We also love serial killers. Okay, we don't love the people themselves. I'm sure some of them (BTK for instance) loved their families, and others may even have been the charitable sort (ahem, John Wayne Gacy). However, I think we can all agree that serial killers are, generally speaking Not Nice People. No, what Lee and I love is reading bios about them, watching documentaries about them and taking in movies and TV programmes featuring them. When it comes to being writers, serial killers provide a wonderful treasure trove of stories and histories and we love them all.
There are two serial killers who, for me, cause all sorts of anxiety within my bruised soul. Lee and I watch any documentary or docu-drama about this pair and immediately my heart speeds up and I go into panic attack mode. Lee checks with me over the course of the programme to make sure I'm okay and I always assure him that I'm hanging in there. He knows these two set off feelings of terror and helplessness in me. They are, in a word, my trigger.
That's the power of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady.
Even typing this I can feel my blood thumping in my ears. Anything to do with these two sets me off, and yet, for reasons I shall go into shortly, I persist.
Last night we watched a docu-drama about Lord Longford's relationship with Myra Hindley. Even before it started Lee asked if I was sure I wanted to watch it. I assured him I did. He pressed play. Straight away we had original footage of the case and the tent surrounding the recovered bodies. This is terrible stuff, but it's not what upsets me. I know it's coming, but for now I can sit, ostensibly detached, and just observe while we're taken through the drama of Hindley and Brady.
And then it arrives. The picture and soundtrack that terrorizes me; the photograph and voice of Lesley Ann Downey. No matter how much I steel myself, how much I prepare myself mentally, it happens. I see that child's face, hear the pleading in her voice, and I'm lost in the fear of being helpless, of begging for freedom, of wanting to go home.
So, why do I do it? Why put myself through such torture?
Recently, on Facebook, a friend stated they can't read or watch or interact with anything to do with the Holocaust. That's their trigger and they refuse to allow it into their lives. That got me thinking about my own life and the triggers I have. Oh, I have phobias (don't even look at my belly button) but they don't induce a neurosis-linked episode in me. Despite all that happened to me as a child, I can handle books, movies, stories anything to do with rape, child abuse and incest. I'm not saying I view such things with detachment. I don't. I very much identify with what's being presented. I take it on, I make it part of my experience, I rejoice in the fact that I made it out in one piece. I don't like what happened to me, but I do like who I am. I can handle anything of that nature that comes my way.
Except Lesley Ann Downey. She was a child, a little girl of ten, who was kidnapped, tortured, assaulted and murdered. Witnessing what she went through never fails to tear me in two. I know what it is to be her, to beg for freedom, to fear for life, to know that this is it, the final moment. I know what it is to have no will, no voice, no rights in the eyes of the other person. Every time I hear of it happening to Lesley Ann I feel that loss anew. I want to hide away and not be found. I want to be safe even while knowing there is no such thing.
So, again, why do I do it?
Lee and I talked about it at length last night and as we did so it began to make sense for me. It's because I'm here and she's not. That part of my life ended when my tormentor died. With him gone I was free to pick up the pieces and try to put myself back together. Obviously, as with any broken thing, there are bits missing, but I am relatively as whole as everyone else out there and I'm okay.
Not so for Lesley Ann. She never got away from her tormentors. They used up the little bit of life she'd had, then buried it in the moors. Only two parts of her remained behind: her voice, recorded on tape by Hindley and Brady, and her pictures, reproduced by the pair as they tortured and molested her. People view those pictures, hear that voice and they feel disgusted. Their focus is on the killers, not the victim. This is a situation we face over and over as we buy into the various media representations of serial killers. It's always about the killings, not the dead themselves. In Lesley Ann's case the viewer may feel sympathetic pity for the child but they don't place themselves in her situation. And that, I feel, is where I come in.
Despite my horror of the situation, I feel an empathetic bond with Lesley Ann. To live this life to its full with all its trials and its blessings is a privilege I have and she doesn't. I am alive and I am able to understand and digest what Lesley Ann suffered, and so, I do. I hear her words and I take them in. I remember them, I hold them close, I place them with my own memories. The pictures of her are placed next to those of me, both the good and the bad. No, it doesn't help Lesley Ann. She's dead and generally forgotten. As a result, there should be someone who knows what it is to be that child, to feel the absolute horror of it both peripherally and personally and then be able to push past the ghosts of Hindley and Brady and be with the little girl whose voice is still alive.