An Apology Thirty Years In The Making

“If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anybody else again.” 
~ Malcom X

I was sitting in a suburban shopping centre cafe with my husband Ben a few days ago. As I sipped my tea a man came into view who looked familiar. He was older than when I’d last seen him. Thirty years older. But I was sure it was him. He was wearing a suit, his hair was grey and thinning and he’d gotten fat. But it was him. Let’s call him James (which is not his name).

In that moment I became so angry that I wanted to race over and punch him. Which is not like me. At all.

I didn’t do anything though. I watched him walk away.

Later that night I googled him and then found him on Facebook. He’s successful in his field. Married now. With two daughters. One in her final year of school and one at University. That made up my mind. I sent him a friend request and he accepted straight away. Then he sent me a message. I still looked hot, he said. Did I want to meet up for a coffee?

We ended up video messaging. At first we chatted about our College days, which is where we’d met. He asked if I was single. I told him I wasn’t. He told me he wasn’t either but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have some fun.

Sigh.

I asked him if he remembered the time we’d gone to a College football match on the first day of a long weekend of sport, races and balls. I’d just started going out with him, and this was our first proper date. I was in my first year of College and he was in his last – a big man on Campus whom everyone knew.

He drove me to a sports field on a sunny afternoon. We’d just parked and were getting out of the car when a friend of mine walked past wearing a huge scarf around her neck even though it was hot. James laughed and grabbed the scarf off her. Underneath was a series of small purple bruises. Perhaps you know them as hickeys. Or as love bites. She was embarrassed and tried to get the scarf back from him, but James kept holding it away from her while he kept up a barrage of teasing and increasingly lewd sexual comments. A crowd gathered around us.

Finally, I tugged the scarf away and gave it back to her and she fled, in tears. ‘Why were you so mean to her?’ I asked James. ‘What has she ever done to you?’ The crowd was still watching.

‘She’s a slut,’ he said. ‘She deserved it.’

While I was processing that comment he asked if I’d ever had a hickey.

‘No’, I said.

Before I could do anything he slammed me down over the car bonnet, pinned me with his leg and hands, and attacked my neck with his mouth. It hurt. A lot. My adrenalin went into overdrive. I yelled at him to stop and fought to get him off me. But I was slight and he was huge. My hands were pinned, my legs were pinned. No matter how much I bucked or writhed it was like a butterfly flapping against a bull. The more I struggled the more he bit and sucked on my neck while the crowd of mostly young men cheered. No matter what I did I wasn’t strong enough to make him stop. I was powerless. When James finally stood up he was victorious. He dragged me to the car’s side mirror and showed me. I had a violent purple and red bruise on my neck the size of a small orange. It throbbed and my whole body ached. I was dishevelled and humiliated. The crowd dispersed and then we were alone.

‘Wear it proudly,’ he said. And then he took my hand and started walking to the game with me in tow. I was in shock. Tears ran down my face but I picked up my handbag and stumbled along beside him.

As we neared the entrance gate we stopped and he wiped my face with his handkerchief. ‘Why are you crying?’ James said. ‘It was just a bit of fun. It’s a hickey. No big deal.’ He bought us both an entrance ticket and then left me with some of his friends while he fetched us drinks.

I was shaking, and I didn’t know what to do. So I stayed. Later a girlfriend found me and gave me a lift back to the dorms. I had bruises on my hips and my arms, one on my thighs and that huge shameful one on my neck. When James came around a few days later I told him I had zero interest in being in his company again. When I asked him why he’d done it he told me I was an uptight bitch, and that I couldn’t take a joke. He couldn’t work out why I was so upset. I was overreacting, he said. Crazy. A nut job. As he walked away he called back over his shoulder that I was a slut.

I struggled to reconcile that I had ever found him attractive.

I bruise easily, and that hickey took months to fade. I did what I could to cover it up with scarves or makeup, but I was called names by other students and even some of my male lecturers drew attention to my neck, making jokes about it. And about me.

I’d never felt so belittled, humiliated or ashamed. Worse, on that sunny afternoon, I’d felt what it was to be truly powerless for the first time in my life. I’d had no capacity to affect an outcome, no voice, no ability to have a choice. When James had held me down I’d felt unsafe, I’d been hurt, he wouldn’t listen and I couldn’t make it stop. He could have done anything to me, and it was all beyond my control.

So I told James that, thirty years later.

‘Is that why you dumped me?’ he said. ‘Over a joke? It’s not like I raped you!’ He had raised his voice, angry. ‘And you reconnecting with me now – is this your pathetic Hashtag MeToo moment?’

‘I’m still angry,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t thought about this for thirty years, but yes, I’m still angry, because what you did wasn’t right. It was assault.’

‘Get over yourself!’ James said. ‘Geez, I thought you connected because you wanted to hook up.’

‘No. I reconnected because you have a daughter who is the same age as I was when you did that to me. How would you feel if someone did that to her? How would you feel if she was pinned and helpless, struggling against a bigger man, being humiliated while other people stood around and watched?’

‘I’d bloody kill them!’ he said. And then he looked at me, and a strange expression came over his face. ‘I’d kill any bastard who tried to hurt my girls.’

‘I was the same age as your daughter,’ I said. ‘I asked you to stop. You didn’t. It wasn’t right then. It isn’t right now.’

After which we sat in silence, looking at each other via our screens.

‘Sorry, Nic,’ he said eventually, his voice quieter. ‘It was the era. It was just a bit of fun. I might have gone a bit too far. I didn’t mean anything by it.’

There was nothing else to say.

We ended the chat. I unfriended him.

It was an incident I’d long forgotten. A conversation I never expected to have. An apology thirty years in the making. But I’m glad I got to reconnect with James again and finally have him see things from a different perspective. My perspective. It felt good to finally be heard.

Much love, Nicole xx

An Afternoon Concert for My Cows

herd

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

The first time I heard Albinoni’s Oboe Concert #2 in D Minor I was seven, a little girl sitting in the music room of her primary school, eyes closed as instructed by the teacher who placed a record on a turntable. Suddenly magic was in the room.

Somehow I knew that music. I knew the sound of the oboe. I thrilled with recognition. The way the strings sang and danced their sweet rhythms up and down my skin. The reedy tone of the oboe with its jaunty clarion call. I wanted to dance, to slide and twirl along sprung wooden floors, toes pointed and skirts swaying. The pictures it brought to my imagination!

But I’m sure I’d never heard that music before. Not in this lifetime anyway.

After our class I determinedly stayed behind to ask the teacher what the strange and beautiful music was, and she obligingly wrote it down for me on a scrap of paper. Years later, as a young adult, it was one of the first music CDs I ever bought for myself.

Yesterday afternoon I played that same Albinoni concert again. I cranked up the stereo, and let the music seep deep inside me.

Shortly after the music began, the cows all looked up. Transfixed they came closer. Closer.

After which they settled themselves down and for the next hour we all sat together, quietly listening to a selection of Albinoni’s music.

sit in

When it was over they all stood up again and wandered away.

What a magical sharing we had.

I never knew that my cows were fans of Albinoni too. 🙂

And I wonder – thinking back to my first encounter with the music of Albinoni which left me with tears streaming down my cheeks in a class full of seven-year-olds who were all otherwise fidgety, bored and bothered, – has that ever happened to you? That you’ve heard music, or eaten a particular dish or gone to a certain unfamiliar place and thrilled with recognition at a soul level when by rights this thing should be strange and unknown? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Here’s a little snippet of the music we enjoyed yesterday:

A happy dancing tune…

A reflective and deeply emotive piece…

 

The Little Boy Who Used To Be John

Image by Toni Frissell

Image by Toni Frissell

“For the first forty days a child
is given dreams of previous lives. Journeys, winding paths,
a hundred small lessons
and then the past is erased.”
~ Michael Ondaatje, Handwriting

 

*Please note that names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

In suburban Brisbane lives a little boy whom we will name Kevin. He has only just turned five.

About six months ago Kevin began screaming. It happened at night sometimes, when he would go to sleep happy and then wake from a nightmare. It happened whenever his mum or dad drove their family car into a tunnel. In fact, the first time they drove into the Clem 7 tunnel, Kevin reacted so strongly that he wet his pants and passed out. His distressed parents took him straight to hospital where he was cleared of any problems. But his odd behaviour continued to the point that they had to plan driving routes or public transport to avoid any kind of tunnel or low overpass. All of these situations triggered severe anxiety, panic attacks and screaming.

Their family doctor referred them to a child psychologist. Who eventually referred them to me.

The tunnel reaction wasn’t the only unusual thing about Kevin.

As a very small boy he rejected breakfast cereal, asking again and again for egg ‘n’ dippers. His mother eventually worked out that he wanted soft boiled eggs and toast soldiers, a meal she had never prepared for him, and that to her knowledge he had never eaten before. Kevin told her that his other mummy made him egg ‘n’ dippers because they were his favourite.

His other mummy back when his name was John.

Image from ebay.com

Image from ebay.com

Poor Kevin’s mother had no idea what her small son was talking about. She found it very disquietening. Soon she began to chastise him whenever he spoke about being John, or this ‘imaginary family’ he referred to, from his ‘other time’.

When Kevin and his mum turned up at my door early one afternoon, mum was at her wit’s end. Behaviour modification hadn’t worked. Sedatives hadn’t worked. It was a desperate move on her part, coming to see a psychic after being given my details by their family therapist who just happens to be a friend of mine.

Kevin was quite happy to sit at my dining room table, although he insisted in sitting beside me so that his mother might sit opposite me. He also asked me for a glass of milk just as soon as we’d sat down. After milk and a piece of cake he was ready to talk.

I spoke to Kevin at length while his mother listened quietly, a look of embarrassment on her face.

He told me his name used to be John. John Taylor. But no-one believed him. He liked being Kevin, and he loved his family and his new house. It was a very good life. But still, he remembered being John.

I told Kevin that I had met other boys and girls who remembered being someone else.

“Have you been someone else?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I replied. “And when I was little I used to dream about it all the time. It was very confusing. What do you remember about being John?”

A lot, apparently. Kevin told me his street address, and the number of his house, at a place called Islington. He used to live there with his mother and father, big brother, and little sister. He told me all about breakfast that was eggs ‘n’ dippers and a cup of tea. Sometimes bread with jam. Soft white bread. No butter though. They weren’t allowed.

He told me about the street where they would play.

Finally, I asked Kevin why he was afraid of being in a tunnel.

He became very agitated, and held my hand very tightly in his two small, sweaty ones.

Kevin said that when he was John, bad men were coming in their planes. They all had to leave their homes, all the people in the street, and go down into a tunnel to be safe. He never liked to go there. It was dark and scary and it smelled bad. One day the roof fell down and he got all broken and then he was dead.

Image from www.weheartvintage.com

Image from www.weheartvintage.com

“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” I said to him gently. “But you’re okay now. You have a lovely new life and a mummy and daddy who love you very much. There won’t be any more bombs. The tunnels here are perfectly safe. You don’t have to remember this any more if you don’t want to.”

Kevin looked at me, wide-eyed. “I miss them, though,” he said.

“I know,” I answered, “but they still love you too, and they are all okay. When you love someone that love can last forever.”

His lip began to tremble and he broke into tears. Sobbed and sobbed. It was awful to hear the anguish in his cries. His mum picked him up and held him close, but it took a long time to comfort him. Eventually he calmed down and fell asleep in her arms. She stood up, still holding him, and I opened the door and helped her take him down to her car. We hugged, but didn’t say anything else.

The next day Kevin’s mum called me. Kevin had slept all through the afternoon, and all through the night. While he slept she had gone online to research the things her son had said. To her surprise a little boy called John Taylor, along with his parents and siblings, a boy and girl, had been killed in the London Bombings of World War Two. They had lived at the street address Kevin had given us.

“He was telling the truth,” she said to me. “I don’t know how he knows all of this, but he couldn’t have made this up.”

When Kevin woke up after his long, long sleep he was hungry. She’d made him egg ‘n’ dippers for breakfast, hoping to bring him comfort.

“It’s okay, Mum,” he told her, pushing it away. “I can eat cereal now.”