I was adopted almost 55 years ago, at the age of six.
I have no memory of anything in my life before adoption.
No memory of my birth mother, or the house I lived in, or the people I must have seen, or the toys I played with, or my bedroom, or garden, or other children.
No memory of the orphanage, or the staff, or my fellow orphans, or any activities, or grounds, or staff, or playing, or toys, or laughter.
Nothing. Not one single memory of the first six years of my life. It’s almost as if those first six years of my life didn’t actually happen.
And yet, there hasn’t been a month in any one of those 55 years when I haven’t had ‘the dream.’ I’m in total darkness. I can’t move. I’m trapped and terrified. I’m hiding. Crouched under a blanket, behind a door, while someone, or something, is trying to force their way in.
Not once have I known what is behind the door, because I always wake up. Wake up soaked in sweat, curled up in a foetal position and usually screaming. Quite often it’s my partner, Kerri, who wakes me: rubbing my shoulders and back, knowing that I’m in that awful place again. Knowing that all I need is to know is that I’m in a better, safer place, loved and wanted by her and the girls.
Sometimes I don’t have the dream. But I still wake in the dark, small hours of the morning. And I wake up believing that I’m trapped at some point between 1955 and 1961.
It takes me probably just a few seconds – although it feels like much longer – to realise that I’m safe.
The sound I hear is Kerri breathing beside me. That weight on my body is either Wink, my cat (who likes to curl up beside me); or Lilah-Liberty, my seven-year-old, who still likes to crawl in and plant her feet across us. I’m safe. I know where I am. And sometimes I just roll over on my side and cry with relief.
Something very bad, very traumatising happened to me when I was very young: so bad that I shut down. I wasn’t speaking when I was adopted and, according to my adoptive mum, I hadn’t been speaking when I was in the orphanage.
I was still wetting the bed until I was in my early teens. Whatever happened, I had decided to cope by wiping my memory bank.
I never asked my mum. I didn’t want to know. All I wanted to do was accept that my adoption was the beginning of my life.
Yet it’s clearly still there.
I have a wonderful relationship with Kerri. We have two daughters and a third child on the way in July (yes, a surprise; but a beautiful one). I am a confident person. I write newspaper columns, I’m on television and radio regularly; I’m a public speaker. People who know me tell me that I’m one of the most relaxed, laid-back people they work with. Yet I live in permanent dread that something – and I have no idea what it could be – will trigger the memory (that long-buried memory) that unlocks everything that I closed down 55 years ago.
I was deeply moved when I listened to Billy Brown (the same age as me) tell of how he had been abused by Henry Clark – the self-confessed paedophile who was allowed to move to Canada in the 1980s, even though he had admitted to raping and abusing three boys in the 1960s and 1970s.
I was in tears as I heard Billy talk to Stephen Nolan about the years of alcoholism and self-harm that have blighted his life. I’m often in tears when I hear the harrowing stories emerging on the back of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
I still find it hard to suppress a shudder when I pass the Kincora building.
There are a number of reasons children end up in care: and none of those reasons are benign. For the children they are always terrifying moments. They don’t know what will happen next. More than anything else they need love, security, confidence and freedom from fear.
They need to know that it’s never their fault. They must never be made to feel that anything that has happened is their fault. They need to know that they can trust adults and people in authority.
Yet the number of people who have been through a care system and who then suffer decades of mental illness and depression – and all the consequences of those feelings of being weak, worthless people – is astonishingly high.
People like Billy Brown shouldn’t be forced to listen to their abusers trying to blame them for ‘complicity’ in what they did to them.
They shouldn’t be left for over 50 years wondering why so many abusers and bullies seem to get away with their crimes. They shouldn’t end up in a life of despair because the care system/state/authorities seem so reluctant to accept that a child isn’t lying about what happened to them.
I know how I still feel after 50 years. I have found my way of coping – albeit not to the extent that it’s not still part of my everyday life. But the real courage is displayed by people like Billy.
He has lived that pain and those memories every single day of his life. He refused to be silenced or sidelined. He refused to forget.
After all these decades that young boy – like thousands of other vulnerable boys and girls – deserves justice.
And predatory, vicious creatures like Henry Clark deserve to be exposed, scorned and imprisoned: so thanks to BBC journalist Kevin Magee for tracking him down and recording his weaselling, self-serving version of events.