An uncle teaching his Nephew ways of the world in exchange for his own personal favors
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Everyone has that family member, where you don't see or hear anything from them for years but are expected to make a big fuss for them when they finally do make contact. Uncle John was mine growing up. He didn't actually even live that far from us, but hardly ever hearing a word from him for months on end made me and my cousins at the time wonder why we should be over the moon when he does finally make an appearance.
Uncle John is my mums half brother - and even she doesn't see much of him. All I got told growing up is that "We owe everything to your uncle John." Which at the time obviously made no sense to me. In later years, I found out that John had paid my family out of a lot of financial trouble since my dad walked out on me and my mother. I suppose that's why we were always expected to make a fuss over his very seldom appearances. We all lived in a house together, which was crammed, but being so close to my family all the time had it's perks too. To this day I still don't know what his job was or how he had so much money to spare. John was that adult that doesn't know how to really communicate with children - he'd talk to me and my cousins as if we were adults and ruffle our hair at any chance he had to seem 'funny'. A really forced smile came on his face whenever he made contact with any of us.
He used to have a partner years ago but I was too young to remember. Apparently she treat him awful and left him in a lot of financial trouble himself, but ever since I've known him, it's always been just Uncle John - never with a plus one. Callum was my closest cousin growing up as he was a year older than myself so as a child, you kind of look up to even slightly older relatives. Claire and her twin sister Hannah were 3 years younger than me. For some reason we'd all get picked up to go to his house together - never with any of our parents there. My mother encouraged me to be enthusiastic about going to his house but when he picked me up, she was reluctant to let me go. Judging from the fact of how much money he apparently had, his house was quite small and had his things scattered everywhere - apparently in some sort of order as everytime we'd pick something up, he'd shout at us to put it back exactly where it was.
Never without a roll up cigarette in his mouth, his fingers were stained dark yellow, along with his tongue - he'd smoke until it burnt his fingers. When I mentioned that he doesn't know how to talk to children, he didn't know how to act around them either as he'd one by one take us into the spare room to play. Even at our age, it was painful to pretend to be enjoying yourself - no child likes organised fun - it should just be fun. He'd make us wait on the sofa in the living room watching a 70's comedy show he insisted was funny whilst one of us was in the spare room with him. Sometimes he'd allow Claire and Hannah in there at the same time, but never me and Callum. One day he had the twins in there for so long that Callum and I lit one of his cigarettes and tried to smoke ourselves. It's a vague memory, but I remember not being able to hold it right in between my fingers and we coughed until we were retching. Almost throwing up onto an already stained carpet still beats watching the crappy TV show he put on for us.
Being an innocent child at the time - I just thought Uncle John was a bit boring and weird, but he finally came out of the spare room pushing Claire and Hannah out - they were holding hands with their heads down, not talking at all to either of us. John shouted Callum's name and tilted his head towards the room, I notice his t-shirt had changed. He never really took much time playing with Callum, so at least I wouldn't be too bored by myself as the twins weren't saying a word. I noticed Hannah holding Claire's arm close to her chest as if she was hurt. Not a word was said for 10 minutes until John shouted my name just as Callum was leaving. Still in the same t-shirt, he took me into the room which was the most basic room you could ever picture. One single bed, a cabinet, a plain wardrobe and one single painting of some fruit hung up on the wall. By the time I had sat on the bed I heard him whisper "This will suit you nicely." as he presented me with a blue frock - the most stereotypical 'girly' dress for a child you could imagine. "I know it's not usually what you'd do but try it, it will be fun, I promise!" As he said 'promise' he takes hold of my shoulders with both hands. There's a strong look in his eye that's slightly intimidating as I proceed to pull the dress over my head. "No, no... Wear it properly... Like you was a little girl... We're only pretending, remember?"
I reluctantly remove my shirt and pants and leave them neatly on the cabinet. "It's a bit big." I nervously say as I pull the material over my shoulders - to which he frantically tells me "No... No it's not, it's perfect... Perfect for you." John had his own dress, so at least it wasn't just me that looked ridiculous, although he did rub his fingers through my hair, arranging a parting in the middle - presumably to make me look more like a girl as I had quite long hair anyway, it kind of worked. I watched this 40 something-year-old chubby man cover his face in makeup and place a blonde wig over his head. Putting his glasses back on, he presents a tray with teacups, milk, sugar, and 4 cheap biscuits. He pours me a cup and offers it to me with his little finger hovering in the air. - "I don't really drink tea..." - "Ohh, but you must, I've gone through so much trouble preparing this day for us, us girls are allowed to treat ourselves whilst the boys are out playing football! Now don't be so silly and try the biscuits, I bought them in especially." John said all this in a really over the top woman's voice that sounded so ridiculous that I didn't know whether to laugh or run out of the room. He insisted that I talk like a woman too.
I thought Callum was in there a while, but I must have been in there at least an hour, pretending to go along with this scenario John had made up. It was worryingly convincing how much he believed we were two older rich women enjoying afternoon tea whilst our husbands were away. He even gave us names, ages and hobbies. I always remember the name he gave me was Patricia - but he'd always call me Pat for short. Two 46 and 47 year old women who were fortunate enough to marry rich husbands that cared about their appearance so much that even to meet for afternoon tea had to be a formal dressed occasion. John, or 'Catherine' as she wished to be called would talk about affairs she'd been having and really graphic detail about her sex life with her husband. As a child I was confused about the situation and tried to make an attempt to leave by breaking character on numerous occasions - she took hold of my wrist and forcefully sat me back down on the bed - keeping me there through sheer intimidation.
After what felt like an eternity of putting on a fake voice and having to talk about things I don't have any clue about, she finished our session by slapping her thighs and saying; "I'm sorry to cut you off short Pat, but my husband will be back soon, he doesn't know I have company. I will look forward to your next visit! And also, next time you're here, I want ALL the gory details about you and your husbands private life." I had no idea what she meant by this, but I knew she wanted to talk about sex with me - a 9 year old boy. The second she took her makeup and dress off - John was back. Weird, awkward and moody John. He immediately rolled a cigarette and shouted all four of us to get in the car. Callum and the twins were so quiet on the way home, which wasn't unusual as John didn't really like us talking when he's driving so it's an awkward silence on the way back and any attempt I make to bring up what happened earlier is quickly dismissed as if it didn't happen. Sure enough, he drops us at the house and as I'm about to shut the door, he pokes my shoulder to gain my attention.
"Remember, we're only pretending... Pat..." he says 'Pat' in the same woman's voice as he used before and gives me a slow and unsettling wink before he drives away. The amount of confusion I had was unbelievable and especially when I seen my mother, she asks if I had a good time and then doesn't want to hear anything else about it - similar to how John dismissed any attempt I made to address what happened. She just plain and simple doesn't want to hear. Looking back, it was so surreal coming from pretending to be a woman with my uncle, to go back to normal it's like a slip into the twilight zone, because as I said - I barely ever seen him.
Hannah and Claire I didn't see much of anyway and Callum became really distant over the next few weeks, until one day I waited to find him by himself and confronted him about it. After a look over his shoulder so no one could hear, he asks me; "My parents didn't want me to tell them, but I think I should, Uncle John is strange... I don't want to go there anymore. I haven't seen the twins but I'm pretty sure they don't want to either. He made me... Watch him do things and did things to me... I hated it, I hated it I hate him." I didn't even get the chance to ask what happened - but as an innocent 9 year old I presumed he meant dressing up like I did.
Visits from John suddenly became more regular until they became a monthly occurrence. He insisted that the kids all see him on separate occasions. Time spent with my cousins became less and less often the more I seen of John. I was always too confused as to why my mum still encouraged me to go see John but ultimately didn't want to let me go when the time came to leave. Strangely enough and as dark and disgusted as I am saying it, I began to almost enjoy my time with John or... 'Catherine'. I knew once playtime was over, not to speak about it at all, but I began to imagine situations myself of Catherine and Patricia going for days out together - and even suggested it one time. This idea was immediately slammed as he shouted at me and he let slip a little bit of John's personality as opposed to the soft-spoken, very well mannered Catherine. I see now why he declined my idea to go for lunch outside somewhere - a few questions would be asked from people but at the time I couldn't help but feel a little bored of staying in that room, just talking about all these activities - I'd rather be actually doing them. I still didn't have much time for John himself, but Catherine I eventually could talk to all day. Catherine helped me build confidence at a young age and to not care what anyone thinks of me, even if I am a little 'different'.
Another thing Catherine introduced me to was sex education - I had more knowledge from her than I ever did from my parents. The older I got and more frequently I visited, the main topic of conversation would be sex. I got informed of role play, fantasies, positions, fetishes and I couldn't get enough. At first, It sounded funny hearing about sex in such a casual manor - but without ever having a sexual encounter myself, I knew so much about it. Sex seemed to be the conversation that was the 'go to' for us whenever I'd visit - after a few more years of frequent visits, the dirtier the conversation became. I no longer seen this overweight man in a dress, covered in ridiculous makeup as my Uncle, I seen her as Catherine - a wine-fuelled, sex-obsessed beautiful woman that talks me through any troubles I have.
The voices stayed the same, but eventually, the dresses came off the older I got, she'd buy me new clothing to fit my exact build. Taking measurements for my bra size and complimenting me when I try on the exotic underwear she provides for me. I'd let myself fall under the illusion of being fully consumed by Catherine and Pat's persona that I'd come up with sexual situations myself. (All taken from elements of her stories) I let myself believe that I had physically done these acts, or had them done to me, and Catherine thrived off me talking this amount of filth - even though it must have been clear that I didn't have the first clue about it. One day, she really opened up to me, It's like she had been building up to tell me this story that apparently happened. How casually she would use filthy language really got me interested too, the dirtier the better. It's worrying to think of now about how little care she had that she was at the time - talking to a 12 year old boy.
"Did I ever tell you about my weekend in Edinburgh?" She asked, knowing full well that she hadn't. I sipped the wine I was provided and shook my head, eager to hear any of the dirt that pours from her mouth.
"Haha! Well... As you know, I've got a few... Contacts for when my husband isn't around, we were set to go see the Edinburgh festival but he had to work. Being the independent person I am, it didn't bother me in the slightest that I would be alone and as I say... I've got a few... contacts." Catherine pauses for a second to finish her wine before pouring herself another full glass and topping mine up. I wince after every mouthful, but in a way, I want to impress her.
"The hotel room was a beautiful place to be for the weekend, big fluffy double bed, full-length mirror, walk-in wardrobe, and an immaculate bathtub... You could almost get lost in there! As independent as I am, it's only natural for a woman to feel the need to 'satisfy certain urges' so I called someone I knew, he's actually someone that used to work with my husband a few years ago but they don't speak anymore. He obliged to come round but informed me that he wasn't alone, which took me by surprise but only encouraged me more. At this stage Pat, I literally cannot wait for Paul and his friend to get here and to have their way with me... I can be very dominating but the two boys wanted me to be rather submissive which I had never done but was more that willing to fulfil their desires. Paul isn't the most good looking man on earth, but he's an aggressive lover and really knows exactly what to do with me - he was always a good back up for when my husband wasn't there. Paul's friend on the other hand, this being the first time I met him, I was taken back... Pat, he must have been 6'3 and so well built, he could throw me around any which way he desired. He had a small beard and a shaven head and I couldn't wait to have the pair of them all over me. Paul took out some handcuffs and began placing them roughly around my wrists - attaching me to the bed so I can't move my upper half... All this whilst calling me dirty, filthy, disgusting any other word you can think of to degrade someone in a delicate position like I was... The thing was, it didn't degrade me, it just made me want them more."
"So what's his friend doing right now? Does he help him pin you to the bed?"
I interrupted, much to Catherine's dismay, after this I learned to keep my mouth shut and just hear the story through.
"Hmm, him? No, he didn't do anything, he stood there in silence, stoking his crotch and not being able to take his eyes off my now exposed chest. Eventually, both of them were having their way with me at the same time, I loved every second as Paul was behind me and his friend taking hold of my head. I still don't know his name to this day! I just know he was strong, muscley and managed to finish off what Paul apparently couldn't for once."
Catherine briefly touches her chest and exhales heavily to compose herself - re- living this situation she's telling me about.
"It really is remarkable, Catherine... To get away with all these fun times you've had and for your husband not to have a clue! So tell me, where did the two boys... You know... Finish?"
"Haha I admire your appreciation of me, but I didn't get away with any of it, I'm just reminiscing these times... No, no... John found out eventually. We split up years ago, I have a new husband now that doesn't have a clue though! Haha!"
As she says John, I suddenly snap out of character and try for the life of me to remember what Uncle John's partners name was - but it was before I was born I think, I struggle so much that I work myself up and pretend I have to go home to see to my own made-up husband - forgetting to put on my fake female voice.
Strangely enough, Catherine obliges and proceeds to get changed. Sure enough like always, John lit a cigarette and took me to his car - barely speaking to me. I slammed the door without a second thought, forgetting I still had on the girl's underwear underneath my jeans. Frantically running up the stairs to ask my mother what the name of his old wife was. Usually, she dismisses any questions or statements about John I ever have but this time, she blankly stares at me and without saying a word, bursts into tears. I catch a small glimpse of myself in the mirror, I have a face full of makeup, hair parted in the center and am wearing a dress, not the jeans I previously thought I was. 'Pat' has been revealed to my own mother, who is now hysterically crying.
Once she had finally stopped, I was changed into my own clothes, had a bath and had the situation explained to me.
"It's the most shameful thing I've ever done in my life, in all of our lives... To let all your kids stay at that freaks house. See, John is a known pedophile, he thrives off young boys and girls... Do you remember when I used to tell you that we owe everything to your uncle John? Well, that's true, he let us live in this house, he paid off all our outstanding bills and even paid off the twins and Callum's parents. We all live together and because we don't do well for money, it was taking us a hell of a long time trying to earn back anything close to what we owed him. He came to us all with a proposition that you kids go to his house every now and again... He promised us he hadn't seen or done anything to do with children in years, but that was his end of the deal. His payment was to see you all every few months. Which I know must sound absolutely vile to you, but if it wasn't for him. We'd all have been on the street. Believe me when I tell you that we fought as hard and for as long as we could for any other alternative... I'm so sorry to have put you kids through this."
Once again, my mum bursts into tears as she holds me close to her. As I'm still trying to comprehend what she's just told me, I mutter something that I'm not sure was intentional - the lights are on but no one is home. Until I heard my mum reply with;
"She was called Catherine, why?"
Being so long ago, I can't remember how I ended that conversation, but I have caught up with my cousins about it as we never spoke about John, even between us four. Now we're in our 30's, I finally felt brave enough to confront them about it. Hannah and Claire are doing okay, Claire is a nurse and Hannah works as a part-time cleaner to help support her child. John abused them so badly that for a while, they were both heavy alcoholics later in life to deal with the secrets they kept. Callum actually did some jail time for robbery but is apparently getting back on track now. He too was abused badly, not just sexual, but physically - he still has a few scars. It's sad when I think, how close we all were when we were children and through keeping secrets from one another and all moving away - that we drifted so far apart.
I never brought up John or Catherine again after my mother opened up and told me the truth. I don't know what demons John was fighting, but he must have been going through hell to have been dressing as his ex-wife and abusing children. He never actually abused me, he said and did some things he shouldn't have in front of me but there's no real damage done to me personally. Obviously, I feel worse for my cousins going through the trauma he made for them. I kept 'Pat' a secret from everyone I ever spoke to. Even when I opened up to my cousins, I just said that John spoke to me about sex a lot of the time, but never touched me. I didn't go to the funeral - John's funeral. Neither did any of my cousins. I don't know who did actually go. I just got the phone call saying he'd died of a heart attack. The first contact I've had regarding him since the last time I walked out of that bedroom he called his 'play area'.
Catherine, not John, for a couple of years, I regarded her as a close friend, someone to teach me things that no one else would at that age, a listener and as long as you play by her rules of dress code and how you speak, she's almost someone I looked up to. Her confidence and attitude of life - although the situation itself is delusional, there's a small piece of her that will always be with me.