I travel alone to Scotland in 1986 where I attend my cousin’s wedding, which is a gathering of my Scottish relatives, most of whom are overweight and drunk in the cheap church hall where Mary-Cate holds her reception. I am surrounded by the small children belonging to my cousins who are quite taken with their big, Canadian second-cousin. Despite the fact that I am included in the celebration, I continue to feel like an outsider. I don’t belong anywhere or to anyone.
My molester, Cousin Morag, is Mary-Cate’s older sister. Morag is the middle of three girls like me. She is just newly married herself, and she invites me to visit her and her new groom in London, England. I don’t want to go, but I still cannot assert myself to decline an invitation when I really want to say ‘no’. I feel terribly conflicted when I journey by train from Scotland to London, England. I nearly disembark many times and toy with the idea of going somewhere else without telling anyone where I am headed, but I don’t possess the confidence to disappear at age nineteen.
Morag meets me in Trafalgar Square after she finishes work, and we go for a drink in a nearby pub. An American businessman buys me a drink and asks me to go with him to Paris for the weekend. I have never been to Paris. He is in his thirties, of medium build with dark hair and glasses. I enjoy his attention and actually consider going with him until my cousin pulls me out of the bar. “Men will always ask tae take a beautiful girl like you tae Paris. Don’t sell yourself short. You don’t need tae gae with a man like that at this bloody age. He’s married. Did you no see his ring?”
“I wasn’t going to go,” I tell her.
She buys a bottle of red wine to take with us back to the flat that she shares with her new husband, and a curry carry-out for the three of us. Her flat is in a huge, rather run-down tenement well outside the center of London. Once inside, Morag slides several bolts across her door to lock us in.
“Lots of robberies roon here,” she explains.
Her husband is a tall, gangly Cockney lad with a warm smile and welcoming demeanor. We chat while we eat and then they retire to their bedroom while I stay on the pullout sofa in the front room. The next morning I hear Morag’s man go to work but don’t stir. As I make up my bed later in the morning, Morag comes out of her bedroom clad only in a small, silk robe that is not cinched properly at her waist. Her small, skinny breasts are exposed as she fannies into the sitting-room where I am and I feel repulsed at the sight of her.
I remember very clearly what happened when Morag accompanied my grandparents for a holiday in Canada when I was very young and she was already a teen. For the duration of her stay, she molested me. I was placed in my mother’s bed with my teenage cousin. Cissy slept in my bed in the room I shared with Lil at that time. Cissy didn’t want to share a room with me or a bed with Morag, and whatever Cissy demanded she was given as the first-born. I was sacrificed again. Morag would touch me and move my hands on her so that I would touch her. I didn’t want to touch her and I didn’t want her touching me but I said nothing. Morag molested me each night we were in the double bed together in my parents’ bedroom, while the rest of the house slept. I remembered that I had abandoned my molester in the middle of Clearwater Lake. Now, as she walks me to London’s Victoria station before she goes on to work, she asks me what I remember of her holiday in Canada.
“Nothing. I was so young. I don’t remember anything about it,” I say.
“Nothing,” I lie a second time.
She looks relieved.
“I learned to swim when I came back tae Scotland frae Canada because you abandoned me in the lake that day. I took lessons at the public baths and learned tae swim. Do you remember dain’ that?”
I shrug and shake my head ‘no’.
My mother’s eldest brother invited me to come and stay with his family in Liverpool, England. That is where I am headed from Victoria Station. I board a train for Beatles country. My uncle’s son comes home from Birmingham, where he is working in a computer company. My male cousin takes me out with his mates for a few drinks in Liverpool. We go to the Cavern Club where the Beatles got their beginning. I enjoy listening to their Liverpudlian accents. Each of them has a fantastic sense of humour. They are always slagging off one another and I find it tremendously entertaining. I also feel protected by my male cousin who is twenty-five. He behaves toward me like an overprotective big brother around his friends who playfully flirt with me.
When we come back to my aunt’s and uncle’s house, everyone else is asleep. My cousin invites me to sit with him in the front room where he is sleeping. I am staying in his old room. He sits close to me on the sofa and eventually he leans in to kiss me on the mouth. I am disappointed that he cannot be in my company without desiring me sexually, but when he advances on me I don’t feel I have the right to say ‘no’. I feel that my sexuality is my only worth. I have a stolen voice. All survivors of sexual abuse possess a stolen voice, but I am not aware of that then. I only know that I feel ashamed of myself. I don’t recognize this girl who I have become. I need to find a way to reclaim my voice and with it myself, but I din’t know that then and I certainly don’t know how. I am in ruins and my destruction is as vast as the sea.
I return to Scotland and with the rest of the Craeron clan visit my mother’s youngest sister, Auntie Jeannie, who is no longer a nurse but rather a nun in the Poor Saint Clare monastery located in Bothwell, Glasgow. I wear a pale green mohair sweater my mom has knitted for me that is open in the back. I wwear white shorts that rest just above my knees, white sandals and earrings that don’t match as a style choice of my own invention. One earring is a white dangler, and the other is a white button earring. My nun-auntie hugs me to her bosom and says in front of God and everyone that I am more than just sex.
“Sex isn’t love,” she whispers in my ear.
I cannot meet her gaze. She thinks me to be a slut.
My Liverpudlian cousin calls me from Majorca, Spain where he is holidaying with his mates. He asks me to come to Majorca, and I decide to go. I’ve never been to Spain and there is no sun of which to speak shining in rainy Scotland. My granny is also driving me mad. I get my own hotel room away from my cousin’s 18-30 party resort.
I spend my days alone on the beach but later meet up with my cousin and his mates at night to go dancing. While I am in night clubs with my cousin and his pals, I witness several tall, virile Spanish men carrying young, unconscious female tourists from these Majorcan bars. The Spaniards take the comatose females to the beaches where they rape them, and leave them lifeless on the beaches. In British morning papers, I read about many such events occurring in Majorca while I stay there for those two weeks. The rape victims go to the Majorcan police, and report that they have no memory of anything after taking a drink from the bartenders at various nightclubs in the district. They blacked out in the bars and woke on the beaches, naked. It is only then that I wonder if I was slipped something by Uva three years before. It never occurred to me that I may have been drugged by Uva when I was raped by him. Three years later, I begin to consider the possibility that I’d been drugged the night I was raped.
My cousin tells me that he doesn’t care that we are cousins, he wants us to be together. I tell him that I do care, and say that I don’t want to be with him like that. I am hungry for family not sex.
When it is time to return to Canada after that summer trip, the airline asks me on three consecutive days if I wouldn’t mind being bumped by other passengers desperate to get back to Canada, thus prolonging my stay in Britain. Each time I am asked to surrender my seat, I readily agree to do so and remain in Scotland to avoid the reality of school and home. I spend those final days packing the grandmother clock that Granny Craeron wants me to bring to Canada for my mom.
In my sustained absence, my mother shouts at me over a trans-Atlantic phone call and demands that I get back in time for the start of school. She was afraid I would never come home, she later tells me. But I do go home. I return to London, Ontario almost two weeks late for fall quarter feeling more lost than I did before I went to Scotland. My absence was not even noted on that galactic campus. I am just a number at the University of Western Ontario, and I cloak myself in anonymity during my time there. Life there is a dense fog, and I plod through the motions of school and life.
I quit my job at McDonald’s because every time a young, tall, dark and handsome customer flirts with me over the counter, I imagine it is Uva. I still have no clear picture of what he looks like. He is but a shadow grabbing me, throwing me down, and moving on top of me. I lock myself in the walk-in freezer at work and hide behind the McDonald’s birthday cakes used for children’s parties. I tell my mother that I quit McDonalds because I want to focus on school. If I can keep an eighty percentile average, my scholarship will be renewed each year. I do work to accomplish that but in truth I quit McDonald’s because I am withdrawing further and further from the world as I seek refuge in an isolation that is anything but peaceful. I am raging inside, predominantly at myself. I am steeped in a black abyss of depression though I have no idea what depression is. I just think life feels like this: wretched.
At Western University, I am stuck in an undergrad program of honors English, History, Politics and Journalism. I know what I want to study but I don’t know how to get into those courses. My parents have no idea what I want to study, though I have told them a hundred times I want to study journalism, and they have even less idea how to navigate the system to get into a writing program at Western. A guidance counselor on campus informs me that I need to complete a four year double Honours degree in English and History before I can apply to the Master’s Program in Journalism. I never know why but only indigenous students are permitted to take several undergraduate journalism courses at Western; non-indigenous students have to go a different route, and it is drudgery.
I can never get the marks for which I am working. I rarely saw a mark below ninety in my final years of high school. Now I am hanging in there at the high sixties and low seventies. I even fail a course, accused of plagiarism, of which I am innocent but my appeal goes unheard. When I reach out for help on campus, an academic counselor advises me to just keep plugging away. I am deeply frustrated.
“I work every hour God sends now,” I tell her with tears in my eyes. “These results don’t reflect my efforts or ability.”
I want to quit university. I want to kill myself every day I am there. I want to end my pain. I can end all of the hurt of my family home, all of the screaming, shouting and hitting, the shame of my sexual assault, and the pain of my broken heart if I just stop breathing. I would welcome the sweet release of death. It is my belief in a compassionate God who created me and cares for me that keeps me alive then. My faith keeps me holding on day by day.
I come to university each day in ripped jeans and without makeup. The girls with whom I had gone to high school are more pulled together. Fannie Lurh is always in a cute outfit, usually a preppy Lacoste shirt with a sweater tied around her shoulders, and matching plastic bangles jangling on her wrist. Her dyed blonde hair is always blown-out straight, her bangs brushing her eyelashes, and her make-up always tastefully applied. When I sit with these former CCH friends in the University Community Center (UCC) as our first year of university begins that fall of 1984, my high school peers regularly comment on the hair, outfits and shoes of unsuspecting passersby.
“It must be nice to be fucking perfect,” I say one day. “You’re all so glamourous, aren’t you?” I know I am the best-looking of the group, which are nothing to look at. They are a homely bunch that come from money.
“Well, Griffin,” Fannie Lurh says. “You gotta get your own shit together. The ripped jeans and the no makeup. Griffin, you’re scaring us. This ain’t fucking Europe.”
“I can’t argue with that. It sure as shit ain’t,” I say.
I stand, gather up my books, and I walk away from their company forever. I pull away just as I did when I transferred to Laurier Secondary School after I’d been raped and that pack of bitches did nothing to prevent it.