Florence

 

A year ago, I tried to get closure about the abuse I suffered as a child in my mum’s house. I told the police and they interviewed my mum. She lied to them, I knew she would, I told the police she probably would. She said to the police, “my daughter’s always lying about this – I came home from work and found her in bed with two boys”. I was aghast! The police believed me but the just didn’t have the evidence.  Until then I’d never thought of her as truly wicked, but that ended it for me – I shut the door on my relationship with my mother for ever.

I’m a Londoner. I lived in Uganda with my dad, but came to live with my mum who was nurse living in Greenwich when I was 11. The culture shock was amazing but in a good way. I thought all white people looked the same. I loved chips! I spoke Luganda but I learned English quickly and adapted easily – I felt at home.

My dad died of cancer a year after I arrived here – I think they sent me to UK because he was ill. I adored my father, we had a very comfortable middle-class life in Uganda; he was a wealthy coffee exporter. Because I didn’t know my mum, I built up a sort of fantasy about her.  My stepmothers were pretty cruel – my dad had about 13 mistresses or wives most of whom he had children with, but he did support them all. My maternal grandfather was a High Court judge and I think he sent my mum to England because he didn’t want his daughter with this womanising man!

In Greenwich, I noticed right away things weren’t as they should be. Mum didn’t show any affection – didn’t have a listening ear. There were huge problems about my diet; I’ve always been vegetarian but she couldn’t be bothered to cook for me.  She would force me to eat burgers and sausages and meat and I would be sick. This made her furious. We lived with family members and I shared a bed with her. When I was sick in the night she would scream at me. When I tried to wash the sheets in the washing machine, she’d force me to do it by hand as a punishment. I went from being an A grade student to bottom of the class.  I think she was probably quite young when she had me and her mum had not been kind to her.

I was also being sexually abused in the family. I told her about it but she just blamed me. Whenever she got angry she would bring up the sexual abuse allegations and call me a liar – she just couldn’t deal with it.

When I was 14 I went into a children’s home. She was always physically and verbally abusive to me and the school picked it up. Sometimes I’d go for weeks without dinner money or packed lunch. Once she came home to find I’d cooked popcorn – it was the only thing I could find to eat. I’d tried to hide the evidence but I’d burnt it a bit and she could smell it. She went crazy! She hit me on the head with a pot and I got a huge lump on my head.  About this time, she shaved all my hair off – the girls at school were horrible, they made fun of me “is it a girl or a boy”, I was so ashamed.  I think this was the final straw for the school and they alerted Social Services.

My first social worker, Nathan, was a godsend. He had a monthly record subscription and any pop music they sent, he would give to me.  For my birthday, he bought me Michael Jackson Moonwalk.  I moved around different children’s homes, but Nathan always looked out for me.  When I went to a foster family and the foster father sexually abused me, Nathan got me out. I ended up in Middlesex Lodge in Uxbridge – a notorious place. It had a secure unit, just like a prison. It was full of really damaged and challenging children, most of them with much higher support needs than me.  Some of the kids showed me how to sniff glue – that was the thing then.  I tried it a few times, it does make you a bit high for a very short time, then you have to do it again. Nathan got me out of there too.

My last children’s home was St Christopher’s at Belmont Hill.  It was a wonderful 13 bed mansion with a beautiful garden. I had a couple of good years there.  The workers were great, they trained you to become independent. We all had our own rooms and we had to cook for ourselves and on Sundays, the staff cooked for us.  My friend got a job in an hotel for £120 a week.  I thought that was amazing so I got the same job myself. At 18 I had to leave and I lived in a horrible bed sit miles away in Lea Green, but I managed to get a Council exchange and came back to Greenwich.

I got in to an abusive relationship with a guy who beat me black and blue – it lasted two years.  I left him and ended up in another abusive relationship, but this time I got pregnant with my daughter. My partner really pressured me into having the baby. My daughter was born when I was 22 and he left me when I was 8 months pregnant. I had no contact with my family. I did have a couple of good friends who helped me, one of them I met in my last children’s home, but basically, I was a single parent bringing my baby up on my own. I just got on with it but I think I was probably suffering from post-natal depression and I only realised when I came out of it after about 10 years.

I did have a partner for 10 years who helped me raise my child. He wanted commitment, but I was too damaged. He was under family pressure to get marred but I just couldn’t – I was afraid.   I ended up alone again with my child and he moved on and married someone else.

My daughter was grown up when I met someone else and moved in with them.  We planned to get a mortgage and buy a house. I was working in TV production at the time and he was freelance.  We didn’t get the mortgage and the house fell through.  We moved in with his sister in Westminster.  That’s when the abuse stated and he became violent.  I was able to go out and get work but he couldn’t and he took his frustration out on me.  He hit me so much that my teeth have almost fallen out. I had to go to A&E a couple of times.  I found it really hard to understand where the abuse was coming from – what triggered it.  One morning about 6 months ago I woke up and thought “that’s it – I’ve had enough” and I left.  I stayed with friends for a bit and when I went back to get my stuff, I discovered they’d thrown it away including all my ID.

I ran out of sofas to surf on and ended up on the streets. I slept on night busses a lot and the drivers were often really kind and let you stay all night.  I never wanted to actually sleep on the streets, but I got to the point where I was just so tired I start hallucinating and I found some cardboard boxes and bedded down.  At first, I was on my own, but soon you get to know the family of the homeless community.  They tell you where the soup kitchens are, where you can shower, where you can get clothes.  Some homeless people you come across aren’t so kind. They follow you, they can be drunk and aggressive and out of it.  Also, men who aren’t homeless would harass me, try to offer me a place for the night – it was obvious what they meant and sometimes they would just up-front offer me money for sex.  It’s so cold in the middle of the night, you just feel you have no options.  You can’t eat when you want, you can’t shower when you want – you’re just so tired and you just can’t say “OK I’m ready to go home now.”

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, a street outreach team referred me to Shelter from the Storm. I feel safe here – I like this place.  I can see the volunteers love what they do – they cook and serve and give.  A bit of light at the end of my tunnel, it’s given me hope. It’s also a comfort to leave my stuff somewhere; unless they’ve done it, I don’t think anyone can understand what it’s like to drag the only belongings you have left in the world around with you all day and night – you can’t leave them for a minute.

I’m looking for work and SFTS are helping me replace my ID.  Ultimately, I’d like to use my experiences to tell stories that matter, maybe about the care system, maybe about homelessness or perhaps just about the abuse I’ve suffered and lived through.

 

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