Sunday, 14 October 2012

34. Bees drone around the lavender bush

Sally carefully pours me another glass of wine.

"But you say he hasn't done anything," she says.

We are sitting on her balcony in the evening sun. She has planted flowers and herbs in cobalt-blue pots. Bees drone around the lavender bush next to me.

My shoulders ache from my session with my punch bag last night. I never bothered getting past the basic moves. Never saw the point. I learned the basics, and then concentrated on getting them perfect. If you're not facing a martial artist, they're enough. If they're perfect.

Jab, cross, uppercut. Front kick, roundhouse, side kick, back kick. Elbow smash. Inside block, outside block. Upper block, lower block.

I made up my mind when I was old enough that I would never be defenceless again. What's the point? Someone attacks you, why make it easy? Sometimes I'm afraid, sometimes I'm angry. Anger is easier to use as a driving force.

Here's how to break someone's grip on your wrist. The weak point is the gap between thumb and finger. Twist your arm so your wrist is sideways on to this gap, and then pull it sharply towards the weak point so your wrist hits it hard.

I look at Sally. I see worry in her eyes...but no belief. I'm listening to myself telling this story about Derek and it even sounds mad to me. Like the fault lines in my personality have finally cracked, and I'm having a full-on breakdown.

"The thing is," Sally says "there's no reason he shouldn't have been there. Maybe it was just a coincidence, Alice."

I turn the heavy crystal goblet in my hands, watching the sun shine through it. The wine swirls slowly. It is the colour of venous blood. Outside, on the lawn, a single small child - maybe five or six - is under the tree doing not much, and for a second I want to go down and ask where its parents are and why it is alone. To warn it not to listen to charming strangers who say I know where your mother is and she's worried, or come with me and I'll show you something amazing, or aren't you pretty?

I’m 35, so sometimes – inevitably - I think about having children. Of course I do. Like all women my age I know I only have approximately five years in which to have them. 

Fewer women would be so desperate to have children if there wasn’t a time limit. Knowing your reproductive ability must eventually fail - may already have quietly failed - induces blind panic of the SALE ENDING TODAY EVERYTHING MUST GO type. I think some women maybe have children even when they aren't really sure, just in case they regret not having them later.

And considering that popular culture tells us that women who don't or can't have children are weird and will probably go mad when they are 50 and start stealing babies out of prams, I can understand this.

I've never come to a conclusion about whether I want children. I'm not really comfortable around them till they are about 12. I tell myself this is because they are boring and they have germs, which is partly true. The rest of the truth is more complicated.

"I know you've - I know you've been through a lot in your life. Enough to make anyone scared. But to be honest I think you're overreacting."

How can you protect your child from Matthew? This is an unpleasant fact, but it is a true one: people who want to abuse children badly enough will find a way to do it. There will always be a way. The simplest being, obviously, to make sure you have no criminal record and then patiently work your way into a position of trust until you are – eventually – allowed to work with children one to one.

And the media can yell for crackdowns and hangings and heads to roll as much as it likes, but unless every child is taken away from its parents at birth and locked in a sterile single room until it is 18 with no contact with other people, it is in danger. We just have to live with that.

"Alice, are you listening?"

There is also the other fear.

There is a common myth that children who are sexually abused grow up to be sex abusers. When you actually look into it, there is no evidence for this. In fact many organisations working with rape survivors and rapists are actively trying to discourage it because it is unhelpful to everyone. Especially survivors.

But the myth is there, part of society, and you hear it, growing up. And other people hear it too. Everyone hears it. It's one of the reasons it's very hard to tell people you were sexually abused. One worries - I worry - they will make assumptions.

But not as much as I worry that one day I will wake up and find that, despite my best attempts to be a good person, I've turned into a monster without realising.

This fear is very common among people like me, so common as to be nearly universal. The only way I have ever found to deal with it is to be absolutely rational. My orientation is quite clearly towards adult men. My sexual fantasies and my sexual arousal focus around completely consensual heterosexual sex. My terror is utterly groundless.

Here, in the sunshine on Sally's balcony, my worries about Derek also seem lunatic. I'm paranoid. Anyone would be paranoid, given my background, but I have to keep a check on myself. I have to accept that some of my perceptions are skewed, my perceptions of myself and of other people. Werewolves are rare. He's probably a perfectly normal man. I'm assuming a lot. Just a - coincidence. A coincidence.

I suddenly feel bad about being rude to him.

"You're right," I say. "I just - I'm down to my last nerve."

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