Flirtation VS Assault.

After posting “A Very Different World” last week (about the short French film that focused on a total role reversal and challenged viewers’ preconceptions on sexual predators and abuse) I began a discussion with my mother around the subject of ‘boundary breaking’. I am no prude. I’ve always been known as flirtatious. However, I – as many women do – have boundaries. I have personal lines that should not be crossed especially when it comes to the opposite sex.

I posted a comment on my blog detailing an incident that happened to me at the beginning of the year. I told another blogger how that on my way to meet a friend for an evening drink, I fell into a difficult situation. During the winter months in Britain, it tends to get dark around four in the afternoon. I left home at six so it was pitch black. At the end of my road is a little corner shop which slightly lights that part of the street. Outside the shop stood two men. They seemed young but I could not tell their age immediately. I was not dressed provocatively. I was covered up in a very warm coat. I was not expecting them to behave the way they did. Both men were wearing hooded tops. Their faces could barely be seen. They were both standing blocking the path. I felt wary as I approached them. Striding past, a strong and overwhelming gust of marijuana flew past me. Both men were smoking in plain view. Within seconds, they began making kissing noises at me with one even muttering something (I only caught him saying “darling”). I looked up but continued walking. Worryingly, I missed my bus and had to continue walking to the next bus stop which happened to be a bit of a distance away.

I began to feel nervous.

I practically sprinted to the next bus stop. Was it wrong to feel so anxious?

As I approached the dimly lit bus stop I looked back. I was happy to see no one was behind me. I was now by the side of a busy, main road. Cars were rushing by. Surely I would be safe. However, after a couple of minutes, one of the men appeared. Horrified, I stepped out of the dark bus shelter and closer to the busy road; it was the only way to be seen. The man stared at me as he passed by. I tried not to catch his gaze.  Relieved that he had walked by, I started to relax. That was until he decided to turn back. With darkness as his cover, he approached me.

“What’s your name?” He asked abruptly.

I answered. I couldn’t be rude in fear of what he might do. There were many bushes around. He could have easily dragged me into one if I dared to insult him. So I was polite.

“Give me your number,” he ordered in a monotone voice. How he thought this was seductive or appealing I’ll never know.

“No!” I answered jokingly, trying not to show my fear.

“You have got a tight little ass haven’t you,” he said, biting his lip and staring at my behind.

That was it. The words that made me worried but what could I do?

“Let me take you out.”

“You can’t. I’m married.”

“And?”

That is not the first time a man has responded that way when I have replied that I am not single. It is completely disgusting.

Just then, my bus came. Relief can not even begin to describe my feelings. I can honestly say, I have never been so pleased to see a bus in my life.

If that can happen at six in the afternoon then imagine if it was ten at night. I can’t believe that people feel they can say whatever they want to whoever they want! Have some boundaries! What gives someone the right to speak so inappropriately to me, to make me feel like a piece of meat? When does flirtation cross into assault?

My mother told me about a time when she visited New York back in the seventies. She went and stayed with my father’s brother and wife. On a day trip out, whilst walking alone through the Bronx, a man passed by and casually assaulted her, he then walked off again as though he had done nothing. Horrified, my mother ignored it with the fear that speaking out to her brother-law would be met with ridicule. Alone in a big city, it was inconceivable to find help and admit such a derogatory incident.

I just cannot comprehend something like that.

I have flirted with men in nightclubs before, I cannot deny that I have not been physically flirtatious but we all know the unspoken lines. I would not grab a man by his crotch yet why have I had a man attempt to put his hand up my skirt before? Did I invite that? Was I dancing too provocatively? Some people might agree to that. Isn’t that the excuse of rapists, that she was deliberately trying to turn me on or she shouldn’t have been wearing such seductive clothing.

Why is it becoming more and more acceptable to behave this way?

The Deepest Blade of All.

Shards of speech cut through the air

brutal, malevolent

he strives to wound deeper and deeper

I struggle to breathe

open for attack

he’s ready

and waiting

patiently

words slice through me

piercing my world

penetrating my heart

worthless tears

spent on him

disillusioned with love

trusting the enemy

he clings to my loyalty

trapped

measures his love

mean, mercenary

the rage ensues

arrows of hate dart,

surround,

release

scorned retaliation rapes me of hope

shameful regret

heated incisions damage

already fragile skin

alone

scarred

fractured from fury.

  Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.

Chapter 3, Part 1.

THREE

FOOD AND WASTE

Food was the symbol of many different things through the past, comfort and control being the main. I had always been a healthy child growing up on fresh fish, fruits and vegetables. My mother was a fantastic cook and fed the family well. We understood where food came from and the benefits of it from a young age. I enjoyed cooking and helping her in the kitchen. If anything, it was more time to spend with her.

As I headed towards my teenage years my father took my sister and me to restaurants as a treat. He often left my mother behind. I began seeing this as a regular way of life. Sweets and chocolate began to appear in the house and I revelled in it like most young teens would. My mother still encouraged us to eat well and usually I did but if I wanted anything ‘naughty’ my Dad would never refuse it. Not because he couldn’t say no to me. He just treated this as a way to point score with his wife. The children were a competition to him and food was the start of his game playing.

In later years (as the trouble grew worse between me and my father) food became a source of genuine comfort to me. I would regularly binge eat at dinner. My father and I never sat at the table together and enjoyed a meal. Instead I was forced to eat in my bedroom to avoid conflict with him. He knew what I put in my mouth as we always went food shopping together every week. Something I almost looked forward to.

However the supermarket was a place he would frequently choose to humiliate me. If I wanted to get something I may not have finished before he would begin a rant on my ‘addiction to wastage’. He’d tell me I had no consideration for starving children all over the world and no concern about money. He’d continue to insult me and if I argued that it had happened only the one time, he’d accuse me of attempting to deliberately agitate him. Again, his voice would change and all this would be said through gritted teeth and glaring eyes. Often he would behave like this in public places where the normal reaction of strangers was to stop and stare over at the strange ‘couple’ having an argument. He enjoyed my humiliation but never saw how he humiliated himself, after all at this time I was a grown woman.

On one occasion,  my father began a petty fight as we loaded our items onto the conveyor belt. I remember the cashier and the customer ahead of us watching curiously. The customer, a young woman who appeared to be in her twenties, couldn’t stop herself from watching. Her judging eyes buried themselves in me. I know how we looked. I get it. It sickens me. My father’s rant was not subsiding, it only grew worse as I tried to pacify him. To him, I was patronising. He stormed off. I panicked. I had no money on me to pay for the shopping. I could see him leave the supermarket in a powerful rage. I stood there, shocked watching our shopping edge towards the cashier. The stranger’s eyes were still burning through me when suddenly, she spoke.

“Don’t worry, my husband is a lot older than me too. Older men are like that”.

I was horrified and immediately repulsed.

Her face automatically dropped when I responded,

“He’s not my husband; he’s my father”.

The brute returned within moments and began ordering me to “MOVE!”. The stranger looked appalled and full of regret. I imagined she wished she never spoke to me. I did to.

After we returned home I ran upstairs in a fit of tears. He couldn’t take my crying, it was a weakness to him and he’d use it as a chance to insult and criticise me, saying, “Oh here come the waterworks!”

This was such a regular incident. Something would happen every week. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of the food I would get to eat when we returned. I was dependant on it to make me happy. Upstairs, I’d take: one plastic bag of shopping, filled with a high calorie sandwich, an energy drink, doughnuts, chocolate and two or three bags of crisps. With the TV on high, I’d sit and gorge on my selection to the point of feeling sick (although, back then I never actually did throw up). It satisfied me. Immediately I felt ashamed of what I had done, often shoving the remnants under my bed or frantically stuffing it in the bin.

Guilt would encompass me and I would dramatically berate and condemn myself. That’s when self-harm began to find a place in my life.

© Roshni Bhattacharya 2013

My father the hoarder – Photo 2.

The garage: a place he kept all the things that could not fit in anywhere else. I hated it. It never had a purpose, it was just a dirty storage unit for my father. When I was growing up, the garage was filled with garden equipment, old suitcases, our childhood bikes, ladders and occasional cleaning products. It was kept just like a garage should be. When my mother left, it’s purpose became unclear and my father began using it as a dumping ground. Old chairs began to surface as did other furniture we had stopped using. He started collecting crates of wine and endless bottles of beer there. Several sets of garden furniture appeared over the years, just in case he ran out during his BBQs for his “friends”. His hoarding was growing out of control. Worst of all, this space one day became my father’s gym. He bought a rowing machine and exercise bike and placed them into the already cramped area. I kept well away. No one ever entered the garage except him. That was until he started using it as an airing room. The damp, mouldy garage became the place he hung his clothes to be aired. When my father decided that he wanted entire control over every aspect of my life and began washing my clothes,* the garage was the place to let them dry. As he had been tirelessly looking after me, it was then my “job” to make sure all the clothes were hanged up on the washing lines he had now attached to the garage ceiling. ALL the clothes. Including his underwear. I refused of course. I would not attach mine either, he hated my insolence but nothing was going to let me degrade myself any further. He just laughed at me reiterating how ridiculous I was being and to “grow up and take responsibility”. I stood my ground, I already felt belittled enough.
I dreaded Sundays.
The day of “rest”. Well, it wasn’t for me. It was the day my father would do the few chores he set for himself. It was the day of “inspection” where my father would check on my cleaning and tidying. It was the day where I would often find piles of my “mess” the abuser had discovered strewn and scattered all over the house. It was my day to hang up the laundry and enter the disgusting garage. Sunday was the day I hated, when my father would follow me in and watch to see if I was doing it correctly otherwise it would all be taken down and done again. This time as he waited.

*See post: The right to wash my own clothes –  Published 2nd April 2013

 

Physical abuse – a new insight.

I have always said that my father did not physically abuse me. However, after delving further into the term “physical abuse” and all that it stands for, I am shocked to see that my claim is not true. He was physically abusive. I just don’t have any visible scars. In my quest to research the different aspects and consequences of abuse, I have fallen on new information. I have always believed that physical abuse was to be violent. The person on the receiving end would have scars and visuals to prove their abuse.

Research has led me to realise that there are many other appearances of this kind of abuse. My abuser was extremely threatening. If he did not get his way or I was disobedient, his threatening behaviour would follow. His deep, bellowing voice would resonate through the house or in public and the way in which he ordered me closer and breathed down my neck, talking at me through gritted teeth, all added to his aggressive demeanour. His physical stance and how he towered over me, making sure he had all the power as I cowered into the shadows. The way he would lure me into believing I was safe, even making a joke or choosing a lighter topic of conversation first before launching into his fit of rage and sudden burst of apocalyptic anger. The constant threats of harm against me that he made, telling me that I needed a punch – that it would “sort” me out or to go and kill myself to make his life easier. I never thought of it as physical abuse at the time but telling your own child to commit suicide must be classed as that. Oh and it’s abhorrent too.

His reckless driving and aggressive behaviour in the car all adds up to physical abuse. He put my life at risk every day I spent in that car with him. Every day I anticipated his anger and waited for another explosion. He deliberately chose the car as a place to shout and rant at me as I (in his words) had “no escape”. I wanted to release my seatbelt and fling myself out onto the open road many a time. The thought seemed better than enduring his continuous barrage of contempt.

A key part of physical abuse that I never recognised was how my abuser prevented me from seeking medical help or care. If I needed a doctor, he had to know the reasons why. When I refused, he exploded. The moment that stands out the most is the day of my massive Asthma attack in 2009* where my father refused point blank to call an Ambulance in the night for me, implying that I was seeking attention and being dramatic. The other option was that he drive me to a hospital at 1.am. He refused that too. He never felt worry for me, or fear for my life.

The way he would sharply raise his hand to my face holding it suspended, mid air, inches from my skin – surely that was physical? Yes, he never released it and let it slap my across my cheek but how can what he was doing be classified as anything else?

My father was an abusive man.

In every way.

* See post Notes.

Health Scare Part 2.

In the summer of 2008, I was booked in for a Colposcopy at the Royal Free Hospital in North London. It was a great hospital with a good reputation and I was pleased to be in their care. I wasn’t pleased however when my father insisted that I regale him with all the information and details about the procedure. I continued to tell him that it was to be extremely personal and intrusive and as a twenty six year old woman at the time, I wanted to endure it myself. I had not told any friends and was still yet to even tell my mother. Until it got to a point where I had to, it was something I wanted to keep private. Just because he had rooted through my things and discovered the truths, did not give him the right to have full clearance to know every detail of my life.

I had been working so hard to put some boundaries in place between us that this would only cancel them out. He was well aware of this and had no intention of risking loss of power over me. No matter how I reasoned with him, I never won. He had control over me.

As I sheepishly explained the steps of the Colposcopy, I felt sickened with each word. Why couldn’t he just investigate it over the web? No, he revelled in my discomfort.

By the time I had finished, my father looked at me with disgust then left. It was a look I was used to.

I tried to convince him that I would go to the appointment alone. Although I had hid the details of the appointment, unsurprisingly he had found them after one of his random “spring cleans” (or so he said). No, he had to be there and stick around as we sat awkwardly together in the waiting room. When the doctor called my name, I made my way to her as quickly as I could. I’m sure being stressed before was not the best emotion to be going through. I needed to be as relaxed as possible. How was that ever going to happen with the abuser awaiting me outside?

Of course the whole process was unpleasant and uncomfortable. I was very aware of where things were and what was happening to me. As a person who is incredibly insecure of their body, I have to admit it was one of the worst experiences of my life. This feeling was magnified by the fact the abuser would be the first face I would see after it was over.

My father had no sympathy for pain and as we left and walked to his car, he proceeded to list a set of targets I needed to achieve and complete for him over the following days, mainly to do with the house.

I had stopped listening the moment his lips opened and sound left his mouth.

This would be a moment that would be repeated for the next two years as an abnormal result kept appearing. I desperately wanted it to end. My fear of hospitals was fiercely developing and the abuser was winning. I finally opened up and told my boyfriend (my now husband David) about it all as well as my mother. David was supportive and understood that it was not my father’s place to accompany me, it was not doing the situation any good.

He offered to come instead.

I actually wanted to go alone but my father would never have allowed that. Instead, he accepted David’s request and had to back down unwillingly (he felt threatened by another man). He would not have a leg to stand on if he fought David for his position.

My last Colposcopy was 2011. It came back clear.

I had my catch up smear last month.

My results were normal.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

I have to be honest, I lack knowledge in this subject and would never have classed myself as suffering from it. Well, not until recently. Within the last two years, due a significant weight gain (related to stress), I have been feeling extremely low about the way I look, anxious even. Walking past a mirror or reflective surface only panics me. It instantly disgusts me.

I am regularly told “it’s all in your head” or scolded for being self-absorbed. Others compliment me, attempting to reassure my fault-finding. I’ve had people drop casual comments that I should start dieting then I might feel better. In actuality that makes me feel a thousand times worse when all I do is diet then binge and diet then binge. Any sign of stress sends me into this destructive path.

I have read other bloggers talk about BDD but would never admit that I too suffer from many of the symptoms. I am scared that friends, family and acquaintances will judge me; that they will think I am attention seeking or fishing for compliments. It’s not that I need to hear I’m beautiful, I just cannot stand the way I look. When I see myself in the mirror I feel sick. I see a stranger staring back at me.

In the explanation for BDD on the NHS website, they say that sufferers regularly find fault in their bodies especially the facial area. I hate my face. I hate it. I think it’s vile. I hate my unsymmetrical face. I hate my twisted nose, my teeth, my double chin. I feel disgusting every day. That’s not to say that I love everything else about myself – I don’t.

I love fashion. I try to make it work but the confident days are ruined when I accidentally see my reflection in a shop window. What seemed like a good choice in the morning becomes a bad decision; one that I berate myself for making for the rest of the day. A decision that leaves me feeling self conscious and extremely aware of how awful I look.

I do not dare say this out loud and am currently too frightened to seek professional help. I feel as though I may be laughed at. After all, people see me as I want them to see me: confident and self-assured.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Am I aggressive?

It’s not the first word that comes to mind if I was to describe myself or even to describe my faults. Aggression is really not in my nature. I cower and run from it, I’m frightened of it and avoid other forms of it. Confrontation is the last place you’ll find me. However, naturally, like any other human, I am capable of having aggression, of feeling it and sometimes, of displaying it too. Mine tends to come out when I’ve been passive for too long, when I’ve allowed annoyances to build up or have been biting my tongue. I explode and the emotion quickly follows. My husband tends to get it the most. He knows that I mean no harm and that it is usually nothing to do with him. Instead the stresses of day to day life and work come out at the strangest of times, especially when neither of us are expecting it.

I swear. It’s quite bad. It shocks him. Nothing too vulgar (even I’m not capable of losing it entirely), but bad enough to take him by surprise.

He gets it.

All those years I was “forbidden” to show anger or frustration. All those years my father berated me for having emotion or feeling hurt. Of course, anger would eventually come out. However, I’m no monster. I am quick to apologise and calm down. I do not want to be his mirror image or fall into his behaviour. I refuse to hold grudges over tiny matters, quickly moving away from the argument with softer, sweeter words.

My aggression was suppressed for many years. My whole family disallowed anger on my part yet they all freely let loose, screaming insults and rage at each other. Perhaps they wanted my innocence to remain but keeping such a basic emotion out of someone’s grasp is unheard of. The mere thought that I was banned from the reality of anger just doesn’t make sense. My mother still cannot take, to this day, my voice raising to a slightly higher pitch. If this happens and I appear bothered by something, she reacts. I am immediately reprimanded for getting angry. Of course, my natural reaction to this is of frustration, that I cannot even breathe in the wrong way and she’s ready to criticise me, and obviously – I get angry! So, she gets what she wants.

Anger is an emotion like any other. Bottle it up for too long and it will explode. Everyone has the right to feel it and to act on it but in a controlled way, without screams and chaos or violence and fear.

We are human after all. You can’t deny me my rights.

To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.
Nelson Mandela

3. Don’t patronise me Dad.

Finding one of my father’s patronising notes to me was quite shocking. Although I wish I kept them all for evidence, I could not stand the thought of knowing his evil letters were filling my drawers.

I must have saved this one for a reason. Perhaps I was losing patience or wanted to remind myself that these things were truly happening. Either way, I saved it. I do not know when this note was left for me or what the circumstances that provoked him to write it really were. But usually it didn’t matter what I had really done. It was probably the smallest thing that prompted him to write it. All that is clear, is that I had annoyed him. He does not talk to me like his daughter in it nor like someone close to him. If anything it speaks volumes of how he could not communicate with anyone especially his own child.

 You still have got a part filled tall glass in your room. Can you bring that down and do the rest as you have said. I do not wish to prolong this topic but why do you need to use a fresh towel each time you wash your hair and then dump it somewhere? A little effort to live in germ free conditions and a little good taste in living conditions would be appreciated.      ‘Cheers’ 

I have no idea why he signed off with cheers in inverted commas. Was he being sarcastic? Or making fun of me? Probably. He never vocalised his grievances to me when they were small. He’d write these notes and leave them throughout the house surprising me in every room. He would wait until the little annoyances built up to a point of frustration and he would take great enjoyment in each explosion of utter rage.

My father couldn’t have wanted a good relationship with me. Surely, if he did, he would have recognised that these notes were pointless and all he needed to do was communicate calmly to get what he wanted. I wasn’t obstinate. I just wanted respect.

Respect he always said I never deserved.

4. How to hold a pencil.

God, this is an admission even for me but I hold my pencil in the strangest way. Always have done and have always questioned it.

I work in a school. I know how a child learns to hold a pencil. Most children come to school already with this skill. I remember writing and drawing as an infant so I must have learnt to hold my pencil at home however I’m 100% certain my parents never taught me this basic skill.

Why?

Well, it’s the same scenario with tying my laces. I hold my pencil completely differently to my family. My sister hold hers correctly as does my mother and my father never held it any other way than properly. So it leaves me puzzled to why I place the pencil between my middle and fourth finger on my right hand and not between my thumb and forefinger.

My father often teased me about my strange habit but when I asked him who I learnt it from, he would become enraged that I was accusing him of being an idiot. His answer was that I was the idiot as I could clearly not cope with the simplest of tasks. The only answer is that I taught myself and my parents never thought to correct me. Even if they did, it may have been too late as I had become adjusted to holding it that way. Was it neglect? Quite probably.

I often feel like a freak in my family. I stand out when all I want to do is fade in amongst them.

It can hurt sometimes if I write for too long, the pencil pressing against my fourth finger feels normal yet unusual although I’ve been writing this way for twenty seven years. I have tried to change my technique and write “normally” but I just can’t do it.

Is it so much to ask to be taught these basic skills? Surely it’s a child’s right.