It was a short and unremarkable tweet that drew my attention to just how many unanswered questions many victims of child sexual abuse carry.
Flicking through my imaginary biography, paragraphs thick with guilt and shame have been cut out by those who betrayed me, naively thinking I wouldn’t notice. And whole pages are missing where the cruelty was so toxic that the paper simply dissolved away.
The absent text relates to events which were so harmful, they forced my life onto a completely different trajectory, like a struck snooker ball sent spinning at an acute angle. And I have a right to know what happened. It’s my history, my life, my pain.
I’m sure most victims of child sexual abuse have grappled to understand why someone decided to violate their body. Indeed, why did my grandfather choose to torture me rather than love and nurture me? Why?
And there are so many more questions. Why me? Why the other two victims? How many more children did he attack?
Did he abuse his son who was unable to resist alcohol’s soothing embrace until its ever tightening grip caused his premature death? What about my father’s classmate, the boy from the children’s home, who my father innocently brought home to tea? Or my little friends who came to play at my house on the days he visited, unaware of the acute danger disguised as a happy family?
As most child molesters begin abusing before the age of 30 and the man who abused me lived long enough to receive a birthday card from the Queen, surely there are other victims? What are they doing now? Did they see the man who abused them named and shamed in the media? Are they ok?
And how did my grandfather ensure the complicity of those who protected his identity as a dangerous predator? Were they also victims whose silence was conceived in terror? How many chose not to see the open sexual assaults I suffered whilst he drank beer and cheered for Stoke City in front of the television? How many suspected that things were amiss but didn’t dare investigate? How many noticed that I wet my knickers at school but didn’t know that this was a sign of child abuse?
I can’t even answer the simple question in the tweet; ‘How old were you when you were first sexually abused?’
Was I a baby? Or a toddler? Did he begin his attacks when I was left in his care as a small child whilst the rest of my family went on holiday, far away from the danger I was unable to escape from? Did he keep trophies of his attacks? Underwear, little dresses, polaroids? Did he have accomplices to his crimes?
I have no recollection of the assaults starting. Neither do I remember life before the assaults. I only remember assaults.
And even then I only have snapshot memories of a few attacks. But I remember all too well, the often repeated hushed instructions not to tell after he had finished violating me. And therein lies yet more questions. What did he do to my body in the attacks that I don’t remember? Was I raped?
One question I can answer is, why on earth do I want to know?
Well, I feel it’s hard to process trauma if I don’t know what happened to me. And how can I make sense of the rest of my biography when whole chapters from the beginning are missing? When I try to fill in the gaps myself, the font never quite matches the original, the paper is too smooth and too white, and I discover that I always type in the worst case scenarios.
Withholding information that we are entitled to and want to know is another way for those who abused us to add to our distress and wield their power over us. Of course my grandfather wouldn’t reveal any answers to help me heal when I asked.
Likewise, when I’ve queried past events with those who hid his identity as a predatory paedophile, so have they also protected themselves with excuses, minimalisations and what I believe are plain lies.
But there are also questions that nobody can answer.
How would my biography recount the life I would and should have had at this point in time, had I not been subjected to years of sexual violence as a young child? Would I, as I am now, be childless? Would I have avoided cancer? Would I have taken the painful decision to cease contact with my family?
Like many other survivors of child abuse, I’m angry that part of my own history that I want and deserve to know has been denied to me. How am I supposed to move on when pivotal events from my past are unresolved and questions spin repeatedly in my mind?
I don’t know the answer to that either.