In a scene that if you’ve watched Pulp Fiction, you undoubtedly remember, Jules Winnfield gets Pumpkin to retrieve his wallet for him from the bag of purses and wallets that she and Honey Bunny have robbed. Jules Winnfield, at that point, is the impossibly cool gangster who has just undergone a life-changing experience. After this near mystical experience, he happily offers 1500 dollars to the couple doing the robbery, but he insists on holding onto the briefcase belonging to his boss and he also makes sure he gets his wallet back.
The briefcase makes sense. As he points out, it doesn’t belong to him, and way too much has happened that day for him to lose the briefcase in such a dumb way. But why the wallet? It isn’t for the contents because all the cash is removed and he parts with the money happily. The reason is because he identifies with the wallet. It is because the wallet represents him. He, as the wallet clearly states in large capital letters, is a BAD MOTHERFUCKER.
Motherfucker is a term that can be both a term of extreme pride or admiration, and also a term of intense disgust. To call someone a motherfucker after finding out how much they charged for a service might mean that they are a repugnant, swindling individual. However, if you work in the same field and you typically charge a lot less, you might call that person a motherfucker to express a sense of astonishment that they can get away with something that you cannot. You might quietly wish that you were exactly that kind of motherfucker.
Consider also the words that are used with the term motherfucker. You have your bad motherfuckers like Jules Winnfield, your tough motherfuckers, and your fierce motherfuckers. However, depending on how wrong the actions of the person you are criticising are, you can also have your twisted motherfuckers, your sick motherfuckers, and your evil motherfuckers.
But I would not describe myself as any of those motherfuckers.
I would call myself an ashamed motherfucker, or maybe a hurt motherfucker, or, most honestly, an abused motherfucker. And no one has ever wished to be that kind of motherfucker.
The abuse began when I was quite young and I cannot think of an exact starting point. All I know is that my abuse was subtle, persistent, and normal to me. I grew up in a house where the relationship between my parents was broken below the surface, but in ways that were painfully easy to perceive. Conversation was functional and tense. Laughter was uncommon. Silence was a dominant feature of my childhood. My mother used the nucleus of the house as her writing study, and my activities were mainly confined to the peripheries like my room, while my father took refuge in the garden.
Routines were set, observed, and enforced by my mother. Dinner was always at six o’clock. Friends were not allowed to stay for dinner and indeed not typically invited over at all. If, bizarrely, a friend had been to visit, come six o’clock, my mother would quietly and vehemently make it clear that they had to leave. Amounts of food were counted out and you only were supposed to eat the amount of food allocated to you. There were clear rules on how to use the bathroom and keep it dry. If too much soap or too much shampoo was used, then quiet, steely passive-aggression was metered out.
Life therefore had clear boundaries but those boundaries were decided by my mother. My wishes were wrapped up into these routines so I cannot say that my life was entirely at the whim of my mother. For example, if I wanted KitKats for a snack with TV instead of chocolate biscuits then that was fine. But I had one KitKat, not two. The one exception to this seemed to be raisins. I would often sneak into the kitchen and as if committing a daring crime, I would “steal” raisins from the raisin jar, eat them, then hide the raisin jar back in its place. Yet there were always raisins in that jar, and no comments were made about my thievery. I assume that this was silently approved of.
Other boundaries were erased without me even being aware of the fact that boundaries should have existed. The most obvious would be the limit of the bathroom door. I was not in the habit of locking the bathroom door and if I closed it behind me, my mother would come in to do something such as brush her teeth. This despite the fact that I might be naked. I had no idea that spaces where people are naked are meant to be protected spaces; areas in which the people inside control access. At no point did I choose to allow my mother into that space. It was simply that I didn’t know it was possible to prevent her from entering. My mother would come in when I was getting washed and it would seem normal to me. After all, I often saw her naked so why wouldn’t she see me naked? And she was my mother after all. Aren’t mothers supposed to see their children naked? I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal. That mothers should encourage privacy and respect boundaries. That certain occasions (such as medical problems) imply that mothers need to infringe on those boundaries, but that even then, there is an explicit request for permission. Perhaps that request is spoken; perhaps a look of discomfort is met with a look of reassurance. But those boundaries are respected.
Without those boundaries, then the realms of what is normal and permissible change entirely. When I saw the Levis ads which demonstrated the concept of shrink fit jeans in the sexiest way possible by having a half-naked male model climb into a bath to the sounds of Sam Cooke, I wanted to look like that. So what would be more natural to pose in a bath half-naked and have your mother take pictures of you? Why wouldn’t it be just as natural to take your mother’s copy of Penthouse (kept among her notes for her Feminist politics lectures) and masturbate to the magazine? I stole it at night then returned it in the morning. I might have believed I was successfully hiding my crime, but it happened too frequently for her not to notice. Presumably, it was silently approved of. Maybe masturbation was healthy and natural like raisins. Wouldn’t it also be natural for me to feel comfortable when my mother said I was handsome or growing up to be so cute? And when my mother was crying in the middle of the night, why wouldn’t it be normal to get up and go to her room to comfort her?
This would be the moment when the abuse crossed the line from covert abuse such as comments, looks, a sexualised existence, and lack of privacy. At this moment, the abuse became overt. This would be the moment that I became a motherfucker.
By the time I turned 14, the perceivable breaks in my parents’ marriage had grown into separation. My father had left the house to couchsurf with friends as he tried to get his life together, and find a house for him and his lover to live in. I only saw my father on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other weekend. It was a time of real confusion and my father’s absence from the house was very present for me. Understandably, it was very present for my mother too. I hated seeing how upset they both were and would try very hard to please them. For my father, this meant reassuring him and hugging him as he cried in his car on the side of the road. For my mother, this meant hugging her and telling that things would be OK. Of course, I had no idea if things would be OK and could not know quite how wrong they would soon be. But I did my best to make her feel OK.
One night, I heard my mother crying. This in itself was unusual. I was an incredibly heavy sleeper and simply wasn’t woken up by noises. My mother is an entirely private person and does not cry openly, or shout, or indeed express herself much. Blank expressions or lack of response meant she was uncomfortable or disappointed, and broad smiles meant I knew she approved of what I was doing. I left my bedroom to investigate and walked down the very short corridor to her bedroom. When I went in the room, I saw she was crying and went to comfort her. And then we had sex.
That sudden descriptive leap from comforting to abuse may feel like I am deliberately leaving details out. However, leaving them out would imply a decision whereas my erasing of those memories was entirely instinctive. I hid those memories from myself so successfully that I cannot now easily conjure them up as a middle-aged man.
There are some details I remember. It was dark. We were on her side of the bed. I remember seeing the old clothes chest she used as a nightstand. I remember how she felt on me.
There are details I cannot remember. I don’t know what I was wearing. I don’t know what she was wearing. I don’t know how we removed what we were wearing. I don’t remember how it initiated. I don’t know how I got back to my room. However, I do remember that when we finished, while I was still lying on top of her, she whispered to me and compared me to my dad. And, most significantly, I never managed to remove my knowledge of the fact it had happened.
I always knew it was wrong. That something monstrous had happened. I always knew that I was an evil, sick motherfucker. I was very ashamed of what had happened and invented another whole story involving getting too drunk with a family friend on holiday in order to have a story about losing my virginity that I could tell if necessary. Just as powerfully as Jules Winnfield identified with the term, I identified myself as a motherfucker and hated myself for it.
But in recent years, I have come to understand that I am not a motherfucker. That actively attempting to comfort your mother or even the sexual act itself does not make you a motherfucker. I was 14. She was 44. She had the power to control the situation. I was motherfucked.
I was fucked in numerous ways. As a teenager, I experienced enormous frustration and pent-up rage. The door and walls of my bedroom all had punch marks in them. For a period, I had psychotic breaks and thought that the songs and the voices around me were mocking me. I felt enormous shame and was terrified of being exposed. I went through a period of vomiting everyday when I arrived at school. Thoughts of suicide were extremely common and whenever I considered that I had irretrievably damaged a situation like having an argument with my girlfriend or failing an exam, I tailspinned into depression and consoled myself with the idea that there was always an ultimate escape.
Eventually, I did find an escape. I left London and went to university in a town by the coast. And when I graduated and had to go back to live with my mother, within six months, I had obtained a certificate in English teaching and I had left for Peru.
Of course, neither being at university nor even on another continent meant I had really escaped. I was still in contact with my mother and still continued the pretence that we were a normal family. I never tried to address the issue and instead just forced down the bitter thoughts of myself each time they rose up. Destruction and self-preservation were my two biggest drives. In Peru, I deliberately sought out situations that would put me in professional jeopardy. While the bridge to new opportunities was smouldering, I crossed it to a new life in Mexico. But I was just as fucked in Mexico. Despite finally finding the stable family life I’d always wanted, I still escaped whenever I felt threatened or vulnerable.
Once, at a party outside of Mexico City, I twisted my arm while dancing with my girlfriend (now wife) then watched her walk off to talk to her family. Partly feeling hurt, but mainly feeling vulnerable and exposed, I got angry, went into self-preservation mode, and left the party to go home. This despite me really having no idea of how to get back, not having any form of getting back to my house in the city apart from walking, and putting myself in significantly more danger than any threat I had perceived at the party. This anecdote earned me the nickname of Gringo Loco and involved me drunkenly hitchhiking along an interstate highway, getting detained then dumped by police, and then miraculously meeting a stranger in the street who kindly paid for a taxi. People thought that I was acting like I was invincible because I was young, or irresponsible, or ignorant of the dangers around me in Mexico City. I’m sure all of that was true. I’m also sure that the threats my fucked mind perceived seemed much worse to me than the real dangers I faced.
Eventually, I returned to London and, like any son returning to his native home, I went to live with my mother while I found my own place. Of course, nothing had changed. The miles between us had not mended any wounds and nor had the three years I hadn’t been home. It is simply not the case that time is a great healer. It is much truer that healing takes a great amount of time. And I decided to start that time upon my return.
In my first couple of weeks back in the house, I asked my mother what had happened between us back when I was 14. She looked at me and said, shortly before leaving the room, “I’m surprised you remember all that”. And I didn’t mention it again. I was left not only feeling that nothing could be said, but that the topic was so insignificant that there was no merit in discussing it. To an extent, it looked like my mother was right. It did appear that the topic was insignificant. I still had issues with frustration and anger but I had learnt not to expose quite how fucked I was. Plus, I was happily married. And I was actively repairing the broken relationships in my family. As our children were born and the family grew tighter still, it seemed there would be no consequences. I thought that my fucked past would have no effect on my present life.
Until it did.
The moment of impact came when we were back in Mexico a full eleven years after first leaving. The decision had nothing to do with escape this time. This time I had decided to move to Mexico because my wife and I both knew it would be much easier to raise our soon-to-be-born daughter with a large extended family around us. I had managed to find a job with an international organisation which could help with the move. Our kids were happily in school. My wife and I were both working. I was no more fucked than I had been before. Everything was fine.
Then I was asked to take a compulsory course on child protection. The course presented you with a series of situations and asked you to identify which situations should be seen as abusive. I suddenly realised that me having sex with my mother was not simply wrong. It was abuse. And this required me to reexamine my life. For those who haven’t lived through abuse, it may seem counter-intuitive to think that someone might not consider under-age sex with a parent as abuse but remember that a child always believes that the parent is right. Therefore, if the parent is right, the child must be to blame. However, to be able to see something as abuse requires you to blame the other person or more accurately, to understand that you are not to blame. My responsibility was no longer wrapped up in that childhood incident. My responsibility was confronting my mother.
My mum was coming out to Mexico on Easter holiday and I knew that I had to talk to her about it. I agreed with my wife that discussing things with my mum in the middle of our holiday with the children would be too challenging so I delayed it and carried on rehearsing the scene in my mind. I had already written a letter which explained my feelings and offered my mother the invitation to be open about the past “so that at some point in the future…we can both move on”. At the end of the holiday, the day before she was due to fly, I sat my mother down in a restaurant and gave her the letter, a pen, and some blank paper. I asked her to read my letter and write a response. This artifice of two people not talking to each other but instead writing letters to each other may seem cold, but I knew that it would be easier to manage. Plus, both my mother and I are used to writing. She read my letter and then wrote a letter talking about me in the third person as if she was trying to explain the situation to an audience. In that letter, she portrayed herself as a 44-year-old victim and accused 14-year-old me of raping her. This accusation finally broke me and shortly after, I had a mental breakdown, had to resign from my job, and started therapy. Five months later, I cut my mother out of my life.
To this day, I am not in contact in any way with my mother. She is in contact with my wife and she sends the children birthday and Christmas presents, but I don’t call her, write to her, and despite now living back in London, I don’t visit her. I simply cannot forgive her for accusing me of rape. I am prepared to forgive her for the abuse, but I am not even sure about the conditions under which this would happen. However, there is no way I can forgive her for the accusations.
I’d like to say that my time in therapy and the act of removing my mother from my life has meant that I have come to terms with who I am and what I have lived through. But if you have had similar experiences, you will know it is rarely that simple. The three parts of this essay represent the three parts of my thoughts: I still have these feelings of self-blame and self-hatred hidden inside me and I often view myself as an evil and sick motherfucker. I am “motherfucked” in that I live with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation on a daily basis—I often go to sleep imagining how it would feel to place a gun under my chin or my feet over the edge of a bridge. And my intense rage towards my mother means that I repeatedly think about what she did to me and think “fuck her”.
But recognising those three parts of myself is also key to my recovery. I am learning how to be vulnerable and less afraid of exposure. This may be as small and as simple as me finding ways to feel comfortable doing silly and embarrassing things with friends and family. It may be much bigger such as showing my wife the hidden aspects of my personality like my eating disorder or my fear of lack of control.
I am dealing with how fucked I am by taking medication for depression and anxiety, and by going to therapy. Also, seeing what I have achieved despite all I have lived through helps me understand that I am not as fucked as I might think. I have a healthy and honest relationship with my father. I have a successful and happy marriage. And my biggest achievement of all is that I have three happy children who have grown up knowing that love and self-expression are normal.
Finally, I am learning positive ways to use that “fuck her” rage. Anger can be used to punch back or to hurt yourself, but it can also be used to push yourself forward. After all, the ultimate act of abuse is not just being forced into a situation you don’t have the power to deal with. Abuse is not just about being used for sex. The real abuse is in someone stealing your significance. Abusers do not see the person they are abusing: they only see their own needs. I am learning to use my “fuck her” anger to drive my life forward and I hope that if you see your life in what you are reading, you can also see how significant your life has been.
Please look for professional support if you have been a victim of sexual abuse.