I approach the front door and my heart rate increases, I am on guard. Cautiously I open the door and go inside – listening. I call out to Mum, but no-one replies. I move intentionally from one room to another before I can sit down… all is ok. Nothing has happened while I was out.
I look back at my childhood – it was normal. My father had a good job, we lived in the country with a playground of rivers, woodlands and open countryside that was to be envied. Normal – what does that even mean? My childhood was not normal – it was full of tension, of quiet unrest, of anger and violence.
I never knew which of mums injuries were accidental, and which were not – the broken leg, the missing teeth, the bruises. And yet the worst part wasn’t the violence – it was the not knowing – the fear of doing something wrong and being caught – of not knowing what the rules were for that day. I became excellent at not getting caught – it was rule number 1. Rule number 2 – predict the unpredictable. I learnt what Dad would get mad at Mum about – I cleaned the dust off the top of doors, tidied up, washed up … but it didn’t stop anything. Becoming invisible was the idea. Rule number 3 – know how to come in after bed time without Dad seeing me – I was good at that.
Yet the worst wasn’t even the arguments – the shouting and screaming, the lying in bed under the covers until it was all over… again. The worst was the periods of stability – wondering when it would flare up again. The worst was the long periods of untold eerie silence – silence that isn’t silence – if you know what I mean. The worst was the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen next.
I survived – I don’t like that term – I am not a survivor, I am me. A person with a past that has formed and informed my now. But it is not what defines me. You will walk past me, work with me, share a meal with me – and never know. How would you – it took me years to realise that what happened in my childhood home was wrong – that it had a name. It took many more years of unpicking this and beginning to understand myself.
Still I don’t trust – forgive me if I appear distant to you – but unless you and I journey together for a long while and we share the joys and sorrows of life together with no judgement but only love – no strings attached – then I’ll struggle to trust you.
Not a survivor then, but alive to live each day with love and gratitude. I am a Local Preacher, a parent, a theologian. I am a reconciler. A peace-maker. Just one person among many who strives to make a difference – drawn from an experience I’d rather forget, but never can.