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Sunday Morning, 6am
30 / 10 / 2014
In February of this year, the nation was shocked by news of the murder of 11 year-old Luke Batty, who was killed by his father Greg Anderson at the Tyabb Cricket Ground (Anderson was shot by Police at the scene of the killing). Since then, despite her unfathomable grief, Luke’s Mother Rosie has become a tireless advocate in poignantly highlighting the realities of living with family violence – in identifying gaps within the system and ways in which we can better protect women and children. It is hoped that the Coronial Inquest which is currently underway in Victoria will heed this great challenge.
For some women, Rosie’s story is not too far removed from the constant sense of fear that they live with – having escaped abusive relationships, and in then having their ex-partner share care, or have access to their children (it is not uncommon for the Family Court to allow abusive partners of women access to their children – the belief being that they pose no risk to the safety of the child/children, if the abuser has not “directly” abused them).
This section of Sheilas – ‘First Person’ – invites readers to ‘step into the shoes’ of contributors. It is designed to provide a safe creative space which allows for the publication of personalised accounts, observations and stories.
This October submission provides just an inkling of what some women experience in the aftermath of surviving abusive relationships – and the subsequent fraught arrangements involving access to children. We are publishing this account under a nom de plume and have changed some details to protect the identity of both the contributor and the children in this story. We thank ‘Bella-Trix’ for sharing her story with us.
I tried his mobile again. It was turned off.
Sunday, 6am, and a greasy light seeps through the edges of my curtains. I have spent the night waiting for these first rays to infiltrate the dark, waiting for the clock to tick over, waiting for a reasonable hour to start calling again. I don’t want to appear neurotic.
I have two children and right at this moment they are not in my care. Not my physical care, anyway. It doesn’t matter where my children are; they are always in my care. I always worry. That’s what mothers do.
But some mothers worry more than most. I’m one of them. I never thought I would be. I believe that kids should climb trees and ride skateboards. They should use knives in the kitchen and walk to school. But there’s one thing that my children do that sometimes petrifies me. They spend time with their father.
I had my babies with a man I loved. He was dynamic, sexy, generous and fun. We must have been together for over a decade before I became pregnant. Yes, I had witnessed some behaviour that I didn’t like. I had seen him knock a man to the ground in a pub fight, but I told him I didn’t like it, and that I wouldn’t stand for him brawling. When he was angry with a colleague he punched his fist through a wall.
But he would never hurt me. When I smashed his new car early in our relationship, he couldn’t have been sweeter. Having been exposed to abusive men in my life, from my childhood onwards, the fact that he didn’t raise his voice, didn’t blame me – that he only wanted to know that I was OK – sadly spoke volumes to me at the time.
Things changed after I had children. We decided I would stay home until the children were at school – we both wanted that. We both believed that having a deep emotional attachment with their mother would provide a great start for our kids. Yet it seemed that voting power in the relationship was intrinsically tied to financial contribution. There was a shift. Because I no longer paid half the mortgage, I no longer got to decide how we would decorate our house, where we would holiday, or even where we would live.
I am a feminist. I always have been. Maybe I didn’t have the words or the networks when I was younger, but I certainly had the ideals. I was never going to stay in a violent relationship. I was never going to be my mother. I adopted the mantra, ‘If a man ever lays a hand on me, I am out of there’.
But I had never said anything about leaving if he punched a hole clean through the bedroom door. Or smashed a spider’s web into the windscreen of the car while I was driving. I had never said anything about leaving if he silenced me or ridiculed me in front of our friends. I had never said anything about leaving if I had to have sex again when I really didn’t want to; when I had changed my mind and told him no.
So I stayed. I stayed until he did lay a hand on me. And then I left.
Our children were three and five. He hadn’t hurt them directly. He was a good dad. He loved them.
It wasn’t long before he took up with a new partner and their own fights began. Frightened, my boys would ask to call me when in their care. Their dad would refuse. My youngest fell and hurt himself, and, upset, asked his stepmother if he could call me. She refused. It happened once, twice, a couple more times.
They were now seven and five and I bought them a phone. I programmed my number in and they took it to their dad’s every second weekend. And the phone calls started.
‘Mum, can you pick us up? I’m scared.’
‘Mum, Dad’s having a party and there are lots of people here and they are all drunk. We locked ourselves in the bedroom because it’s scary. Can you come get us?’
Or the one call I missed, but my voicemail recorded adults screaming. I could hear his new wife threatening to call the police. I can hear them arguing about my children, using my children as pawns in the cycle of violence he has begun anew. And I can hear my children sobbing as they leave the line open, desperate for me to come and get them.
That was another 6am where I had thrown on clothes, grabbed my car keys and headed out the door with fear like rusted metal coating my tongue, choking my throat.
This time we have argued about something. Maybe we have argued about chocolate bars instead of sandwiches in their lunch boxes, or perhaps about where ‘his’ child support goes. Us arguing is not new, but this time cumulative news items play in my head. Darcey Freeman, thrown by her father over the Westgate Bridge to her death; Jai, Tyler and Bailey Farquharson driven by their father into a dam, where they drown; and Luke Batty, murdered at cricket training by his father.
I haven’t heard from my children since he picked them up on Friday after school. Their phone is off, their father’s phone is off, their stepmother’s phone is off.
It’s 6am Sunday morning. My court orders say that he will return the children to me at 6pm tonight, but I no longer trust the print on the paper. I no longer trust that his anger will be directed at me.
Despite years now apart, his anger towards me still floods back intermittently – a flash of lightning, a crack of thunder, a plate smashed against the wall near my head, all fueling the fear. It never dissipates. It’s 6am and my rational mind is punctuated by fear. I fear him hurting our children as a means to hurt me.
The odds are incredibly low, I know. Not every angry divorced dad kills his kids. The vast majority don’t ever come remotely close. But how does a woman know whether her kids’ father will be one of those who kill? Rosie Batty, Cindy Gambino, Peta Barnes. Their names, and their children’s names, are etched in my mind, ticking over, at this early dawn hour.
It’s 6:30am and I ring their doorbell. The house is dark. Acid bites at my stomach, and claws its way to my mouth. I wait, then ring again, leaning a little longer on the bell, leaving a smear of fear-sweat on the plastic casing. It’s now almost 40 hours since I have seen or heard from them, and again, all contact numbers are switched off. I pull my phone from my pocket, tap in 000 but don’t press the call button. One more deep breath and I try the doorbell one last time.
Little footsteps hurry towards the door. Through a side panel of glass I see a figure reach on tippy-toes for the lock. A halo of wild black slept-in curls greets me before my son hurls himself into my arms.
I breathe his scent deeply as I nestle him against my shaking body.
In a moment I will face a man angry at being woken, angry at having his ex wife on his door step during his time with his children. In a moment I will become the neurotic mother, an object worthy of ridicule. And I will wear the label, if not gladly, with relief.
The words of my excited son’s chatter don’t register. Instead, I am listening to my heartbeat slowing down – keeping time with the steady drum of my son’s.
For support services, check out the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria’s website HERE – providing contacts state by state, and nationally.