Welcome to my story. My journey through a life less ordinary. A life which has shaped me into who I am today. From a little girl and through the years growing into a woman, I have taken time to reflect back upon that journey and redefine the next one. Taking lessons from the past and throwing light into dark corners, I speak up for others who can’t. This story was originally published on my website as a series of posts, however, I have compiled them all here chronologically. Windows into my heart, I opened each one as I wrote a chapter in a single sitting. Raw, unedited, setting me completely and utterly free.
Each of us has a story, often many stories. It is my hope that by sharing mine, I can encourage you to remember that. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. If I had one message for you to take away after reading this, it would be to always try to find empathy and understanding that what you see on the surface, is not always all there is to it.
Taking Back The Night
Everyone has a story, everyone has a secret. As a writer, this both intrigues and inspires me, yet the one story I never know if I’ll have the courage to tell in full is my own. Maybe one day. I tried writing down one single memory, a moment in time that had a profound effect on me, yet that one single memory is enough to leave me shaken. One day maybe I will because more people need to speak up. Someone needs to open all the closets and expose the secrets that are often all around us. I’m passionate about women’s rights and unburdening victims of domestic violence and child abuse and a zero tolerance for bullying. Not just because I believe in those causes, but because I’ve lived through them. 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. I have three children and those statistics terrify me. And it’ll be over my dead body that history ever repeats itself. The past is there to be learnt from, not run from. I hope that I have learnt enough so that my children can have the one thing I longed for – a childhood – safe, secure and free. Nobody knew. I never told. This is me… almost telling.
Taking Back The Night
I can still hear my heart pounding, thumping so loudly in my chest, I was sure he’d know I was awake. Willing my eyes to close, I lay there, completely unable to move, my body feeling like a lead weight as I pushed myself down deeper and deeper silently praying he wouldn’t see me.
One slow breath. Then another. Quietly, softly, so as not to disturb him. The seconds ticked past slowly despite the thoughts in my head racing, replaying the image I had just seen.
Was this real? Had the closet actually just opened a few metres from my bed a shadow slipped out? Steadying my breath, my chest tightening from my attempts to control every sound. This was no nightmare.
There was a man in my room and he was less than a metre from me leaning next to my mother, her breathing still even, still slow and relaxed. Fast asleep. He had not yet woken her.
He began to rifle through the bags next to our bed, which had all been neatly laid out, all packed ready for our flight home only hours away. Rustling through the papers, taking care not to wake her, he began to put items into his pockets.
WAKE UP, PLEASE SOMEONE WAKE UP! I can’t move. Frozen to my bed, I will her with every breath, every beat of my heart to wake and yet at the same time, terrified that she will.
DAD! He’ll hear me… I begin to tap gently on the wall next to me as he lay in the other room. My eyes wide and unblinking as I keep them fixed on the shadow next to my bed. Tap, tap, tap. God –please wake up! Tap, tap….
The shadow jumped. My mother’s eyes sprang open and taking just a split second to realize that a man stood between her and I she leapt up, instinct taking over every rational thought.
“Who are you, what are you doing here! Are you taking my things? Empty your pockets now. You give that back to me!” The man took a step back, uncertain of his next move.
The seconds ticketed by slowly as she made her demands again, anger clearly evident in her voice. I began to tap again – tap, tap… Dad! Please!
He began to do as she asked, following her lead, seemingly unsure and taken off guard at this unexpected turn of events.
“Empty your other pocket – go on!” She gestured at his other side and he continued to obey, pulling out a small brown wallet. “Give it to me!”
No, he shook his head. Not speaking, yet somehow understanding and obeying, he took another step backwards and at that moment, he took his chance and fled.
“HENRY – THERE’S A MAN IN MY ROOM, HENRY, THERE’S A MAN IN MY ROOM!!!”
“DAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed, the sounds that had felt stuck in my throat only seconds earlier, formed quickly and let loose in a panicked wail. “DADDY!”
I can hear people starting to run towards us from all around. People waking and realizing that there was an intruder in our midst.
Commotion breaks out next door, my father, realizing the danger we were in and adrenaline flooding his body, springs into action, giving chase behind my mother, who, in her pink flannelette pyjamas has already taken off after our intruder.
I stood there alone, but not for long as people began to flood the hall, trying to understand what was going on. The running and yelling is halted suddenly by a loud crashing sound as the heavy boundary security gates swing shut behind the man who disappears into the darkness of the night, into the safety of the jungle at the very top of a mountain in Hong Kong with his accomplice.
They were gone and it was over. I was safe. Or so I thought. At only ten years old, I’d received a sudden awakening from the innocence of my childhood.
An awakening which had only just begun.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall
It’s right there, on their website under Our Beliefs. “The sinfulness and guilt of all mankind, rendering them subject to God’s wrath and condemnation”.
One thing I will say is that they lived up to their own expectations.
This is one experience I don’t truly understand, even as an adult.
Gone was the bookish girl, living with her head in the Faraway Tree, devouring the words of Enid Blyton and dreaming of being a veterinarian. Replaced with doubt, fear, anger and the realization that there are many who will happily abuse their positions of power.
I started to view those around me with caution. All would not always be as it would seem and I learnt very quickly how to perform, to hide the real me, grow a tougher outer skin and ‘fit in’ as best I could.
In the last few years, I had an opportunity to confront one of those I mention here. Instead of providing the resolution I thought that would bring, it only stirred up more bitterness inside of me. Confrontation doesn’t always provide the outcome you hope for… but I’m still glad I spoke up.
With my family’s blessing I start to write, to talk about what happened during a decade of my life. Not because I think that my story is unique, but because I know it is not. There is much worse out there than the memories I keep. I will not bare it all. I don’t need to. I’ll say what I feel needs to be said.
Silence is what lets those who abuse power continue to do so. There are a million lessons I take from this memory but perhaps the most prevalent is that not all who carry a title such as teacher, policeman, priest, a title with the safety and authority it implies, deserve to do so.
*These memories for me are like an advent calendar. Windows that I can open, press rewind and close again. I simply sit and type what I remember as it was. Heavily edited, these are the moments that I believe may be worth sharing.
*At no time in my life, have I ever suffered from any type of eating disorder. Anorexia and Bulimia are serious life-threatening conditions that should not be taken lightly. I believe in empowering other women – the skinny minni’s, the voluptuous hunnis and every other shape that falls in between. Your ideal weight is what comes when you’re healthy. There is no such thing as a ‘real woman’, if being implied that one size fits all. That saying is not a badge of honour, rather it’s just a flag waved as part of a perceived competition driven by insecurity. A ‘real woman’ is simply someone who is happy, healthy and active. Regardless of the size of her knickers.
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
This wasn’t the first time I’d sat with a smile plastered on my face, my expression locked into the ‘correct’ mode indicating that I was listening, yet pretending I was in a place far, far away.
“No, I’m sure, 100% she’s fine. She’s just tiny for her age”. God how I hated those words. Anorexia. Bulimia. I knew exactly what they were, everyone knew. But why were they being discussed with me?
If I wasn’t so humiliated and angry, it would have been laughable. Hysterical. But the damage had been done and there was nothing I could do to reverse it.
Here I sat. Again. Words sounding like they were underwater all around me as I tried to drown them out, my attempts to convince myself that I was anywhere but here being mistaken for arrogance. Far from arrogant, I just wanted to be left alone.
My mother kept darting her eyes at me, concern evident on her face. As she and the doctor spoke at length, dissecting every aspect of my body image, I realized I was beginning to get used to people treating me as if I wasn’t there.
I watched her face begin to darken. I knew she was realising the bullshit story she’d been hand fed, the same story everyone else had been, though thankfully, she wasn’t buying it. Yes – Get angry. Fight for me. Don’t let them get away with this!
“That’s it! I’ve had it! This is just not happening anymore…!” She was furious. For a split second, relief began to flood through me. But as I thought about what I had to face back there, dread quickly crept back in.
No-one cared about the truth. I knew that from day one.
Eleven years old. My first trip away from home on a Year 7 trip to Sydney and Canberra, what was meant to be the pinnacle of my primary school years had been anything but.
It began with butter. As stupid as that sounds. It began with a big slab of fat, greasy, vomit inducing butter. I’d never eaten it. I’d never been a huge dairy fan – milk, butter, cream… just the smell of it could make me gag.
The first stop across the Nullarbor, they handed me a sandwich packed into a sweaty plastic wrap, slathered thick with butter.
I didn’t say anything. I just put the sandwich to the side and munched on my apple. Mum had packed me a whole bunch of goodies anyway so if I got hungry, I could just start on those.
She sat next to me. “What’s wrong with your sandwich?”. I blushed. Shit…
“Ahhhh – I can’t really eat that, I’m not really able to eat butter”. I just kept looking at the ground.
“Are you allergic?”
“Then I need you to eat it”.
I started to sweat and just kept looking at the floor. Please just go away. I did try to explain, blushing, sweating, stammering while all eyes were on me. I knew I had no choice.
My throat gagging and stomach clenching, I did as she asked. After this, I’ll just try to lie low. Get them to leave me alone.
“Rebecca, we need to see you”. What had I done now?
“It’s come to our attention that you suffer from Bulimia”. You’re kidding right? Don’t people who have bulimia throw up? Why would they think that?
“I, no, I, um, I…”
“We need you to go to your room, pack your bag, bring everything in here”. Was I going home?
“These snacks, you can’t have them. We are here to help you. We’ve spoken to your parents and they’re just as worried as we are. You’ll be chaperoned from here. You’re not able to stay in the room with your friends, you’ll sleep on the floor in our room…”
What? Why? Can they do that? This was a joke right? “No..I… but my mum gave me those…”
“REBECCA!!!” My eyes dropped to the floor. Just do as they say. Mum and Dad know. They know about this… I have to speak to them, oh my God, they must be worried sick.
I wake up on the floor the next morning and only one of them is there. I must be late, I feel so confused. Maybe this can all be sorted out today, we’re off to the Blue Mountains to see the snow. Afterwards… it’ll be ok.
Down to breakfast, I go to sit with my friends. “Rebecca, no, over here. You sit here with us”. My friends look at me confused and I long for the safety of being alone with them, to talk it over and figure it out. But they won’t let me out of their sight.
I go back to get my bag and gather my things for the day. “Sorry, Rebecca, you’re not going, you have to stay back here”. I start to feel fury rise up inside – you can’t do this you bitch, my Mum and Dad paid for this trip! “I…” They both look up at me, my eyes drop back down to the floor. I spend an awful lot of time waiting in their room… waiting…
Everyone is getting ready to go. Two of my friends grab me in the hallway – “Do you actually really have a disease? What is it, How did you get it, Are you sick?”
What the actual hell? No!
I’d missed a ‘special meeting’. Everyone had been informed of my condition, if I vomited, they were to inform the teachers straight away.
I begged the ground to swallow me up. Or to wake up, see my mum.. anything!
Diseased. Attention-seeker. Bull-shitter. Messed-up. I had been well and truly labeled and separated from the herd.
I was allowed to call home, but not alone. Never alone. They spoke first. “She’s in good hands and when we got home, we can get her anorexia under control”.
I jumped, looked up – ANOREXIA!
I clearly wasn’t bulimic, no, they can’t get anyone to come forward to say I was vomiting so instead, just replace it with anorexia! A completely different fabricated diagnosis.
My discomfort and shyness started to be replaced with pure hatred for these people. But one word and they’d send me home. And I couldn’t go home.
My parents had spent every dollar they had to get me onto this trip and it had been made clear to us before departure that should we need to return unexpectedly, we’d be flown home at a personal expense. They could never afford it. I couldn’t do it to them. So I just put up and shut up.
I knew what they’d done to my brother. I wasn’t like him. I had tried so hard to be good, to be perfect, yet they’d had it in for me from the start. And my family. Why.. I only had the reasons my immature mind could imagine. This wasn’t from a place of love, it wasn’t from concern. This was just messed up.
Maybe it was the fact that following one ‘incident’, after finding out, my Dad had gone door to door through the school looking for the teacher responsible, found him and chased him through the school grounds to the cheers all the students.
Good thing he ran fast, my Dad would have beaten the crap out of him if he’d gotten him. But nothing could come of it, they protected their own.
They hated us and at every opportunity had made it very clear to me that the apple never fell far from the tree.
“I’m fine mum” They glared at me. “I’ll… um… we’ll get help when I come back home. I love you”. I couldn’t stand the pain I heard in her voice. Fury grew inside of me. But the damage was done. I could hate these people all I wanted to but I could not change what everyone thought of me now.
The next week and a half was a blur. I kept my mouth shut and did exactly as I was told. Every moment, every bite of food, every moment I slept, every trip to the toilet was watched. “No… leave the door open”. All privacy was removed. And every shred of immature dignity along with it.
I hated these people more than anything. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. Humiliated, degraded and frightened, yet shaking with anger inside, I just went through every day doing my best not to make a fuss.
Returning to Perth, the rumours flew. How could I explain what had happened when I didn’t even understand it myself.
One day I had enough. Close to the end of the school year, I turned and walked out. And I never went back.
About a year later, we had a phone call. My parents spoke at length and then let me know that there had been an offer to make a public apology in front of the school and clear the air. You. Are. Kidding.
I was already in a new school, far, far removed from what had taken place the previous year and the rage bubbled up once more.
“They can go and fuck themselves”.
I stared my parents down, defiant, ready to be grounded or even slapped for my uncharacteristic outburst, but instead, they just stood there for a moment, looking at me, then smiled, turned and went back out to make the call.
And The Truth Shall Set You Free
The silence is deafening. Even now, though there is so much laughter, joy and chatter all around me, the silence can engulf me, consuming my every thought if there is something threatening to scratch through the surface.
A series of harsh realities juxtaposed against a backdrop of normalcy, my life has been anything but. And though this is not where I sit now, this is not who I am, it is the silence that keeps me there.
We are told to move on. We are told that we are strong. We will soldier on. We will not let it define us, nor will we allow ‘them’ to win. By walking away, living our lives, we defeat them. But though we are strong, we are often still silent. It is that silence, despite all of its good intentions, that is the very weakness allowing these stories to continue. Generation after generation, history is repeated.
A young girl or boy has just been violated in some way. Walk next to her, watch her. What does she do? How on earth does she summon the strength to speak up and face reality. To speak the words that she can barely process as thoughts. Action is the last thing she will want. She just wants it to go away. To stop. To not be real. To pretend.
And so the silence begins. The know it and they rely on it.
I have been sexually assaulted more times than I can count. I know more women and men that have been sexually assaulted than I can count. Many of us remain silent. We acknowledge and are barely shocked anymore by each other. It’s become a part of growing up. I’ve decided to go ahead with a glimpse into my past. I count myself as one of the lucky ones and even though I’ve decided not to tell ‘all’ as it serves no purpose, I believe I will still tell enough. But there are others who have suffered far worse than I. Far, far worse.
1 in 3 girls will be sexually abused and 1 in 6 boys according to Australian statistics – yet this is still only based on reported numbers. Look around your child’s class – how many of those faces will be violated in some way?
How are we as a society ok with this? How do we look ourselves in the mirror and carry on, denying our children a right to grow up free from abuse?
I encourage you to look at those faces and the reality in all its uncomfortable truth. Because while we promote or facilitate silence, through victim blaming or misguided bravery, we allow this to continue.
This is why I speak out and though not the only topic I am opening up about, it’s the most important one to me.
To the men who touch little girls and think it’s ok because they are not crossing a line. It’s not. To the boys who think it’s ok to band together and violate young girls. It’s not. To the older guys who think that a girl 1/3 of their age might be interested and ‘have a go’… she’s not. To those in power who abuse their authority because they think they’ll get away with it… you won’t.
…And the truth shall set you free…
Eyes closed, breath slowly. He’s here, don’t let him know you know. If you do… you’ll have to deal with it. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew before I saw him. A presence perhaps, or instinct.
I’d felt it for a while. Uncomfortable, being watched. Studied. But never thinking much of it. 12 years old and only just starting to blossom, I was becoming aware of men leering, starting to look at me in a whole new way. It felt powerful at first, yet still so naïve and innocent, I had no idea of the darkness that could lurk beneath such stares.
I’d been asleep. Innocent. Vulnerable. Exposed. Instinct woke me up yet I knew not to startle. I can get out of this, think Rebecca…. THINK! I know he’s not meant to be here. This is not a good thing, this is danger, this is fear.
Carefully, I peel every lash apart ever so slightly to confirm what I already know. As I do, I can feel the blanket lift, I sense a hand disappear underneath.
He’s trying to look at me, he’s going to touch me. NO! Breathe. Slow it down, relax. Remember you’re meant to be asleep!
He pauses, uncertain of his next move but I know mine. Eyes closed, I roll facing away from him. I curl myself up into a ball and bring the blanket trapped in all around me. I create a fortress and hope that it’s enough.
Footsteps start retreating, softly walking away. Good girl, you did it.
I return home. I want to say something. I want to cry but I don’t understand. This feels like it’s my fault. I sit on my bed for a long time just staring at the wall. Silent and alone.
It was as sudden as it was vicious. Tugging, pulling at me, they’re all around me and I’m pinned. I can’t get up.
“NO! DON’T!” – It almost comes out as a giggle because of how ridiculous this all seems. We’re friends, what are you doing? You’re joking aren’t you?
Pain screams through my chest. My young, newly formed buds being clawed at, pain threatening to overwhelm any ability to think. They’re laughing, why are they laughing? Does this mean it is a joke? They’re hurting me… And I’ve said to stop. Does this mean… no, no, NO!
Please… twisting my body every way I can to stop them from being able to access underneath my clothes. Looking from face to face, they all look familiar, yet I seem to know no-one around anymore.
One is holding me down, another has my arm. Another laughing hysterically and another pulling at my black pants, the waistband digging into my hips, tearing at the flesh and causing blood vessels to burst around my hips.
Scratching my waist, he bites me. Hard. More than once. I don’t give up. I twist, fight, keep trying to get up.
Praying inside, begging, knowing my only hope lies in a pair of cheap Supre pants, the zip, invisible on the side meaning that at least half of my dignity remains intact, I beg God to keep the stitching together. Don’t let it rip! God – please – don’t let it come down.
She walks back in. They all leap up, tension snapping in half, ending as quickly as it began. I quickly pull myself together and sit, unsure what to do, unsteady and not knowing what to think.
Waiting for my moment, I slip away, slowly making my way back home. Every footstep matching the heavy beating of my heart. My thoughts are silent as I walk lost in the night.
I run a bath and sink myself deeper into the water, hiding from it all – even from myself. The warmth feeling like an embrace, comforting and familiar. But no matter how much I try, I can’t get rid of the cold inside, I can’t wash myself clean.
I emerge and evaluate the marks, the bruises and the scratches on my 14 year old body.
I cover up quietly. I should feel angry, OUTRGAGED! But I just feel confused. I just feel silent.
Stupid girl – how could you let this happen. Didn’t you see it coming?
Celebrating a friend’s 16th birthday, I’d accepted an invitation to check out the neighbour’s band room. As a group we went over there but I missed their exit and within a split second I was trapped.
The light switched off and he stood between the door and I, which had somehow closed before I even knew what was going on.
Smelling of beer and cigarettes, he began made his way towards me. Unsure of my instincts, I awkwardly move out of the way and begin to uncomfortably protest. Perhaps it was just that the power had gone out.
Like a wave breaking through my body, the words he’d uttered only moments before rang in my ears ‘The good thing about it is that I’ve totally sound-proofed the room so you can bang away on the drums in here and no-one would ever know”.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
So close now I can feel the stubble on his chin and his slobbering face near mine I feel a sudden rush of anger. “NO!”. I push him off me and run for the door, pulling it open I’m both shocked and relieved to find my way out so easily.
Barely stopping to catch my breath, I half run, half walk down the driveway and call my boyfriend to pick me up. Sitting there, waiting and my thoughts racing, I feel a deep sense of disgust rising in me. At only 15, he would be more than three times my age.
Did he really think….? My teenage anger kicks in spurring me into action.
I stride back towards the house and ask to speak privately to my friend’s Dad. I trust him. I know him. I need to say something.
Angrily I let the words rush out, describing what had just happened. I am a CHILD. He is a grown MAN. And I SAID NO!
Validated as I see my fury mirrored on his face, I know that I’ve said enough. A phone call later that night confirms that it was dealt with. He will not get away with it this time.
I still find it hard not to blame myself. Not to look at every piece of clothing, every look, every word and every action of mine to see where I kept going wrong.
But the older I’ve become and the more conversations I’ve had with others who experienced the same, I’ve realized – 33.3% of the population is not ‘asking for it’. Neither is the rest of the population that has – for whatever reason – not added their voice to the count.
This is not a ‘right of passage’ or just part of growing up. This is abuse.
And it needs to be stopped.
They Say An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree
I don’t blame. I did, of course I did. I truly believe that every single person has the power to turn their life around. You don’t always have control over what happens to you, that’s the truth, but you do have a choice how you deal with it and where you go to from there.
But as a child, those choices are inevitably limited. I believe that while we must take accountability for the choices we make and that we are responsible for our own lives, it is dangerous, and also selfish to not acknowledge how deeply our actions can be affecting others, influencing and even to some degree taking away their own choices.
I did not make these choices. I did not want this as a part of my life. Yes I had a choice back then and that choice was to leave. But where would I have gone at fifteen? Would my life have ended up any better or far, far worse, considering the statistics of those who runaway?
Despite the choices made by some, I have a good family. A family who, though, never fully recovered, somehow muddled their way through an incredible mess of a life.
I am grateful that I have seen people acknowledge and accept mistakes. I have learnt that love can overcome all. I have seen the power of empathy and an open heart when it comes to repairing relationships. I cannot say that I am close to all in my family, but I can say I am proud in some way of all of my family.
We were all lost. Not just me. We all survived and found our way through.
And we, in some way, are all a testament to choice.
They Say An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree…
Forensics. You can spot them a mile away, their coveralls making them stand out as they combed our house from top to bottom. Methodically making their way through, they barely spoke a word.
And we lived on a main road. In peak hour. On a school day. I watched curious bystanders begin to hover, people walking or driving past slowing down to get a good look at everything going on.
It wasn’t the first time – I’d been getting used to these random visits, dawn or otherwise. One time it had even been while my mum hosted a few families for lunch after church. I’ll admit – that time was almost quite funny seeing the look on all their faces as we were ushered onto the sofa, no-one allowed to leave until the search had been done. I’d become accustomed to the ‘shock and awe’ tactics of life but they clearly hadn’t.
A bang in the night. POLICE – OPEN THE DOOR! I got out of bed, and began the long wait on the sofa alongside my family while they went about their business. No matter how much I smiled, or how much small talk I tried to make, it seemed to me that as far as they were concerned, I was just as guilty by association. Taking everything apart, they bagged and tagged and silently went about their work. The occasional murmured conversation or glance our way. But that was it.
I needed to go to the toilet and with my increasingly familiar squeaky and wavering voice, one that now appeared whenever attention would be directed my way, I indicated this need to one of the officers. Frowning, they motioned for me to follow them. They checked first, then I could go in. What did they think I was going to do?
Fifteen. Uncomfortable already in my own skin, learning to trust no-one and understanding that apparent truths were often simply smokescreens for hidden agendas, I continued to be tossed around on the waves of life, clinging on in desperate despair.
A mixture of clamy palms and shaking stomach, my mouth drooping in miserable resignation, I sat back down and sank back into the reality that was all around me.
Glancing up I looked briefly at my parents. A mixture of anger, frustration and pain. They were just as confused as I. How do we deal with this? Back then I simply blamed them. And him. My fundamental belief was that their only job was to protect me and in my immature eyes, they had failed. And failed. And failed.
Brushed aside, ignored. They all had their own issues, no-one ever checked in to see how I fit in to all this. No-one noticed the anxiety and depression taking over my life until I was drowning in my own tears, swirling around inside a tornado of anger, fear and confusion.
Thoughts of running away occurred but the knowledge that what was out there was worse than in here prevented me from following through. And while fantasies about suicide came and went, the knowledge that my own parents had detailed plans to take their own lives somehow invoked a powerful, primal need to protect them. And meant it was impossible for me to leave.
Control became my deepest desire. Trying desperately to control all situations around me yet the reality that I had no control at all – over my own body, my home, my family or my life continued to weigh heavily on my heart every day.
I just wanted it to stop.
He didn’t do it. They really thought he did. I even sometimes thought maybe he did. That something had gone wrong and a mistake had been made.
The school called later that morning, they heard a rumour I was dead. But this was before the internet had taken over and it was only idle gossip. No, I wasn’t dead. But someone else was and they thought he did it. So here I was, tangled up in such a horrific mess that had become my life.
She’d been found in her garage. A hit to the head. He’d not been known to make very good choices – for whatever his reasons – and was quickly placed near the scene of the crime, becoming their number one suspect. Which meant we were all placed under 24/7 observation.
Our phone tapped, police sitting day and night in an unmarked car, trailing behind us whenever anyone left. The very first time I was asked out on a proper date, it was recorded on a transcript. I said no. Harassed constantly by police, I saw their faces change the second they heard my name. It became a nightmare, one we couldn’t leave and one we knew deep down we had little right to be angry about as they were doing their job. A killer needed to be caught and a grieving family needed answers. Or at least some of them did.
I remember the moment it was over. Sitting in an interrogation room for what felt like the 100th time I saw the police walk past, shoes in hand, talking loudly, excitedly. The police interviewing me glanced up and one left the room. The atmosphere changed almost immediately.
We found out a little while later. A phone call. Not even told in person. They had their man. He’d been pulled from the water by police during an alleged attempted suicide. We were led to believe that was the moment he dumped the murder weapon, never to be recovered. Her husband. The father of her children and soon to become her convicted killer.
That chapter was over but my nightmare still raged on. Police raids, surveillance, police staking our house out from another up the road where a young boy in my class lived, harassed by police, a tainted name. Once you’re ‘tagged’, for whatever reason, it’s not easy to remove. Even if you were only tagged by having the same last name.
I remember the police laughing at me down the phone. Taunting me, exerting their control over me as I wept and cowered in the closet. Threatening to humiliate me at school. “Say you’re sorry” he demanded… “Not good enough, I want to really hear you say it…”. Pity I can’t confront that sadistic bastard as a grown woman – I’d love to see him try it again, almost two decades on. He took such joy in hearing a little girl cry. I’d answered truthfully, but my answers had not been backed up. “I’m coming to get you tomorrow and I’ll arrest you at school in front of everyone, handcuff you for giving misleading information to Police”. BUT IT’S THE TRUTH! “Say you’re sorry… really say it”.
“I’m sorry”. The words sliced through my mouth like razors. I hung up the phone and crawled out from behind the clothes in the closet. Shaking, I returned to what had now become a familiar position, defeated, curled up in my bed.
Abduction, kidnapping, guns, theft, jail, assault, bashings, ‘hits’ being placed, threats, protective custody, courtroom testimony, arrest warrants, interrogation, and going on the run. Not necessarily me, but what I bore witness too in my inner circle, my safe place, my home. It me tore me apart. Every day. The notion of ‘tomorrow’ and what a phone call or a knock could bring became my biggest fear.
Afraid of the dark, trusting no-one, I retreated deep within. Scarred and scared, I lashed out or ran from anyone who got too close. Piece by piece the waves that tossed me around eroded my spirit, my soul and my fledgling sense of self. A tiny fire remained, fiercely protected and held onto with the knowledge that one day…
I would be free.
Yesterday Is But Today’s Memory And Tomorrow Is But Today’s Dream – Khalil Gibran
Thick warm blood slid down the side of my face, sticking in places, tickling my chin as it trickled slowly down my neck. Numb and confused my ears were ringing. People were looking at me but my mind was completely blank.
Suddenly, a memory of the bone crushing impact slammed me back into reality. I can’t move! I can’t breathe!
I’m panicking and start crying out for someone to get me up. I can hear metal being pulled and people trying to climb in to get to me but I know I’m stuck.
Towels are being placed around my eye to stop to blood getting inside and a woman is talking to me. “What is your name, what day is it, how old are you? Where were you going?”
Furious I want her to shut up! Doesn’t she know I’m trying to sleep? Of course I know what day it is, it’s… and I was…
I’m too tired. I can feel myself drifting off to sleep, falling backwards into my own body. But the voices won’t leave me be.
REBECCA! REBECCA! LOOK AT ME! OPEN YOUR EYES!!
I struggle to open my eyes and get hit once again by an extraordinary wave of pain. I’m going to be sick. Why does it hurt so much! I start to sob quietly, every jerking movement shooting waves of pain down my spine.
Oh my God. That car, it hit us. In the midst of my pain, I feel a sense of calm and acceptance. This is how it ends for me now. Death is here, with me, I can feel it beckoning me I want to release myself into it’s arms.
Somehow I’m at peace. I’m ok. But the voices, they won’t stop and let me sleep. Stop it! I want to go now, I don’t want to answer your stupid questions!
“Rebecca… look at me”. I hear him behind my seat and I look up into my brother’s face. Why is he here? He’s not meant to be here. The anger I had felt towards him these past few years melted away as I saw his face crippled with fear. “I’ll stay with you, you’re going to be ok”. His hand held mind and I now have something to focus on.
Finally the emergency teams are arriving and after what feels like forever, I’m freed. Strapped from head to toe I’m rolled onto my side to vomit onto the road.
Transferred to an ambulance, the questions keep coming, keep me awake… God – I’ve told them 50,000 times already what my name is, how old I am and what day it is – why can’t they bloody write it down?
The sirens are screaming in my ears as we take off, despite the speed, I’m not rolling around in the back, I can’t I’m completely strapped down.
The doors open at the rear and I look straight into the eyes of another familiar face.
“Daddy!” the sob catches in my throat… “I’m so sorry, don’t worry, I’m ok, I’m going to be ok”. They pull him to the side and despite their hushed tone, I can hear them “She doesn’t look good, you can go in with her, but take it easy ok, she’s not doing very well and we don’t know anything yet”
Oh shit – really? Really, now I get to die? After I have to see their faces?
Fuck you life – that’s just an asshole thing to do. I should have gone before when I felt free. Not now, not while I have to look at them.
I’m quickly wheeled off and into a room hooked up to all sorts of machines.
Questions, more questions, then another familiar face. Mum. She’s here now too. It feels like forever that I’m lying here, people coming in and out.
All of a sudden, a new face comes in and I’m passed a cup. They unhook me and tell me to give a sample. Mum looks up confused and I push myself up to sit. Oh God – I’m going to be sick again. I throw up in a bag, then gingerly slide myself off the bed and step carefully towards the toilet.
I can’t do it.
I feel like a 90’s cartoon character, run over by a rock, walking like I’m being blown all over the place. I can’t stand upright and every muscle twitch is excruciating.
“I can’t do it, I’m sorry..”.
“OK… well just take that cup home and this bag and when you can do one, bring it into pathology and drop it off. You can go”.
I can go? No X-ray… nothing? What? Mum begins to protest but it falls on deaf ears. They’re busy. We sign the papers and I limp to the car.
I lay in bed for the rest of the day in agony with a few panadol for relief.
It must have been instinct. I can’t describe it as anything else. Get UP! Go now, walk. Get help. Get UP!
“Mum – mum – mum “ I try my hardest to call out but the words are stuck in my chest as I struggle to breathe. I push myself up and move slowly, purposefully towards their room.
“Mum, mummy – I don’t feel well, I feel really sick”.
“Shh honey – go back to sleep. It was the accident. You’ll probably feel sick for a while still”.
I turn and start to walk back to my room . I only get halfway before I hear the voice again. “NO! TURN BACK – GO GET HELP”.
“Mummy, something’s wrong, I really don’t feel well”. They both sit up now and Dad turns on the light. Instantly their faces change and they leap into action. I’m carried to the car and strapped in. Dad yelling he’ll call an ambulance but GO just go start driving and we’ll meet you there.
Gasping for air, I feel an immense pressure in my chest and pain radiating throughout my entire body. I pull the lever to lower my body to a lying down position in the front seat and quietly beg Mum to just get me there. Please.
I don’t remember much after that. I remember someone meeting me at the front with a wheelchair and being raced through. I’m put into another room where I’m laid down on a bed and checked over before being transferred upstairs into intensive care.
Tests were ordered. X-rays, CT Scan with contrast, MRI… I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink until they’d all been carried out. I was terrified, but again, underneath all that I was angry. Why had they let me go?
The results came in. I’d been off school with glandular fever and chronic fatigue which came on after the stress of the investigation. My spleen was still enlarged and had ruptured slightly but the bleeding had since stopped. I’d be ok. I also had fractured ribs with torn intercostal muscles, compression fractures in my spine, my left hip had been wrenched out of it’s socket and was now hanging loose with the damaged ligament holding it somewhat in place and swelling to the brain where I’d hit the dashboard which explained the confusion and memory loss.
Perhaps they were just pleased that the injuries would likely all resolve without major intervention but I was mad as hell. I tried to ask “Why didn’t anyone give me an x-ray when I came in? Why was I sent home?” My questions simply shrugged off with a simple “I’m sure they did what they thought was right” as the oxygen was put back over my mouth. Later, overhearing at station handover “there had been some confusion in ED earlier today”. Oh good – so they were just confused, that was all!!!!
Had I not felt so unwell, I probably would have pushed it further but after a few days, I was moved out of intensive care and onto a ward, then finally, allowed to go home with a long list of specialists and surgeons that I needed to see.
This was the start of an incredibly long journey that defined my life between the ages of 16 – 21. I have a permanent 20% disability on my entire left side. Rehab, having to essentially learn to walk again, redevelop my balance and cope with chronic pain, repair the damage to my pelvis, discover that I’d likely never carry children of my own, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, women’s specialists, surgery… the list went on.
For someone who lived to learn, who loved to get lost in history, philosophy and literature, school was now over for me. My plans of going to university were over. I tried to get a job but as an ‘on-paper’ unskilled, uneducated young girl with a chronic back injury, a compensation claim under my belt and on a disability pension meant that even my applications to work as a cleaner were ignored.
I sank deeper and deeper down into depression and spent most of my days in bed. All I wanted to do was dream. My dreams were vivid, I could dream in colour, I could be anyone, do anything and be anywhere.
I dreamt often of the man I would marry, the children I would have and the life I would create. But then I would wake up, head to my twice a week disability support services appointment and try to work out a plan just to get myself of the hole that I had unwillingly found myself in.
But still I would dream. Because if I could dream, I knew I could create. And if creation was the very beginning of life, then there was always a chance that somehow, someway I would be able to redesign my life into the one I believed I was still destined for.
That life and love, would eventually find a way.
“You have to dream, before your dreams can come true” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
The Moment My Life Changed Forever. My Life. My Choice. My Future.
Hand on the bible, I took the oath “I swear that the evidence I shall give, shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God”.
I swallowed and stared directly at who was first to question me on the stand. I couldn’t bring myself to look around the courtroom, terrified of the familiar faces I would see and what they were about to hear.
My hands woven together tightly in my lap, having hot flushes and starting to sweat down my back, I clenched my stomach and commanded the nausea to stop.
Taking a deep breath, I reached out with shaking hands and took my statement as it was offered to me. I was instructed to read it out loud to the court.
Wanting to run, wanting desperately to hide, to be anywhere but there, I simply focused myself on the task at hand.
Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Recounting the abuse I had endured for almost two years. Every humiliating detail played out for all to hear, every instance of systematic degradation vibrating down the microphone, bouncing off the walls of the packed but otherwise silent courtroom.
My statement was finished yet my anxiety continued to grow.
Then came the witness examination. Though I told the truth, I could feel their frustration as they wanted me to confirm their assumptions based on my experiences but I couldn’t. I wasn’t there to help them. Or him. I was only there because I had to be. And all I had to say was the truth of what had happened. Though how it applied to this case, I had no idea.
The day after I arrived home from my honeymoon, I was subpoenaed. Told I would need to be in Court and as the day drew near, the media hype surrounding the case grew.
Day by day it was played out on the TV, morning after morning, front page news. My dread continued to grow.
The fact that I had been granted a witness suppression order stopping my evidence being made public gave little comfort for what I had to go through, however, I was eternally grateful that the intimate details of what had played out in the years before I was married could remain, for the best part, confidential.
Except of course, that is, for the seemingly endless number of faces staring back at me in the Court.
After what felt like an eternity I was excused. I lifted my head high, stared straight ahead and walked out with as much dignity as I could muster, despite feeling as if I had been stripped bare for all to see.
Domestic Violence. “Oh it wasn’t that bad” “You could have left” “There’s always two sides to every story”… the stereotypes and misguided assumptions are everywhere when it comes to this topic.
But did you know that more than a million women have experienced an assault at the hands of their partner in Australia alone? That even still, 64% of women who experience physical assault and 81% of those who experience sexual assault at the hands of a partner do not report it? That the WHO describes the levels of violence against the world’s women as being of ‘epidemic proportions’ requiring urgent action?
Hit across the face, lifted by my throat and slammed into the wall, kicked, smothered, degraded, humiliated and insulted, I lived every day in hell. Cut off from the rest of the world, slowly, methodically until I was at the point where I felt totally dependent on him, suicide games used to keep me on edge and confused, terrified to leave for what he would do, instead of running, I tried to ‘save him’ to secure my freedom.
“People keep telling me that I look different, but there is nothing I’ve changed. I know why though. It’s my eyes. They say your eyes are the window to your soul and I no longer have one. I am empty, alone and dead inside, I now just go through ever day waiting for the rest of my body to catch up”. This is part of a letter I wrote myself, or for anyone who might find it one day, I don’t know. I just had to write. I read it back to myself with disbelief that I was the girl who could utter those words.
Four years later, happily married, yet I was having to relive something I thought I had left long ago in my past.
My testimony done, I fled to the car with my Dad behind me, ready to begin the long journey home. Three hours to be exact. And even though it was over, my body still felt exhausted, ill, from head to toe. I closed my eyes and drifted off, just wanting to wake up tomorrow and start again now that this was all over.
Later that night I sat crumpled on the bathroom floor, utterly exhausted and drained. It felt like an eternity that I sat there as the minutes ticked slowly by.
Eventually, I knew it was time to get up. Time to pull myself together and face whatever lay ahead. Slowly I got to my feet and looked deeply into the mirror. Searching every line, every tear stained blemish on my puffy cheeks for some kind of reassurance.
I looked back down again, a slow, determined smile creeping across my face and stepped over the crumpled shadow of a girl that I was leaving behind on the floor.
Purposefully and with new hope, I allowed myself to believe again. Believe in joy, in love and the possibility that life would now be just as I wanted it to be.
Because despite the fact that I had felt tossed around relentlessly from wave to wave, through a dark tumultuous night that had lasted so many years, here in my hand I had the proof, the motivation that life from here on would be my choice.
I would live it my way, on my terms and create my own future. This was my moment, my defining point where I stopped, held up my hand and decided I would never again be that girl.
Because that’s not who I really was. It’s only who I though I had to be. Who I had been groomed to be.
I was Rebecca. Wife, fighter, dreamer, believer.
And now also a mother.
I tucked the small strip with two very definite positive lines back into my pocket and went out to wait for my husband to come home.
Life for me, had simply now, just begun.
I was whole, I was complete, and I was free.