Below are a few extracts from different chapters in the book
Growing Up, Down
We were all survivors, programmed from the very start of life to tiptoe around the pillar of fury that was my father. My mother used to tell me that before he became successful in the diamond industry, he didn’t touch alcohol. Alcohol did not excuse who my father was to me and to his family.
He was the kind of man who would strip his children of all self-esteem, then blame us when we could not perform. He delighted in mental harassment and physical beatings.
He was a chain-smoking, whisky-swilling king of the diamond trade. A tyrant to his children.
My brothers and I learned all about the dark, solitary places of our house. At five, I remember hearing noises from behind the cellar door one morning, so I investigated, only to find my brother Oliver huddled in the corner on the cold stone floor, throwing rocks at the wall. My father had sent him there the night before, without supper.
“Oliver, you okay?” I screeched, taking note of his wide, round eyes. They were full of fear and something else…shame.
It was dirty in the cellar and the stone was so cold that the air coming up from the bottom felt like a wave of freezing mist.
He was trapped down there, alone in a frozen ocean of stone, framed by the light coming from my open door.
“Shh, dad might hear,” he called up to me.
“He’s not home.” I sniffled at the weakness and helplessness of my words. I wanted to help him but I couldn’t. It was against the rules.
“What happened?” At least I could give him some company.
“I’m not allowed to grow my hair. Dad told me to cut it, and I told him I wanted to keep it long.” A slight hint of anger lined his voice.
I would not understand that feeling until I was much older.
“Oh. You look cold.”
“I am cold.”
“Should I bring you a blanket?” I noticed there wasn’t so much as a towel on the floor where he sat.
“Better not. I’ll be fine. You go upstairs and play.” He turned his face into the darkness of the cellar. I obeyed and gently shut the door on my brother and walked to the lounge, where my other brothers were. Oliver was not allowed out of the cellar for four days over a long weekend.
Mum brought him a plate of food, once a day. There was no washroom, and he would do his nature calls in a plastic pot with a lid on that mum had to clean every day.
Oliver seemed resolutely quiet, as if his isolation was something to be taken seriously or a vital lesson might be missed. I was very sad about Oliver being in the cellar and didn’t quite know what to do with my feelings.
The emotional impact of being separated from my family at the age of five was shocking and I didn’t quite know what to do with my feelings.
Being “dumped” in a boarding school ended up defining me, and my ability to cope with it.
A nun took me to a huge room with 50 other beds in it lined up against the walls with a wardrobe next to each bed and a trunk at the end of each bed. My cold, metal bed was the second to last one in the line, number 49. I was introduced to the nun in charge of my dormitory, Sister Henrietta. Her round glasses perched on the tip of her nose, too close to her perpetually scowling mouth.
Sister Henrietta loved her rules. The moment I met her she began firing them off at me, one after the other, warning me at the same time that I had better remember each one for my own good or there will be punishments.
“This is your bed. Bed 49. You will make your bed at 5:25 sharp every morning before church. If your bed is not made correctly, you will be punished.”
For the first few years in boarding school, I cried every day, begging the nuns to send me home. “I want my mummy! I want my daddy!” I cried, heaped against the wall at break time while the other kids played and enjoyed the sun.
“Your mum and dad don’t want you at home, child. That’s why you are here. Cry all you want; no one is coming to get you.” the nuns would tell me. It didn’t stop the tears for a very long time.
Crying became the only way I could function through my early studies. There was so much trapped pain and misery that it had to go somewhere. I kept asking to be sent home during classes but I always got the same reply.
The Red Door
I channeled a lot of my anger and my rebellion into those nights at the bar; I did a lot of things I later regretted. At the time however, it made me happy to get out there and flirt with a bar full of people. I was even happy to have sex with the men around me as long as it made me popular.
I was so desperate for human approval and affection, that I had no idea that what I was doing was wrong, nor did I have any interest in right and wrong. I didn’t understand the kind of reputation I was building for myself or the kind of life I was setting myself up for. I was just having fun—for the first time in my life.
Dirty, alcohol-fueled, self-hating fun.
Men from the bar started to take me to their homes but it was never a satisfying experience for me.
The entire time this was going on, never once did I orgasm. I had no concept that I even could, and I wasn’t having sex for my physical pleasure. It was my aim to please the men, nothing else!
I wanted to do things to them that they liked, so they would like me for it. I wanted them to like me. Most of the time the sex was so quick that it was over before I was ever aroused and the alcohol dulled my senses anyway.
I was a messed-up kid looking for approval and love in broken places and anyone who interfered was my enemy.
The Tiny Dirty Room
I walked for what seemed like hours, wandering from house to house trying to find a pub friend who could help me. I begged them to help me. All of them. They all said no; one after another they closed the door in my face, like I was a door-to-door salesman. That was when I realized I was well and truly alone.
Friendless and penniless, my feet took me to a familiar place: the bar I had been frequenting over the last few years. Surely, someone would help me get on my feet. I pushed open the red padded door and stepped into my favorite party joint in the village. With nothing but a little bag of personal items with me, I felt foolish for not taking anything of real value.
“Hi, Mike, is Janine in?”
Saddling up to the bar, I waited for the barman to call Janine, the fiery-haired manager of the place. I had spent many evenings drinking with her and felt like she might give me a job if I asked, as she knew I would draw in the boys to her pub.
Janine sidled over from a back room, wearing blue cleaning gloves. I explained my situation to her.
“I need a place to stay for a while, until I can figure things out. Please let me stay here. I’ll work to cover the rent,” I said, wearing my sincerest face.
She considered me and then said, “Follow me. If you can live in here, you can stay. I could use a good cleaning woman.”
Janine led me upstairs to a small, dark room cluttered with mops, buckets, empty bottles and other junk.
“Start by cleaning this room. This is where you sleep.” I thanked her and did as I was told. The room was positively filthy and much smaller than I had hoped once all the stuff had been moved out of it. The windowless room was cold and dark. It stank of old cigarettes and spilled booze, and some of the stickiness would not come off the walls.
One single, bare, flickering bulb hung from the ceiling. So this was the place that would be better than home, this tiny, dirty, filthy room. I settled in as best I could. A man I met at the bar gave me a second-hand mattress, and I used the bar toilets.
An old tin bucket became my bath, and I had to hand wash myself with water fetched from the sinks in the toilet rooms each morning. It was no hotel, but I was free.
After just 2 days working as a cleaner, Janine told me to serve drinks. She told me that her customers liked me, males and females; she thought I would attract extra customers to her pub.
A week into my new life at the pub and I was drinking like there was no tomorrow. I found the only way I could sleep in that place was to be drunk.
Even though I lived in impossibly dirty surroundings, in constant contact with men that wanted to take advantage of me, I was free—free from fear, free from violence, and free from being told how useless I was.
No Longer a Daughter
Marriage did change Harry but not in a good way. He immediately became nastier and more violent than ever before.
Low on money, we had booked a two-week stay in a two-star hotel in Spain for our honeymoon, which was all we could afford. We drove to Spain by car, as we couldn’t afford to fly.
I sensed something was off when we arrived at the hotel that first day.
Everything would have been wonderful but Harry’s mood was off. He started drinking heavily and did not stop.
I was lying by the pool in my bikini, Harry was helping himself to cocktails directly next to the hotel bar, where he decided we should sit. It was a muggy, sticky day—the kind you had to enjoy with liberal dips in the swimming pool to stay cool.
I laid on a deck chair with my sunglasses on and my straw hat shading my face as the sun baked my skin. Harry settled on a chair next to me, turned, and with the straw still in his mouth blurted out, “Now that your dad’s dead, you can ask your mum for money so that I can start a garage.” I looked at him through my sunglasses, faintly outraged that he was so crass about what he wanted. Harry had always wanted to own a garage where he could repair people’s cars.
“I can’t do that,” I replied offhand, “and I wouldn’t want to do that. We should both work and save up our own money if you want to start a garage.” I watched as Harry’s jaw clenched around the straw and he drained his fresh cocktail.
“Okay, I’ve had enough of the sun—let’s go and get a drink and relax in our hotel bedroom.”
I had been laying in the sun for long enough, so I was also ready to go inside. I thought that what Harry had said to me was just him taking a chance and didn’t consider it again.
We lazily ordered another round of drinks and made our way down the white passages into our bedroom—a small room with a bed, a table, a bathroom and a television. The moment Harry shut the door behind me, I was overcome with a sense of dread.
“Now that your dad is dead, you can ask your mum for money so that I can start a garage.” He opened up again, in a sturdy and angry voice. He stood tall, both arms over his chest.
“Harry, I just told you I don’t want to do that,” I reiterated, growing more fearful. Harry moved to the door, locked it and pocketed the key.
“I am telling you, you useless bitch, that you will ask your mum.” He looked at me, his cruel eyes filled with hate. Then he pointed his finger at me and marched towards me.
I was cornered. I shook my head and stepped back, but he seemed to grow in size and fury at the sight.
He grabbed my arm and pulled me down onto the bed, raising his hand. “I’ll beat you if you don’t ask her, Christine.”
He had never struck me before, so I pushed my luck. The threatening hand came down onto my head and face with the force of a mallet. The next ones were not slaps but hard follow-up punches in my stomach. He grabbed me by my shoulders. I struggled against him but I couldn’t break free; he was too strong. The pain shot through me, and I was winded. I rolled off the bed and hit the floor, wide eyed and terrified.
“You will ask.” He raised his fist and towered over me. “No, no, no,” I gasped, writhing breathlessly on the floor in pain. He hit me and kicked me—connecting with my stomach, my arms, my chest, my legs and my back. My mouth was wet with the taste of blood, my head was pounding. I was dizzy. He meant to hurt me badly. I curled up into a ball and held my hands over my head as blow after blow stole my breath.
Then he stopped and stormed out of the room. I tried to be brave but was soon overcome by a wave of my emotions and I broke down. Hugging my knees in my chest, I rocked back and forth, shivering in disbelief. It was my first real beating from my husband Harry.
I agreed to marry him because he didn’t hit me and I hoped he would change. My belief in him not hitting me was now shattered. I realized what an enormous mistake I had made by marrying him.
I sat there, humiliated and wretched on the floor for what seemed like hours. I was in pain and felt lower than the lowest insect and had no idea what to do. So, I did what I had done for most of my life and cried myself to sleep. He did not come back that evening.
I woke in agony with dark bruises covering my arms, my legs and much of my body. Later that morning, Harry gingerly walked through the door, puffy eyed and somber. He collapsed on the floor at my feet, begging for my forgiveness.
He begged me not to tell anyone, because he loved me and would never do it again. He’d been drunk.