When it came to the mysteries of the rosary I had no trouble remembering the sorrowful ones, in sing song fashion, the agony in the garden, the carrying of the cross, the crowning with thorns and the crucifixion. 

The joyful were also quick to come to mind: the annunciation, Mary chosen to be the mother of God, the Visitation, Elizabeth visits Mary to tell her as much, the nativity, Jesus born in a manger, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and finding him there when he is aged twelve. 

But the mysterious remained a mystery: resurrections, ascensions, assumptions, visits from the holy ghost and crowning. All too easily combined with the luminous: the baptism, the wedding at Cana, the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven, the transfiguration, and the Eucharist.  

To me luminous was that strange off-white colour that turned a spectral green after you left it in the sun for some time and then brought it into the dark.

 I had a set of luminous rosary beads and loved them for this quality. The way things could glow in the dark, but sadly they faded quickly and lasted only if the light they had taken in beforehand allowed. 

My mother’s rosary beads. Not luminous. Each bead in a lace cast.

There is a section in Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s book The fact of a body: a murder and a memoir, where the narrator describes the joy of sexual contact with her newest girlfriend.

Our narrator is gay, purely, she believes, because she loves women, not because she was sexually abused as a child by her grandfather.

She wants people to know this. Even if her grandfather had never touched her, as he did in stealth at night, she still would have preferred women to men. 

But that’s not the point of what she talks about when she describes making love to her partner. In detail: the kissing, mouth on mouth, tongue to tongue, skin to skin, the touch of their hands. But just as her partner moves to touch her below, she is back in liquid terror that leaves her aghast. She cannot go on. She must wrench herself and her partner out of their close bond, out of the joys of dissolving into one for the moment of sexual ecstasy because her mind is ravaged by an unspoken memory of her grandfather peeling back the blankets and his hands on her warm child’s body.

Dissociation kicks in and she is railroaded for life.

It’s easier to write about these things than to experience them. The panic that creeps over you when you slip into some mysterious terrain in which you are no longer an agent of your own movements, when the luminescence moves into a paralysis of mind and body that will not shift. 

Believe me, I’ve tried it.

This is the stuff of panic attacks, the stuff of re-living horrors you could not process when you were a child. Or stuff that your predecessors could not process and by some strange osmotic delivery from their DNA into yours, you picked up the danger signals.

Skip into too much sensual pleasure and you will be wrenched out by an unseen hand into dissolution and fear.

Don’t be scared of your hunger

Don’t fear the subterranean sensations that rise from your gut whenever you connect to a memory of other times from childhood. Those times when you did not understand what was happening to you or your body. When you did not understand what the grownups were saying or, worse still, doing. 

Such were the times when I pleaded with my guardian angel to keep safe, when my father sat in his chair in the lounge room and one by one took off his shoes and socks, then shirt and trousers.

When he sat for some time in his white underpants, only to take them off eventually and to roam the house without a stitch on his person. To walk the house as if to say, look at me, at my nakedness and be disturbed. 

To have us disturbed gave him an unspoken thrill. 

‘Put your clothes on,’ my mother might say, but she did not. Or she could use Dutch words like ‘Doe niet zo idioot’ (don’t be an idiot), or some such words, words I could not understand beyond the warom, the why of it all.

In my memory my mother sat in her chair a few feet away and said nothing. The safest way, to behave as though nothing was happening. 

I cannot fathom the creeps of anxiety that crawl in my stomach when I think about this. I am fearful of something; I cannot say what. Of being drawn back into the past perhaps. Of feeling overloaded by a sense of doom, that something is about to go very wrong, and I cannot say what it is, but it will be with me soon.

My father gets up from his chair and strides across the lounge room to the hallway to his bedroom where he will lie down on his bed to sleep for five minutes, or an hour or more, and we cannot know from one day to the next how long he will be out of orbit.

And in these moments when he sleeps, an uneasy ease descends, as if there is a lull in the storm only you know in no time his voice will puncture the silence and he will call out to my mother to come to him. 

My mother or my sister and if no one responds he will call my name. I dread to think what I will do when he calls my name. How I cannot unhear the sound of his voice and the slurring guttural slide across my name Liesbeth with the last syllable pronounced like BAT, as if I am a bat hung upside down in some dark cave somewhere. 

I despise the word bat when attached to my name. It is harsh and unyielding, the way I must be if I am to protect myself from his calls into the late afternoon on a Saturday when we are all at home and waiting for things to intensify as he drinks more and becomes a monster we do not recognise.