Even though it is cold, it is peaceful sitting here in the corner of the garden making daisy chains. I am a queen with a crown of daisies and buttercups. My adoring subjects are around me, waiting to fulfil my every desire.
How I love being by myself, imagining that I am loved – but what is love? No one loves me: no one cares. I can dream and find some semblance of satisfaction, but I know it isn’t real and cannot be real, because I am evil. So I sit and pretend, keeping out of Agnes’ way, hoping that she will leave me here on my own. I hate being locked in the coal shed where I huddle cold and cramped and miserable and not allowing myself to scream because that would give her more pleasure. The coal shed holds terrors for me so I try to keep out of her way. I try to be good. I try to please. I never know what it is that I’ve done wrong. All Agnes ever says is that I’m evil so I deserve what she does to me. I don’t deserve anything good.
One of her other delights is to grab a bunch of stinging nettles and rub them all over my legs. Of course, she used old newspapers to protect her hands. She often threatened to rub them all over my body, but then she wouldn’t be able to say I’d run through a patch of them. She did rub them over my face once, saying I’d been clumsy and fallen over in them. Then she so gently rubbed Calamine lotion on my face in front of my mother. Being clumsy also provided the explanation for my numerous bruises. In winter, Agnes delighted to hold my hands in a bowl of icy water or snow. My fingers felt like they were burning and they were stiff for a long time afterwards.
Agnes was my oldest sister and Agnes hated me. She told me that everyone hated me because I was so evil. She was 12 years older and because my mother had to work, she had the job of looking after me. I was a handicap, limiting her freedom when she could have been dating. I was a nuisance. Many years later my mother told me that Agnes had always been very highly strung, often pulling tantrums and playing tricks. I had no trouble in believing them. It is only in recent years that I learned she abused all her own children.
At least once Agnes married I didn’t have to worry about the coal bin any more or about the other ways she had of venting her anger on me. Life was a little better but I knew it wouldn’t last. I was evil. Nothing good would happen to me. I have never told my mother – or anyone else until recent years – of the abuse I suffered from Agnes or of later abuse from others. As is common with most abused people I blamed myself. It was my fault. I deserved it. I didn’t deserve anything good. I didn’t deserve to live.
I don’t have many early memories of my biological father. He left when I was very young and I remember seeing him only a few times. Even though I didn’t really know him, he had a very big impact on my life. Agnes constantly told me that he hated me and wanted me dead. His practice was to place his hand on my head and “swear by the life of this child that I’m not having an affair with Win” or “May God strike this child dead right now if I’m having an affair with Win.” Win was my mother’s sister and later became my father’s second wife. When it was discovered that he and Win already had a child when he made those oaths, I was told that he was asking God to kill me. Since my own father hated me enough to want me dead – to ask God to kill me – I must be a dreadfully evil person. As I grew, this became more and more evident.
For most of the war years we lived close to Portsmouth, England’s naval docks and one of Germany’s prime targets. My mother was a very conscientious chief air raid warden who was decorated for her work. She knew where everyone was and ventured out during raids, ensuring there was a total blackout and checking that everyone was safe. Where were her own two small children? They were at home, alone, frightened, sleeping in a steel shelter table/bed; sometimes with plaster falling around them, windows shattered and doors forced shut by the bomb blasts. Why were others more important than we were? Didn’t we matter? My father wanted me dead. Had my mother rejected me too?
I have many memories of the war, some of them quite gruesome. I was only four at the beginning of the war and ten when it was over. As chief air raid warden, my mother helped sift through bomb sites, and I accompanied her, especially in the years before I commenced school. Death and mutilation were everyday events. I remember one man who had been shaving when the bomb hit. His decapitated body was found wedged in a chimney. A parachutist whose body was nothing but strips of flesh landed in our back yard. Did these things help to make me hardened and uncaring? Maybe.
The war gave me my second father. Although he wasn’t legally my father, he was the only one I ever called daddy. My mother was the billeting officer for the district and Pierre was a French Canadian soldier who billeted with us. I never gave a thought to his sharing my mother’s bed, for I knew nothing about such things.
I was about eight or nine when Pierre came to live with us. Agnes was married by then and was no longer a threat to me. My other sister, Pam, five years older, was my biggest rival in everything, including Pierre’s affection. Pam was a goody-goody. Pam was perfect. Pam did everything right. Pam was a real lady. Pam was just the opposite of me. Why couldn’t I be more like Pam? Everyone liked Pam!
But I was Pierre’s favourite! Pierre preferred me! I couldn’t believe it, but it was true.
Pierre had a daughter, Pauline, in Canada. Pauline’s mother was dead so she was staying with her aunt. Pierre missed Pauline and I was about her age and just like her, which is why I was special. When Pierre came home on leave, he always had a kitbag full of chocolates and goodies which were unobtainable in England. I was Pierre’s “special princess” and I always received more goodies.
Pierre taught me French songs and made me feel very special. Pierre told me that he enjoyed the company of mummy and Pam. They loved sharing his bed with him, but because I was his very special princess, he spent more time with me. There was never intercourse but a great deal of fondling and later of oral sex. I didn’t like it but Pierre said Pam really loved it. I wasn’t going to let Pam win on that one! He preferred me! It never occurred to me that it was wrong. The thought never entered my head. Besides, Pam would NEVER do anything wrong! Pierre loved me and this was what real daddies did with their very special little girls. Pierre was always kind and caring. I never once saw him angry or heard angry words. Though he never used physical force, I realised many years later that he used a tremendous amount of emotional pressure and probably told many lies, but I thought he was marvellous. He was the only person who had ever shown me any affection.
For the first time in my life, someone cared for ME. Pierre even liked me more than Pam! Maybe I wasn’t all evil? Maybe I didn’t deserve to die? There was no way I was going to risk losing his love. There was no way he would spend more time with Pam! I rushed home from school to beat Pam who always arrived later because she was at high school and she also spent time with friends. I shared his bed every afternoon and sometimes we went for a walk to the nearby park. I was his special princess.
Whenever Pierre was not there, I missed him dreadfully and the loneliness was worse than before. Pierre wasn’t there the day I broke my leg at school. I was pushed over on the ice before school started and a teacher took me home, leaving me in the front sitting room where I stayed all day. I couldn’t move because it hurt so much. It was a long, long day. When my mother eventually arrived home she and Pam half-dragged, half-carried me, screaming, all the way to the doctor’s. My leg was broken in three places and Pam wonders today if it was broken in three places in the morning or if one or two happened on the way to the surgery in the evening. I needed Pierre that day, but he wasn’t there. When he did come he had a doll for me and we called her Simone. Simone was a fat, rag doll, all out of proportion, with little short arms sticking straight out at her sides. I guess she was an ugly doll but I loved her.
Surprise, surprise! My father turned up to see me and even more surprising, he had a doll for me. This was a truly beautiful doll, with tight blonde curls, moving limbs and a lovely blue and red gingham dress. Yes, I can still see that doll: the nicest I had ever seen. How did he manage to get a doll? No toys were available in England, but according to the family he was a con man with access to the black market. Why had he come? Well, Pierre was named as co-respondent in the divorce case, so he may have used my broken leg as an excuse to enter the house with hopes of getting evidence.
I vividly remember throwing the doll back at him and angrily declaring “If you don’t want me, then I don’t want your doll. And anyway I have Simone and she is much nicer!” I know I also tried to say something about having a new daddy now, but everyone else was shouting me down for being rude.
The day for Pierre’s return to Canada drew closer but I didn’t mind all that much, because as soon as he arrived back there, he was going to arrange for us to join him. He and my mother would be married when we arrived in Canada and Pauline would be my new sister. I bragged about it to everyone at school but no one believed me. That didn’t matter. I had the best daddy and I was going to Canada to be with him. I would be his special princess for ever. I would never be lonely again. My mother wouldn’t have to work so maybe she would spend more time with me. I was going to have a real family. Things would be different at last.
We received a letter from Pierre. It was written in French but my mother had it translated. He was working to get our immigration in order. A little later my mother told us she had received a letter from Pierre’s brother, advising that Pierre had died during an operation. I don’t know why but I didn’t believe he was dead. I felt rejected: rejected by the one person who had shown me affection.
I don’t know why I didn’t believe it. Was it because I knew nothing good could ever happen to me? As I grew and learned a little more about life, I was convinced that Pierre had enjoyed his fling and had gone back to his wife and family after the war. Quite recently I found I was wrong. Pierre hadn’t died, but he hadn’t gone back to a wife either.
With Pierre gone I was devastated. Agnes wasn’t there and I didn’t have to contend with the horrors of the coal shed, but it was the same old thing again: no one loved me, no one cared. I was unwanted. I was back to daydreams and loneliness. It was back to daisy chains and being queen of the daffodils.