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

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

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Principal Engineer – Biomass

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil