This a story that should never be told, and a story that should never be heard. It’s a story that, until a couple of years ago, I had never really told in its entirety. It’s too much burden to put on one person, and when I had told friends bits and pieces of it throughout my life, they would cry or feel uncomfortable or exit my life entirely. Eventually, I stopped talking about it at all and became purposely vague about my childhood if anybody asked. People get uncomfortable when you ask them to hold your pain, and then sometimes those people go away.
So, why did I end up telling it so publicly, and on a forum as large as the Internet? For years, I wanted to just purge it from my system. Although the memories never go away, the weight of the secret can if you allow it to be told.
This is a story about how I began my journey with mental illness, as it triggered my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is the story of why I stay up so late at night. At every turn; at every crossroads; it always comes down to this story. I wanted so badly to let it go; to get it all out, the way I’d gotten out my feelings on other subjects like love and death. I needed this wound to finally heal, so it could stop affecting my life.
Telling someone my story face to face is terrifying, and I’ve always been a better writer than a talker, which is why this story originated in text form. I don’t know if I ever would tell someone this whole story in person; I don’t want to see that horrible look in their eyes or feel their pity. I don’t want to burden someone by telling them if they don’t want to know. I don’t want anybody to feel responsible for consoling me or giving me advice. In fact, I don’t want consolation or comfort at all, because what happened and its aftermath has been so incredibly internal and personal for me, that comfort from anywhere but within is not possible.
By posting it on the Internet, you have the choice to read it or not. If you do read it, you can stop there. I’ll never know who reads it and who doesn’t. I don’t expect a response or a reaction. I’m posting this here because if some people can identify with parts of my story, maybe knowing that someone else has been there will help you feel not so alone. This is really scary for me. When I first started writing all of this out, I didn’t know if I would finish it, and if I did, if I would have the courage to publish it. There were some people who I knew were going to be really upset about me telling my story. There were people I knew I would completely alienate myself from. Still, I had to get it out, for me, because it was killing me.
I felt anger. I felt pure, unfiltered hatred. I felt shame and I felt sorrow. I felt terrified and I begged for my life. I wanted to kill, and I wanted to die. I felt all of those things before my 7th birthday.
My father was a Bad Man. That has always been my main description of him until I finally told my story. “He wasn’t a good guy”, I’d say to anyone who asked. But that could mean so many things. A “Bad Man” could be an alcoholic, or a dead beat dad. “Wasn’t a good guy”, could describe any man who lacks a strong moral compass. A father like that would be a dream compared to what I had.
His name was Terry Malcolm Ganong. He began seeing my mother when she was 15 and he was 28. She became pregnant with me at 16 and gave birth to me at 17 in Athabasca, Alberta. My mom’s family lived in Ontario, and my father’s family in New Brunswick. A while after I was born, we moved to New Brunswick, and lived in a house in the middle of nowhere. I remember it being a big house… maybe 100 years old. The furnishings and flooring and wallpaper seemed to have come from the 60s or 70s. It was cold and creaky and damp. There was an electric fence in the back yard that I sometimes touched because it felt weird. In the wintertime, the house was heated by a wood burning stove. I remember standing close to it in the crisp winter mornings trying to warm up.
I remember him being an angry man. With him behind the wheel and me sitting in the back seat of the car, my mom in the passenger seat, he would begin punching the roof of the car with his fist suddenly, threatening to kill us all by driving off a bridge, or into the oncoming traffic of a red semi truck. I don’t remember there being any instigation. He would just snap. It would come on so quickly as to give you emotional whip lash. One minute, happy driving; the next, rage.
Sometimes he would punch more than the roof of the car. He would hurt my mom, and even though they thought I never saw or that I didn’t know, I did. He used to hit me all the time. He’d slap me in the face or hit me in the head. Sometimes he’d hit me hard enough in the back that it would knock the wind out of me. It got worse and worse as time went on but it always seemed like a big secret that I was ashamed of happening. I remember feeling confused, but assuming this was somehow normal.
I remember starving. My mom was given very little money for food and wasn’t allowed to work. My father had the only vehicle and was gone with it most of the day while he went to work as a carpenter. So we were stranded in the middle of nowhere in a house with no food. My mom did the best she could with the money she did get, which was usually barely enough for milk and potatoes to last a week. I felt hungry a lot of the time and remember sharp pains in my bloated and swollen abdomen. Sometimes my father would come home with ice cream or some other tasty treat. He would sit in his car and eat it, taunting us and asking us if we wish we could have some. We did.
Perhaps the most difficult of all… he molested me. He abused me sexually from the time I was 3 years old and onward. It feels so weird actually typing those words out. Words I’ve avoided for most of my life. Words that catch in my throat when I try to say them out loud. He molested me. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The first time I wrote those words it was like I’d admitted it to myself for the first time and couldn’t breathe. Like most things, the abuse was infrequent at first, but became more prevalent and more severe as time went on. I remember feeling scared and confused. I remember wishing he was dead; wishing I was dead. I remember feeling completely detached from my body and especially my genitalia, to the point where I would wet the bed or pee in my pants rather than willingly expose myself, even in the bathroom. I felt so much shame.
The first time my father threatened my life, I was probably 3 years old. It was just following one of the first times he abused me sexually. He sat me on the table in the kitchen and he took a large knife from the drawer. He held it to my neck and to my belly as I cried in fear and he told me that if I ever told anybody what he’d done, he would use that knife to kill my mom and to kill my sister in front of me, and then he would gut me and kill me. I never said a word.
Following another incident, he threatened me similarly, only with a shotgun to my head. The metal was cold against my skin. He said he would kill my mom and my little sister while I slept. I stopped sleeping. I would stay up all night, thinking I could protect them if my father tried to kill them. I felt I had to watch out for my family. That’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders as a 3 year old underweight little girl. To this day, I don’t feel right going to sleep unless I know everyone I love is awake again, and safe. It’s a silly thing to carry on, because I know he can’t hurt them now, but I guess old habits die hard. I still feel like I have to protect people all the time.
I remember him threatening to smother my sister when she was an infant. He would pick up a pillow and talk about how easy it would be to smother the life out of her. He used to really like to strangle us. All of us. It started out just my mom he’d strangle, but then he started to strangle me sometimes to the point where I couldn’t breathe, but he’d always stop and start laughing when I started to choke.
As I got older, abuse became worse and more frequent. I escaped by reading a lot. I was very smart little girl, and I think that’s because I internalized in order to escape. I had an incredible imagination that helped me go to other places while abuse was taking place. If I didn’t cooperate, he would beat me. Threats continued, and my mom had no idea it was going on. She thought that he was only hurting her, but that we, her children, were safe. I saw a lot of what happened between them, and it hurt worse to see my mom in pain than it did when I was his victim.
I remember him screaming. All the time, screaming. Items being thrown. My mother crying in the kitchen. Why is he so angry? He punched everything. I fantasized about death, about killing him. I fantasized about killing myself. My father thought Charles Manson was a pretty awesome guy, and that the family murdered in The Amityville Horror “had it coming”. My father was not above punching my pregnant mother in the stomach when my little sister was in there.
I remember killing a toad in the driveway behind my father’s car and stuffing gravel into its mouth until it was bloated and lumpy with rocks. I don’t know why that memory is so prominent. I guess maybe I just really wanted to kill something, and the toad was an extension of my father.
It wasn’t only my father who was cruel. Being in New Brunswick, we were surrounded with a lot of his family. His mother (technically my grandmother, but I never though of her as one), Rita, was cruel to me when I was a child. I hated having anything on my hands, and would freak out if there was any dirt on them. She took black permanent marker and drew on my hand, then laughed as I freaked out and my mom frantically tried to clean it off. I recall another incident, where she took my favorite stuffed animal (Fred, a yellow dog with floppy brown ears that I still have) and threatened to throw him in the wood burning stove, and again, laughed when I cried, thinking my best friend and the only one I told my secrets to was about to be burned.
There were some good times, too. I had a friend named Jonathan who lived close that I played with frequently. His mother and my mother were friends as well. His little sister was friends with my little sister. We would play outside, play video games, and it was great. He was a really good friend and a nice escape from what was going on at home. There was a little old lady who lived near us who used to let me go over to her house and help her pick fresh peas. She was a very kind woman.
I remember being so happy to start school. Any time spent in a place where my father wasn’t, was a good time. One day during story time, my mom showed up to pull me out of school. I remember being upset because I hated missing story time. but once I got into the van (which belonged to a friend of my mom’s), I was told that we were “leaving Daddy”. To this, I replied with an enthusiastic “Oh goody!”. My dad was at work, and I remember everyone being panicked and frantic about being gone before he came home and discovered we’d left.
A few months prior to the day we left, a second sister of mine was born. I was 6 and she was just starting her life. To this day, I’m so thankful that we left when we did, so she never had to experience our father. He never held her. Not even once. He was so upset that she wasn’t a boy, that he left the delivery room the day she was born. On this day, when we were getting ready to leave, I remember moments of panic, because my father’s sister had my baby sister and wouldn’t give her to my mom so that we could leave. I’m told that the sister’s husband stepped in and made her hand over my little sister. He was known simply as “Big John”, and I often wonder what became of him.
I remember being in a women’s shelter in New Brunswick. We’d left with just the clothes on our backs and I think maybe some photos. I don’t remember how long we stayed in the shelter, but I remember it was beautiful. There were other kids whose dads were mean too. We had all the food we could eat. Everybody wanted to hug me and nobody threatened to hurt me or my family.
From there, we got on a train to head out west to be closer to my grandparents (My mom’s parents), who were in Saskatchewan at that point. A policeman told my mom that if we hadn’t left when we did, we would have been killed. I still don’t know how he knew that. The train ride was fun. Some very generous people heard our story and paid for us to have a cabin with beds all to ourselves on the train. They bought us some Babar books. At this point, I still hadn’t told anyone my secrets.
We stayed at another women’s shelter when we arrived in Saskatchewan. Everyone was so nice. It was cramped, and we had to share a room with another family, but it was nice not to have to listen to screaming all the time. I played with some of the other kids, who told me their stories. A lot of them had the same wish: “I hope mommy doesn’t go back to daddy again”, which made me afraid that my own mom would change her mind and take us back there. She didn’t.
At some point, while staying in the shelter, I told my mom the secrets that my father made me keep. I told only bits and pieces, and as vague as I could manage. I’ve never seen her so sad. She stopped eating for a long time and I could tell, even at 6, that she was hurting really badly knowing that I had been hurt really badly. She drank a lot.
For a long time, I didn’t want to talk to anybody at all, so I didn’t.
But everyone wanted me to talk. Everyone wanted to know the details of my secrets. They all told me they would make sure I was never hurt that way again. When I didn’t want to talk, they made me draw pictures, many of which are still in a dusty box in a closet, along with the typed report from the child services worker. They made me play with dolls. They asked me all sorts of questions that I felt ashamed to answer out loud so I simply wrote them down or drew them out. I still deal with my emotions this way. Everyone thought my father would go to jail. They talked about it like it was a Sure Thing. But, because it was his word against ours, he didn’t. There were no witnesses. I do remember hearing that he was in jail for 3 months at some point, for some reason, and was beaten up by other inmates when they found out what he did to us.
Eventually we moved in with my grandparents and left the women’s shelter behind. I started to hear all sorts of scary stories about my father. We heard of how he’d stalked my mom’s friend after we left, skulking around her yard in the dark with an axe. What scared me most of all, was hearing about how he knew I’d told my secret and was denying everything. I remember hearing some of the local teenagers had retaliated, spray painting “PERVERT” on his driveway.
I remember when my mom had to go back to New Brunswick to fight for custody of us. My father called in a bomb threat to the court house to delay it. Eventually my mom came home with full custody, and my father was not allowed visitation, but would be allowed to send gifts or birthday cards through a lawyer if he chose to. He never did.
My father hired a private investigator to find us. He wanted to kill us for leaving and for telling my secrets. We lived in hiding, under police protection for many years. Every school (and I moved around to several different ones) had to be briefed on our situation. All of our bills were under a fake name. A fake paper trail was created, showing we’d gone to Alberta. The police did everything they could to keep him away but I guess they didn’t have enough to arrest him.
But despite all efforts, he always found us anyway. One time, I’d stayed home sick from school. It was lucky I did, because that day, he showed up at the school during recess and was showing photos of me and my sister to the other kids, asking them if they knew where we lived. Luckily, I was a loner and none of the kids knew much about me. We lived right across the street from the school. My father then went into the school, into the principal’s office, and tried to find information about us by intimidating the secretary. She didn’t tell him anything, and so he waited outside, and after school he tried to run the secretary off the road in his car.
We had to move again and again. He kept finding us. At a moment’s notice, we’d have to pack everything and move in the middle of the night. We lived in fear, with blinds or curtains always drawn tightly shut. I had my first severe panic attack when I saw a man who looked vaguely like my father. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when I was about 7. I would frequently have flashbacks of him hurting me, or seeing him hurt my mom. I didn’t like going to public bathrooms, and so I continued to wet myself and develop urinary tract infections caused by me holding it for extended lengths of time until I was 9 or 10. Kids at school made fun of me for smelling like urine and being just generally weird and quiet. I had a nervous habit of licking my lips, which developed into a rash around my mouth that was very painful.
I used to see a child psychologist named Kim Wilson. He was amazing, and when everything was falling apart for my family, he was helping us pick up the pieces. He helped me understand that what my father did was not my fault, and he was the first adult other than my own mother who told me he believed me. He believed me. My father’s family, such as my grandmother, kept calling us liars and said that my mom must be telling us what to say because there was no way he’d hurt us. They must have known a different man than we did.
Over the years, the close calls slowed down and we ended up being able to stay in the same home without having to relocate from him finding us. It was the first place I ever felt at home in.
Time went on. I grew up. I graduated high school with an award in art. I got a job. I had a number of mental health relapses along the way and have often struggled with severe self harm. I had a lot of fear in my heart, but I was okay.
In November of 2009 I received a message on Facebook from a man who said he was my cousin but whose name I did not recognize. I read his message on my phone before I even got out of bed. It said that my father had died. He had died. It was mantle cell lymphoma, a very rare cancer. If I wanted to, they could fly me out for the funeral.
To this day, I feel a little shame over how I reacted to the news of his death. It started with excitement “He’s dead!”, I proclaimed, running down the stairs to tell everyone, barely choking back tears of relief and wearing a smile. This was followed by a healthy dose of skepticism. What if this was just a ploy to find us? We let our guard down, and he finds us again. He will finally kill us. There was a link to an online obituary, with a phone number. I called it. It was the funeral home. I asked a single question:
“Hi. Is there a funeral to be held for Terry Malcolm Ganong?”
The woman who answered said, “Yes. Would you like to send condolences?”
“No. I just wanted to make sure that mother fucker was dead.”
It was true.
I was free. That nagging voice in the back of my head that told me to be afraid; that told me he was going to find me and kill me; it was silenced for the first time in my life. I remember falling to my knees.
I was contacted by a number of family members from my father’s side. Suddenly, all these family members, many I never knew existed, were connecting with us. Some had heard of why we left, some hadn’t. Some blamed us for leaving, some didn’t. Most of them only stayed in my life long enough to try to manipulate me in some way, or to call me a liar. One of his sisters attempted to pay me a large sum of money if only I’d say that he was a good father. She failed. Seems it was a really diseased tree that I could not have fallen further from. Despite the bad apples, a few have stayed, and those I am thankful for.
It’s been a number of years now, since the day Terry Malcolm Ganong died. He is not missed, but despised. My family met freedom that day. A fear that lingered in my mind for the entirety of my life finally blinked out. My abuser finally met his end and I no longer have to hold my breath in life. I no longer have to seal myself away; to hide from a very real monster in my closet. I don’t have to keep these heavy secrets on my back anymore. In a lot of ways, I didn’t really start living until he died.