I was 11 when he first came into my life. My stepfather. Traumatised by my Dad leaving, by my mum’s attempted suicide, by suddenly being the oldest child and trying to keep things together.
Then him. Controlling to the point of putting hairs across his newspaper after he went to work, then accusing us of moving it with a beating, to having to sit in the same seat to watch TV and not move, to following us when we went to see my grandma who lived down the road, to coming into the bathroom to make sure we had ‘washed everywhere’, to calling me into the bathroom, where he lay with a flannel over his genitals and made me talk to him, to coming into me and my sister’s bedroom and ‘catching’ me, naked, getting a book out of our wardrobe and making me sit there while he went off on one.
Him trying to pull my knickers down to spank me when I told him I hated him. The neighbours knowing and not saying. My dad thinking we were being dramatic: ‘you are just like your mum’. Me and my sister and my brother having to develop our own language so we could converse without him understanding because we knew he was listening on outside the bedroom.
Me, running down the stairs when I heard my mum screaming when he was beating her and trying to stop it. Him hitting me and pushing my head into the glass panes of the front door. Me going to school with bruises on my face and no-one saying anything. Me: angry, angry, angry young woman. Me, my sister and brother planning how to kill him before he killed us. Watching an episode of Brookside where this happened and having a flashback so vivid that it made me feel sick. Grandma and Grandad barred from seeing us, but coming up to the school anyway.
Running away: at the bus stop crying where my friend and her mum tried to console me. 14: running again to my grandma’s house, heart beating out of my chest, safe. Social workers sending us back, not believed. Running yet again: this time Grandad saying ‘over his dead body are we going back’.
Safe at last. But, nerves shot, still angry, brother shaking his head in his sleep, sister descending into alcoholism.
Fast forward to my first abusive boyfriend, followed by many more – physical violence, sexual abuse, manipulation. Suicide attempts by me and my sister. My mum running from him. Him killing himself and letting his oldest son find him dead.
Pregnant. Trying to be a parent the best way I knew how. Knowing my son was upstairs listening to me being beaten, frightened that that the abusive boyfriend would kill me.
Drink, drugs, therapy: ‘you were sexually abused’. Oh.
Acres of blank spots in my memory. But yes. Eventually: years of therapeutic work, thankfully now not in a relationship, a hard fought for, but loving, relationship with my son, friends, satisfying work, volunteering to help vulnerable women, feminist writing to try and change things for other women.
Stronger and now to be a grandma.
Tired, but at peace.