Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (10 page)

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12
Empowerment

It was 2005, and in a fit of pique one day Greg announced that he had no intention of being a part-time father. He said he never wanted to see Luke again. At first I was distressed – as he knew I would be. Luke loved the time he spent with his father, and, for better or for worse, Greg was his dad so I wanted to facilitate a relationship between them.

Not long after, Greg lost his job. He moved out of his apartment, sold his car and went to stay at the Russian Orthodox monastery for a period. The next contact I had from Greg was a message to inform me that he was heading overseas on some sort of pilgrimage. Israel, Egypt, Peru – it was a typically confused grab bag of destinations, all of which Greg intended to visit to answer a conflicting series of perceived religious callings. I know he funded most of the trip with credit cards, because for months after his return, I had debt collectors calling me asking if I knew of his whereabouts. Midway through his trip, he called me to tell me he had run out of money and would I transfer $2000 into his bank account. Even though I wanted Greg to have a relationship with Luke, I was also keen –
for my sanity's sake – for him to stay away as long as possible, and maybe even never come back. I transferred the money.

By the time Greg returned, eight months later, I had made the decision to leave Menzies Creek. My share from the sale of the family farm meant Luke and I were in a position to move up in the world, to purchase a place where we could settle and I could watch him grow.

After a month or so of searching, I settled on a property in Tyabb, on the Mornington Peninsula. It was, once again, a semi-rural pocket of Victoria, a beautiful patch of the world wedged between Port Phillip Bay and the Western Port. From the property, you could look out across the nearby waters of Western Port to French Island, beyond which lay Phillip Island. Tyabb was close to the townships of Mornington, Somerville and Hastings, both of which boasted all the shops and amenities we could need. It was ten minutes on the freeway from Frankston and fifty minutes – on a good run – on the freeway to the Melbourne CBD.

The house was a 1990s build. Brown brick, two storey, high ceilings, open and light. There was a pool off the back patio, a beautiful garden full of gums and natives, and a large paddock that stretched down a gentle slope. It was perfect. Close by was Tyabb Public School and down the road was Flinders Christian Community College. The moment I saw it, I knew Luke and I would be happy there. And so I made an offer on the house.

Because the IVO had expired, Greg was no longer restricted from coming near me or my property. Aware that I was keen to maintain the barriers the IVO had established, Greg promptly set about testing them, increasing the frequency of his unannounced visits, always picking up and dropping off Luke in hours outside those we had agreed, always hoping to catch me with another man. And each time, there was the confusing combination of
abuse and overture. If he wasn't calling me a slut, he was inviting me to join him for a drink. His behaviour – slander one minute, seduction the next – was too erratic for me to take seriously. I explained patiently each time he invited me that I was not interested, to which he would invariably respond that I was a ‘fucking moron'.

For his birthday in November I sent Greg an email, purportedly from Luke, wishing him a happy birthday. I attached a photo of Greg and Luke together.

Four days later, I received the following response:

I'm disappointed in you Luke. You have become too feminine since I have been overseas … Your mother's inheritance and since I have known her, continually calling her father for money and that fool giving it, supporting her in her folly rather than relying on your true father. Now with you moving to Tyabb to an overpriced property not even large enough to support a horse is another indication of thoughtlessness and ignorance itself. How I am expected to be more than a two hour amusement once a week only an idiot can explain (ask your mother). To think in the last five months you are now scared of the pool which you weren't and can still only ride your bike as skilled as I taught you, this shows the manly neglect you have suffered. Your present path you will probably become a homosexual and your mother doesn't have the right spirit to be concerned of this. There is a lesson to know Luke, no man gets into the bath for amusement with other people's sons, and when asked to wash your bottom only an idiot wouldn't be able to see through it. As for this loser [your mother has been seeing], he as a male after two marriages must be proud to
disturb others' lives. If there was an ounce of truth coming from your mother's mouth she has not shared it with me, the foolish arse blower. Satan's tricks, and by the look of Vi learnt from her. The violence to your Grandfather would have manifested from Vi, distracting him with violence so not to be able to preserve her truly. Your spirit Luke has a dark hood on your head. It did come off when I saw you but five months away and evil has its glue in your mother's life. The pleasure your mother got from hearing I had not attended the Mormon Church was an obvious indication of her following an unrighteous path. Your baptism in England was to ensure your mother got some money, it was no indication of her faith. 2 hours once a week Dad.

It is telling how immune I had become to his ramblings that this email didn't strike me as even remotely unusual. Disturbing and deeply offensive, yes, but unusual, no. Take the tone and nonsensical, abusive content of the above email and multiply it into hundreds of text messages and phone calls, and you start to get a sense of what I was dealing with.

About a week later, and perhaps triggered by the email, I became very depressed. I was midway through the process of selling my property at Menzies Creek and settling on the house at Tyabb. Work was stressful, juggling Luke was exhausting and Greg was constantly abusing me. So when he called one night to launch into a new tirade, I broke down. The thought of him haunting my every waking moment was too much to bear. He had worn me down and I cracked.

‘Enough, Greg, it's enough,' I sobbed. ‘I can't do this anymore. I can't take it. Just have Luke. Take him. He's all yours. You can have custody of Luke. I can't fight anymore.'

There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment.

‘Now, now, Rosie,' he began. ‘There's no need to be like that. I'm sorry if you feel that way. And of course I don't want full custody of Luke. That's not what I want at all.'

Only years afterwards was I able to understand that full custody of Luke was most definitely not what Greg wanted. He wanted to torture and torment me – and that could only be done if he could use Luke as a pawn.

A month later, and on the eve of our move to Tyabb, I contacted Child Support to cancel Greg's payment obligations and waive the debts he had accrued. I had never actually received any payments from him for Luke, but I reasoned that relieving him of the obligation to make payments might possibly reduce the level of stress Greg was under, and hopefully reduce the tension that existed between us. It was to be another example of my complete naïveté when it came to Greg.

I had now been working for the telecommunications company for five years, and each year it had only become more stressful. By the time I made the move to Tyabb – significantly further away from my workplace than Menzies Creek had been – I was holding on by a thread to my job, worn down by the physical and emotional toll it had taken. The job I had been doing was coming to a natural end, and the only jobs available in the company involved a lot of travel and even more pressure. I couldn't have taken them even if I wanted them. Being a single mum in Tyabb with a toddler and working in the CBD were never going to be happy bedfellows. And if I am honest, I made the move there as a way of gently making it impossible for me to continue working in the corporate rat race. I was done.

The inheritance from the farm had given me a small financial cushion, so I used the time to set up Luke's and my new home.
Now that I had acreage in my life, I immediately wanted to fill it with the farm animals that had been such an important part of my own childhood growing up. And so to the goats, chickens and dogs I already had, I added a horse for good measure. My menagerie was complete.

Soon enough, a looming cash-flow crisis forced me to look for work again. With a toddler at home or in local daycare, my options were relatively limited. So I accepted a job doing telemarketing sales in nearby Mornington. On the plus side, it was nine to five, a ten-minute drive from home and required a bare minimum of brain power. On the down side, it was soul-destroying work and I hated it. With my self-esteem still under almost daily assault from Greg, this was just the professional diversion I didn't need. My career – which had once informed so much of my sense of identity – had stalled completely. I was showing up to work each morning in a light industrial complex on the fringes of a sleepy seaside town in Victoria's south – and it was killing me.

Into this mix, I still had to factor regular exposure to Greg, whose access visits to Luke continued. He would come to collect Luke and take him back to St Kilda where he was living. Sometimes he would bring Luke back to Tyabb the following day, sometimes he would not. If it had been a casual lack of organisation on his part, I wouldn't have minded as much the two-hour return journey in the car to collect Luke from St Kilda. But it was always done with malice and intent.

On one occasion, when I was five minutes late to an agreed handover meeting at Chadstone Shopping Centre, Greg bundled Luke into his car and told me I had missed the window and would have to drive to St Kilda to collect Luke. On another occasion, during a handover at Frankston McDonald's, he started to insist
all pick-ups now needed to take place in St Kilda. I dissolved into tears on the spot, unable to take any more of Greg's controlling behaviour.

As Greg trailed me with Luke in his arms, I ran towards my car in the car park and fell to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. ‘Keep him! Just fucking keep him! I can't do this anymore!' I cried.

Greg tried to calm me down, but I got into my car and drove off.

‘You fucking bitch!' he screamed after me. ‘You drive out of this car park and I swear you will never see your son again!'

Three kilometres down the road, Greg found me pulled onto the shoulder, slumped over the steering wheel, crying. He pulled over and wordlessly buckled Luke in the child safety seat in the back of my car before driving off.

Greg understood that by changing his plans or failing to honour an agreement we had reached about returning Luke to me at Tyabb, he would be able to cause maximum disturbance to my life. The more time he could tie me up in time-wasting effort to accommodate his whims, the less time I had to get on with a life of my own.

I can hardly bear to recall this incident now, but I was so desperate and emotionally frayed I felt like I couldn't take it anymore. Of course, I would never have willingly given up Luke to Greg, but I was at the end of my tether.

Initially, I'd turned to friends to vent my frustration. And initially, they were very understanding and sympathetic. But, after a while, their patience for my predicament waned and, invariably, they would become frustrated – often with me. ‘Why don't you call the police? Why don't you get the courts involved? Why don't you fight back? Why don't you move home
to England?' But legally I had no options. The courts had made it quite clear that Greg had a right to see his son, and I felt that his harassment was just something I was going to have to manage.

Eventually, I'd run out of friends I felt I could burden with my troubles, and so I looked to see what services existed for women in my predicament. The act of taking the step to call a crisis line is a massive one. It's an acknowledgement that things have spiralled out of your control. It's putting your hand up and admitting yourself to a club you never wanted to belong to.

I dialled the number for the crisis line. Though the conversation was brief, it was revelatory. Not only was there someone who was willing to listen, they didn't feel the need to try and offer a solution or, worse, pass judgement. They spoke with a calmness and an authority in which I found enormous comfort. Importantly, they seemed to know my story before I even had time to tell it to them. Not the specifics, because they were unique to me, but the signposts, the triggers, the hallmarks of the violence I had suffered – they were all hauntingly familiar to the crisis line counsellor. They told me of a ‘Women in Relationships' course that was being run in Rosebud, down on the Mornington Peninsula. Emboldened by this first venture into the realm of domestic violence services, I resolved to go along.

The meeting was held in a stark room in a nondescript community centre. I sat and listened. With every minute that passed and every second of testimony I heard from the other women in the group, I felt a quickening of my heart. They were speaking my story, giving voice to my pain and my fear. They were strangers, but each one of them could have been me.

I specifically remember one woman who had been stalked by her ex-partner for the past thirteen years. For thirteen years he had called her, texted her, lain in wait outside her house, followed
her home from work. She lived in constant fear of him. Her every waking moment was consumed with thoughts of him. He wasn't technically in her life anymore, yet he controlled almost every aspect of it. And I was gripped by a dread that she was my future, that I was destined to forever be haunted by Greg and his increasingly irrational behaviour.

The course ran over several weeks, and it gave me the tools to properly quantify just how completely my own life was being affected by Greg. Surrounded by fellow victims of family violence, I felt empowered for the first time in years. I also took up riding lessons around this time, pouring my energy into my horse and focusing on something that gave me confidence rather than someone who undermined me. Little by little, I felt my self-confidence start to creep back.

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