Julie

I shall never forget the day that I met you, five years ago. I had lunched with a friend, and then we’d travelled to her son’s primary school to pick up the boys on Sydney’s North Shore. I was homeschooling my daughter, and was unaccustomed to the chaos of school pickup. We walked into the schoolyard with a plethora of parents in business suits. My free-spirited daughter broke away, just as the school bell rang, and decided to climb a splendid gum tree in the school grounds. The next thing I knew, a woman was shrieking that my nine year old girl was stuck up a tree and was going to fall! A teacher ran over and told my girl to come down this instant! She said she would guide her down. My daughter had only climbed to the first branch, and said “okay,” and hopped down of her own accord, which was met with swooning. I was aghast, and whispered that it may be a good idea for her to sit quietly, whilst we waited for the boys, since tree climbing was not encouraged. Chatting to my friend, I looked around and saw a lady approaching. She had seen my daughter leap from the tree and smiled. Julie was in her thirties, and had what could only be termed a double aura. There seemed to be a circle of tragedy around her; grey and dense and full of scars and fear. There was also another ring, this being a chrysalis of hope and strength; cool and driven by a light from within her. Her hair resembled cedar shavings, tumbling to her shoulders and her hazel eyes, diluted from the pills she was obviously taking, were magnificent. We exchanged pleasantries and whilst my friend chatted to a teacher and greeted her boys, Julie sat next to me, and we talked on a much deeper level.

You see, despite only having met a few moments ago, she had recognised a kindred spirit; somebody who had been through a similar hell and lived to tell the tale. Subtly slurring, she got out what had been festering within. Born into privilege, her father was a high-powered figure in the legal profession interstate. He was also a rapist. There was nowhere for her to turn, and every time she told someone, she was shot down. How she survived her childhood, I do not know. She moved to Sydney, and married. He was another high-powered man, who ended up breaking her heart. She was left with nothing after their divorce, and had to rebuild from scratch. Due to her anxiety and depression, she was portrayed as a fragile little bird in court. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I grew to know her, I discovered she was rather, a falcon; flying high above the smaller birds. Others flew on her back, when they grew weary. Her mighty wings just kept on going, sustaining everyone in her sphere.

She would send me the most insightful and encouraging messages, and I looked forward to our meetings. It all abruptly ended, when she sustained a nervous breakdown. She felt she had no choice but to return interstate to live with her family once more. I received word the other day that she is gone from this world, this mighty falcon with curls the colour of cedar wood and sparkling hazel eyes. Some could only see the lady whose power had receded, but she was not a tragic figure. She fought and she told grownups and she held on. She birthed beautiful children and let herself trust a man enough to fall in love and marry. She retrained and did all she could to work and rebuild her life and soul, when it all went awry. She did all she could to smile and play and remain, despite regular nightmares, little sleep, and daily flashbacks.

When you meet a wounded soul, look beyond the timidity, the dazed eyes and the slurred speech. Look beyond the pain. These were borne of what was done to them and have nothing to do with who they actually are. Venturing into the world without family or support, all they have guiding them is a pocketful of stars, and a head filled with dreams. The miracle is, that they are willing to love at all. The miracle is, that they bestowed the love they hadn’t been given. When you think of a fragile bird, cast your mind to what they actually are. A mighty falcon, just like Julie.

Til It Happens To You

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I  had my hair done yesterday by a professional.  I can’t tell you how decadent it felt to have someone wash and style it. I had previously painted my hair in turquoise and aqua tones with fudge, and cut it myself, much to the amusement of the real hairdresser. She was a beautiful young woman, and confessed that she wants to write. I hope I convinced her that she could; that she had many untold stories begging to be shared. She watched my daughter dancing to the music over the salon’s speakers, and quietly wondered what her children would be like. “It is a delicious surprise,” I smiled. “They will bring more joy than you ever anticipated.” After my hair was done, I bid this angel farewell. I had Lady GaGa’s song, Til it Happens to you in my head. I had watched in awe as she performed this extraordinary song at The Oscars. For over twenty years, I have tried to articulate my experience, and damn, this song said it all. I was rendered speechless after hearing it.

I boarded the bus home, and a news bulletin came on the radio. Cardinal Pell had been speaking in Rome, and essentially proclaimed that children weren’t believed back in ‘those days.’ He wasn’t even sure that he knew it was a crime. He took no responsibility. A lady seated near me called out to the bus driver that she was infuriated by his response. The driver grimly nodded and I stroked my little girl’s hair, silent. I wondered how many on that bus had been abused as children.

13 years of age
13 years of age

I recall the dread I felt when I needed to go to the toilet after being repeatedly raped. I would cry and shriek in pain, my kidneys infected and my ureter bleeding. Still, nobody helped. Everybody knew and the good people that were trying to make it stop, were syphoned far away from me. I was urged to drink more water. Day after day after day of being abused. Death seemed a more attractive option than living at the time.

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I was in the clinic with a decorated photographer. She shot for Vogue amongst other publications, and her mother had a title, by order of the Queen. She handed me a beautiful green journal, and urged me to write. “Song lyrics, words and sources of inspiration,” she advised. “One day you will open it, and see how far you have come.”

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Oh yes, I have come a long way. I don’t quite know how I pulled it off. I was pounced on like I was game and he was the hunter. When I was bloodied and damaged, I was discarded. There will be one indelible image seared into my mind when I recall the Royal Commission of 2015-2016. It will be a spouse’s retort to a columnist who had defended Pell. This is Clare Linane’s eloquent response.

It is always there, waiting to be triggered. I tiptoe through life, roaming the vast, wild coastline, visiting Sydney’s Islands and watching theatre. Perennially searching for beauty. It helps. Everyone who has been alone with the horror of abuse as a child can take comfort at the outrage today. They are being held accountable. At last! At last! It doesn’t take away the pain and anger stemming from the years of silence. I hope that in your search for peace, you stumble upon things of beauty too. We shall never be silenced again.