“There were days when things were good at home – sometimes. But for the life of me I can’t remember many. The feelings I get even now at 85 mostly fill me with terror”. Domestic violence survivor Helen.
The terrifying family abuse memories will fade…
It pains me to go into this history, even though it happened so many years ago. To recall it, makes me shiver. But here goes. We made a family of eight – father, mother, three boys and three girls. From my earliest recollections I well remember that my father had a ‘short fuse’, so to speak.
Before his homecoming, we’d be required to sit, still and quiet, on the bench by the window. When my father arrived home, he’d knock on the window so loudly that it put the fear of god into our hearts. We became very good at reading his moods, happy or otherwise, on his face. They were mostly ‘otherwise’.
My violent dad did his best to dim my beautiful mum’s light…
My mother used to be a very good looking woman with a great sense of humour. I say, ‘used to be’ as my father always hit her in the face which disfigured her beautiful face in the end. She was always capable of making us laugh – see the funny side of everything, diminish our fears and shield our hurts. In essence, she always put us back together. She was an Irish country woman, though we lived in Dublin.
There were days when things were good at home – sometimes. But for the life of me I can’t remember many. The feelings I get even now at 85 mostly fill me with terror. At such an impossibly young age, I can’t tell you how it felt to see my father constantly hovering over my mother in battle.
I well remember the sight, and sound, of my dear mother hitting the ground, the thump of her head hitting the stone floor. My sister and I, as the eldest, often attempted to stand between them and bang on his knees with our fists, to try and stop him. His eyes would bulge out of his head. His rage knew no bounds.
We’d be thrown across the room like rag dolls, to hit our heads on the gas cooker. Of course we screamed. This happened countless times. I clearly remember how terrifying it was to be thrown to the other side of the kitchen, for my head to bang into that wretched cooker.
My father finally destroyed my mother’s face and spirit…
We soon learned not to enrage the bull, so we did our very best not to ever offend him. If one of us did, we then turned and blamed them for not being careful, as that always set him off again. Whoever did offend received a beating without question. How could we know then that he’d use any excuse to get to her, to beat her up, and we became the fodder for his mission.
If he wanted to get at her somehow – you just knew. You could feel it in the air, see it in his demeanour. He would start on us. He knew all too well that she’d defend us, so that gave him the excuse he needed to turn on her. And once again her face took a beating. Her beautiful face soon turned haggard. She was not the same person anymore. She became a disfigured woman, with a broken nose, black eyes, scars of old wounds. Her smiling eyes changed to eyes that belonged to the mother of sorrows.
The bystanders blamed his rages on his wife…
We knew we needed help – badly. Neighbours heard our screams. When the police were called, they did nothing. Their attitude was, ‘It takes two to tango.’ She must have done something to deserve it. They always left with a simple, ‘Don’t do it again.’ The priest told us, ‘God must love her because he gave her that cross to bear. Only strong people receive a fate such as this.’
When I was taken to the doctor at one time for six stitches in my head, no one questioned it. It was a man’s castle and he could do whatever he wanted behind those stone walls. Even we blamed her; ‘You married him, now get rid of him, leave him.’ He tormented her until the time he developed lung cancer. She gave her last breath to nurse him through it, until his death. She stayed ‘til the bitter end.
My mum died an old woman many years before her time…
Women seem to turn to zombies in these situations – they don’t want to move. You lose your spirit and somehow you just cope. My mother had nowhere to go. And she simply didn’t have the strength anymore. You get used to anything after a time. Besides, he made sure early on to destroy all her friendships.
She died an old woman at 59 years old. My heart continues to break, even now. I will never stop seeking justice on behalf of the restless ghosts of our mothers and sisters, who gave their lives for their children and are still being murdered at the hands of men who say they love them.
The killing and the maiming has gone on far to long – now is the time to end it…
All my life I have been an advocate for women. I don’t think I could not have. I ran a women’s shelter for six years which was the only shelter open at the time without funding. I have marched at endless rallies and looked after women who have come from DV situations. My heart aches for each and every one of them. Too often in the women’s shelter I saw women whose husbands had come back from the war in Vietnam.
They were extremely disturbed and took it out on the women. I can’t help the feeling that we are training men to be killers and this is tragic on so many levels. Are we with our wars, training our sons and husbands, and then sending them home as murderers? Why is it up to women to do the ‘untraining’ and to pick up the pieces? One woman a week is being killed at the hands of domestic violence. Surely that is proof enough that something must be done. And done now. This has been going on for centuries – far too long. ♥️
If you are in domestic violence crisis help is available from the Australia-wide telephone hotline 1800RESPECT. If you want to take part in the “Why I Stayed” project click here ♥️♥️♥️
Photography by LEA REBANE (Sisterazzi).