“Wait – so he didn’t give your mum access to her own money at all?”
We refused to look at each other, our eyes fixed on the ceiling, arms so close the hairs were touching.
It was so late it was early again.
“Yeah. He said Mum didn’t know anything about money.”
Silence clung to the air while my mind whirred from one flashing sign to the next. Like the ‘joint bank account’ mum was never given the password to. Or how Dad sold the house against Mum’s wishes. Or the investments he made without so much as a consultation text. Or the rationing of money to get her through the school lunches and weekly petrol run. Just.
For 15 years my mother – intelligent and wonderful in equal parts – worked full-time in a well paying corporate job.
For 15 years she earned more than my father.
And for 15 years she never saw where her money was going.
Despite her healthy pay cheques, she exclusively clothed herself in op-shop jeans and my aunty’s hand-me-down jumpers.
For the entirety of their marriage, Mum didn't have a single thing that was her own.
With her friends I'd see the happy and vibrant woman who raised me - but at home she retreated into her tiny shell, weak and quiet, timid and scared.
Somehow, none of this struck me as unusual until I was lying next to my butt-naked boyfriend at 3am, who summed it up perfectly: "Well, that's fucked."
How did I not realise what was happening? I was right there.
I heard the venom-laden insults - that deafening, booming voice.
I answered the daily phone calls: "What mood is your dad in today, Tessa? Should I be prepared for angry?"
I cleaned up the broken plates and mugs. I helped Mum fix the broken door. I touched the broken edges of her smile.
There had always been plenty of people on the sidelines who tried to point out just how "fucked" our home life was.
My aunties, my grandmother, mum's friends to name a few.
"This just works for them, they're really happy," I'd reassure the onlookers.
"I know it's different but it's fine. Mum likes getting an allowance every week. Promise."
When you're so close to the noise your ears are ringing, it's hard to hear reason.
Not all abuse is physical, #maybehedoesn'thityou. Post continues after video...
I witnessed my mother be financially abused for over a decade.
And while the exchanges would never leave her with bruises or a bloodied lip, reliving them fills every pore in my body with acid all the same.
It took me four years after my parents' bitter divorce to really see what was happening: my beautiful mum, a pacifist, was married to (and abandoned by) a manipulator.
One who coercively controlled her, and stripped her of everything that made her brilliant.
My father, ladies and gentlemen!
The man who coldly left Mum with a tiny fraction of the money she thought she had.
The man who crushed her with two forceful blows: 'Hey, guess what? Now you're 48, you're alone and you're poor. Surprise!'
And now? My mother will be picking up the fragments of her shattered life for decades.
Raising awareness about violence against women is incredibly important, and so is raising awareness about coercive control - and the ways women can be belittled and abused even in the absence of fists.
If my family sounds at all like yours, please try to hear beyond the ringing in your ears.