At age ten, I knew that I could not play any party games involving my face being covered. That ruled out some party favourites straight away. Pin the tail on the donkey. Murder in the dar. Blind man’s bluff. And so, to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing how to explain to parents of children whose parties I had been invited to attend, why it was that these games made me physically sick, I chose not to accept invitations to parties. That, in turn, meant that I became isolated and when it came to my birthday, I did not want a party.
As a child, I did not understand why I reacted in such a way, although I knew that life inside my head had changed completely after Uncle Jack had visited Mummy and Daddy. The invitation for Uncle Jack and Auntie Mary to stay for a week at our home, during the summer of 1966, was a thank you for the kindness they had shown to my parents during the second world war. They were grateful to these two old people.
Uncle Jack took a particular interest in playing in the garden with me. It started off with playing catch, followed by a brief game of tag. The hot weather and the old age of Uncle Jack meant that he soon needed a rest.
Sitting in the back garden with my doll’s pram, Uncle Jack came and sat behind me. We were sitting directly underneath the dining room, and the sounds of quiet conversation, along with the gentle clinking of the best and most delicate of teacups on hand-painted saucers, formed the backdrop of that which happened next.
Uncle Jack shifted closer to me, and not knowing what he was doing, I continued to dress my dolly. Only when I became aware of his hand down there and his altered breathing, did I start to cry. He placed his hand over my face to silence me, and to keep his actions secret. After it was over, he rolled a Woodbine cigarette, struck a match, and went for a walk to the end of the garden.
Removing my clothes in the bathroom, I discovered sticky stuff on my bottom. I tried to wash myself, but however many times, I did so, I knew that I was dirty. The smell of him was on my face… the smell of cigarettes.
At bedtime, I told Mummy what had happened. ‘You naughty girl, to say such a thing’, she said. I did not play with my baby doll again. I buried my clothes at the end of the garden.
My world changed forever the day that Uncle Jack played tag with me.
I could never make myself clean. No matter how much I scrubbed my skin… I was always dirty.
And then fifty-four years later, the pandemic overwhelmed the world, and wearing a face mask made me “become” the little girl whose face was covered all those years before.
Cathy Hillman studied at Oxford, graduating in English Literature: in 1979. Since this time she has taught in a number of different educational establishments – schools, prisons, Pupil Referral Units, and since 2008 has taught Medical students at UEMS. In 2007, Cathy founded a prison charity, and between the years 2007-2013 delivered an alcohol intervention which was accredited by the Ministry of Justice. The work in which she has been involved since 2007 has revolved around seeking to help those who, like herself, have experienced the brokenness resulting from childhood sexual abuse, and alcoholism. Cathy is centered on her Christian faith and the support from her husband and family. Cathy was diagnosed in 2016 with Chronic and Complex PTSD following a highly destructive Crown Court case.