The situation never gets any easier. I meet a girl, for example. Questions are asked. Normal, innocuous questions most people answer with ease; childhood, upbringing, parents, family. The norm, for the majority.
Not for me.
It's when I finally pluck up the courage to open up that I see the familiar look from the poor recipient of my truth; the vague mask they don in the hope it will convey empathy and interest, when all it really does is highlight their awkwardness and unease. The mechanical nod of the head, when all they really want to do is shake it off and run away. Sometimes they do nothing at all; pretend nothing has been said and ask if I want another drink.
From as far back as I can remember my life revolved around violence and fear. For my entire childhood I was battered, beaten and abused by my dad, who sat red-faced and guilt-free at the helm of the family, blithely knocking back another cheap beer while his children cowered on the floor, bloodied, bruised and fearful for their lives.
My innocence was ripped from me while still a baby, and a wall of lies erected from the earliest stages of adolescence to prevent anyone seeing the truth behind the scars.
Every evening without fail I'd stare out my bedroom window, shaking uncontrollably at the prospect of his return home. Cars, buses and planes full of strangers would pass and honk and fly, and I'd wonder hopelessly why I wasn't a part of any of those worlds, rather than serving the prison sentence I'd been handed as an innocent. My sister and I were like soldiers under the vicious regime of a tyrant, scared to put even the slightest foot wrong through fear of sadistic retribution – yet suffering that very fate regardless. He was a monster who sought solace in our fear, while everyone outside of our world could see only charm, smiles and wisecracks.
Following the first ever National Lottery draw, at the age of 11, I cried hysterically for two hours. I'd dreamt about winning the lottery, but not because I wanted toys, bikes and trips to Disney World. I figured that had we won the lottery that Saturday night, my dad wouldn't return from the pub and beat us relentlessly into the early hours of the following morning. How can anyone be angry at their children when they have £8 million in the bank?
We didn't win the lottery.
I can only talk from personal experience here, but I feel it's much harder to open up about abuse as a man, and, in turn, harder for others to understand or accept.
Men fight back, no?
Men who don't fight back need to man up, no?
Over 40 percent of domestic violence cases involve male victims. How many adverts or campaigns or articles do you see that focus on this issue? That isn't to negate the attention paid to female victims of abuse, of course; there are very rightly a number of campaigns and charities and events set up purely to raise awareness around violence against women, a marked improvement on how things were even a couple of decades ago. But with an estimated 2.6 million male victims in the UK alone, it feels like there's still some catching up to do.
I hate to throw numbers and statistics at such a personal issue, but I do so to highlight my point; it's still considered inconceivable by many that this is a problem that needs addressing. Had there been more awareness and less stigma attached to male victims when my father was beating me, then maybe I'd have spoken out sooner. Maybe I'd have seen myself as the victim and him as the villain. Maybe I wouldn't have felt so helpless, to the point that I tried to throw myself in front of a bus at the age of 15, only to be pulled back by a stranger.
"Why didn't you go to the police, Carl?"
I did go to the police: 11/04/1998, three days after my 18th birthday.
Brian, my dad, told me that for my birthday he was taking me out for my first legal "drink" in Liverpool – his way of saying, "Happy birthday, son."
There were no other options, obviously; no alternative. "This is what I'm doing. You'll enjoy it. You're lucky to have such a caring dad".
We started in Widnes at 11AM, a fairly normal time for Brian and his alcoholic mates. Not so much for a boy pretending to be a man just because the 8th of April had arrived. First venue: The Castle pub, a place oozing the acrid scent of broken homes, hearts and livers. Sticky floor tiles and yellow smoky walls. A small battered portable telly showed horse racing on mute. In the far corner the tiles were further worn where many had danced on Sunday karaoke night. We kicked off with pints. I had to keep up. It would be suicide to embarrass Brian in front of his mates by declining a drink.
Immediately I look for the signs. That narrowing of the eyes. How he talks, enunciates and gesticulates. Every mannerism I calculate. I watch how his jaw clenches and tightens. Eighteen years of observing meant I could instantly weigh up the situation. But I also knew exactly when to look away, as there'd been many cases where he'd caught me sizing him up, resulting in nights that seemed to go on forever.
Taxis ordered. Backs slapped. Shots knocked back. Spilled outside. Midday sunshine. Jumped in our cab. Heading for Liverpool. The big glam city to Widnes' little featureless brother.
His eyes get narrower. The looks prolonged. The jaw clenches tighter.
I feel sick. Partly down to the alcohol, but mostly because the inevitable had already been rolled out as clear as the April sky above. I knew where this day was heading. It was my 18th birthday, but it made no difference. That's the thing with inevitability: it doesn't discriminate.
"Drink up, yer little cunt!"
"Let's hit the vodka bar!"
Because that's exactly what your son needs when he hasn't been allowed to eat all day, as eating is for "fucking poofs".
Poofs eat, men drink.
The vodka bar.
Cheap neon lighting. 3PM. Empty. Dance music pumps out. Brian keeps staring at me. I avoid his eye. Pretend to smile. Gets hazy. Suddenly I'm on my knees in the toilet throwing up, but with the hand dryer on because Brian will fucking kill me if he hears me being sick.
I'm in a cab again.
Sat next to Brian. His jaw looks set to break. I sway back and forth. Motorway. Sign posts. Widnes. Heading home. Oh no. Not home. Ted's in the front seat. Oh please come back with us, Ted. He won't beat me til three in the morning if you're there, Ted.
Walking up the path to our house. No sign of Ted. Pavement zig-zags in front of me. His hand on my back. Not supporting. Not guiding; pushing, forcing.
"Get inside, you little cunt."
Kitchen. Shards of dying sunlight cast shadows on the linoleum. The fridge opens. A beer comes out. His fists fly. I'm on the floor. I can't feel anything but it's definitely happening.
His face in my face.
He spits at me.
I sit up. It's dark. My face feels weird, like it's a foot in front of me. Brian isn't there. Must have gone to the pub after painting his masterpiece. I try to stand, but my legs buckle. I cling to the kitchen work surface for support. I see dots and splashes of my own blood. I feel my face. Gnarly, bumpy and tender. My mouth bloated and sore. I suddenly think of my little sister. She's six years old – around the age he started on me. And, with that, I somehow, from somewhere, walk through the kitchen into the living room, through the front door and stagger down the path upon which I would never walk again.
My eye socket had been ruptured. My tooth punched out. My body blackened.
I stayed at my then-girlfriend's flat, as he didn't know where she lived. My older sister, who'd already fled a few months prior, came with her boyfriend and screamed when she saw me. I still had no idea how I looked. I wasn't allowed to look in the mirror. When I did, I punched it with such force it shattered into pieces and fell into the sink below.
I now looked like the monster.
The following day we went to Widnes police station and attempted to squeeze 18 years of daily abuse into a tape recorder.
Brian was arrested the following day. After a year on remand he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Brian died two years after getting out of prison.
The reason I wanted to write this article was because there are many, many other men and boys out there who have gone through – or are currently going through – what I have suffered. I wanted them to hear an organic, honest account from someone who went through it all, the absolute worst of it, came out the other side and is now happy, strong and fairly successful as an actor and writer.
Our voices have a right to be heard. You are not weak. You are not pathetic. You are not any less of a man for your suffering.
That is not what you are.
You've been brainwashed, bullied and beaten to such an extent that that person – that man, that woman, that monster – in your mind becomes all-powerful; invincible.
But that is not what they are. That is what they make you believe. What they want you to believe.
You can get out. Your voice can be heard. And there are people out there who want to listen.
If you, or a man you know, is suffering abuse, visit mankind.org.uk – a charity set up to support male victims of domestic violence – or call them on 01823 334244.
For support for women and children, visit refuge.org.uk, or call them on 0808 2000247.
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