I sat on what happened for over 50 years. I had to think long and hard about whether I would include it in my recently published Memoir – “A Spanish Love Affair”. But as it has had such a profound effect on my life, I decided I would.
“When I gaze at the old black and white photo, I feel very sad. I am 11 and still a child. I am in love. I feel just like I do as an adult. But I am not ready for love – nor especially the aftermath. When my tennis coach dumps me for a 14 year-old who wears pancake make-up and goes all the way. I am heartbroken.” Excerpt from “A Spanish Love Affair”.
I often wonder what I would have been like if I hadn’t been sexually abused by my tennis coach when I was 11 – which of my personality traits are mine – and which are as a result of the abuse?
When it happened, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath my feet. At the time I was enjoying a typical Northern Beaches childhood of sun, surf and tennis – lots of tennis mainly “death matches” against my brother John on the beautiful loam court at our home in Narrabeen. I was a well-behaved child and did well at school – always in the top 2 in the class. Then disaster struck.
In my case it wasn’t so much the sex part, although I have never felt all that comfortable about penis’s since my tennis coach aimed his erect member in my direction behind the tennis shed and told me I wouldn’t get pregnant because I hadn’t had my periods yet – it was the loss of confidence when I found out that the “grooming” which he undertook leading up to the abuse was nothing to do with love – the emotional turmoil and heartbreak it caused – the loss of innocence – the sexualisation of my childhood before time. I had to struggle through it on my own. I didn’t dare tell my parents. I knew if I did all hell would break loose. Dad would have killed the perpetrator.
That’s me in the back row third from the left
My life changed dramatically – I rebelled totally. I smoked, developed an eating disorder, I ate erratically and put on weight, sprouted pimples, attacked my hair with scissors and peroxide, disassociated from friends, misbehaved at school, didn’t do my homework, couldn’t concentrate, was grumpy, moody, generally obnoxious and hard to get on with. I became a loner. I didn’t trust anyone – myself in particular.
I always wonder why my parents didn’t pick up on it. They attributed my change of behaviour to “teenage blues” and “puberty” or perhaps some kind of health problem. They even took me for a medical examination. Unfortunately, no-one probed. If anyone had got anywhere near asking me the right question, I would have broken down and told them what had happened. But never in their wildest dreams would it have dawned on my parents because I was always right under their watchful eye. Or so they thought.
Unfortunately, my change in behaviour fell through the cracks at school too because the abuse happened in 6th class finishing just before the end of the year. Somehow, I still managed to come 3rd in the class and my school report didn’t indicate that there was anything amiss – my behaviour hadn’t noticeably deteriorated despite the upheaval. However, the next year things went downhill fast. I couldn’t cope at all. In the half yearly I came 26th and by the end of 2nd year I came 44th out of 45.
In 5th class, I’d dreamt of becoming a Doctor although Mum put the kybosh on that saying that I’d get married and have a family so it would be a waste doing all that study. After the abuse all dreams of my future disappeared. I tried just to make it through each moment of each day.
I was lucky I played tennis. Tennis and had a very stable family life with loving parents and routine allowed me to pull through to a certain extend – at least not go completely off the rails.
I was also fortunate that I was good at tennis because it gave me a certain amount of self-esteem when every other part of my life had fallen apart. All the practice in the morning before school, in the afternoons, comp and inter-district on weekends, country tournaments on long weekends and junior championships during the school holidays also kept me busy – less time to dwell. It was only in those lonely hours at night alone in my bedroom that all my despair engulfed me. I clung to my ever-faithful Teddy and cried until in the end there were no tears left.
I’m a loner. I don’t like to get too close to people or see them too often. I found traveling with my tennis partners very difficult bordering on claustophobic and felt a certain relief when each chose to return home.
I like being by myself. I enjoy solitude.
I don’t like groups. I find them hard to navigate.
I enjoy being with people but in small doses and not too often. I am a mixture of an introvert and an extrovert although the former tends to dominate in recent times.
I look at people out with their friends having coffee, going away for weekends in a group, attending large public events or on a cruise and shudder.
Would I have been like them if I hadn’t been abused?
Would I have been so impulsive, adventurous even foolhardy if I wasn’t abused? Would I have fallen in and out of love with such frequency? Would I have chosen such unsuitable partners? Would I have been a better Mother?
What kind of career would I have chosen? Neither tennis or real estate were my choices but fortunately I enjoyed aspects of them both. What I love is writing and performing.
Would I have suffered from Chronic Fatigue?
It’s taken me a long time to acquire the stability I now have. I have had a lot of ‘struggle’ which I only became more aware of just how much I struggled when I read through some of my old journals.
I am amazed that I managed to make it.
Every cloud has a silver lining and probably what has seen me through is the resilience and strength I developed at a young age by having to deal with what happened.
And has all the creativity that continually insists on being expressed emanate from being sexually abused?
The Japanese say “Out of misery comes creativity”.