Living on a knife edge, life and death. Playing roulette with my children’s lives, holding life in the balance. Risks, judgements. Dead or alive, one moment to the next.
And in his death what glory? What utter travesty.
I feel injustice as I re-live memories, feel aggrieved that his life has been lauded yet my knife edge struggle to keep safe us safe and alive, has been neglected. Ignored. Unheard. And yet it was I who pieced together the story of his life, gathered and collected memories, jokes, history and pieced them together to develop a happy, half representation of a person, the good side, the fun side, the only one that others want to hear.
Perhaps it was his brother who brought some of this up for me. His brother, who quipped on the morning of his funeral, out of the blue, a comment about another wife. Yeah he laughed, she won’t be at the funeral, many the time she cried for help, I came round once and he had her by her neck to the wall, ghurka knife to her throat and she calling out for help. I was not alone. Women in violence never are. Yet we are always alone.
I hear him scrumpling newspaper, he cracks sticks, he is at the bottom of the stairs. He strikes a match and I smell the sulphur then smoke, hear the flames as the paper takes and the sticks begin to crackle. My babies sleep at one side of the stairwell, our bedroom is on the other. If I move, take action, go to him, I risk enraging him further. Which is more dangerous, him or this fire that is not yet really alight? If I don’t take action, my children might die. How can I get to them, get us all out safely if he lets it burn. He won’t, will he? Do I lie still, pretend I don’t know what he is doing? Wait. Wait and trust that he comes to his senses. Trust that he will put it out. He won’t burn us down, will he? But what if he does?
Another night, another rant. I care more for my babies, he says, than I do him. Threatening to rape Carla, going to her bedroom where she lies sleeping, Nicola in bed with me. I hear him tell her what he was going to do to her, under three years old. He wouldn’t, would he? Surely not. But what if he does? Not now, I am here, ready to protect, listening and judging if I must go, but I call his bluff and he leaves her room, goes downstairs. But at what risk? And what about when I am not here? Is he for real?
How much can a person take? This is not supposed to be the life of a mother and I not yet thirty.
So many decisions, so many moments, so much fear and indecision. Banging on walls to seek help from a neighbour. Answering the phone to find it’s him, in the phone box over the road, he tells me my movements over the last few hours, tells how he has been watching lights as I have moved from room to room. Outside, watching in the dark, waiting for the right moment to kill us.
Carnival day, that very first carnival when I was with him and also the day I left him for the first time. Him repeatedly bashing, hitting me with the empty Pernod bottle as I lay huddled and weeping, just seventeen years old. I left him but the arguments, unhappiness and violence of my childhood home was such that later, I returned. Nowhere else to live. Carnival day. A day that would become full of alcohol fuelled violence, year on year.
Carnival day, the year after we parted, he arrested, late evening, drunken driving. Later, he boasted about telling police it was lucky they caught him, for he was on his way to kill us all. All of his swords and knives had been in his car. If he couldn’t have us, he said, nobody would.
I tried to protect my growing children from as much of this as I could, that they may love him and know him for his other self. His doctor and the police said it was not safe for him to be with them. They were wrong, I thought. I believed he needed to continue to bond with them, to love them and let them love him. They needed him too. I trusted I knew him, but I doubted.
He didn’t want to see them, I thought he needed to. I thought they needed contact with his large extended family. In the early days, I took them to his mothers house, left them for two hours on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes, he arrived later to see them, sometimes he did not. Once, he was there before me, flew across the room, attacked me in front of the girls, head butted me across the floor to the door.
I trusted that I knew him better, that the girls would be safe. Just go, his mother said, they will be safe with me. I trusted that he would not harm them but trust didn’t feel so good as I drove away weeping buckets of tears. I wanted my children to come after me, to want to be with me, to cuddle my hurt. Tears of fear, tears of doubt in myself and the judgements I was making. Tears for the risk I was taking with my children’s lives, tears of waiting, tears driving round and around, unable to settle until it was time for me to collect them again, to hold them safely to me and love them once more.
I had to trust that it was only about me and that he would not destroy the jewels we had brought into the world. It was hard and lonely to leave them, leave them in the knowledge that in doing so I risked their lives, that their deaths could be in my own hands.
I could not hate but I lived in fear. I pitied his confusion, blamed myself, as women do. He said I had taken him from one world, shown him another and now he was lost, not knowing who he was, not wanting to go back but unable to move forward.
I felt guilt, blame, it must be my fault. I put it to one side and got on with living, put physical distance between us, built a new life.
Yet nobody knows, nobody cares, nobody acknowledged my pain.
Over the years I have shared glimpses, but my daughters do not want to know. I alone hold the loneliness of the knife edge decisions I had to make, and the toll it has taken on me. Move on, forget, try to grow.
I grieve my lost life. Pain remains.
I need my children, now mothers, to hear me.
Maybe in his death it is time for truth. Time to be heard. Time to heal.