Seven years ago I wrote the “Shout” post on this blog. It’s over two and a half years since I wrote “Tell me, what’s fear to you?“; the post that went viral and took my words to people all around the world. June marked fifteen years since my Daughter was murdered and next February will be the thirtieth anniversary of her birth. I turned 48 years old myself this week.
In all those years there is one part of the night my Daughter Number One was murdered that I have never written about. In her powerhouse performance “Nanette” Hannah Gadsby talks about how the things we leave out, the things we don’t say, the things we hide from ourselves and from others can end up shaping our narrative. She says “You learn from the part of the story you focus on”.
Last month was the Pride march here. Son Number Two and I were again proud to march with PFLAG. Last year we brought two friends with us. This year we brought five friends with us, mostly young people. Pride, for me, is a celebration of love and community. I see people around me struggling with identity and worth, purpose and meaning and if there’s one thing I can still be certain of, it’s that we really can’t have too much love and community in our lives.
As we marched I was thinking about the “coming out process”; how for some it is momentous and for others it’s anti-climactic. Some feel compelled to make a statement while others think their sexuality is no one’s business but their own. Some fear losing their families, their jobs, their homes, their lives.
It made me think about the #metoo movement; why does anyone speak up? I think the reasons why people don’t speak up, in general, are pretty clear. Whether it’s in a courtroom, the schoolyard, online or in the media the risk for vilification and ridicule are huge. Recently, in Ireland, there have been protests after a lawyer there argued that the teenage survivor’s choice of underwear had been implicit consent to sexual intercourse. While my mind was screaming “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?” to that there came the heart wrenching response from a Scottish mother whose 17 year old daughter killed herself two weeks after the trial of her rapist, during which she was compelled to hold up her own underwear in the courtroom, three separate times. For fuck’s sake. There are so many valid reasons not to say a word, to anyone, ever.
My Daughter Number One kept her secret. Until she found someone she loved and trusted enough to share it with. Shortly before she died she told her Very Best Friend that her murderer had touched her inappropriately when she was younger. Her Very Best Friend was thirteen years old. In the brief time between her disclosure and her murder, my Daughter and her Very Best Friend argued about her telling someone else. Someone who could do something. The Very Best Friend tried, over and over again, to get her to tell. My Daughter was trying to protect us, her siblings and her mother, that much I know. I don’t know what she had been threatened with to keep her quiet but she was brutally raped and killed, so I don’t doubt her judgement that the threat was real.
The psychologist from the Sexual Assault Unit that I worked with shortly after Daughter Number One’s murder said that, in her opinion, Daughter Number One had been testing the waters by disclosing to the Very Best Friend. She was met with a loving, supportive response. She was listened to and believed. In all likelihood, the psychologist thought, she would have made further disclosures, if only she’d had the time. If only she’d had more time. We all ran out of time.
My Daughter Number One’s Very Best Friend was thirteen years old when she rang him from a public phone box in the dark of night, shortly before she died, to say that she loved him and would miss him. Her murderer spoke to the Very Best Friend and told him that he was letting her call because he “knew how much she loved him”. He was thirteen years old when the police came to his door the next day to tell him my Daughter was dead. He was thirteen when he attended her funeral.
By the time the inquest rocked around her Very Best Friend was fifteen. He was fifteen when he sat through the evidence produced and he was fifteen when it was his turn to sit, alone, in the witness box. So many lives spun off their trajectory when Daughter Number One’s life was savagely ended. The Very Best Friend took paths and made choices that devastated me and I carried the grief and guilt for what had happened to him just as much as I did for what had happened to my Daughter.
I didn’t ever write about the Very Best Friend. He was so young, at first, and then, when he was older my own shame and guilt and reluctance to cause him any more pain kept me quiet. When my post went viral two years ago I had a message from the Very Best Friend. He said that I could write about him if I wanted to. He said he was ok. He said he still missed my Daughter Number One, but that if what happened hadn’t happened he wouldn’t be the person he is now and he’s GOOD with who he is now.
I still haven’t written about him until now. I can’t even tell you why now feels like the right time. Just that I want to honour their friendship and my Daughter’s love for her Very Best Friend. He heard her and he believed her. And I will always love him for that. For my own sake, too, as I scroll through his photos, I need to focus on seeing the Very Best Friend as he is now, a grown man who survived and is good with who he is and where he is at. While I don’t ever expect to not feel guilty for some of the negative impact my Daughter’s death had on the Very Best Friend’s life, I’m thinking maybe I don’t have to carry it around with me every day. I’d rather be proud of him and happy for him, instead.
All of the people and all of their lives and all of their words and all of their hearts and no man is an island. We are all connected and the choices we make every day can literally change lives; our own and other people’s. I was lying in bed in the home of a Beautiful Friend. It was after 1am and, sooner than I was happy to acknowledge, it would be time to get out of bed to babysit her Magic Kid. I was reading Twitter when I saw a Jim Jeffries tweet that Russell Crowe had retweeted. Son Number Two and I had gone to see Jeffries last time he was in town, in a packed Arena holding 10,000 people. I knew he was touring again but I couldn’t afford tickets this time around. In his tweet Jeffries said he’d be at an open mic night in town that night. And I thought to myself that, if my Beautiful Friend came home to her Magic Kid early enough and I made my way home in time, Son Number Two and I should check that out. He’s always up for an adventure and life is short, you know?
The Beautiful Friend arrived home and drove me to my place. Son Number Two and I got ready and by 4.30pm we were on our way into town. We arrived just after 6pm, to find a handful of people outside the club. A young guy in a suit promptly informed us that there was a list for those who had pre-booked and a queue for those who had not. There were many people who had pre-booked and no guarantee of getting in. We joined the queue. Just before the doors opened at 7pm the guy on the door, who had been clicking off the numbers of privileged people on the list as they passed, turned to us and said “You guys will get in. I don’t know about the people at the end of this queue but you will definitely get in!” The half dozen people who were in front of us when we arrived had been found on the list and gone in already, so we were at the head of the queue. And shortly afterwards we were waved up the stairs.
Entering the club a gentleman with an English accent, also looking sharp in a suit, asked me if it were just the two of us and I answered yes. He seated us in the third row, just off centre. We were under three metres from the stage. Phenomenal seats! It would be understating it to say we had a brilliant time. The venue was intimate, the entertainment high quality and the experience sublime. It was a once in a lifetime experience and with all the shit things Son Number Two and I have been through together it was cool to do something that goes partway to balancing the ledger. Everything happened so smoothly to get us there, things falling into place like dominoes. When you factor in all the variables we definitely beat the odds. But sometimes you do. Someone has to, right?
When I spoke to my Daughter Number Two about how her Sister died we talked about the Very Best Friend as well. When Daughter Number Two chose to speak about her Sister for a school public speaking assignment she asked the Very Best Friend for help. When a young friend of her’s wrote to my Daughter Number Two and told her about some risk taking behaviours she was engaging in, she heard her and she believed her. Then my Daughter went and told a trusted adult. She said to me “I was worried she would be angry with me. She was upset, but not with me. I told her about my Sister and why I had to tell.” There are so many reasons not to say a word but there are just as many reasons to speak.
We can never really know all the people who will hear us, or the impact we have by the choices we make. We will never know how far the ripples of our lives will go. But I can guarantee that you will touch many more people in this life than you can possibly imagine. That is your superpower.
Safe onward travel x