Just after Marcel turned 16 he was asked to write a (max 1300 word) essay about an emotional topic as one of the pieces to be submitted to the SQA as part of his Higher English portfolio. It seems to follow a similar pattern to the format of the Intermediate 2 he'd done the year before when he wrote about dad's illness back when he was 14 (see here). He toyed with a few topics and then suddenly announced he was going to write an essay about his father. I was afraid. Higher English is the one thing you need to get into any uni course. It is not something you can screw up. I knew it had been over a year at that point since he'd seen his father and wasn't sure he was emotionally mature enough to open that can of worms but he submitted his topic to his teacher and that meant there was little chance of turning back.
Every night for weeks he came down drained, but having only written a few lines. One night he broke down as it all started to come out and he began to question whether he could have changed their relationship. The whole process put us both through the wringer. We discussed it a lot over the course of a few weeks. Often we found ourselves admitting to each other that he had affected us both in the same way. We are probably the most alike of all the people in the family, in that regard anyway. It was hard as a mother to hear that he, like me, had often psyched himself up for his father being negative and abusive and how he also found himself trying to appease him constantly even when nothing had provoked it. It was even harder to hear that, like me, the times when all the psyching up had been in vain had left him more emotionally drained than the occasions when he was aggressive. Anyway, enough said. He has given me permission to share this with you. (And by the way, I needn't have worried from a uni perspective, the SQA awarded him one of their rare 100% for this, making his English Higher his highest scoring one). So without further ado, here it is:
There really is nothing more comforting than cuddling a toddler. The way they smile at you with
complete admiration. The way their honest faces resonate with the love and trust they have for you.
When a problem becomes so deep-rooted, so embedded that your search for it becomes beyond
exhausting, looking through those eyes of a toddler, with no concern for the complexities of the
world, really soothes you. This is me and my little sister plonked in front of the telly watching yet
another one from her exquisite collection of films. There are only so many times a teenage boy can
watch the same princess meets prince love story but that doesn’t matter. I enjoy it because she
enjoys it. A small giggle comes from under my arms, I must have missed the joke but her happiness
evokes a wee smirk in me. Her smiling face shines in my direction but as quickly as it appears it is
replaced by a distressed, questioning look. She has noticed my distracted expression. I’ve only got a
few more minutes at home before he picks me up. These are long, long minutes. That anxiety that
callously seeps into me and takes over me is already here. I answer her gaze. The mask that shields
her from my pain shows itself once again, this time through an exaggerated grin. She is happy
again. And this comforts me for a while. However, that dread I recognise all too well grabs my
stomach again, its grip tightening on my stomach with every monotonous throb of pain. I don’t
want to see him but the car horn that condemns us so often cries its familiar sorrowful tune.
Immediately, my mind is reduced to frenzied anticipation. Am I ready to take his insults? Maybe it’s
not him outside. Don’t lie to yourself. I’m ready for his erratic behaviour. Who are you kidding? You
can never be ready to face him. Something outwith my control begins to march me towards the little
green Fiat. I go over the top and into battle through the open door of the car. Instantly, I am
shattered by a welcoming “Hi son, how are you?” There is no enemy today. The pain, the suffering,
the stress, the tension, the agonising psychological battle – it is all in vain. How dare he force me to
feel this way? The heightened state of conflict that fills me soon dissipates and is replaced by silent
resentment. It is worse when he is kind. My name is Marcel Gautier and I am a victim of verbal
Constant conflict, belittlement and pain was the skewed perception of normality by 14 year old
me. The abuse was increasing; I could feel it but had not yet recognised what it was. It was
becoming malignant, maliciously seeping through my entire body and mind without me realising
the extent of it. Something felt wrong but I didn't know what.
I get to his house and retreat upstairs. It is as far away from him as I can get. I walk past the
bedroom mirror and do not recognise myself. Where has the enthusiastic character bursting with life
gone? “Away” my mind tells me. He cannot survive here. The insults have worn him down to the
point where he feels nothing but worthless, silent and powerless. This is all that remains of him and
these remains are me. Suddenly, my sister’s cold shriek that I hear so often in this house pierces me
like an icy dagger. Followed, as always, by the sound of that man storming up the stairs. His attacks
begin again. Stupid, un-educated, moronic me had forgotten he’d made the fatal error of defending
his sister last time he was here. You two are always siding with your mother you horrible children.
His constant belittlement of me makes me reserved and knocks away my confidence one strike at a
time. You are useless. I question myself, I interrogate myself. Why are you not good enough to
make him happy? What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you all? You are unintelligent. I
embarrass myself trying to find a way to dance to his tune, to derive some formula which will make
him the shining image of the ideal dad I so often hear of. I’ll take you back to your mother’s house;
the very sight of you both disgusts me. I embarrass myself searching for some way to persuade him
to take an interest in me and who I am. The futility of my attempts are saddening. He leaves. The
void he creates inside me progressively fills with a searing agony. A dad who was so dear to me, my
idol, now diminishes me for no reason other than to satisfy his selfishness. After all, his selfishness
is why he treats me this way. He doesn't care for me, he doesn't care for my siblings, he cares only
for himself and the destruction, the devastation that that leaves behind is for us. His lack of
comprehension of anyone other than himself pushes us to switch roles. I am the adult. He is the
child. It is I, the fourteen year old, who has to attempt to fix this family that is rapidly eroding
beneath us children. His ignorance, of course, absolving him of all responsibility. My innate love
for him has died long ago.
Unfathomable rage courses through my entire body knowing I allowed myself to be subjected to
this. I scream at this memory in desperation in a hope that my old self will hear me and revolt
against him. My blistering anger however is focused on that man. It sickens me that a man can
direct such vulgarity towards innocent children, his own innocent children, causing them to doubt
the world they do not yet know. To force doubt into their naïve minds over the relationships that are
central to their lives is maliciously inhuman.
They are bad. He drops me off at home the next day and I am greeted by my mother and step-dad's
warm embrace. They are evil. This embrace only confuses me however because it doesn't tally up
with what he says. They are liars. His poison has lurked into my mind spreading its cancer causing
me to feel ill at ease in my own home. They are cunning. My suspicion grows, I am increasingly
apprehensive, hesitant and withdrawn. They are callous. Maybe he is right, maybe this is all a
façade and I am the naïve fool. Their children are evil. No. Those are my innocent infant sisters.
They have never harmed anyone. He is the liar, it is certain now. I will no longer be poisoned.
And then true normality and reality came crashing down.
My little sister. Someone whom I infinitely admire had the strength to say enough is enough. As
far as she was concerned, she’d had enough of fighting, enough of being defended, she’d had
enough. One warm summers day she turned around and simply said no, starting the snowball that
freed us from him. To her, I am eternally grateful. She is and always will be a true heroine in my
The road to recovery is a long one, one that I have not yet seen the end of. One thing is certain
however. He has not destroyed my enthusiastic, full of life character. I see it return more every day,
an enhanced version even. Strength learnt from my sister that I have projected through
myself, life experience turning into maturity beyond my age and above all a sense of real family
instilled in me. It has been 14 months since I last saw him. My name is Marcel
Buchanan and he no longer has any power over me.