What Happened To Gail?

I think you will have deduced by now that the family as such has never been an entity, but I will give you a brief background.  I am the eldest of 16, but have never seen, nor do  I know the names of, the last eight.  The other seven have drifted in and out of my life over the years, some a few times, others slightly longer and the four stalwarts, my brother and two sisters, now permanently connected.  As to my son’s query as to how many cousins he has, I can only hazard a guess that it’s of a biblical proportion!

Gary’s cry in the book of ‘What happened to Gail?’ could very well have echoed my own as I never set eyes on that particular sister until I was 40 years old.  And that came about ironically by the best literary device of all times: an advertisement in the Personal Column of the local newspaper in 1985.

It was over two years later – years in which we had spent forming a very new, but close, relationship – that we ended up in my lounge on yet another lovely summer’s day discussing, amongst many other things, my brother’s revelations of a few weeks earlier.

‘It happened to me’, she remarked.

I was puzzled.  ‘What did?’

‘I was abused for years’.

Now, you have to understand that she was the only one of us who had had the fairy tale life.  The only one to be adopted.  The only one to be “chosen” from the Home.  The only one whisked away to be kept safe from the influence of, or tainted by, other family members.

‘Oh no, not another man who couldn’t keep his hands off little girls’, I said cynically.

‘Oh God, no, Dad was a real softy, wouldn’t harm a hair on my head.  No, it was my brother, he was seven years older than me and…..’

I held up my hand.  I had already switched off any sisterly reaction and was in writer’s mode.  I couldn’t afford to think of her feelings; this was material for the book.  Notepad on knee, pencil in hand and no doubt a drink to one side, I asked her to go back to the beginning.  The dark tale, on that sunny day, unfolded.

Thinking back over 30 years, I can still remember the hush in the room as she came to an end and, despite my objectivity, the overwhelming feeling was one of sadness, not only at what she had suffered, but the sheer inevitability of it all.

On varying scales and in startlingly different ways, all three of us had been badly let down by the care system.

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Caroline Webber

Caroline Webber worked in the newspaper and television industries for many years, wrote & directed for a well-known (non-professional) theatre company & was co-founder & Editor of a paper campaigning for the rights of local communities in Bristol.

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