Maude Julien didn't just have controlling, abusive parents, she was born to create a superhuman being.
Maude Julien didn't just have controlling, abusive parents, she was born to create a superhuman being. News Corp Australia

Maude Julien was raised to be superhuman by abusive father

IN 1936, Louis Didier was thirty-four and financially well-off. A man from humble origins, he had risen remarkably quickly through the ranks of French society and he now ran a company in Lille. Initiated into an esoteric lodge of Freemasonry, he adhered to an extremely dark spiritual vision of a fallen world governed by grim forces.

That year he met a man, a miner from the town of Fives, who was struggling to feed his many children. Louis Didier suggested the miner 'entrust' to him his youngest child, a flaxen-haired six-year-old girl. 'Jeannine will never want for anything; she will have a brilliant education and enjoy a very comfortable life. My only condition is that you will no longer see her.'

It's unclear whether there was a financial transaction. The miner agreed. Jeannine left to live under Louis Didier's protection and never saw her family again.

Louis Didier kept his promise. Jeannine was sent to boarding school and received an excellent education. When she reached the age of consent, she came back to live with her guardian. He had her study philosophy and Latin at university in Lille, and made sure she earned her degree.

I don't know when Louis Didier revealed his grand project to Jeannine. Did he talk about it when she was still a little girl who spent only holidays with him? Or did he wait until she'd grown up and become his wife? I think that deep down Jeannine 'always knew' what her mission was: to give him a daughter as blonde as she was, and then to take charge of the child's education.

Louis believed that the child Jeannine brought into the world would be, like her father, 'chosen' - and that later in life she would be called upon to 'raise up humanity'. Thanks to her mother's qualifications, this child would be raised away from the polluting influences of the outside world. Louis Didier would be responsible for training her physically and mentally to become a 'superior being', equipped to undertake the difficult and momentous task he had assigned her.

Twenty-two years after he took possession of Jeannine, Louis Didier decided the time had come for her to bring his daughter into the world and that the date of birth should be November 23rd, 1957.

On November 23rd, 1957, Jeannine gave birth to a very blonde little girl.

Three years later, aged fifty-nine, Louis Didier liquidated his two assets, bought a house near Cassel, between Lille and Dunkirk, and withdrew to live there with Jeannine in order to devote himself entirely to carrying out the project he had devised back in 1936: to make his child a superhuman being.

That child was me.

****

It's the middle of the night. The three of us are going down the stairs into the cellar. I'm wearing a sweater over my pyjamas, but I'm barefoot. I'm not usually allowed to walk about barefoot in case I catch cold. I shiver as I climb down the stairs, afraid of hurting myself on something sharp. In front of me is my father's imposing silhouette. Behind me, my mother, locking the door. Why is she locking it? I don't understand what's going on and start shaking. With every step we go a little deeper into the odour of the cellar, a stench of damp and mould that turns my stomach. My father sits me on a chair positioned in the middle of the largest room. I can hear his heavy breathing and I can see the bristly grey stubble that has grown since he shaved yesterday morning. I look around surreptitiously to see whether there are any mice. The coal heap isn't far away, and there may be rats hiding behind it. I nearly faint at the thought.

'You're going to stay here without moving,' my father says. 'You're going to meditate on death. Open up your brain.' I have no idea what that means, but I don't even try to understand. What more will he demand of me? What will happen to me? They're not going to leave me here, are they? And my worst fear is realised: I hear them walking away behind me, and then the cellar light goes out. There's still a faint glow coming from the stairs. Then, suddenly, darkness.

They've left, and turned off the lights.

My eyes frantically probe the darkness. Only my ears can make anything out, and what they hear propels me into an abyss of terror. A host of sinister noises, little animals moving around in the dark, scurrying, running, stopping, rummaging and scuttling off again. I'm screaming inside, but no sound comes out because my lips are clamped shut and quivering. My father told me that if I open my mouth, mice or even rats will sense it and will climb up me, get into my mouth and eat me from the inside. He's seen several people die like that in cellars when he was taking shelter from air raids in World War I. I worry that the mice might be able to get in through my ears. But if I cover them with my hands I won't hear anything, I'll be blind and deaf.

I'm a pathetic puddle of fear. I move and breathe as little as possible, I stifle my shaking and chew the insides of my cheeks to stop my teeth from chattering, I try to disappear, make myself transparent, non-existent. Maybe the rodents will forget I'm here. But I'm sick to my stomach. I'm afraid that my bladder's going to give way; that is bound to be the sort of smell to immediately attract a whole family of rats. I can hear their busy little feet around me. Sometimes their pattering comes closer. Sometimes I hear one of them stop and feel a leg of my chair. It makes my insides liquefy. My feet fly off the ground reflexively. I hold them up, but it's painful. Every now and then I have to lower them. I do it infinitely carefully, to avoid putting them down directly onto some rodent's back or teeth.

At last the light comes back on; my mother has come to get me. I don't so much walk as fly towards the stairs and practically go up them on all fours, as fast as I can, towards that open door that I simply must reach before it closes again. I know there's no reason why it should close now. But a voice inside me is screaming, 'Hurry up, get out quick, or you'll be locked in here forever.' I can hear my mother behind me: 'Look at this chicken!' I couldn't care less. I have to get out.

I went to such a faraway place inside my head that night, fear was so deeply imprinted on my body, that I don't remember feeling relieved when it ended. I don't recall the rest of the night, how I slept, or what state I was in when I woke. The next day was the same as usual. There was no compensation for the hours of sleep missed or the emotional torture during my test. 'Otherwise, how would it be a test?' my father said.

A month later, my parents wake me in the middle of the night again, and I know in a flash: it wasn't a one-off test, it was the first in a series of monthly training sessions they're going to inflict on me. I don't know how I manage to put one foot in front of the other. I go down those stairs like an automaton, not even trying to escape. As if I'm chained to a conveyor belt trundling me towards a cleaver which will slice me up. I'm soon overwhelmed by the nauseating smell of the cellar. I'm suffocating all over again in the horror of absolute darkness and silence. I pray with all my might for it to end, for me to disappear. I ask for death, I beg it to come and take me. Is that what 'meditating on death' means?

One night, when the three of us are going down the cellar stairs, my very tall father forgets to bend down and smacks his forehead violently into a metal beam. The test is immediately aborted. When my father is injured or sick everything stops straightaway until he has recovered. So we hurry back upstairs to tend to his wound. I'm secretly relieved, but I also feel guilty. I'm a bad daughter to be delighting in my father's injury. A bad daughter who will have to pay for her bad thoughts.

I don't have to wait very long. The following month my father doesn't come with me when I go down to the cellar. On my way down, I notice that a piece of yellow foam has been secured to the place where he hit his head last time. In a flash of nostalgia, I remember the unexpected happiness I felt then. So I really am a bad person. And here's my punishment: before making me sit on a stool, my mother makes me put on a vest with little bells stitched onto it. I no longer have the option of leaning against a backrest, which means I no longer have the option of holding my feet up. If I move, my parents will hear the little bells ring. I decide it doesn't matter, nothing matters anymore.

But I can feel my heart accelerate in direct proportion to how far up the stairs my mother has climbed. The light goes out; I hear the key turn in the lock. Once again, darkness engulfs me. Once again, I'm a slave to those sounds. I have shoes on this time. Every now and then I clack them together, taking great care not to let the bells on my vest ring. It must work because just after I've smacked my shoes together, I hear little paws scurrying away.

My father tells me why I need to meditate on death: it's so that I get used to the kingdom of the dead, so I feel at ease with the dead and they with me. Darkness allows us to communicate with them. Later I'll have to travel between the kingdom of the living and the kingdom of the dead. I don't think he knows it's not the dead I'm terrified of, but the rats. I don't say anything because I'm convinced that, if he knew, he'd think of some horrible way to cure me of my fear.

Maude Julien didn't just have controlling, abusive parents, she was born to create a superhuman being.
Maude Julien didn't just have controlling, abusive parents, she was born to create a superhuman being. Supplied

Copyright: Maude Julien, 2017; This is an edited extract from The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien, Text Publishing Australia, RRP: $32.99; Available for her purchase here and from all good bookstores. A digital version is available here.

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