Our story began in a quiet, two bedroom terraced house. The second bedroom was small enough to be mistaken for a cupboard,and the kitchen wasn’t much better, but it was home to us, a family of three, consisting of me, my partner and my four year old daughter.
Of course we had the usual issues; the sleep deprivation that comes with having a small human in the house, the rent that is always just a bit out of budget and the noisy neighbors. Things were never perfect, but in my mind they didn’t have to be. They could have been worse, and at the time I thought that we were doing very well for a young family with minimal support and a shoestring budget. I was happy. My daughter was happy. I thought that my partner was happy.
Once a fortnight we would go out to eat at a nice restaurant, an experience I had missed out on until this point, and enjoyed twice as much as your average adult. My daughter attended a private nursery three times a week, allowing me the time to clean the house top to bottom – something I felt I owed to my little family – and press my partner’s shirts for work. We saw his family and my family regularly, and were never short of something to be getting on with. The barbecues and birthday meals were a regular occurrence, and I truly felt that our two families had merged into one. I had never been happier, which is why when my partner proposed on our four year anniversary, I gleefully accepted.
With hindsight, I think the fact that things were going so (seemingly) well makes what happened next even more brutal. We had made plans and discussed dreams; we had talked about getting married and discussed trying for another child in the near future. And then, in the space of one warm summer’s evening, our beautiful and happy family was ripped apart.
I had spent the day with my soon-to-be mother-in-law, and my daughter, trawling around an outlet mall. It was a nice day, not just because of the sun and general good mood, but because I had the freedom to be there. The ability to spend a day doing whatever I pleased was something I had not yet become accustomed to, after years of endless commitments on top of studies and work, and I took full advantage of the opportunity. I even bought myself a gorgeous scented candle, the expensive type, as a little treat. I had
hoped to light it when I got home and relax to it’s ‘Beach Holiday’ scent, waiting on my partner getting home from work. I had no such luck.
The house was cool compared to the mid-summer heat, and after getting my daughter ready for bed in her new, slightly-over-sized and utterly adorable pajamas, I sat down on her bed to read her a story. Just before I started, I asked if she had enjoyed our day out. Nothing could have prepared me for her response. She told me that she had, and followed it up just as casually with a full disclosure that my partner – the man I had agreed to marry, to have more children with – had been sexually abusing her at night.
I leaned over the edge of her bed, waiting for the vomit that had crept up my throat, feeling the room spin and the ground fall away as the sickening thought sunk in.
Her little voice drew my attention momentarily, as she asked me, “Mummy, why is your face like that?” she had absolutely no idea that my contorted expression was that of sheer horror, and no idea that her admission had caused it. I thought about leaving her, finding him. Killing him. Saner thoughts prevailed as I read my calm, seemingly-happy child a story, asking gentle questions every few pages about what he had done. By the time I had tucked her in there was no doubt in my mind that she was telling the truth. I staggered from the room and threw up, until there was nothing but bile coming out. I still retched. I headed for the stairs, trying to understand why I couldn’t make a sound. A scream, a cry, anything would have helped, but instead my stomach continued to silently empty it’s contents while my whole body shook.
I tried to make sense of the information one more time, connecting dots from the previous week. No wonder he had been so angry when she spat food out at the table. No wonder he had been so considerate lately, offering to put her to bed after a long day at work.
It all made sense now, as hindsight repeatedly kicked me in the stomach.
I confronted him when he got home, some tiny part of me praying that there would be some logical explanation, some sort of misunderstanding on my part. Of course, there was not. He lied through gritted teeth. He always was a terrible liar. I got to watch the panic rise in him, the same panic I had felt at hearing my daughter’s words, but out of concern for himself and not her. He tried to lay blame, to make excuses.
Then, having been told that both the police and social services were on their way, and noticing that I had taken the door keys from both doors, trapping him, he confessed. It’s difficult to even recall the moment; all I really remember is sinking to the floor. My knees had given out through sheer anxiety, and as I looked up at the man pleading with me not to have him sent to prison, begging me to stop calling him a monster, I spotted the kitchen knife lying on the counter behind him.
I could have grabbed it. I wanted to; to stab him repeatedly, slit his throat and watch him bleed out on my kitchen floor, to hurt him just the way he had hurt my daughter. The words “self defense” flashed across my vision and I wondered if it was plausible, but before I did anything irrational he spoke. “I can’t go to prison,” he whispered, pleading, sheer terror in his voice. I knew then that it would be better to send him down, to let him face the only thing that I had ever seen him afraid of, and walk away with no blood on my hands.
So that is exactly what I did.