By Amelia Hearne.
TRIGGER WARNING: THIS MEMOIR CONTAINS REFERENCES TO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE. IF READING THIS AFFECTS YOU IN ANY WAY SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE:
PHONE 1800 RESPECT.
Picturing his face spreads darkness in my soul. It rumbles through me like thunder and shakes me to the core like an aftershock. It is Richter Scale 7. It creates a full solar eclipse. I’m in the kitchen, I forget why. My hands are pressed hard against the bench, drawing in the cold stone top. Its cold mass and weight somehow soothing the anger that is radiating through my fingertips.
I’m staring down at the plant. The plant I keep right next to the sink. I never miss an opportunity to have a staring competition with the plant. I hate that fucking plant. I hate it because it was a gift from him. It arrived full of blooms, from him. That’s what he does. He woos all the mothers with big expensive blooms. That’s his modus operandi. Step one: groom the mother.
I’m a plant lover. My home is an urban jungle. I collect rare plants and I nurture them tenderly. I stare at this, now partially diseased plant in its half painted concrete pot, and I will him to die. Slowly. I’m torturing the plant, but I wish it was him. I’m manifesting his death. Over the months, I have watched the flowers wilt and die. I let the leaves sag and grow crispy brown at the edges and then I water it. Just a little. I’ve kept that plant just barely alive for months on end just to prolong his torture.
I fold washing in the loungeroom. Thanks to open plan housing design I can still see the plant. It consumes me. I glimpse it between flapping washing, and I’m reminded of the last-minute chat I had with my son’s kinder teacher. She was standing near a vase that held a begonia cutting in the community centre foyer. She just wanted to let me know that my kid had been displaying some concerning behaviour. He had been pulling his pants down and showing his penis to other children. He was hiding in corners and under tables playing with himself. ‘Isn’t it normal for little boys to go through a penis fascination phase?’ I ask. Her response: ‘Well … it is, and it isn’t. I just thought you should know.’ I console myself by reminding her that we’d just come out of lockdown, and we hadn’t seen anyone. In the back of my mind a little voice nags, no one but my friend, Sacha, who had visited to introduce us to Tyson, her new fiancé—him.
I was outwardly gushing but inwardly concerned when Sacha announced she was going to marry Tyrone. She’d only recently left her husband, the father of her three children. It was fast, too fast. When they made the long drive from central Victoria to visit us in our new home in Geelong, I welcomed them both, invited them to stay the night. Over the next year or so they’d show up unannounced on their way to fishing in Lorne, sometimes on their own, sometimes with the kids, and occasionally they’d stay over. Once, Halloween 2020, we travelled north and stayed with them.
Was I immediately uncomfortable with Tyson or is my memory blackened now, knowing he’s a paedophile? He’s a short man with a cultivated look of rebel masculinity: balding, long ponytail, scraggly black beard, tattoos, and muscular calves. He wears a ‘uniform’ of logoed cut-off t-shirts and shorts. I try, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think Tyson was a bit creepy.
He insisted the kids call him the Magic Man. He liked to play a trick where he holds a sheet up in front of himself, high up over his head. He holds it up high, so it covers his whole body. He then throws it up in the air and moves away as the sheet falls slowly, and it looks like he’s disappeared. It’s a great trick. Everyone laughs and it fools the little ones, who believe it’s magic. And of course, they think he’s super cool! The Magic Man.
I walk down the hallway to take the folded clothes to their respective rooms and I imagine him standing right here. In this very spot in my hallway. I am frozen. I thought they were both getting ready to go fishing when my littlest appeared in the doorway, and exclaimed, ‘Mummy! Tyson showed me his pet!’ I feel my ears prickle. ‘What pet is this?’ I ask. Tyson tells me that his big toe is his pet. My then three-year-old kid pipes up and sprouts, ‘But you said your …’ Tyrone cuts him off. He tells my kid that his own toes are his pets too. He wiggles his big hairy toes and winks at my son. I burst out, ‘Fuck. That’s a real paedo thing to say.’ I said it with all the uneasy feelings that go with a statement like that. He feigns embarrassment. He feigns naivety and responds, ‘Oh. I didn’t know’. My gut screamed: my ass you didn’t! My brain warned: calm down dear we don’t want to start a fight we can’t win.
Distracted by a noise, I break my gaze from the plant, and I move to check on the children. They’re ok. I move through the house doing mummy things like a zombie. My new status: mombie. I pick up a sock here, toss a toy over there where it won’t be trodden on. A fresh series of flashbacks strike. Twice I saw the creep rubbing my son’s legs. Once he was in my kid’s bedroom. He had his little trousers pushed up to his knees and I overheard him saying, ‘I’ll rub your legs for you mate but you have to ask me. Do you want me to rub your legs?’ My little three-year-old is confused and just keeps saying, OK? Witnessing this sets off something I can’t control. Alarms bells are ringing in my head! I yell at him to get out of my son’s room! I pick up my baby and take him with me. I’m confused. He’s not really hurting him, but this feels so wrong! (Many months later the police tell me that part of the grooming process is getting the kids used to being touched. They often start with the feet and then work their way up to other areas.)
Now, standing in my son’s room with a second load of clothes to put away, I look down at his little bed. I remember changing his nappy to get him ready for bed when he pointed at his penis and declared ‘sore’. I had noticed that just the very tip of his foreskin was bright, bright red. This seemed very unusual to me and as I tried to move it a bit for further examination, he freaked out. I asked him how it got so red and sore, and he said, ‘Pinger’. I said, ‘don’t put your finger in there Honey, you might get an infection.’ And he replied, ‘not my Pinger.’ I was very confused and thought, oh, he’s just making up stuff, or that he doesn’t really understand what he’s saying. So, I put his nappy on, and I tucked him into bed. The next morning, I took him to the doctor. She also thought it was strange, but that it should heal and recommended a cream to ease the pain.
There is another image that continues to haunt me. Almost every time I look at his little bed, I can still see his tiny little face buried in his hands. I was trying to put him down and he was refusing to go to sleep. I thought he was just pushing boundaries. I went into tough mummy mode and firmly told him, ‘No, no. Bedtime is bedtime. It’s time for sleep now.’ He put his little face in his hands and he just, sobbed. Big body raking sobs. And he said, ‘Oh, but I just want you Mummy. Please, Mummy, I just want you.’ Even though it was breaking my heart, I thought if I give in to him now, then I will be giving into him for forever more and I will never get this kid into a proper sleep pattern. So, I sucked it up and I said ‘No, no. Sleep time now. There’s a good boy. I love you.’ And I walked away.
There was never enough information for me to start shouting from the rooftops about my growing concerns. I doubted myself, and I will always regret that. When I tried to talk to Sacha about it, she laughed at me and made me feel ridiculous, so I let it go. I didn’t want to destroy her world without solid proof that something was up. I kept my thoughts to myself and chalked up a list of all the things I was uncertain about.
The year we spent Halloween at Sacha and his place, I woke up in the middle of the night to him opening the door to the lounge room where my husband and I were sleeping and I heard him say gruffly, ‘There you go, kid, your mum’s in there.’ My little boy came in sobbing his heart out. He was crying like something had broken inside him. His inconsolable crying reminded me again of that night when I had tried to be tough and tell him that bedtime was bedtime. And I thought, God, this is the same. This is the same cry, this is the same, and every hair on my entire body was standing on end, and I just felt that something was wrong, really wrong. OH MY GOD! I was on the brink of panic. I tried not to convey that to my kid, I cuddled him and repeated, ‘It’s OK baby, it’s OK. I’m right here and you’re OK. Can you tell mummy why you’re so sad? He kept shaking his head and sobbing, ‘I just want you Mummy, I just want you.’
One warm November afternoon, a few weeks later, I was watching TV when my son sat down abruptly beside me. He’d been playing in his room, fully dressed. He came into the lounge room naked, sat on the sofa next to me and he said, ‘Watch this, Mummy. You go like this see …’ With both of his hands he used his fingers to grab hold of the end of his foreskin and squished it. ‘You can pop it like this, and it makes a hole. See?’ Then he put his finger inside his foreskin and appeared to twirl it around his penis. Inside his foreskin. He then instructed me, ‘You can give it a tickle. Just like that, Mummy.’ I felt shocked, particularly by his matter-of-fact delivery. He got up and walked away, leaving me with my jaw on the floor. I have two younger brothers. I babysat kids a lot when I was a teenager. I had never seen a kid do anything like that. I asked my husband if he had ever done anything like that as a boy and he just said, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ I went to work the next day and I shared my concerns with my boss. He agreed it was weird, and said, ‘That’s a big call to make though. Big call.’ My husband had the same sentiment.
I spoke to Mikayla, a friend who used to be a police officer. She completely understood my concern but said that I probably didn’t have enough to go on. ‘You can report it, but it probably won’t go anywhere,’ was her response.
I began to play detective. Everywhere I looked I found more questionable material about this creep. My list of uncertainties grew. I began to find answers to questions that I didn’t want to believe. The anxiety it produced kept circling around in my head. I was in the shower one morning and I thought, I just can’t take this anymore. I must be certain, and the only way I’m going to know is to ask my son straight out. So, I did. ‘Has the Magic Man ever touched your doodle?’ He answered, without hesitating, ‘Yes Mummy, yes, he did.’ My gut screamed at me, ‘You fucking Idiot! I’ve been telling you all along!’
Feeling the colour draining from my face, I turned so he couldn’t see. I’d never felt so sick and so repulsed in my entire life. I kept it together somehow and I turned back to my baby. Faking composure, I spoke as calmly and as gently as I could, ‘Can you tell Mummy about that? When did that happen?’ He replied, ‘I was at Jack’s house. And I was asleepin, and he camed in, and he tookted off my blanket, and he tookted off my dooner, and then he tookted off my nappy. And he got my doodle like this mummy,’ — and he showed me how the creep grabbed the tip of his foreskin — and continued, ‘He moved it up and down like this Mummy. Up and down, up and down until it went hard. And then he disappeared!’
After my brave little boy told me what the freak had done I picked up the phone and dialled triple zero. I asked for the police and said I wanted to report a predator. I had to wait while they went through the different channels to find the right special somebody to for me speak to. He asked me a lot of questions on the phone while I had two little kids circling around my feet and I didn’t want them to hear my answers. I didn’t want my eldest son to be exposed to this at all. I went out the front door and tried to continue my report to the police, and the kids followed. They were riding around the driveway on their scooters, but they were still listening in. While I was on the phone, the police officer asked me if my other son had been hurt. I said I didn’t think so, but to be sure the police officer made me ask him. He replied, ‘No Mum.’ His answer was a relief. It was clear my little son had been listening. When I was reiterating to the police this creep had touched his doodle, my youngest piped up, ‘He made me touch his too, Mummy. He called it his pet.’ So, right here was more confirmation from the mouth of a babe over the phone. But this was considered still not enough evidence?
The following 18 months were a nightmare. I lived in a shell of guilt and grief, repulsion, and anger. I couldn’t see past it. I put on a brave face and pretended everything was fine so that my children weren’t upset any further. I took my youngest son to counselling. I spent hours every night getting him to sleep. I read him stories and stroked his hair. I tried not to be repulsed when he demanded that I rub his legs. When he announced that the creature from the black lagoon was awesome, I assured him that I’m way cooler. Without vomiting.
During this time my marriage ended and my friendship with Sacha was soon over. My eldest son began to feel neglected and couldn’t understand why. All he knew was that his little brother was getting all the attention and he wasn’t allowed to talk to the people he loved anymore. I felt powerless to fix any of it.
Every night, after getting the kids to sleep I’d sit on the sofa in front of the TV, not really watching. I was filled with anxiety and unable to sleep. My world was crashing down around me, and I didn’t know how to cope. All I had was that fucking plant. The plant that had now become so dried out that even all the microbes within the soil were dead. Just as I wished he was.
Finally, the call came through from the investigating police officer who told me there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. I’d given them a four-hour statement. My son had given a video recorded interview. Just turned four-year-olds don’t yet know how to lie. When the police asked my son if there was anything about him that made my son sad, his face dropped in anguish. He looked at the floor. In a tiny voice, he said, ‘When he touched my doodle.’ The police said it was a miracle that he talked at all. They praised him for being a very brave boy. The downside though, was that my son had repeated the very same words he had heard me say. The court could deem my son’s statement as coerced. The poor kid didn’t have any other words. He only had the vocabulary of a toddler. Even straight after it happened all he could say through fits and sobs was, ‘I just want you Mummy. I just want you!’
My little son still wakes up at night screaming. I lay awake trying not to be gloomy about our future. I have read about the long-term effects of child sexual abuse. I’m terrified not just for my son, but for all the other innocent children he will violate.
I look at the plant. I hope he’s dead.
Note: This work depicts actual events in the life of the author as truthfully as recollection permits. While all persons within are actual individuals, names have been changed to protect their privacy.
About the author:
Amelia is a wild-haired hurricane that storms through life with fierce determination and pride, a big heart and a wicked sense of humour. She views writing as a tool for empowerment. She is attempting a career change and taking solace in studying Cyber Security.