'You will be the death of me.' I always thought this an ordinary, everyday expression of no significance until I began to realise how accurate a description it was of some of the relationships our families experienced. In violent families, one or other of the parents may easily die, some times the whole family. In middle-class households, where the violence is intellectual rather than physical, the chances are that various members may 'go mad'. I dread seeing middle-class women come in to see me who have been literally driven mad by the men they live with. It is an awful living death for them. In some cases, they would be better off really dead than end up pacing the streets muttering to themselves.
'My husband's a bank manager,' said one thin, shaken woman. 'He comes home and moves things about, so I can't fin anything. Then he tells me that everything is just where it always was, and I must be going mad.' She sat waiting for me to look sceptical. I reassured her. 'I know,' I said. 'I've heard other women tell me the same story.' She looked so relieved, and her eyes were filled with tears. 'You believe me?' she said, still incredulous. 'Yes, I do,' I said, for this is a well-known sadistic pastime for the violent active partner to set about a calculated campaign to drive another member of the family mad. 'The Fanny by Gaslight syndrome', I call it. The terrible thing is that it works, and in most cases the perpetrator gets away with it because no one is properly trained to see into other people's inner worlds.
Many such women, having endured years of sexual, mental or physical
sadism, go over the edge never to return. They haunt solicitors'
offices with huge bags of files. They go
everywhere looking for justice, but there is none for them to
find. Eventually they end up in the back wards of our larger mental
hospitals, or on the road - becoming one of the huge crowd of
Talking to Sarah first concentrated my attention on the subject of choosing to die. She had come to us straight from hospital, with her little boy, and described the way her husband used to go completely berserk. 'He doesn't know what he's doing when he's like that,' she said. This remark reminded me very forcibly of a conversation during the early days in Women's Aid, when I was lecturing at Rhode Island in America. I was talking to Richard Gelles, a sociologist who had studied violence in the family, and made a similar remark suggesting that men were completely out of control when they battered their wives. No they aren't, said Richard firmly. 'They are very much in control. Otherwise you would have many more deaths.'
Now, listening to Sarah, and looking at her legs, I was still prepared to acknowledge the general truth of that comment. But this time Sarah's husband had gone too far: he had pushed her out of the window of their flat, to fall thirty feet to the ground, and left her lying there. She dragged herself along the ground to the nearest flat, where they called an ambulance. Both legs were broken, and one required a big operation to put a steel pin to hold the ankle together. It was that leg that we were both staring at. 'Do you think he'll kill you?' I asked. 'Yes,' she said, with a huge smile on her face, her eyes alight at the prospect. 'Yes, he will.' I knew then that she was yet another woman who would go back for more.
We talked for a long time. She said she reckoned she had a ninety
per cent chance of being killed. She needed murder games to feel
alive. And she probably will lose one such game, because this
particular man will kill her. He is one of the men whose rage
does exceed all boundaries. She knows that, and that is why she
stays with him. No other man is as deadly for her. I kissed her
goodbye a few days later, and subsequently I had a phone-call
from her. 'They've taken my boy into care,' she said. 'Will you
tell them I'm a good mother?' 'I can't, Sarah. If you can't come
to terms with your
own need for violence, he's safer away from you. But you don't want to give it up. I'm sorry, love.'
It was a painful conversation because, in a way, I was the last
human contact in the strange lunar inner world that had dictated
and directed her course through life since she had been a little
girl - and her violent father's little princess. Her father the
prince had kissed his daughter, thereby infecting her for the
rest of her life. She had become addicted to her father and to
his violence. But she could never have him to herself, because
her mother had too strong a grip, so her husband now served to
keep the addiction alive.
Eleanor was in the Refuge at the same time as Sarah, and I have always been particularly fond of her. She worked the 'rough trade', the bottom end of the prostitution business, where the prostitute knows she is paid to abuse or to be sexually abused. She was another one who predicted her own death with cheerful certainty. 'Cut up in little bits,' she would say, 'That's how they'll find me.' Several of her friends had already been found dismembered. She had even been asked to identify one of them who had been on ice for months because there were not enough bits to put together to allow recognition. Eleanor knew it was her friend by the tattoo on her upper arm, and she was very proud of herself for helping the coppers for a change.
Eleanor and her brother and sister had been abandoned by their
mother on a doorstep in North London when she was seven. Her mother
was a prostitute, and Caroline had been molested and beaten as
a child. The three children were taken into care, and so passed
from one mini concentration camp to another. She was on the game
by the time she was fourteen. Yet she was such a lovable woman.
On one occasion I had not seen her for several months, when she
arrived puffing and panting through the front door. 'I've legged
it from the nick,' she said. 'Oh, Eleanor, that's stupid,' I said.
'I'm not picking fucking Brussels sprouts on a prison farm in
this weather,' she said. 'How would you feel about picking
sprouts?' 'You have to pick sprouts because you did a robbery,'
I explained. 'I can choose whether or not to pick sprouts because
I don't commit robberies.' This piece of
moralising floated straight over her head, and we grinned at each other, and I hugged her.
Everyone around her was sure she was going to kill someone sometime. She was one of those people who give off the promise of a huge and potentially catastrophic violent explosion. Certainly those over-controlled violent people can, if they ever do blow, cause incredible damage. For the most part, they internalise all their rage and look for another violent relationship to ventilate it. Eleanor did not have to choose the rough trade. She was young and attractive, and could well have chosen the Gloucester Road area, where there is a flourishing trade of sex in cars, and plenty of money to be made. Instead Eleanor insisted on concentrating on the King's Cross area where the rough trade thrives. She knew she needed pain. She was really one of the first women I met who understood her own need to reach the ultimate orgasm at the moment just before death, and then to slide into a womb-like oblivion.
Talking to her, I was reminded of the sampan girls in Hong Kong, where I lived twenty-five years ago. Although illegal, it was still a practice for rich young men to take prostitutes out to sea in those Chinese boats and then bend backwards over the sides so that their heads were submerged in the water. The goal was for the man to ejaculate and for the girl to survive the ordeal to collect a very large sum of money. In this terminal struggle, if the man was slow in ejaculating, the woman would drown. I found it very puzzling that so many of the Chinese girls who chose to do this were young, attractive, and not in need of money. It puzzled me then, but now I understand it. Like a heroin addict tenderly describing his love object, the needle, so Eleanor would describe the atrocities that were performed on her. She talked like a young girl describing a first romance. She would flush with sexual excitement at the memory of whips and chains, though she preferred to inflict pain rather than receive it.
Some women who have their pain and pleasure crossed in this way
do find prostitution an acceptable way of fulfilling their needs.
But the myth of the happy hooker is pernicious, as it totally
denies the misery and the horror of that grim, lurid business,
to say nothing of the effect prostitution has on
their children. Eleanor's life will probably end up some back alley, with fancy knife-work round her vagina and breasts - the well-known trademark of a lethal mother-damaged man.
On this particular visit from Eleanor, I persuaded her she would
be better off giving herself up and finishing her sentence. She
said she wanted to go back to Holloway Prison where she knew everybody
and felt safe, instead of having to work on the Brussels sprout
farm. So I wrote a letter to Holloway explaining why I was sending
her back to them, and to her delight I sent her back in style,
in a taxi with a member of staff. I gather Holloway is quite unused
to convicts arriving back in taxis and giving themselves up.
Brenda was not a prostitute. She came to us with a very large
black eye and a small baby. She had raven-black hair and olive
skin from her Jewish ancestry. Her mother and father had both
been very violent to each other and to the children. Her father
was confusing for her because he both spoiled her and beat her.
He also molested her, I could see an old familiar pattern again.
The following is an extract from a taped conversation with Brenda
when I was trying to get her to look at what was happening to
her. She started by telling me how her father used to take her
out to the pub when she was young.
ERIN: Oh, right. And how old were you when he took you?
BRENDA: When I started going there I was thirteen.
ERIN: So he started taking you out to the darts when you were thirteen. That was what really pissed them all off (meaning her brothers).
BRENDA: Every Wednesday we used to go over there, and we used to play darts.
ERIN: Did he get heavy with your boyfriends? Did he not want you . . .
BRENDA: No. Because I never had boyfriends.
ERIN: You had him instead.
BRENDA: Yes. I used to go out with my Dad on the Wednesday. Every Wednesday I'd just go over.
ERIN: Didn't you know at thirteen that it was pissing your mother off?
BRENDA: No. All I used to see was the fighting and the shouting.
ERIN: Did he ever beat you up?
BRENDA: My Dad?
ERIN: Really? And did he molest you at all, or not? He never touched you up?
BRENDA: No. I got beat up by my Dad, and then the same night I got beat up by my Mum.
ERIN: You got battered by both?
ERIN: And emotionally, really. He used you like
BRENDA: But the funny part about it was one day, it was Summer, you know - you sit in the garden to catch the sun. I walked in. . . .The night before I was supposed to be in at eleven and I got in half-past eleven, and my Dad really hit me hard, and I had a great big black eye. And I walked into the pub to tell my Dad that. . . He was in the garden and there was a crowd of blokes sitting with him, and I was going to tell him to tell my Mum that I wasn't going to be in for dinner. I was going out for the day. And as I walked in there, Charles he was sitting with turned round and said 'That's a nice shiner. How did you get that?' And my Dad actually had the cheek to tell him 'I done that one'; and he was really proud of it.
ERIN: Yes. He brought you back here, didn't he, the other day? Your Dad.
BRENDA: Yes. My Dad came down on Saturday.
ERIN: What's he like with you now?
BRENDA: He's okay. But he's very sort of off. It's weird. I mean, it will probably sound funny but instead of like 'look at my handsome grandchild'. It's 'Look at me, I'm a grandad'. In other words, you're supposed to say to him 'You don't look like a grandad.' Not 'Look at my handsome grandson'.
ERIN: Yes. He's a narcissus, isn't he?
BRENDA: Yes. he's very ego . . . you know.
BRENDA: That's why he used to get a kick out of these pregnant women knocking on the door.
ERIN: Yes. And then he laughed when he hurt them.
ERIN: He must have hated women you know.
BRENDA: He gets a kick out of them.
ERIN: What happened in his family? Do you know?
BRENDA: He's got lots of brothers and sisters, and he's the black sheep of the family now. Because of how he treated my Mum.
ERIN: Was his family violent, though?
BRENDA: His Mum and Dad, no.
ERIN: Where did he learn all that violence?
BRENDA: He used to fight a lot. He was always in trouble at school. And he used to go round with a gang. He used to like do nasty things to people just for the kick of it, you know, like they'd knock someone's walking-stick and laugh.
ERIN: Yes, and laugh. Yes.
BRENDA: It's . . . you know it's evil the things he used to do. He'd just sit and tell you about it all, and think it's funny. His sister is very violent, though.
ERIN: There must have been some violence, though, in the family if. . . Because you don't get born like that. You learn it.
BRENDA: From the other children?
BRENDA: He still fights with his favourite sister.
ERIN: Really! Physically?
BRENDA: To this day.
ERIN: What about your brothers? Do you fight with them still?
BRENDA: I don't fight with my brothers now. Because of the fact that when I do see them it's such a long time in between that it's nice to see them.
ERIN: Yes. Were you the favourite once? Were there any favourites?
BRENDA: Well. In the family, my big brother Stan. He's my favourite
because he was the first-born, and when he was born he had to
have . . . He's got a scar from there
to there (all around the abdomen). He had to have all his insides unblocked. He was supposed to die, and he was christened because he was supposed to die. They worried about him so much. They really loved him. And then I came ten months later, so I was an accident and then my little brother, came. And my Mum was sterilised at the age of nineteen, so she couldn't have any more. Nick, the little one, was loved because he was the last child that she'd ever have.
ERIN: She was nineteen when she was sterilised. So how old when she started having babies? Fifteen?
BRENDA: Yes. They were forced to get married.
ERIN: Why? Because she was pregnant?
BRENDA: My Mum's dad went after my Dad.
ERIN: Went after him?
ERIN: Made him marry her?
BRENDA: Because she was pregnant.
BRENDA: With me . . . She had my brother. But when she got married she was pregnant with me.
ERIN: Yes. So they were forced to marry, and then she had you, and in a way she could blame you for that as well. Was she ever good to you?
BRENDA: Sometimes we'd get on. But I couldn't sit in the same room. I mean if I sat down in the same room as my Mum, she'd find something to start on me about like 'Go and do the washing-up'.
ERIN: She'd pick on you.
BRENDA: She's got to pick on something, my Mum. We could not sit in the same room. You know, you wouldn't see us together. I mean I've had fights with her and. . .
ERIN: Well, she beat you a lot as a child, didn't she?
BRENDA: One day the police were called about her being stupid.
One night my Mum was doing the washing - you know the tongs that
you move by . . . All I did was walk through the back door, and
she said, 'Get off the grass, I've just cut it', or something
stupid. And I walked off the grass, and as I went into the kitchen
had the tongs in her hand, and she hit me with them. So I ran out into the back garden. I just thought 'Right, that's it', and I just ran out . . . and it really hurt, it got me right on the shoulder, and she ran after me. To stop her from getting me, I held her hand. But she went on her knees and her arm twisted back. My brothers came running out and they started to hit me for hitting my Mum. My Mum told them that I attacked her, and really all I was doing was trying to stop her from hitting me again.
ERIN: Yes, I know.
BRENDA: And so my brothers beat me up for hitting my Mum.
ERIN: Terrible jealousies in that family, there, really?
BRENDA: Yes. They're both living there now.
ERIN: They live with her now? (The brothers.) Haven't left her?
ERIN: How old are they?
BRENDA: One's twenty-one and one's nineteen.
ERIN: And they're probably violent.
BRENDA: Nick's not. He's very quiet. He's very deceiving.
ERIN: Yes. But you never know. You see
BRENDA: Because when . . . He's a bastard. He really is a imbecile.
BRENDA: But he's very quiet. He's nice. Really nice. Do anything for anybody.
ERIN: What's he doing about your mother? What do you think he'll do?
BRENDA: He'll kill her.
ERIN: Yes. If I asked you what chance you thought you had of dying, what chance would you give yourself of living or dying in the next few years?
ERIN: Dying. What chance are you going to give? Ellen (also in the Refuge) told me she'd give herself eighty per cent chance of being killed.
BRENDA: I'd say ninety.
ERIN: Why do you want to die? Do you know?
BRENDA: No. Not that I want to die, but I just think I will.
ERIN: Behind it is a need. While you're slagging a man down, you don't really know him very well, but at any moment he could take out a knife.
ERIN: How do you think it will happen?
BRENDA: Yes, that's how I'm looking at it. I know someone's going to kill me.
ERIN: How are they going to kill you?
BRENDA: I don't know actually. As. . .
ERIN: Have you thought? Have you got any imagination of how it would happen?
BRENDA: Yes. I think I'm going to . . . I think what's going to happen is like - all the times I used to come home when I'd hopped off school. So I'd go home and say like 'The dinner was really horrible today, Mum', or something like that. Just the sense of guilt knowing that I hadn't been to school. I'd say something about school - what happened. And yet they've known that I hadn't been to school; and they'd turn round and say 'Well, you haven't been to school. Why are you lying?' You know. But I had this sense of guilt. But I know that one day I'm going to say something. I'm going to tell a lie to somebody. They're going to find out and it's going to be telling the wrong person the wrong lie. And they're going to get me for it.
ERIN: How are they going to kill you?
BRENDA: Well. I just know that I'm going to tell a lie to somebody and.. .
ERIN: Yes. I can see that, but what I'm saying is: how? With a knife, or strangling, or hitting, or what?
ERIN: A knife.
BRENDA: I've got a feeling, an axe.
ERIN: An axeman. Right. So where will he actually axe you? Your head off, or what? Which way will you die?
BRENDA: I don't know. I've always had a feeling of an axeman, the last three years. I've had this fear that someone's going to break in with an axe.
BRENDA: And hack me.
ERIN: And where?
BRENDA: Well across there (pointing to her neck).
ERIN: Across your neck?
ERIN: Yes. It's interesting, because people who think they're going to die have usually worked out how it's going to happen.
BRENDA: Because when I was living with Harry (her violent boyfriend and Ned's father) the house was not a very safe house; the back doors were faulty. And the week we moved in there, was the week that five girls had been murdered; and where the Brixton Road is, it was all in there, and that was at the back of my garden; and I was really frightened. And Harry said he was going to the pub and you know sort of. . . And I used to literally take my blankets down to the front door and sleep next to the front door. And every bit of noise I heard. . .I used to stand on the doorstep sometimes, just stand on the doorstep, and yet that's more dangerous than actually being behind the door.
ERIN: Now, that's something you've picked up about yourself. How to explain it is very simple. When you were born, there are two parts of your brain, if you like. There's pain and there's pleasure. Now if you're loved and cuddled you learn that love - a pleasure comes from being loved and cuddled. You feel pleasure from being loved and cuddled. If you're battered, the only time you feel real pleasure is when you're in pain. I don't expect you to understand, but it's true. Now, I've talked to thousands of women about this. What's happening to you is . . . when you were standing on that step, with the possibility of an axeman somewhere around you, your adrenalin must have been so high that you were probably higher than you could ever be on heroin. Because of partly fear. . .
BRENDA: So what you're more or less saying is that I actually stood on the doorstep and I was saying 'Do it. Get it over and done with.'
ERIN: Yes, probably. And you're looking - and, I mean, I
know Ellen's going down dark alleys.
BRENDA: Yes. But I wouldn't. I mean even in the daytime I would walk down Chiswick High Road. . .
ERIN: Yes. But you look at it differently. She actually goes out on the streets and will fight. You are quite different. The axeman will be somebody - as you say, you will get drunk; you'll pick him out. He'll know that that's what you want and then you'll end up dead. Or he'll end up dead.
BRENDA: It's a really stupid thing to have, is the fear of an axeman. I mean why an axeman? And why couldn't I pick a knife maniac? But an axeman - why an axe?
ERIN: Well, I think that's what we're going to work on. Shall we try and work that out? I'll finish today because we've both worked very hard. We've got down to what it is, and now I've got to start right back at the beginning, and we'll have to work out why an axe, and why do you have to die. Why is that the end that you see?
BRENDA: Because I know my mouth will get me into trouble.
ERIN: Yes. That's right.
BRENDA: It won't be me or what I do; it's my mouth and what I say.
ERIN: Yes. Well, do you know what you actually say when you start slagging down?
BRENDA: No, I mean, when I'm lying, it just comes so natural - I even convince myself.
ERIN: Oh, I know. That's why I believe you. I mean, I know you believe yourself so you're not lying in your eyes.
BRENDA: I mean, I can say 'Yes, I was there at school', and I've really convinced myself that I was at school.
ERIN: No. But the other things, too, love, is this is what happens.
There's another side of you that doesn't want to admit what you
do. You bunk off school, you come home, and you set it up. You
know your parents know you weren't at school. So you tell a lie
which is 'We had a good dinner'. They have the right then to beat
you. For you being battered is pleasure - in a way, if you think
about it. Because that's all you've ever known as love. At least
when they were beating you, you were feeling something.
BRENDA: Because they were touching me.
ERIN: They were touching you, and so were the men touching you, and you start to slag, and the trouble is that you get your black eye, like you did the other day, one way or another, because you get driven to it. You're all right for a little while, then suddenly that need comes again, and that's when you go looking for it. And that's the work we've got to do.
BRENDA: Well, Harry once told me that I . . . Like the night that he bust them couple of ribs and he literally smashed the whole flat up; the television went; everything went. And he still swears to this day I begged for it.
ERIN: You probably did.
BRENDA: He said I really begged for it. He said no way would he ever have done it, and he hit me right in the face, and hit my head against the wall.
ERIN: You know what's interesting about that, though. We were talking about this another time - this is another whole discussion, this whole thing of pain and pleasure. And many women can't climax normally, because it's when they're in pain, when they're actually being battered, that is a climax for them; and that's why they keep going back to look for pain. For quite a lot of women, it's the moment before the man loses control. That's the moment - the exciting element for them. Women whose pleasure and pain haven't been confused can have ordinary sexual climaxes. But the trouble with that game, where it's pain and pleasure confused, is that pain has to get worse, and worse, and worse for the pleasure to increase and increase and increase. And that's where you end up with the axe-man. For that's the ultimate. It's almost like the ultimate orgasm, isn't it? Frightening, but it's true.
BRENDA: And yet I still would like to be loved.
ERIN: You see, there's two sides of Brenda. There's the side that
. . . and her head knows all this and knows that she wants love
and comfort. But there's the other side, which is the side we
have to work on. I have to work on it with you - which in fact's
dragging you off the other
way, to a certain death.
BRENDA: But there's no two ways it can go, though. I mean, it's not knowing how to give love. I don't know how to receive it.
ERIN: No. Right. Oh, it's very frightening for someone, being loved. . .
BRENDA: I mean, someone could say that they loved me, and I wouldn't know.
ERIN: Because you wouldn't know what they meant.
Since that conversation, Brenda has left the Refuge. I heard from her only once subsequently. She sounded happy, and said that she and Ned were no longer living with Harry, but now with a man who apparently was not violent. In all honesty I cannot say how happy she became in that relationship, or how long it lasted, for Brenda did not keep in touch afterwards. I worry that her addiction to pain and her need to die are so strong and deepseated that she may well find her axeman one day.
Brenda was able to understand much of what I said. It was with her that I fully realised the damage often done to children by the grandmother laying claim to a favourite grandchild. Brenda had been brought up by her grandmother, who had virtually seduced her away from her mother. The grandmother (on her father's side) then used the little girl against her daughter-in-law. When the grandmother grew bored with the game (usually when the girl is around six or seven) she was sent back to the family. By that time the child was already at war with her mother, who hated her. The mother saw her daughter as a betrayer. From then on the little girl was at her mercy.
Brenda's ability to start fights in the local pubs was legendary.
On one occasion a very violent woman received a batch of stolen
watches and shared them with Brenda. They agreed to sell the watches
for six pounds each in the pub that night. Brenda got into the
pub before this woman, and sold all her watches for four pounds
each. By the time the woman arrived, there were almost no takers,
and she was forced to drop her price. In the ensuing fight, Brenda
got very badly beaten. When she presented her woebegone face to
refused to discuss her plans to prosecute the other woman. 'You needed a fix, a dose of pain. You set it up, and you got it. No one else would risk upsetting a lady as violent as that one, but you did. Learn from it,' I said. She took the point.
I think it might be interesting here to look at a drawing [p.107, omitted from web] done by Ellen, referred to in my talk with Brenda as the woman who walked down dark alleys at night. When she came in she was 'high' with the excitement of getting away from Max, her very dangerous husband. There was something about Ellen that did not fit into my checklist of ingredients that make up a profile of a woman who is so addicted to violence that it will be a long-term project to help her change herself. Like Brenda she was taken hostage by her grandmother. Again, her grandmother used her in a war against her own daughter, Ellen's mother. None of this came up in conversation, because she was locked into complaining about her husband, who was indeed a very violent, explosive bully. It was when she had completed the following drawing that I was able to grasp the origin of the problem.
Firstly we discussed the figure of her kneeling at her grandmother's grave. She even remembered her grandmother's moment of death, and her feelings of being isolated from her mother and father, and fenced off from their happy and loving relationship with each other. The grandmother had always lived with the family and spoiled Ellen. Ellen realised very soon that there was a family war on, and she was to be on her grandmother's side. Soon her mother shut her out. Ellen learned to provoke her mother and to rebel against her parents, egged on by her grandmother. The poor child was in a no-win situation. Finally her grandmother died, but the pattern of provoking, for a violent reaction from her mother, was set and continued.
Ellen had since found an even more exciting person to provoke:
her husband Max. After their marriage, Ellen continued down the
path that could have lead to her own destruction. She did have
a bonus though: her parents were essentially good ones, in that
they did love and care for her even if they could not cope with
her. They were not aware of the relationship between Ellen and
the grandmother. They saw Ellen as the problem, not the grandmother.
After we worked our way through that, we looked at the object in the corner of the drawing. 'It looks like a bottle to me,' I said. 'Yes,' she agreed. 'You provoke him when you're drunk?' I inquired. She nodded. Then I explained our concept of addiction to her. 'I can see what you're driving at' she said, 'because I knew every time that he was going to end up hitting me, but I still used to keep on pushing him.' She really did understand, and because there had been some good parenting from her mother and father, she was able to work hard on herself. As I write this down, she is still with us. She has left her violent relationship with Max and has settled with her two boys. She is not at all the same person who first came into the Refuge and would be out all night drinking and fighting with the hard-nuts of the community. She has met a very kind and gentle man, and is contemplating a future with him. She has transcended. She has come to terms with her own violent needs.
Ellen's goal was life. Brenda, however, taught me that violent families set death as a goal for their children. In emotionally able families, parents give their children life-giving goals. They are realistic about their children's gifts, and they help their children to achieve their ambitions with love and patience. They talk of their children being a success in life, and the children experience a feeling of a happy, warm future stretching ahead of them. The position is totally reversed in a violent family. In a physically violent family, the language is also violent. 'I'll fucking kill you,' is heard all the time. The children grow up with death as a real possibility, as the parents fight and smash each other up. From a very early age the child has a feeling of urgency, and has to consider his survival as a risky and dangerous prospect. In these families many deaths occur: cot-deaths, miscarriages, still-births, accidents, murder and suicide. Unlike in happy families, where the goals internalised by the children are happy goals, children from violent families internalise deadly goals.
In emotionally-violent families, however, which are more likely
to be middle-class, the goals can be just as deadly, but the children
will not hear the language of violence; instead
they will be given totally unrealistic goals to achieve. Then the screaming and the mockery that meets the failure to achieve will last with them all their lives. The guilt will line their internal world, so they may never be able to express any of their real gifts. They will literally believe they are nothing - No thing - and they will form relationships expressing that same message. They often finally commit suicide. Occasionally a child from such a family will turn and kill its parents, bringing out a rush of newspaper articles simply because it is a middle-class child from a privileged background. No one will look behind the murderous event. The child will be locked away, and the middle-class fortress will close its gates, secure in the knowledge that it is only 'those people out there' who suffer the problem of violence.
The trouble is that it is the middle-class emotionally disabled, not able to ask for help because of their position in society, who often become social workers and probation officers, and join agencies involved in the care of human beings. Unfortunately, as they have done nothing about their own damage, they are a menace to the very people they are paid to help. Working from their own damage, they create havoc in social-work teams and elsewhere, as they collude with and manipulate the clients. There is no better training in my opinion than life-experience, but experience is useless if it is seen only as 'bad experience'. It must be put to work and turned into wisdom.
There are many excellent people working in this field of family violence who would relate to and understand Brenda, but unfortunately, due to lack of understanding, there are also too many emotionally disabled people let loose with the label of 'agency workers'. Of course, they were the ones who did not see Brenda's bruises as a child, or did not recognise that her repeated running away was not just a naughty act. In their own childhoods, they shared the emotionally or physically violent reality, and grew to accept violence as normal. If you grow up seeing bruises, you do not find bruising abnormal. If you are molested, you will not find other people molesting children as abnormal.
A young girl of fourteen complained to me that her father was
insisting on bathing and drying her. She had run away to
us because she wanted this to stop. He claimed that he was only performing his rights as a father. The social worker who followed hot on the heels of the girl tried to argue with us that it was perfectly normal for a father to behave this way. We gently pointed out that he was speaking from his own damaged and molested childhood.
There is a dangerous assumption commonly held by those who have never known real violence. It is expressed by people saying, 'But surely if someone is born into a violent family, they will learn from that experience and spend the rest of their lives avoiding violence like the plague?' I wish this was true. The fact is, if you are born into a violent family, the chances are that you will become emotionally, physically, and chemically addicted to violence.
Stephen, a boy of eleven, came to us with his mother. She was a very beautiful, childlike woman who drifted from one violent man to another, dragging Stephen with her. Poor Stephen was totally confused by her attitude towards him. One moment, when she was manless, he was the most important thing in her life, 'the man of the family,' her protector, her friend, and also the 'lover'. Then, just as suddenly, he would be pitchforked into yet another of her violent relationships, and be expected to stand between her and her new man. Stephen was hopelessly addicted to his mother. I could rarely lure him away from her side. He stole for her, and brought her jewellery, clothes, sweets, anything to keep her. 'Stephen's so wonderful to his mother,' unsuspecting visitors would say. I knew it was not like that at all.
One day Stephen came running in to me, obviously very pleased
with himself. He held out his hand and showed me a drawing he
had just done that made him so proud. It depicted a skeleton pointing
its bony finger to an arched doorway labelled 'The Door to Hell'.
The skeleton, marked 'Dead Wife' grinned horribly as she showed
the way to the door over which hung the sign 'Wives Only'. This
is the terrifying attitude to women with which Stephen will grow
as he makes his future relationships. The light in his eyes was
unmistakable. Unless he receives extensive treatment it is likely
that this boy may well grown up to torture other women. He has
been storing away his violence and his pain, and, given a
certain type of woman, he may well act out all his confused rage
This brings me to the well-documented case of Eunice and Gerald. During the ten years I have spent listening to people in pain, I have often had occasions when they related to me events such as occurred between these two human beings. Most of the time they are left in a fantasy world, largely ignored by doctors and psychiatrists, until as for Peter Sutcliffe, the fantasy becomes a reality and they begin to act it all out. As long as the mutilator and the mutilated meet in the dark sea of the criminal underworld, a body in a black plastic bag attracts little attention.
Our society's schizophrenic attitude to violence was well illustrated during the Yorkshire Ripper trial. The whole country expressed outrage at what he had done. He was called a monster, a beast, inhuman, but there seemed absolutely no attempt to understand why he did what he did. Who should really be standing in the dock with him? In my time I have warned agencies of other potential rippers, and got precious little response. Who failed to spot the troubled child? Soon after the trial, the opera Lulu was staged in London, and people flocked to buy expensive tickets to watch a prostitute die by sexual misadventure. A month later the film Pandora's Box was shown on television. As the main character feels the knife sliding into her, she smiles ecstatically at the camera over the shoulder of her murderer. How can we condemn a murderer when we finance opera and film which celebrate identical events?
Eunice came into the Refuge asking to see me. She was a big woman;
handsome is probably how one would describe her. She carried herself
well, and if you did not know her, you would never suspect she
was anything other than a successful business woman. As we talked
around the problem she had come to discuss, I realised that she
was yet another woman in the grip of such a serious addiction
to pain that she could eventually die from it. Her confusion was
enormous, and even her recital of events could raise her emotional
and chemical levels to a point where she slipped into that reality
shared only by herself and by the man,
Gerald, who mutilated her.
Most of this work I shared with my colleague Tina Wood. The first thing we had to do was to gain entry into that reality, which meant interviewing Gerald, once I had Eunice's trust. I asked her to draw 'the Beast', as she called him. To draw him she sat in a chair outside the office. When she had finished, she lay slumped over the drawing pad; and I reminded myself that people in love recall their sexual pleasure with love, but people who know only pain must recall their sexual pleasure with pain. I comforted her, and we began our first session. The following is the first recorded interview with Eunice:
ERIN: (looking over the drawing) Yep! It's very good, actually. Look, everything you've told me.
EUNICE: Normally, this is what's taking a hell of a lot out of me. It's taking me apart - the fact that I've had to. I've even let anybody know what I feel about it. You know - that drawing. [p.112, omitted]
ERIN: That's right, I knew that would do it. Now I'm going to put you back together again. Yes? Fine. Well, there you have - what made me cry, or makes me want to cry, we speak about, is not him, but that's your father, isn't it? (pointing to the face on the right of the drawing).
ERIN: No? Isn't it?
ERIN: Who is it?
EUNICE: That's the other him (Gerald).
EUNICE: That's the small image I see of the person that was the one that I thought was him.
ERIN: It was him?
EUNICE: That took me in, and you can see I've linked it up with the person that he was. Because that part of him was such a small part of it.
ERIN: Isn't it extraordinary, but you also told me, at the same time that your father had a beautiful voice and sang.
EUNICE: Oh, yes.
ERIN: To me, that's the microphone, and then you've written
the word 'voice'.
EUNICE: Perhaps I thought it without realising that's so.
ERIN: It's your subconscious.
ERIN: Because you've been looking for your father through men. Every relationship, you're looking for someone, because you loved him.
EUNICE: I like the person he was.
ERIN: He's lovely?
EUNICE: That he was happy and genuine, straightforward, and he gave a lot of pleasure to people, by entertaining, and he was an intelligent man and he had a. . .
ERIN: And yet what he (Gerald) should have been, was like him - instead you've got this very, very sick man. Now, explain - I don't understand that. (Pointing to the rectangular shape in the upper corner of the drawing.)
EUNICE: That's that room. (In the house where Eunice lived with her mutilating partner.)
ERIN: Explain this now. Just go through the room again for me.
EUNICE: That's what should have been the, umm, like you've got a big living-room, right. This is a massive house, and you come along the passage and then there's the room off to the left hand, and that room was the breakfast room, where there was a hatchway.
ERIN: That's right.
EUNICE: The hatchway was about, maybe the size of this book, or maybe that, like that. Umm, on the left-hand side of the room there's some French windows - French doors. Wood at the bottom and the glass halfway down. Well, what he done with a week or two, or a week. I can't remember the question to that extent - we moved in. He went round and he nailed . . .
ERIN: Did you choose this house together?
ERIN: You didn't know what he was going to use that room for?
EUNICE: Oh no. No, I got no idea. I had to go out and buy furniture, thinking we'd got plenty of bedrooms -
putting furniture upstairs, planned it as a home you know. Oh, yes, I looked on it, you know, as a home. And after two weeks he went out the back and he got some wooden planks and nailed the French doors from outside with six inch nails, and he said that was because, umm, in case, you look, when we're out and things, with people being able to burgle and that - it makes the place more secure. And I'd got no reason not to think that.
He had some heavy curtains put up at the French window, er, thick velvet ones, and it wasn't till some weeks later, that . . . what he used to do. He used to get a piece of hardboard - because - through the archway was the kitchen part with the big steel cabinets, and he'd either get a cabinet and move that along so the hatchway was blocked. Or, he'd get a piece of hardboard and shove that. So in that room there was only the lamp and that was an orange lamp. There was no main light.
ERIN: With an orange bulb?
EUNICE: Yes. He wouldn't have no main light on. And using that as a bedroom. But of course, later on I realised that, that wasn't just a bedroom. That was a room which made an isolated chamber. And when I was in there and he'd got a wireless, and he used to put the wireless through from the kitchen. He'd got a hole where the wire came through, and he would bring it into the bedroom, so that he could turn it up. One of them old box wirelesses - turn the volume up. And for me, when it was getting bad or, when at that time. . . the place was the place where quite a lot of things happened.
ERIN: Most of them really.
EUNICE: Most of them - but also in the living-room.
ERIN: This is when you've been tied up?
ERIN: And that, umm - what are the marks?
EUNICE: They're the ones that I was smothered in after the cutting,
or with marks from sticks, or whips and that.
ERIN: When you see him like this - remember you called him the Beast. (Pointing to the large face in the centre of the drawing.)
EUNICE: Yes. Well, there were times when he used to get so het up that he - it was like he couldn't destroy me enough. He'd get hold of me and he'd rip me down with his nails. And the first year when I was with him, he'd got all rotten teeth, absolutely terrible teeth; they were all jagged. And he fright to death about going to the dentist, but that wasn't it. They looked really horrible. And when he used to go into this thing and he used to bite me and try to gnaw at my head, and he'd growl like a dog, and he'd get his teeth like this and he'd drag them all down like that. That was long before he started doing the cutting, and I used to have ridges down my back like that with his jagged teeth, and they used to go bad, you know. And that's when I think about whether he's a dog. This bit here is the amount of punching I took which always began. . .
ERIN: He'd say 'It's eight o'clock.'
EUNICE: He'd say 'It's time, it's time,' or some remark like that, and then he'd sort of come across and he'd sort of - we could sometimes be, say, in the living-room. The telly could be on, and, er, he'd put the record-player on and the telly at the same time, and he'd say 'It's time.' And he'd just come over to me and he'd start taking my dress off, or my skirts, and my jumpers and everything off, and he'd just literally fold them; he'd fold everything. This is at certain times when he folded them up, and I never used to look to see where he was putting my things or anything, you know.
ERIN: You used to shut your eyes once it was time.
EUNICE: Oh, yes.
ERIN: Then, you just never opened your eyes?
EUNICE: I only ever opened my eyes when I was forced to stand at the wall, or to get down on the couch, or to make any movement. Then I'd got to open my eyes to do that. But the minute I was down, or whatever how I was doing, I didn't open my eyes at all.
ERIN: Who is this then? (Pointing to the drawing.)
EUNICE: That's me there the same, er, that, er, upstairs later on there was - I brought the single bed down as well, because I had single furniture with me. And there's one room at the back that looked out onto open space at the balcony part, where he put that single bed in there, and he made up some reason about he was going to have the plumber in and he was going to let the rooms out, which never did occur, you know. It never happened. But there were times, especially - sometimes it used to be on a Saturday - a Saturday morning, and he would take me upstairs. Only very rarely, so this is why I don't remember a lot about it. Sometimes he would say it's time to go in the bathroom, you know, which is that. And whenever that happened, umm, he used to take me in there and he used to get me down in a kneeling position, and he'd hold my hair, and, as I say, he's an expert, this is what he kept digging into me. He's an expert in how to do a hell of a lot of pain without, you know - not that it don't show, but he can do - you know. And then he would start slapping my face backwards and forwards like that, anything up to fifty or sixty times, which seems bloody impossible, but it can happen.
ERIN: He's got all night.
EUNICE: No. He did this in the morning, and he used to run the
taps. What he used to do - what he used to do. He used to turn
the taps on in the bath, and the taps on in the sink, so that
the slapping wouldn't be heard. And then sometimes he used to
chop down on my face like that, so he chopped on it like that.
Sometimes after that, and after he'd perhaps tired himself out
and everything, then I used to go back downstairs, because I'm
sad about that bedroom and that, and I knew that I'd got to go
out, but I'd have to be ready to be out by 4.30 that day, no matter
what. So, what I used to do - I used to go to the fridge and I
used to get ice and I used to get the towel, get the ice and put
it in it, and have it on my face. But my face used to come up.
Funny thing is, it never bruised, but it used to bloat up like
a balloon and inside of my mouth was swollen. But he'd got a way
of doing it, so it didn't bruise - but it did. It come out like that, and the ice was the only thing that would make the swelling go down. But unless - the terrific pain you can get was forcing the swelling down, and the pounding, it's like having a terrific burning on your tooth like that, all the time.
ERIN: Did he ever try putting you in the bath?
EUNICE: No, No. The funny thing, he never did, and in fact he that's another strange thing. He never used that bath in that house. Never once did he use our own bath. He used to go to a public bath. And when he used to come back, he used to undo his - that's where he used to go Saturday mornings after he'd either beaten me up in bed and done the slapping and everything else. Then he'd just go out. He'd say 'I'll see you later. I'll be back for lunch at whatever time'. He always went out that Saturday morning, always. I never knew, only for the fact he went to the baths. And when he came back, he used to walk in and he used to pull his jumper up like that and he'd have one of the corporation bath towels wrapped round his waist, and he used to laugh and he used to say 'That's done them one. I might have had my bath, but I got a new towel as well.'
ERIN: He obviously hates society, doesn't he?
EUNICE: I think he hates everything going. And when the police raided the house, they found over, I don't know whether it's forty or forty-odd towels, different towels, what he collected every Saturday morning.
ERIN: If something about the Ripper came on the telly, what would happen to him?
EUNICE: He would get very excited and very agitated, and, I know,
once when I was with him and there was some write-up, some bloke
decided to do a write-up about the Ripper and he never bought
newspapers, but he'd heard about this because he used to get papers
from work, off the blokes he worked with. But he heard about they're
going to do a three-day series on the Ripper, and when, er - the
only time I've known him to go out and spend his own money to
get a paper, and he'd have it open like that, and he'd be reading
reading, and whenever that happened, I was bloody shaking. I was getting sick, because I knew, knew that when he'd read anything like that it excited him. It would excite him to such an extent, he couldn't wait to get going. He couldn't wait to get hold of me and just sling me around.
ERIN: What about violent films?
EUNICE: Umm, I don't know. Anything to do with Germans.
ERIN: War films?
EUNICE: Yes, and things like that, you know, tortures. I couldn't watch them. In fact even now, even now today, I hate anything to do with violence, you know. I don't like it. But, umm, he used to . . . I forget what I was talking about, now.
ERIN: You were telling me about we got as far as, he got back from the corporation bath Saturday morning and got a towel round him.
EUNICE: That's right, yes. And then, say, about 4.30. This is winter-time, because summertime we go out for the day. That's one thing I used to think, that thank God it was a sunny day. Because if it's a sunny day, we'd go right over the market. We'd go off round the East End. This is how I know the East End so well. I know every Pub and every place and every walk, and sometimes he used to walk me around for hours. You know, I'd be in terrific pain from Friday night, my back, my legs and everything. And he'd walk and walk and walk, and we'd go in the pubs and that. But say it's like a winter day, and I hadn't been out for the day. By 5 o'clock I knew I'd got to be ready - no matter what. My face would have to be okay, or whatever I could do with it. I always used to dress everything covered up, and he used to look and say, 'nobody would know, would they? ' And so I used to have to mentally make myself. .
ERIN: I want you to talk to an Irish lady who was in yesterday
evening, because she told me about a man, nothing like as bad
as yours, but she's just been in hospital because he put beer
bottles up inside her. He ripped her vagina, her bladder and everything
else. But he did this sort of
thing to you didn't he?
EUNICE: Yes, I had bottles inside me. But the thing that he used to mostly, was the whip handle. And that was a solid handle; it was that length.
ERIN: Didn't it tear you up?
EUNICE: Yes, that's right. He caused me terrific pain. He used to make me bleed.
ERIN: This is the thing, yes? (Pointing to the whip in the drawing.)
EUNICE: And he used to put it in, and then he used to wrap it, put it round and round and round, like that inside, to cause as much pain. And another thing, he used to get me in a position with my wrist and tie me down, so that I was in a squat position down, so that he could ram it up more, and he'd order me to come. He'd say 'You've got to come. I'm giving you two minutes to come. You're going to have an orgasm. You've got to.' And he would literally, you know, satisfy himself that you were doing it.
ERIN: What, he'd have to wank off?
EUNICE: No, he'd be telling me, he'd be ordering me, I'd got to come.
ERIN: So you'd come and then you were safe.
EUNICE: Well, I don't know whether I come, or whether I didn't, as long as he thought in himself that I was coming, and he'd sometimes, you can imagine how he then understand a woman, he'd demand about fourteen or fifteen times, I think. You got to come, you got to come, and all the time there he was nearly taking me apart with the bloody thing.
ERIN: But in fact, there's a very, very close line between pain and pleasure, and the trouble is he could actually make you come that way, isn't it?
EUNICE: I can't think about whether I came or not. All I know is that he'd be doing me inside, and between everything else you know it's . . .
ERIN: That's you drowning, isn't it? Help!' Is it? (Pointing to the drawing of water.)
EUNICE: It could be. There are times when I feel like it.
ERIN: Look at that. It's your coffin with your name on it, and
the only freedom you feel is when you die.
EUNICE: Yes, I suppose I felt that way, yes.
ERIN: What worries me, is that he is going to draw you back to him, and draw you back, and draw you back.
EUNICE: No way, no way, will I ever go near him. I might want to kill him. I might want to. . .
ERIN: Yes. You're also obsessed by him. That is the trouble.
EUNICE: I don't think I've ever been free from the time when he came into my life, because the things that he put into me, the things that he, that he brainwashed and talked to me, and the - I can't, I couldn't even put into words.
ERIN: I want to ask you a question that's worrying me. We'll talk about pain another time. What I am worried about is this. He's lost you, he's trained you, you are specially trained by him now. So you could satisfy him, right? You've gone. He's back by Euston Station. Who's he going to find next? (Eunice and Gerald met outside Euston Station)
EUNICE: I don't know. This is the reason I put my life on the line. I knew, I knew, that when a man's like this, he won't change. He can't alter. There was times when he used to get very agitated as well, because - when he used to want me to wear a blonde wig. He got this wig, he got this wig; I don't know where the hell he got it from. But, as I say, he used to have several wigs, when he done certain things, and first of all I had to put this blonde wig on. Then he used to go really, really mad.
ERIN: What colour was his Mum's hair, do you know?
EUNICE: I don't know.
ERIN: Never saw a picture of her?
ERIN: You knew little about his private life, did you?
EUNICE: He would never talk to me about it.
ERIN: Give me an example. I mean, as a kid, everybody gets smacked, right? Or in trouble. I mean, you came, as you say, from a home where you're all right, but you must have been smacked occasionally . . .
EUNICE: Yes, I suppose so, but our Mum, if she said something,
we knew if we were playing her up, how far we'd go, and then,
you know - and knew that she meant it if
she said it.
ERIN: So, until you met your first husband and he went bad - he was all right in the beginning. Just describe the worst smack you ever had in your happy life.
EUNICE: I can't remember.
ERIN: Mine was when I was caught stealing as a kid. My mum got the ironing cord and let me have it. I mean, I remember that, that I'd been caught stealing. You must be able to think of one like that. You can't be perfect.
EUNICE: No, I don't think it's a matter of perfect. I think, you see, Mum had got so many of us, and I suppose when we were playing her up she got tired and everything else. We were all in the bedroom, you know, because then you had about three or four kids in a bedroom in them days. And she used to shout upstairs, you know, and of course if we were still banging pillows around, swinging on to one thing or another, all of a sudden we'd hear her running upstairs, you know, and then we would dive under the covers - but I can't really remember anybody really hurting me at all.
ERIN: So she was powerful enough to control you with her voice.
EUNICE: Yes, just with her talking, her authority.
ERIN: How many of you were there?
ERIN: How many of you were there?
EUNICE: There were seven of us, besides my Mum and Dad.
ERIN: And all those seven are happy except you?
EUNICE: Yes. Yes.
ERIN: Poor you. You've had a hell of a time.
EUNICE: These numbers round here (Pointing to the numbers on
the drawing) are the amount of, um, he'd actually talk it
over with me, and discuss about how many strokes I was going to
get, and one of the things that used to bring a lot of dreading.
About say my husband said, 'You're going to get twenty-five, right'
of the whip, and he'd say, 'two of them, two out of them strokes
are going to be really hard, the rest are going to be medium',
and you'd never know. I'd never know. I'd
never know when that really hard two were going to come. And when they come, they'd come down with all the bloody force he could put in them.
ERIN: I would imagine that he would actually save the two for when he was trying to force you to come.
EUNICE: No, no. He'd just do the whipping - was a completely separate thing.
ERIN: Completely? Nothing to do with coming?
EUNICE: Oh, no, no. He'd just do that. He'd do that because he wanted to. He'd tie me down on the bed and then . . .
ERIN: It wouldn't actually make him come. What were the things that made him come? The blood?
EUNICE: I never had to be involved in whatever he were coming, because it wasn't like that. The things he was doing or whatever the hell he was doing to me was the things that made him come. He'd come and come all in me hair, or up me face, you know.
ERIN: But he wouldn't let you touch him?
EUNICE: No I can't ever remember, no. Not sort of rub him up.
ERIN: No, or suck him off?
EUNICE: No. He'd do it himself, or put it in me. Or he'd get my . . . when he went on to the blood thing like, he'd get my blood and he'd put it all over his own private parts.
ERIN: Incredible, isn't it?
EUNICE: Yes. It was damn terrifying, especially when I realised he'd gone blood crazy.
ERIN: And this all came out in court?
EUNICE: I don't know what came out in court, Erin. I wasn't there.
ERIN: Well we do know that several judges thought he was so dangerous, he had to be kept on remand for eight months.
EUNICE: That's right. Two judges remanded him.
ERIN: And one judge decided to let him go.
Eunice was quite right to feel outraged with the law, because
again she was confused about what the law can do in a
situation like this. I had to explain to her that courts are not there to treat people. The good judge had to decide whether a crime had been committed. Having listened to the case brought by the police, and having considered that Eunice was free to leave Gerald's house at any moment, he decided that, as Gerald had been in remand already for eight months, he would wash his hands of the matter. This immediately put Eunice in an awful situation. While Gerald was locked up, she could control her addiction to a certain extent, but when he was out and available, the urge to go back was overpowering, and she was terrified of it. When she was emotionally and chemically calm, she could see all the dangers that lay in that relationship. She could admit that Gerald was merely an expression of her own needs. Remove Gerald and she would continue to roam in a desperate search for the same sort of relationship. She put herself in danger in such episodes, as well as endangering anyone she met because she was aware of her volcanic rage, which felt as if it could erupt and destroy the whole planet. Indeed, when she was upset, her power could be felt throughout the room. Yet there was such a gentle, lovable person trapped in that nightmare. Other people who had dealings with her all commented on how much they liked her. She had many talents, and as we worked together, she was able to draw her feelings. Often when they were too painful, she would draw a set piece, like a picture of some houses; then on the back of the paper would be drawn the broken-hearted child - the real drawing.
I knew she was working her way back to Gerald. I also knew it was important we let her go with our love. If we had insisted she stay away from him, we would have created a barrier between her and ourselves. She had unfinished business with Gerald, and we recognised that.
Eunice had never really intended to leave Gerald. She had begun
to tell her next-door neighbour of the happenings in the house,
and to show her the marks. Now, in my experience, it is an essential
part of a relationship of this kind that the participants feel
compelled to share what is happening to them with a third party.
I believe Peter Sutcliffe would have told someone else about his
because between intense bursts of activity, the addicted parties can only keep themselves 'high' by recounting the events to someone else. Eunice had no one to talk to during the day, because Gerald was at work, so the next-door neighbour became her confidante. After several months of listening, the neighbour became so upset that she got in touch with a local refuge which, on being told of a woman kept in such a state of fear that she was unable to leave a man who might well kill her, quite understandably swept in to Eunice's rescue. Eunice could recount the moment when her able-side knew she must go with these good women who were flinging her possessions into a suitcase, but her disabled-side was furiously trying to put the clothes back into the cupboard. Finally, the women bundled her into the car and took her away.
As soon as she told her story to a sympathetic woman, she was taken to see a psychiatrist. He heard her out and said that in his opinion a man like Gerald should be in Broadmoor for life, so he called in the police. Eunice was asked to give evidence for a police prosecution against Gerald.
Her evidence filled fifty pages. Gerald was arrested and the bloodstained implements were found in the house, just as Eunice had described. Gerald spent eight months in jail, and the psychiatrist there said he was not insane.
During the time Gerald was locked away, Eunice was seen by various members of the medical profession, all of whom tended to feel there was little they could do for her. When the matter came to court, the police were feeling more than a little embarrassed. What they had mounted as a huge prosecution against Gerald had turned into a nightmare, for it was obvious from the evidence before them that this was not a case of an innocent victim of aggression. This was a case of two people in the grip of a hopelessly complicated addiction to each other, and the matter had no business in a court of law. It should have been properly referred to experts working in the field of human behaviour.
Thus Gerald suffered eight months in jail, where he had no chance
of anyone helping him. He was finally allowed to go free, carrying
the stigma of being labelled a bloodthirsty monster, when he really
was a frightened man in the hold of
something he really did not understand. People prefer to think of child-molesters and sexually disturbed people as monsters; that way they can suspend human feeling and compassion, and righteously hate them. I have never truly met a monster, only vulnerable, confused, grief-stricken people expressing their pain in rage and despair.
Eunice came to us, as she had to so many other agencies beforehand, for help. 'Keep him away from me,' is what she said, but what she meant was 'Keep me away from him.' We did so for a while, and I began work with her that was to spread over seven months. It was hard work because Eunice was a highly intelligent woman, and had built a solid wall around herself. Gradually she learned that we could be trusted, and she began to paint and to draw her feelings. I bought her an excellent set of paints and lots of pads. Every week I worked through the material with her. She began to put the story of her childhood into some sort of realistic perspective, rather than maintaining her original statement that it had all been perfect.
Every time I sit with someone who says 'It was all perfect', I groan inwardly. It is a sure sign of an emotionally disabled adult defending the hurt child in himself. There is no such thing as a perfect childhood. Emotionally able people are secure enough to acknowledge the bits that were not too good, but they agree that, on balance, their upbringing had more pluses than minuses. People like Eunice either totally deny their past, thereby sitting on huge piles of conflicting emotion; or they go the other way, and a sympathetic glance is enough to set them off with a veritable diarrhoea of stories which shock and horrify the listener. These latter are often the people who love the story, and have no intention of creating a happy ending for themselves. They very much see themselves as Hamlet or Ophelia, and the rest of the world as a huge stage. Most helpers of mankind are not trained to realise that in such cases they become merely part of the cast of characters. Agency workers often think they represent the directors in the plays of their clients' lives; actually, they are walk-ons, used as props by the main characters.
This is what happened to Eunice. An awful lot of good people got
fed up with helping her, because they were
working on the generally-accepted view that 'If a man treats you like that, surely you must want to get away, and stay away.' We at least were able to say, 'We know why you need to go back to him, but we have got to find out why you need him at all.' Eunice's second drawing was a complete history of her family life. Her father is drawn in the parlour, which he kept locked until Sunday afternoons. She remembers the room as a treasure-house stuffed full of all the pretty things that he loved, and his gramophone. He had a beautiful voice and he used to sing for her. The poverty of the rest of the house was reflected in the drawing. [p.129, omitted on web]
Gradually Eunice was able to describe her bitter, angry mother, who saw her husband as weak and ineffectual. They had many children, far too many to cope with on so little money. There was also a grandmother dying of stomach cancer in an upstairs bedroom. In those days she would have died in agony. Somewhere there was a lodger, an unremembered man. What was coming clear at this point was that someone, when Eunice was under the age of three, must have molested her sexually. Certainly she was battered by her mother. She could never gain her mother's love, even though all her life she strived for it. I suspect Eunice was a gifted child, and those children are always difficult to rear, because although intellectually way beyond their years, emotionally they take far longer to mature than normal children, and the risk of damaging them is much greater.
Her first happy memory was her first day at school. It was probably her first experience of sanity, and her first recognition that there was a good world outside the nightmare at home. She remembered sitting in the dark on the top stairs of her house, crying for hours. Her drawings began to give hints. Stairs appeared, a little figure, a door with a cord tying the door-handle to the banisters. 'What was that?' I asked. 'That's the room my grandmother was in,' she remembered. How much screaming and moaning must have gone on behind that door. Her memories of her father included times when he would take her to the pub in the evening, and she would sit in the audience and listen to him sing. How much did her mother's anger against her reflect her relationship with her father? Her mother was never able to acknowledge
his singing. He made all the clothes for the family himself. He told Eunice about his mother, an ardent Salvation Army follower; one day Eunice opened the door of a cupboard in her parents' bedroom and found a picture of her grand-mother's face inside. There were constant visits to the hospital with a sick sister who demanded all the mother's time. The memories were mostly grim.
When we got close to the central question of who it was who sexually abused her and beat her as a child, she would close up, and I would see the anxiety surrounding that question cause her face and neck to flush. You could see the emotional reaction trigger off a chemical charge, and she would become restless and shift about in her chair.
I know that at some point in her life she must be allowed to come to terms with that deeply felt pain and hurt. Sitting before me was yet another betrayed child, crippled by events before the age of five. However, I also knew that the Refuge did not have the facilities to offer a safe place for her to let go of all those years of damage. It would be dangerous for us and disastrous for her to open her up without being in a position to put her back together again. At this point I realised that she had a problem with hypertension, and I was able to refer her to a very gifted specialist, who took her into hospital and put her on sleep therapy. Not only did it cure her hypertension, but it also gave us a chance to be with her when she was relaxed and unflustered by the trivia of everyday life.
Tina and I visited her every day, and let her talk about her first marriage, which was a disaster; about her beloved only son, who died in a motor accident; about her childhood, about her mother who never loved her, about the crying, the fear, the empty blackness. Before she went into hospital she drew her rage for me; it was frightening. I hoped that the time in hospital would give us time to get closer to the truth, but the hospital was not the right place. She had already been in most of the mental hospitals, and she had seen psychiatrists. By now most women in Eunice's position would be dead, either from the hours of beating, or from the pills she took to keep her calm. But Eunice had the most amazing stamina.
She also recognised the moments in the torture sessions
with Gerald when she was near to death, and would draw back from
it. 'All of a sudden there was a sound that came from in me, and
yet where the hell it came from . . . I suppose you'd call it
basic primitive,' she said.
EUNICE: The thing that, you know, I felt so much: I was like a bloody animal, that was, you know. . .
EUNICE: Yes. And I made this noise, terrific noise, and at any time I did say at this particular time if I'd have been able to, I would have done something . . . but it only lasted five minutes.
ERIN: Done what?
EUNICE: I just wanted to finish with it.
ERIN: Why is that? . . . Do you ever hear that noise again? Have you ever heard it again?
EUNICE: No, it's the only one time when it . . . and the funny thing was. . .
ERIN: Did you feel you were very near death then? Or were you
very much alive?
Gerald stopped the mutilation when he heard her roar. He turned his head and walked away. In that moment he could have taken her life. But he gave it back to her. In these relationships the balance goes back and forth - death is on the side-lines waiting.
While Eunice was in hospital, Tina and I agreed that we would
visit Gerald, so wrote and asked if we could see him. He wrote
back and said he would be pleased to see us, and said he hoped
Eunice was well. On the appointed day we drove to his house: a
beautifully kept terraced house in a middle-class suburban area.
We knocked on the door and were ushered into the narrow hall,
and Gerald showed us into his warm, comfortable kitchen. Before
me stood a powerfully built man, immaculately dressed, and very
nervous. He made us a cup of coffee each and we got on with the
talking. He seemed completely isolated in his house, and expressed
a very real affection for Eunice. The most amazing thing about
talking to both Eunice and Gerald was that the bits of their
personalities which did function normally really enjoyed each other's company immensely. She would describe the times they would laugh and joke. He would make a cup of tea for her, or she would cook a special dinner for him. I felt that here were two really nice people with plenty of good potential.
He was a good worker and respected among his colleagues. Looking round the room, I could see he was able to create a very warm and organised environment round him. He was a great reader and knowledgeable to talk to. Both Tina and I liked him very much. He was very concerned about Eunice, and we both pointed out the dangers of her returning to him. He might either kill her by accident, or her heart might give out. He agreed, but complained that after a hard day's work she used to demand that he beat her for hours, and that used to exhaust him, because he had to put in a hard day's work the next day. He made it sound such a normal complaint that Tina and I had to look at each other to restore our own sense of reality.
He, like Eunice, both wanted and did not want this relationship. He described how Eunice would fall on the floor in a totally passive state during these sessions, and she would seem to be in a world of her own. Actually, they were both in a world of their own. Gerald himself, Eunice eventually told me, had come from a very violent family, in which he was savagely battered. Apart from the violence in the family, his task as a child during the war years was to loot the bombed-out houses in his area. He would tell Eunice about the broken and maimed bodies strewn around the rooms he visited, the raw lumps of flesh that were once human beings. He had been given very little chance to find love or happiness in his early years.
We finished our coffee and left. We both felt that we had a clear
picture of why Gerald needed his relationship with Eunice, but
no clear picture of what more could be done. Certainly, Gerald
was not unusual in our case histories of women coming to the Refuge
telling us about this kind of abusive sexual practice. What was
different was that her description of their practices together
could not be dismissed as merely 'fantasy'. There was solid police
evidence to prove
it. I telephoned various people for advice, but the net result of hours of talking was that no one really wanted to take her on. 'These are difficult cases,' they would say. We were faced with the prospect of Eunice coming out of hospital and going back to him, which she did.
Eunice phoned me to describe how she had met him and spent the day with him. 'How did you feel when you saw him?' I asked. 'Before I went in, I felt like I'd got twenty butterflies in my stomach.' 'You must have been very frightened,' I said. 'I was coming out in such a heat I felt I'd got a temperature.' There it was again - that accurate description of an addiction. You hear it said by an alcoholic as he reaches for his bottle. You hear it said by a heroin addict reaching for his needle. The buzz, the click, and then the intense warmth.
So they were together again. After a few weeks Eunice came back to see me. It was all happening again. 'I want to leave him,' she said. 'I really do want to leave him.' 'All right,' I said. 'This time I'll arrange for you to leave England, and you won't know where you're going till you come to say goodbye to me.' I made the arrangements, and when she came along she brought with her a roll of drawings. 'Don't open them until I've gone,' she said. 'I won't,' I promised, and kissed her goodbye, before sending her off to a refuge abroad. 'If you filter back to him from there, you will have to acknowledge your need for his violence, won't you?' I said. She smiled and left. I unrolled the drawings, and saw we were one step closer to the pain. She could now at least draw what happened in her childhood. But it would take time for her to draw who did it. As I write, she has returned to this country, and is in touch with me. She is in yet another hospital and I only hope they can help her. Gerald will be waiting for her, unless he meets another woman like her, and unless he kills or gets killed. Only then will the matter rest.
One day, I will have a place that will specialise in caring for
the Geralds and Eunices of this world - hopefully, finding them
before they are adults.