Saturday, December 10, 2011
Let's not keep quiet anymore
I can't remember exactly how our friendship started, can't even remember what year it was. But Ippy (her nickname, not her real name)and I were in the same class for a short while and somehow we 'clicked'. Not sure why, Ippy a beautiful lively girl with an infectious laugh, highly intelligent and me the quiet book worm. But neither of us were very girlish and we both loved the outdoors. So we spend many hours or even days hiking and cycling around the country side.
She lived in a neighboring village and we would visit each others homes. I'm not sure how and when I started realizing Ippy faced problems at home. She was the youngest - a latecomer in a large family. Her father had a good paying job and her mother earned extra money as a seamstress.
Her eldest brother ran away from home many years before and became a heroine addict. After sinking very low he managed to turn his life around and become a social worker -rehabilitating other drug users. Another sister ran away from home as well and broke all contact with the family afterwards. Gradually Ippy dropped hints of what was happening at home. She told me we couldn't meet on Sundays as that was the day she had to wash her clothes. As she possessed only one pair of pants she would have to wait till it was dry before she could go out. Yet her father was driving a luxury car and her mother made clothes! She was often hungry as her mother never cooked: each child had to cook for him/herself. At times the food cabinet would be locked for days if they had been 'bad'. I suspect there was more abuse going on, Ippy didn't tell me all. I don't think this was because she didn't trust me. More likely she couldn't bring herself to burden me with her pain and shame. For me I had no experience with child abuse. I didn't know what constitutes abuse (apart from rape). This was in the days before the internet, the library didn't stock books on child abuse. The newspapers wrote stories on local events not on abuse. We were both young teenagers and me a very green one! So all I did was listen. We changed to different high schools but stayed in touch. Ippy enrolled in a technical school as one of the very few girls, I was so proud of her.
At times she would come to my school and asked to talk to me, we would go for long walks and she would settle down. One day she came in the middle of the day.
It was clear that she was in a very bad state. I cut classes and we talked. She told me about her suicide plans and that she didn't see any other way out. There was no doubt in my mind that she was very serious about this. Just lending an ear wasn't enough anymore. We agreed to go together to a local youth care institution for counseling. We also informed my parents as I needed help to hide her in the meantime. She couldn't return home. She couldn't stay at my parents house as relatives of hers were living nearby. We arranged for her to temporarily stay at my sister's house in town. Her parents came to my house but mine stood firm -bless them- and refused to let them know where Ippy was hiding, this despite threats of legal action. The youth-care institution made arrangements for Ippy to live in a home for teenagers in a town a few hours drive away. A social worker accompanied her to her house to collect some of her belongings. We still kept in touch but the distance made it difficult. Remind: this was before we had mobile phones! A few times I took a train ride to go and see her. Living in the home was better than her home but not without struggles. A whole group of troubled teenagers living together under supervision does evidently create a lot of scenes and emotional difficulties.
Both of us finished high school and I joined nursing training in the town nearby. Ippy was very intelligent and scored well despite all her troubles. But when she wanted to enroll for further studies she hit a brick wall. The government refused to pay for her studies as her parents were well off. Her father agreed to pay for her studies but on the condition that she would visit them monthly. Ippy couldn't do it. She told me she didn't hate her parents but just wanted no further contact with them ever in her life.
For awhile she held out bravely. She got a part time job, rented a small room and enrolled in part time studies. It was difficult to stay in touch, she only had a shared phone, I was working shifts in the hospital and the nurses' flat only had a shared phone which wasn't always answered. She got into an abusive relationship for a while and started drifting afterwards. At times she would land at my doorstep; hungry and penniless. I would pick her up from the bus station and we would take the long walk back to the nurses' flat. I would smuggle her into my room (overnight visitors were not allowed). I asked her to to stay in town and we could rent a room together. My allowance wasn't much but we could have survived. But as the town was near to her village she was too scared she'd might run into relatives. So I would feed her for a few days, borrow her money and she'd set off again. I had no idea what else I could do for her, didn't have means to contact her. The welfare system had failed her, she was now officially an adult, how to help.
I didn't hear from her for months until I got a call from her brother Harry. He told me Ippy had committed suicide and as he was aware of our long friendship he invited me to the funeral. Her funeral was only attended by a few people, mainly her family and relatives. Her parents cried their heart out but I couldn't bring myself to offer condolences. Somehow I still feel guilty I wasn't able to save her -my best friend. Ippy was 19 years old when she died.
Her father committed suicide a few years later. His sister (Ippy's aunt) visited my parents some time after and told "It's terrible what this Ippy did to her father. He was never the same after that incident". Fortunately i wasn't at home during this visit as I'm not sure what I would have done to the aunt. Although I'm sure my mother did set her right!
The little picture is the only one I have of Ippy; she hated being photographed.
It's now 30 years later and I'm crying while writing this story down as I've shared it with only few people in my life. But it is time to stop the silence.
Please speak up when you witness or suspect child abuse. We condone abuse when we keep silent and deny the victims the right for help...............