I grew up in a very non violent home. I have wracked my brains, time and time again, to try and recall if my Dad ever raised his voice even, let alone his fist. He was a peaceful man who loved his family to the exclusion of most other things. I only saw him angry a couple of times. At circumstance and other people's persistent incompetence. But it was a rare rare thing and he fumed inwardly, and was never violent, nor did he ever show a temper.
I am one of five children. It must have been chaos in our home at times. But as far as I can remember, we were never smacked. Cuddles were more the currency. We all hated any form of confrontation. Violence was, quite simply, never a tactic.
My Mum had a slight temper. She would throw things in frustration. And we were idly threatened with the wooden spoon at various times. But I never ever lived in fear of a violent response from her.
My brothers were protectors and the greatest threat they posed to me were tickles. My middle brother could reduce me to an utter puddle with his tickles. But never, ever violent.
I left home at eighteen, to go to uni. A few semesters were subsequently spent on an industry placement. In a hotel in a beautiful part of England.
I met, and fell in love with, a guy.We moved in with one with unseemly haste. He was kind, he was gentle. He was charismatic.We laughed and played and worked hard together.
He was a large man. Broad and dark. He had an aura of magnetism that evidently attracted me. He was funny and appeared to be so very confident. Capable. Savvy and tenacious.
We spent a long and hedonistic summer together. We worked and partied and loved and laughed with the abandon of youth. I was his girl.
One night, somnolent on dope, we curled up together. He started talking about the plans he had for us, for the following year. Sleepily, I listened, lulled by his love and by his voice. He was painting a picture. A picture of a life beyond the summer, beyond the season, beyond Christmas. Beyond the next semester and the rest.
I raised myself onto my elbow and queried - where we would be, I wondered?
"Here, of course". He looked at me, amazed that the question of location would even enter my head.
"But what about uni? What about my degree?"
And then, it was as if a different person emerged into the room.
His eyes flashed with something I have never seen before. An anger, a confusion, a resentment, an inexplicable frustration.
He sat up. "Forget it. You'll be here. With me."
I met his eye, and, with the arrogance and certainty of youth, I replied "Forget what? Uni? No. I'll be going to back to uni. I've got to."
And out of nowhere, he hit me. In the face. He took a blow to the right side of my face with his left hand, and punched me.
He hit me so hard, that my jaw rattled in my head. I felt as if my eyeballs had jolted out of my face. The pain and shock were utterly indescribable. I could feel an uprising of liquid to my throat as I fell, sliding, out of the bed, to the floor. To this day I do not know if that liquid was vomit or blood or bile or just the sensation of terror.
I can't really remember anything else. I can recall the sound of my heart pumping. It felt so loud. I have an image of him sitting on the side of the bed, his back to me, his head in his hands. His broad back, hunched.
I dressed and grabbed cigarettes and my bag like a woman posessed. (In hindsight, I was posessed, fuelled by adrenalin.) It was the middle of the night and I walked to work, despite my legs having a liquid feeling like I could faint at any second, to the hotel where we both worked. I fell, literally, into the arms of the night porter, who immediately opened a room up and made me hot tea. (I knew him. John, his name was. He was tall. Like Lurch from the Munsters. He was so kind. I don't think I ever thanked him.)
I was drinking the tea, when there was a gentle knock. In came the wife of my boss. She cleaned me up. I can still see all those lovely white hotel towels, stained with blood. She cried with me as I told her what had happened, as I replayed the scene in words, to her, and to myself. I was so utterly shocked. And stunned with disbelief. I admitted to her that if it were not for the blood, I would have truly thought it was a terrible dream.
She put me in the shower and made more tea. And then stroked my hair as I slept. I will never, as long as I live, forget her kindness to me. Her lack of judgment and the absence of anger were exactly what I needed.
Early morning came and she told me to stay exactly where I was. I saw my own face in the mirror and realised that my heart as well as my face were utterly broken. The shame. She appeared back, with a pile of her clothes for me, and gave me a white envelope. Inside was £130. She waited for me to get dressed and then put me in her car and drove me to the railway station.
Eventually, from a friends house, hundreds and hundreds of miles away, I phoned her. To thank her. We talked. Distance actually made the conversation easier.
"I didn't want you to stay. We could have nursed your face back to good. I didn't want to watch you go back to that. Back to waiting for another beating. Back to what you though was love. I didn't want you to waste these years on trying to change someone." (That there was an echo of absolute empathy and understanding via experience in her words was something I only appreciated a lot later.)
I still recall that conversation. I will never know, thankfully, whether I would have gone back to him or not. The distance she put between us was exactly what I needed to be safe and to heal. To make clear decisions and choices. To hurt. To tend my broken face and my pride. Without the fear of him nearby.
I sense that I would not have gone back. As I indicated at the start of this post, my "normal" was totally non violent. My presumption, as a child and as a teen, was that all men are kind and gentle to the core. (I thank my parents for that.) Sadly this is not the case. My gut reaction on that night was to flee. I am so relieved that I did. I fled, and the wife of my boss helped me get away totally, through cash and phone calls and kindness and belief.
My resounding message behind this sad tale? My children will never see violence in this house. They grow up knowing that violence is unacceptable behaviour in any form. Daddy will never ever hit Mummy, ever. Violence will be foreign to my children. So that, heaven forbid, they too may flee at the first sign of any violence in their future relationships. I cannot control who they fall in love with. But I hope and pray I can influence how they react to violence.
I have posted this as a part of the Speak Out Campaign, passionately coordinated by the lovely Kristin over at Wanderlust. Go have a read - she has all the details.