by Stephanie Geary
The steam from the boiled kettle rises and I blink myself out of my reverie and slowly go through the motions to make myself a cup of coffee. I add sugar and stir absentmindedly whilst adding a dash of milk from the milk jug. My mind and body are moving in slow motion and I gingerly take my hot cup to the kitchen breakfast bar and climb up onto a stool, my eyes moving around the room but unseeing. I knit my hands together on my lap and bite my lip, wincing at the pain. My mind is trying to figure out today’s events; I know I am in shock, but I need to figure out how my life got to here.
I hear the distinct sound of a cat’s meow and I see Tammy, our tortoise-shell feline enter the kitchen. I wonder whether she can sense that something is wrong; does she know what has happened here today? I get up slowly and go through the motions of feeding her. Tammy is rubbing herself around my legs, but I don’t pay much notice. My mind is elsewhere.
I return to the breakfast bar and take a few sips of my coffee, the bitter-sweet taste hitting my senses and allowing me a moment of clarity. Once I finish my drink I instinctively carry it straight to the sink and wash it up before drying it vigorously and placing it neatly into the cupboard dedicated to mugs. There is never any time to breathe in this house, never any time to relax. Everything must be done as he demands it, whether it be cleaning, talking or even how we dress. My husband is not one to be disobeyed. He makes the rules and we obey them. So I wash this cup up quickly and without delay, any mess of any kind would only bring on a torrid of abuse so I do anything I can to avoid it.
My mind wanders back to the day I met him, and I wish I could go back and tell myself to walk away. I wish I could yell, plead or even beg that stupid naïve girl to run as fast and as far as her legs could carry her. But then I remember, without him there wouldn’t be HER and she is the one shining beacon in the whole of my bleak, ugly world. Our daughter Gabby is coming 8 years old and she is a beautiful, intelligent little girl. She has her fathers looks but her mothers heart and I am very glad of that. I know she sees how her father is; she sees his anger and his violent out spurts. Gabby sees and hears my terror of the man she calls Daddy, but she has never spoken of it. Of all his faults, he has never placed a hand on her. He has shouted at her and spoke viciously about me in front of her, but he has never physically hurt her. Trevor keeps all that special treatment just for me.
When I first met Trevor, he was the most wanted man in the town, every girl wanted to date him. But not me. I had just got out of a relationship with my long-term boyfriend and I was ready to enjoy my single life for a while. Trevor saw me and wanted me. He chased me for weeks before I finally agreed to go on a date with him. He knew how to hook me, knew how to get me to fall in love with him and it didn’t take long. After only a month of dates I was well and truly besotted. He was charming and made me feel special. I would have followed him everywhere. And I did; within a few months I had moved out of my parent’s house and had moved in with him. Within the year we were married. Up until that point he was the perfect partner, he was always bringing me gifts and telling me how much he loved me. It was too much at times, but I liked it.
It was the little things that changed at first; he started coming in later from work and the gifts became less and less. There were less declarations of love and more naggings. He complained that his shirt wasn’t ironed properly or that his dinner was undercooked. The complaining was meant to confuse me, to make me pander to him. I promised to do better. I had got used to the feeling of being special and started to feel useless as a wife. I felt like a failure and told myself and Trevor that I would try better. Each day I was told something else was wrong, until eventually he took a disliking to the clothes I wore. He said it was because he didn’t like other guys being attracted to me and suggested I wore less revealing shirts and I did as he said. I stopped wearing tops with low cuts and wore trousers all the time. Whatever I could do to make him happy I did. The shower of love he gave me came intermittently and it made me eager to get those feelings back. I grasped for any attention he gave me and eagerly lapped it up when he was in a ‘good mood’. In the beginning he never physically hurt me, it was mental abuse I endured at first, but I wasn’t to know that I was being abused until much later. There were good days back then, days when I was made to feel special again, days when I didn’t feel lacking as a wife. I welcomed those days and reminded myself that Trevor loved me and that is why he reminded me when I got things wrong. He was simply looking out for me, or so I thought.
Bit by bit I retreated into our home and stopped seeing other people in my life. My parents, my friends; they all stayed away as they always felt unwelcome and I spent so much time cleaning the house and making sure it was perfect that I never had time to visit them. Trevor preferred that, he liked that I depended on him for company, that I had nobody else to look after me. The more time that went in between seeing other people, the less I missed them. When I found out I was pregnant, Trevor convinced me that I was better off staying in the house to keep me safe and I believed him. I busied myself with online shopping and brought nursery items and decorated our babies room. The days of my pregnancy ticked by slowly, but Trevor’s mental torture went on despite the growing baby in my belly. He bellowed at me when dinner was late on the table, ridiculed my weight as my body grew to accommodate the baby and complained at me when the housekeeping wasn’t done to his standard. From early morning until late into the night I was hoovering, cleaning, dusting, washing, mopping, wiping, scrubbing and drying. Every part of our home was spotless, but he always found fault with something; always found a spot I had missed or faltered over a cushion being out of place. There was no let up. He made me feel so low, I was tired, suffered terrible morning sickness, and my ankles were badly swollen, but I couldn’t rest. If I sat down to catch my breath he would make sarcastic remarks and ‘joke’ that I was lazy.
My naivety stopped me from questioning how he was treating me. I figured it was just his way of showing he loved me. I believed him when he showered me with love on the days he was happy. And I excused how he spoke to me, putting it down to him being stressed by his tiring job.
When Gabby was born I was expecting the whole situation to do a U turn. I thought it would show him what was important, but the birth of our daughter which should have been one the best moments of his life only helped to make him worse. It was evident days after we had come home from hospital that he wasn’t happy and when he was woken up during the night, he swore at me to get her out the room and I spent most of my nights sitting downstairs to avoid disturbing him and igniting his anger. Trevor didn’t spend much time with our daughter and he hated to see me with her, I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time and I wasn’t sure why he seemed so distant with her. Now, looking back I see that it was jealousy. For so long in our relationship he had me at his beck and call and then he had to share my attention with a defenceless crying baby. Those nights when I sat up alone with our baby were some of the loneliest yet beautiful of my life. They were bitter-sweet. I hated not sharing those moments with my husband, but I loved spending those same moments with Gabby. Her small hands wrapped around my finger and held on tight as I held her against my breast to feed. Remembering those dark, quiet nights bring tears to my eyes. I was still adamant that things would get better, that she would win her Daddy’s heart as she had done mine. I was stupid to think that he would come around, stupid to think that I could change him. If anything, he got worse. Gabby has witnessed so much heartache and if I could wish just one thing it would be that I had gotten out when I had had the chance. I should have taken our things and escaped before things went too far. But what is the point of wishing to change the past when it is not possible?
When Gabby was six months old, I was attacked by my husband. This would be the first of many times that he struck me. That first night I had been feeding Gabby when he had insisted that I come to bed, he made comments that I had been a prude since our daughter had been born and he had a right as a husband to feel loved. I laughed timidly thinking that he was joking, but he wasn’t. I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t in the mood to argue. I told him that Gabby hadn’t finished feeding and he approached me, fire burning in his eyes as he lifted her from me and placed her in her crib. The screams that rose from her tore through me, she was hungry and was venting her frustration the only way she knew how. Trevor shouted for her to shut up and grabbed me by the arm, pulling me roughly up the stairs. My heart was racing, the cries from our daughter ringing in my ears, my stomach churning as I longed to hold her to me, to comfort her. The emotions raging through me were too much and I still thought I could say no. Trevor had never gone this far before, he would stop if I said so. I pushed him away from me, releasing my arm from his grip and told him that I needed to go back to Gabby. Before I had a chance to turn away from him, he grabbed me by the throat and pushed me roughly against the wall. With this free hand he slapped me hard across the face, and his angry eyes bore into me, he told me to never try to push him away again. My head bumped roughly against the wall as his hands tore at my clothes, ripping the material. Our daughter’s cries had faded slightly, could she sense that something bad was happening?
My hands hung loosely at my sides, I knew I should fight but I was in shock. With his grip still around my throat he pulled me roughly into our bedroom and threw me onto the bed. I looked at him pleadingly and tears sprung to my eyes. Raising my hands in defence I told him that I didn’t want this. To my astonishment, Trevor laughed. He laughed at me. Trevor poked fun at my post baby body and told me I was a rubbish wife. The shame I felt washed over me. I looked at this man, the man who I loved, and I didn’t recognise him. All at once I saw the man he was, the bully that had always been hidden from me. I trembled in fear as he covered my body with his, he pulled my underwear aside roughly and raped me on our bed. My mind tried to go elsewhere but the pain was too much, he was so rough with me and I couldn’t breathe. The pain and fear I felt were unmeasurable. Once he had finished he rolled off me and he pushed me off the bed. Trying to keep as much dignity in tact as possible I gathered the bits of material that were my clothes around me and left the room silently. I managed to make my way downstairs, the pain between my legs burning with every step and when I reached the crib I looked down at my sleeping baby. Once I saw that she was okay I let the tears fall. I wanted to scream and shout, but I didn’t want to give Trevor more fuel to come back for more. A part of me died that night, but still I stayed with him.
From that point onwards, my life with Trevor became a nightmare. I no longer saw him as the man I loved, but rather the man I lived with who terrified me more than anyone or anything else. The physical and sexual abuse were daily occurrences; with every strike and every forced sex act I felt another chunk of me fall away. I considered telling my parents, confiding in them but it had been so long since I had seen them I didn’t want to have to tell them what he was doing to their daughter. I should have left but I couldn’t make myself do it. I was too frightened of what he would do to me if he caught up with me. My only concern was my daughter, making sure he didn’t hurt her. Trevor didn’t pay much attention to her as she was growing, didn’t care too much about the milestones she reached or when she started calling him Daddy, but he never put a finger on her. Not that I ever trusted him around her. She was never out of my sight, I made sure she was safe from him every waking day. Not only with what he could or might do to her, but what she witnessed him do to me. There were times when he got a bit physical with me that she met my eye. I would say sweetly for her to go to her room and shut her door and she would obey, looking back occasionally as though she knew what I was going to have to endure. And again, I should have taken her away from it all, but I feared him coming after us and taking her from me for good. She was all that mattered in my dark, relentless torturous days. Gabby was the reason why I got up of a morning, the reason why I could carry on.
The years had been hard for me, but if I kept her safe then that was all that mattered. He could do whatever he wanted to me, but not to her.
Today started like any other, I made breakfast for Gabby and got her ready for school. As we were going out of the door she dropped my mobile phone which cracked the screen. We were rushing out, so I left it on the kitchen counter and left hurriedly, not thinking of what Trevor might say if he saw it. When I let myself in this morning he was sat at the counter, holding my phone. The fear in my stomach, the feeling that is always there revved and churned, causing me to feel sick. The look in his face was both anger and satisfaction. Trevor loved belittling me, loved seeing the power he had over me, loved making me terrified of him.
He threw my phone at me and asked me what had happened, and I started apologising in reflex. Trevor saw the fear in my eyes and jumped up out of his seat and punched me hard in the face. I cried tears of frustration and touched the spot on my mouth that had connected with his fist. I could feel it swelling and could taste the metallic taste of blood. That wasn’t enough for him; grabbing my hair he pulled me to face him and spit into my face. I wiped it away, but this angered him more. Shoving me roughly away from him he asked again what had happened. Crying and shaking I explained that Gabby had dropped it as she had exited for school that morning. The shame creeped over me as I tried to shield myself from him by using my daughter as a reason for him to not beat me. He looked at me, twisting his hands deeper into my hair calling me and our daughter bitches, Trevor’s face showed disgust as he mentioned our names telling me that our daughter needs to learn how to behave and that he should have a harder approach with her…
My thoughts are broken by the sound of the telephone in the hallway ringing. I get up and wipe the tears from my eyes. The caller ID indicates that the number is withheld, and I chose to ignore it knowing that it is almost time for me to leave to collect Gabby from school. I don’t have time to take surveys or sign up for new windows; my daughter needs picking up. It is almost 3pm and I need to get a move on. Walking steadily to the coat-rack I glimpse myself in the mirror and run my tongue over my broken top lip which looks red and sore; a deep cut running up to just underneath my nose. I wonder if I have time to cover it up but realise it would need a lot of work to hide it. If I get asked by one of the moms how it happened, then I can make something up. I have got good at that over the years. I button my coat up and pull my long hair out of the collar, wincing from the pain on my scalp.
Then I head back to the kitchen to collect my car-keys. Tammy eyes me suspiciously from her spot on the floor before turning her head, nestling down and resting herself against Trevor who is lying motionless on the floor. I am sure I should feel guilty for leaving him lying there in his own blood, but at this moment I feel nothing.
I am not sure if he meant what he said to come out so sinisterly, but I pictured him with his hands on our daughter and I saw red. After all the years of torment I saw him for what he was finally and without thinking I grabbed the nearest kitchen knife off the counter behind me and jammed it into his neck. The look of shock in his eyes will live with me forever. He was as shocked as I was. Stumbling weakly, he grabbed at his neck, blood spurting out and onto the kitchen floor. He slumped down and stared blankly upwards, the life draining from him.
I watched as he took his last breath, hardly realising that I was holding mine. The relief I felt when he died was so tremendous I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed until I started crying. Then I waited. I waited until the guilt and panic took over, but I felt nothing. I was glad he was dead.
Tears stung my eyes now but only because I wasn’t sure what my future held. What I did know is that this man in front of me would never ever make me feel worthless again. From this point forward, I would never let a man rule me, never live in fear. Turning my back on him I return to the hall and collect the packed bags for me and Gabby. I really wasn’t sure where I was going but at least I know we would be safe.