By Tracy Cerff
Too often we hear it said that a woman should ‘just leave’ a violent relationship. It is far easier said than done. Hindsight is a gift not afforded to all of us. The majority of assaults and deaths of women in domestic violence crimes have been committed after they have left the relationship. The Australian Institute of Criminology put these horrendous crimes between 80-100 women each year, saying the majority of them were being killed in their own homes. I remember clearly the day I ended my relationship with a former partner and how difficult and almost deadly it was.
As usual he took me in through the back entrance and insisted I sit down, politely pulling out a kitchen chair for me from the large dining table which seemed odd even then, as I had never seen anyone in the home to use it. I remember the warmth of the sun sneaking its way in the backdoor. To my dismay, but relief, he left it slightly open. It was the only comfort amongst the coldness I felt and the echoing of his voice inside my head.
We reached his home, the sun shining hot on the heavy, heritage bricks. He invited me into the house, in his ‘ordering voice’, to come inside for one last drink together. I wanted to run a thousand miles. I followed him in knowing I had to make it a quick stop or perhaps I wouldn’t be leaving at all.
Although we had just had a fiery argument in the car before arriving, he was eerily calm now and had begun to peel a mango with a sharp kitchen knife, which I’m sure I stared at for too long. He was remarkably back in his happy space again – he often changed his emotions without notice. Me however, I was stiff with fear as I now dreaded being in his presence, in his house – in his life.
From the other side of the room, while I silently watched him peel his mango, he tried to coax me to share it with him – how kind, I sarcastically thought. One mouthful and I would have physically puked. I so wanted to hide the fear I could sense he detected in me as he would see it as his prize, a triumph. I meekly declined his offer.
Deciding to now play a hero role, he came and lifted me from my pedestal – my place where he put me at the table. As he stood me up he mockingly snickered that I should lighten up and give him a hug. I stared at the shadow cast from us both open the half opened door. That doorway that gave me hope – with the warmth of the sun and openness to the outside world.
The shadow told a different story. Not one of a loving embrace for sure, rather a thrilling scene from a movie where we were the main actors. I could see the portrait of us both entwined, with the knife in his tight clenched hand against my skin. I was so frozen in fear that I couldn’t feel the actual knife itself. I knew I needed out or this was it.
With whatever scrap of strength I could summons, I hugged him as he wished and shakily lied, “I really have to get going or I’ll be late for my appointment and I don’t want them calling me”. Without hesitation, I pulled away from his grasp and grabbed my bag off the side of the chair praying it wouldn’t get caught. I don’t know why he allowed me to go, but I just knew to keep going – I did what I had to do to survive and it worked.
At my appointment I must have still been as white as a back-washed wall, as the Doctor was very concerned about my anxiousness, offering me the details of a counsellor near to my home. I never shared a word to him of the incident. I did however gratefully accept the details. I was one of the lucky ones, so many are not as fortunate.
My experiences have led me to a deeper understanding of the vast complications that women face when they find themselves in a similar situation. Unfortunately my story is not unique. It is far too common and made even more complex when there are children involved and when women don’t have the means or funds to safely leave the situation. My work in counselling and education opens doors for me to empower women, men and young people to plan their future, a future without violence and control at their hands of another.