I am still connected to you, like death clinging to a cigarette. I’m tied to you through the ruptured cord of our children. I am stuck to you through a shared Mobius strip of haunted memories and lopsided photographs. Jolted screams of laughter burst the silence.
We are joined by buried feelings that grip like limpets and words that slice like paper. I am part of you from the depths of my stomach, where life once grew. I will never escape you. I’m locked to you. And so it shall be.
But I want to ask you this question. How is that you live so free?
I met you in the late 90s whilst I was studying Law. A lifetime ambition after years of dysfunction, I thought that law would straighten me out. I’d had numerous relationships before you, all of which had been tinged with toxicity. I’d always pacified the behaviour with excuses, because that’s what us ‘sound’ girls do, we ‘go with the flow’, we give in, appease, relenting to a poisonous concoction of ideals and distorted representations of strength that render us powerless.
The one that went before you was the jealous type. My insecurities lapped up the possession. High voltage sex became the barometer of love but festering underneath the sheets lay a mountain of dead skin being eaten by hungry lice. When the lust subsided and I could no longer be close to him, he always managed to wear me down. I’d lay there, lice clinging to my hair giving my body away to a man who would never accept me saying no. Because that’s what ‘chilled’ girls do, they put out whenever boys ask.
Our first date was electric. I do not lie when I say I fell hard for you. A succession of beautiful dates led me to attach myself to your stability. You weren’t like the ones that had come and gone before. You were everything I believed I was looking for. Kind, respectful, open and sensitive.
You were working for a large construction firm in London earning good money, your apartment came with the job. Big income, small outgoings, whilst I was struggling to keep up with the high life. I earned a fraction of what you did as I studied and held down blue collar jobs to pay rent, bills and a top shelf life style. One night out with you usually blew my weeks wages but I was too embarrassed to say anything, lost in the fog of a façade.
The red flags raised their heads 8 months in, almost fully formed and ready to be delivered. I didn’t always go about things in the right way but the money situation was taking its toll. You met me at Waterloo, excited about our impending trip to Santorini. The walk from the train station to the pub we always had a drink in before heading back to your swanky apartment had already cost me £1500. The car, the flights, the hotels, a new motorbike helmet and the money I owed you that you had said you’d cover.
The panic swelled over the weekend. My friends had been warning me to assert myself and be honest, ‘he can’t keep expecting you to match his income, it’s unfair and unrealistic *Leah’.
Sunday arrived and what I had avoided saying the whole weekend was now a large mass of anxiety lodged in my throat. We ate food at your dining table. I told you apprehensively that I couldn’t keep meeting your lifestyle. That I was getting into debt, that my mental health was being effected, that some compromise needed to be factored in and I couldn’t afford Santorini. An argument ensued. I called you an ‘arsehole’ I didn’t shout it, but it was enough to have a spoon thrown at me, it narrowly missed my foot and took a chunk out of the parquet floor. I remember the menacing look in your eyes. The anger exploding at the speed of light. I went in the bedroom to get my things, absolutely perturbed that you had threatened me physically. I wanted to leave and what would become a consistent pattern in our relationship was born right there in the door way. You barricaded me in. I asked you to let me go. You refused. This went on for half an hour until I said I would call the police.
Your demeanour rapidly changed but it took me a long time to connect the coward and the bully. Because that’s what supportive women do, we put your needs before our own.
The abuse gradually grew in size like a tumour. The verbal began to slash away at the frail canvas. My body became torn up paper aeroplane dreams that never took flight. The emotional singed my spirit, the financial froze my independence, the sexual ate away at my identity and the physical devoured me with self-loathing.
After we separated, I read a book that said domestic abuse has 5 levels. It will often start with verbal and emotional, which will eventually lead to financial, physical and sexual. A perpetrator of abuse will never just rape his partner straight away. It’s more like a tap. That he can open and close whenever he chooses.
Drip, drip, drip, drip.
Open the tap slowly but surely and fill the water up a little. How much can she take? What can I get away with? Now let’s make it hot. I want to see her burn. I want to see how much she loves me. Now let’s cool it down. I can’t lose my grip completely. Let’s empty the sink. She’s pushing her luck again, she knows I don’t like it when she behaves like that, let’s flood the bath. Let’s give her that look, she knows what I am capable of when she doesn’t do what I want her to do. Let’s make it boil. Now she’s threatening to leave. Let’s make it calm. Let’s freeze. Let’s turn it all off.
Let’s watch her drown.
Some people were supportive. Most people judged. Our neighbours complained incessantly but never asked me if I was ok. My dad hated you but blamed me and broke off all contact. My mum didn’t want to get involved, she just wanted to protect her grandkids. My step-sister still doesn’t talk to me. Yes I shouted, yes I screamed, yes I hit back. Yes I was a complete and utter mess. But I cannot convey to anyone how it feels to not only be consumed every hour of every day by self-hate but to live with someone who enjoys watching you try to win their love when they’ve already placed bets on your defeat.
Why are you granted these freedoms?
I used to think you were a psychopath but now I have realised you’re just a man. Shaped by a cruel system that socialises us at the offset. I am not giving you excuses and I will always hold you accountable but I know nothing will change because you were born a boy and I was born a girl.
Because I was born a girl I should always do right by my man. Because I was born a girl I should always be ‘classy’. Because I was born a girl I should have my shit together. Because I was born a girl I am vulnerable. Because I was born a girl I am virginal. Because I was born a girl I automatically know the man will fix things. Because I was born a girl I shouldn’t walk through dark subways alone. Because I was born a girl I will always meet my boyfriend’s needs. Because I was born a girl I will always be blamed. Because I was born a girl I shouldn’t drink too much or I might get raped. Because I was born a girl I will always choose my children over my career. Because I was born a girl my anger will always be invalidated. Because I was born a girl I am a psychopathic nag whenever I assert my needs. Because I was born a girl I will accept that I am paid less. Because I was born a girl men get to decide what is best for my body.
As a woman I have come to understand that lurking underneath the mirage of equality, behind the closed doors of every male subconscious women and children are still possessions. Decisions are still made for me, not just by normal men like you, but by powerful men that enforce the rules. By the narratives we read and watch every day. I am less than. I have to be grateful to have and keep a man’s love. I will submit to the worst punishment if only to keep my family together. What a fallen, broken woman I am if I can’t succeed at that.
These beliefs are my prison sentence.
I am still connected to you because our children share your last name and like a criminal I get questioned every time at the airport. I am still attached to you because the courts granted you access even though there is a paper trail of evidence screaming about your violence. I am still effected by you when you use the children to hurt me. I am still controlled by you when you decide not to pay the child mantainence. I am still glued to you by the courts agreement to have your photos on the walls in my home. I am still angry at you for not getting convicted for breaking my ribs, whilst our baby slept in the cot beside us. I am still consumed by a self-hatred for not leaving you sooner.
Because you were born a boy you have these freedoms.
*EdShift would like to thank our guest writer who would like to remain anonymous. If you have been effected by any of the issues raised in the story please either contact one of our team via firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a message via website or contact the Women’s Centre on 01422 386500. For readers not within our local area there is the 24hr Freephone National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) is available on 0808 2000 247 hours a day, 7 days a week.