I’ll tell this story one more time.
This is something that I’ve told a few people over the years. I’ve always felt that I couldn’t tell the entire story, because I had to protect certain people. I specifically felt that I needed to protect my father for some reason. It’s ironic, because he didn’t protect me. But now that he’s dead I no longer feel like holding back. I’m still alive and in order for me to live a better life I need to write. I need to vomit out all the bitterness that has festered within me over the years.
I always use the term “the loss of innocence” to describe this event. Generally, the loss of innocence is when a child experiences something that disillusions him or her. It shatters your belief that the world is a good and safe place and you see life for the ugliness that it can be.
31 May 2002 was the day I lost my innocence.
I remember strange details about that day. It was a Friday. I remember that at the end of the day our teacher asked us who wanted to pray for us so that we could conclude the week. The tiniest girl in the class prayed. She thanked God for everything that we were blessed with and asked that we would enjoy our weekend.
But I seldom enjoyed weekends as a child. I was always tense about what my alcoholic father would be getting up to and what abusive and damaging things he would be saying or doing. In a way it became a routine. He would often tell me how he was going to take a gun and shoot us or that I was a piece of shit that he never even wanted (Yes, you people who act like he was the victim, this is what he did). I guess that a part of me believed (or tried to) that every household was like this.
That afternoon, when we got to our house in Swinburne, he was in a foul mood. To my knowledge he was still sober at this point (although I can’t speak for how many pills he might have taken), but he was bipolar, like me. He could very quickly become a mean bastard who snapped at everyone and everything around him. He left in his truck and I can’t remember if he told us where he was going, but he didn’t need to. We knew that he was going to the bar. That’s where he always went.
As he left, I saw an owl sitting in one of the big old trees outside the house. It was the only time I ever saw an owl that close to the house. I remember looking at the beautiful bird and thinking that while it was magnificent, it also looked foreboding. It is believed by some that owls are bad omens, and I suppose that you could say that the owl came to warn me.
My mom and I went about our evening as we always did. I was in my own little world, as always, and she was cleaning and getting ready for dinner.
It got dark outside. Soon the time was around 20h00.
My mom and I were in the kitchen. I was holding my savings bank, which was a little plastic car that I filled with coins. I was telling her about how I was saving the coins up that I would eventually trade in for bigger money at the bank.
And all hell broke loose.
While we were talking we could hear my father driving into the yard. The gate was very noisy and the dogs were barking. We didn’t think much of it, and we kept talking. Suddenly we heard a huge commotion coming from the living room.
“Open the door! Open the fucking door!”
My mom and I ran to the door. He stood at the safety door and shook it like a prison gate. He was drenched, as if someone had thrown a bucket of water over him or thrown him into a swimming pool. My mom grabbed the key and unlocked the door. He stormed in and suddenly turned around. His eyes were black and (demonic?), his face was filled with hate and rage. His voice sounded dark and dangerous.
“Tonight I’m going to kill you.”
He said it with such finality that everything went cold. He locked us in the study with the latch on the door. We walked through the dining room and back to the kitchen. We knew that he couldn’t get to the safe because my mom always kept the safe key in her bra (another fact that was just simply a part of our everyday existence). We assumed that he would collapse on the bed and sleep. To be honest, I don’t remember being very scared yet at that point. You have to understand that I’ve seen him in various states of intoxication at this point. But then we heard a sound.
Later we realised that he had unlocked the latch on the study door, but at that moment it sounded like a shotgun. We gave each other one look and dashed towards the door leading to the back porch. The rest felt like it happened in slow motion. We ran around the house from the back. I kept fearing that he would suddenly see us through one of the windows or appear around the corner. I could hear him screaming like a maniac and thrashing things. A soft, cold rain began to fall over us. We hurried to the gate and struggled to open it without making too much noise. We hurried down the gravel farm road, through the rain, towards one of the neighbouring houses. Our neighbour, who barely knew us, let us stay for the night.
That night, as we lay in the guest bedroom, all our dogs sat against the fence, looking at us. They knew that we were there. They stayed all night.
The next morning my mom went over to the house to see what had happened. I’ll be honest when I say that I hoped that he was dead. I hoped that he had somehow killed himself.
But he didn’t. He was livid, saying that my mom had let him down by leaving and that “everyone would know”. He ended up getting into the car and driving to a former house doctor of ours.
And when he came back later that day he was more friendly that I had probably ever seen him. The complete polar opposite.
We never spoke about what happened that night. It also wasn’t the last time. My mom and I had out own escape route planned for in case something went wrong. Certain keys were left in certain places, and I remember that at least one time we left her handbag in one of the old servant’s rooms outside, for in case we needed to grab it when we ran.
The world was different after that night. I was so very different. My anxiety skyrocketed. I never felt safe anymore. But I think that the worst part was the dreams.
Ever since that night I don’t exaggerate when I say that not two weeks (if I was lucky, a month) went by when I didn’t have a nightmare related to that night. It continued to haunt me endlessly.
But something happened after my father died. The nightmares stopped. It’s as if some kind of spell over me was broken when he died. I realized when we scattered his ashes at the river that he no longer had that power over me. After all, who am I going to be mad at now? He’s gone. I can’t shout at him. I can’t punch him the face and break his bones and tell him how much I hated him for stealing my childhood and my innocence. And I don’t know if any of that would have made me feel better in any case.
Besides, I often ask myself if I was ever innocent to begin with. My earliest memories include my father being so drugged that his pupils dilated so much that I couldn’t see the rest of his eyes. And of course, I was abused at an early age…
Today, 14 years after the event, I woke up feeling much better than before. I always allow myself to take this day for myself, because it is a day of mourning and remembrance. But this year is different. I feel as though it’s not nearly as painful as before. After writing this piece I feel a bit heavy, which I expected. That’s why it’s the last time that I will be writing about it. I took those demons out of their box for the last time. I needed to feel the pain as deep and intense as possible so that I could get rid of it. It gets worse before it gets better, something like that.
I want to end this off with the music video for “Third Eye” by Florence + the Machine, because I feel that it so perfectly sums up this point in my life. I’m nearing the end of what was a very long time of darkness, and in writing these blog posts and creating other forms of art, I am finally beginning to feel like I am healing.
“I’m the same. I’m the same. I’m trying to change.”
“Your pain is a tribute, the only thing you let hold you. Wear it now like a mantle, always there to remind you.” ~ Florence + the Machine
The music video for “Third Eye”: