I write this post, sitting aboard a British Airways flight, plastic cup of water in front of me and shaking hands. I’m scared of flying you see, I’m not scared of where I am heading. I’m done with being scared. I booked this flight six months ago, made the decision to take my children back. People asked me why. Why would I want to go back there, to where it had all started and where it all ended. Where we ran from, like terrified animals, scurrying to safety. All I could say is this, I have to go back. I have got to lay those demons to rest. I need to go back to all the places I knew and loved as a child, the ones he left my memories of, tarnished and broken. I need to make new, happy ones and rekindle the old.
I sit here with my children and watch their little faces, eyes wide with wonder as the plane travels over the white, cotton wool clouds and I feel proud. Proud of the life we have forged since him, proud of the mum I’ve been to them. I’m proud of our courage, I’m proud of their resilience and I’m proud of what we have become as a family.
I don’t know how I’ll feel when we land. I know it’ll be emotional, if I think about it right now, I feel the lump rising in my throat. When the plane took off when we left that last time I didn’t think about coming back. It never crossed my mind. I was leaving behind a lifetime of childhood memories, wonderful ones filled with laughter and family. Barbecues on beaches with nephews and nieces, long sultry evenings sat in tavernas listening to aunts and uncles drunken chatter, games of cards on my parents veranda that almost always ended in arguments because of a sneaky cheat among us and long days spent at the pool with my friends, eventually making the 30 second walk back to my parents maisonette with eyes red raw from chlorine and shoulders red from the sun.
My childhood was a lucky one. I’m not sure I ever realised quite how much so until I made that last journey home. I had taken the years of fun in the sun for granted, loved them but lived them without a thought as to how it would be if I no longer had the opportunity to go. I realise it now.
So here I am, on my way back. Taking my children so they too can make memories. Happy ones, just like mine were and will be again.
You’ve left. You’re out. You’re free… Or are you? What happens next? Is that it? Does life return to the way it was before you met your abuser? One of the reasons it took me so long to leave was the thought that I would end up losing my children to him at the weekends, and now I was out I was terrified that this would be the case. Although I spent seven hours giving my statement to a lovely police woman the day after I returned to the UK, although she said it was, in her opinion, one of the worst long term cases of abuse she had ever heard of in her career, there was nothing she could do.
Within 24 hours of my return, he was on the phone. There was no mention of what had happened. No sorry. No remorse. He wanted to speak to his children. That’s when the games started. The tactics he used on me for all those years before, to gain control, to manipulate, to instil fear in to my heart he turned towards the children. I watched in horror as he called throughout the day and asked to speak to my daughter and refused to speak to my son. The following day, he switched that around. He played them off against each other, and there was nothing I could do to stop him. He wanted to see the children, and terrified as I was, I couldn’t refuse. Legally I had no right to stop him. The first time I saw him again was about ten days after I had returned. I agreed to meet him at a local park, Stanborough Lakes. My dad drove us there and he would stay and watch us from the car. I wanted somewhere open, somewhere busy. I have never felt fear like it. I felt sick with terror but I made sure my kiddies couldn’t see it on my face. I smiled at them and told them everything was just fine. They were safe and he wasn’t going to hurt them. Even though he had pestered and pestered me on the phone on the lead up to this meeting that I had no right to keep his children away from him, that this was ALL about the children now, HIS children; that day he didn’t even really look at them. He sat beside me on the bench while I watched the children play and pestered me. Come home. Come back. What was I thinking? What was wrong with me? Why wouldn’t I talk to him, tell him how I was feeling? He tried to touch me, to hold my hand, but I recoiled in disgust. He looked confused, as though he really couldn’t understand why I was being this way, and then that familiar look of rising anger flitting across his face, because being nice wasn’t getting him the result he wanted. I knew that day, as I tried to remind him why we were there, pointing to the children, telling him to go and play with them and leave me alone, that this really was only the beginning.
It was a few weeks in when he announced he’d be taking our eldest son in to London for a ‘father/son day out’. Again, my hands were tied, I wanted to keep his good side at the fore, after all he was spending time with my most precious possessions, I didn’t want them to see the other side of him without me around to protect them.
The day out turned into a sleep over afterwards. Throughout the day I had a running commentary from him. Telling me what they were doing, what a good dad he was…Phone call after phone call, message after text message. Eventually I reminded him (in the nicest possible way of course) that perhaps it would be a good idea to spend the time he was spending talking to me on his son. It seemed to work and all was good, until around 12am. He called me and from the first word uttered I knew he was on one. He started roaring down the phone at me. I was a dirty whore. A slag. What was I? He’d tell me don’t worry! I was a cunt! Go on, say what I was! He was going to wake our little boy up and I could tell him down the phone what I was… I was begging him to calm down. Begging him to be quiet, not to wake our boy. But I heard him storming up our old hallway, I heard the familiar sound of our bedroom door opening and I heard him wake our little boy up.
I failed my son. I promised to protect him and I failed at the first hurdle.
Things became even more tense after that night. I was more and more reluctant to let the kids be with him unaccompanied and I told him so. I wouldn’t let them stay for sleep overs. I knew at any moment he could blow, and it was like trying to tame a tiger. I had to make sure I was using the right words, the right tone of voice, no quick movements, nothing underhand. I knew he would sniff out my fear, knew he would bite with my one wrong move.
Things came to a head one afternoon. He had picked the children up from school and I told him to meet me at the end of my parents road. He wasn’t allowed down there since he received the suspended prison sentence the year before for his attack on my mum when I had tried to leave him the first time. We swapped the kids into my car, everything seemingly okay, but all of a sudden in one swoop he had reached in and taken my car keys from my ignition, slammed the drivers door, locked the car and stood firmly in front of the door.
‘What are you doing?’ I tried not to panic. I knew how to placate him, I had been doing it for years, I was an expert. Just do that I told myself. I smiled at him, quizzically, asking him with my eyes what he was doing. He looked down at my wrist and pointed. ‘What’s that?’ It was an old watch. A tiny gold Gucci one with a black face. I had given it to my mum when I met him because an old boyfriend had given it to me and I knew he wouldn’t like that, but since I had come back she had given it back to me as I had no jewellery. ‘It’s just an old watch,’ I told him. Surely he wouldn’t remember where it had come from. He did. He immediately switched. He went mental, screaming, frothing at the mouth, ‘Why are you wearing that fucking thing? To wind me up?’ He insisted I had gone back to my ex boyfriend. I tried reasoning with him, telling him it was simply a watch to tell the time and it meant nothing more, mum had given it to me to wear. Big mistake. That sent him off on a tangent. How he was going to kill her, cut her up. I watched my kids through the car window, watched their terrified faces and I hated him. I hated him. He ripped the watch from my wrist and threw it into some undergrowth across the road. I just stood and watched. Usually I would cry, but I was so sick of him I couldn’t even be bothered. He was vile. Ugly. A truly disgusting human being, if he was even that. He must’ve seen this look in my eyes, and almost instantly gave up. Shrinking in front of me he began to cry. ‘Dan. Dan. Dan, please.’ He was sobbing, clutching at my arms. ‘I love you so much Dan.’ Tears streamed down his face, as he looked at me, his eyes pleading me to say I loved him back. But I didn’t. I hated him. ‘Its over,’ I heard myself say. ‘Whatever you say, whatever you do to me, I’m never, ever coming back. I don’t love you.’ He gave me my keys and moved away from my door. I jumped in that car, and drove so fast down my mums road we almost flew. I bundled the kids into the house and collapsed onto the floor shaking.
That’s when the phone calls began. Over and over he rang my phone. Sometimes I answered, sometimes I left the phone ringing. Sometimes I was met by crying and begging, sometimes by cursing. I called the police. Within minutes they were round. I gave another statement. The call log on my mobile showed an excess of sixty calls. Apparently the calls and the incident earlier that day amounted to harassment. He was on a suspended sentence and now they could get him and take him into prison. Another unit was called and told to go and pick him up.
But, he was running. Somewhere out there he was running, he knew they were after him. I knew he wouldn’t come quietly. I had told him it was over to his face without fear, only hatred, and now he had nothing to lose.
Two days passed and still the phone calls continued. I had been told to leave my phone on in case he gave any details on where he was hiding. I answered a few times and told him the police were looking for him, that I’d given a statement and he was in trouble. He was softening, realising his only way out was to butter me up so I would feel sorry for him and withdraw my statement. Again and again my mobile rang, and if I didn’t answer he would call my parents house phone. I spoke to him at one point and asked him to stop ringing the house phone as the children had gone to bed. He was apologetic, ‘I’m sorry princess, I won’t wake them I promise.’
Around midnight my parents and I went to bed, and still he was ringing my mobile. ‘Enough’ I told him, ‘I’m tired, let me sleep.’ He agreed.
‘Promise me you’ll retract your statement in the morning?’ ‘Yes, I promise.’ I told him.
My phone on silent, I watched the screen light up over and over again on my bedside table as I tried to get to sleep. Then the house phone began to ring. I heard my dad rushing down the hallway. I followed. At the bottom of the stairs I saw him pull the phone cord out of the wall. The phone fell silent. He looked worried. ‘He’s not going to leave me alone, dad,’ I said, starting to tremble. My phone screen lit up over and over. ‘Dammit!’ I cursed, and answered. ‘You fucking cunt!’ He screamed, and he spat down the phone. ‘Who the fuck do you think you are? You’ve fucking dared to cut your fucking house phone off! How fucking dare you, cunt! Cunt! Cunt! You dirty fucking cunt!’ The phone went dead.
Mum was at the top of the stairs now. She asked what was going on. We went back upstairs. My heart was pounding, I didn’t know what to suggest we do, apart from report the incident again in the morning. We sat upstairs talking for a little while then went back to bed.
At ten to four in the morning we heard it. A car horn getting louder and louder as it came flying down the road towards the house. And then it was outside. We ran to the window and watched as this lunatic who was my husband screamed my name with his hand firmly on the car horn. We saw lights come on in the houses opposite. Beside me I could hear my dad breathing heavily, my heart was thudding in my chest. At one point the children woke up and it must’ve been my mum that put them back to bed. I called the police and spoke to them whilst watching him going loopy outside. He started revving the car engine and pulled into our drive at high speed, only stopping inches from my dads car, he backed out and threw the car forward again, only just missing the car again. Then, as though he knew the police were on their way, he suddenly backed out smashing the wall opposite, turned at high speed hitting my parents wall, and accelerated off.
The police turned up minutes after he left. One officer shot off in the direction I had told them he had gone in, the other stayed and we began giving more statements. The officer returned, he had driven around looking for him but no such luck. We each gave a statement, and as the sun began to rise the little ones began waking up. We were exhausted. I wanted it to be over.
Two days passed, they still hadn’t found him. Still the calls continued. I answered some of them. I wanted to get him to hand himself in, but he had his own ideas. ‘Either you drop the charges or I won’t hand myself in. Don’t do it and I’ll come there again.’
That evening I requested an officer to come over so I could tell them what he had been saying and the level of constant harassment. I gave another statement. It was the officer that suggested I tell him I would drop the charges, to lull him into a false sense of security. And so, with mounting anxiety at what would happen when he found out I had duped him, I did.
The next day he called mid morning. ‘Go to the police station, I’m calling them to tell them I’m withdrawing my statement.’ I told him.
He spent eight weeks in prison.
Don’t think for a moment that that was the end of it. It was a welcome lull. What was to come next was more terrifying than anything I had experienced yet.
Leaving an abusive relationship is only the beginning. It’s what comes next that can be the hardest part. Staying away from your abuser if you are still in love with them, facing your abuser in court, swapping children over… The strength you found to leave suddenly becomes overshadowed by the strength you have to dig deep to find every day that passes after you’ve left. This is my story of how I dug deep and continued being as strong as I could possibly be, for me, of course, but mainly for my children. I was out, but my children were technically still in. I chose to leave and took them with me, they however remained his children and there was nothing I could do about it.
It was a rush through the airport, our flight due to leave in 45 minutes. My eldest, who had so gallantly held it together for us all and had been so brave up to this point had an ‘accident’ at check in. I’d never known him to, even as a baby, and it had shocked me when his eyes suddenly bulged out of his head and he began to apologise profusely. I could imagine what the other people in the queue would be thinking, this child should be old enough to get to the toilet on time. But they knew nothing. Knew nothing about what we, he, had gone through to get to this point…
I’d woken at the crack of dawn. Light just starting to creep through the small gap in the hotels beautiful drapes. It had been three days since I left him. Three entire days of feeling free, but also terrified that he could catch up with us and stop me from taking his children out of the country. The day after my dad had arrived at the safe house hotel I was staying in with the children, we had had a visit from a guy from the British embassy. Typically British, stiff, bumbling and pleasant he was unfortunately undoubtedly out of his depth. He waffled on a bit and gave us wishy washy information, but the long and short of it was that we needed to first and foremost get to a police station (he recommended not the one in Paphos, seeing as some of his family worked for Paphos police) to report the passports ‘lost’ and then get to the embassy in the capital to get one day passports issued. And so, we said our goodbyes the the lovely owner of the hotel George, and made our way to Nicosia. The plan was to stop in Limassol on the way to see if we could report them there. However after a long two hour drive we found that the station was closed. My dad, sensing my frustration and anxiety attempted to lift the mood and suggested to the children and I that we find a smart hotel in Nicosia for the night and wait till the next day to sort everything out.
We found and checked into a swanky hotel, nothing like the guest house style safe house we had just left. We had a large family room, dad in one kingsize bed with the eldest and me and the two little ones in the other. On entering the large, beautifully furnished room we all went a bit barmy, jumping on the beds, dad and I raiding the mini bar. At last, I felt like I could breathe properly. We were miles away from him and I felt safe and happy. That evening we walked through the cobbled streets of the town, dad with his arm around me, the baby on my hip and the others running and skipping along in front of us as though they had not one care in the world. We found a lovely little restaurant with a large outside play area for the children. We found a table right next to the playing children, and whilst we watched them I sat opposite my lovely dad and told him everything. About the years of abuse, the reasons I hadn’t left, hadn’t told them what he was doing, and about that last night with him. About my hopes for mine and the children’s future, and my fears. He listened to every word I said with tears in his eyes, but he was strong and he held my hand, just as a dad should.
And so, there I was lying awake the next morning listening to the birds warbling off their morning song. I was restless, there was much to do. A short while later the little one awoke, and to save him from waking the others I very quietly got us both dressed, wrote a note to my dad explaining where I had gone, grabbed my bag and headed out of the hotel. We had already located the police station the day before and I knew it was somewhere near the hotel, my intention was to be there as soon as it opened to report the passports lost.
I walked, and walked, and walked. I walked for a good 45 minutes with the baby on my hip. The sun growing hotter with each footstep. By the time I reached it, sweating and exhausted, the station was open. I reported to reception and was told to wait.
I waited, and waited, and waited. I could see the office where four men sat chatting, flicking their worry beads and drinking coffee. Clearly they were extremely busy. The baby was getting fidgety, he wanted his breakfast. It was his whinging that seemed to eventually draw one of the men’s attention to us and he beckoned me in. I explained everything to him, my voice breaking every now and then as I tried to tell him in detail how our passports came to be ‘lost’. I finished my story and after a long pause and more bead flicking he shook his head. ‘I’m sorry’, he said in broken English, ‘I can’t do anything without passport numbers’. I wanted to cry, in fact I think I may have done. I told him I didn’t know them, who on earth remembers their bloody passport numbers! But he refused to do anything and with my frustrations building as well as a decent sweat in the increasing temperatures, I left. I exited the compound and instead of turning right to go back the way I had came, I happened to look left. And there, about 200 yards down the road, was the hotel. I could’ve screamed.
Back in the hotel, I found everyone up and at breakfast. It turned out my mum, back in the UK, had been on the phone all morning to a lady from the embassy. She had explained that she would be ringing the very station I had just left to get them to fill out the lost passport forms, regardless of the lack of passport numbers. All we needed to do, was go and pick them up.
After breakfast that was exactly what we did. The officer I had spoken to earlier that morning apologised and handed me the forms. He wished me luck, and told me his thoughts were with me and my children. We drove straight to the embassy and were greeted by two lovely English ladies behind a long counter. Everything in the place felt British, and I couldn’t help feeling as though I was almost home. The woman we dealt with told us she could get us on the flight to Heathrow out of Larnaca that afternoon, it meant however we had about four hours to get some passport photos done somewhere, get back to the embassy with them to have the passports made whilst we popped back to the hotel to check out, then back to pick up the four very strange white passports from the lovely ladies at the embassy, and finally the drive to the airport in time to catch our flight…
As the engines began to roar I watched out the window from my middle aisle seat as the plane lifted off the ground. Sat in between the children I looked across at my lovely dad and I saw a different look on his face. He had his eyes raised to the heavens and I saw him take an almighty breath and then he began to sob. It was then that it hit me. We were away, properly away. My dad had come to save us and he had been scared too. He had had to be strong, just as I had been for my children. I pulled my little ones into me and reached out for my dads hand. We had done it, we were on our way home.
Self esteem is something that so many of us struggle with. I met a lady the other day who could quite happily say out loud, ‘I am fabulous.’ Apart from feeling slightly weirded out by this self labelled (and quite rightly so, because she was) fabulous woman, I felt jealous of her. I found myself mesmerised by her self belief and enormous amount of self worth. Why can’t I be more like that? Why can’t I be the girl that walks into a room and holds her head up and feels at least equal to every other woman there? The truth is, I am the one with the smile plastered across her face but doubting every single move she makes, doubting her outfit choice, makeup, hair style. Wondering why she couldn’t be as together as the fabulous woman across the room, wondering, and this is the biggie, why I am not good enough.
For ten years I was told I was ‘ten a penny’. From early on in my abusive marriage to him I was told when he was in one of his moods that I was nothing. Who the fuck would want me if I left him? I was a piece of shit. Fat, ugly, lazy. And then there were the really personal hits, which I won’t mention on here, but let’s just say when someone puts you down by the way you look it’s a blow, but when they make you doubt the person you thought you were it messes with your head. But then on top of that, my abuser also put me on a pedestal. I was the beautiful untouchable princess that no one dared talk to for fear of what might happen if he saw. When we went out I made sure I looked at the floor, that my eyes didn’t wander, that I never caught the eye of another human being, female or male. You see, I couldn’t be trusted. I wanted to have sex with everyone, or at least that’s what he told me. Draped in diamonds I trotted beside him with my head down. He introduced me to people like a trophy he had won, he showed me off, wore me about his neck like a pendant, until he got home and locked me back in my case.
This is what they do. Abusers are probably the most insecure creatures that walk among us, and to feed that insecurity they will, using every trick in the abusers handbook, try to bring down their victim, breaking them down piece by piece till their self esteem is non existent. It is the way they gain power, and unfortunately in most cases, it works and they win. You end up an empty putty that they can mould and transform into whatever it is that they want you to be. I hung on in there with gritted teeth and bleeding fingernails. I reminded myself who I was before I met him on a daily basis, I conformed to his ideal in front of him, but away from him I allowed that small streak of ‘me’ that was still left to creep out. She was like a child hiding in the dark, eyes wide and scared that she would get caught, but when she realised the coast was clear she would edge slowly out until she was standing in the sun, with the warmth of real life on her face. Those moments kept me sane and kept me grounded no matter how far up in the clouds my life really was, but ultimately they didn’t protect me from the deep wounds he was slicing into my heart and my mind. Every negative comment, every put down, cut me deeper and unbeknownst to myself I was bleeding. My wounds have healed now, but I still wear the scars on the inside.
I will need to continue to work on my self esteem for some time to come. And maybe I will always get that little voice that pops up every now and then telling me that I ‘can’t’, that I’m not ‘good enough’, or perhaps it’ll fade and many years from now I’ll look back and laugh at how silly I was to allow him to win. Someone said to me recently that in the moment we are in it is hard to see how far we have come, and how true that is. I have come a long way, I know that in my heart, however it is still so easy for me to fall back into the pattern of feeling anger at all those years I lost to unhappiness. To feel frustration that my life didn’t go the way I had wanted it to, sadness that the happily ever after with the person that I was meant to be with didn’t happen before he did.
And so to those that are still there, give the ‘you’ that is hiding away those moments that I did. Allow it too to come out and feel the sun on its face, even if for a fleeting moment, and remind yourself of who you were before. Who you are.
“Some people when they have taken too much and have been driven beyond the point of endurance, simply crumble and give up. There are others, though they are not many, who will for some reason always be unconquerable. You meet them in time of war and also in time of peace. They have an indomitable spirit and nothing, neither pain nor torture nor threat of death, will cause them to give up.” Roald Dahl
An abuser will not only endeavour to take his victims self worth, control of her own decisions, life choices and confidence, he will also try to take away all of her financial security. She may have had her own car, home, bank account and savings before he met her, or she may have entered into what seemed a wonderful partnership, back then when he was the man she fell in love with, and slowly, gradually, he may have asked her to ‘just sign a few things for me’, said ‘we don’t need a joint account’, and one day so lovingly said ‘I don’t want my princess to work’. The real reason? During one explosive episode, he reveals he thinks she’s been having an affair with a co-worker. They both know she hasn’t, but she doesn’t go back again. It was his way to gain control over where she is. So now she’s stuck in the house, he leaves her money on the side before he goes to work in the morning. She hoovers, and irons, and hovers again. He comes home late, smelling of booze, and he’s going out again, but his favourite shirt is in the wash. She’s lazy and useless, what the fuck does she do all day? Where is his money? He bets she’s spent it on shit coffee gossiping with her mate all day. But she has no mates. The money went on bread and milk and nappies for his children. If there’s no milk for his coffee in the morning he’ll go mad…
Before she knows it, she realises she has given him ultimate control over her emotionally, physically and financially.
If she ever gets to the point at which she feels she is emotionally strong enough to leave him, she has mustered up all the physical strength she has to lift her chin and know she is worth so much more than this, it may suddenly dawn on her that she has nothing. No car in her name to drive away from him in, no money with which to pay for a train to disappear on, no house to take her children away to for safety, no bed to tuck them into and tell them they’ll be okay now. She has nothing to show for the life she has been living. She has merely been existing, a shadow of her former self.
Don’t ever think that women who end up with abusive men were weak, that they were lost causes that were just ‘easy targets’. No, no. I once knew a young girl that had the world at her feet. A bright, enthusiastic girl that saw the good in everyone and everything. She had a place at university, a brand new car, a well off family who loved her and encouraged and supported her in everything she did. She wasn’t weak or downtrodden, she was ambitious and bold. Then she met him, and he told her he loved her because she was all those things. But slowly, gradually, he tried to change her. When she left him she did so with a few jumpers, a few pairs of trousers, some socks and underwear, and fifteen thousand pounds of his debt. The money she had saved for her children’s future was gone, the house she had bought them up in was his, the house she had taken them away to every holiday they had ever known was his, the car she had once owned, was gone.
To this day she has never had a penny from him. There was once a time she would’ve taken his money to support her three children, rebuild the life he had taken from them, but now she would rather die than take it. There was once a day when she realised if she left she would have nothing. How would she cope? Where would she start? Where would she live? But she lifted her chin, and knew she was worth so much more. It’s only money at the end of the day, and if she survived living with a man like him, then she could do anything.
Never give up, never lose hope. You’re worth so much more. Be strong. Remember who you were before him, and find her. She’s right under the surface, waiting.
One of the main reasons for my staying put was the very thought of trying to leave and knowing what that would mean. To people on the outside, or those who have never been in an abusive relationship, they might think it should be a simple case of deciding you don’t want to be in that relationship any more, tell your partner and leave. When I hear people say things like this, it does make me smile or even laugh a little. Hah! If only it were that simple! How sweet of you, how lovely and simple your life must have been up to this point. Good for you.
I heard a story on the news recently of a woman who was being so badly abused by her partner she actually stood in front of him and opened her mouth and allowed him to rip her teeth out, one by one. Eventually she passed out, of course and thank goodness for that. But let me ask you this, what must he have said or done to her that would’ve meant she was so terrified that she would offer herself to him to do this to her? That he would hurt her even more so? Or, hurt her loved ones? Abusers will often use the threat of hurting the people you love if you start to fall out of line. This is exactly what he used to do. When I told him I wanted to leave, that I didn’t care how much he kicked or punched or strangled or bit me, it wasn’t going to make me stay, he would threaten the children and my family. The problem was, I knew he wasn’t joking, which is why I stayed…
‘I managed to leave yesterday, but only on the premise I left our daughter with him. It was my only way out, and knowing how useless he was as a father, I knew he would bring her back to me within 24 hours. I was right. He’s on his way over with her now. I decide not to let him in, I’ll go to his car and get her. I don’t want to start a dialogue with him in case it ends in an argument. Part of me knows this won’t happen. He’s been in a funny mood since I said I wanted to leave yesterday. He had sat on the bed and watched me whilst I packed. The faintest hint of a smirk traced on his lips. He’d told me in the most matter of fact of his voices not to worry taking everything at this point, he would bring everything to me as and when I needed it. It was too easy. Something wasn’t right. That’s when he said it… ‘Go, but you leave her with me’. My blood had run cold, I tried begging but his mood started to change and so I reasoned with myself inside my head. What’s he going to do with a three year old all day? It’s the weekend right now, but what about when he needs to work? What about when he wants a hit? I’ll give it 24 hours, he’ll bring her back.
I agreed. He clearly felt he’d won.
His car pulls up in the drive and I dart straight out to it. I stand back while he gets out and gets her out of her car seat. ‘She was asking for you,’ he says. She may well have been, but I know that’s not the reason he’s bought her home; with her in tow he can’t get his daily four o’clock dose of crack. He gets her out of the car and passes her to me and she instantly wraps her arms around my neck and cuddles in close. I stroke her wild, curly hair and kiss the side of her face.
‘Okay, thanks,’ I say, ‘Say bye to Daddy.’ She gives a little wave and snuggles back into me. I turn away from him and start to walk towards the house.
‘Is that it then?’ he shouts after me, a hint of rising anger in his voice. I stop and turn back towards him. ‘It’s over,’ I say softly. ‘I’ll call you later when the kids are in bed and we’ll sort stuff out, okay?’ I give a him a false reassuring smile and turn back around and continue walking towards the front door. I push the door open with my foot and step inside.
‘So you’re just going to leave me? Is that what you think you’re going to do?!’ He’s at the door beside me now, the hint of anger gone and replaced with pure fury. I put the little one down and usher her inside. ‘I’ll talk to you later’, I say firmly, trying not to show my nerves, but his face tells me he isn’t listening. He pushes his way into the house behind me and flies into a rage, putting his foot through the glass panelled porch door sending glass flying everywhere. I put my hands on his chest and look into his eyes, begging him to calm down and to think of the kids. He is bellowing at me, gesticulating wildly. My mum runs out from the kitchen, clearly shocked that he has pushed his way into her house. He glares at her. ‘Fuck off, this is between us two. Go back into the kitchen and let me talk to my wife,’ he snarls at her.
‘Enough!’ she shouts at him, ‘you’re frightening the children.’ She comes between him and I and pushes me backwards into the small sitting room to my left where the two eldest children are stood rooted to the spot. The baby is still sleeping in his moses basket in the lounge. I pull the children towards me and hold onto them tightly at my side, still watching him having his tantrum in the hallway. Mum is standing her ground, telling him repeatedly to calm down and to leave. I can tell his anger is rising still, and I panic as he steps towards her, puffing his chest out. She doesn’t shrink away from him, instead she makes herself taller and squares up to him. He towers over her, his eyes wide, staring her down. ‘Leave’, she demands calmly, looking at him squarely in the eye. But then, without warning, his head lurches forward and connects with her mouth. I scream out and dart forwards as my mum staggers backwards clutching her face. ‘No!’ I scream. ‘Go! Get out!’ I’m pushing him backwards now, I’m not scared of what he might do to me anymore, he’s gone too far. Behind me I see Mum go back into the kitchen, and I hear the loud beeping of the cordless house phone as she punches three numbers in. He is immediately past me, I hear her scream and the smash of plastic against one of the kitchen units. He’s shouting at her even louder now, calling her a cunt for trying to take me and the kids away from him, telling her it’s all her fault that I have left, that she made me do it. I make sure the kids are okay before I follow into the kitchen, they’re terrified. ‘Is Nanny okay?’ my eldest asks. I nod silently and put my finger up to my lips to signal them to stay quiet. I pull the door closed behind me. As I enter the doorway of the kitchen he looks up. He has white spittle collecting in the corners of his mouth, his pupils are as large as they can possibly get, making his eyes look black and wild. His momentary lapse of concentration allows mum to dart past him and she rushes out into the hallway. He runs after her and is just in time to see her grab the other phone that lives on a desk under the stairs. He roars after her as she rushes up the stairs clutching the handset. His fists swipe at the wooden banisters and one by one they break in half, splinters of wood flying across the hallway. He picks up half of one that has fallen to the floor and screams that he is going to come after her, that he will come back tonight while we are all sleeping and burn the house to the ground. I grab at his arm and change tack. ‘Darling please, come on. Calm down please. The police will be here soon, you must go now quickly! I’ll call you later okay? We’ll sort this mess out, I promise!’ I look at him pleadingly, telling him falsely with my eyes that everything will be alright. He drops the bannister. ‘Please!’ I beg him. His shoulders seem to relax a fraction and then he moves towards the door. He points his finger in my face, his eyes still black and mad, and whispers, ‘You make sure you fucking do. Don’t you dare betray me, do you hear? I swear, you fucking do and I’ll fucking kill them.’ And with a screech of tyres and smash of my parents brick wall with his bumper, he is gone.’
When the police came minutes later, I refused to give a statement, terror of what he might do if I ‘betrayed’ him stopping me from doing so. He was prosecuted for what he did that day, but was given a suspended sentence and so nothing really changed. I may have been away from him physically, but mentally I was not. I was still terrified of what he could and may well do if I didn’t return to him, what he would do to my family, to me, to the children…
Two years ago my daughter bought home some school books and I found a piece of work in one of them which shocked me. Her little mind had regurgitated her three year old memories of that day I described above, and distorted it. I suppose to her it’s like a dream. A memory that lives inside her head that she doesn’t quite understand, or know what really happened. One day I will have to explain it to her, but for now, I will let it seem like a dream, because that is all it is for me now, a bad dream.
It’s been a while since my last post. There was no real reason why at first, life just got in the way, but then I started writing again, and it has taken me the best part of three weeks to finish this post. I hadn’t realised as I wrote a couple of lines and left it another day or so, and then repeated the pattern over and over, that there may be a reason for it. It dawned on me when a family member asked why it was taking me so long. I think I’ve buried this night so deep inside myself that I can barely get it back out. But why? This post, as you will read in a moment, is certainly no more violent or horrific than any of the other memories I have shared with you. In fact, it is almost triumphant. It is my escape! But when I think back to it, it makes me feel numb, a little bit nauseous, a bit like that knot I used to carry is back in my stomach again. Maybe this is the one moment that has left a scar. I made the decision to break the family unit on this day. And perhaps you’ll be thinking ‘he broke it years before by doing what he did!’ But ask yourself this, regardless of the situation, is it ever a good thing to take children away from everything they know and ultimately break up a family?
I left my last post halfway through the story, and although I want to tell you what happened next, I think before I do I need to take you back to how I ended up in that hotel that night, back to the beginning of the end…
I’m all set. My bags are packed and hidden. The plan is still being finalised. So far it looks like dad is going to fly over, rent a car from the airport then drive to me. He’ll wait nearby, out of sight, until he is out and then drive here and pick us up. We’ll drive over the border into the Turkish side where dad’s friend will be waiting with his small plane. We’ll fly across to Turkey and from there we will get a flight home. Home. Not here. This is not my home. This is my prison.
I look out across the mountain. The beautiful sea view stretches out in front of me, a dark blue line separating sky and sea. The lush green hills that stand between me and the coast speak to my memories. Memories of being a child here and going for walks with my dad, binoculars pointed to the sky searching for birds of prey, of walking back to my parents villa at night as a teenager with my sisters, the air warm and sweet smelling of Jasmine and the banana plantations, the high pitched chirping of hidden crickets drowning out our giggles as we crept home too late. I loved this place. I always will. But I have to leave it behind.
Today has been a strange day. He has been in a good mood. Affectionate, playful. I see glimpses of the person he could be. Usually I would respond to this, enjoying the moment, revelling in what our life together should be like. But today, I can’t. I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. Everything about him makes me feel sick. Him smiling at me, making jokes and expecting me to laugh. I do, a hollow soulless laugh, to keep him happy.
At some point that day I realised I couldn’t pretend anymore, I didn’t care if I didn’t laugh at his jokes, or smile when he looked at me, I wanted him to know how much I hated him, regardless of the consequences. He was like a knot in my stomach, a thorn in my side, an annoying itch I couldn’t scratch, and I wanted rid.
We’re sat on the balcony, the children have been put to bed. It’s dark and silent apart from the crickets singing their evening song. It’s airless and humid as it always is in July. He’s sat beside me, smoking and talking. I can hear him, but i’m not listening. I want to be anywhere but here.
Then something happened. I said something I knew would piss him off. I goaded him. I made him angry on purpose.
‘I don’t think I can stand being here any longer.’
My chair is upended in one swift movement and I land on my left hip. Pain sears though my pelvis. A hand grabs my hair and pulls me backward across the floor towards the patio doors. I fight this time. Usually I don’t fight. I submit myself to the punishment. Fighting back will only make him more angry. But this time I am angry. I scramble forwards, feeling my hair ripping. I scream out across the mountain. ‘Help! Help me! Somebody help me, please!’ He’s thumping me across the face, around the head. He puts his hand across my mouth to silence me and I sink my teeth into his skin. He pulls it away, ‘Fuck! You bitch!’ He grabs my hair again and he picks up the discarded cigarette he had been smoking before. He lurches towards me with it and I try to scramble away. He catches my leg with it. I’m lashing out with my hands and legs and yelling again, he’s flustered. He catches hold of my leg. He’s pulling me back towards the patio doors. I try to kick him but he’s stronger than me, and in one swift movement he has thrown me into the air conditioned living room and locked the patio doors behind him.
Now I’m starting to panic, the kids are downstairs sleeping, the littlest up here in his cot in our room, I don’t want them to hear. But I can’t give up, I have to fight back. I spot the phone in the corner of the room and dash towards it, but he has read my mind and is there first. He takes it and smashes it on the ground, stamping on it for good measure. ‘No one can come to your rescue now,’ he snarls. He reaches out and grabs me by the arm and flings me across the room like a rag doll. I fall onto the sofa. He’s above me, shouting. Having an argument with himself. I just hear noise. Then he’s on his knees in front of me. He has a different look in his eye. Like he wants to play a sadistic game of cat and mouse. His eyes twinkle, his lips turned up at the edges into a snarl. ‘Are you going to try to leave?’ he questions me. ‘Yes’ I reply. I’m sat up on the sofa, my bare legs together, and he punches the left side of my leg, by my knee. I cry out in pain and try to move but he pushes me back. He asks me the same question again and I respond the same way. He punches the right side this time. The pain sears through my knee. Tears prick my eyes. Don’t let him win.
This game continues for fifteen minutes or so, my legs becoming more bruised and sore with each punch. He’s starting to look more frenzied and with one of my ‘yeses’ his eyes widen and foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog he throws himself on top of me and clasps his hands around my neck. My arms flail about trying to push him off, clawing at his thumbs that are slowly pressing down on my windpipe. I’m struggling to breathe. I try to tell him to let go but all I manage is a gurgle. Just as my vision starts to blur and I feel like I’m falling, he lets go and stands up. He’s panting with exertion, his fists clenched. ‘Yes or no?’he demands.
I hear a weak voice from somewhere inside me whisper ‘No’.
‘Good girl’, he smiles, and strokes the hair back off my face. ‘Come.’ He holds his hand out to me, and I take it. He leads me across the front room and down the hallway to the bedroom. I’m broken. He won.
I cry the whole way through. He shows no signs of remorse as he pushes himself between my legs and marks his territory. I close my eyes, the tears finding their way through and falling into my ears. His horrible body sweating against mine, my flesh crawling. Thankfully it doesn’t last long and after he gets straight up and redressed. ‘I’m going out for a drink’. And he’s gone.
I jump up out of the bed and clean myself up. I run to my wardrobe and rummage in a old bag for the secret phone my mum had given me. With my hands shaking I run to the window phone in hand. I have to make sure he doesn’t come back and catch me and so as I dial my parents number in the UK I watch the mountain for signs of his moped.
Mum answers. I’ll never forget her little worried voice as I told her what he had just done. ‘Dad will come,’ she says. Suddenly the familiar tinny sound of the moped echoes across the mountain. ‘He’s coming back, I have to go,’ I whisper down the phone. I don’t give her a chance to answer and I turn the phone off and run back to bed shoving it under my pillow. I shut my eyes and pretend to be asleep waiting for the front door to open. He doesn’t come straight to bed, and exhausted I fall asleep.
‘Princess! Princess! Wake up! Put some clothes on and come here please, the police are here!’
I wake with a start. My hand is still clasped around my phone. Trembling, I pull on some leggings and a vest and make my way up the hallway to the front room. As I near the end of the corridor I see four policemen peering at me. They are standing near the front door, in the gap between kitchen and lounge and all have their backs to him. He is standing beyond them in the entrance to the kitchen and is staring at me, his face unreadable. I stop in front of the men. ‘Whats been going on tonight?’ says one of the men, an older gentleman with a thick accent. I open my mouth to speak, but no sound comes out. I look over their heads at him and he remains there, still, expressionless. The four men continue to stare at me and I feel myself squirm uncomfortably. ‘Did he strangle you?’ One of the policemen, much younger than the rest in his mid twenties reaches out and touches the side of my neck where I am certain I have marks. Again, I resemble a fish and my mouth open and shuts pointlessly. ‘Look,’ pipes up one of the older men, clearly getting irritated by my lack of cooperation, ‘We had a call from someone in England to say we needed to come immediately. If you tell us what happened here we can sort it out. Okay? Did he hurt you tonight?’
I know what you are thinking as you read this. Just tell them! What’s wrong with you? Just say ‘yeah’, and that’ll be it! All over. You can leave and hey presto, you don’t need to be a ‘victim’ any more. Happy days! I’m looking into his face, into his evil, ‘don’t you fucking dare’ eyes and he ever-so-slowly shakes his head from side to side. Don’t. You. Dare. And in the split second that follows, before I open my goldfish-like mouth to blub one single word that will change my life forever, this is what goes through my mind.
Shit. This is scary.
Tell them, then we can leave…
What about the kids? He might get custody.
Don’t tell them.
Can’t stay here forever, this is our chance!
What if he goes mental and hurts them, and me and the kids? What if they make me leave the kids behind? No way, i’m staying.
But he’ll hurt the kids and you again though, imagine what he’ll do to you once the police have gone?
Been there, done that, I can cope.
Not fair on the kids though! Have to leave!
I won’t be able to protect them from him forever though. What if they have to go to stay with him when i’m not there to protect them?
I’ll kill him. Hmmm, not a bad idea… Okay, this is it. This is my chance. What will be will be. I will be strong for the kids and for myself and…
I could try to make up exactly what happened in the moments that followed my declaration, but it wouldn’t be the truth, I simply can’t remember, its all a blur, like everything was happening in slow motion around me. What I can tell you is that he went mad. I remember three of the policemen holding him back as one of them ushered me round the corner out of the way. They tried to contain him as he shouted and swore at me, calling me every hateful name he could think up. Then he managed to get past them and he was in front of me, ripping my rings from my fingers, a necklace from about my neck. I screamed as he yanked my finger from its socket. There was a pot of loose change that ended up over my head, in my lap and all over the floor. A mobile phone got crunched under foot, some chairs got up-ended and some stuff from the kitchen got hurled across the room, smashing into a million little pieces. Then he was in the en-suite bathroom, it sounded and smelt like he was smashing all my perfume bottles into the sink or bath, I heard him mutter that I wouldn’t be wanted by anyone else. He was being petty and pathetic, like a child having a tantrum because if he couldn’t have what he wanted, then he would see that no one else would have it either. It was when I heard the sound of the safe being opened in our bedroom that I knew he meant business and I was shaken into the present.
‘Our passports,’ I say faintly to the officer beside me. ‘He’s taking our passports!’ The realisation of what this could mean for the kids and I hits me like a train. Without them I can’t leave. I kick myself that I hadn’t taken them before when I had had the chance. I had left them in the safe in case he found they were missing. Sure enough seconds later he bounces round the corner smirking and waves the passports at me. ‘Got your makeup bag too,’ he jeers. (Not sure what he thinks that little discovery is going to do to me, i’m not very well going to start wailing that he is stealing my mascara) but I do jump up and start shouting and pleading with the officers to get my passports from him. He is out the door like a shot, fires up his moped and screeches off.
‘That’s illegal! He can’t take those, they’re my property! Stop him!’ The men just shrug.
‘He’s your husband,’ says one of them matter of factly. It dawns on me then that I am in a country where wives are the property of their husbands and no matter what I say to them, it isn’t going to change their belief that it is his right to have my belongings. What’s mine is his, naturally. I slump down onto the sofa.
Whilst he is gone I realise I have the opportunity to get my hidden bags and check on the children. I ask the younger officer to come with me. I figure he may be slightly more helpful than the other blundering idiots, who are all stood around flicking their worry beads, probably chatting about what they had for dinner tonight.
As I walk down the hallway towards the bedroom, a little wet face peers through the mesh of the travel cot. He’s sat upright, his little face damp from tears, sucking his dummy so hard it is making a clicking noise. I pick him up and cuddle him into me. His chubby little arms cling to me like he’s terrified I am going to let go. ‘Shhh baby, shhh. It’s ok. Mumma’s here.’ The young officer is stood in the doorway and as I turn towards him and see the look on his face it dawns on me that he hadn’t realised there are children in the house. ‘I have two more downstairs’.
He follows me downstairs and we open the first door to the right. It’s my daughters room. Sure enough, two pairs of eyes stare back at us from the darkness. ‘It’s okay. The nice policeman has come to take us somewhere safe. Come on’. My two terrified children slide out of bed and run towards me. Clutching me around the waist, hugging me tightly, we go into the next bedroom.
I show the officer where our hidden bags are and ask him to pull them down from the high cupboard. He looks shocked as he pulls the heavy holdalls out of the wardrobe and onto the bed. ‘You had these packed already?’ He looks even more shocked when I turn to my seven year old son and say, ‘Remember the bags mummy asked you to pack with toys and hide for the three of you? Can you get them now baby?’ We watch as my little boy, tiny, pale, skinny legged and wide eyed scurries about reaching into drawers and disappearing under beds. He returns holding three small bags, looking proud. ‘Well done darling’.
The door slams upstairs and we hear his loud booming voice. He’s arguing with the officers. They’re telling him to calm down. The children freeze.Then there is noise on the stairs and I see him coming down towards us. When he is near the bottom the older officers, who are following him, all command him to stay right where he is. He stops and looks at me. His face changes, it softens. He slowly takes a seat on the step he was standing on, and holds his hands up as if in defeat. I know where this is going.
‘Come now, don’t be silly,’ he says softly, eyeing the bags by my feet. ‘Let’s forget about this. You don’t want to go anywhere. You can’t take the children away from their dad.’ At that comment he stretches his arms out in front of him and beckons his daughter towards him. ‘Come here, come to daddy Princess. Don’t be scared, you know I won’t hurt you.’ She steps forward, and I put my arm out to stop her but he makes an angry growling noise warning me to get back. She looks terrified, and so to diffuse the situation I say boldly.’Go on sweetheart, give daddy a quick cuddle before we go, he won’t do anything, look at all the kind policemen.’ He gives me a look which I know ordinarily would mean I was going to get a severe beating, but smiles down at her and as she steps slowly towards himhe takes her gently into his arms and hugs her. A pang of guilt surges through me, but I brush it away. This is not the time for feeling weak. One fatherly tender hug isn’t going to change the years of terror and hurt he has caused.
It’s then that one of the older police men pipes up. ‘Ah come on, you can’t leave, he is your husband! They are his children, you can’t take them from him.’ The man looks at me, and I see disgust in his eyes. He thinks what I am doing is wrong. He thinks it’s ok to be treated the way he has treated me all this time. The other older officers are nodding in agreement. I can’t believe what I am hearing, and then at the same time, I can. These men are the types that probably go home and expect their good little wives to have their dinner on the table, to clear up after them while they sit with a glass of brandy which she has so lovingly handed to them before she goes to clear up the kitchen. They don’t even acknowledge she is there, they don’t thank her, they see through her.
I will not be that woman. I am not that woman.
‘We are leaving.’ I say firmly.
‘I want to leave and you will take us’. I eye the young officer stood beside me and beckon for him to help me with the bags. He asks the other officers to take him upstairs out the way and with the children in tow we make our way up the staircase, slip our shoes on, out the front door and up the front steps to the road. We pile into the back seat of the police car parked outside while the officer piles our three bags into the boot. There are three police cars I notice, and two of the officers get into the front of our car. The young officer is driving. He turns round in his seat, ‘Are you ok?’ I realise my teeth are chattering. I nod, and cuddle the three children into me.
I barely remember the drive down the mountain and into the old town to the police station. I remember the feeling of relief though. Total, complete and utter relief. I had done it. We were out. I do remember one thing though. Before I ducked my head into the car and drove away that night, he shouted to me in a half hysterical, half terrified voice. ‘You think you can leave me?!’
And I can tell him now, yes. Yes I can. And I have.