ShameIt's difficult to be a bystander as Ally tries to retrieve her daughter from an abusive man for several reasons.
The simplest is that I am powerless. I can't do anything to help bar be there for her. I read the lies he tells about himself and his children and I realise that although I know them to be lies there is no way for me to show that (for instance, that his new stepson is great mates with C and they spend time together listening to music in her room: the truth is that C is an aspie who doesn't like sharing her space, and the stepson intrudes in it; she shouts at him to get out but he won't -- I know this because I have heard C say so and the other girls say there was shouting between them every night -- but there's no proof, just his willingness to lie and when it comes to it, hers: it's distinctive about her that she overcommits to emotions and has to cast things in her life as black and white to be able to understand them: Daddy good, Mummy bad, there cannot be shades, so if reality does not match that simple frame, she will lie about things even when she knows the person she is lying to is aware they are not that way; or that he encountered the younger girls in a shopping centre and they were unhappy and unsettled, looking around the whole time, and he left them there because he didn't want to run into Alison and cause trouble: the truth is that they were at the shops with me and Ally, and had been happy and relaxed with us -- just moments before laughing at me as I tried not to weep in the brow-threading shop -- and were in my sight the whole time, he spent a few moments with them, looking around the whole time himself, furtive, and left when he saw me approach -- and what upset them was his presence, stirring them into an autistic meltdown, in which they spent an hour telling Ally how his new partner was horrible to them, didn't care about them, gave them smaller lunches than her own sons, how scared they were that he would kill their dogs -- but when you present this to an outsider, there are just two stories and if you do not know us, how can you tell which is true? When you do know us, it's simple: I very rarely lie and of course I have no real reason to invent a story about him, since the plain truth is he is what we say he is and we don't need to lie about that; he has a history of lying in sometimes ridiculous and transparent ways). I fear for C, a confused, angry child, who I have looked on as this man has poisoned her. I know this for a fact because I've seen messages he sent her, I've heard her repeat things he's said, I've helped Ally word emails in which she begged him to stop, to support her, to be a man. Some nights I can't sleep because I'm worried for her: I remember her email, in which one of the most shocking things she said was that he slammed car doors near her fingers to scare her. I see the one time he misjudges it and her fingers are broken. I see him driving recklessly, which he does, again to scare the children, and losing control. I see him picking her up and shaking her, which she confirmed to me herself he had but heartbreakingly said "he didn't mean it", and fear that one time it will be too hard of a shake and she will suffer a counter coup injury and lasting damage.
The worst of it is that we asked him to talk this over and I feel that if he had been willing to talk to me, to listen for just an hour, I could have helped him. For all that I'm sorry for Ally and the kids, I cannot help being sorry for him too. I understand feeling stressed. I understand not coping. I understand how hard it is to not give in to being an arsehole, to cope with noisy kids who won't do what you want, to deal with the pain of a relationship ending, feeling you have failed, that you have "lost". When Mrs Zen found new love, I was not bitter and I wished her well but I think I can understand how painful that may have been for him. Not everyone is as able to let go as I am. I feel like what he has needed in his life is a clear voice that would tell him, you're doing wrong, this is the right path. And from reports, he is capable of it. People tell me he can be a decent guy, loving and warm, although every person I have met -- in person and online -- who knows him has also told me he can come over as an arsehole, a brusque, ignorant fool who upset them on one occasion or another -- on one account, a couple of weeks ago he went to a school disco where one of Ally's friends was present, and he came and stood right behind her, obviously to intimidate her; when she didn't acknowledge him, he went away for a while, then came back and stood even closer -- this is who he is at least sometimes -- a boor who imposes himself on others because he thinks he should matter. When he takes his medication and can cope with his rage issues, he is able to deal with the children without losing his shit. But he hasn't taken his medication in months. He doesn't even feel he needs it. And people around him of course sense his weakness but instead of seeing that they should help him find strength, they think he is like a child, in need of coddling and cocooning. So he can never grow; he is condemned to be a tantruming child, stamping his foot because he can't control others' lives the way he wants. She left me, boo hoo. She dares to move home, boo hoo. The child won't listen, boo hoo.
I say that's the worst of it but there's worse for me. Seeing how C is reminds me of myself and something that I rarely think about because it is so painful. When I was a child, I loved my dad more than anything. When he was at sea, I would push pins into my map to show where he was and where he had been. I would scour the newspaper for mention of his ship in reports on the Cod War, although there rarely were any because no one really cared. I missed him and like Ally's kids I sometimes cried because I couldn't have him in my life.
But he too was an aspie who could not cope with stress and found kids hard to deal with: the noise, the confusion, the doing things wrong. And he would lose his shit with me. And sometimes I would see him be rough with my mum. One time I saw him hit her. One time I saw his hands round her neck. He was moody and difficult, dominated us, scared us. He had no idea whatsoever how to be a father.
(And I want to say, you wouldn't believe this if you knew Dad now, because now he has flourished to allow himself to be the gentle, caring man he also was, and although he is still the centre of his own universe and expects others to fit him rather than the other way round, it's expressed in much more benign ways. I have long ago forgiven him because I understand that he did what his nature compelled him to do and what he was capable of. You cannot despise a person for what they cannot do; only for what they can but won't. What happened to him was that long exposure to a person capable -- not just capable but powerfully able -- of love made him able to change. My mum loved him so much that eventually he had no real choice but to love her back. And I also want to say that the flipside of him was that he could be very kind, very generous. He would give up his time to take me show me things -- things that interested him, for sure, but things he wanted me to share his love for. He did what he was capable of to show me he loved me and I don't want you to think that he didn't love me because I knew he did, at least until I reached my teens, when he found me too difficult to love.)
They had a separation. In the home because no one had the money to live elsewhere. And there was talk -- by which I mean real talk, plans being made -- of them ending their marriage.
I wanted to go with him. I loved my dad so much, so much that I would choose him over my mum. My mum, who had sacrificed so much for me, who had created so much warmth and kindness in my life, who had dedicated her life to me, given up dreams for me, never let me feel unloved or unwanted even on her toughest days. I can only imagine how painful it was for her to hear me say I wanted to be with him more. It's only now when I see Alison in deep deep pain, shaking with sobs, unable to come to terms with how hurtful C is to her, when she has done nothing to deserve it -- and she has not; she is a good mum -- she has her limits as we all do and being who she is she sees only those limits, she refuses to see the warmth she shows her girls, the kindness, the thoughtfulness, the sheer effort she has poured into three sometimes difficult children, to understand them, to give them what they need, to cherish them -- that I understand how much you can hurt a person.
Sometimes, when I was grown, my mum would say to me how guilty she felt that she had smacked me a few times, how she had never been a good mum, how she wished she had been better. And of course I would say, you were a great mum, because she was. She truly was. She was an inspirational mother. Everything good about me I learned from her. Everything good about my sisters -- and they are both good women -- they learned from her.
And what I didn't say, what I wish I would have said but it's like a secret now, a whisper, a shard of ice that we pretend isn't there, and I will never be able to tell her and I wish so much I could, not that it would do anything because the hurt I caused was so long ago, buried, almost vanished, is that I am sorry. I am sorry for how much I hurt her by choosing him, by saying your love was for nothing because because because I don't even know. I do not have any insight into my young heart. I do not know why I wanted what I wanted.
I wish I could speak to C. I wish I could tell her, you do not know it now, you think it's impossible now, but you have no idea that the hurt you are doing your mum will visit you too. A day will come when shame will creep into your life and haunt you and you will not be able to ignore it. And all the pain you caused, you will feel it too. Because you will not always be cruel. A time will come -- I believe it comes for all of us -- when we are reminded that we are not islands remote from each other, we are not inured to one another's pain, we are not monsters. And she is not. She is a lost, confused, hurting child who one day will know that's who she was.