(Part 2 of Other Peoples Windows: An attempt to provide a glimpse into someone else’s life)
As Rachel walked out of the MacDonald’s toilet, her partner, Alyssa, was waiting.
“Gotta get moving, Rach.” Alyssa said, “Got some domestic disturbance case.”
Rachel rolled her eyes.
“Why do these woman tolerate abuse?” Rachel said, making a move to the door. “I mean, surely by the time it gets this bad the woman knows the man has it in him to hit her. Why stay with someone who is capable of that?”
“Fear of the alternative?” Alyssa suggested.
“What, being safe, and injury free?” Rachel replied.
“No, being alone.” Alyssa replied, smirking slightly at Rachels response. “Its sad really, you find a lot of these girls, they just want somebody to love. I wonder if it stems from a lack of love from their parents.”
“Maybe.” Rachel replied. “I just don’t understand it though. If a guy so much as suggested he may possibly want to hurt me, he would not know what hit him. In fact, to be honest, I think if anyone ever calls a domestic disturbance in my home, there’s more chance I would be the perpetrator!”
Alyssa laughed as the two officers rounded the corner and head up the stairs to the flat in question, and walked into yet another sad situation.
I met Oliver through friends, we had the same social group and kept finding ourselves ending up on the same nights out. At first we shared the odd coy look across the group, then the occasional polite conversation, and later, a warm friendship. One of the first things I remember about him, was his eyes. Whenever I looked at him, as corny as it sounds, it was as if I was looking into his soul, and he mine. It was never just a physical connection, actually, if anything it was more of an emotional one. We understood each other, right from day one, and could talk about anything.
When I met Oliver, despite the attraction, I never pushed things. I had been in a few relationships over the years, and when I met him I had only been single a few months, after breaking up with my boyfriend of 2 years. I had chosen the break up, and really did want to stay single for a while longer. It was as if things between us were meant to happen, and somehow we fell into a relationship, eventually moving in together not long after getting together.
Olivers life and my own life could not have been more different, I came from a happy family life, 2 parents, no divorce, 2 siblings, and a fairly fortunate childhood. Oliver on the other hand, came from a rather abusive upbringing, his mother prone to violent outbursts, as a result of some form of depression. This upbringing had left Oliver scarred, and it was the hope of both of us, that our relationship would be the first stable, and secure relationship in his life.
When the “honeymoon” period had warn off, I began to see how Olivers scars effected his life. He was lazy, avoided people, preferred to spend any time not working, in bed. Despite claiming to be a staunch advocate for equality for women, it clearly surprised him that I did not take on the brunt of the house duties. Having had Oliver explain his childhood though, and the way his mother controlled all aspects of his life and insisting on doing everything, I knew that a lot of this came from the fact Oliver had never known any different, so I made allowances, gently eased him into the housework, and slowly tried to encourage him to go out.
A few months into living together, Oliver and I had our first fight. Oliver was between jobs, so I was the only one working fulltime. I came home one day to find him still in bed, the house a mess, and Olivers lunch dishes still in the sink. When I walked through the bedroom door, Oliver met me with a sweet smile.
“Hey babe, how was the day?” He asked.
“Not bad.” I replied, as I put my bag down, and sat on the bed, leaning in for a hug. “I didn’t have time for lunch though, so I’m really hungry.”
“Mmm. Dinner.” Oliver said, nodding. “Good idea. I’m quite hungry too.”
I waited for a minute to see if Oliver would offer to cook for me, totally exhausted after my day at work.
“So, what are you going to make?” Oliver asked, a minute later, pulling away from me to turn back to the website he was browsing, “Do we still have chicken? I loved that chicken stirfry you made last week.”
“What am I going to make?” I asked tensely getting a little frustrated.
“Oooh, come on baby,” Oliver said, turning his attention back to me, “You came home all sweet, don’t turn on me like that. I’ve been feeling really down today.”
“Ok, well how bout I go downstairs and cook you dinner, clean up the dishes that are still in the sink, and put on a load of washing.” I started, causing Oliver to smile a little.
“Then,” I continued, “I will get my toothbrush, get on my hands and knees and scrub the floor like a good little house wife, while you, continue to lay on your back doing fuck all, as you have all day. After all, you man. You important.”
Olivers smiled faded.
“Why do you have to be like that?” He asked, getting angry. “You can’t just come home and be sweet, look after me a little, can you? You always have to be so feminist. You take things too far sometimes Leila. Honestly.”
“Too far?” I replied, my voice rising. “I have been at work all day, not you. I bet you haven’t even been job hunting. I come home, and nothings done, well, except for some web browsing. Wow Oliver, you must have it hard, you poor darling.”
“Great, and now with the sarcasm.” Oliver said. “Why don’t you just walk back out the door, I really can not deal with this gender bull shit right now. God. All I asked is that you cook dinner. Sor-ry for thinking MY girlfriend might actually want to look after her man a little.”
Oliver turned back to his laptop, clearly closed off to any rebuttal I might wish to inject into the argument.
I reached over in an attempt to snatch the lap top away, causing Oliver to swing away from me, laying on his side, facing the wall, the laptop cradled like a baby between him and the wall. I roughly grabbed Olivers arm and swung him around, so that his was laying on his back again, a hard task given his 40kg advantage. Oliver put the lap top out of the way and sat up so that we were face to face, noses almost touching.
“Don’t you EVER touch me like that again.” Oliver hissed, “You try anything like that, and you won’t know what hit you.”
With that I slapped Oliver across the face and stormed out of the room. We cooled off in separate rooms, and reconvened for apologies in bed, both aware that we need to try harder, and both regretting the intensity of the spat.
The thing with violence in a relationship is that once you open the doorway, it becomes a slippery slope, and things tend to get worse, not better. As Oliver often liked to remind me, with that first slap, I “started it”. A few weeks later, Oliver threatened me again, and I responded with a shove, and Oliver responded with a larger shove, causing me to fall to the ground. Again, there were apologies. A week after that, Oliver punched me in the arm, causing a bruise where his fist had connected. Three months later, and our fights had become full blown wrestling matches. After each fight, which always saw me as the losing party, Oliver would apologise, and remind me not to “provoke” him, to “be a sweety.” As much as I found the words patronising and condescending, and knew that Oliver really was as much to blame as I, I couldn’t help but feel that he was worth the sacrifice. I could not help but remind myself that Oliver had experienced a tough life, and if everyone walked away when things got hard with him, he would never get better, and he would live a lonely, and probably short, life.
I reminded him of my strength, told him I would fight for our relationship as long as he was willing to make the changes in his life to stop this being an on going problem. I even went as far as to “break up” with him, saying that I would still be there for him, still live with him, but not be his “girlfriend” until things improved.
Things didn’t improve.
5 months later I came home after a long day at work, Oliver having had the day off from his barely sufficient part time job. After short hellos, I had asked Oliver if his job hunting had been fruitful at all, causing him to angrily snap that I had promised to help him, and not pulled through, and he was not willing to continue looking until I put in some effort. As the Oliver and I became increasingly angry over who was more responsible for improving his life, he eventually asked me to leave the room. Taken back that Oliver thought he had the right to kick me out of the room that I was predominately paying rent for, I refused. Sitting myself on the bed stubbornly, and opening up my own laptop.
Oliver grabbed my laptop, and threw it to the far corner of the bed, then grabbed me by the arm and attempted to lead me out the door. I snapped my arm away and perched myself in the far corner of the bed.
“Get out.” Oliver said, firmly, his eyes turning colder than a winter sky.
“No.” I said, attempting to open my lap top, and trying to avoid further violence. The last few months had gotten bad, and I had now learnt that it was best not to fight back, because Oliver always hit, pushed, and punched harder than I ever could, and unlike me, Oliver did not seem to care how much of a threat he posed to my safety.
“Just leave it Oliver.” I said, trying to ignore him, maintaining a calm voice.
“GET OUT!” Oliver yelled, lunging onto the bed, ripping my laptop out of my hands and flinging it onto the ground.
“Hey! Don’t break my stuff!” I said angrily, attempting to fetch my laptop.
Oliver again grapped me and dragged me to the door.
“OUT!” he yelled, “I don’t want to see your fucking face right now, so would you just leave me alone?”
I threw my body in front of the door so that Oliver could not throw me out. Not because I wanted to fight, but because I refused to let this type of behaviour dictate what I did, and where I went.
“No.” I said firmly, but calmly. “Stop it Oliver. Your hurting me. I don’t want to fight, I just want to sit on MY bed and relax. I have had a long day at work, now I need to rest. Just drop it.”
Suddenly my head was bombarded with a rainfall of fists, left, right, left, right, over and over as Oliver used my head as a punching bag. I dropped suddenly to the ground, and ducked under his arm, my head hurting, my heart racing.
“Stop!” I cried, pleading in the hope that Oliver would ease up. “Please Oliver, just let me be. Please.”
Oliver followed me to the other side of the room, and pinned me to the wall, grabbing me by the neck.
“Why don’t you listen?” He yelled, as I banged my arms against the wall, trying to spring myself out of his clutches.
“I’m sorry.” I cried, tears now streaming down my face, partly in fear of what may happen next, partly forced to try and appeal to any concern for my welfare that may still lie within the depths of Oliver.
Oliver scoffed at me, and continued to hold me by the neck, while yelling profanities, reminding me what an intrusive, frustrating human being I was, as the pressure on my neck increased, I looked around, trying to plan my next move, knowing that this time could be the time I had been fearing, and the time that Oliver had been warning me of.
All of a sudden, Oliver stopped, and dropped his arms.
“Theres a knocking on the door. Go answer it. Im not dealing with people right now.” He said, turning away.
I ran out of the room and to the door, realising that the knocking was not just knocking, but persistent thumping and yelling.
“Who is it?” I called, a little concerned that the people on the otherside of the door might be more dangerous than Oliver.
“Police.” Yelled a womans voice. “Open the door.”
I quickly wiped my face, and straightened my clothes, flinging the door open, and smiling as best I could.
“Yes?” I said, by way of greeting.
“We’ve had reports of a disturbance, can we come in?” Said the taller police woman.
I stood aside as the two women came into the house, then shut the door behind them.
“Sorry about that, we were just having a fight.” I said, as Oliver came down the stairs looking slightly annoyed.
“Whats going on?” He said.
“Sir, we have had reports of a disturbance in this house, we would like to talk to each of you alone, where can we go?”
“Um, I guess theres the kitchen,” I started, “or the bedroom.”
“Fine, Ill take the bedroom with you.” The shorted one said, looking at me, “And my partner will talk to your partner in the bedroom.”
Over the next 20 minutes the police officer sat me down and asked me for details on what had happened. Embarrassed by the fact that I was being seen in a position where I may be perceived as vulnerable, I first tried to pass it all off as a verbal argument. However, when the police woman commented on the marks on my neck, I had to be honest. She asked if I wanted to make a statement, I declined. She explained that they could have him immediately evicted, that I would be safe. I told her I could handle it, I told her that if I reported him, had him evicted, he would just fall further down, that no one would ever fix things if someone didn’t take responsibility for him. I told her I had control of the situation, I would get him help.
When the police left, Oliver and I made up. We quietly tolerated each other. 3 weeks later Oliver left, and I never saw him again.
It took time to understand the severity of our relationship, to understand how I could have allowed myself to get in such a situation. I would never have guessed that I would allow someone to lay a finger on me, especially on more than one occasion. I had heard of these kind of cases before, and I always wondered how desperate for a relationship these people must be. The thing was, I wasn’t desperate for a relationship, I was determined to help Oliver. I cared about him, and I didn’t want to lose him his illness. Over time though, I began to realise that by separating the Oliver I thought I loved from the Oliver who hit me, I was allowing him not to take responsibility for his actions, I was no better than Oliver expecting everyone else to take responsibility for his life. Olivers decision to leave was sudden, and hurt me a lot, but at the end of the day, it was the best thing for us both. I would never be able to be the woman that Oliver wanted, some subservient girl who nurtured him and slowly taught him the importance of independence, of personal growth, and of trusting another person. Likewise, Oliver could never be the sort of man I really wanted, someone strong, independent, and motivated to make positive changes in his life. As much as the passion was there, and the interest in each other, Oliver and I were just not right for each other, and unfortunately it took things getting worse than either of us had ever experienced before I could see that.