Post 77 Innocence lost

When I was a child, our next door neighbours were Greg and Mary Stratton. They had a daughter called Heidi who was much the same age as I.   Neither of us had brothers or sisters and as a result we spent

a lot of time playing together, becoming great friends.    Our parents were friends too and frequently our two families enjoyed days away at the beach or walks in the countryside; we even took occasional holidays together.

Heidi and I were inseparable.    I guess she was what you would call a ‘tomboy’; she wasn’t one for dolls or pretty dresses and was always much happier climbing trees or riding a bike.    Even when her school friends started to experiment with lipstick and drool over the latest boy band, she

chose to spend her weekends with me, making a go cart, messing about on our bikes or kicking a football.   Looking back, I regard it as one of the happiest times of my life; we were care free kids and I assumed that we would be best pals for the rest of our lives.

Things however changed, dramatically and abruptly, one sunny day in June when we were teenagers.     Heidi and I had been playing tennis and were in the Stratton’s back garden cooling off, enjoying a glass of lemonade.    Suddenly, out of the blue, I heard Mary Stratton in a

voice that was strikingly clear say ‘Stop that Greg’.    I looked up, surprised at her tone, but all I saw was Heidi, on her father’s knee, laughing as he cuddled her.    At the time I didn’t understand why she had spoken so sharply, but as a child, there is much adult behaviour that you don’t understand and I thought no more about it.

After that, however, things changed. Heidi became sullen and withdrawn.    She no longer wanted to spend time with me and when I suggested weekend activities, she declined, calling me childish.    I couldn’t understand what had happened and for years afterwards blamed myself presuming that I had done something or said something to upset her.

     Inevitably, we drifted apart and went our separate ways.    I went off to college and later got married and had a family of my own.    Heidi, stayed single, discovered religion and, after the Stratton’s got divorced, stayed at home to care for her mother,

It was many years later that I heard a rumour that Greg Stratton had been sent to prison.      No-one seemed to know the reason why, or if they did, they weren’t prepared to tell me, but one day, it must have been when I was in my mid-twenties, the penny suddenly dropped and the significance of the events that I witnessed on that sunny summer’s day came into focus.    For the first time I realised it was nothing that I had done or said that destroyed Heidi’s love of life.   In many ways it was a relief to know that I was not responsible but thereafter I berated myself for being so slow to appreciate the nature of her problems.

Heidi and I still see each other from time to time, we make polite conversation on inconsequential matters, but events in the past are left undisturbed.    I understand that victims of abuse feel a sense of shame despite their innocence and find difficulty in speaking of past traumas.   Yet I wonder if it would help if we spoke of our childhood days, if I expressed my sympathy and apologised for being so slow to realise the truth. Or would that perhaps cause further distress by unlocking painful memories that for years Heidi has locked in the deepest recesses of her brain.

What should I do, what would you do?

For details of Peter’s novels and collections of short stories search ‘Peter Sykes’ on Amazon Books