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Listen to this

Someone’s to blame for a life like this

Gerry Fewster

The older I get, the more I’m able to 'fess up to all those nasty, mean-minded bits of my personality – the kind of stuff that should never pass through the empathic lips of any self-respecting people-worker. So, after years of listening to the cries of the abused, oppressed, maligned, and downtrodden and watching their desperate struggle for justice and compensation, it’s finally my time.

You see, for years, I’ve harboured this secret urge to let the world know about my pain, and then sue somebody for personal damages. It’s not that I want revenge. I only want people to acknowledge my suffering, condemn the guilty, and OK, a few extra bucks in the old retirement fund wouldn’t hurt.

But getting a sympathetic ear isn’t that easy for the likes of me. As a white Caucasian male, more or less straight, relatively successful, superficially healthy, a Senator of the Patriarchy, and a squanderer of precious resources, my chances seem slim – at least at first blush. But all my years of professional experience have left me with an attuned snout for sniffing out the nasties, identifying the victims, and assessing how these things interfere with our god-given right to health, wealth, and happiness.

So when Hank, my alcoholic/psychopathic legal adviser, assured me that I could go back as far as I like, even to a time before my own conception, and sue anybody, living or dead ("Family estates transcend the tomb," he said), I decided we should at least explore the possibilities.

First, I fingered the butcher of a physician who dragged me into this world with forceps because he wasn’t willing to delay his dinner while I made up my mind. His barbarism left a red mark (thankfully above my hairline) that exists to this day. This physical scar is bad enough, but the psychological damage caused by being yanked from the warmth of “womb service" and held upside down while having my ass slapped by hands that should have been warm and welcoming was abuse to die for.

And if that wasn’t enough, I was whisked away from Mamma, my only link between life and death, and left to scream my terror to a deaf and indifferent old matron with broken teeth and a black eyepatch. Speaking as a psychologist, I can assure you that the pain, abandonment, and sheer terror I experienced continues to hold me back from true happiness and fulfillment. If you don’t believe me, just ask my long-suffering wife.

Hank agreed with me wholeheartedly but counseled that a court would probably rule that the doctor was complying with the accepted medical practices of the day. A class action suit against the medical authorities was out of the question, since almost everyone born in England in 1940 could probably make the same complaint. I needed something more individualistic – something to set me apart from the mainstream.

Hank also agreed that spending so much of my infancy in an air raid shelter, huddled between two terrified women, was pretty abusive. He was compelled to pour himself another Glenfiddich as I described the blasts of bombs bursting, the crackle of neighbours' houses burning, the screams of Mrs. Claxton who had played peek-a-boo with me that very morning, the pitiful whimpering of women searching for their kids in the rubble, and the stench of death that infested my infant nostrils.

There and then it was determined that, for me, the world would always be a fearful and hostile place. But, though all of this abuse was actually inflicted by people, neither Hank nor I could actually identify the villain or come up with a legal entity to absorb the blame. “War is war," Hank explained. “Even if we could sue Hitler’s family, they’d only turn around and sue Churchill's. Anyway, you’d have to wait in a long line to get at the few remaining war criminals."

So what about the attendant at the Art Gallery – the guy who grabbed me one Saturday morning, pushed me into a grimy broom closet, and did things that totally fragmented my emerging sexuality? Hank’s eyes lit up. “How many times did this happen?" he asked. “Only once, “I replied. “I sure as hell didn’t keep going back just to build up a case." He reached for another dram. “It really should be systematic and persistent," he mumbled. I was losing my patience with Hank.

So what about all those British school teachers who persistently lacerated my flesh with their canes, rulers, and slippers, restraining themselves only when the blood began to seep through the welts? No, there was no sexual abuse as such, but these reptiles conspired to systematically force a young boy to cut himself off from his own feelings in order to match some cocked-up notion of what a man should be. They set us kids against each other and called it healthy competition. To this day I struggle with the belief that my very survival depends upon my ability to beat my brothers to the goal line. Then, pouring cruelty over torture, they collaborated with a whole damned society to ensure that I would never make it anyway because of my accent, my father’s occupation, and my untutored habits.

Hank looked heavenward. “Wasn’t there any abuse in your family, preferably sexual?" he asked. Well, of course there was. My mother wanted me to be a girl and treated me accordingly. For the most part my father stayed out of the way, while my elder brother bestowed upon me all of the disdain appropriate for a sibling who would rather play “house" than “chicken."

Nobody actually touched me in a sexual way but hey, this was a much more subtle and profound form of sexual abuse. By this time, Hank had obviously lost interest. “Nothing to go on here?" I asked. He shook his head. “Then I am truly a victim of mass discrimination," I announced. He nodded and downed another slug. “Who the hell said it was going to be easy?" he slurred. “Life has always been abusive."

He was right. Why would I want to sink back into all that stuff anyway? “Thanks for listening," I said as he closed his eyes and flopped forward across the table. I picked up the empty bottle and prepared to leave. “I'll listen to your story tomorrow," I whispered, to nobody in particular.

This feature: Fewster, G. (2001) Someone's to blame for a life like this, Journal of Child and Youth Care. Vol.15 no.4 pp.1-4


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