Warning: the following details instances of child abuse and may be triggering to some readers.
"Get on the ground!"
The thieves had already knocked the manager of the McDonald's unconscious when they turned towards the diners. One among the four thumped his baseball bat on a table in warning.
"Get on the ground!"
Diners scrambled under their tables, some screamed. But one, who we'll call Steve*, just sat there. Even as one of the thieves approached and wound up to strike him, he stayed put.
One blow came, then another, and another.
He looked closely at the attacker's face, making observations that later proved critical to police catching the group. But there was no fear coursing through him, no urge to fight or flee; he felt little other than perturbed that they'd interrupted his lunch.
In between the strikes, a thought echoed in his head.
My mother used to hit harder than that.
Steve knows his reaction that day, some two decades ago now, was not exactly 'normal'.
'Normal' is something he's been approximating his entire life.
As a survivor of childhood physical and emotional abuse, the 66-year-old father of two is still grappling with the effects of what he endured. For years, he'd hide it in professional and social settings; he'd pretend. But the numbness he felt that day in McDonald's roughly two decades ago, compelled him to better understand why.
Along with conducting countless hours of research, he's more recently become involved in moderating forums in which other survivors tentatively reach out to one another, looking for validation and a sense they are not alone in their ongoing struggles.
"We manage to cling to the hope that all will be okay one day," Steve said. "We enter the workforce, we partner up, and if that works, we try to have families. We try so hard to fit in. I can't emphasise that enough. We bury this stuff so deep, but the effects of it are there and they cannot be hidden forever."
"...But I love you."
There is no comprehensive data on the prevalence of child abuse in Australia, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2016 Personal Safety Survey estimated that about 2.5 million Australian adults (13 per cent) experienced physical and/or sexual abuse during childhood.