The beginning of the end

Not only is leaving an abusive relationship hard, sometimes seemingly impossible, it is dangerous. At the time of leaving, and in the days, weeks or months after, the victim is often the most at risk of being hurt by their abuser as they ever have been.

It’s so still. So quiet. So calm. It’s dark, apart from shards of light from outside that creep through the shutters. It casts it’s warm glow across the hotel room in which she and her children are now safe. She looks across at the three little people sleeping peacefully beside her. They had pushed the two single beds together when they arrived an hour ago, climbed into bed together and fell straight to sleep, their tired little minds wanting to escape from the horrors of being awake. She wants to be sure they’ll never hurt again, but she can’t be sure of anything right now.

George is woken at two in the morning by a call from a police officer. He tells him he has some refugees for him to house for a few nights. He sighs, not again. His hotel has turned into something of a safe house due to it’s close proximity to the station, and his own experience in the force. He gets up, pulls on some clothes and splashes some water in his face. Wandering down into reception he sees a car pull up outside and a few shadowy figures moving in the darkness. He opens the door just wide enough for them to slip in, and closes the door behind them. His heart fills with sadness when he sees his guests. A woman, fairly young, her face pale, black trails smudge down her cheeks. She wears a green vest, a pair of leggings, she’s shivering. She’s holding a toddler in her arms, a little boy, maybe a year old, wearing only a nappy and a vest. He’s clinging to her, a blanket wrapped around his little body. There’s two other little children, haunting big dark eyes staring up at him as they cling to her sides. One maybe 3 the other older, maybe 7 or 8, both in pajamas. The older boy looks terrified, like he’s just seen something no child should ever see. “Would you like something to eat? Something to drink? Come with me.” He leads them to the bar area. “I’m really sorry, there isn’t much here, the kitchens are closed. I can give you some milk for the baby, and some juice cartons for you and the kiddies?” The woman smiles weakly, “Thank you”, she whispers. He finds some cake left over from afternoon tea. “How about some cake?” He asks the little ones. The little girl, a halo of dark curls framing her face, smiles and nods. He wraps the remaining cake in a serviette and passes it to the woman. Her eyes fill with tears, and they trickle down her cheeks. She smiles at him, and takes the cake.

He picks up her three bags left in the reception area, they’re not heavy. He wonders if she has more belongings or if this is it. He shows them into their room, and they push the two single beds together. The children immediately lie down, they are shattered.  Poor little mites, he thinks.  The woman turns to him and with tears filling her eyes again, she thanks him for his kindness. She has red marks on her face, finger prints on her neck. She looks worn, hollow. “You’re safe now” he says to her.

After he leaves, she surveys the room. It’s very old fashioned. Exposed brick work, floral upholstered chairs, large beach scene pictures hung on white washed stone walls. She doesn’t like the fact that it fronts on to the main road of the higgledy-piggledy old town, that she won’t be able to open their shutters during their stay in case they are seen on the balcony. But regardless of the creeky floorboards, the old dirty looking fridge humming in the corner, and the inappropriate location, it feels homely and welcoming, like arms stretched wide for her telling her everything will be fine now. She walks round to the other side of the bed, where there remains a tiny slither of bed for her. She lies down, fully dressed, and stares up at the ceiling. She’s out. It’s done.

She watches the light through the shutters, it changes colour as the sun comes up, throwing the room into a dull orange glow as the birds begin to sing. The odd car and truck pass on the road below, life does go on. She couldn’t sleep. The feeling of inner calm and peace that she was finally away she had had a few hours earlier, was being replaced with a sense of urgency. Things must be done. She quietly slides out of bed, being careful not to wake the little ones, and tiptoes over to the three bags she had managed to bring with her. She’d felt strong and resourceful as she’d hidden these bags all those weeks ago, delighting in gradually filling them with some of hers and the children’s clothes and belongings without his knowledge, but as she unzipped them now and saw what she’d packed, she was starting to feel less so. Woolly jumpers, tracksuit bottoms, coats, jackets, jeans… in her mind when she packed she would be going home, to England. But here she was, in a hotel room that was getting hotter and hotter with every inch of the rising sun. And, now she thought about it, it was July in England too. Shit. What an idiot.

Her main concern now was getting home. It wasn’t going to be easy. He’d taken their passports while the police were at the house. She’d told them what he was doing, but their answer was, ‘He’s your husband. We can’t stop him’. Story of her life. She’d hidden a handbag behind the bins at her parents villa a few weeks ago. She’d put some loose change in it, a spare bottle for the baby, an old phone, another one of her ‘resourceful’ plans. She just had no way of getting to it. It dawned on her she had no nappies for the baby, he had nappy rash at the moment too, because of the heat. She had no cream. The secret mobile phone she had used to call her parents last night had long since ran out of charge. Secret phones need charging too apparently. Another fail there. Escaping certainly isn’t one of her strong points she thinks to herself. She’d tried to make lists, plans of action, in the lead up to her big escape. When you live with your abuser you cannot slip up. You can’t leave ‘escape lists’ lying around, because he’s on your case all the time. You can’t breathe without him asking what you’re doing and why. So she wrote them in book margins. He never read, he was too stupid for that, and there were lots of books lying around, ‘holiday reads’. Someone one day will find her scribbled escape plans, probably think they’re some intricate plot to a book the writer was planning on penning. She likes that thought, and it makes her chuckle. The problem with holiday-read-margin-escape-plans, is that they’re not easily accessible, you forget what books you’ve written them in, and then you have to find the right page…

Two hours later, she picks up the phone in the room and dials her parents number. The familiar English ring tone makes her feel suddenly very homesick. Her mum answers. Her voice is like a warm hug, and she finds herself crying properly for the first time. “Dad’s looking for flights now, he’s coming out on the first flight. Stay safe. I’m going to speak to the British embassy and work out what we need to do about your passports.”

That day they stay in the room, only leaving to eat in the courtyard restaurant. At breakfast George’s wife, who speaks very little English, fusses around them telling the children, ‘I make for you anything!’ She serves them up the most enormous plate of scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. The children eat happily, today they seem to be fine, like they’re on a little holiday. Only she feels like a rabbit, hunched, ready to grab them and run. She eats, one eye on the children, the other fixed on the hallway leading to the pavement outside. Where he could be waiting for them.

On the way back up to the room they run into George. He looks tired. “Everything ok for you in your room?” he asks. ” Yes lovely, thank you”, she smiles. He reaches into his top pocket and pulls out a 50 euro note. “I was a refugee once you know,” he says. “I had only my shoes on my feet and the clothes on my back. Take this and get what you need for you and the children.” He leans in close, “and get them some sweeties.”

The air conditioning doesn’t work that well in the room and it’s stifling. She tries to find something for the children to watch on the old VCR enabled tv mounted to the wall, but the little one keeps getting up and trying to open the shutters to go out on to the balcony. The baby is crying, he needs a new nappy. She needs to go to the shop, or get someone else to go for her. Thank god for the money George had kindly given her. She decides to head out with the baby, leaving her eldest in charge. “You look after your sister ok? When I go out you lock the door behind me. Don’t open it for anyone. When I get back I’ll do a funny knock, come to the door and I’ll talk to you, so you know it’s me. Ok?” He nods, and gives her a thumbs up.

She ran to the shop and back as quickly as she could. She wore a scarf around her head, not that that would stop him from recognising her if he saw her. Once back she tips out what she’s bought from the shop onto the bed. Some chocolate, crisps, chewy sweets and some orange juice. The children’s eyes light up, and they dig in.

Two days they waited, and then came the count down. He’s landed. He must be through security. He must be driving. He must be near… “He must be here kids. I’ll go down the stairs first, I’ll give the signal for you to come after me if all’s clear.” She inches slowly down the wooden staircase, craning her head down to see who is at reception. A familiar figure stands with his back to them at the front desk. She beckons for the kids to follow her down the stairs. “Dad?” He turns around, tears welling up in his eyes. They don’t speak, he just pulls her into his arms and holds her. He lets go and hugs and kisses the children. The children seem to suddenly remember why they’re here and they cry too.

That night was one of the best nights she could remember. After a scheduled meeting with a man from the British Embassy who told them what they needed to do, they went down to dinner in the courtyard. She saw the hotel through new eyes that evening. The courtyard standing in the centre of the rickety hotel was like a secret garden, ivy climbing up the stone walls, fairy lights wound in amongst the greenery, the sound of water bubbling into a stone bird bath. George’s wife surpassed herself in the kitchen, and he sat with them and ate while they discussed their plan of action. He agreed to liase with the police at the airport to make sure the children were able to safely leave the country, they were to keep in touch with him once they left the hotel the following day, contacting him if they needed help. Bellies full they wandered up to their rooms. They agreed they weren’t too tired, and so her dad came into their room. They put the children to bed and curled up beside them to watch some TV for a while…

I nestled into my dads side that night, the children asleep beside us while we watched Batman Forever on that tiny square screen. I can’t explain how I felt at that moment, but I can only imagine it is how a baby feels when it’s in its parents arms. My heart felt full. My mind was at rest. I was happy, safe and back where I belonged.

To be continued…

My view when I entered the hotel that night with the children.
My view when I entered the hotel that night with the children.
The wooden staircase leading from our room to reception.
The wooden staircase leading from our room to reception.
The view from the bottom of the staircase towards reception where my Dad was waiting.
The view from the bottom of the staircase towards reception where my Dad was waiting.

A letter to her

Dear friend,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made you sad. I’m sorry reading my story hurt you. I’m sorry you were able to relate to it. I’m sorry you saw yourself in me. I’m sorry he’s made you cry.

You asked me to tell you if I loved him the way you love him. What I saw in him, what I loved about him, why I stayed in the beginning. He couldn’t have been that bad…

You were right. There were things I loved about him. He was crazy fun, passionate, impulsive. He made me feel like the world was ours for the taking, together we could do anything. I was his princess. There was once a time that the touch of his skin, his fingers entwined with mine was all I needed. There was once a time, long ago when he made me feel safe.

Then there was that first time. The look. The words. The back of his hand. The bruise…

I’ve been in your shoes, dear friend. Wondering if he’ll do it again. What you’ve done to deserve it. He says he’s sorry and you accept the apology. Do you ever forget what he did? Can you be sure he’ll never do it again?

So your question to me was, if he’s only hurt me once, will he do it again? Should I stay? And my answer is this. Stop what you are doing for a moment and go and look at your reflection in a mirror. Look yourself in the eye and ask yourself the same question you’ve asked me. My answer will be just the same as yours. You know the answer. Deep, deep down in your guts it’s there. It’s just whether you choose to listen to it, or ignore it. I knew, the first time he hit me, when he sat there apologising, tears streaming down his face, begging me to stay, and I was numb, at some point he’d do it again. He had it in him. Something nasty lived inside him, and  regardless of how much he said he loved me, it would come out again. But I stayed…

If you really, truly love someone, can you hurt them? Listen to your heart and head, are they telling you the same thing? Only you know the answer, you just need to listen to it. I wish I had.

Keep safe my friend

Danielle

This letter is for all those of you who are wondering if your situation is that bad, those on the edge about to fall. To my friend, you know who you are. And to the brave woman who now walks in my shadow. I hope you and your new baby are, and always will be safe, and if you ever need me, you know where I am. 

The Addicted Abuser

Addiction. It’s like a cancer. It eats away at its victim. It takes over their life. An addict’s life is solitary. Isolated. Lonely. They lead an entirely selfish existence. Their ‘need’ comes first, and everyone else around them suffers. To live with an addict in denial, is the hardest life to live.

My abuser was also an addict. He would blame the abuse on his habit, and as his addiction got worse, so did the frequency of abuse. But his addiction was not to blame. When he was sober he was more calculating. More controlled. Pure evil.

The first time I realised there were drugs involved it was about a year in to our relationship. He hadn’t come to bed again and I woke up in the early hours. I touched his side, empty. I threw on my dressing gown and wandered down to the front room. The door was ajar and I peeped in. Three lines of powder lay on the glass coffee table. A rolled up note beside them. I felt stupid. I was so naive. I went back to bed and tried to pretend I hadn’t seen it. As the years wore on, I knew his habit was getting worse. But I didn’t realise to what extent. At first he would manage to get though till the kids had gone to bed, then at about seven pm he would disappear out the back door and about half an hour later he would come back in, sniffing, pupils dilated, chewing his tongue. He’d sit with me on the sofa chain smoking, no eye contact, every 20 minutes or so getting up and disappearing out the back door again. Over time seven pm became six, then five, then four. I went to bed alone every night, I felt so lonely. I was either lonely or being beaten up, rarely anything in between, unless he was trying to make up for being violent. The earlier he started, the longer he stayed up, not coming to bed until the birds were singing. That’s when he wanted me, so he could sleep. My flesh would crawl when he eventually climbed into bed beside me, knowing what he expected. I could smell the powder on his face and hands, taste it on his lips. That’s when I started to think there was more to his habit than sniffing powder.

One day I went to the boiler room which was outside the house. It was where he went and sheltered from the weather and hid from me while he was doing it. I found tiny pieces of screwed up cling film, a tin full of cigarette butts, and cans, lots of drinks cans. Filthy, bent in half, a small collection of tiny holes piercing the middle where each can was folded. As naive as I was about all things drug related I knew what this meant. He was a crack addict.

‘He wakes me up at five. He gets into bed beside me, sniffing, blowing his nose. I can smell it on him. He’s on top of me, I closed my eyes and let it happen. Then he’s finished and rolls away from me and begins snoring immediately. I listen to his loud, throaty gargles, I wish he’d shut up. Maybe stop breathing. I wouldn’t help him. I’d leave him to die. I lay there for about an hour then get up to begin my morning routine. I open the windows along the hallway. It’s a bungalow so the smell permeates the entire house when he smokes indoors. I check the children’s bedrooms as I pass them, little bodies curled up under their duvets, sleeping peacefully. I open the double doors to the front room. The smell hits me. Stale smoke. I almost retch. As usual he’s left his mess for me to clear up. The coffee table is covered in ash, a glass ashtray sits on it overflowing with cigarette butts. DVDs lay scattered on the carpet in front of the TV, buxom girls spread legged stare up at me. I pick them all up and take them into his office. This is where he sits now most nights after I’ve gone to bed. This is where he does his ‘thing’. I clear the cling film wrappers off the desk into the bin. A crushed Coke can at the bottom of the bin tells me it’s been a heavy night.

After I’ve cleaned and disinfected the office and front room I put my coat and shoes on and go to my car. He uses my car to go and get his gear, often sitting and doing lines off the centre console. So many times I’ve gone to take the kids to school and had to quickly clean the dust and tiny lumps of cocaine off the seats and surfaces, them asking what it is and why it smells so funny. I open the car door and I smell it before I see it. It’s everywhere. I clean it as best I can, ready to take the kids in a little while.’

Thats how it was, day in day out. I had to wait till 11 am to wake him. Some days he would wake relatively easily. Others, he would go mad. I remember standing over him one day, about to wake him up. Looking at his face, open mouthed. Black rings round his eyes, white powder clinging to the hairs up his nose. And I thought how much I hated him. I hated him so much. I picked the extra pillow up from beside the bed where he’d discarded it, and I stood there holding it in both hands. I imagined putting it over his face and putting all my weight into it and suffocating him. I thought of how his legs would kick out as he fought for air. In my daydream I was strong. He couldn’t fight me off. I killed him and it felt good.

‘I’m in the kitchen washing up. I’ve just woken him up, I hope he’s going to be in a good mood today. Something tells me he’s not. I continue washing up, listening, waiting for the sound of him coming down the hallway. Then I hear him. He’s on the phone. He’s shouting. Whoever is on the end of the line is a ‘lazy, good for nothing, fucking waste of space’. Oh shit. Now I’m going to get it. He enters the kitchen, still shouting. I try to zone out, try not to listen. I watch the trees outside, imagine the sound of them rustling. He comes and stands beside me. I’m rooted to the spot, hands still in the washing up water, the suds have disappeared, the water stone cold. I’m watching his reflection in the window in front of me. He’s making himself a coffee. I watch the steam from the coffee machine cloud the glass, and I can’t see him any longer. Then he’s shouting again. I sense him move away from me. I exhale and breathe in, I must’ve been holding my breath the entire time. He’s going. Thank god. I pick up the tea towel beside me and dry my pruney fingers. I dry them completely, and put the tea towel down. Hang on, I’m wet! Why am I wet? What is wet? My back! My back is wet! I’m burning! Shit! It hurts, it hurts! Got to get it off! I rip my jumper off quickly and throw myself forward over the sink. I turn the tap on. The freezing cold water feels like needles on my skin as it runs down my back and sides, down my trousers, soaking me through. I look up into the window in front of me and see him place his empty coffee cup on the side and leave the kitchen. I hear the front door slam. I turn off the tap and slide down onto the kitchen floor, dripping wet, shivering, burnt.’

He wasn’t just addicted to cocaine. He was addicted to control. Addicted to inflicting pain. Addicted to power. Addicted to me…

The most powerful love of all

Why did you have children with him?

Good question. One that I have been asked so many times. A question I’ve ‘attempted’ to answer. If it was that bad, he was that dangerous, why did you keep bringing children into the world, knowing they would have to be witness or even victim to his behaviour?

Selfish. I was completely and utterly selfish. I wanted to have them as much as he wanted to impregnate me so he had more control. I wanted them because they were all I had. They were mine. I looked after them, I cared for them, I revelled in the beautiful smell of them as newborns, the talc and Johnsons bedtime bath. The first smiles just for me. The look of utter love and devotion in their eyes as they suckled at my breast. The first few wobbly steps into my arms. They needed me, and I needed them more. They loved me and it was unconditional. A beautiful pure love that no one, not even he could take away from me.

My first child was conceived when I was 18. I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, I wasn’t ready to be a mother, but he was insistent that having a child together was absolutely the most perfect thing for us. It would bring us closer, he wanted to provide, wanted the perfect little family. I know now, it was so he ‘had’ me. It was his way of making sure I was staying put. And he was right.

The waiting room is quiet. A handful of women sit around me, heads down, the air thick with guilt and shame. A woman appears at the doorway with an armful of notes. My heart quickens. She calls out an unfamiliar name and a girl opposite me picks up her bags and follows the lady into the room beyond, the white door shutting behind them. I stare at the stark white door, I wonder what is the other side of it. What happens. How they do it. How they take away the life that is growing inside me. My heart is thumping in my chest. I’m starting to feel sick. The clinical waiting room walls begin to close in on me, I feel like I can’t breathe. I catch the eye of a girl sitting across the room from me. She looks so sad, maybe she doesn’t have a choice. Maybe she has to do it, and she doesn’t want to. Do I? No one is making me sit here…

I feel myself rise out of the chair, I grab my bag and stumble towards the door, the other girls all look up and watch me curiously. Fresh air hits me, my ears are ringing like I might pass out. I want to get as far away from this place as possible. A small group of protesters stare at me as I run to my car. I don’t care how stupid I look. I was about to make a huge mistake, it is my baby, I am it’s mother and I will protect it for ever.’

Eight months later I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. The first moment he looked at me I fell in love. He was perfection. I marvelled at how perfect his fingers and toes were. How tiny his nose was, how kissable his little pursed lips were. I was a young mum at 19, and although I had pretty good maternal instincts I wanted my own mother with me as support. She sat beside the bed whilst I was in labour throughout the night, holding my hand, helping me breathe through each contraction. I knew she wondered what I saw in the man that lay asleep, snoring in a chair on the other side of the room. But she never asked. She just supported me, because that’s what mums do. She came home with me and him and made sure we were settled before she left. She promised to come back the next day and give me support…

I’m lying on the sofa. My newborn baby sound asleep on my chest. I’m tired, my first night of being a mum was as to be expected. Sleepless. My lady bits are still quite sore, but otherwise I’ve bounced back pretty quickly, back in my pre-pregnancy trousers…the perks of being a ‘young mum’ I guess. Mum is here, she’s in the kitchen making a casserole for our dinner. Good old mum.

Like a whirlwind he enters the front room. He announces as part of his culture’s tradition he wants to throw a party. The whole family will come and meet the new addition to the family. He is going off to buy a lamb and we will spitroast it. I will make the rest of the food to accompany it. I ask when this is going to happen and he announces ‘tomorrow.’ He finishes his speech, looks at the baby and leaves to hit the shops. He needs to buy the biggest rotisery bbq money can buy.

I’m left stunned. I don’t know how to feel about this sudden revelation. I’m not sure I want to be entertaining on day three of motherhood. I think I just want to lay with my new son and cuddle and feed and touch his beautiful face. Not cook for a load of people I’ve met once, while they pass my baby around like a party show piece. My mum has overheard the conversation and senses my mood. She comes in and sits on the sofa beside me, concern in her eyes. I don’t know what to say to her. But she’s my mum and I realise I don’t need to say anything, and my tears just come. She strokes the tears away with her fingers. ‘It’s ok darling. You don’t need to do this.’ She’s right, I don’t.

The phone rings an hour or so later and it’s him. I can hear in his voice he is excited. He asks me what I’m going to make to go with the lamb. I pause. What do I tell him? Do I tell him it’s too much for me right now or do I just go along with it to keep him happy? I still can’t believe he expects me to do this. I muster up some strength from somewhere. ‘I don’t think I’m ready to have this party yet, I think maybe I could do with a few more days to recouperate, you know, so I feel a bit more…human.’ I stumble over my words, something in my gut telling me he’s not going to be happy. He snaps down the phone at me that he’s bought the bbq now, so it’s going ahead, he’ll do all the preparation and what am I going to make? He’s not listening. I pause and take a deep breath. And then I say ‘Nothing…I…I’m not going to make anything.’ The line suddenly goes dead and my mouth goes dry. I’ve made him angry. I’ve pissed him off. What the hell is going to happen now? My mum comes in from the kitchen. She senses something is wrong. ‘Is everything alright love?’ 

The phone starts to ring again, I answer it and it’s him. He’s angry. Not ‘normal’ person angry, really really angry. The way he gets angry. I can’t make out his exact words, but he’s spitting down the phone at me. Vile language, shouting, screaming, he’s bellowing so loud the line is crackling. He tells me my mum and I are both cunts. The baby’s a cunt. I’ve actually dared to tell him that I’m not going to do what he wants to do, and for that I’m a cunt. My heart hammers in my chest, my hand shakes, tears prick the back of my eyes.  

You better fucking get out of my house before I get back! You wait and see what I’m gonna do! I’m gonna smash you up! I’m gonna smash your mum up! You see what I’m gonna do, you cunts! You fucking cunt! You better get out of my house before I get there. Get out, now!’ The line goes dead.

The tears push through and fall down my cheeks. My mum heard him screaming down the phone at me and her face is white and panic stricken. ‘What on Earth is going on? What’s wrong with him? He’s a lunatic!’ I can’t even find the words to begin to try to explain. I clutch at my beautiful sleeping baby on my chest and cry. How could he treat me like this? I’ve just had his baby for Christ sake! 

A car engine revs outside and his mum pulls into the drive with a screech. She jumps out of the car and runs to the house, letting herself in. She enters the front room where we are sitting. She’s in a panic, her eyes wide like his when he’s angry. ‘Come!’ She shouts breathlessly in her thick Mediterranean accent. ‘You must leave with me now. He’s coming back. You must get out! My son, he gets very angry.’ She’s grabbing my shoes, pulling me up off the sofa, ushering us to the front door. My legs are weak. I grab a shawl for the baby and stumble to her car. She drops us at a local cab company. She apologises. She’s sorry, so sorry. She looks terrified, she has to go and calm him down. My mum is white as a sheet, shaking, dazed. I take control, I have to protect her and my son. I give the cab driver my mums address. He looks confused. We must look very strange sitting in the back of his car. No coats, shivering, huddled together, both with tear-stained faces, a newborn baby sleeping in my arms.’

Later that day, sitting on my bed in my old bedroom at my parents house, the phone in my hand, him begging me to come home, apologising profusely to my mum and I, I made the decision to ask my dad to take me back to him. I hear your thoughts, dear reader. I hear you asking me why on earth I would decide to go back. I was safe. Why go on and have more children with someone that is so capable of showing such utter disregard for those he professed to care about? There are so many reasons why, and I will explain them to you at some point in the not so distant future. Writing this blog, trying to answer the questions I know you will ask yourself as you read it, I am finding out about myself and the reasons I made the many decisions I did. And it is hard, upsetting, painful.

The one thing I do know though is this. My children gave me a reason to live. They gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Without them, I doubt I would be sat here writing this post. And one day, when they learn about my past, I want them to know what they did for me, how they kept me strong, and how much I love them.

Hearts and Flowers

From the outside it looked like I was the luckiest girl in the world. I drove a beautiful expensive car, had two homes, one in the UK and another abroad, had beautiful clothes and then of course there was the yacht…

Material things. Do they make you happy? Do they keep you warm at night? Do they make you smile and laugh and do they pick you up when you feel down?

The kitchen was a granite palace. Walnut units, bespoke handles, granite flooring, granite window sills. I would clean it until I could see my face in it. Sometimes, when I was lying on that granite floor, a plate of dinner in my hair, down my clothes, him standing over me screaming at me for being ‘so fucking stupid, the spaghetti is overcooked, I’m not fucking eating that shit you fucking tramp!’ I would watch the tears fall down my cheeks and puddle on to it. That cold, beautiful, soulless, expensive kitchen.

How many times did I end up dodging a plate or glass, watching it hit the wall or units behind me, the contents sliding down onto the floor? How many times did he stand over me and watch me clean up his mess, spitting on me, telling me he could do so much better? How many times did I wish I was somewhere else with someone else? How many times did he make me cry?

We had been out at the Blue Lagoon. Taken the baby with us. The other kids still in the UK. We were spending ‘quality time’ together, or more to the point, he had flown me out, his way of apologising for his recent aggression. The yacht was a sight to behold, floating majestic amongst the little motor boats, other holiday makers swimming near just to get a look. It was a good day. There was laughter. Diving in to the crystal waters. Sunbathing on the bow on the pristine white loungers. The baby napping in the shade of the sunroof. Not a normal life.

The sun started to get lower in the sky and we made our way back to moor up in the harbour. After dinner we sat at the dining table on the stern drinking wine and watching a film. I had put the baby down to sleep, he was in a little makeshift bed I had made him alongside ours. It was a calm, peaceful evening. Uneventful. Still.

If you have ever slept on a boat at night, you will be familiar with the gentle rocking motion as the wind blows across the water, the eeire silence that comes with being so close to the surface of the sea, the feeling that you are completely alone.

It was still. Every now and then a gentle sloshing sound at the window and then, still. He was in bed beside me, his back turned away from me. A slither of light from the porthole beyond him silhouetting his shoulder. A storm. A storm was brewing, I could feel it. He wasn’t sleeping…

A hand…or a knee? No, an elbow! I don’t know! Arms flailing I’m grabbing at my throat, clawing to get it away. I can’t breathe- I can’t breathe! I’m tearing again, the body on top of mine pushing down harder and harder, jabbing at my throat and face. Then a hand comes down on to the side of my face and pushes it in to the pillow. Fingers squishing and squashing my mouth, my lips, ripping at my nostrils. I hear a voice, it’s muffled and its calling for help. I don’t think it’s mine…it doesn’t sound like me. It’s so weak and pathetic. I can’t breathe, oh Jesus I really really can’t breathe, he’s going to kill me and no one will know! There’s the voice again, it says that she thinks she’s going to die. Then the pain stops. I realise the baby is crying. He’s lying right beside me. I want to pick him up and comfort him but he won’t let me. He’s pulling me off the bed. He makes me kneel on the floor in front of him, standing over me, holding my head back by my hair. I look up at him and realise my face is throbbing. I can barely see his features in the shadowy light, but I can see he still wants blood. He smacks me hard in the nose, and the blood comes. Hot, sticky, it drips down my breasts onto the polished wood floor. He is content then. He tells me to sort myself out, and climbs back into bed. I pull myself up, shaky knees prevent me from standing so I crawl to the bathroom to clean myself up. Our baby lies in the bed beside him. His little body heaving as he sobs to be comforted, and while I clean my blood off the floor, and our baby cries, he turns his back on us and falls asleep.’

I wonder what everyone thought when I rang and said we were extending our holiday? I’m sure they thought, ‘lucky bastards’ ‘having a whale of a time living it up on that bloody boat’ ‘ who does she think she is, a celebrity?’

No. I’m not coming home because I can’t get on that plane with my face looking the way it does. Instead I shall sit in fear on this enormous hunk of floating money while he trots off the the shoe shop and buys me some heels. Because, well, you know… he loves me.

A Child’s Innocence

Something so often over looked is how domestic violence affects everyone else other than the victim. The victim’s parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, even subsequent partners and their families. My main focus here though is children. The innocent souls that get caught up in the evil games of an abuser. The abuser often being their father. The mind games, the inexplicable switch between love and hate, the violence an abuser is so very good at, not only does it make no sense to an adult victim, but for a child? Often the abuser will use the children or child in their games. They become pawns in his strange world, where he is God and they are his little followers. His sheep. Running along beside him, little eyes wide with uncertainty, making sure they don’t upset him or get any thing wrong, desperate for his love and affection. ‘If I can keep him happy, then he won’t hurt mummy…’

He wouldn’t let me comfort the children when he had been violent. He would tell us not to cry. It took my son four years after us leaving to show any emotion towards anything, despite my repeated attempts to encourage him to ‘let go’. He was the one that was affected the most. He was my rock. I feel terrible now when I look back at what he had to endure and the way I looked to him for support. He was my first born, my beautiful boy…

‘He drags him into the bedroom by his ear, and then I hear the slaps, and crying out for mummy, my poor baby boy. MY baby boy! I scream out at him to stop, running towards the bedroom from the front room where I’ve been ironing. I want to throw my body over his, protect him from the monster that invades our lives when it wants blood. But I am stopped in my tracks by him thundering towards me. I’m dragged back to the ironing board, and the iron is held an inch from the side of my face. His eyes wild, daring me to comfort our four year old son. Our little boy stands in the doorway and begs him to stop.’

There were times over the years when my son would have a physical reaction when he knew his father was going to start being abusive towards me. Vomiting as he ran up the hallway towards our bedroom to protect me or standing in the door way, his nose running with blood. What was the sound of his fathers raised voice doing to  his little mind, doing to his little body to make it actually bleed? I imagine the terror  he must’ve been feeling, and my heart breaks.

‘That night I sleep in my son’s bed. I cuddle up to him. He’s warm and smells of nice things. I listen to his breathing, soft, peaceful and although I know there is a storm brewing, I fall asleep tucked into him, my beautiful little world. 

The light is switched on. White light burns my eyes. He is standing in the doorway. ‘Get out of bed,’ he says, his tone cold, hard. I rub my eyes and try to remain calm. At this point a little head pops up, big brown eyes all sleepy and beautiful. Then he is charging towards the bed and drags me up by my hair. Our terrified boy flies out of bed and stands next to it, frozen, watching. 

He punches me in the rib, at the side just under my left breast. It takes my breath away. He demands our son go to our room and get in our bed. Little legs run up the hallway. I imagine him sitting all on his own in that big, cold, empty, bed listening to my screams. Unfortunately that is exactly what happens. Our daughter joins him in that big cold bed and he cuddles her while they listen to me cry for help.

Over an hour he keeps me in that room, beating me round the head and face, banging the back of my head into the wall behind me over and over. He repeatedly pulls me off the bed by my hair and kicks me whilst I’m on the floor. I black out twice, he wakes me by throwing glasses of freezing water into my face. By the end my head is heavy, bruised. I can’t open one eye. My jaw is swollen up, my lips raw. Chunks of my hair lay ripped out on the bed and floor.

Suddenly it’s all over. He tells me to come into our bed with the children. We all cuddle up, but I can’t lay down, it hurts too much and I’m scared I could haemorrhage. I can’t even cry, my eyes are too swollen, my face not my own. In the early hours he walks round to my side of the bed, pushes himself onto my bruised body and ‘makes love’ to me. After, he lays still on my chest and tells me he is sorry. I stare out in to the black void that is our room, my torture chamber. I have no thought process, I am numb. I am not me. 

I didn’t sleep that night. Trying to lift my head off the pillow takes all the strength I can muster. I daren’t look in the mirror. I head straight to the kitchen for a cup of tea, my mouth is dry, my lips crusty. Then I hear a little voice behind me. ‘Mummy?’  

I turned around that morning and saw my little boy’s face as he looked at me. I saw the look of horror in his eyes. I saw his innocence fade from him forever.

Silenced suffering

4.6 million women in England and Wales have experienced domestic abuse. One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute. On average two women are killed every week by a current or ex male partner.

If 4.6 women were being tortured by a single man, he would be hunted down like an animal.

If two women a week were being murdered by a fanatical group, the media and the world would be baying for blood.

Why is the world so silent? Why do these women have no names?

We suffer in silence. We are muted by terror. Hushed by a loving smile in public that says ‘wait till you get home.’ What we once would have run from we stay and accept. We know when the storm is coming, and when it does we take the full force. We cower down, arms up protecting our head, or worse still, we shield our babies with our bodies. This is our reality, this is our normality.

He rolls his eyes at me, white froth building up in the corners of his mouth, flecks of spit showering my face and clothes. His pupils are the size of dinner plates as he stares at me in a wild rage, and screams at me over and over again. “You slag! You slag! You dirty fucking whore!”

My heart hammers, my chest rising and falling with each erratic beat. I can’t catch my breath, can’t move. I want to be brave. Be brave Danielle. He stares me down, then spits. A huge lump of phlegm hits me straight in the face. He turns in to our bedroom and slams the door in my face. I stare at the back of the door, I can hear my heart beat banging in my ears. I take a few deep breaths, OK, that wasn’t bad. Not bad at all actually. He didn’t hit me at least. There’s a dirty mark on the back of the door. Kids. Must remember to clean that…’

‘I wash up the breakfast things and wash and dress the children. I’m halfway through putting a pile of ironing away when he walks into the bedroom. ‘Ok?’ he asks. I smile over my shoulder at him. ‘I’m fine.’ I even convince myself. He sits down on the bed next to my ironing and asks if I fancy going to the beach. The pile of clean, fresh, neatly folded clothes starts to slide down towards him. I watch it get nearer to him, unraveling, the folds falling apart. He doesn’t touch it, just stares at me. He knows it’s falling.

At the beach he sits on the sand watching me play in the water with the children. I smile at him and wave. He waves back. He is wearing those sunglasses with mirrored lenses and I can’t see his eyes. I hate that. If you can see someone’s eyes, you can tell if they’re truly smiling.

Later when we get home I am in the kitchen and suddenly I see his eyes and he’s not smiling.

That night I can’t sleep because of the throbbing bruise on the back of my head.

I wake up in the morning to a happy husband, already up, faffing about in the kitchen by the sound of it. I stretch and turn over into my pillow, my head not hurting as much as it had. He sounds pretty cheerful, whistling to himself. I hear the kettle boiling and then footsteps coming down the hall. He pops his head round the door. ‘Morning Princess’. He comes in and sits beside me. I turn to face him and he tenderly strokes the hair off my face. ‘Tea?’ I smile and nod and he gets up and strides off back to the kitchen. I close my eyes. This might be a good day. Hope fills my heart and I doze off…

I wake, heart hammering. Heavy footsteps thundering down the hallway towards the bedroom. He looms over me, his fist connects with the side of my face, I literally hear my nose pop and then comes the blood. Hot, sticky blood that just keeps coming. And then there’s another fist, round my hair and it drags me out of the bed, across the floor to the bathroom. As I cross the threshold I see little eyes on me, watching as I’m pulled out of sight. He hoists me up and pushes my head towards the sink. He turns the tap on and starts throwing water in my face. I can’t breathe, water and blood drowning me. I’m sputtering and choking. And then he lets me go. My knees buckle and I slide on to the cold, blood-stained, tiled floor.

He leaves then, taking the children out to do something nice. Wonderful daddy. I do what any good wife does, I stay at home and clean up the mess. My blood all over the sheets, a smeared trail across the floor, a blood bath in the sink.

Then, I pour away a half made cup of tea, and wait to welcome my family home.’