32. Hindsight can break your freaking heart!
As determined as I am to focus on the future, rather than things I cannot change, there are a few moments in time that I reflect on and wish I’d been able to knit them together to form a whole pattern sooner than I did.
When I started putting together all the various “parts” that made this whole, sinister story, it was so obvious that we’d missed many signs.
Going well back in time, I recall when our beautiful Grace stopped wanting to stay at Jen’s house. I had been away for work and Brad was working interstate at the time. The girls stayed with Jen. When I returned I became unwell and ended up in hospital. Kate went with Jen, but Grace refused, sitting stoically in the waiting room of the hospital with Brad’s best mate. When I was released, Jen offered to have the girls, so that I could recuperate, but Grace cried and wouldn’t go with her, she asked that Jen stay with us instead. Her response was completely out of character.
This pattern of behaviour repeated itself when I was pregnant with Ruby. I have health issues that meant being pregnant wasn’t easy and led to me spending time in hospital, both during the pregnancy, and for an extended time afterwards. Brad was still on a job interstate and from time to time, Grace and Kate would have a sleepover at Jen’s, if our extended family were unavailable. Grace became increasingly clingy, to the point that the night I went into labour, 5 weeks early, I refused to stay in the hospital until my mum arrived, because Grace did not want to go to Jen’s.
When Grace went to school, she didn’t speak to any adults. Not one. Her teachers told me that she was quite passive, but when I witnessed her interaction one day, I knew that we were dealing with worse than passive. She was actually bordering on selective mutism. This child’s presentation at school, was so different to anything that we had ever experienced at home or with our family and friends. We thought that it was related to Brad working away. We don’t believe so now.
As mentioned in “The Forgotten Child”, Grace had repeat Urinary Tract Infections, this ended up in her sustaining hearing loss that wasn’t noted until she was seven. This lead to ongoing learning challenges, though I believe that those challenges were made even more difficult as the result of a complex trauma that she doesn’t speak about.
For Kate, it was a little different. She too got to a point where she didn’t particularly want to be around Leon. I can recall a few times when he’d try to hug her and she’d turn her body and look at me to ask him to stop. When she began school, over time, she would stop getting out of the car when we’d go up to pick up Ruby. Leon would always “go down and check on her” though. I know that Jen remembers this, she said it in court.
Kate became a little withdrawn over time. She was always described as a “spirited” personality. Arguing was a sport for her from the time that she could talk, however, she had lost a bit of a spark leading up to the disclosure. I think the pressure of being a big sister with a big secret, was taking its toll on her.
Now Ruby…this is hard.
Ruby began wetting her pants at about four and a half. She’d been toilet trained for a couple of years by then. Yet, she’d come home smelling of urine. I accused her of being lazy.
I remember her coming home from Jen’s one day and telling me that she had a sore vagina. As a mum of girls, I expected to see a little rash- red and irritated, but there was nothing to see. She did however have blood on the toilet paper when she wiped. I panicked. But then, remembered that she’d been wearing red tracksuit pants that day and they had a habit of pilling- surely that’s all it was. I was concerned enough that I called Jen and asked if Ruby had mentioned to her that she was sore, as I was at a loss to know what was going on. Of course Jen said she had no idea. She was comfortable in her ignorance.
Ruby is incontinent. She will soon be involved in a trial to see if this can be reversed. She is medicated daily to try and lessen the impacts of this.
There were some behaviours of Jen and Leon, that when added up together, were odd. Their relationship with their adult daughter was unusual- at the time I just thought they were close, now I can see it for what it was. Their strained relationship with their son used to make me feel sorry for them. Now, I can only hope that he is keeping his own small family away from the monster that is his father. I don’t like to imagine what Jen and Leon’s children grew up with. I don’t believe that he woke up one day, as a man in his 60s, and decided to perform sexual acts on children.
One of the more memorable signs for me now that things weren’t right was Ruby’s obsession with being a Superhero.
Ruby was desperate for me to make her a Superhero Costume. So we made our way down to the local fabric store, bought the material- blue of course; some glittery paints; cardboard for a face mask; and set about making her a costume.
‘Super Ruby” was born. She wore her costume at home and was so very proud of herself. She headed off to Jen’s the next morning, so excited to wear her cape.
That afternoon, when I picked her up, she was cranky. This was totally out of character for Ruby. When we got home, she ripped her cape out of her bag, stomped on it and shouted at me that “it didn’t work!”
I had no idea what she was talking about. She then told me that her cape was meant to make her invisible but “Leon could still find me!”
I naively thought that she was playing hide and seek! Even writing this makes me cranky with myself. Should I have asked her more questions? Should I have been more astute about what she meant? These thoughts could make me mad.
This was in July 2013. Three months before disclosure.
Brad picked Ruby up on one of the days she was wearing her cape. He was early and not meant to be picking up- I had called him as I got caught up at work. Brad clearly remembers the look on Leon’s face. He didn’t recognise it at the time, but on reflection, realises that he’d either turned up just before, or just after, something had happened to Ruby. She was hiding under a table in the back garden and seemed relieved to see him. Jen was nowhere to be seen.
There are other things that I could write here. I think that what has been important for Brad and I to realise is that, in isolation, none of these things were “out of the ordinary”. It’s only when you piece it together that the puzzle is complete. What it’s important for other’s to realise, is that sometimes, things in isolation may seem insignificant. From time to time, reflect on what has been going on with your kids. Is there a pattern of behaviour that is a little concerning, that may warrant a deeper conversation?
Paedophiles can be charming, charismatic, caring and kind. That’s all part of their plan to win over the whole family, not just the children. Upon reflection, I see an arrogant, smug, smarmy predator. His actions may have broken our hearts, but our response and our strength will put them back together again.