I am honoured that Sian, whom fellow bloggers may know from The Potty Mouthed Mummy, has chosen to share the story of her childhood here, in the first Life After… guest post. After reading her sad yet so beautifully told story, I desperately wanted to give her a huge hug. Thank you, Sian, for being so brave and for helping give hope to others.
Many a night in my childhood, I would awake in a cold sweat from a recurring nightmare. In the nightmare I would climb out of bed, peer over the banister and see a bag at the bottom of the stairs; one of those giant army green camping style bags. And I would know, he was back in our home again.
Some nights the nightmare would turn out to be real. As every time I had the nightmare I would wake up to check if it were indeed just a dream or if in some horrific way I had seen it coming.
He. My mother’s boyfriend.
My father left when I was five or so. Soon after my mum’s boyfriend, Paul, moved in.
He was much younger than my mother. So many people upon hearing what he had done would say to me, as a youngster, “Oh but he’s young”. As if age excuses it.
To my mum she believed I adored him. I put on a good show, as she loved him so much. When he was away she was a shell. Nothing I could do would please her. When he returned, my brother and I were almost invisible. She certainly wasn’t her best self while she was with him.
Days when she would forget to pick me up from school as they were in bed all day
Days when they wouldn’t care who heard or saw what they were doing…
Things like that haunt me, stay with me.
So, in a desperate plea to make my mum happy with me, to find some common ground with her, I acted like I loved him.
He was in our lives while I was 6-11 years old.
Sometimes I think of myself at that age, how much older I already was than everyone else.
A childhood lost.
Because the truth is, he hit me.
He would hit my brother and I viciously.
My mum would go to work and leave her unemployed boyfriend to care for us.
My brother and I were united, for once, in our fear and hatred of him. My brother, being older, was able to escape the house more. I do not blame him for that and to be honest, he wasn’t really aware how bad it was for me.
I remember playing out in our street with friends one day, the other children who lived doors away. I had to check in at an allotted time throughout the day. I remember checking my watch and seeing it was 2.04pm and running for home. My friends were shouting after me that it was in fact 1.04pm. But the fear was so ingrained in me that he might hurt me that I could only run home preparing to apologise for being 4 minutes late.
The most awful moment was one Christmas Day. I had been bought a Walkman and some version of “Now That’s What I Call Music”. I was listening to a Queen song and I remember feeling a little sad, recalling that Freddie Mercury had died the same year.
He saw my face, grabbed me and hauled me upstairs calling me ungrateful.
I was thrown into my bedroom.
He asked me why I was such a brat.
I tried to explain. But he would not listen.
He bit my lip and pulled me off the ground with the force of it.
He left deep purple marks in my lip, obvious to all.
My mum asked later what it was and on the spot I blamed the dog, who was later hit rather harshly. The guilt was unbearable as his yelps repeated in my head. And the irony of my mum protecting me, but against the wrong person.
Another time I was thrown down the stairs, I have no idea how nothing broke.
Eventually age 11, while he was away again, I told my mum what he had done to me, to my brother.
In my heart I believed she had known all along and was ignoring it.
But she did not.
She had no idea.
She wept, got drunk and ended it.
He was never seen again.
But it stays forever.
The secret behind my slightly, and ever present, serious yet sad face.
The way I have seemed 40 since age 10.
My quick temper, the one that makes me worry the same darkness in him has passed to me. I know I could never hurt Harrison like that, but I fear it nonetheless.
My quick to defend myself attitude; born through trying to stand up to him on many occasions. I remember him shouting at me once “Who do you think you are?” and I responded fiercely “Sian Johnston”. That one line stopped his raised hand in its tracks. Surprised perhaps.
My aversion to being held for too long. Due to seeing far too much intimacy as a young girl.
It would have been so easy to become someone who just stopped trying.
I could have been the girl who didn’t work at school.
The girl who slept with the boys too early.
The one who took drugs and lived on handouts.
That’s the obvious pattern for someone like me. I was told as much by teachers at school when they generalised about “certain types of people”.
People who are abused become abusers, they would say.
Criminals tend to come from a history of abuse, they would say.
As if they knew.
But instead, all I ever did was fight.
From that age, where he would hurt me, I began my love of getting lost in books. Escaping to worlds that were not my own. Which lead to a desire to learn, to read more, to be better and to actually escape my world.
I saved and put myself through University.
I got a degree. I got good grades. I got good jobs.
But the story doesn’t always end that way. Every time I see a girl in the news who was from the wrong side of the tracks, abused and has been arrested or worse, murdered. I always think of myself. Because I could have been her; I could have let myself fade away into nothing. Used my past as an excuse for so many things.
Now I have my husband, who knows all this past, who is so patient with me. Then of course there is my son, who I will never tell about this. He doesn’t need the burden of knowing how much I was hurt. He doesn’t need that darkness in his life.
My mum and I are now very close, the past will always be there. There isn’t a week that goes by when a memory doesn’t pop up in my head. But I try hard to push it away.
I try to focus on what I have now, my life after that childhood. Because thinking about it all too much, it hurts. It doesn’t feel like my life.
I wish it hadn’t been part of my life.
But in a way, it shaped me to be strong, determined and someone who never quits.
Which is truly the most perverse part of it all.
If you would like to share your Life After story, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org