First Person: 'I was abandoned at 12. I didn't tell anyone'

David Cohen, 63

I was not physically abused; I was not sexually abused. But I was obliged to live in a luxury flat in the West End by myself when I was 12. It's an unusual form, but it is emotional abuse.

It was 1959, and we had only been living in London for four years; I'd grown up mostly in Israel and India. My parents were having financial difficulties, and my father persuaded my mother to go back to Israel to sell a flat there. They hadn't had a good relationship; she knew that my father would want to go off with other women, which he did, leaving me alone in the flat in Seymour Place.

I was quite convinced that if anyone found out I was living by myself, I'd be sent to an orphanage, and I was quite convinced that at an orphanage I'd be beaten black and blue. So I was determined no one would find out, and my school, St Paul's, never did. Intelligent little ragamuffins can learn to be devious.

My entire aim at the start was to survive. But I did have money, so I was in an infinitely better position than 95 per cent of kids who are abandoned.

I saw my father every Friday night, and he gave me two £10 notes. I assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that he would be there in an emergency. One day when I burnt myself, he was off philandering and I had to deal with it alone. I took myself to hospital, but they didn't ask any questions – when they discovered I was a public schoolboy, it became inconceivable that I could have been abandoned.

After three or four months, I saw my mother in Israel. When you are a kid and you adore your mum and you go all the way to Israel and she puts her arms around you and you just feel like a block of ice – I realised I had to dissimulate. You can't tell her you don't love her any more.

Emotionally, I felt abandoned. But the world was still full of that Second World War language, so in my fantasy I was part of the Abandoned Boys' Brigade, full of war spirit and Boy's Own adventures.

There was a sort of conspiracy of silence. My father bribed the porter of the building, I've no doubt. The dry-cleaner would never take any money from me; he knew something was wrong. I went to synagogue one day, and I was absolutely filthy. I realise now it was a cry for help. But the Rabbi just took me to one side and said, "God expects you to be in a clean shirt and properly pressed trousers".

I lied through my back teeth. And I did have lots of duly silly adventures. I used to wander down Queensway, and two or three times blokes picked me up. One took me to the movies, and he sussed there was something odd going on. We went back to his, and well, let's just say there was a stain on the back of my trousers. He decided he had to clean me up, and I didn't quite realise what was going on, but I knew I didn't want him trying to get the stain off with "Dabitoff" cleaning liquid.

I was very lonely. Sometimes I didn't see anyone from Friday afternoon until Monday morning, which is why I got into trouble with those blokes. I got a much older girlfriend – I was obviously looking for a substitute mother. There were advantages to living alone: at 15, I didn't have to ask anyone if she could stay over, because there was no one to ask.

Eventually, my mother came back. She had had a lover in Israel who died; my father had children with another woman. My mother became rather bitter because nothing had worked out in her life. And my father's second wife, who is a very nice woman, said he used to describe himself as a "mediocre man" – he was also disappointed with life.

My parents, who are both dead now, always refused to talk about it. I put it down to them being very ashamed. Denial is a powerful force.

'Home Alone' (JR Books, £16.99) is out now

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits