Mam and Dad were by my bedside when I woke again. I had clearly lost it once more, and as I tried to sit up straighter the room danced around me, the walls moving up and down and my stomach matching them. Mam noticed and passed me the bowl that had been left on the bedside locker.
“What happened, love?”
I thought of the two coppers, shuddered, and shook my head. Not now, Mam. Dad wouldn’t let it lie, though.
“What did he do, love? Did he…”
Mam put a hand to his arm as the room continued to spin. Concussion, I learned years later. That bastard had really dealt me a good one before he left. I had a sudden urge to start scrubbing, get the stain off his piss off me, but there was no way I could tell Mam that. I saw Janice looking in from the doorway, and gave her just a little shake of my head. She was gone before Dad could turn his head. I looked over to him, and there was no way to stop myself from howling with grief and loss, and thank Christ all he did was reach for me and hold me as I sobbed. They were both silent till I had finished, his arms strong and close about me, and then Mam simply said, “Let’s get you home, love”
They were astonishingly good about it, in hindsight. I now wonder whether the two arseholes that had visited me might already have visited them, and dispensed further words of advice in order to ensure that lesser mortals could be sure they knew their place in the world. I learned a lot about that world in a remarkably short time, it must be said. The salient point was how powerless I was. Woman, pleb, not one of the Right Families, oh yes, I learned.
I picked up more lessons at school, as the story arrived there before I was back, and I had to fight my way past all the arsehole lads who just KNEW there was no such thing as rape; all it meant was that I was up for it, and they, or their dicks, were UP for me, and shouldn’t I be fucking grateful for their attention? After all, I was damaged goods now, wasn’t I? How generous they were being to me by offering me a chance not normally available to the shop-soiled.
Oh yes, I learned.
Four years of my parents avoiding the subject, until I could manage to get most of the way through a language degree in Cardiff. A girl called Bridget was my trigger there, my return to some sort of focus. She had picked up on the way I avoided the boys, the men, the cocks, and had assumed I walked a different path, as she did, but after a couple of evening sessions in the bar, and one disastrous night at an Italian restaurant, where her hand met my knee and my fist only avoided her nose because she managed to seize my wrist, she told me my fortune.
I had swung hard, but she had steered my hand past her face.
“No, Di! Stop! Friends, innit? What the fuck… oh”
She lowered my hand to the table, raised an eyebrow in query, and I shuddered before pulling both my hands into my lap.
“Di, mate, when? I know that look? I… Look, I shouldn’t say this, yeah? I’m not exactly unbiased, am I?”
“What are you saying, Bridge?”
She sighed. “I just thought, you know, but you’re not, are you? Not on my wavelength”
“Oh. For fuck’s sake! I fancy you, you stupid cow, isn’t that obvious? And I thought, and you aren’t, so sorry, OK? Just, you avoid the lads, yeah? I just did some thinking”
“How bad was it?”
I could feel myself start to shudder, and the decision I had made crumbled with the walls around my soul. She grabbed both handbags before steering me swiftly to the ladies’. So often my most important moments ended up arriving with a smell of bleach among sanitary bins, tampon dispensers and posters about GUM clinics and chlamydia. In a way, it summed up my life.
She was good to me, just then, letting me purge my hatred, both of myself and those bastards, and asking nothing more than the most necessary of hinting questions. My eyes opened then, just as they closed with tears and sobs, realising for the first time how utterly shattered they had left my self-esteem, my sense of worth, of personal value. My parents clearly knew what had happened, but never mentioned it. The boys at school—and most of the girls—had never stopped mentioning it in any way possible, from sneering looks to toilet and changing room graffiti, but until I found myself in Bridget’s arms, her shoulder wet with my tears, I hadn’t fully understood how badly that bastard had wrecked my soul.
I wound down at last, and all my friend said was that it explained a lot, and that it was time we sorted the restaurant bill, went back to the Union bar and tried to put a dent in their dry white stocks. She made no other suggestions, no judgements beyond a snide comment about being right in not fancying men, and gave no advice beyond urging me as gently as she could manage to talk to her if ever…
She left that one unfinished, but I took her meaning. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see you before you can see yourself, and that was one of those times. I found some vision of sand in my mind, mentally drew a line in it and resolved ‘no more’. Fuck them all, and the horses they rode in on, and—and I couldn’t help but start giggling at that one, and tears turned to snorts of laughter as I explained, and the laughter turned into a very attention-grabbing hangover the next day.
It was a new start, though, a new Diane Owens. I began looking for ways to fight back.
Things moved on, as things do, and with them my life. Dad’s job was the first thing, as his company ‘rationalised’ and closed its base near Barry after opening a new complex in the exciting, cosmopolitan and exotic concrete wasteland of Milton Keynes. There were the usual family discussions, but the thought of living in such a soulless place, never mind in bloody England, left me to complete my degree without the odd home comforts I suddenly realised I would miss. My plan was steadily evolving, though, especially after I read an archived edition of the Western Mail part way through my second year at University. My course had a module on journalistic language, covering story timeline conventions, selective coverage and so on, and the Uni library held an extensive collection of microfiche copies of several national papers and one local.
Something stank there, festering behind the usual sneering headlines, and I wondered exactly how closely a poor transsexual’s experiences had matched my own. I became absolutely certain when my digging found the follow-up story in the Guardian’s files, as Dyfed-Powys police settled out of court with no admissions, no prejudice and no declared defence. I was puzzled, though: if the bastards involved were my two, what had they been doing out of their area when they had told me my fortune in the hospital? There was more to this than one little schoolgirl and a big man with an overfull bladder and a BMW.
That crystallised my plan, and only a year after my degree was signed, sealed and presented to me in front of a horde of happy relatives that included my own two proud parents, I arrived at Cwmbran for the start of my new career.
The year between had seen a cleansing of my soul, as Bridget and I made our way across Australia by bus and hired van, sleeping (sometimes) under the stars, but more often in backpacker hostels and other cheap digs. We swam, we drank, we ate endless numbers of meat pies and pizzas, and we told a steadily-increasing number of hopeful young men of all nationalities to fuck off, sonny, not interested. Being with my friend was really honing my skills as a bitch, and our ‘working holiday’ brought back so much of my self-confidence I was beginning to see traces of the sixteen-year-old who had giggled at her friend’s Pink Panther accent.
Thank you, Bridget. Thank you for giving me back my life.
I lost her, in a nice way, not long after we came back to Wales, as our last couple of weeks in Australia had been spent in Sydney, and Sydney has Places for That Sort of Person, and despite my utter lack of any Sapphic inclinations, my aversion to men had rendered places for straight people rather irritating. In a gay bar, I was usually safe from male approaches, and the women seemed to assume the two of us were an item, so I could get on with our night out free from distractions. My uninterest, of course, wasn’t matched by hers, and two months after we had returned I was back out there, standing in the edge of the water at Bondi as she tied the bonds of sort-of-matrimony with a very girly King’s Cross barmaid called Tammy. That led to yet another memorable hangover, and when I say ‘memorable’ it is not meant to imply that everything that came immediately before it was actually remembered in its entirety. Oh, my poor liver.
So there I was, early one October day, outside a training and educational establishment in southeast Wales, signed, sealed and about to be delivered to South Wales Police.
Let’s see how your memories are for faces, you bastards.
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