The MeToo campaign has been volcanic around the world. I am excited, happy, admiring – what courage to stand up and speak out. Me Too!
I am also a bit scared.
Right now in Australia the work of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has come to an end with the publication of the Final Report. https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/ Five years of work listening to and recording the ghastly stories of inhumanity at work.
Throughout this time in the media there were frequent references to the content of the proceedings.
I found that suddenly I was thinking about what happened once to a ten-year-old on a swing in a park. With some passing piece of predatory slime.
Something I’d rarely thought about in decades. I’ve never told the story. Partly because of shame, but mainly because I can’t remember what happened next. But on most days for five years I have asked myself questions. Ones I couldn’t answer.
Now, with Me Too, I am a bit scared again.
However, whatever went on in the park, my experience was nothing compared to those who bravely stood up every morning and day through those five years. A positive outcome, yes, but what mental torments they will have lived and re-lived in institutions of institutionalized abuse.
My response was, as you might expect, to write a story. Not a testament, but a fiction short story; it is not my story. As I wrote in my first novel disclaimer:
The perceptions, events and experiences here make up a fictional collage of found objects, a kaleidoscope of people, actions and emotions. But truth lies in the ideas, meanings and events, and in the exploration of the reasons behind individual actions.
Here is the story – one I thought I would never publish.
It was the Commission that started it, the insatiable bloody abuse one.
Then the weeks, the months went by with hardly a note, before suddenly, the details. Constant. Beyond the ordinary, beyond language.
A child, a baby, daughter, a son…
“Shocking. How could anyone…” Their heads in slow motion shake away what cannot be.
I look at them.
I shrug. It’s the way it is.
But never: it’s the way it was. Never: did they have that too? Feel that too? Not remember that too? Until…
Was it with the second or third church in the box?
I look at my nephew; how old are you? When will it be for you? Where?
I look at my exclaiming neighbour; is it still so clamped shut in you that no answers come for your righteous horror? You are in denial too?
I look at myself. What’s got into you? I shrug my shoulders. So what?
I turn to more distant news, the potatoes frying, the handy wine.
But it grows. Before, it was never with me. Never recalled. Never told. I was as bland as the next one.
Then. I say it. Blunt, right out with it, casual. “I was assaulted once. In a park. I never have, or never will talk about it.”
My friends of thirty years stop a second. I’ve heard the word – nonplussed. I checked the thesaurus, and it’s right. They are discountenanced – they have no expression. They are uncomprehending, despite all their degrees. They are discomforted, and they give no comfort.
And I am too, nonplussed. About its return.
How can it return when it never was with me? Now each fractured bit of misery wafting past my ears (though I try to avoid the reports) sits there with mine, as if it has never left. They talk about the fear, the personal destruction, the drugs. It’s coming out for them, it’s pouring out.
And it’s dragging something out of me.
I don’t do trauma. You just have to get through and then it’s over. Years later I hear the words for it: damage control. I controlled so well I didn’t know I was.
But the Commission has tipped the dam. It’s seeping out, grabbing hold of any old word and taking a ride on it. “I ate sandwiches for lunch today.”
“Ate? What did he eat?” Don’t be ridiculous.
“It was more like sucking.” Don’t be disgusting.
“Nanna, we went with the school on the excursion to the park .”
“Did you? Was it fun, Darling?”
“Was he on an excursion? What did he do after the bit you just remembered?” Nonsense. There was only that bit.
“What about at the guest house?” Go away, I don’t need to dredge up all this. What’s the point?
“Because you are who you have been.”
A bloody child? A petrified (solidified, ossified, unable to move) child, pulling, backing, enduring. (Fortitude, grit, forbearance?) Nope, not me then. Paralysed by fear, trapped, having no one to call. Having no voice to call with. Shut down.
And then I remember, I didn’t remember, because I’d gone… somewhere, nothing-where.
Then I was there, Mum shouting at me. Lying on my bed, silent, empty, alone and alone. No one there.
“You don’t remember what happened?”
Nothing happened to remember. I was there, and then I was at the guest house.
I don’t have a choice. I won’t have some ghost leering over my shoulder every time I speak or move. What if I get demented? What will come out?
He’s now a pretty frequent companion. I can sort-of see his face. I can see myself more. A child. And a fat middle-aged man, gross, vile, pathetic.
There is only one answer. I will find him.
I will see the reality. Will I hear the truth? He won’t remember, one of how many?
I will remember when I am there.
“Just for a couple of weeks. Some research. You’ll take over?”
The place was there all along. I just needed to look. The map has all the names and there it is. As if I knew it already.
And it’s the same. The pines. Were there more? The sand. The grass. The… playground. The swings are the same, and I see myself.
And I turn fast and look up towards the guest house. Nowadays the road is lined with houses, smart and two-storied, bounded by side walls and glass balconies. Bits of green sculpted to the shape of the pot.
What did I expect to see? That I’d walk up and there, on the veranda, the group of men, door-to-door men, would be sitting, laughing, congratulating themselves?
With a child on a lap. “She’s my girl.”
And my mother, a screaming face at the front door?
Good grief! (Too true.) Fifty years later? Your brain’s addled.
I turn back to the sea, and then I see it. Something wooden. The roof’s partly in. The gully’s steep.
I run. I drop my phone, my bag. It’s still tangled vines and vile-smelling trees. (I’ve always hated those soft furry leaves.) I run, tearing through, ripping out any root that hooks me. I crash through. I’m weak in the arms but the old door cannot hold out on me.
And it’s there. The bench, splintered planks decorated with bongs. I know it is the place. The place for what?
How can I know, when nothing, nothing is in my head?
I’m on my knees on the filthy floor. Howls wrenched out of me echo in the few rafters. Birds wail with me. The evening wind blows up, stirring the trees. What happened here? I wait.
And I get cold.
What did you expect, you drama queen?
An old man on a veranda, begging forgiveness? A terrible vision of a child being… how, what?
And that would help?!
I am lucky. I can’t remember.
On the way back to the road I gather my bag and phone. An old lady leans over the fence. “Nobody goes down there, love. It’s where they killed the kid. One of the Regulars. We never knew. Thirty years, more, but how could ya’ forget?”
Yes. I am lucky.