Choosing to live: Family, sacrifice and domestic violence in a lesbian relationship
By: Alexis Light
Trigger warning: story contains a personal and sometimes graphic recount of family violence. For 24/7 support, please contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800respect.org.au. Alternatively, see QLife for early intervention and counselling support specific to LGBTI people.
I remember one night, the final night, I sat on our bed in the darkness and she yelled at me again. I think it was about the gas repairman. Was it? I think that was it. I was sitting there, hunched over, wondering if I could get small enough to disappear. So small, like a kid’s marble, with all that rage washing over me, making me smooth and fluid and safe.
You always said, “I want the light off so I can say the things I want to say.” In the darkness you got larger, more vicious, and because you could not see my softness you could attack again and again. Like the magpie with the glittering jewel eye, diving.
I was looking at the shape of the window, the curtain slightly loose. I was thinking, I could get that window open. I could shift the blue curtain, push through the flyscreen. I could just jump out. Into the garden, into the cool night, and go.
I looked down at my pajamas and wondered how far I would get. I didn’t have my car keys. How much money would I really need? Would someone on the street help me? Could I get to a train before she hauled me back?
Over the years, I tried to work out what to do with her rage. She would get drunk. Drunk and sad, and later angry. Sometimes the words were so hurtful from the start that I cried almost instantly. She hated that – she hated tears – she would sneer and say, “what the fuck is wrong with you, you can’t even have a conversation.”
I was heartsick with the stories spilling from her bitter mouth. “Why are you such a fake,” she would start, swinging like the solid right hook of a boxer. Then more, and more – I would count each one off on my fingers, bam, bam, bam. Always the same. Money, betrayal, disappointment.
The last one was the worst, “your depression makes me angry and when I am angry this is how I act. So deal with it.” In the morning she held my cheek tenderly and said she loved me. I believed her.
Over those thirteen years I became invisible. I was fictional, even to myself. Just a story someone else was telling. I got good at that. I got good at smiling when inside there was something that could never feel clean. Because my greatest fear was that everyone would find out that she was hurting me. She would tell me often enough, “Do you want me to lose my job? Do you want everyone to find out about you? Don’t embarrass yourself any more than you have.”
Let’s be real. We don’t like to believe that women can do this to each other. We see the billboard posters of the big man, looming above the shaking woman. We don’t see ourselves there, violent and angry. We don’t see ourselves falling to the ground, scared. But we are there and our shame makes it hard to even admit that it’s happening.
Sometimes, I wonder how I got out. Because you can get out. It’s actually quite easy to leave. The trick is what happens next. To keep breathing while my children, my beautiful children that lit my heart and burned with joy in my dreams, my children that I fed, and held, and smothered with kisses, were suddenly gone.
Thirteen Christmas mornings, all wrapped up in hope, tiny soft children’s pajamas that I washed a hundred times, and hung out, and folded, and pulled over the top of their little heads, and those small hands, those tiny hands that I might never hold again.
I remember on their first day of school I did my daughters’ hair in perfect plaits and walked them to school. When they kissed me goodbye I thought I would do anything not to lose them, these precious two. I thought I could live through anything to keep them close.
But because I didn’t give birth to them, they might never come back. They are gone and pieces of my heart will never, ever come back.
Through all those long years a tiny bird of hope was nesting in me, waiting. A small and humble voice was whispering to me that I was worth it. I am worth loving. I am worth something. I am worth more than this.
The next morning, after that fight, I threw everything I could find into my small red hatchback. I tipped photos, clothes, things that the kids had made for me, everything into the boot. I only had one chance, because I knew she would change the locks when she found me gone.
When I closed the heavy front door behind me I felt like I was losing everything I ever loved. And in some ways, it was true.
But I was brave. A strange joy that I had never known before blossomed, filling every part of me. It thrilled all through my fragile body. It lit me up with courage and with determination. I was leaving.
That’s when I understood I would never go back. The wild momentum of liberation carried me, and before I knew it I was on the wind, flying, free. My little red car sped down the highway, away, away, away.
If someone out there is reading this, and you are seeing yourself in my words, believe me, that person who is bringing you terror every day – they are lying to you. They don’t know your secret courage. They don’t understand your worth.
You can do what I did. It will take everything you have to do it. But you will never regret choosing to live.
Alexis is a writer from Sydney. She is content with good food, excellent gardens and honest people. Also, she enjoys trashy karaoke with friends.