Follows on from JAGGED #7 – Bang goes the suicide gun.
I’ve never celebrated Mothers’ Day, and I never will. JAGGED is now 29,577 words long. In printed form that equates to roughly a 120 page book. That is quite a few words launched up from the depths of darkness. So far I have referenced my Mother with about six or seven of those 29,577 words – simply because I have very little to go on where her existence is concerned. In the next Chapter I tell you what I know, and I will give you an opinion on my parents.
I wonder how many other Survivors of institutionalised childhood sexual abuse (or non-institutionalised for that matter) have trodden the same parentless path that I did?
The forensic psychiatrist hired by the Church to interview and assess me asked me what percentage of my internal damage was caused by the break up of my family, and what percentage was caused by Catholic Church abuse. Even though I thought it was a stupid shitface of a question for a professional to ask a traumatised person, I told him that 80% of the damage was caused by the Church, and 20% was caused by the family break up. He was not happy with my answer. Well … I wish I had thought to say this at the time … ‘the fucking rapes and mental cruelty and abuse happened under Church care mate, what part of that don’t you get?’
The session with that Church paid psychiatrist was very adversarial, and when he greeted me with the words ‘this session will not necessarily be to your benefit’ the words you’ve landed in a viper’s nest Keith immediately sprang to mind. The Church does not hire psychiatrists to bolster the legal claims of Survivors, the Church hires psychiatrists to water claims down – but there is more to the story than that …
It would pay Survivors to realise that when you launch civil proceedings against the Catholic Church the following can possibly happen to you, as it did to me. Both your own legal team, and the Church, will hire forensic psychiatrists to write a medico-legal report, and to probe, test, dig into, expose, question, and examine every single aspect of your abuse experiences and the legacies you carry as a result of that abuse. It is an unremitting process and it re-traumatises because it re-immerses you into the abuse experiences in a very rough and ragged manner. In my case the internal me, the me that lives in a permanently depressive abuse-induced environment, was brutally reefed out into the glaring light of day – re-traumatise doesn’t begin to explain how such a process feels.
It might surprise you to know that I do not hate that Church hired psychiatrist because there would be no point to that hate. The fact is, and this is the way it works folks, the odds are that the very next day he might have been hired by a Survivor’s legal team to compile a medico-legal report to prove the veracity of that Survivor’s claim against the Church. How a psychiatrist treats you in these matters very much depends on who is paying their bill.
Chapter 25: Hi Mum and Dad – where the hell were you?
I have no memory whatsoever of my Mother, and my siblings never, ever, once mentioned her to me. So it has left me scrambling through some old letters that my father and a distant cousin of his sent to my older sister many decades ago, and it has also caused me to scroll through various ancestry.com pages to try and pick up some hints and clues.
I am not the first person on this planet who has a Mother that he never knew, but I must say, it is such a strange feeling to know that while I personally went through such shitfull orphanage/visitation family abuse experiences, my Mother was out there in society kicking around, literally just up the road, and doing whatever it was that she did. I capitalise the word Mother because I believe that Mothers are very important human beings in the life of a child – so are Fathers.
The only person who remotely knew what my Mother was like was my Father – and when I met him for one day back in 1989 he told me that all of the time he was with her (long enough to have four children) he never did quite figure out who she was. When she left him to return to her husband and other child he was, to say the least, emotionally blown to the far side of the Andromeda Galaxy.
So here’s what little I know about my Mother …
Her name could be Vera Colman/Coleman, my Father knew her by that name, other family sources such as they are also say that her name was Vera Bess Kennedy (known as Davis). Who knows? Here’s a bit of a teaser photo I found on the Australian War Memorial site – could it actually be a photo of my Mother?
This Chapter is also a bit of a combo – in that, if you read between the lines, you’ll probably form an opinion on why my family split up and I was placed in a Brisbane orphanage in 1957. Before my family fell apart we lived in Sydney and then, for a reason that will become pretty obvious, caught the train up to Brisbane.
Here are the excerpts from the letters, all of which were written in the 1980s …
Father: “I guess I have been very much a “loner’ since the end of 1957, the time we all parted in Brisbane.”
Father: “The few words of advice were to not thump my head on a brick wall. I knew then that everything was hopeless, that it was impossible for me to get you out of there.”
Father: “I knew her only as Vera Coleman (Colman). I never heard the name Bess. When I first met her she was sharing a flat with another girl, so it never occurred to me that she was married – a husband and teenage son.”
“Towards the end of 1957, Vera went missing on a Saturday (in Brisbane). On the Sunday the five of us walked down Edward Street to the Botanical Gardens for the afternoon. I think I notified the police that night of her disappearance as there was no word from her on our return to the room.”
“Vera turned up some days later, it was at least five days later but may have been more. It was around noon, her only conversation was that she was married, and was living with her husband and teenage son. She was only there long enough to put her clothes in a suitcase, then left. She was in a very determined mood.”
“Whether this happened before or after I went to St Vincent De Paul I don’t remember. I am Anglican, but Vera had kept you on the instruction of the Catholic faith. They arranged where you were to go.”
Insert from me: Ah – the good old Catholic Church. There they were with four kids on their hands, two girls and two boys. The family of those kids had just broken up and what was the first thing the Church decided to do? – they decided to split us up even further. My two older sisters were placed in an orphanage at Wynnum (Nazareth House), and my older brother and I were placed in a different orphanage at Nudgee (St Vincent’s). Just to cap it all off, the Church then separated my older brother and I into the ‘big boys’ and ‘little boys’ section of St Vincent’s. I was the youngest, and had just turned five years old at the time.
Father: “The police came to see me, I had previously reported to them what had happened with Vera. They told me that I had no jurisdiction over the children (my children) and that I had no rights concerning you! All this, with a few words of advice, showed me exactly where I stood – nowhere.”
Cousin: “Frank last saw Keith in the ‘50s’, you were all down at the Quay. It is beyond our comprehension why you were all separated. We were all delighted when Keith met Bess and had a lovely family, so what happened?”
Cousin: “I was asking my brother Frank about Keith, he also remarked that he was one of the nicest men he ever knew, and that will always be the same with me.”
Cousin: “Something has come back to me. One evening we went over to Balgowlah with some toys for you and to see Keith and Bess. The house was opened, but no one at home. I think now you must have all gone to Qld. We left the toys but never received an acknowledgement, which was very strange.”
Cousin: “I think Keith has kept away because of what was done to you children.”
“I remember he met Bess in Brisbane. She was a Brisbane girl. I just cannot understand why they ignored you all those years, or put you in a Home, We are all so shocked and unless the circumstances were mitigating, it is unforgiveable.”
Father: “It is time to send you the enclosed papers, which will serve as a crash course on part of my history, for better or for worse, which is best in the long run. At least you will be aware of the facts if they crop up.”
Father: “The reason for moving to Queensland? We had notice of eviction from the house because of rent arrears so decided to go back to Brisbane. At least I knew I would be able to find a decent job in Brisbane. However things went wrong otherwise. I worked at Lennon’s Hotel up until 1959, and I then returned to Sydney.”
So, there are only little ghost-whisperings about my Mother in those letters – but they are all I have to hang my thoughts and feelings about my Mother on.
Over all the decades up to my current age I have not thought about my parents all that much. I have nothing much in my memory to create any sort of imagining of what they were really like as people.
But I do know this. By dumping us and walking away they left four siblings permanently separated from their parents, and permanently separated from each other. My siblings and I were never able to re-connect in any meaningful way later on in life and not one of us ever broached the issue of our orphanage experiences with each other.
I was the youngest of the four of us. The split up of my family did contribute to the harm that my mind carries. I told the psychiatrist that it equated to about 20% of the damage. The other 80% was caused by the nuns and priests and workers at St Vincent’s, and by the members of the Visitation Family that I was placed with … all of those bastards circled my vulnerability like moths to a fucking flame.
So what do I think of my parents?
My Father was a loving, small, weakened man. He was badly damaged by his war experiences up in New Guinea in 1942 when the cargo vessel the MV MacDuhi was blown up under him by Japanese bombs. When I met him in 1989 for just that one day, he also told me that his later war experiences serving on American landing craft towards the end of the Pacific War haunted him – and that the sight of what human beings were capable of doing to each other created an internal trauma within himself that he was never able to move on from.
My Mother is a total unknown to me. I have no concrete information on what type of person she may have been. She was a married woman with a teenage son. She moved in with a lover, had four children with that lover, and then returned to her husband and son. She walked away from her other four children.
I have very mixed feelings regarding my parents. Part of me loves them – I was too young at the time to understand what was going on and why their relationship, and their stewardship of their four children, failed. When I met my Father in the flesh I chose to love him.
But there is one thing I cannot forgive …
Over the seven interminably long years that my childhood sexual abuse experiences unfolded, when I desperately hoped that somebody would come and rescue me from the orphanage, my Father was still in Brisbane for the first two years of it without once visiting me, and my Mother was just up the road in Brisbane for all of that time without once visiting me. They were both, literally, just up the bloody road.
I cannot, and never will, forgive either of them for that.
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