He appears out of nowhere, our eyes meet for the first time in twenty years. I had only just been talking to a colleague about him days earlier. She works in Child Protection. “But, Cat,” She said, “that is sexual abuse.”
I offer him a couple of clues to who I am and within seconds, Simon utters my name in disbelief. He laughs, “You’re the image of your Dad.” We shake hands and hug with incredible warmth, but our happiness soon merges with memories of something quite different… the secret.
We grew up around deprivation in the 1960’s, the freedom to play and roam made up for everyday hardships. Parents presumed their children were safe outdoors, but their trust only established the ground for predatory paedophiles. Back then, sex was still a dirty word and sex with children, unthinkable… the unspeakable.
The last time we played together, I was nine and Simon was twelve. We were next-door neighbours but more like inseparable brothers and he forms part of my earliest and happiest memories. When both our parents relocated in the early 70’s, his absence left a gaping hole. Those secret encounters with our abuser, are not the kind you easily forget and I often wondered if he felt the same.
We walk and talk in a timeless bubble. Simon finally breaks the seal silence, “Do you remember what happened to us?” He makes a sign we used as children, only him or I would understand. I assumed our perception would be similar. How wrong could I be?
My Colleague was right, it is sexual abuse, but I had difficulty articulating the words. It all started when I was five and Simon was eight and ended four years later… for him, anyway. I didn’t feel worthy of being the “abused,” everything was my fault. I wholeheartedly believed in my own willingness. How could it be abuse? The answer to a twenty-year-old question was standing right in front of me.
I watch the pain slowly etch across Simon’s face as he recounts his own devastating memories, the guilt, the shame, and the everlasting, self-destructive trauma… all the things I should be feeling. Our memories seem worlds apart, as if we’re talking about different lives. While I recall eagerly waiting for the abuser to summon the children indoors, Simon remembers, “Having to go in… to play those dirty games.”
Simon shares his life of failed relationships, drug, and alcohol addiction and while he’s clean five years, there was never a time when he could unravel and admit the true source of his demons.
I feel the bottom fall out of our sinking pit as I recount the conversation with my colleague from Child Protection. Simon’s face turns ashen. It is highly probable that our abuser still abuses children today, maybe even his own. My colleague said, “It’s your duty to report this, it could save another child from enduring the same.”
I lay awake all night, ruminating over Simon’s words, wondering if I was blocking out my own memories of the past. How can two children process the same experiences entirely differently? “Promise never to tell,” the fear in Simon’s eyes, the desperation in his voice, were devastating to witness.
To be continued….