by DEB KANDELAARS
When I was 17, I met a much older man in a disco and fell head over heels for his charms, his age, and what I thought was his sophistication and maturity. Before long, I found myself in a grim domestic situation where I lived with violence, verbal abuse and disrespect. I stayed with him for three years, and covered up what was happening to me out of shame and fear and, finally, with the help of a male work colleague who refused to take no for an answer, I found the courage to leave.
Before I left, I did a pretty good job of hiding what was happening to me. I didn’t want my parents to know, I’d lost most of my friends, and the odd work colleague who probably knew, turned a blind eye out of embarrassment or not wanting to get involved – except for one. With his help I made it out, but that wasn’t the end of it; I endured months of being followed, driven off the road, and constantly looking over my shoulder. At the end of my tether, I finally decided to ask my father for help after keeping things from him for so long. My Dad’s phone call worked and I set about starting my life again, albeit a bit world weary at the tender age of 20.
When I think about it, I guess I was lucky in a way. Not lucky, of course, to endure the years of violence and the images that have stayed in my mind, but really lucky that I got away alive; and lucky not to have shared children with an aggressive man, and in that way linking me with him for life.
These days my life is very good. I have a loving and supportive partner and family, and I’ve realised a dream of having a novel published. But the slide show that plays in my head now and again, tells a story of a different girl in another time and place, and she’s hard to recognise: click-click, her face is pushed into a pillow and she can’t escape; click-click, she is locked in the house and not allowed to leave; click-click, she is driven off the road by his yellow Ford and his evil eyes are looking sideways at her from the next lane; click-click, the cigarette is burning holes in her best dress; click-click, she is chased through the scrub and her heart is beating so fast that it feels like it’s going to explode; click-click, a strong hand grips her hair and smashes her head against a car window, and all she can do is wish that she hadn’t fallen for that man in that disco when she was only seventeen.