I Survived an Acid Attack - Patricia Lefranc - ebook

I Survived an Acid Attack ebook

Patricia Lefranc

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December 2009. The life of Patricia Lefranc shatters into pieces.

As Patricia is entering her building's lobby, her ex-boyfriend smashes her on the ground and attacks her with acid. The nightmare lasts several minutes and Patricia is burned to the third and fourth degree on 30% of her body, including her whole face. "When I woke up, I resented the doctors for keeping me alive" she explains.

But Patricia has three children whom she loves dearly and it was impossible for her to give up on life. This young woman, with a sweet voice and an incredible sense of humour, has decided to live, to fight and move on with her life. Today, she is struggling to recover her old face and has already gone through 97 surgeries. She is also advocating to ban the free selling of sulfuric acid in Europe. This book tells a touching story, filled with challenges and won battles.

Discover the touching testimony of a woman who, without even realizing it, teaches us a great deal about heroism

EXCERPT

My childhood was far from plain sailing. On the contrary.
But the events I went through during those years made me who I am. The last child of a reconstituted family, I shared the lives of two sisters and a brother from my mother’s first marriage.
We were all born about two years apart. One detail, however, proved important : I was the only girl born from the union of my parents. Our relations were never good, as far as I can remember. I nicknamed this tandem ‘the union of the perverse and mad’. That says it all...
My early childhood is a huge black hole. Every last recollection has vanished into thin air. From the most trivial incidents to the toys that were my companions throughout the time I was learning about life, all has literally disappeared.

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Acknowledgements

Undergoing such a trial inevitably involves collateral damage. I am fortunate to have benefited from many expressions of support, both from friends and relatives and from strangers. Whatever the ties that bind us, I would like to thank all those people who have spared a thought for me.

I am especially thankful to my children and to Eric, Joëlle Vande Broek, Alain Van Veer and Stéphane, who have been there in the good times, and especially in the bad times, to cheer me up when I had most need of that. I also thank Nadia Bouria for her professionalism, her empathy and her humanity. Though I knew her first as a journalist, she has become a true friend. I also have a special thought for Virginie Stevens, director of Pétillances, who became a confidante. Her listening skills and her advice helped me make progress daily. I also take my hat off to my lawyers, Sven Mary and Daniel Spreutels, who have always found the right words to defend me.

It would be remiss of me to forget all the medical staff (orderlies, doctors…) who for countless hours have cared for me and spoiled me so that my various hospital stays could take place under the best conditions. Finally, I take my hat off to my surgeon, Benoît Lengelé. His professionalism, his empathy and his advice continue today to enable me to stay the course in my reconstruction process.

- 1 - Childhood

My childhood was far from plain sailing. On the contrary. But the events I went through during those years made me who I am.

The last child of a reconstituted family, I shared the lives of two sisters and a brother from my mother’s first marriage. We were all born about two years apart. One detail, however, proved important: I was the only girl born from the union of my parents. Our relations were never good, as far as I can remember. I nicknamed this tandem ‘the union of the perverse and mad’. That says it all…

My early childhood is a huge black hole. Every last recollection has vanished into thin air. From the most trivial incidents to the toys that were my companions throughout the time I was learning about life, all has literally disappeared. Even my doll’s hair colour has faded from my memory. And yet, deep down, I think I must have played for hours with a friend made of rags, like all little girls. It’s as if a part of my hard drive has been deleted for some reason which I cannot explain. Why all this emptiness? I do not know. One thing is sure, that this lack of memories is part of my life and I have to live with it. In fact, only one episode comes back to me: the present that my brother Jean-Pierre gave me. He had made a small pram with his own hands. A wonderful surprise that I discovered when I came home from school.

So my story begins at the age of ten. And it is far from rosy every day. My return home, after a busy day at school, was often synonymous with anxiety. This was not necessarily because of my grades. When I approach the house, I feel a knot of fear forming gradually in my stomach. It grows until it takes up all the space, as if it wanted to choke me, crushing my lungs. I am frightened by the presence of my mother. How will she welcome me? How much will she be affected by the alcohol which sets her daily rhythm, night and day? She is drunk, more often than not. And her alcohol level determines the kind of welcome I receive.

If my mother is in a normal state, I am entitled to a simple: “Hello! Put down your satchel and peel the potatoes.” Not very friendly, but at least I can release some of the tension that I carry within me. But if she is drunk, these instructions quickly disappear to make room for insults, beatings, or for tears and shouts. I tremble with fear. I feel my heart beat to the very bottom of my spine. I feel so alone and so lost, facing the violence of this woman who, nevertheless, gave me life. Her attitude, a result of all the poison which she absorbs, obviously has a great influence on the little ten year old girl who I am. Even today, I relive those moments. And the little girl inside me then exhausts herself in a silent scream. It was all the more difficult because no one was there to offer me any help or give me the simple comfort of a smile, or a caress - in short, all that a terrorised and confused girl might expect. I am thinking mainly of my father. A plumber by trade, he owned his own shop, but he was never there to protect me.

I will never forget the day when, coming home from school, I see a lot of police officers outside the family home. There are uniforms everywhere. Having worked my way through the people gathered there, I see that my sister is packing her bag. She is making great efforts to cram into it the maximum number of personal things. I sense the urgency in the air, but I do not understand what is happening. Why all these men? Why is my sister hurrying to fill that suitcase? Naively, I ask my mother. Why do we need the police to help us move?

The only answer that I receive is a scathing: “Shut your trap!” Yes, that’s how they talk to me at home.

And my surprise does not end with that answer. The day descends into real torment when I see my father leave the house… in handcuffs! I do not get it, especially since no one wants to talk to me. As for my sister, she collapses into the arms of a lady who I do not know. Tears streaming down her cheeks bear witness to the impact of this scene on the whole family. The nightmare goes on as I quickly realise that my second sister is also about to depart. I question her, but no response is provided except for a strange “Watch out for yourself!” Everything is falling apart around me, especially since my brother is not present. What on earth is going on?

That evening, all my father’s family gathers at home. I hope finally to get some information on this flood of surprises. But again, I am kept out of it, sent to my bedroom without an ounce of explanation, even though my world has just collapsed. My instructions are very clear: “It will be the better for you if you do not disturb us!” Locked in my room - or my cell as it might as well be - my mind is prey to the darkest thoughts. A deluge of questions pours over me and my blood runs cold. The torture does not end there as they forget to give me anything to eat.

On the stroke of midnight, they finally think about freeing me from my isolation. Not to enlighten me as I hope, but to order me to pack my suitcase. As usual, my mother, totally drunk, yells at me before I leave Brussels, for Mons. I still remember her screams echoing in me. I feel that my life as a little girl is contained in this case that I carry in my arms. I would like to go back, to understand. But nothing like that happens. I must leave my home and go to my father’s sister’s house.

I stayed there throughout 1974. My life there was much simpler. I could finally grow and develop in a normal family. It was like day after night. Everyone spoke to me nicely. I could exist without trembling. There was no power struggle within this family, which was united whatever the circumstances. Gradually, I allowed myself to leave my inner world, a bit like those little snails that push out their horns when a gentle rain slides down their shell.

However, a few months after my arrival in Mons, I had a new surprise. Again without the least explanation, I must take the road for Brussels with my aunt. While I was expecting to see my mother, I was finally taken to the Palais de Justice. At the corner of a hallway, I find my father who I am asked to kiss. I am also told that my two sisters are liars. I do not understand what is happening before my eyes. My father? My sisters? Then I see a man dressed in black and wearing a tie approaching us. In answer to my question, they explain to me that he is a lawyer, whose job is to defend people. This meeting is a premonition, in the light of what life had in store for me later.

Though, as a girl, I fostered the dream of one day being called to the bar, I was only finally able to see behind the scenes in a court because of the many legal procedures that would mark my existence.

This meeting with my father was furtive. On the way back to Mons, I tried to learn more about the episode of the Palais de Justice. An initiative that was not much appreciated. But I’m like that. I hate lies, hence my constant search for truth, to know everything so I can form my own opinions. I tell myself even now that I owe it to myself to stay alive to bring the truth to the light of day.

Persisting, I finally learned that my father was in prison for abusing my stepsisters. Though I understood that this was something serious, I did not, at the time, have the maturity to digest such news. My whole world was upset. My family, already unsteady, had just shattered into pieces again and I must at all costs keep my head above water. For me it was a matter of survival. I think it was at this time that I learned to focus on the beautiful things of life, to be more aware of the present moment. I also learnt to grit my teeth and be brave. Anyway, I had no other option.

My father, an abuser? Of my half-sisters Julie and Chantyne? I realise that all this is a source of suffering in the family and that it is better not to talk about it too often. At my aunt’s, the story of incest is contested vigorously. For those around me my sisters, who claim to be victims, are liars and my father has been unjustly accused.

I continue nevertheless to stay in Mons, in a rather peculiar atmosphere. Tensions are present, but the discomfort is latent. They talk in hints and I, the little girl, try to join up the pieces of the puzzle. Understanding my desire to learn more, my aunt tells me that my mother hates me, she detests me! Although my relationship with my mother was not good, I remember how intensely hurt I was on hearing these words. I am a mother now and I have trouble understanding how anyone can hate the child she bore. My aunt said to me: “The case against your father is not ended. He has been imprisoned again for similar offences.”

In the midst of this long ordeal, one single event is untouched by all this pain - Christmas. The festival is celebrated with great pomp. The tree is beautiful and sparkles with a thousand lights. A breathtaking effect, thanks to the play of light. A marvellous sight, but it does not erase from my memory a sad recollection of our family.

As a little girl, I saw my brother Jean-Pierre receive the correction of his life after toppling the tree over. My God, how the sky fell on his head, and his howls seemed to go on endlessly. He was punished very severely. And the rest of us too, in a way, since my parents decided from that moment on not to decorate the Christmas tree any more.

I had to wait until I was 16 to see my mother renew this tradition. And even so, it was to give a little warmth to the room so that our guests would feel more welcome. In fact, they comprised just one couple. These lovers had spent a total of 20 years in prison and that must have been, for my mother, a means of gathering a few people… It was a memorable evening. Indeed, for a whole week a large present, well wrapped, had been visible under the tree. My curiosity had been piqued. Although I used all the tricks imaginable I had not been able to find out what it contained. At each attempt, my mother always looked at me with a little smile, but did not lift the veil. Hope for a better world raised its head. I tell myself she must have changed if she has thought of offering me a small present. Has the wheel turned? Well, that was a serious mistake. As the presents are being given out, my heart races as it rarely did. And increases its pace by an extra notch when she takes hold of the large package. I jump up, more excited than a flea at the idea of getting my present. The “No!” that follows, as sharp as a razor blade, makes me sit back down immediately. This beautiful package is not meant for me. My mother quietly goes towards her friend to give it to her while whispering softly in my ear: “I had you there, eh? You thought it was for you, but you were wrong!”

This is my Fate. Even on Christmas Eve, her wickedness shapes the evening. Since that sad day, when I celebrate this festival with my children, I always take care to put on show a fine present for each of them. Though their smiles and gratitude fill me with joy, I cannot help going out for a moment to cry. Some scars are slow to heal. And this celebration is one. This maternal sentence will remain forever engraved on the heart of my memory. A question also fills my mind: why so much malevolence for her own daughter? One thing is certain, my aunt was right - my mother hated me.

- 2 - Emancipation

At fourteen, one starts to understand life a little better. Everything that happens around me seems increasingly clear. At that time, Julie, my second sister, had been sent to a boarding school by the judge, following some lies. As for Chantyne, my big sister, she remains free. For my part, I had left my retreat at Mons. Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s. This year had allowed me to recharge my batteries and regain confidence in myself. The decision to rejoin my family was not mine, but dictated by the wishes of my parents. They wanted to take me under their roof again.

My return was not easy. On the contrary… My father certainly did not treat me with kid gloves: “Yes, your mother made statements against me to the police. She sided with your sisters. She wanted to blackmail me and demanded money not to press the charges. And your sister did the same. Now here I am cleared.” An explanation that haunts me.

Having digested this new confession, I was confronted with my future. One day when I came home from school, my mother asked me what profession I was going to pursue and if I intended to continue my studies. My answer was immediate: “Yes, I want to go on studying because I want to be a lawyer!” But my joy was short-lived as my education stopped dead. My mother decided that I was not cut out for study and I must start work keeping the family shop. A decision which destroyed me, but which was common at the time. Traders had the law on their side – it enabled them to interrupt the education of their children in order to integrate them into their business.

So there I am, at 14, disconnected from my friends. Besides the ban on going to school, I am not allowed to have anyone round at home, or go to visit anyone. A decision that would affect the rest of my life because today I am very sociable. I love people. That shows that even if they decide to take away many of your freedoms during your childhood, you always have the opportunity to catch up once you are adult. And this was demonstrated, when I was only 17 years old and my father decided to hire a worker named Auguste.

My father always stopped me from going out with my friends, but he could not forbid me from seeing Auguste. He’s a smiling young man, always ready to make me laugh. One day, I find myself alone with him. I take this opportunity to begin a discussion, which would prove to be a confession from the heart… or a message in a bottle thrown into the sea: “I don’t love you, I just think you’re nice - but all the same I would like you to marry me. I have to escape this hell in which I’ve been living for far too long! And my parents don’t want to set me free.” To my great surprise, Auguste accepts my request. News that I announce the same evening to my parents. Not surprisingly, they are strongly opposed, retorting that I have to wait until I am 18.

An attitude that sends a chill down my spine. Fortunately, my sister is there. She advises me to go to a lawyer three times – if I perform these steps, my parents can no longer oppose my marriage. Auguste and I therefore follow that advice. At the second appointment, the lawyer is obliged to call them. Faced with this fait accompli, my father decides to pay me back by playing the game subtly. Before the lawyer, he feigns gentleness, explaining that he agrees to the marriage. The same evening, his mercy has given way to a desire for revenge or humiliation. “Auguste should propose to you as tradition dictates: he will wear white gloves and kneel down.” What nonsense! My parents are simple people. Either Auguste refuses and I bid farewell to my hopes of freedom, or he accepts this silly game and my father says yes. We finally decide to accept this blackmail in order to continue our adventure and, most importantly, so I can achieve the freedom I long for.

We get married on St Valentine’s Day. I’m 18 and one week. The day after our wedding, I find Auguste in the window of our house. He is busy rolling a cigarette. At least that’s what I think. In fact, a smell that does not match that of tobacco soon makes me wonder. “It’s a joint, don’t you know?”

I had never heard that expression except in relation to plumbing parts for taps. “It’s a herb that makes you cheerful and pleasant.” I finally understand why he was always so happy. So I learnt on the first day of my marriage what a joint is, and a year later, I became pregnant with my first daughter, Aurore. This good news, however, means taking a difficult step, because, for everyone’s safety, I decide to leave the father. After the joints, he has lapsed into a total addiction to cocaine and heroin. I have to escape from a new hell…

So I ask for a divorce. But once again, surprise awaits me. Its authors are none other than my parents. They had forgotten to tell me a detail that would certainly have deterred me from getting into this adventure with Auguste. He has served time in prison. Not since our separation, but long before our meeting! It was thanks to a contract proposed by my father that Auguste had been able to obtain his release. And the icing on the cake, though it was to be expected at one time or another, my future ex-husband had joined my uncle’s gang at the moment the divorce application was filed.

So here I am facing a new wall of problems. Legally, I do not have the right to divorce because Auguste is covered by a special prison law… Though while I am prohibited from beginning any legal process to detach myself permanently he, on the other hand, can very well do so. But as was to be expected, he refused to initiate any such application. I had to say that I had become pregnant by another man so that the situation could be sorted out. In a manner of speaking. First I had to start a procedure so that my daughter would not bear the name of Auguste’s family, seeing that he was not the father. Moreover, I have to face on many occasions the joys of visits from the bailiffs. We had not signed a marriage contract. I am thus responsible for his debts. I have to repay them, for many years! It’s enough to make me believe that the word ‘sucker’ is inscribed on my forehead.

- 3 - Life goes on

So I left Auguste, after discovering his addiction to drugs, to return to my parents. Reluctantly, but I had no alternative - I had not a penny. My autonomy, and especially my independence, are reduced to a minimum. This return is obviously subject to conditions, which are completely perverse. In particular my father makes me look after the shop. A job that keeps me away from my daughter, which breaks my heart. My mother takes care of her during my working hours. A situation that suits me only moderately, but again, I do not have a choice. In this mess, I still manage to think positively because the main thing for me is that my daughter can be warm, have enough to eat and be dressed decently.

I am in the shop 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. A situation that many traders face throughout their lives. The difference is that I do not receive any salary. Unfortunately, this is one of the conditions imposed and I can only bend to it. But while I imagine my baby is completely safe, I become disillusioned very quickly. One evening, after another day at the shop, I realise that my little girl, the most important being in my life, is not being treated as she should be. Her nappies are not being changed in time, if at all. For me it is intolerable behaviour on the part of those who are taking care of her. In particular, her grandmother! My anger grows at the sight of my child who is crying more and more often. A malaise that touches me deep in my soul. And the mistreatment does not stop with a few dirty nappies since I also find out that my daughter is not eating properly. Even though I was not brought up in plenty, I know that it is vital for a child to have enough to eat, to provide a good foundation for its future. I make the point directly to my parents who adopt an attitude which completely contradicts what might be expected in this kind of situation: I am put out of the house with my baby under my arm!

Once the surprise and anger pass, I decide to take charge of the welfare of my daughter. For a week, I sleep here and there. Girlfriends are there to take care of my baby during the periods when I seek work. One of our greatest needs to start on a sound basis is to put a roof over our heads. The easiest solution for me is to go to the Social Security. But again, the answer I receive falls far short of my expectations. Whose fault is it? This time it’s my mother’s. Not content with having thrown me in the street as if I counted for nothing, she also interfered with the social inquiry supposed to provide me with support. She told the investigator she was continuing to lodge and feed us. Another lie that cuts short any outside help for my daughter and me.

Devastated and not knowing where to turn, I try to find refuge in one of the centres for mothers and children in need. But again, it’s a disappointment. No place is available. I have to bow before the evidence: I have still not left the hell I have been plunged in since my childhood. Trying to protect my daughter, I decide to place her in a children’s home. Reluctantly of course, because the role of a mother is to be with her children whatever the situation. But with all these setbacks, I have no alternative left. And it will be easier for me to find a job and a home, knowing that my daughter is (finally) in good hands. Now two years old, she is changed and fed on time by dedicated people who love children.

For once, Lady Luck seems to smile. I quickly find a job as a waitress. The salary is certainly not high, but it allows me, the same day, to find a small apartment. I start to rebuild my trust in the world. Finally, my daughter can have her own room, which for me means all the happiness in the world.

This apartment offers me the chance of a normal life, working while bringing up my daughter. At 20, it seems reasonable to think that bad luck has finally disappeared and the sun is at last going to shine warmly. At least that’s what I think… A young single mother, earning a small salary, has to try doubly hard to pay the rent as well as the shopping and the bills. I find it more and more difficult to make ends meet because Auguste does not bother to provide the smallest amount of money. Of course, he does not pay child support and does not come to pick up his daughter at weekends. Finally, the icing on the cake, he lands himself back in prison. He is in and out of jail for more than four years. His daughter does not see her father regularly until the age of 12. My financial situation is tough. Some try to take advantage of it by offering me money for sex. But prostitution is an idea I strongly reject in principle.

However, when one is faced with a wall of debts, sometimes we make choices that we later regret. So while I am having a drink in a bar, a man accosts me. From the discussion, I understand that he is not interested in me, but he needs me. He wants me to pass dud checks.

This meeting is not fortuitous since he knows my family well. It includes some unsavoury characters - or crooks, not to mince words. My uncle is the godfather. More than once he has made the front page of the newspapers after serious offences. If I may make an analogy, we could compare my wedding day to a mafia meeting. Some of the guests, well-known to Justice, had more than a century of incarceration between them. That says it all… In short, eventually I agree, though reluctantly, to his proposal to falsify cheques. Still, I prefer that to the solution of selling my body. I start this escapade in company with my uncle and all his ‘band’ as he likes to call his confederates. An adventure that will lead to an inglorious end. As was to be anticipated of course.

Meanwhile, my brother is in prison. He had received a sentence after deserting from the army. When I visit him in jail, I am detained by the police. Not because of the intuition of the forces of order, or after a smoothly conducted investigation, but following a denunciation made by my mother! She had simply hung me out to dry. After two months in prison awaiting the trial, I go up before the criminal court judge who gives me a 4-year suspended sentence. A normal sentence that naturally moves me away from all these dangerous people in my daily life, starting with my uncle.

I decide to write to the Queen to be pardoned. I am 24 years old and tired of dragging all this weight behind me. A plea that is heard because one morning, a police officer comes to my home to give me a letter officially informing me that I have been pardoned. Fortune smiles on me once more, because I can start again with a clean record. No-one has the right to know anything against me and above all, I hope to find a job. This I manage, working as a cleaner for different companies. I can breathe again, especially as my daughter is thriving and her laughter around the house brightens my day.

And more good news follows since I meet Michel, with whom I fall in love. Everything is going well. Besides being my companion, he is totally committed to bringing up my daughter. Finally, she can rely on a male presence. Our union is strengthened by the arrival of a little daughter named Marie. A plumber by trade (like my father, you could not make it up), Michel decides to leave that business to become a tattoo artist. He wants to use his gift for drawing for the good of the whole family. Following the opening of his tattoo parlour, I stop working, on Michel’s suggestion. I am delighted with the idea, because now I can be with my girls more.

But while all is going well, life decides to offer me a new challenge. I find an amazing job with Anthony Robbins who runs seminars on human excellence. “The big goal in life is notknowledge but action. Successes stem from our reactions to what happens. Our perception of life depends on our choices. We decide on our own mental reactions, and our acts.” I read his first book, Unlimited Power, before working for him, in order to immerse myself in his world. So off I go to work at his side and I learn a lot alongside him. The seminars are an incredible success, attracting more than 1,000 people each time. I make interesting contacts from many different backgrounds. The exchanges are fantastic, like an apprenticeship in the world around us. The only shadow comes from my lover. Michel does not accept that I should earn such a good living, better than his. We finally sort out the situation by deciding to get married.

I am 32 years old. I earn my living so well that I decide to give myself a day fit for a princess. I even hire a wedding planner to make everything perfect. We have a red carpet to welcome guests, as well as two white swans. My dress and my veil are worthy of the most beautiful princesses.

For the record, you should know that when my bridesmaid placed my veil, we discovered a huge spider there. I, who am terrified of spiders, was struck by that. And in French we say ‘spider in the morning - sorrow.’ I did not want to be superstitious and yet, the future would prove me right!

The wedding is perfect. My little bridesmaids are of course my girls wearing the same dress as mine. I really deny myself nothing, even a convertible Jaguar. Michel is dressed all in white and gives me a beautiful bouquet before we say “yes” in the Sablon church in the heart of Brussels. The dream continues with our honeymoon. Off to the Dominican Republic, to discover paradise on earth.

But this trip takes a completely different turn on 20 September 1996. Apart from the fact that it is the second birthday of my little Marie, my sister-in-law calls me to tell me of the death of my father. That seems symbolic to me. I tell myself that this is not mere chance. It’s a shocking thought, but I’m almost relieved by his passing. I think: “Wow, well done him. Anyway, it’s no great loss to humanity.” And why? It is simple. When Marie was born, I called my father to tell him the good news. I thought he would want to share this great moment of happiness, even if our past was far from rosy. While I expected a few congratulatory words or to hear joy in his voice, I ran into disillusionment that hit me like a slap in the face: “Fuck your bastard!” A phrase that is forever etched in my mind. Apparently, when one is inhabited by wickedness, it always comes back to you in one way or another.

After this news, it did not take me long to get both feet back on the ground. For me, Fate had decided that it was time he left this earth and, above all, that he stopped sowing evil around him. Even if it was Marie’s second birthday.

I decide to finish my honeymoon. To the chagrin of my family who put a lot of pressure on me to return to Belgium. This return is far from idyllic as I am given the job of announcing the death of my father to my mother. A meeting that takes place in a psychiatric institution. She has been interned in an attempt to cure her chronic alcoholism. Again I face what is, to say the least, an unusual reaction. My mother only shrugs her shoulders, a sign of a total disconnect with reality. Faced with this gesture of inevitability, I invite her to leave the psychiatric institute in my company. But she refuses outright. A choice that breaks my heart, despite all the ordeals I endured because of her. Nevertheless, I respect her decision.

Life can seem bizarre. Though my father had transformed my first thirty-two years of existence into a nightmare, I’m still there at his funeral. And I cry bitterly. Not at the sight of his coffin, but with frustration and even rage. A feeling contained deep within me: “You never spared a thought for me”.

Before the funeral, I was compelled to go to the hospital where my father had ceased to live. Compelled because I had refused the entire family heritage that had been imposed on me up to then. But my last duty was to be present for this man. I met the priest. During our discussion, one phrase marked my mind, and almost chilled my blood: “Madam, when a man comes back to God, it’s because the devil doesn’t want him any more.” I stood frozen, stunned, confused. I did not manage to get any further word out of my mouth. I suddenly wondered if my father, seeing himself on the brink of death, had the lucidity to confess all the misdeeds he had inflicted on those around him. Had he confessed to the abuse of young boys? Had he explained the worst of the filthy acts committed around him? Did he regret the fact that he had never treated me correctly? Had he confessed to the murder of my brother, Jean-Pierre?