I am listening to the remembrance service on the radio. I am remembering a lot these days. I was always taken, as a child, to the remembrance service held in the Old Steine here in Brighton. The family would walk from home. (I like to think my sister and I wore matching dresses and had white socks pulled up to the knees. I like to think we were wearing our poppies with pride). My dad had served in Burma in the Second World War. I saw photographs and so I know it is true. One of the photographs had him sitting, in uniform, surrounded by flies but I don't know any details of his experience. I do know that he joined up to get away from the life of poverty and violence he was living. His father was a drunk and his mother chronically ill. After his mother died he cut his father out of his life. I remember (I like to think that I was about 5) the doorbell to our house being rung, this was a momentous event in itself as no one ever visited, no one was ever invited. There was an unknown woman (I like to think of her looking like Rose from Brighton Rock but I didn't ever see her). She said she was the wife of my dad's father and had come to tell my dad that his father had died. She wasn't invited in (I like to think the door was slammed in her face but I didn't witness that). I do know the visit unsettled the household, the past came for a visit and was turned away.
The commentator for the Remembrance Service uses the term 'those who were lost' a lot, meaning of course those who were killed in action, who died because of conflict. My dad didn't die but today as I hold the two minute silence I think he was most definitely 'lost'. His heart kept beating but he lost his soul. Or maybe it was already lost or on the wane or never really found and the war years compounded the loss, gave him an identity within which to contain his nothingness.
I don't know if my dad is alive or not. I haven't had any meaningful contact with any of my family since leaving home at 15. Running away. I ran away. Middle of the night. Suitcase packed. Fight or flight. He was an abusive man. He and my mother found each other in cruelty.
Sexual abuse is all over the news at the moment and it is making me remember all over again. I have never forgotten but the current grand narrative is forcing flashbacks into my mind, my body doesn't feel like my own. I take gulping breaths and try to stretch out my body, take the risk of making it vulnerable by attending my yoga class, sitting in a mediation, trying to keep hold of the soft place in my heart, trying not to feel that it is happening all over again. My teeth are chattering as I write this because the fear of telling is still so very powerful. I can hear his voice in my head and feel his hand on my body. I can smell tea on his breath and remember the manicured hands. He was so very proud of having risen above manual work. I remember my mum turning her face to the wall when I returned after leaving and tried to tell what had happened. My mum said 'you fucking little bitch' and turned her face to the wall. My sister refuses to speak to me. I have no one to corroborate my story and very little physical evidence, such as photographs, of my life before 15. I wonder sometimes whether I exist.
Everything is jumbled at the moment out there in the world of news. Is the story about the abuse happening or about how it was covered up? What do we remember? What are we allowed to remember? Today we are given permission to remember but only within certain parameters. How reliable is anyone's testimony? How valid is it? We, as a society, are nowhere in coming to terms with the scale of abuse that took place and is still taking place. It is difficult because memory, the kind of memory that journalists love, that of dates and times and places and actions, is as a slippery fish for abuse survivors. We cannot remember just because permission has now been given to. We cannot remember when we know that only a certain type of remembering is allowed. We remember, or rather I remember in fits and starts, in flashes of colour and smells and sensations.
I understand that Lord McAlpine was innocent of that which he was accused and I truly have empathy with how awful it must have been for him but wouldn't it have lovely if his response had been to say
' In trying to get to the truth about the terrible atrocities perpetrated on children, I understand there will be casualities and I, unfortunately, have been one of them. However this should not distract from the main issue. I think the BBC was at fault in allowing lazy journalism to flourish but I defend their right to make mistakes when trying to unpick such a historically complex issue. All power to the elbows of those who are trying to bring justice to the victims. I am big enough and strong enough to survive this slight dent to my character. I have everything on my side to be able to do that. The survivors of abuse did not and do not. They are the story'.