Monday 11 June 2012

Kind, good-looking, intelligent, a hero - just, unfortunately, also a pervert

Warning: adult material which may offend. (This warning is, of course, hugely ironic - but hey ho, protocols must be followed... :) 

If you were to see a photograph of my grandfather you’d probably smile.  He had what people call a ‘kind’ face.  He had, apparently, been a very good-looking man when he was young.  Even in his eighties he was a striking figure: his hair was soft and white, his posture upright and direct. He had a great sense of humour – his mouth easily curling into a smile; his eyes crinkling when he told a joke.  And, so they say, he was a highly intelligent man, and also deep-thinking.  My mother used to tell me how, when she was little, he and his friends would sit around the table discussing religion, psychology, philosophy, music, literature, politics… everything.  Oh, and he was brave as well – a soldier in the First World War. 

It was just a shame really that he was an abuser.  A paedophile.  A perv.

I can’t tell you all of this tale – it’s not mine to tell.  But I can tell you about  how he affected me – that is mine to tell.  When I was very little apparently I refused to sit on his lap – I used to run away and hide behind the sofa.  A child’s instinct?  Of course everyone was horrified.  ‘Your poor grandfather.’  ‘How can you be so cruel?’  ‘He loves you so much and you run away? You horrid little girl!’

His first wife – my grandmother – had developed religion. Not just a case of prayer-fests and arranging flowers in church. She’d gone hardcore - joined the Plymouth Brethren and basically turned her back on her family, including her young children.  She died at 32 when my mother was just two – having refused treatment for pneumonia.  My grandfather had allegedly 'adored her'. He married pretty swiftly: the ‘girl next door’; my ‘Nan’ (‘to look after the children’) - not much more than a child herself when they wed. 

I used to go and stay with them for holidays, down in the Somerset countryside – and here’s the strange thing.  Their cottage had two bedrooms.  My grandparents usually slept in the smaller bedroom, which had twin beds.  Yet, when I stayed, my Nan would move out and sleep in the larger bedroom, with its double bed, while I was put in with my grandfather.  Why?  ‘Because he snores,’ she said.  Huh?

I can remember that room so clearly.  My bed next to the window; my grandfather’s bed next to the inner wall. The two separated by two small bedside tables.  There was wallpaper with a pattern of flowers; a window seat; my grandmother’s dressing table with its three mirrors that fascinated me – the first time I’d ever seen my profile; the back of my head. 

But, come bedtime, I used to panic.  I remember desperately trying to get to sleep before he came to bed.  Do I remember being abused?  No, I don’t.  But when, years upon years later, I heard what he had done to other girls, I questioned.  I wondered.  I figured this was obviously what lay behind my ‘issues’; my incapacity to have relationships; my reticence about sex.  I tried everything to find out, to bully my unconscious into giving up the information – I even had hypnosis to take me back. I wanted to know. I like to know what's what - to look things straight in the eye; to know the worst. But I drew a blank.  At a certain point, the curtain would come down each and every time.

‘Does it really matter?’ asked one psychotherapist.  ‘I mean... Whether he did or whether he didn’t, he very probably wanted to. So the psychic intent was the same… and the psychic damage.’  I couldn’t really argue with that.
So that left me as…what?  A victim.  For a while that felt okay – it was good to have someone to blame.  I was part of a tribe, the huge silent shameful tribe of the abused. 

But it didn’t take long for that to wear thin.  I’d seen how buying into victimhood was pretty pernicious.  If you become a victim, if you wear that label, then you have let the bully, the abuser, the one in power, win.  Fuck that! I thought. ‘Fuck you!’ I’d be damned if I’d let him win.  And that was fine, that lovely righteous pure anger.  I swore that this ended right here and now, in this generation.  That the pattern damn well wouldn't continue, sick and swept under the carpet, down through the bloodline. 

And then I went through that too; and – you may find this hard to believe but I actually felt sorry for him. Because really, what kind of place are you in if you want to touch up little girls?  If you want them to give you blow-jobs? If you want to screw them?  I mean, really, how appallingly sad is that?  What kind of hell was in his head?  

But, y’know, I don’t even feel like that anymore.  I was talking about this the other night, to my quasi-guru, and I realized that what I actually feel now is... nothing.  Nothing at all.  It’s just history.  I simply don’t care.  Because whatever happened or didn’t happen, is actually immaterial.  The only reality is how I let it make me feel here and now; the emotions and thoughts I choose to let it stir. 

We cling onto our stories, don’t we?  We allow them to dictate how we feel, what we do, how we live.  For years I clutched grimly onto beliefs fostered by my father’s death, my grandfather’s perversion, my family’s relative poverty.  I watched myself become ill and miserable. I psycho-analyzed myself into tighter and tighter knots.  What a bloody waste of time and energy.  And please...I'm only talking about me here...your reality may be very different and I am not judging, not remotely. How could I?  

Anyhow. Why am I telling you this?  I have absolutely no idea.  Just that I was sitting in the garden just now, smelling the roses (literally) and watching the dogs sprawl in the sun and I felt…the urge. Make of it what you will. :-) 


Zoë said...

I think writing about it, is a huge part of the letting go - the moving on. These things make us who we are, but they don't have to colour every aspect of our lives. Forgiveness is good healing too xxxxxxx

Ross Mountney said...

What an extraordinary story and I think makes you all the more extraordinary for your philosophical approach to it now and the courage to put it here. I'm sure others will find it uplifting. Best wishes. x

Rob-bear said...

Strange, indeed, that you should write about this now. But maybe that is the last step in letting go of the whole thing.
Well written, Jane.
And I loved the picture of the Bear in the bed. Even if it looked sad. (Really, we Bears are such fun; please don't believe we're bad.)

Exmoorjane said...

Thanks, y'all. Zoe, yes - absolutely.
Courage? Nah. I thought about writing about it many times before - cos, I dunno, I don't think stuff like this should be pushed under the rug. And maybe talking about this stuff might help someone somewhere...
I only held back cos I thought it might piss off some people I know... but then I thought, hey, that's their business.. I can't be responsible for how they feel. :)

I like the pic of the Bear too... Very partial to a good bear. :)

Ross Mountney said...

Totally! People have to be responsible for their own pissed-off-ness!!

DD's Diary said...

Well done you for telling. I'm so sorry for your younger self, knowing something was wrong and yet also knowing that the adults weren't keen to hear .... and what on earth was your grandfather's wife thinking of?!? Presumably she had at least an inkling of what he was capable of, and yet she put you in a room with him. Blimey. Glad you are finally free of the whole messy business. I think a lot of people have these episodes somewhere in their pasts (I do) and not all emerge into the rose garden as you have xx

Alison Cross said...

I identify with this. Very much.

Ali x

Ashen said...

The term pervert does not address the tragic naivety of the abuser - stemming from a deep need for, and 'fear' of intimacy. Children are easy prey. As for the victims, social opinions tend to obscure the individual, me, as the observer that creates meaning from my experience. Whether something actually happened or not, is irrelevant. By accepting that meaning originates in me, I can put my personal experience into the picture and change its meaning.

Herbalgirl said...

It is astonishing how children have a certain sixth sense when encountering abusers. I had an encounter as a child with someone who never laid a finger on me. However, his intent was clear to me, making my blood curdle. That this should happen to you, by someone you should have loved and trusted, is heartbreaking.

F said...

Oh Jane, I'm so sorry that happened to you.

The thing I find most disturbing is the apparent complicity of your female relatives.

Refusal to listen to and respect a child's opinions and feelings because they are a child and adults have all the power is one of the things that consistently angers me, and it is so prevalent.

janerowena said...

I don't understand why your mother allowed you to go and stay with hime.

Anonymous said...

Lord. So sorry. No one should ever experience anything like that. I hope the shadow isn't too dark.

(BTW - did I just hear you on my Women's Hour podcast??)

Tee said...

So many of us are part of the 'abused' tribe. So many let it dictate what they can or cannot do. How they should or shouldn't feel.

Not long ago, I was talking to a friend and I said to him, "We cannot control our pasts. When we are children we are at the mercy of others. And sometimes those others are incredibly sick individuals and things are done to us we cannot stop or change. Do we let those people and their actions dictate the rest of our lives?"

We can...but why? Why let them control our futures as well as our pasts.

We cannot control our pasts, but we can control how we move forward.

With love and understanding and a desire to live, despite the bad things done to us. And despite the bad things we've done.

Forward, ho!

Anonymous said...

"I feel nothing" Personally I think in situations of abuse of whatever kind (sexual, emotional, physical ...) to feel nothing is to have won, to have beaten the abuser.

I keep the apparently trite phrase "don't cry over spilt milk" very close to my heart. I think it is one of the very best pieces of advice and one of the hardest to put into practice.

I had an emotionally abusive marriage when I was very young. Today I am astonished with what I put up with. It has taken almost 20 years to feel nothing for that man and it is so freeing to feel that way.

Move on along the road, there is much more to enjoy ahead x