Long Ago Childhoods

Today I write a different story. Today’s story is about shadows; long dark shadows that never go away. Apparently at midday the body casts no shadow and at night we cast no shadows; but for two very special ladies there was never a moment when the shadows left them.

Both ladies have now passed; their stories of their childhoods and life as a young bride are disappearing into the crevices of time; so today I want to give a tiny glimpse of their stories so that in some way their experiences are not lost.

For one, her story was so bleak that as a twelve year old she realised that people who stole things would be sent behind bars. She pondered this knowledge and came to the conclusion that being “behind bars” would prevent “him” from hurting her. She could never name say his name. “Him” would fall from her lips with venom. So the twelve year old girl stole things, and stole things and stole things until she was caught and locked away. She missed her education, she missed her siblings, but being behind bars was so much better. It was so much better that when the time came to be “released”, that she begged the matron at the girls’ home to keep her there. Why was the world of this child , who became the old lady sitting in front of me, so horrific that the girls’ home and all its deprivation was a better option? She couldn’t say it, as a frail old woman she still couldn’t say it- it was simply better than “Him” and what he did to her mother, her sisters and to her.

For the other woman, her horror was hidden beneath her never dropping facade of dignity and decorum. She never said anything about her days as a young; very young, bride. So I was surprised with what she asked of me the day she asked me for a cup of tea just before I was to get married. 

She was anxious to tell me something. She grasped my hands and looked at me intently. “Promise me something.” I smiled and nodded, thinking she wanted me to change who she was sitting with at the wedding. “You must promise me that you will keep your own bank account, that you keep money in your own name and the you can drive a car. You must always be able to leave him.” She loved my groom, so I was shocked with her vehement words but I kept my promise.

It was not until years late when she had passed into the nightmare that was her dementia, that I began to understand her insistence and determination, that I actually understood her message. In her final years the veil between her past and the present was rent to shreds and she relived every moment of the horror of her marriage; horror that had only ended with a suitcase, a train ticket and the coins in her purse. 

The shadows of shame that walked with these women had been with them since they were so young. They both lived long and full lives but both carried their stories with silence until their final years when their secrets became so big that they had to share them. I was privileged to be given the stories and the blessing to share them.

Kate Bricknell