Hi, my name is Mark. This is not only a story of survival but also one of triumph, and reclaiming diminished potential. I didn’t even know what child abuse was until I turned thirty years old. At that time, my impoverished life was a mess, living in bedsits, shared houses or lodging with strangers. I couldn’t settle down and often sabotaged my relationships.
I experimented with astrology, divining with tarot cards and reciting philosophical quotes. I even sang in a funk band. I lived a nonsensical lifestyle. Fortunately, the National Health Service provided six one-hour sessions of Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT), which initiated my recovery.
Honesty v Loyalty
I grew up in a world of deceit. My understanding of our family’s hierarchy differed from everyone else’s. I treated my siblings as brothers and sisters, but they knew the truth. We had different fathers. Rosemarie, my birth mother, kept it a secret from me because, in her eyes, I was so much like my Dad.
Out of six kids born to Rosemarie, the first was stillborn with only half of its head. Then there was Alan, then me, the second eldest. Next were my sisters Ellen and Miranda, who arrived two years apart to the day, and finally, blue baby Barry appeared.
Rosemarie had a lot to hide from my Dad who served in the British Army and spent many months away. She hated my secret-spilling mouth. Perhaps, she hated me, period. It seemed like she did. I staggered through life between honesty and loyalty, both making and losing acquaintances. I could not be trusted. I ratted out male friends’ indiscretions and cheated on nearly all of my girlfriends.
Nowadays, as grown-ups, my siblings disown me entirely. That is what Rosemarie wanted. Seeing their names on her last will and testament, listed without my own, punished my self-reliance, my honesty, and rewarded their misplaced loyalty. I thought that’s what you get for confronting an abuser, someone that should have been in jail.
When Dad came home on leave, Rosemarie picked a fight. Everyone blamed him for the brawl and Rosemarie relished the attention that bruises and nosebleeds attracted. Later in my life, I experienced her madness first hand. Her provocative nature would test the grace of a saint. She acted as if possessed by a demon. She came at me, fists and feet. Nothing would calm her, but I’ll get to that episode later.
One night, the police came and took Dad away. Cops were polite in those days. “Come on, sir. Let’s be having you,” they said, their hand cupped under his elbow. Before Dad left, he came over to my bed. “I could cry about it too, son,” he said. I never forgot that moment. My grandmother Nan, stood in the background, straining to look through the group of strangers gathered in our tiny house. She was always a stabilizing presence.
Nan baked cheese scones every weekend, and on Sunday braised beef in gravy with salty potatoes and overcooked boiled green cabbage. On Saturday mornings, I went to her house and practiced on the piano. Sometimes she went out shopping which meant I had the place to myself. I played as loud and hard as I could. Bohemian Rhapsody rang out through the open windows all along Benbow Street.
The downside of shopping was that before Nan left, she needed help with her stockings. Obesity limited her flexibility and fixing the suspender at the back of her thighs had become awkward for her. She offered her backside as I sat in a chair and gingerly lifted her flowery cotton dress. I hitched the stocking as quickly as I could because varicose veins and clumpy, odorous cellulite folds turned an adolescent’s stomach.
I traveled a lot during my thirties and visited Nan as often as I could. I cut down her overgrown lawn several times. Very few people called on her. Diabetes and other medical complications hampered her mobility. Despite her condition, she insisted that I accompanied her to the park for a stroll.
Nan was an exceptional woman. Surviving World War II as a casualty nurse, she became the center of our extended family, the queen of everyone’s heart. Ludicrously, near the end of her life, as Nan lay dying in a hospital bed, Rosemarie, Ellen, and Melissa ransacked Nan’s house and distributed all of her valuables. All I have left of Nan’s memory is a letter she wrote in 1998, only months before she died. Weary of Rosemarie’s scrounging, blackmail and intimidation, Nan warned me about her temper. It confirmed what I already suspected. Since all of Rosemarie’s children had left her, she had turned her attention toward Nan.
Brothers and Sisters
When we were kids, Rosemarie referred to us as “you five.” We were the cause of her unhappiness. She teased us with suicide, a deadly ultimatum. “I’m going to put my bloody head in the oven,” she said.
As we grew older, repetition lessened her threat’s credibility. “Well, go on then. Do it,” said one of us, courageously. “The oven’s electric,” another pointed out. She promised to send us to boarding school, “I’ll put you five in a home,” she said often. Ironically, Melissa, the fourth oldest child, the eldest half-sister, did just that with her own daughter several years later. She sent her little girl away. Although I loved Melissa like a sister, in appearance and personality, she was most like Rosemarie.
One year, while Dad was away, we joined a religious cult. Two young Americans came to our door, and Rosemarie committed us all. Before long, they baptized us, and we all became “morally clean.” Coffee, tea, nicotine, and sex were guilt-heavy paths to damnation. All of us knelt on the floor as we prayed, worshipped at the church on Sunday, and joined in the youth activities. For Rosemarie, however, taking a weekly sacrament guaranteed forgiveness. From then on, things just got worse.
All of the church members were our brothers and sisters. It created a dilemma for me because at home we played “Doctors and Nurses.” We crawled under the beds and played with each other’s private parts. Now in the church, with so many new siblings, I wondered what games they played. It didn’t take too long to find out.
My father’s absence, while serving the country, left his children vulnerable. What began as a free lift to and from church on Sunday became regular trips to the countryside. Brother David Wise fell over backward, helping poor Rosemarie cope.
Everyone called David “Dubsie.” I never understood why. More than six feet tall and shabbily dressed, he often masturbated in public. He made an odd squeaking noise with the inside of his cheek as he tossed himself off in the church kitchen and foyer. No one did anything about his behavior except avoid him and imitate his actions. Surprisingly, Rosemarie encouraged the over-sized misfit to take her kids out for the day. When Dubsie picked us up in his car, Rosemarie had time to herself.
He took us to the woods, the china clay pits and sometimes out on the moors. The places were always remote and deserted. Anything could have happened to us. Dubsie played a game he called “whacks.” The prizes related to levels of pain and varying states of nudity. We lay across his lap as he beat our bottoms and wanked himself off to orgasm. It stank. Dubsie stank. His fucking car stank, that three-wheeled Reliant Robin van.
Despite David Wise’s pedophilia, the elders appointed him the leader of the children’s Sunday school. Shortly after, while fixing his Ford Transit van one day, a drunk driver plowed into the car behind Dubsie, which subsequently lurched forward and crushed the pervert to death. I wondered, was that coincidence or intervention?
Admittedly, with five hungry kids, Rosemarie’s life was difficult. She had very little income and carefully rationed our food. We ate cornflakes for breakfast, school dinners for lunch, and mixed fruit jam sandwiches for tea. If we ran out of jam, Rosemarie mixed up an Oxo beef stock cube with a tub of Blue Band margarine. To her credit, we seldom went without something to eat.
Alan and I regularly cycled around our neighborhood, pretending we drove a double-decker bus. Lampposts became bus stops for imaginary passengers. We made the most of a neighborhood dotted with bombsites and new government housing. Across the street from our house, a handful of kids played soccer on the weekends in the local school playing field without the faculty’s permission. The soccer ball sometimes flew over the fence and landed in Rosemarie’s front garden. When the boys came to ask for their ball back, Rosemarie refused them, citing their illegal use of the playing field. One day while we were out riding our bikes, the boys took revenge on us. They caught us up, pinned us both down and punched our faces in.
Occasionally, Rosemarie looked after other people’s kids. I often apologized to them for the clutter in the house and the treatment Rosemarie meted out. Punishments included facing the wall for hours at a time, a wooden spoon across the back of the hand, a lit match or a hot steam iron held close to your face and starvation. “You can go to bed with no tea,” she said. The scariest threat was her evil witch’s face behind the point of a carving knife. She wanted to cut off my fingers.
Rosemarie enjoyed humiliating others. Although she victimized me with this ritual, the memory of Stuart’s suffering hurts more. The six-year-old neighbor from number eight had a terrible cold and couldn’t eat Rosemarie’s food. “Kid’s Casserole,” a concoction of finely cubed Spam baked with peas in a can of Heinz Chicken Soup was disgusting. It looked like puke on a plate. She tied Stuart up and taped his mouth. The little guy cried his eyes out. Although I was just a few years older than he, I joined in the teasing and laughing at Stuart as green mucus bubbled in and out of his nose. I don’t know how he could breathe. His eyes told me he was petrified. Rosemarie was evil, and that day so was I. What happened to Stuart I do not know. Although, I think he moved to Australia.
Occasionally, Rosemarie took in lodgers. She toyed with running a bed and breakfast establishment. Although most B&B guests are legitimate, in our case, back in the seventies, the lodgers were nothing but deviants. Rob the DJ stayed for a while and raped my real sister, Ellen. She was only thirteen at the time. I don’t know if Ellen sought professional help as a rape victim, or took any legal action, but I do know that Rosemarie kept taking lodgers.
Later, David Gadsby, a twenty-seven-year-old man who had recently returned from serving a mission; spreading the gospel of Christ, came to lodge with us. Rosemarie billeted the man to my bedroom. At first, David was friendly. He moved his bed closer to mine. I often woke up in the middle of the night because he played around with my dick. It actually felt good until I realized it was David. I kicked him as hard as I could. I knew that it hurt him because one time he cried like a baby. Nevertheless, the molesting continued because I felt embarrassed to tell. Shame silenced me and emboldened David Gadsby.
One evening, when I was sixteen years old, I walked into the kitchen and Rosemarie lunged toward me. “What do you call this?” she yelled forcing a Polaroid photograph into my face.
The Selfie depicted a circumcised erection complete with a testicle sac. The colorful image horrified me. I had never seen a dick from that angle before, except the odd sketch on the school toilet wall. Graffiti was funny. The Polaroid photograph was not.
With a hate-filled expression, Rosemarie growled, “You’re bloody gay, aren’t you Mark?”
I tried to say no, but nothing came out. I didn’t even know what gay was.
She slammed her right hand against the side of my face. Even now, some forty years later, my left ear still rings and yet audiologists say that they “can’t see anything wrong with it.”
Eventually, Dad and Rosemarie divorced. Alan got married, at least twice, followed by Ellen and Melissa. Big baby, Barry, or “the fat one” as Ellen referred to him, stayed with Rosemarie for years. He couldn’t leave home like the rest of us. Each time I visited the couple, I sensed an odd dynamic. My enthusiasm for being in their company mismatched their disinterest in me. Something felt wrong. I wondered what I had done to them.
Whenever I gave Rosemarie a hug, instead of a loving mother-child embrace, she unfastened my trouser belt and tried putting her hands down my pants. She groaned as she did it and rolled her eyes, clamping her gummy jaws together. Her chin almost touched her nose. I grabbed her wrist and pushed her away. She cackled like a witch as if it was all a joke.
Some years later, Barry fell out of favor. Rosemarie had married a man named Peter whose voice sounded eerily like that of my grandfather’s. I felt uneasy around him. Rosemarie told me that Peter’s own daughters had wrongly accused him of molesting them when they were small. Eventually, Peter’s victims brought him to justice. The judge put the sod in prison.
When Barry bucked up the courage, he moved out of Rosemarie’s flat, and rented the room next to mine in a large Victorian house. I hooked him up with a job at the hospital where I worked as a maintenance engineer. I could have done that job in my sleep, which was good because socially the nurses kept me busy.
In search of direction, I had a tarot card reading. Surprisingly, David Wise came up in the form of a sword-wielding Sagittarian. He had a temper too. After a lengthy discussion, my psychic explained that Dubsie had sexually abused me, which made a lot of sense. I thought it was strange, being whacked by a guy whacking off. That night, I picked up the phone and shared my revelation with Rosemarie.
“I don’t know how to say this, mum but David Wise sexually abused me,” I said. “I think he did it to Alan as well. That’s how he learned to drive a car.”
I expected her sympathy, but Rosemarie said, “Well I’ve got something to tell you. Barry is not your brother, and Melissa is not your sister either. Do you remember Harry?”
At first, I didn’t think she heard what I said. Nevertheless, her news shocked my heart, enraged me. Barry had a different father. Wait a minute I thought, my Dad struggled to bring up a family of five kids when at least two of them were somebody else’s. I wondered about Alan, the eldest, and who his father was.
Rosemarie went on, “Harry’s been in touch, and he’s coming to see me. He wants to meet Barry and Melissa.”
The telephone was out on the landing just outside our rooms. When I hung up on Rosemarie, I considered that the whole house just heard my conversation. Nevertheless, I knocked on my now half-brother’s door. As he sheepishly peered around it. I said, “Mum just told me about Harry. What the hell’s going on?”
Barry dove back into his room and quickly returned with a photograph of his father. Although much older, I recognized the man from my childhood. On and off, he had lodged with Rosemarie.
“I thought you knew,” Barry said. “Mum told us years ago,”
I couldn’t speak. I went back to my room and kicked all my stuff to pieces.
Soon after that encounter, Barry and I parted ways, and yet dysfunctional incidents continued for years. For instance, one rainy night, Melissa’s oddball sister-in-law, Gretchen-the-Gruesome, turned up on my doorstep. She asked, “Have you heard from Barry? I’m supposed to be moving in with him. I got all my stuff in the car.”
“Why don’t you call him?” I said, offering his cell number.
Gretchen looked frightened. “He won’t answer. I’ve left him loads of messages and everything.”
I invited her in and promised that even though I hadn’t seen Barry in a while, I’d phone him on her behalf. Barry didn’t answer and never returned my call.
Puzzled, Gretchen stayed on the couch a few nights, and I did what I could to console her. I later found out that Barry had shagged her and promised a long-term relationship. Gretchen went home, eventually. Then, a few months after her visit, I heard she told everyone that I tried to bed her. “No fucking way,” I adamantly proclaimed. “I couldn’t afford to get that drunk!”
On another occasion, Rosemarie picked me up from the bus station. We went to the pub for a drink. We sat at the bar, and she slid her hand onto my thigh. Even at thirty-five years old, I didn’t know what to do. Her hand stayed there forever until I dropped my foot off the stool. Twenty years on, I still feel her hand whenever my wife touches me.
So, to my siblings who chose a life of non-communication with me, who dismiss these words as a lie, I say, cast your mind back to your nakedness as you lay upon the kitchen table. Do you remember Rosemarie’s song?
Walking down to Uncle Jim.”
Who or what do you think Uncle Jim was? I wondered if you sang Rosemarie’s song to your kids when they were defenselessly young. I know that I bloody didn’t!
The last time I saw Rosemarie, she wanted to meet Clare, my new girlfriend. Rosemarie buried Clare’s head in her breasts. That’s how she greeted my then future wife.
During the visit, Rosemarie realized Clare’s immunity to her spell, so after my girlfriend left for work that morning, Rosemarie threw a tantrum. It was then that I realized what my father had dealt with some thirty odd years before. She ran around my apartment, smashing it up, and kicked the trashcan across the kitchen. She snatched my portfolio and called my peers, yelling down the phone as if she was the victim of a blood-curdling slaughter. I didn’t know what to do.
When Clare returned, Rosemarie acted subdued. She talked in a child’s voice and donned her invalid’s wrist supports, her walking stick by her side. We telephoned Alan who transported Rosemarie home. Several months later, I wrote a letter, asking her for an explanation. “Why do you keep on grabbing my penis?” I never heard another word from her.
Confronting Rosemarie shut her down. She died some years later, in 2014. Although she gave birth to me, I will never call that woman mum. She had a gift, a God-given gift as the mother of five healthy children. The privilege came with responsibility not the right to abuse.
Everything Rosemarie taught me informed how I lived my own life. I am sure that I pissed off many good people, and I take full responsibility for that. I wish that I hadn’t been so loyal as to keep others’ secrets for so long.
The gross value of Rosemarie’s estate did not exceed £325,000 and the net, not £117,000. She dished out the remains of her scatter-brained life to all of her loyal children: Alan, Ellen, Melissa, and Barry. I didn’t make it on the list, thank God, but this isn’t about her money. I look at my nephews and nieces’ once broken families created by Rosemarie’s legacy and realize the irreparable damage she caused. Money won’t ever fix any of that.
Clare and I married almost twenty years ago and look forward to twenty more. Believing my story would help someone else, my wife encouraged me to share it. The burden of shame for another’s evil weighs heavily on a person’s life. Self-imposed guilt halves potential and inhibits personal growth. It perforates confidence, stifles enthusiasm, and diminishes self-esteem. If any of this victorious tale alerts another to act, regardless of gender or sexual preference, I say speak up, speak out. Expose! Be more not half. Truth is the key to freedom.
Finally, my understanding of Rosemarie’s character unfolded gradually over several years of challenges: poverty, homelessness, broken relationships, grizzly abortions and making a career in music. More painfully, Rosemarie was my mother. In public, she doted. Privately she violated. Eventually, the truth prevailed.
In her old age, Rosemarie suffered, and I’m glad that she’s dead, but now she lives on through the lives of my siblings. Naturally, I fear their revenge for outing her, just as I once feared my perpetrators. Nevertheless, I would rather live honestly, cast out, ignored than hide behind social media aliases and worse, honor the memory of a child abuser.