The piece below is something I wrote a few weeks ago, my response to an invitation in the Guardian to send in A Letter To Your Father for publication this weekend. I lost the details so never got around to emailing it in (story of my life) but today it’s on my mind.
“I saw you today for the last time. There were no goodbyes, no fond farewells. But this time I know: we will not meet again. I’ve been asked many times over the years, why do I still see you? I had no answer, but I’ve wondered what would be the final straw that broke this camel’s (bruised) back.
This afternoon, it happened. You beat me in my own home, in front of my children. It turns out that was too far even for me.
As I grew up, the scars on my body mapped out your rages. You broke my arm from sheer frustration at my inability to ride a bike. I was four years old and terrified, but your daughter had to be the best. At everything. Years later, you broke my nose with a single punch when I told you I had a boyfriend. You wanted to be the only man in my life.
Tonight, I recognise that familiar sickening sensation of another broken bone. Collarbone, this time. I’m too exhausted to get it taken care of tonight, but tomorrow, I will get treatment. And this time, I’ll tell the doctor what really happened. Because I’m no longer afraid of you.”
That was nine weeks ago. I was lucky, it could have been so very much worse. Even the bone was only chipped, there’s a tiny scar by my left eye, but nothing which screams out a beating. Physically, I healed fast; bruises fade faster than memories. Carrying a shoulder bag still hurts, as do passenger seatbelts, but nothing much else. My children seem to be dealing with it, more or less, processing it in their own ways, at their own levels. I’m surprised how much lighter we all walk for the decision not to see him again. Much as I’m mortified by what they saw and heard that day, if they hadn’t been there, I doubt I’d have acted this time either.
Because despite a heavy dose of morning after guilt and doubt, this time I did speak out. First to the doctor in A&E, then to the police. I thought I’d lost the capacity for astonishment, but I was blown away when they took it seriously. When you’ve been told all your life that you’re the one to blame, you learn to believe that.
The CPS have now charged him with assault. I’m praying someone persuades him to plead guilty, because I don’t think I’ve got the courage to stand up in court and speak out.
Writing this post took minutes, but pressing publish is taking me several hours.
Irrationally, I worry about ‘admitting’ to what happened. Yeah, I know, it’s not my fault, etc, etc. But I don’t like the idea of being seen as a victim. I don’t want a label. I really really don’t want my children to have labels.
But the flip side is that this is a part of me too, just as much as islands, stones, hills, knitting and Guides are. People who don’t know what he did are never quite going to understand who I am.
It’s the reason why when everybody else sits around chatting about seeing or phoning or missing their dads today, I’m staring silently into space, seeing scenes from a past that’s very faraway indeed.