Well that’s a tough one. I struggle to remember good things so I think that’s why writing is sooo important to me, it’s my way to record both the suffering and the joys in my life so I can look back on them when depression paints a dark mist over every happy memory and I struggle to recall even the feeling of a smile, let alone make one appear on my face.
The good things in my life are Alun and my friends. Al has such a good heart and he’s my favourite person in the whole world. As all husbands should be, no? I also love my friends sooo much. They are the good in the world. I love them each truly, madly, and deeply. I would do anything for them. Will I turn up to their social gathering? Probably not…but I will send them uber eats so they don’t have to cook when they’ve had a rough day, I will book in a cleaner when they feel overwhelmed with tasks and need a rest on a weekend, I will get flowers delivered to them when they’re heartbroken and I will always make time to listen – for hours if they need it with no interruptions – whenever they want. I will hold their hand, rub their back, take their side and be furious at anyone who hurts them and genuinely overjoyed when something makes them happy. That’s the type of friend I am…and God has blessed me with the best people in the world to be my friends.
I think of you all, you know. Whenever it rains ‘fat’ raindrops, I remember Aurelie loves them most. I think of Troy whenever I hear a certain Tracey Chapman song or whenever there is a pole in the road and whoever I’m walking with takes one side and I veer towards the other so we can keep walking. I make sure I stop, turn and often go out of my way to walk on the same side of the pole as them as Troy told me once “if you and a friend go past a pole/lamp-post on different sides, you’re tearing your friendship in half”. Hmm. Whenever I walk past a “Nescafe” store, I glance in, hoping against hope that my friend Jack will be in there. He never is, but it doesn’t stop me looking. I think of Karyn when I see rainbows, of Kim when I see sunsets, of Sam when I order KFC, of Gary when I eat dim sum, of Bridie when I take my night medications. I think of Kristy every Friday when I put on what she named “Friday pants” (pj bottoms), I think of Becci whenever I hear a Michael Bolton song, of Sophie and Paris whenever I see a meme about books…I think of each of my friends all the time. I carry my friends around in my heart and hear their voices, their laughs and their stern warnings “No, Janet – definitely DON’T say THAT” in my head as I go about my day. I am so blessed by my friends…and stunned by the sheer number of people who truly love me and genuinely care about me. It’s incredible. My biggest and most treasured blessing in my life are my friends.
I love flowers. I have loved them all my life. I love roses, peonies (they are amazing!), tulips, dahlias, daisies (they are so cute and happy), gerberas, stock and snapdragons. They’re all my favourites.
When I was dating “Gareth”, we’d always pass a flower market stall on Beechboro road on our way to my parent’s house. I would ask every time “Can we stop? Can we get some flowers? Pleeeease?” and Gareth would always say no…but once, just once – he gave in and said we could.
I was so excited.
Gareth stayed in the car listening to the radio. It was a cool afternoon – winter was almost upon us and the flower arrangements were so pretty and bright.
I was delighted that I had permission (Gareth controlled my every move and getting ‘permission’ for anything at that stage was very rare indeed) to stop and look at flowers so I was happy, humming to myself as I breathed in the scent of so many pretty blooms.
“You like?” An older Italian-looking man approached me. The stall owner. He spoke in heavily accented Italian.
“I love!” I smiled and gently touched rose petals that were pink with red edges. So beautiful.
I thought of the scripture in the Bible where it says God clothes the lillies in the valleys in such splendour – will He not also clothe us? And I smiled to myself as I surveyed the bunches of flowers and tried to pick something Mom would like.
“I have more – more fresh, more beautiful – just at the back” the old man gestured behind him to a shed about 15-20 meters away.
I looked back at Gareth who had his eyes closed and was lip-syncing to Eminem on the radio.
This was actually a good chance to have a little freedom from my ‘watcher’, so I grabbed at the opportunity with both hands and nodded happily at the Italian man, follwing him to a shed.
Inside it was pitch black, I couldn’t see any flowers. He shut the door tight behind us both. We were alone.
I was so excited, I didn’t hear the voice within me that warned this wasn’t right.
I was guessing the market stall owner planned to switch on the lights as an grand way to show them off to their best – maybe we’d be surrounded in a rainbow array of flowers of all kinds? I was so giddy and couldn’t wait to see them.
The Italian man who looked to be in his late 80’s – who seemed so frail and sweet was suddenly very strong. He put his arms around me, drew me to him and ran his thick, horrible, salivating tongue over my mouth. I was so shocked, scared and shamed. My natural response to his sudden attack was to press my lips tightly together and not let his horrible thick tongue in. I tried to fight him, shaking my head and trying to free myself, but he possessed a remarkable strength and held me there, running his tongue over my lips – side to side and back again.
It was a moment that probably only lasted a minute…but it felt like hours to me. Hours of being violated. His hands were locked behind my back and I couldn’t move my arms. I couldn’t cry out because I chose to keep my lips as closed together as possible rather than yell for help. I struggled and I shook violently. Gareth beeped the horn impatiently outside and the old man let me go.
I ran breathless to the car, spitting out anything I could of him.
I felt so dirty. So used. So disgusting.
I got into the car and slammed the door behind me, locking it with shaking hands as tears streaming down my face.
“What’s going on?” Gareth asked
“Just drive! Please! JUST DRIVE!” I was screaming. Hysterical. I wanted to be as far away from that man as I could. I noticed gratefully that he hadn’t followed me out to the car.
Half way home, I asked Gareth to pull over. I was sick into a gutter by the side of the road. I wanted to tear my skin off me. I felt so violated. So disgusting and disgusted. I couldn’t stop shaking or crying.
We got home and Dad was in the living room. He stood as soon as he saw me “What the hell?” He asked, seeing me crying and trembling, I told Dad what had happened.
“Where is he now?” Dad asked, picking up Jason’s baseball bat that was leaning against a doorframe in the kitchen “THAT BASTARD!”. Gareth picked up the keys and they were off in the screech of tyres.
I got into the shower, turned the water on as hot as I could stand it and sat on the shower’s floor, water streaming over me, crying.
I know. I hadn’t been raped – but I still felt so violated and so attacked. So used. So alone. So ashamed.
Dad came back with Gavin and they were both pleased that they had caused a rucus at the flower stall and had also told the Police what had happened.
Something very bad had happened to me. A bad man took advantage of me and I was a sweet, gentle 19-year-old who knew so little about the world and the evil that lurks around dark corners and in even darker sheds. But my Dad and my then-boyfriend found justice for me (the bat didn’t return with them – I didn’t ask) and I eventually healed from that. Knowing my Dad and even Gareth had my back made me feel vindicated so I was able to move on from that.
I have never forgotten it, though.
At first, he was charming. Stuart was gently spoken and quite handsome. He had a South African accent and always dressed so nicely in suits and business shirts, folded up at the elbows which is something I find particularly appealing in men. It just looks awesome when their forearms are exposed, you know? But that charm quickly turned to hatred when I ‘blew the whistle’ on his incredibly RACIST secretary, “Shana”. “Shana” treated every black man in the building as if he was a dirty, foul animal. The things she said to them and about them hurt my heart – they were so appalling. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so overtly racist. “Shana” particularly treated “Eli” – a new addition to the Facilities team so badly for so long, she reduced a grown man to ashamed tears. I couldn’t bear it a moment longer after seeing my friend “Eli” suffer for months on end, so I decided to report it.
Unfortunately – as Stuart was my Manager – I reported it to him as my first port of call. I thought he’d be outraged and want to make it right.
That’s when Stuart became an enemy.
Stuart yelled at me. He was fiercely protective of “Shana” and belittled me for wanting to report her. Stuart threatened me, and when I said I’d still submit the report of racist behaviour in the office but to higher management, he fired me. As a temp, I have NO RIGHTS whatsoever, so all I could do was pack my bag and try not to let them (Stuart, “Shana” and their friends in their little office gang of racists) see my tears. Stuart fired me a week before Christmas when I really could have used that extra pay.
Determined not to let it ruin my favourite holiday season of the year, I stopped by about 8 friends’ desks, told them I was fired (they were all shocked) and gave each of them a Christmas gift and a big hug. Leaving that afternoon hurt me so much because I got fired from trying to stand up for something I believed in. This is what my Dad has always taught me – even from being a tiny girl to the young woman I grew to be – to always stand for what is right and to SAY SOMETHING when I see something wrong being allowed to occur.
An hour later on my way home on the bus, struggling to carry the things I’d amassed in my 5 months of work at the reception counter, I got the first call. The 1st friend I gave a gift to rang and said “Stuart demanded that gift back – he said you were bribing staff and that you could be severely punished, Janet – I don’t know what’s going on”…then more and more calls and texs from other confused friends who said Stuart was going around the building collecting the gifts I’d lovingly given to friends. The temp agency rang me, TOLD ME OFF for BRIBING STAFF (What???) and asked me to return to the office to collect the gifts from Stuart.
At this point in my retelling of this AWFUL and UGLY event, I want you to know that gift giving is my love language. It’s how I best show and receive love – so for Stuart to claim I was BRIBING staff with CHRISTMAS PRESENTS a week before Christmas was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. It hurt me SO DEEPLY and felt incredibly PERSONAL to me. A personal attack. It shamed me and hurt me greatly.
I honestly would rather Stuart had physically hit me than make me go back and collect gifts I had given to friends as if I was some kind of underhand criminal trying to gain favour with untoward bribes.
Stuart stood over me with a smirk on his face as I gingerly approached the reception counter.
“Bribery is not looked upon favourably here, Janet – just another reason I’m glad I fired you. Get these out of my sight, you ridiculous, stupid girl”
And one by one, I put each gift in the bag I brought with me.
Under Stuart’s haughty gaze, it was like scraping crumbs from the bottom of his shoes apologetically.
IT HURT SO MUCH.
I was SO FREAKING EMBARRASSED and SO FREAKING ASHAMED.
What made it UGLY was that STUART LOVED IT.
It had all started because I’d tried to speak up for work friends who were being treated badly and you know what makes this even harder to write about? Eli – who I had done all of this for – kept his job and was ‘promoted’ to another section of the building where he didn’t have to interact with “Shana” again. When I asked him to submit a letter of support for the report I had submitted FOR HIM – AT HIS STRONG ENCOURAGEMENT to DO SO, mind you – he ignored me. Eli ghosted me. He wouldn’t look me in the eye on that awful, painful day; wouldn’t answer my question in person and wouldn’t take my call or return my pleading texts. The guy I layed it all down for abandoned me. Just like that. Like I was nothing.
I suffered badly that day. I lost my job.
I got ignored. I was gossipped about and laughed about.
I got betrayed.
I got PLAYED. Badly.
What hurts my heart over and over is collecting those gifts back from someone who hated me and relished seeing me hurting. Stuart enjoyed seeing me embarassed that day. He did what he did on purpose – going through the building and demanding gifts back that he returned ripped and torn – like trash. My carefully, lovingly wrapped parcels returned crushed up. Why did he have to take it that far? I will never understand why Stuart liked seeing me covered in shame – like a thick, dirty, itchy blanket he’d made me wear that afternoon…and for months after because I didn’t know how to recover from that ugly experience.
In that situation there was no baseball bat. No one to have my back. No one to tell the Authorities. Even the friends I’d given gifts to – in genuine kindness and innocent Christmas joy – backed away from me – not wanting to incur the same wrath from Stuart.
I was ABANDONED.
I was Alone and Ashamed.
I will never forget that day.