6 min read

The Beginning of the End

The Beginning of the End

On the 1st of June 2021, I waited anxiously as we celebrated my stepson *Jude's 15th birthday.  I pushed a steak around my plate with absolutely no appetite to eat. *Poppy, my six-month-old, was nestled in the crook of my arm, sleeping soundly.  I gazed at my youngest child and I wondered if I would ever see my eldest again after this meal.

A lump formed in my throat as I encouraged my middle child, 3-year-old Florence to eat up quietly but quickly and bit back tears.  I could tell her Father, *Nick, was starting to get agitated, and I desperately wanted to leave before he erupted.  At the same time I didn't want to go anywhere.  Staying at that table was the only way to keep my family whole; it was the glue binding my children together one last time.

At first glance, anyone would have thought we were the perfect family.  An older man with a younger 'wife', two beautiful baby girls and a strapping teenage boy.  All of us were well polished, not a hair out of place, but scratch the surface, and it was all a facade.

As we ate, I made small talk with Jude whilst Nick tried to play footsie with me under the table; it made my stomach knot.  By this point, we had been living separately for almost two years, and I was doing everything I could to let him down gently while keeping my babies safe.  But it wasn't working.  At all.

I had hoped he would have become bored and met someone else by now.  Then I thought he would leave me and the children alone, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  The fact that he had me trapped like this was something he enjoyed immensely.  In retrospect, it wasn't a grand master plan, as it provided him with the best of both worlds: a bachelor's life ( I can only imagine what he got up to) and a family veneer to hide behind whenever it suited him.

As we wrapped up the meal and Jude reluctantly blew out his candles, Florence innocently asked if she could go to the park to play with him afterwards.  My breath caught in my chest; Jude and I exchanged knowing looks, silently apologising to each other for not knowing what to say or do next.

Before I could come up with a plausible excuse, Nick decided for me.  "Yes, you can, and you'll come in Daddy's van".  He cut me a look that told me I wouldn't argue or it would just make things worse.  I kept my smile intact but felt like I couldn't breathe.  Flo looked at me pleadingly, worry and confusion were etched all over her face.  At three, she already knew she had misstepped.  What choice did I have but to pretend everything was fine?

I followed Nick to his van, Flo's hand held tightly in mine.  "Mummy will see you at the park, okay, Flo?" I told her.  I could tell it really wasn't okay, but she knew better than to protest and resignedly, she let me buckle her in.

Nick slammed the door shut and smirked at me.  "Don't worry.  I'm not going to hurt her".  I stood stunned as he walked around the van and got in.  Had I just heard him correctly?  Snapping back to reality, I hurried back to my car; I still had to get Poppy sorted, and I didn't want to lose them on the way to the park.  Nick would have loved nothing more than for me to spend hours searching for them, worried out of my mind.

I followed behind them, trying not to lose them along the way, my heart beating out of my chest.  Jude had homework, so Nick pulled over at the bus stop to let him out.  Thankfully this gave me time to catch up.  'I love you', I told the back of his head as he ambled away, waving half-heartedly over his shoulder.  I hoped somewhere, somehow, he heard me.

I had no choice but to keep it together.  I couldn't let Nick suspect anything was amiss.  Tears were dangerous, especially now.  I sighed in relief as he pulled into the park and drove in next to him.  As I unbuckled Poppy from her car seat, I felt him approaching from behind and instantly knew what was coming.  He grabbed me between my legs, hard and pushed his crotch up against me whilst Flo stood looking on nearby.

I jumped and fought my body's natural urge to recoil.  Straightening up with Poppy in my arms, I ignored what had happened and took Flo by the hand to reassure her that Mummy was here now and headed for the swings.  I had learned long ago that numbing out was the best way to cope with it, to cope with Nick in general.  I realise now that my body was in a functional freeze response, my nervous system's defence against danger, and it was trying to keep me safe.

Nick snickered at my non-reaction, "Well, you shouldn't have worn that sexy top for me at lunch, should you?  You knew exactly what you were doing wearing that top".  I was used to this madness.  I'd worn jeans and a long-sleeved top from Next, I couldn't have looked more like a worn-out Mum if I had tried, but I giggled coyly along as expected.

I can't remember much about being at the swings that day, there are whole periods of my life I now cannot recall due to short-term memory loss caused by trauma, but I do remember leaving.  In the car park, Nick held me roughly by the shoulders and kissed me hard on the mouth; I kissed him back and told him I loved him.  It was the only way to ensure that he would let us leave, and if I am honest, despite everything, a part of me still did love him, and that part needed to say goodbye.

I reassured him we would see him when we got home.  I can still feel his stubble rough against my cheek in the warm October rain.  As full of fear, shame, guilt and heartbreak, I walked away from life as we knew it.

Not daring to look back, shaking, I packed the girls into the car and put 365 Disney stories on the stereo to drown out my sobs.  Then I let the air out of my lungs, the damn broke, and the tears finally came as we drove away.

When I think back to that day, I still feel so conflicted.  Sometimes I want to scream at that woman; she feels like someone else.  I bearly recognise her.  I am angry, sad, and ashamed that she, that I, didn't have the strength to leave before then.  That she endured as much as she did, for as long as she did.  I don't understand why she couldn't see how brutal and broken Nick was from the start.  Why was loving him so much more important than loving herself?  Why did she ignore the signs, which were honestly there from the beginning?  At the same time, I want to hold her and tell her she didn't deserve what she went through and how courageous she was.  We survived because she jumped before she knew a net would appear.

For so long, I had wanted the problem to be "me" because then I could fix it and keep our family together, but you can't cure a *personality disorder.  At the time, I had no idea what I was dealing with, and the longer I stayed, the more of myself I lost trying to be who and what he wanted.

For over 12 years, Nick had groomed me so thoroughly my life had become wholly enmeshed with his.  Ultimately by the time we left, I was utterly at his mercy.  I had turned from being an independent 24-year-old with a high-powered career in PR, into a shell of myself whose sole purpose in life was protecting our children from his unpredictable behaviour by any means necessary.

When I finally realised I had no choice but to leave Nick for our collective safety, I couldn't see a way out that didn't include destitution, possibly sharing my children with a monster or both.  It entrapped me mentally for years, and it was all I could think about the further away we got.  Had I made the right choice?  Or had I put my babies at more risk by leaving?  Would he fight me for custody?  Had I done enough to protect them?  What was going to happen to Jude now?  Would he follow us?

That first night was spent in a damp caravan on the Cornish coast, with me sat up against the door with a butcher's knife, holding my breath whilst my babies slept.  I am still holding my breath today as we navigate this new life as a trio and I, as a single mother of two beautiful little girls, whilst learning how to heal.

For me, writing has always been a way to purge.  To release much of what I pushed down deep to survive.  It has been so much easier to tell my story to a computer than anyone "real", but I have realised it is essential that I share it as abuse thrives in silence.  I hope that doing so will inspire those recovering from abuse to keep going.  Those still living in the fog to believe in a better day.  Trust me, you are not crazy, they are abusing you, and I believe you.  And ultimately, to demonstrate why not all abuse is physical and we don't simply "just" leave.

*Iris.  X

*Names have been changed to protect identities

*To date, Nick has no official personality disorder diagnosis as far as I am aware