I’m leaving him. Today, this morning, now. I’ve thought about it many times in the past, but this time he’s gone too far. He’s always been careful before, careful not to leave any bruises where they could be seen, but last night he was beyond caring. He hit my face, a vicious blow, and his gold knuckleduster ring – ironically, one I’d bought him – laid my cheek open. I was cowering in a corner, begging, ‘Not my face! Please, Robert, not my face!’ but by then the blood was pouring down and spattering on the floor, and he’d gone out, slamming the door behind him. Shock left me shaking and shivering, until finally I crawled into bed, a bloody towel held against my poor cut cheek until finally the bleeding stopped. So this morning I waited until he’d left for work – humming a merry tune, just as if last night had never happened – then I packed a suitcase and I just walked out, not even leaving a note. I’ve heard there’s a refuge somewhere nearby, run by a church I think, somewhere that people can go when their partners turn to violence, where they will be safe.
Robert wasn’t always like that, though. To start with, he was the sweetest, kindest – no, the nicest – man I’d ever known. We met in a bar over a spilled drink. I’d made no special effort that night – my normal discreet make-up, a sparkly top and tight black leather trousers – but I thought I looked good. The bar was crowded, full of people laughing, talking, having fun, and as I turned with my drink, Robert was pushed against me by the sheer numbers of people, and my G&T spilled all over him. ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry,’ I gushed and as I raised my eyes to look at him, a queer little tingle ran over me. God, but he was attractive – tanned skin, dark curly hair, blue eyes. That’s how it started. We dated for a few weeks and it went so well that when he suggested that I might like to move in with him, I jumped at the chance.
And to start with, it was great. I thought I was in heaven. A wonderful man, no money worries, and a lovely flat. But then gradually, almost imperceptibly, things changed. Robert had his own ground rules – fair enough, it was his flat – and he didn’t like it if I transgressed, if I put the milk in the wrong place in the fridge, if I didn’t hang the towels up properly, or put CDs in alphabetical order, or put my shoes away. I always apologised and promised to do better in future. Then he started on my appearance – first, he didn’t like me to wear make-up. ‘But I only wear a little,’ I protested. ‘It makes you look like a tart,’ he snapped. So to please him I went bare-faced. Then it was my clothes, my scent, the fact that I like an occasional ciggie – nothing seemed to please him. He laid down the law about my friends too, so gradually I stopped seeing them. I was allowed to keep my job ….. as long as I came straight home afterwards and didn’t make any close friends in the office. And eventually meeting Robert’s needs and obeying his rules became the only important things in my life. The penalties for disobedience were too great. It started with a little push, then built up to a slap, a kick, a punch to the stomach. Each time, Robert convinced me that it was my own fault, that I deserved the punishments he meted out. Little by little my confidence ebbed away. I kept thinking that I should leave, but Robert always convinced me that it was all my fault …. and anyway, he said, I was so useless that no-one else would want me. Sometimes, when my punishment had been particularly severe, he’d hold me afterwards and tell me he was sorry – but always, always, there was the reminder, ‘But you made me do it, babes, it was your own fault’.
So now this morning I’m here at St Columba’s, checking into their Centre for Victims of Domestic Violence – or CVDV, as I learned to call the refuge. They showed no surprise at the jagged rip on my cheek, only kindness and concern, and the gentle insistence that I must get it looked at. At A&E it was cleaned and bandaged, and I was given antibiotics, but by then it was all swollen and too late for stitches. I’m going to be left with a scar.
They’ve given me a room in the refuge, small but immaculately clean, and gradually I’m starting to rebuild my life. Going to work was hard at first, there were questions about my injured face, but I managed to fend off enquiries. I walked into a door, that old story. I think that maybe people guessed though, mostly by what I didn’t say.
It would be wonderful to find love again one day. But I’m not sure if I can ever trust another man, ever again.
It’s now been nearly a month since I left Robert and I’m just starting to re-build my confidence and self-esteem. Imagine my surprise – and my fear – when he came to meet me from work today. When he stepped out of the shadows and called my name, my knees turned to water and I found myself cowering from him. But he spoke to me so gently, so sincerely, and with tears in his eyes apologised for all the times he’d hurt me, all the harsh things he’d said, that I felt all my old love for him flood back.
He’s asked me to move back in with him. I don’t know – would I be utterly stupid to give him a second chance? I asked for time to think about it and he looked so happy that I hadn’t turned him down flat.
Well, I took a week to think it over and this morning I made my decision and took the plunge. I let myself in to his flat – I still had the key – and I’m sitting waiting for him to get home from work. Oh, there’s his key in the lock now ….
I’m in hospital. They’ve let me go onto a general ward now that I’m out of Intensive Care. I can hardly begin to list everything Robert did to me. I have cuts, bruises, broken bones, and internal injuries. He’d taken one look at me, waiting for him – so naïve and hopeful I was – and the look of leering triumph on his face was terrifying. He’d laid a trap and foolishly I’d walked right into it. And his revenge for my escape was brutal.
If it wasn’t for the neighbours who heard my screams and called the police, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have survived.
The police have just left the ward. The hospital authorities insisted on calling them. The police officers were kind but insistent; they want to proceed against Robert and I am to be their chief witness.
Here I am, in court. I’m standing in the witness box. God, but this is hard. I’m looking at the man in the dock, the man I used to love, the man who manipulated and controlled me, who isolated me from all my friends, who destroyed my self-esteem and who beat me and humiliated me. Photos of my injuries were passed around the jury, and I saw two of them in tears.
Now I have to harden my heart to give evidence. I’m standing in the witness box, trying to keep my voice from shaking, I answer the questions, and I tell only the truth.
The jury’s back after less than half an hour. Guilty, the jury foreman says. The judge speaks harshly to Robert, saying domestic violence in any form is totally unacceptable in a civilised society but the violence Robert dealt out was beyond anything he had experienced before in all his years on the Bench. He sentences Robert to four years in jail. I feel numb. I’m beyond feeling grief or sadness or even relief – or any other emotion.
Freedom for me, freedom from fear … but oh, such a loss of freedom for him.
Robert is led away to start his sentence. At the last minute, he turns and looks at me. Despite the warder pulling him away, he’s still able to speak to me: There’s emotion in his voice but I can’t recognise what it is – sorrow? anger? threat? – because he only says one word, only one word, my name: ‘Michael,’ he says.