One thing I’ve learned

If I could tell my 23 year old self one thing, for all those years in my twenties I sat on hard chairs in anonymous rooms with girls who’d been raped and assaulted in their own families, it would be the one thing it took me most of my life to learn.

It is the particular system in which these girls grow up. It is, most often, their entire families who collude and allow the abuse of the girl. So not only do you grow up being abused — bullied, raped ‘persecuted’ as my mother likes to call it — by someone, ostensibly, in secret, you later discover that everyone, somehow is “in on it.” Everyone plays a part. Everyone participates to allow the abuse to continue. So you have no family — none to lose, none to gain. It was 2016 when I fully got this and I was utterly thrown by it. BUT — there is always a but — at least one understands what has been happening.

They make a mistake: In The Courage to Heal and the early books they used to give us in hospital. They teach you that your ‘perpetrator’ is your focus. They teach you, in my memory, that everything points to the perpetrator and how you must now learn to avoid, manage and handle him or her. But the problem is — it is NOT just the perpetrator.

For instance, I was living in New Zealand in around 2003 and an Uncle of mine was just cruel — taunting, mocking me, telling me to “run away” when he showed up at my grandfather’s where I lived during a long illness. Eventually I had to ask myself, why is he acting this way, TO ME? Is he not worried that his brother (my father) will step in to tell him to stop, or to defend me? But he wasn’t. I finally got it. He wasn’t because He Had Permission. No one had told him of the severe illness that had brought me to NZ after 18 years away. No one had told him I had nowhere to go but to my 90-year old grandfather’s. No one told him because that would create sympathy for me. And my family didn’t want sympathy for me.

I had been abused etc, year after year after year at home, on their watch. When I exposed them for that, they were sad and ashamed, but this did not mean they loved me. Waking up to this reality has been the most painful experience of my life. It has aged me and torn at me and made me wild. But it has also revealed that I think more of myself than I realize, and certainly more than they realize. And that this is because I had faced the truth, over and over and over, and built up my life without them, and made of myself at least my own person.

I remember having been out of the country almost a decade since 2002, for much of it wandering and alone, and in that time I asked for nothing and lived on almost nothing. I also, by the end of that decade married, and had a couple of books published and been recognized in my field. My father sat in the comfort of his big house when I was back in the U.S. and began to tell me about my failings. I was lazy, it was too late for me to get help… I was whatever it was he thought could hurt me.

I can’t say I laughed at him. I saw that he was trying to take me down. And I knew from the decade I had had without him and the endurance I’d shown and the great amount I’d suffered and caused others to suffer — and also the successes — my marriage, my three step children, my living in communities and working from the “Big City” to the outback of Australia. I knew had utterly the wrong end of the stick.

When I said goodbye to him, that year, I gave him a hug and said, “See you in the summer,” That was many many years ago. I love you, Dad. Take Good Care of Yourself

Matthew and I on the occasion
of our American wedding, 2014

About louisewleonard

Author of 52 Men, Since You Ask, and others Also in The Rumpus, Tin House, Fiction Advocate, Gargoyle.
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