I remember when you had aspirations; your laughter lit up a room and you lived with no worries or fear. You wanted to be a teacher, telling us about the courses you were applying for and your wide circle of friends. So happy, so carefree.
Eventually, we heard less and less from you. We invited you round for tea; you declined, we thought you were busy. We thought we were old and you had your life to lead. We now know that bright bubbly young woman was slipping away.
The day you burst through the door, a bin bag full of clothes in hand and out of breath, is one I can’t get out of my mind. I remember your words: “I’ve had enough, I just ran.” I told you to calm down but you were shaking. A panicked conversation took place: “Are you OK? What’s happened? Where are the kids?”
You’d made sure they were safe.
You showed me the marks he had made. The scratches and handprints on your neck where he had gripped you. The bruises on your back and legs where he had kicked you.
None on your face.
I suppose he thought he was being smart.
You passed it off with comments like, “he was just angry” or “you can’t pick who you fall in love with”.
I told you to call the police. That’s when I saw the fear in your face. You said I didn’t know what he was capable of. This was the start of lots of lengthy conversations.
After each outburst, he demanded sex – that’s why you ran. I told you that was rape. Again, you made excuses for him, saying you didn’t fight back. You didn’t say no; you just lay there. I’m sorry sweetheart, you were raped.
Then your phone started pinging with apologies and more promises that it would never happen again. Nothing I said was going in. You only heard him.
We promised we wouldn’t report it without your say so. We needed your trust; you said you would lie and never speak to us again. We needed that contact. We needed to know you were safe. All you allowed us to do was take pictures of your bruises in case you ever changed your mind. I wept as you showed me one after another. You were adamant that you would never report him as it was too dangerous and you would leave him of your own accord. I feared he would never let this happen.
You stayed the night. I couldn’t sleep; thoughts ran through my mind of what you had been through. I wondered whether I had done the right thing by not reporting it. Would you forgive me if I did it anyway, or would you run back to him and never return for help?
You went back and told me he had changed, but I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until months later that you asked for help again. You wanted to report him. I couldn’t have been prouder. I rang the police before you could change your mind and they arranged for someone to come round later in the week to take a statement.
You were being bombarded with text messages and calls. First with apologies, then threats. You were so strong not to reply, not to get sucked in again.
On the day the police were due to arrive, I reassured you that I’d be there to hold your hand. You were so scared that no one would believe you and that he would follow through with his threats.
Before the police could arrive, you saw him on the drive and hid in pure fear. I locked us both in the bathroom while dialling 999. As he tried to break in, this overwhelming sense of protectiveness came over me. There was no way I was going to let him harm you any more. Luckily, the police turned up but it was the longest nine minutes of my life.
I remember how scared you were, even once he was on remand. I made a promise that I would be with you every step of the way. I was scared that you might give up and not see it though, but you did. You bravely gave evidence and he was sentenced to more than five years in prison. I was so proud of the strength you showed throughout.
The sentence was bittersweet; the damage had been done. You are not the same person. You lost your home, your children and your self-worth. You can get a new home, your children are safe with me and grandad, and you have to believe you are worthy.
You now have to fight with the demons in your own head, something I wish I could fight for you. The little ones ask after you and we miss the bubbly young woman you were destined to be, full of hopes and dreams.
Please darling girl, don’t let the demons win.