The Darkest Shadows

 

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Sexual abuse has cast a shadow over my family’s life. I was abused as a child and a teenager by three men I am too afraid to list, my mother was abused as a child, my siblings were abused and my young cousin was abused for years by our uncle. And somehow of all the stories, the last one is the story that has held the tightest grip on me. I didn’t think I could talk about it before, but now, with the encouragement from my cousin and my family, I am talking about this openly in hope it can help others. Often the hardest things to say are the things that need to be talked about the most.

This particular story has many parts and this is only mine. Not the most significant part, but nonetheless real.

It was a summer afternoon and I was sitting with my three girl cousins in a circle on my sister’s bedroom floor. I was visiting my hometown and I was so happy to be reunited with them again. Throughout my teen years I had looked after them almost every weekend and it was bittersweet to see how much they’d grown in the short time since I’d left home to chase my dreams.

They had something to tell me and I waited patiently while they gathered courage, whispering secrets in each other’s ears. Then the stories came tumbling out all at once, like nightmares retold in the middle of the night. Stories I can’t repeat. This sweet little girl I have loved and known her entire life had been hurt and raped for years by someone we all deeply trusted.

I felt sick but I calmly urged them to tell their Mother. The youngest of the sisters began crying, “I am scared I am next” and so I took her into my arms as I had so many times before and I promised her she wasn’t, that it wouldn’t ever happen again, that everything would be okay. My words felt empty in my mouth and I didn’t feel nearly as big or as strong as they saw me.

I am ashamed to say I so desperately wanted it not to be true that it took me weeks to call their Mother. I had kept my own abuse secret in the past, under the impression that it was my fault for being a ‘pretty’ girl. I thought the men just couldn’t help what they did and I didn’t want to hurt anyone by telling, besides, I thought it wasn’t such a big deal. But it dawned on me that this was much darker than anything I’d experienced and I needed to help stop it from ever happening again. Under the weight of the knowledge it would tear apart our family, I picked up the phone. When I finished speaking to my auntie I knew it was the right thing to do. They went to the police.

The detective on my cousin’s case sent me email after email begging me to testify and when I never replied she began calling me. I cried to M, that I was being torn apart and I couldn’t do anything about it. My silence was a betrayal to my cousin and my family and my words were a betrayal to my Uncle. My Mother cried to me that she just wanted to invite him around for coffee. In our heads we couldn’t separate the kind, sweet man we knew from the monster he had secretly been, because he was both. But we also felt great aching pain for the girl we loved with all our hearts. A little while later she did invite him around for coffee but the police were waiting for him there.

Then I stayed with Megan and their daughters. Earlier in my life she’d always been in my Uncle’s shadow and so I missed her light. Here was this unbelievably strong woman, who was pregnant with their third child when he was arrested for abusing her niece, now raising three girls on her own. Just by being with her and the girls made me realise I needed to be brave too, I needed to testify. It was the very least I could do. And so I answered the phone and before I knew it I was staying in a bare little hotel room across from the police station, terrified of what was to come.

During those days, memories played like films on repeat in my head. Late night drives with my arm dangling out the window, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth and my favourite songs playing too loudly on the radio. Bleaching one other’s hair bright yellow in the motel bathroom. Him throwing me high into the clouds above the pool, where time stood still for a magic moment. Staying up past midnight eating pizza and too many sweets and watching the movies I’d picked out at the video store. Him sneaking me wine on Christmas day and laughing about inside jokes only we understood.

He truly believed I could be anyone and he told me so. Once he promised if I wasn’t smoking by the time my 18th birthday came around he’d give me $500, but when I was 18 I knew nothing between us would ever be the same again.

He loved me and I loved him. He had been the coolest grown up I knew and here I was standing before a court room numbly reciting my statement to send him to jail. His lawyer asked me questions that confused me and they preyed on my love for him. I felt him watching me and I almost couldn’t go on.

Afterwards I snuck away from my family and found him in the smoking area. The light in his eyes was gone. He was like a hollowed out man, only a shadow of who I knew. As I ran at him a police officer grabbed me by the arm but I tore free and I buried myself in my Uncle’s chest, my arms wrapping around him desperately. I let the tears flood and I said “I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry” and he held me and said “it’s not your fault Roo. Maybe you can come visit me after this and everything will be okay.” But my arms dropped and now I was hollow too, he was acting as though he had done nothing wrong, as though this could all be forgotten.

I wanted to scream at him to stop lying, to apologise for fucking everything up. I thought: my family loved you, I loved you, you have three beautiful daughters, you lied to us all, we really trusted you, you were so important to me, how could you do this to us? At least be sorry. Please, please, please…

I ran away as quickly as I’d come and I found my cousin, her hair golden in the light and her blue eyes bright and wise. I cuddled her and as I cried again, she looked up at me and said gently “it’s okay Nirrimi, don’t cry.” And I was ashamed that I was the one falling apart and she was the strong one, when it was meant to be the other way around.

It was years later that I sat in the courtroom again, biting the inside of my cheek and digging my nails into my arms, waiting for the verdict. I was pregnant and just beginning to understand the intensity and vulnerability of being a Mother. I wanted to hear ‘guilty’ as much as anyone else. For my cousin, for my aunties, for his daughters, for my family and in a very strange way, for my own daughter growing in my womb. And he was guilty, on all counts, and I breathed a sigh of relief weighed down by sadness. Sad that this was the way it had to be.

My auntie, the Mother to his three girls, is one of my closest friends now. Another auntie has quit her job to write books and develop a website with resources on child sexual abuse.

When I was younger I felt completely alone with the weight of my experiences, nobody talked about abuse and so I didn’t either. But I am far from alone in having scars and there is power in uncovering them. Power in saying this is real and it hurts and it is okay to talk about. I hope we can help to create a world where if our children are ever hurt, they have the courage and support to talk about it too.

  1. Malin/ en gul apelsin

    Such an important text. I am very happy that you chose to share this, although I am certain it required a lot of courage. But I really admire how you explain the two-faced and very complicated feelings. As an outsider it is so easy to judge, too easy to wonder WHY people don’t act sooner and contact the police, and I think the answer is here in your text. You cannot erase all the good memories, you cannot take back all the love you have for a person even though you know what they have done is tremendously wrong. You were (are!) brave, you did the right thing, even if it was hard. And you did yet another good deed in writing about it here. The more people talk about hard things, the easier it gets.

  2. Cristina

    I’m so sorry to read this, Nirrini. How can child abuse ever happen so often? It must have been very hard on you to choose between the loyalty and the love you felt towards your cousin and your uncle. One gets fooled because such people are very skilled at hiding their deeds and showing their better side. It must have been very hard on your aunt too. What is wrong with men, can someone explain to us?

  3. Jade

    No one talks about this stuff and they need to, though I have never suffered such abuse i can totally understand the thinking of ‘men can’t control themselves so it’s not their fault’, thank you for being brave and strong enough to share something so personal with a load of strangers xxx

  4. Shari-Lynn Pringle

    Thank you so much for sharing this poignant and emotional story. You’ll never know just how timely this is for many of us who have repressed their experience for far too long. You are so very brave and I wish you well as you continue life’s journey.

  5. Elizabeth

    You know, I look at this blog, along with many others, in dull moments at my dreary office desk for a bit of a distraction. I mostly look at yours for the pretty (gorgeous, really) photos (not always reading the posts). In today’s trawl of my bookmarked blogs, I really wasn’t expecting to read such a candid and vulnerable story. So I was confronted, where normally I am not, with a subject and experience that is so incredibly important to try to better understand and consider in order to support people who do/have experienced sexual abuse and prevent it from continuing.
    Good on you for putting this story out there for others to discover. And good on your cousin and family for their encouragement. It’s incredibly brave. I can only imagine that it’s incredibly hard. I think it’s given me a better understanding of how complicated it can be to take action when necessary. But I like to think that if ever anyone shares the weight of such a terrible burden with me, reading this will have made me that little more understanding, and hopefully supportive.

  6. Marisa

    Hi Nirrimi, I hope you are feeling a little lighter after talking about this, it’s not easy, but sometimes we have to be brave so it won’t happen again. I’ve read an article that might interest you, specially because you said it was so hard to separate the good things and the person that you loved from the abuser and the criminal. I know the interview in the article can have a lot of impact in you because you were also abused, but I think it could be something to clarify your feelings. Here is the link for the article http://www.upworthy.com/this-19-year-old-pedophile-has-never-gone-near-a-child-and-he-needs-you-to-hear-his-story?c=undefined. Hope you and Alba are great, xoxo.

  7. Laura

    I find this story a bit confusing but you’ve been so courageous to tell us :-) I know maybe you don’t need any advice… but take care your little Alba, make sure she never never suffer this kind of abuse…don’t trust too much even your own related as , as much as i understood, this abuse were made in your own family.
    Ciao

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Fleeting Heart

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(Note: There are times I feel we are all tiptoeing in an online world made of eggshells. Our lack of openness and honesty may save us from judgement and vulnerability, but it keeps so many lessons and so much raw beauty from being shared. Today I’m deciding not to tiptoe, instead I am going to leap and dance and run. I think love stories are the best kind of all, even when they don’t end in a happily ever after.)

I was not expecting to fall in love as soon as I got back. Perth was only a quiet stop-over on the way home after the intensity of Bali. But love found me anyway.

The very first moment I saw him something came over me. I felt like I was only a single star in a galaxy of him. Right away I knew there was something about us, something I couldn’t explain. A feeling I couldn’t shake long after he’d left. I did what I always do, I wore my heart on my sleeve and I told him. He said he felt it too.

He saved me tickets to a big show he was organising a few days later. I had butterflies all day long. I danced, ran a bath, drank homemade mulled wine and braided my hair as time crawled by. Then it was night and I was there with my friend Claire and my heart was in my throat as we walked down a dark hallway caught in a rush of excited people.

We rounded the corner and there he was. Burning like a sun. I was overwhelmed again, so little and insignificant beside him. Then he saw me and his embrace lifted me into the air and I closed my eyes and I wished I could stretch out that moment to last forever.

I only saw him fleetingly through the night, he was constantly surrounded by people but every time our paths crossed his hands found mine and his eyes lit up. “Do you think he likes me?” I asked Claire. “Yes,” she said, and I skipped around like I was a thirteen year old with a crush. I couldn’t believe it.

He was doing some interviews the next day and he asked if I wanted to join him. I kept my cool but inside I was delighted. He picked me up in his car the next morning. During the interviews he answered questions about his passions with an excitement I recognised in myself. His hand found my knee while he spoke, like we’d been lovers all our lives. And when he was driving back he kept my hand under his on the gearstick so our hands wouldn’t have to be apart.

Late one night we were walking the city streets after an exhibition. It was cold and I was shivering so he wrapped me in his warm jacket. He pulled me into a cinema, buying us tickets to whatever was playing. We sat near the back so I joked “is this the part where we make out?” And for the first time he kissed me, fully, spectacularly. My mind was all explosions and confetti and him, all him.

For the brief time we shared together we were almost inseparable. The knowledge that I was leaving in a few days gave weight to every moment. There was so much joy in the littlest things; the dimple that appeared from nowhere when he smiled or the way he reached for my hand as we walked down the street. We lay wide-awake in bed until almost morning, laughing and cuddling and fighting off the sleep that’d bring another day to a close.

Together we’d spontaneously improvise scenes in movies that didn’t exist and tell jokes that went on forever. We were ridiculously silly, both of us still children deep down. In other ways we were very different, I was an open book and he was guarded. I was strong-spirited and he was gentle-spirited. But there was fire with us. I’d never met anyone like him. When he and Alba met they played and laughed like they’d always known each other and it made me warm all over.

I was kind of flitting between two lives. Half of the time I was Mama. Staying with my family, taking Alba and my cousins to the park, cooking Alba’s favourite foods, reading bedtime stories and kissing her sore spots better. Then she was with her Papa and I was going on adventures and sleeping in late.

On our last night together everything was lucid. He took me out for dinner with one of my best friends. I looked at his hand holding mine on the table and then I looked at him smiling at me, so goddamn fucking beautiful and I thought, dear god, I know I’ve resolved to not be with anyone for a long time but this is almost enough to make me rethink it all.

I had to leave, like I always do. Me, the disappearing act. It felt like one moment I was falling in love as he was kissing me goodbye and the next I was falling asleep with Alba on the opposite side of the country.

I really missed him when I got back. All the energy I had put into loving him couldn’t just disappear, it had to be redirected. And so I wrote every free moment I had and every story seemed to contain pieces of him. I held onto our memories like souvenirs. It all felt so precious to my romantic mind.

I’ve learnt many times over that the duration of things doesn’t equal their importance. Single moments can influence lifetimes. He left an imprint on me. A reminder to keep on playing and never grow up.

That first night he kissed me I wrote this in my journal.
“This is how I see it. As an artist it is my responsibility to not have a boring life. To feel deeply. To listen to the stories of strangers. To try new things and go new places. To say yes. To question everything. To find beauty in the commonplace. And to fall in love. Over and over. Because through the highs of love and the lows of heartbreak I truly know what it is to feel. “

  1. Angie

    N,
    you are such a sweet girl, i come here from time to time and I always leave feeling so happy. Love your writing.

    xo,
    angie

  2. Andrea Sarcos

    this made me so incredibly happy and warm. i can relate so much to your words. i got out of a 5-year relationship a few months ago, and then traveled across Europe. i had a few moments with people that i instantly fell in love with and connected with on a level that i’ve never experienced before. the vulnerability of being in a new place and the deep scars of heartbreak and sadness made me appreciate every single moment i had while i was traveling for two months. i’m now more open because of it, and i know that i’ll continue falling in and out of love, naturally and beautifully. i know it must be difficult to share this post because you too had a long and incredible love in the past. you’ve given me inspiration to not be afraid to share these types of feelings of love, giddiness, and excitement. thank you thank you thank you. <3

  3. Fia

    Your words about being an artist brought me peace in a time when feelings of doubt are taking up my whole system. Thank you.

    Love and light,
    Fia

  4. Francesca

    I’m so happy for you! I’ve always had the fear that my Love would end and that I would never feel the same strong emotions. But now i can see that the end of a love can bring a love even stronger, and so differently beautiful from the others!! Life’s full of opportunities and we should never let ourselves down from failures ( of any kind )
    I wish you the best, and i think you’ll get it! xo

  5. Clara

    real love is beyond time, and if its mean to be, it will be. But nobody can take away those feelings and moments. i really liked this post!

  6. Jessica

    wow, what a beautiful text! I found myself in your words.
    sometimes i wonder wether we are soulmates..
    love and hugs
    Jessy

  7. nirrimi

    @x anonymous- definitely not, he didn’t then and he hasn’t now. things were always destined to be complicated because of timing, but then again, that’s life. :)

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