It’s heartbreaking, dealing with cases of domestic violence. One case in particular plagues me to this day.
Another of one of the students I worked with had called the Police out to their home on various occasions. The father was a drunk. He subjected the family to constant taunting, verbal abuse and vicious physical assaults. The mother was a nervous wreck. The son was torn between wanting to stay at home to protect his mum, or leaving to protect himself.
We, as professionals, obliged by our qualifications in safeguarding, and frankly, as human beings, arranged to meet with the mum to see what support we could offer her and her son. What he needed the most was understanding, condolence and someone who would listen without making judgements. We allowed him out of class when needed, on the ruse he’d been selected to help the team with a fund-raising event. He couldn’t bear his mates seeing him cry. He was tough and wouldn’t allow anyone to see past his rock-like exterior.
The mother, I found very difficult to sympathize with. I just couldn’t understand why she didn’t just throw the pathetic excuse of a father out the home.
He didn’t deserve this beautiful woman or his son.
We spent hours listening to her ordeal, with tears in our eyes. We did everything we could to help. Arranging appointments at the local Women’s Aid, meeting regularly with her and dropping everything to take her calls whenever she needed reassurance. There were times she begged us to keep her son at school after school hours so she could get herself ‘cleaned up’ before he arrived home. We held multi-agency meetings, where domestic violence counsellors offered practical and emotional support. They helped her build up the courage to call the Police next time things got out of hand. She had ‘markers’ placed on the home so the Police would know it was a priority call. Their lives were, quite literally, in danger. If he turned up at the house – there would be Police Officers waiting for him.
Over time, this mother’s demeanor gradually reversed. She changed from a withdrawn, shy, shell of a woman who lived in constant fear; to a calm, steady parent who knew she had the right to feel safe in her own home, as did her child. Her son also began to quieten down in school. Instead of carrying their entire world on his own, young shoulders, he had a team who were there for him and understood what he was going through. He managed to keep his brave façade intact. Whereas behind the scenes, this lad was feeling empowered. You went home that day with a smile on your face. You’d made a difference. That family was now safe and you played a tiny part in making that possible.
A few months passed and the son popped into the office for a completely separate issue, and skillfully dropped in passing that the scumbag was back in the family home. His eyes said it all.
Yes, he was back.
The tamed lion had arrived one day fully sober, full of heartfelt apologies.
He loved her and their son more than anyone in the world and never meant to hurt them.
He’d missed them desperately.
He was lost without them.
He’d gone into therapy and had been sober for 3 months. Everything was going to be different.
Within weeks, the brutal reality hit. The Police had been called, this time by a neighbor who had heard a commotion and crashing glass.
He’d attacked the mother with a broken bottle, after attempting to strangle her. When the son tried to stop him, he was thrown at the wall and knocked unconscious.
The son was taken away by Social Services.
We never heard from either of them again.
We’re sitting in a café. Reuben announces that he’s coming back home tomorrow whether I like it or not.
I need to stop this stupidity.
Look at what I was doing to our daughter, not letting her own Daddy into the house!
I was not going to get a choice in the matter.
I had no right to.
I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. The black, suffocating cloud started enveloping me once again. I could feel my inner peace being sucked away with every composed threat.
Yet again, we were going around in circles. He was completely missing the point. He was saying that he’s in full control now.
“No, Reuben, you’re not. You’re not in control. HE is! This is what he does. He takes control and convinces you you’re fine, but you’re not! You’re delusional!”
Our argument intensified. I started crying out of frustration. So did he. We were so wrapped up in our dispute that neither of us had noticed that our daughter had taken herself off to another bench, arms crossed, head bowed.
I stopped and glanced across at her.
If a heart could drown and break at the same time, this is what happened to mine here. My poor little girl. My beautiful, innocent and vulnerable little treasure was sat in silence, crushed and defeated.
We both stopped in our tracks and rushed over to sit with her. Reuben picked her up and placed her firmly on his lap. He then said something so wounding I will never forget it.
“We’re so sorry. But Mummy won’t let Daddy come home.”
He is sure to make unyielding eye contact with me.
“And that makes Daddy very sad…I just want to come home, but she won’t let me. I love you very much.”
Heidi continued whimpering and peered at me through confused, saddened eyes. I’ve never felt so incapacitated and hurt in my life. He had no right to use our daughter as emotional blackmail.
After everything he’d put us through.
How dare he.
In that moment I can honestly say I hated my husband. I despised him with every cell in my body.
That was a cruel and spiteful thing to do.
I’d run out of excuses for his behavior.
I was done.
12 years previously.
Its 2.30am. I’m on my hands and knees, scrubbing away vomit from the bedroom floor.
When did it come to this?
The putrid mess is everywhere. It’s splattered across the bed, all over the bedside table and dripping from the chest of drawers. Reuben’s slumped in the corner, muttering over and again.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry …I didn’t realize I’d drunk so much…
He stumbles across the hallway, into the bathroom and clumsily slams the door closed behind him.
This was a pivotal night for me. The night I began to wonder whether I could live like this anymore.
I’m supposed to be getting up in 3 hours and I’ve not slept a wink. I strip the bed as best I can in my sleepy state, fueled with disappointment and fury. I stuff the sodden bedding into the washing machine, apologetic for forcing it to accept this disgusting offering. I change the bedding, check our daughter hasn’t been disturbed and wearily slink back under the duvet.
He seems genuinely sorry. It’s easily done, I guess.
Let me explain.