Looking for the antidote

I don’t make much of a habit of disliking people, but there are exceptions to any rule. One of them’s in the street outside when I leave the Community Café. I can’t pretend I haven’t seen him. He’s with Sid and Sid’s at that stage of mellow drunkenness when he wants to tell the world how wonderful I am, or to be more precise, how wonderful my bread pudding is. There’s no avoiding him. I haven’t seen Brian for a while. His once-shaven head’s sprouting hair. I’m surprised to see how much he has. I’m even more surprised that it’s snow white. He looks so much older. He’s still got that tic in his left eye though. It’s unnerving. Makes him look as if he’s winking at you all the time. There’s no sign of Lucy. I hope he hasn’t killed her this time.

A year and a hundred yards away I spent an hour with Lucy in the café over the road. It was a miserable morning. I’d found her huddled under the awning, sheltering from the downpour. She’d been too scared to go inside because she had no money. And maybe she’d been caught begging out there once too often too. Brian had thrown her out of their bedsit. Not for the first time. Over coffee, she told me he’d done time in the past for beating her up. Twice. I’m not being over-dramatic in wondering if he’s finally managed to finish her off. The last time I saw Lucy alive, she was sitting on the steps of an empty shop in the city centre. The landlord had thrown Brian out of the bedsit as well by this point. They were living in a tent in the park.

Things we do for love, huh? Cling to a man who makes your life hell, for fear of being alone. Bludgeon a woman half to death because you’re scared she’ll walk away if you give her a sniff of freedom. What kind of love is that? I made the age-old mistake of asking Lucy why she was still with him. She’d had two golden opportunities to escape. Why would she go back for more when he came out of prison? She looked up from her coffee.

I forgave him

I think it was the only rational explanation she could come up with. Domestic abuse doesn’t make sense. Least of all when you’re embroiled in it. It has its own hideous internal logic of course. An appalling, till-death-do-us-part cycle of fear. It’s a better-the-devil-you-know terror, that whispers a constant stream of poison.

He loves me really. It’s all my fault.

Why does she do that? She knows I don’t like it. She’s just trying to wind me up.

The voice of the victim. Jess Hill’s recent Guardian article makes the point. Perpetrators … will plead their case to police, even as their partner stands bloody and bruised behind them. They can genuinely believe their partner provoked them to commit the abuse, just so they could get them in trouble. Reeva Steenkamp’s killer’s courtroom histrionics were a case in point.

I’ve said it before. The older I grow, the more I realise I know nothing about human psychology. One thing I have learned though is how much we love to see ourselves as victims. It’s a problem that extends way beyond domestic disharmony. The victim mentality has flowed free all through human history, right from the moment Adam told God it was Eve’s fault he’d eaten the apple. Or, to be more accurate, took a pop at God for creating Eve in the first place.

I’d really recommend revisiting the Genesis story. Read as metaphor, the way it was intended, it’s a brilliant insight into human nature. There’s nothing we hate more than coming face-to-face with our own shortcomings. It’s so much safer to blame the mess on someone else. You’re a well-known politician who’s late for an important meeting? It’s all down to those nasty immigrants clogging up the M4. With a bit of luck, no-one will ask why you didn’t bother to Google the route beforehand. You might even pick up a few extra votes from people who’d like to think they feel your pain. After all, we love nothing more than to be victims-by-proxy. All the pleasure. None of the inconvenience.

It’s scarily easy to manipulate anyone who derives comfort from being a victim. Abuse perpetrators and politicians alike are adept at it, and at finding ways to cast themselves as victims in the same breath. Fear is the weapon of choice for any great manipulator. Am I alone in having noticed how few terrorist attacks have taken place on British soil in the last fifteen years? Yet ask a random passer-by and he’ll likely tell you we’ll all be blown to kingdom come any day now. In reality, that was far more likely thirty or forty years ago, when there were still IRA cells active on the UK mainland. I grew up in a nation terrified of communists and Irish people. Now I’m supposed to live in mortal fear of Islam instead. I’m not suggesting there’s no risk. But the victim mentality is fertile ground for the sowing of fear. Frightened victims so often turn to their abusers for protection, just as Lucy did. It’s in the interest of the dominator to keep that fear well fed.

Nigel Farage is a past master of the the fear-promoting victim role. He played to perfection during the last election campaign. A proportion of the populace fell hook, line and sinker for a retired stockbroker posing as the hard-done-by bloke down the pub. A step or two further into the cycle of control and you’re piling on the terror, like David Cameron in the wake of a Jeremy Corbyn victory. “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s securityNow that’s scaremongering like a pro. And I’ve met a few in my time. DC’s been grooming us for years. He knows we’ll buy the fear and run to him for shelter. Or he thinks he does.

Fear’s the worst thing in the world. It’s a liar. It’s a thief. It makes a victim of every one of us. No prisoners. I’ve seen first hand what fear can do to the human spirit. Fear is where murder grows. It’s how wars begin. It breeds hatred and mistrust. It makes people turn their backs on those who most need help because ‘they’re not like us’. Politicians and perpetrators alike love fear. It makes them feel powerful.

The antidote to fear is love. Not that desperate, romanticised clinging that suffocated Lucy. Those butterflies in her stomach were pure fear. Nothing to do with love. Trust me. I’ve been there. It’s a shame the English language has only the one word. Love. I love your dress. I love ice cream. I love my job. I love writing. I love my children. Your dress is great, but I wouldn’t risk one hair of my head for it. My children are a different matter. I’d die for any one of them, any day of the week.

The world we live in is topsy-turvy. F**ked up. We love money. We use people. We work ourselves to death for the latest iPhone and ignore drowning toddlers on foreign beaches. On a rainy Monday when the news seems nothing but bad, I find myself wondering if we know the first thing about love. Then I remember the blossoming grassroots movement to support migrants in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. I read that Jeremy Corbyn has chosen a vegan woman as the new shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs. I see pictures of friends and their children marching to welcome refugees. And I know the tide is turning. Things are going to change. I’m not the only dreamer, after all.

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