Fifty years after she was first abused, Kiera still finds that particular triggers can bring all the bad memories back again. The smell of red wine is one such trigger; another is the shower.
‘For 40-odd years I’ve been crying in the shower’, Kiera said. ‘It’s still there. Still there. Only I have to talk to myself. I go in there and it’s like he’s all over me. Yet he’s never been in the shower with me, but his presence is in my mind and it won’t shake.’
The first of Kiera’s bad memories were formed in New South Wales in the 1960s. She was seven years old and living with her mum in a converted classroom inside a convent. Kiera’s mum worked at the convent as a cook and cleaner. She also cooked and cleaned for the priest, Father Baldwin.
Baldwin ‘took a liking’ to Kiera and began taking her out of school into his office. ‘He would pick me up and put me on his desk’, Kiera recalled. ‘And he was kissing me and cuddling me … He always tasted like red wine. And I can’t be near anybody drinking red wine still.’
The abuse continued off and on for years and ended abruptly when Kiera was 11. It ended because Kiera was stealing coins from a stash that Father Baldwin kept in his office.
‘One day he approached me and he asked me did I take that money. And I said, “Well, you’re not using it”. And he never touched me since. After that he was like, “You did evil so I don’t want to know you anymore”. He changed and I thought, “Thank God”.’
Soon afterwards, Kiera and her family moved to a Christian Brothers school in Sydney, where Kiera’s mum again worked as a cleaner. Kiera’s introduction to the place was horrifying. First, Brother Walker grabbed her and tongue kissed her, then Brother Fordham started stalking her with his camera.
Walker’s attacks ended there, but for Fordham this was just the beginning. He was relentless, appearing suddenly around corners at all hours, camera in hand, ‘click, click, click’. He kept asking Kiera to look at the photos. Again and again she refused. Then one day:
‘He turned around and he said: “I’m your mother’s boss. She could lose her job”. Immediately I thought, it’s only photos. Okay.’
Soon Brother Fordham was taking Kiera out on excursions in his car to take revealing photos of her. Soon after that he began kissing and groping her. Kiera felt trapped. ‘I remember feeling like I wanted to get out of that, but I didn’t know how.’
One day Brother Fordham instructed Kiera to leave her bathroom window open while she showered. Feeling confused and guilty, Kiera obeyed. Every night for the next few weeks Fordham watched her through the open window.
‘For some clever reason I decided to turn on the hot water to steam it up so he actually couldn’t see me. And because it had so much steam he got cranky.’
Things only got worse from there. There were more photos, more molesting and eventually Brother Fordham raped Kiera. The image of him leaning over her is something she’s never been able to forget.
Years later, after much suffering, several suicide attempts and a lot of counselling, Kiera decided that she wanted to take action against Brother Fordham.
‘I went to the police. I was in the middle of making a statement and I just felt like I would suffer more than he would.’
Kiera dropped the case and opted for another course of action.
‘I decided, because I couldn’t do that, that I would contact him. And then I’ve made his life hell since. He taught me how to torment someone. He tormented me for years, and now I’ve made him feel like his life is in balance with me.’
Since Kiera first made contact with him, Brother Fordham has sent her many letters. He has been apologetic but careful not to explicitly incriminate himself. ‘He’s saying it without saying it. He’s still keeping his cards to his chest.’
Kiera feels conflicted. She’s glad to receive the apologies from Fordham and wonders if she should forgive him, but she remains angry at him and sceptical about the value of his words.
‘It helps by him saying sorry’, she said, ‘but at the same time it’s like a little bandaid on a huge wound.’
Kiera said she doesn’t want to hang onto her hate. Her goal is to heal herself, and so far she’s succeeding. She still has her triggers and her bad memories, but with the help of counselling she’s learning to see those memories – and herself – in a different way.
‘I’m so much better now. I’m so much better than what I was, because I don’t blame myself anymore. I’m kinder to myself.’