I remember one afternoon at school, where my grandmother was pushed over the edge, and tore me brutally to pieces. Absolutely to pieces. It wasn’t uncommon for her to make quiet sarcastic comments to me in her office, or quietly make me feel like shit…but loud explosions were very rare. I suppose she knew it was too dangerous for her.
But this was the loudest explosion yet. And the corridor her office was in only had thin plasterboard walls. I often could hear the conversations going off in the offices around us. Privacy simply could not happen.
Anyway. I had been on a school trip to a conservatoire with the music department. I fell in love with the place, and it was the first time I’d heard a symphony orchestra. I was mesmerised by the sound, and by the reciprocal relationship between the players and the conductor; the talent it must have taken for them to respond to each other within a fraction of a second…
But at some point I think the crowd got too much, and it was hot, and I had a panic attack. I rushed outside, but a member of staff followed to make sure I was okay. I begged her not to tell my grandmother, but couldn’t explain to her why. I wasn’t yet at the point where my music teachers knew anything. I just begged over and over. She looked concerned and uncomfortable. I was 15. She needed to tell someone. She explained to me that she wouldn’t tell my grandmother, but she would quietly notify the child protection officer, just so that it went on my record that I suffer from panic attacks. This seemed okay by me.
A couple of days later, my grandmother called me to her office. I had no idea what for. I had received a note in my lesson saying that I was needed in her office, immediately. I felt sick. She never pulled me out of lessons. I was in big trouble, I knew…but just had no idea what for. My mind raced as I walked to her office. My whole body felt cold and my instincts were telling me to run. What had I done? I had washed the kitchen…I had done my work…I had made dinner…I had kept my head low the night before…had she seen me earlier? Had I done something unknowningly wrong? I noticed my tie was loose. Shit. Maybe that was it. Panicked, I tightened my tie so much I was sure I’d stop breathing. But I didn’t care.
I knocked on her office door and waited for her to call me in. It’s hard now to believe that this was the formality between a granddaughter and grandmother, who lived together anyway. When I went in she was sitting on her chair. Even though I was standing, and next to the exit, I was terrified. Frozen solid. Her expression was crazed…fuming.
“I’ve just been informed you had a panic attack the other day.” Her tone was dangerous, cold. My heart lurched. I knew the music teacher had informed the CPO. Had the CPO informed my grandmother?
“I…it was crowded…” I stuttered, very sure I was about to faint. I wanted to undo my tie. All I could feel was this tight sensation around my neck.
“They wanted to know if everything was okay at home…” she said, in a sickly sarcastic child-ish tone. Oh fuck. Worst question in the world. And why ask my grandmother? Why? Like she’d ever give an honest answer. She was still staring at me, still dangerous in tone. “I told them that you’re a hypochondriac. I told them you’re an attention seeker and I’m at my wit’s end. I just don’t know what to do with you anymore. I’ve given up everything for you and you continue to throw it in my face. I ended up crying, do you know that? She was very supportive, understood how hard it must be for me. I’ve rang your grandfather. He’s extremely angry. And your father is coming over tonight as well, so that we can deal with this.”
I felt my heart sink, and I closed my eyes to stop my own tears. I wish I’d never had the panic attack. Now I’d been given the label of an attention-seeker, and she had won the label of heartbroken and struggling grandmother. I was…screwed. Tonight I would be brutally punished, and nobody would ever believe me now.
Unless, I managed to get people to see how hideous she really was. I could hear mumbling in the offices around us.
I took a deep breath, and looked her in the eye. “You’re a liar. And I hate you.” I was terrified, but tried to show conviction in what I was saying. I meant it. I saw her jaw tense. I carried on “one day, everyone will know you for what you are, and I won’t be scared of you. I will tell everyone about you. You’re a monster.”
Suddenly she was on her feet, her face inches away from mine. Instinctively, I shrank, so I was pressed against the wall. I protectively wrapped my arms around myself. Her tone was no longer quiet. She was screaming. I hadn’t expected such an explosion. I hadn’t expected screaming. Shouting, maybe, but not screaming.
“YOU UNGRATEFUL SON OF A BITCH. YOU ARE THE FUCKING WORST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO ME. I JUST WANT TO RAM YOUR FUCKING HEAD INTO THAT WALL, SEE IF THAT GIVES YOU A PANIC ATTACK YOU WORTHLESS SHIT.” Then she hit me, hard. I yelped. The wall shook. The offices had gone silent. She carried on screaming, spit spraying my face. “I WISH YOU WERE DEAD. WHY WERE YOU EVER BORN? WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO SO WRONG TO GET LUMPED WITH YOU? STOP CRYING!! STOP!!!! I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY FOR, YOU TWAT. YOU UTTER PATHETIC TWAT!!” Smack smack smack.
Suddenly I’m on the floor, my hands protectively over my face, and I’m screaming too. I don’t know why I’m screaming. I wasn’t even aware it was me – I heard screaming, frantically looked around because I could tell they were scared…and then I realised it was me. I was screaming. I was begging – “stop grandma stop please! I’m sorry I’m sorry! Please stop!!” I was sobbing, terrified and hurt. I wanted her to stop. I hadn’t meant to hurt her. Oh shit please god make her stop.
“You’re disgusting” she hissed at me, and slapped me around the back of my head. “get out. I’ll see you tonight.”
I didn’t need asking twice. I scrambled to my feet, shaking and crying, and ran out of the office, slamming the door behind me. The other offices had their doors open. I stood in the centre of the corridor, red-faced with shame, and just hugged myself, crying hard. I could feel them staring at me. I looked up. Staff in the rooms were just staring at me. Do something…I pleaded silently. Please.
Nothing. Maybe they were too shocked or maybe they felt it was none of their business, or maybe they really did believe I was being an attention seeker. I desperately wanted their help. My face was bruising from the slaps. They must have felt the wall shake, and they definitely will have heard the row. I could tell that much from their faces.
I stayed still for a few moments, stuffing my hand into my mouth to cover up the sounds of my sobs, and I slumped against a wall. Crying…so so much. Just sobbing. I wanted a hug. I wanted one of the staff to come over and give me a tissue. I wanted them to go back to the CPO and say what they’d seen. How was it a panic attack had to be reported, and this wasn’t? How was it this could be ignored?
When I was calmed, I left. I went back to lesson. My friends gasped when they saw my face. And one of my friends, who I later learnt had guessed all along I was being abused but had no idea what to do, whispered to me when I sat down “what the fuck has that bitch done to you?” I looked at him, stunned, and shook my head. “I made her angry…” I whispered back.
He sighed, looking unconvinced and concerned. He searched through his bag and handed me some tissues and a bottle of cool water. “Hold that to your cheek, take the swelling down.”
I gratefully took the bottle, and spent the remainder of the lesson crying silently at the back of the room. The staff member glanced at me, but said nothing.
When I went home, I was punished brutally. I still can’t remember some of that night. I remember I couldn’t move the morning after.
The episode was never mentioned again. The staff on the corridor blushed whenever they saw me, as did I…but after a few months it was back to normal. I guess nothing else had happened, in their eyes, so it had just been a one-off. What was worse that a lot of the staff had, I think, been informed that I was a hypochondriac and attention seeker and that my grandmother was struggling. I was shamed into further silence, and even less sure as to who I could trust. My music teachers would later grow to be my closest allies, the first panic attack and my absolute fear of my grandmother never leaving their memory, and they were therefore unsurprised when the truth started coming out later. But the damage was already done. The CPO never believed me, and continued to favour my grandmother’s word over my own. The music teachers tried and tried from when I was 17 until when I left school, but nothing was done. Instead, they became make-shift therapists, catching me at least twice a week when I broke down, and gradually my brother grew to trust them too…and eventually my sister. Even when my music teacher went to the CPO with serious concerns for emotional abuse and reported that the three of us had individually reported the same thing, nothing happened.
My grandmother had won that battle. I still don’t know why the staff in the corridor chose to turn a blind eye. I’m just so incredibly grateful my music teachers kept trying, despite the stress I know it caused them. Without them, I don’t think I’d have made it to uni…I’d still be trapped by my cruel grandparents. They truly laid down the foundations…because at least I knew they believed me.
I got back in touch with my friend a few weeks ago, not the one who’d offered me tissues and a bottle, but another friend who’d seen it as abuse and even tried persuading me to get help when I was still at school. I’d always been too scared. But he’d always been there, especially in my final couple of years. He would come in and talk to the music staff too, reporting what he’d seen and heard, and together they picked me up. I asked him if I could talk, and he was very happy to…despite over a year of no-contact. At one point we’d been as close as a brother and sister would be. We were totally inseparable. And despite no contact, he hadn’t turned his back and hadn’t forgotten the state I had been in at times. I said to him, the other week “I know now it was abuse.” and he said “It was.”
We talked for a bit, and I explained it had been more than emotional…that it had been sexual as well. I couldn’t go into any more detail than this, but he was amazing. He seemed sad but somehow not completely shocked. Wanted to know how I was, how recovery was going, if there was anything he could do. He kept saying how strong I was…that he’d seen it for years, even when I’d totally broke down. He told me not to forget that. Not to forget how strong I was, how strong all three of us (bro and sis as well) had been. He could remember my sister turning up to one of my lesson’s in tears and needing a hug. My music teacher had let her in. Once she also let me and my brother sit in the back of a class so that we could help each other. My friend had watched the three of us, and had been there when the absolute explosion causing us to leave our grandparents had happened. He’d had to watch me crash and fall to pieces following this, whilst juggling seven a levels. In hindsight, how he coped astonishes me. I remember once just bursting into tears and he froze, but grabbed another friend and together they reassured me it would be okay. “You’ll be at uni soon…keep thinking of that.” He reminded me of these memories, simply by me talking to him. He re-iterated again how strong I had been, and that all of the shit will make the three of us much better and stronger people in the long run. His words meant so much…because I realised he’d seen me truly in the heat of it all, and somehow had carried me so that I could get to uni.
Him and the music teachers managed to keep me sane enough that university happened; I escaped (kinda) and could get proper help. Without them I dread to think where I’d be now. The foundations they lay down were invaluable, and were the reason I felt safe enough to ask for help once at uni. I explained this to him the other week, and he seemed quite touched and amazed at how much he’d managed to do…and as is him, very humble.
But still…those staff who heard that episode of abuse, who saw my face afterwards. I met their eyes in the moments I stood in the corridor. I knew my eyes were full of pain and fear. Begging for help.
I know they’ll have had their reasons, but I can’t help feeling betrayed by them. They heard me. They saw me. They didn’t help me. But, despite the label I’d been given, a handful of people didn’t give up on me…and years later proved to be heroes. Despite the label, they were open minded enough to make the decision for themselves. For that, I am and always will be extremely grateful.