The Story of My Childhood and My Saviour Caveman
by Erin Fado
In 2012 Australia announced a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It was hearing the victims’ testimonies that triggered my own PTSD and I had a full breakdown and spent some months in hospital, where I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD and Dissociated Identity Disorder (DID) as a result of my own childhood abuse. It has taken some time for the extent of the abuse to become apparent. I have had five years of psychotherapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) and am making slow but good progress. I have had repeated self-harm and suicide attempts, but through fantastic professional and family support I have pulled through. My future looks good, and my blog is a way of giving back to those that have helped me.
From the age of four to eighteen I was abused as part of a paedophile ring organised by my parents.
I was kept in a room of a hotel they owed. It was usually kept locked, but when the room was unlocked and other village children were at school I was free to explore the village and its surrounds.
I would eventually find myself at one place that gave me great comfort, the beach.
It was a spectacular beach. The low tide revealed hidden caves along the eastern edge against the harbour wall that divided the ocean from the quiet, picturesque harbour; home to the fishermen working boats on one side and the more luxurious cruisers and yachts sheltered from the wild storms of the Atlantic by the high man-made walls on the other side. Ancient walls constructed in the 1840’s during the Irish famine, under the direction of the English, providing some work to the starving and impoverished community.
Before reaching the beach I would often watch the fisherman returning to the harbour from their night fishing, bringing with them pungent smells of freshly caught sole and plaice.
The men enveloped in their yellow plastic overalls over woollen jumpers, white handknitted intricate cabled designs impregnated with oil to make them water- and wind-proof, protecting them from the icy winter winds coming across the Irish Sea from Wales. Each family had their own unique cable.
On the wet, slippery decks were stacks of blue boxes, glistening with their fresh haul. Some fish still moving, barely alive, but slithering and sliding over their fellow travellers, gasping their last breath.
Locals would congregate at the quay to have their first pick of the catch, before the bulk was taken to market at the local towns. I sat in my hidden grassy knoll above the harbour enjoying the friendly chat that drifted up on the freshening sea breeze.
I spent many hours exploring the beach and the caves at low tide. One cave in particular became my favourite refuge. I always greeted the beach with delight at low tide because it gave me access to my private, secret world of peace and safety where I hid until the tide began rising again.
My cave had a soft sandy floor covered by velvety strands of dulse seaweed and carrageen (Irish moss), and a high ceiling with rugged, barnacled walls with shelf-like indentations where I could place a stolen sandwich or bottle of Vodka.
One day I entered my cave and found it occupied by a small stranger, poorly clad in a large oversized fisherman’s duffle coat with missing buttons and stains down the front.
I don’t know why, but I did not run. I sat down and stared in wonder at this man who seemed also to be finding solace in the hidden cave. Strangely, I did not feel any threat from him.
In his left hand was a cigarette that came from a yellow box embossed with a picture of a fishing captain with a hat on. (I later discovered the brand was Sweet Afton.) It was the same brand Mrs Crane smoked. He offered me one. I politely refused but marvelled at being offered something. Here was a man who offered to give instead of just taking.
In his right, soil encrusted hand, was a bottle of whiskey. He drank with remarkable delicacy. This was no ordinary man. Here was a man to be observed at a distance and pondered.
He was dirty and unshaven with an uneven beard which had not seen a razor in years, never mind soap and water. He carried a pungent odour of stale cigarettes, alcohol, stagnant body fluid, dirty clothing and oily hair. Quite a concoction for my ten year old’s olfactory senses in the confined space of the cave. I automatically picked up some seaweed and held it to my face to counter his smell.
He had bushy grey brows, like mantels over his piercing grey eyes. They were slate silver grey and sparkled with life, twinkling with the surety of someone at peace with themselves. They made me feel immediately safe and in no way threatened by him.
He never spoke. Not once, in all the years I encountered him in the cave, did he speak. He never attempted to harm me in any way and only ever offered me small treasures to consume. I always refused, until once when he offered me a bar of chocolate that I accepted and eagerly ate. From then on whenever we encountered each other he gave me the exact same bar of chocolate. So a man of sensibilities who actually noticed and cared about what I liked. This was a revelation to me.
He obviously saw my stash of vodka because sometimes I would come and a new unopened bottle would be carefully placed alongside the empty bottle with a piece of paper with words and a picture drawn on it. I could not always read the words but took great delight in the beautifully coloured pictures of little girls in various situations – magical woods, sunny beaches under crystal blue skies.
There were no grey skies in my special mystery man’s drawings. The girls in the pictures went on adventures on horses with dogs and cats, seemed fearless in the face of danger. They were always the heroines who fought off the monsters he illustrated. There was always a younger child that the older child was protecting on their trips, travels and adventures in the wide world outside Ballyculchie.
A wondrous world he had conceived and designed that gave me another universe to go to in my imagination, away from reality. Oh it was rich, luscious and exciting, and I so looked forward to each instalment.
He never disappointed me. If he was not there, drawings would be left under a bottle, sometimes with a bar of chocolate. The pictures told a story, and each one added to the tale of fiction woven by this unusual lonesome soul.
I collected them all and placed them on the highest “shelf” underneath a bottle I had filled with sand to weight them down and protect them from the returning tide. I never took the pictures back to the room with me. She would find them and surely take them from me.
One day, when I was about fourteen, I went at low tide to the cave and he was not there, only the crumpled pile of his wet coat, sodden packet of cigarettes and spilt bottle of whiskey. I waited as long as I could for him to return but the tide was coming in so I was forced to leave.
I never saw him again and never discovered his whereabouts. I knew as little about the man at fourteen as I did when I first met him at ten. My very own mystery man who did not harm me but gave me only kindness.
I missed him so much.
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