The dull hum of shock is slowly receding and I can start to collect the pieces of my life and reset on my journey. Not so for Rosie Batty, who will carry the hurt and trauma with her forever after.
There are a few things that have been happening of late that have made me re-assess what I’ve held secret and hidden from most people. We all have secrets, some are held in shame, some are held to reduce pain, some are profound, some are simple. My secret has been held, not tightly but relatively closely, for over 20 years. It was a secret just between two people for 11 years before that.
One of the factors that is allowing this secret to now become a story, a touchstone, in my life, is that the one person I felt I needed to protect and keep it secret from has now been told. It wasn’t an easy telling and the timing was pretty lousy. I had to re-tell it, as my brother had decided to blurt it out to my daughter.
Uncaring and with the blinkers of self-interest on, he casually asked her if my father had really sexually abused me as a child. She didn’t have an answer, I’d never discussed it with her. She confusedly hung up the phone and went to her room. I noticed but I didn’t understand. I was in the lounge room. Then the question, yelled from the bedroom. “Mum, did Poppa sexually abuse you when you were a child?” The question cut through me. I’d kept this from her for years and, of late, the imperative to not say anything was more urgent – she had her own hurts to recover from, unrelated to mine – I said no. I said no. I mumbled it but in a raised voice because I couldn’t walk down the hall to her room. “Oh”, she said, her voice shrugging, “________ said you told him he had. He asked me if it was true.”
The subject, according to her, was closed. I had said no, she believed me as I never lie to her. I know I never lie to her. I hold that as a sacred trust that I will not lie to my daughter. She knows I never lie to her.
I call my brother, outside, away from my daughter, and blast him from here to breakfast. It’s a one minute phone call of fury, he doesn’t get to say much. I tell him that of course our father did this. Children don’t make that stuff up. My father sexually abused me for 11 years from the age of six years old until just after I turned 17, a long bloody time. I tell my brother to fuck off and never bother me or my family again if he can’t be bothered to believe me.
I take a deep breath as a I hang up. I look at my wife and say, “I have to tell her, I can’t keep this secret from her any longer”.
I walk down the hall. It’s a long hallway, plenty of time to think about how I’ll say it. I’ve said it before though. I’ve said it to my mother, my sisters, my brother, boyfriends, girlfriends, close friends and other friends, counsellors, psychologists and to my father. Now, though, I have to say it to my daughter. I’ve protected her from this because I wanted her to have a relationship with my family and that included my father.
“Sweetheart, I need to talk to you”, I say as I knock on her door. Her answer is non verbal, her eyes lift from the computer screen and she waves me in. I sit on her bed and take her hand. “You know that question you just asked me before? Well, I didn’t say the truth. I was in shock that you asked me and I blurted out no but really it should have been yes. Yes, my dad sexually abused me as a child. I’m sorry that you had to find out this way. It was thoughtless of my brother to ask you. I’ve blasted him. More importantly I want you to know why I didn’t tell you, until now.” I look at her for cues. She says, “You didn’t have to tell me, I believed you.”
“I know”, I respond, “that’s why I had to tell you. I always tell you the truth, to leave it would be a lie.” I adjust my position on the bed so I’m looking straight at her, “I wanted you to have a relationship with all my family, despite what my father did to me, and so I chose not to tell you until I thought you were ready. First, you were too young, then he died, then you had your own stuff to deal with. I wouldn’t have told you now but this happened. I always watched out for you, though, and my father knew that his life was forfeit if he hurt you – ever.” I took a big breathe to stop the tears from leaking out of my eyes. “If you have questions I will answer them. If you don’t want to talk about it I’ll respect that too. If you want to ask me about it at any time, you can.”
Then she reaches over to hug me and says, “I don’t want to talk about it. I didn’t need to know but I understand why you told me.”
I hug her back, “He always loved you. He always loved me too but his actions were wrong”, and I get up and leave.
I’ve held this so close, for so long, I’m not sure what to do with the freedom that this has given me. Now, a few months later, the freedom has started to coalesce into a purpose. I’ve been in a women’s circle, doing a course, and it’s ease and safety makes perfect sense to me as a vehicle to build peer support for women who have experienced sexual violence. I’m building a plan. I’m doing the research. I’m going to start a group. I have my first participant and we will find others and we will talk and laugh and cry and support and recoil and recover and heal and survive.