I don’t blame. I did, of course I did. I truly believe that every single person has the power to turn their life around. You don’t always have control over what happens to you, that’s the truth, but you do have a choice how you deal with it and where you go to from there.
But as a child, those choices are inevitably limited. I believe that while we must take accountability for the choices we make and that we are responsible for our own lives, it is dangerous, and also selfish to not acknowledge how deeply our actions can be affecting others, influencing and even to some degree taking away their own choices.
I did not make these choices. I did not want this as a part of my life. Yes I had a choice back then and that choice was to leave. But where would I have gone at fifteen? Would my life have ended up any better or far, far worse, considering the statistics of those who runaway?
Despite the choices made by some, I have a good family. A family who, though, never fully recovered, somehow muddled their way through an incredible mess of a life.
I am grateful that I have seen people acknowledge and accept mistakes. I have learnt that love can overcome all. I have seen the power of empathy and an open heart when it comes to repairing relationships. I cannot say that I am close to all in my family, but I can say I am proud in some way of all of my family.
We were all lost. Not just me. We all survived and found our way through.
And we, in some way, are all a testament to choice.
Forensics. You can spot them a mile away, their coveralls making them stand out as they combed our house from top to bottom. Methodically making their way through, they barely spoke a word.
And we lived on a main road. In peak hour. On a school day. I watched curious bystanders begin to hover, people walking or driving past slowing down to get a good look at everything going on.
It wasn’t the first time – I’d been getting used to these random visits, dawn or otherwise. One time it had even been while my mum hosted a few families for lunch after church. I’ll admit – that time was almost quite funny seeing the look on all their faces as we were ushered onto the sofa, no-one allowed to leave until the search had been done. I’d become accustomed to the ‘shock and awe’ tactics of life but they clearly hadn’t.
A bang in the night. POLICE – OPEN THE DOOR! I got out of bed, and began the long wait on the sofa alongside my family while they went about their business. No matter how much I smiled, or how much small talk I tried to make, it seemed to me that as far as they were concerned, I was just as guilty by association. Taking everything apart, they bagged and tagged and silently went about their work. The occasional murmured conversation or glance our way. But that was it.
I needed to go to the toilet and with my increasingly familiar squeaky and wavering voice, one that now appeared whenever attention would be directed my way, I indicated this need to one of the officers. Frowning, they motioned for me to follow them. They checked first, then I could go in. What did they think I was going to do?
Fifteen. Uncomfortable already in my own skin, learning to trust no-one and understanding that apparent truths were often simply smokescreens for hidden agendas, I continued to be tossed around on the waves of life, clinging on in desperate despair.
A mixture of clamy palms and shaking stomach, my mouth drooping in miserable resignation, I sat back down and sank back into the reality that was all around me.
Glancing up I looked briefly at my parents. A mixture of anger, frustration and pain. They were just as confused as I. How do we deal with this? Back then I simply blamed them. And him. My fundamental belief was that their only job was to protect me and in my immature eyes, they had failed. And failed. And failed.
Brushed aside, ignored. They all had their own issues, no-one ever checked in to see how I fit in to all this. No-one noticed the anxiety and depression taking over my life until I was drowning in my own tears, swirling around inside a tornado of anger, fear and confusion.
Thoughts of running away occurred but the knowledge that what was out there was worse than in here prevented me from following through. And while fantasies about suicide came and went, the knowledge that my own parents had detailed plans to take their own lives somehow invoked a powerful, primal need to protect them. And meant it was impossible for me to leave.
Control became my deepest desire. Trying desperately to control all situations around me yet the reality that I had no control at all – over my own body, my home, my family or my life continued to weigh heavily on my heart every day.
I just wanted it to stop.
He didn’t do it. They really thought he did. I even sometimes thought maybe he did. That something had gone wrong and a mistake had been made.
The school called later that morning, they heard a rumour I was dead. But this was before the internet had taken over and it was only idle gossip. No, I wasn’t dead. But someone else was and they thought he did it. So here I was, tangled up in such a horrific mess that had become my life.
She’d been found in her garage. A hit to the head. He’d not been known to make very good choices – for whatever his reasons – and was quickly placed near the scene of the crime, becoming their number one suspect. Which meant we were all placed under 24/7 observation.
Our phone tapped, police sitting day and night in an unmarked car, trailing behind us whenever anyone left. The very first time I was asked out on a proper date, it was recorded on a transcript. I said no. Harassed constantly by police, I saw their faces change the second they heard my name. It became a nightmare, one we couldn’t leave and one we knew deep down we had little right to be angry about as they were doing their job. A killer needed to be caught and a grieving family needed answers. Or at least some of them did.
I remember the moment it was over. Sitting in an interrogation room for what felt like the 100th time I saw the police walk past, shoes in hand, talking loudly, excitedly. The police interviewing me glanced up and one left the room. The atmosphere changed almost immediately.
We found out a little while later. A phone call. Not even told in person. They had their man. He’d been pulled from the water by police during an alleged attempted suicide. We were led to believe that was the moment he dumped the murder weapon, never to be recovered. Her husband. The father of her children and soon to become her convicted killer.
That chapter was over but my nightmare still raged on. Police raids, surveillance, police staking our house out from another up the road where a young boy in my class lived, harassed by police, a tainted name. Once you’re ‘tagged’, for whatever reason, it’s not easy to remove. Even if you were only tagged by having the same last name.
I remember the police laughing at me down the phone. Taunting me, exerting their control over me as I wept and cowered in the closet. Threatening to humiliate me at school. “Say you’re sorry” he demanded… “Not good enough, I want to really hear you say it…”. Pity I can’t confront that sadistic bastard as a grown woman – I’d love to see him try it again, almost two decades on. He took such joy in hearing a little girl cry. I’d answered truthfully, but my answers had not been backed up. “I’m coming to get you tomorrow and I’ll arrest you at school in front of everyone, handcuff you for giving misleading information to Police”. BUT IT’S THE TRUTH! “Say you’re sorry… really say it”.
“I’m sorry”. The words sliced through my mouth like razors. I hung up the phone and crawled out from behind the clothes in the closet. Shaking, I returned to what had now become a familiar position, defeated, curled up in my bed.
Abduction, kidnapping, guns, theft, jail, assault, bashings, ‘hits’ being placed, threats, protective custody, courtroom testimony, arrest warrants, interrogation, and going on the run. Not necessarily me, but what I bore witness too in my inner circle, my safe place, my home. It me tore me apart. Every day. The notion of ‘tomorrow’ and what a phone call or a knock could bring became my biggest fear.
Afraid of the dark, trusting no-one, I retreated deep within. Scarred and scared, I lashed out or ran from anyone who got too close. Piece by piece the waves that tossed me around eroded my spirit, my soul and my fledgling sense of self. A tiny fire remained, fiercely protected and held onto with the knowledge that one day…
I would be free.