A Safe Christmas

A Safe Christmas

Tonight’s dusk is pale, and a helicopter blinks a golden arc in the sky. Beyond the window of my bedroom, there are ten days until Christmas, and this year the Festive season is hitting me particularly hard.

So far in our small home we are barren of decorations; we haven’t found our tree yet, nor written cards, and presents are still being bought. I have been scratching around charity shops, picking through shelves and racks to find something special for my partner. I have very little money.

This unexpected hardship has proved too much for me, tipping me over an invisible line, and into the past. I have newly surfaced after taking to bed for the day, as I did yesterday. I decided to seek cover, to tug the duvet around my ears, to switch my brain into sleep mode until the memories eventually cease, for another year.

Twelve years and three days ago I confronted my parents about their child abuse. A slow detonating bomb went off with this disclosure and wreaked ruin on my life for a almost a decade. I now have PTSD, but can, with the exception of Christmases and birthdays, tuck my violent childhood and teenage years out of sight, out of mind. Almost. I hold the memories at bay by sheer bloody mindedness, a determination which has dragged me through the bloodiest of times.

Christmas in an abusive family is at best unbearable and at worst catastrophic. Abusers abuse more when there are pressures and stresses, whether this is domestic abuse or child abuse. At Christmas it was never safe to be happy, to lose myself in playing with presents unless the rest of my wider family were with us. How I loved these visits! I was dazzled by their attention, and soaked up their laughter. I glowed, radiant, and basked in how special I believed I was for a handful of days a year.

Fast forward over a decade and there are no invitations to family Christmas dinner, no more phone calls after the Queen’s speech. The festivities in my wider kin continue without me. Sometimes I wonder if I am missed, or thought of for anything other than a brief, conscience-pricked moment. My family now is my partner.

At Christmas, for those of us that have lost, we feel the heartbeat of those losses. They pulse under our skin, they surge in our veins. When we stop the busy-busy, the undead of abusive Christmases past nip at our heels. They sink in their teeth and bite. Memories appear fully formed, here to bully and ravage.

Many families have been broken, and as adults our worst Christmas is always remembered, and held a little bit closer to us than it is the rest of the year. For child abuse survivors, Christmas was often a relentless struggle to, literally, survive. We do survive, if we are the lucky ones. In my bloody mindedness, I always believed that some day, one day, there would be a happy ending, that it would have been worth it: the pain and the terror and the desperate hurt that comes from not being loved and at times being hated. I don’t believe in happy endings anymore, but I know I am safe.

In my half-lit room, as I surface from my foetus-like, blanketed retreat, a small, still functioning part of my brain whispers that I am here, now, that I am no longer a child trapped in danger. That I escaped. That I survived.

Soon I will be wrapping pre-loved presents, our tree will glint and gleam with unpacked tinsel and baubles. We will unearth our old, tattered but cherished paper chains and tack them to the walls. There will be cake which my partner will make and is already soaking the fruit until it is rich and plump and heady with brandy. There will be time to see nearby friends and Christmas cards to open from those farther away.

The sky is ink blue now. Taillights flash as they pass our road. I remind myself that somewhere out there will be a desperate, unhappy child, or an adult feeling frightened at home, or perhaps on the streets, and I hope for them. I remember to be thankful.

Dark Glitter: Whisper

Dark Glitter: Whisper

Whisper

 

Today is a day when the shadows reach long. When my feet are sodden and my throat is crushed, again. When bruises tint my skin and my wounds seep.

Today the women march, powered by each other’s strength; a battle-cry, an army, a war. Their fierceness moves me. The women are brave, I am proud. I have stood alongside them in rage and joy.

Today is the day to roar. It is time to be heard. To be believed. How many have spoken since I did eleven years ago? Hundreds, thousands found courage, found voice. This volley of truth that will not stop shall be listened to and absorbed, no longer silenced.

No more blind eye.

Today grief hangs like smirr as I sit, pen in hand, damp from the shower. Everything is a shadow, a glint. The parts of my body, the thoughts that I have, the memories that stun me like a taser from decades before. I am a sliver of myself.

Now, I murmur, they would see that I had spoken the truth, that I should have been heard. There would be no more excuses. No more turning away, gently tumbling the bomb from their hands.

No more denial.

I can scream louder than them, I have learned new words. I can be fierce.

Soon it will be the time to speak again and to shout, but today I can only whisper.

Dark Glitter: Hush

Dark Glitter: Hush

Hush

 

Be quiet. Be still.

Hush.

Don’t be loud, don’t not-give-a-fuck, don’t be sexual. Don’t criticise, voice concern, or surpass men.

Or be sexual, and be slut-shamed.

Say no, and be ruined, speak out and be ruined.

Succeed, and be belittled.

Be questioned, be mansplained – be womansplained – be ridiculed.

We must be stifled and hold our tongues. We must comply. Why? Because we are not men.

We must whisper our achievements and glories. We must keep our secrets and hurts bound to us. We must cry out their crimes of assault and abuse when they happen, and then be slandered in court, or close our mouths for decades only to breathe the truth and be damned. For making a fuss.

It’s a trick, an illusion. It’s a lie we are urged to believe. It’s a game we are shown we cannot win.

In one hour on Twitter today: living female authors and publishers are dismissed by men; dead female authors are hated by a male celebrity in a national broadsheet; a fictional short story character is slut-shamed by a national broadcaster; another Hollywood star said no and her career was stymied; a woman who reported her rape by an MP is blamed and degraded and denied in court; and a lone female MP challenges our female prime minister to investigate allegations of a male MP’s harassment and pornography that have not quite yet managed to slip away, to sink beneath the oily, scum-laden surface. A fundraising campaign is launched to rescue women’s refuges from government cuts so that we can flee and save our own lives and not die, not be murdered, at the hands of men as two women every week are.

It is a dark hour, this political, institutional, and public silencing. It is the exhausting, grinding, tedious new normal, thirty-nine fucking years after we first dare utter ‘the glass ceiling.’ Our only retort is to again bring change, to, once again, scream louder.

Our stories are forming. Our lips have parted, and we are shouting.

We cannot, will not, hear the lie.

Dark Glitter: Some Of Us

Dark Glitter: Some Of Us

Some Of Us

 

Imagine a world where women have no power.

Where men decide on the salaries we can earn, the jobs we can take, the support we can have when pregnant, or when mothers, or for our vaginas. The wars that we can or cannot fight in. The clothes that we should or shouldn’t wear, and the media which we view the uncomfortable narratives of ourselves in.

Imagine that men can create replicas of ourselves, without minds or words or wombs, that are made to fuck, to dominate, and even to love. That men can take our real bodies and objectify them, harass them, abuse, rape, murder, and sometimes dismember them, and have built industries upon this in film, pornography, and gaming worth billions. Imagine a world where our bodies are vessels for rape as a weapon of war, as a warning to oppressed communities because we cannot escape.

And when we voice this, for ourselves and for those that cannot, men mock us and silence us and deflect us whilst they continue to do whatever they want. They turn us, divisively, cleverly, against one another to eat our own alive.

Now imagine a world where women blame us for wanting too much in equal pay. For our looks, our youth, or our age. Where we are despised for our sexual appetites or for our errant husbands. For uttering painful secrets that are stifled until we can bear to speak about the crimes of men. Or for not speaking up, not being responsible for preventing men committing these crimes again. About not knowing better, or knowing too much.

And when we surge, in a hopeful, zeitgeist tide of strength, some of us push back, hard. We are minimised. We are muted. We are again unheard. We are safely crushed into boxes of blame by some of our own.

Why? Because the reality is terrifying: as women the power is not yet ours to take. For some of us, the myth of our own blame makes a world ruled by men seem a safer place.

If we would only shut up.

But we won’t. We will speak louder, we will shout. For all of us.

 

Dark Glitter: The List

Dark Glitter: The List

The List

 

The lies we were told. The mascara that bled. The faces that watched us, loathing, from our mirrors.

The coercion, the shape that we twisted ourselves into that didn’t quite fit, that didn’t feel quite right. But we believed it. We did what we were told.

Now we count them in the shower, on the bus, in the car at traffic lights, by the kettle in the kitchen. The one, and his friend, that I escaped from when I was twenty. When I was too drunk.

The list stacks up.

Why is it so long, this list? This must say something. About me. I must have invited it. I know now, at forty-four, that I am not to blame but misogyny sits so deep in my pores that it is hard to question.

A cup of tea cradled in my hand, my bottom lip chewed. A sliver of skin shredded from it. Still I am counting, checking. I am pierced by the memory of an almost-comic holiday flasher: ha, no way that was my fault.

The time at work, around a table in a meeting. I was younger, and unwell, he was powerful and kept his hand on my chair a palm’s breadth from my vagina for almost an hour.

The family member. A close relative of my partner. The slow run of his eyes up and down my body in his son’s bedroom as we tucked him in. His unflinching gaze, just because he could.

Power.

Anger. A flash in my clenched jaw.

Relief. As I remember another, twenty years before, whispered to a friend whom I didn’t really know. Her response: he had tried to do it to her too. I remember the sting of my judgement, my unspoken, ‘but I’m not like you!’ The blame in my righteousness.

Now I know these are normal, the fingerprints of the deft, accomplished, repeat offender.

Now we are all counting. On buses, in kitchens, in traffic jams, when we wash ourselves a little longer in the shower because, perhaps, we are unclean.

A Twitter friend: You have a list too? I’m sorry.

We are all sorry.

Let there be rage.