15th November 2018
This story was submitted to us by Babs, a 65 year old woman and survivor of domestic abuse.
My name is Babs.
I am 65 years old; I say that because it is my age, and age has defined my life. I am today at home reading a book. I feel well and quite content. I bought some autumnal plants for the garden, even though there is a storm brewing. The cats are calmly asleep and my head feels quite peaceful. These days are becoming more common for me now – this feeling of peacefulness. I don't have a partner, and I still have a mortgage. I have skills like being a swimming teacher, and an English language tutor which I took up after my divorce. I also volunteer, sing in two choirs, and write. I have always found a space to write, however dark the day. It has been my friend, a black or blue ballpoint pen, scribbled on bits of paper; poetry, love, relationships all go down on notepads when I feel this gentle soothing space in my head.
When I think back to when I was forty, I only think of the colour black, and a dirty underground train and a tunnel so dark there wasn't even a flicker of a dying light bulb to see me through. It has taken all these years and beyond to hear my little squeak of a voice like a roaring mouse talking to me back, instead of hearing others shouting, telling me off, hitting, screaming, crying, anger, children, fighting, hurt and pain.
I first met him when I was 24, studying by night for a degree. He was nothing like the man of my book dreams. But he was affectionate, kind and tactile. He would wrap his arms around me with love. He was funny, witty, and had a love for the pub. I thought he would be my soulmate. He wrote poems just like I did. We could have a life together and it never occurred to me that when he drank, or when I had done something wrong or upset him, he had permission to hit me, or to shout and scream and call me names and then the next day apologise and tearfully say he had never done anything like that before, and was sorry he wouldn't do it again. I always believed him. When finally our relationship ended, and I had the strength to end the violence, I thought I didn't know him at all.
When I was young I was told I was quite sensitive and so words that seemed trivial and meaningless stuck with me. A negative tone, a phrase… all I remember is not feeling good about myself, it consumed what should have been a happy childhood. I often felt alone and afraid, in a family home surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins. We were a real family, but emotionally behind closed doors I felt as apart as the raging oceans that divide our beautiful lands. Something was wrong with me, I didn't quite fit in. But however I tried to push away those family ties, I always went back for love, attention and approval.
I learned the word ‘can't’ very early on, I couldn't pass exams, I couldn't cook, I couldn't find a boyfriend, I couldn't make myself pretty. My brother shut himself in his room, when he heard my tears.
After I studied in my twenties at night school for a degree, I settled with my children and husband. But the concrete cementing the bricks was cracking. I had the same emotional distance from my marriage as I did from my childhood. I tried so hard to make it work, but he could not deal with or understand my emotional needs, and I could not understand that his way of dealing with problems was to drink or to shout at me. He would call me mental, neurotic, or mad or all three. When I couldn't take any more, I shouted back, got angry or hysterical, it was like a tidal wave coming at me, and I had no defences.
I loved my children until my heart would break. I thought by giving him a family, and children, laughter and love he would be the nice, loving husband, I always craved and he wouldn't have to keep saying sorry for what he did to me. I tried so hard to make it work, we had counselling, and he would just rant at the counsellor with all the things that irritated him about me, but he never talked about himself, or things that really mattered, like being in debt. I didn't want it to end. He found a job out of London, he kept finding jobs out of London, in the hope I would move away from my friends and life. He was never happy in one job, and so I thought if I taught, and earned good money, he could give up work and be at home with the kids. Everything I did was for him.
One night he got hold of me whilst I was studying. Something snapped. I didn't want this to go on any longer. I had had enough. I am a fighter, to give up I felt a failure.
After he left, without my emotional outbursts to contend with he became the perfect father. Suddenly I found myself in charge of a broken family, I had to reunite us all as a unit without their dad, with new boundaries and rules – I was doomed for failure. My children were left miserable and angry without their dad to put them to bed at night. I missed the key in the door, when he came home from work, I still do.
On contact times, he would stand outside the home and cuddle them until their hearts and his would break. Then they would call me names, and he would stand there and say nothing.
They went from one parent to another, for a childhood lost in a rampage. Although I got full custody, the pull of an absent parent was too much, and my two daughters went eventually to live with him. They estranged from me and left with me with forever love that I hold inside for them.
I managed to move and start again to rebuild my shattered self-esteem. My ex-husband died and I had hope again for my family that we could rekindle something that was lost. But the baggage of abuse hangs on, as I reproach myself with guilt, sadness, and hurt.
There are no winners. I have managed to find my own identity again, the person I was or wanted to be, the passionate writer, love of the sea and sunshine. I can't get it all back, because my children have dealt with their own pain by starting again, a life without me to share it with.
It's too late now for bickering and arguments. This is how it is for this moment in time. My love for them unbended for all we went through and came out of. I live in hope we will share it again one day.
I don't need lots of money in my life now. I just crave some peaceful solitude without childhood fears creeping back like tendons. The scars will never fully heal but more than that, my children will never feel that love I have for them because their emotions for me their mum, have been taken away in all that heap of abuse.