left home. I now felt justified.
It was hard to metabolise the news that my grandfather had died. He wasn’t a blood relative but he was the only grandfather I had ever had. He was funny and smart and loved me. He was also blind, an alcoholic and had a vicious temper. But not with me. With me he was gentle and kind and trusted that I would never cheat him at playing cards and I never did.
To know that I would never again see him, or have the opportunity to say goodbye was awful, especially knowing that on his death bed, that was what he had specifically asked for. To know that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever for this particular situation to exist and that it did only because my Mother didn’t want to call, “those people,” was almost impossible to fathom and completely impossible to accept.
I was furious and I was sad.
Death of someone you cared about is always difficult. This was one of my first experiences of death and the moment was now tied up with all sorts of other emotions making it difficult to navigate.
Instead of worrying about how I felt, it seemed easier and more appropriate at this time, to worry about my grandmother. She had just lost her partner and however much they bickered and drove each other insane (which was a lot), they loved each other.
When I got to my Mother’s, both she and my grandmother were sitting sombrely in the living room. The air was thick with unexpressed emotions and so when all of a sudden, apropos nothing my grandmother said, “Why have you gone to live with those people? Does ‘he’ come into your room at night?” I was a little taken aback. To put it mildly.
“Whaaaaaat?!” I thought as I rushed through a series of possible responses to this question.
“Erm, yes, actually,” was the answer I chose.
My Mother flew out of her chair, roughly grabbing me by my shoulder and a handful of hair as she started dragging me down the stairs to her bedroom.
“I want you to say that in front of him,” she snarled. “Say it!”
There I was with my Mother’s fingers digging into my flesh, her eyes shiny with mania and anger, in the bedroom where her beached paedophile husband lay in his too tight and too small briefs and medallion.
“Let me go!” I shouted as I pulled her hand off me and ran up the a stairs and out of that house as quickly as I could.
The following day, I knew I had to speak to my Mother to find out the details of the funeral. Obviously as this was the interment of a man I loved, I wanted to say goodbye properly.
My Mother was absolutely furious and monosyllabic. She was not keen to give me details and when I asked whether the ‘stepmonster’ would be going to the funeral, our conversation was cut short. I called back and explained (which seemed obvious to me in the circumstances) that if he was going to be there, I could not.
Well, that was that. I wouldn’t be going to the funeral and I would just have to deal with it.
I felt completely bereft and guilty (for a change) and didn’t know what to do. I certainly couldn’t bring myself to be in the same room as the ‘stepmonster,’ and certainly not now that I knew that he knew that she knew.
There was one solution, I thought to myself, but I would need someone to help.
I asked my substitute mother if she would please call my Mother and explain to her in a calm way that I really wanted to go to the funeral and the reasons why I couldn’t if ‘he’ was there. My substitute mother refused admitting that she was scared of my Mother, too.
On the morning of the funeral, I got up at 6am and walked to the Royal Free. I knew that there was a florist’s there and wanted to buy a single red rose for my grandfather. I then jumped in a cab and went to the cemetery at Hoop Lane to leave my flower and message before anyone else got there and was back at my family of choice’s home before 7am.
Anyway, I digress. The article in Marie Claire a year or so later was all about a young woman who had confronted her father for sexually abusing her. It had been a difficult experience but ultimately he had taken it onboard, apologised and now they had a great relationship. or as great as you can have with a disgusting child abuser. The moral was that by taking back the power, she had set herself free.
Okay, I thought. I can do this.
So, on this particular day, I was with my boyfriend. We had been living at his mother’s but as she was not mentally sound, it had been a difficult time and now we were looking for somewhere we could afford to rent of our own.
For some reason we had stopped by my Mother’s and as bad luck would have it, Mum was nowhere to be seen but instead, the ‘stepmonster’ in his shiny made to measure suit and handmade shoes was sitting on the sofa.
Somehow he knew we were looking for somewhere to live so made a comment about why didn’t I just move home?
I responded,”You know why I can’t live here.”
“No, I don’t. Tell me why?” he sneered.
Was this it? Was this my moment when I would confront him?
“Because,” I said, “you keep touching me.”
Without missing a beat, he smiled at me as he said, “Me? You must be thinking of someone else.”
And with that, he laughed.
If I hadn’t been standing there with someone else who knew my story, I would never have believed it. The ‘stepmonster’ didn’t blink an eye at being confronted. Where was my power now?
So, now all these years later, I am still trying to do the right thing: eat well, live well, be well but I am not sure that I believe everything I read.
*For all the posts in this series, please click here: