What you are about to read happened to me 14 years ago, while on holiday in Thailand with my then partner, Ben. This was the first of many violent episodes in what was a four year relationship with my then partner, Ben. I was just 19 years old at the time. Some readers may find it distressing.
We are in the thick of it.
Every time I try to get up and move a few more steps towards the guest house, Ben shoves me back down, my palms shredding against the bitumen. I get back up, a few more steps, then my face is back down, cheek pressed to the gravel. Finally, I run the final few metres to the guest house, and all the way up the stairs. Sitting with my back against the door I wait momentarily for Ben to coordinate his way up the stairs with the key. Opening the door, the fight moves inside, and the shoving continues.
“STOP, just stop Ben, please! What are you even doing?”
Grabbing me, Ben throws me backwards onto the bed, pinning both my arms over my head. “What am I doing? What am I doing?” He pants. “I am teaching you a lesson. You don’t tell me what to do, who the fuck are you? You’re no one anymore. You think you’re too good for me but you’re lucky I’m even with you. No one will ever want you if they know how ruined you are. Do you want me to tell everyone?”
“No, that’s right. You’re just a dumb slut, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not.”
Ben leans down and with gritted teeth says, “Yes you are. Say it; say I’m a worthless fucking whore.”
“I’m not saying it.”
Ben lets go of my left wrist and draws one hand back, “If you don’t say it, I’ll fucking punch you. Don’t make me fucking punch you.”
“As if punching me is any worse than what you’ve already done. You just kicked me like a dog in the street.”
“That’s because you are a dog. Now say it!”
“You‘re not in control of me, Ben. I won’t say it. I’ll never say it.”
Seeing the look in Ben’s eyes, my confidence falters, for a second I think he might actually punch me. I shut my eyes in defense.
The sound of flesh splitting flesh.
"I shut my eyes in defense." Image via iStock.
My face opens up like an overripe watermelon, juices bursting out onto every surface. “Oh, my god, oh my god,” I hear Ben say, so I open my eyes to see what he sees, what has shocked him so. My thick red blood has saturated the starched white sheets and splattered high up onto the walls. Red on white. Ben looks instantly sober and surprised. Surprised to see my face all bloodied? Surprised like me that he actually followed through in punching me? Or perhaps it is disbelief as he stands taking in the sight of my blood dripping down his fist. I can’t tell.
Sweet, sweaty, metallic blood. It is all I can smell, all I can taste and all I can see. It is everywhere.
Why is there so much blood?
Ben’s voice crashes through my thoughts, hysterical, “What the fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I look at him waiting for more, I don’t understand.
“Why the fuck did you make me do that? Why? Why did you make me do that?”
The Mirror - The Aftermath of Violence
For a few hours I sleep fitfully on the blood-soaked sheets next to a comatose Ben, waiting for the sun to come up. In wakefulness, my heart and head race; what am I going to do? What am I going to do? I try to think of a plan, but my face is throbbing so hard it is difficult to focus on anything but the beating rhythm of my flesh. Looking at the sheets for distraction, I wonder how much the guest house will charge us for destroying them, they could never possibly scrub all the blood away.
With no mirror in our budget room, I still have no idea what I look like, but I can feel that my face has become encrusted; dried blood flakes away from my face with every expression I make, falling like shards on the already ruined bed.
The smell and taste of me has become pungent, like off meat. I know I have to clean myself up, clear my head quickly try to make this version of myself something past, not present. Ben doesn’t move as I rustle around in our backpacks for the toiletries bag and a towel.
Respect: The evolution of domestic violence. Post continues below.
I shut the door quietly so as not to wake him and head down to the shared bathroom along the hall, hoping no one sees me.
Locking the door, I turn to face the small square mirror over the basin. My eyes are so swollen, both from crying and the force of Ben’s closed fist, that I can barely see, but I don’t need perfect vision to know that the person staring back at me is no longer me.
The girl in the mirror is empty; she has hollow, defeated eyes and an inflated nose decorated in hues of purple, black and yellow; it makes my eyes water just to look at her. But it is her cheeks, her neck that I can’t stop looking at. She is covered in violence. The blood has faded from a brilliant red to an expired rust, cracking like day old face paint to expose not one, but two faces; one from before and one from now. The new girl almost saturates the old.
It will all need to be scrubbed away, forcefully.
"The new girl almost saturates the old." Image via iStock.
Turning away from the mirror, I peel my clothes off and step under the warm water. The clear beads of spray hit my body, and trickle down over bruised arms and tender hips, each drop of water turning watermelon pink before pooling at my feet. I angle my face downwards to avoid the sting of the direct spray and there I stand, watching, mesmerised as the drain tries to swallow the pain of the wee hours of the morning. Down, down, down like Alice through the rabbit hole. I shut my eyes and wish so hard, that I could just go back to yesterday, when I was a different person.
I stayed with Ben for nearly three more years after this happened, and going forward this “event” in our relationship set a benchmark for the level in which Ben’s anger could escalate to. Often a new benchmark was set and in the process I lost myself, lost the headstrong, smart, driven girl I had always been. In the end I left, I finally realised I loved myself than him, that the spark inside me would die for good if I stayed. But it wasn’t easy.
Domestic and family violence doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t only happen to women who live in remote areas or women who are from low socioeconomic backgrounds. It can also happen to women who are well educated, funny, street smart - women like me. And you.
Violence doesn’t have to define the rest of these women’s lives. It doesn’t define mine. But for many, especially those here in the Northern Territory the single most important factor in being able to break free from violence is actually having somewhere physically safe to go. Somewhere like the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter.
Domestic and Family Violence is a phenomenon in our culture. It’s like a secret, insidious disease that no one likes to talk about or see. But it's there. And as a mother, a woman, a writer, a social worker I want to do something about it.
I am currently training to run my first marathon to raise money for the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter, one of the busiest women’s shelters in Australia. The Shelter responds to the needs of thousands of women and children escaping the horrors of family violence every year, but the service is overwhelmingly underfunded and resourced. They are forced to turn away thousands more than they can help. Women turned away in their most desperate hour of need.
Women have arrived to the fortress gates of this small town shelter with knives still plunged into their backs, with the perpetrator not far behind them, literally running for their lives.
I want a world where no woman or child has to live in fear for their personal safety.
And that’s when I realised I have to do more.
The marathon, the fundraising, my commitment to raising awareness about Domestic Violence, it all comes from a good place, but I know in my heart that if I really want to affect change and make a difference, then there is something more I can do, I can help tear down the notion that violence only happens to “other kinds” of women and share my own personal story.
If you would like to be part of social change AND help the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter, please donate to Renee’s Run Against Violence.
You can read more by Renee McBryde, here.
*The scenes titled The Punch and The Mirror are an excerpt from Renee’s memoir to be published in February next year.
If you need help or assistance with a family violence situation or if this post has raised issues for you, you can talk to someone at 1800 RESPECT, a 24/7 national telephone hotline. 1800 737 732