Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (5 page)

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5
Isolation

Later in 1992 I moved into my new place in Belgrave, out to the east of Melbourne. It's a beautiful part of the world – famous as the home of the Puffing Billy steam engine. Perched on the edge of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, it's green and covered in bushland. It was, I had decided, the perfect bolthole for a girl from the country: close enough to commute to work in the CBD and just far enough away to feel like I was out in the country.

My house was a little run-down shack of a place – no more than a wooden cottage in the hills. At the time, I was just excited at how much land I was able to purchase for the same amount it would have cost to purchase a shoebox in Richmond, which had been my alternative option. Nottinghamshire, from whence I had come, is really flat and mostly featureless. The Dandenongs by comparison are undulating and covered in the most gloriously unkempt bushland and forest.

But from the moment I moved in I was miserable. I soon came to hate the house and I started to feel increasingly lonely. I now lived a long way from my friends, and there were no close neighbours.

The financial pressure of the mortgage, combined with an increasingly precarious work environment, made me anxious as I had never been before. I had a job I was struggling to master and a work environment that was not particularly nurturing. I would return to my shack at night, close the door against the winter cold and think about how much I missed my family.

I became very distressed by the number of people being summarily dismissed at work and was convinced I was on the chopping block, so I worked even harder. Selling a service, as it turns out, is really difficult. Having to cold-call companies that have no desire to speak to you can be soul-destroying. I was way outside my comfort zone. Sales, I have since come to understand, is not a great profession for someone who has issues with rejection. I nevertheless stuck it out at the recruitment company for almost three years. Those of us who survived – and I use that word deliberately – developed a kind of ‘in the trenches' mentality, but none of us left there without scars.

I remember going to someone's leaving lunch and feeling so anxious I couldn't sit through the meal. A friend who knew me well suggested I go see a doctor, who promptly informed me the three most common triggers for stress and anxiety are money worries, men trouble and job insecurity. I had hit the trifecta.

Meanwhile out at Belgrave, I had embarked upon a pet-accumulation spree in an effort to introduce some companions into my life. And so the household grew with the acquisition of Gordon the Brittany spaniel, Lola the springer spaniel and two cats, William and Henry. Their ranks were soon bolstered by the arrival of a goat called Gilbert and a sheep called Rodney. They all did their darnedest to keep me company, but I was still too young to become a confirmed cat spinster, so I took in a lodger to help with rent and provide a bit of human company. Mark
was the brother of one of my neighbours, a really nice bloke who liked to keep to himself. We became good friends.

It was around this time that Greg started making impromptu house calls. Since the time he'd hurt me, I had never allowed things between us to escalate beyond a vague friendship. He had gotten the sack months earlier, because he was consistently missing sales targets, though, if you asked him, he was the greatest salesman in the world and solely responsible for landing the biggest deal in the company. He was deluded like that.

The house calls started on weekends. He would appear unannounced and offer to help out in the yard – taking to the undergrowth with the whipper-snipper, moving logs, you name it. I was wary but happy to see a familiar face. And being on my own with a vast yard and expanding menagerie to manage, I was grateful for the extra set of helping hands. On the odd Saturday night, Greg would stay over, always sleeping in the spare room. He would often joke to Mark and me what a perfect couple we made, and loudly predict that we would end up together. It was all very jocular, and to my mind, at least, spoke to the possibility of Greg and I having a perfectly normal platonic friendship. I think he genuinely liked me but, in retrospect, part of his attraction to me lay in the fact that he saw me as vulnerable and easy to manipulate.

One evening I got a phone call from Greg saying he had to move out of his house and could he stay with me. I felt sorry for him and was so lonely, I said yes. And so, for what would be the first of many times, Greg moved in.

Greg had an arrogance about him that I found offensive. He took a keen interest in alternative medicine and there were always pots of Chinese herbs bubbling away on the stove, stinking the house out. I started to notice the books he was reading – most of them about Eastern philosophy and religion. I'm not sure that he
ever read a complete book. He would read a chapter here and a chapter there and cherry-pick from each of them the bits he liked the sound of.

That first time he stayed at my place for about ten months. As time went by, we found ourselves in a sort of relationship. He was quite removed and didn't have a lot of friends. He would have a job for a few weeks here and there, but they never lasted. He never seem fazed when he lost a job, and was always ready to blame the company or a colleague rather than admit any shortcomings of his own. Greg was always good at paying bills and making a financial contribution to the running of the household. Despite his frequently stated conviction that Mark and I were a match made in heaven, Greg and I were intimate on and off. It was always random, and never seemed especially meaningful for either of us.

I began to see a pattern emerge in our relationship (if indeed you could have called it that). If he thought I wasn't interested in him, he made an effort to engage with me. If I showed interest in him, he would pull back and become aloof.

We kept separate bedrooms, and I made a conscious effort to keep things between us as casual as possible. It was only after a trip back to England later that year that I realised how much living with Greg was dragging me down.

I had left Greg with the use of my car and care of the animals. Back in England, I spent a solid few weeks in the company of my younger brother James, visiting a succession of local pubs and essentially letting my hair down. The pressure of work, the mortgage, the uncertainty around my relationship with Greg – it had all built up without my realising. And back in the bosom of my family, I felt finally able to let go. It also afforded me some much-needed perspective. I accepted that I needed to make changes in
my life, and the two things I needed to do most urgently were to get out of the recruitment company and get rid of Greg.

I returned to Australia with a sense of resolve. I quit my job and soon after found a new gig with a major computer company – one that would prove to be both challenging and rewarding.

Getting rid of Greg was not so straightforward. He had become very comfortable at my house, driving my car and using all my things. He was not disposed to being turfed out, and he made his feelings clear. He had developed a sense of entitlement that was hard to crack – no matter how many hints I dropped about him needing to find somewhere else to live. I remember Mark saying, ‘He's dragging you down, Rosie. You came back from England in a really good place, but with every day that passes and he's still here, he's eroding your confidence.' Mark was right, but the thing about being undermined on an almost daily basis is that when finally you find the resolve to do something about it, you don't have the confidence to see it through.

One evening, a mutual friend of Greg's and mine came to visit me. Greg was out for the night. She listened to me talk about Greg and how I felt confused and somehow at fault for creating my situation. And she said, ‘Rosie, this is not your fault. You're not to blame. I have to tell you something. Greg tried to rape me in my house. I had to fight him off. I don't want you to tell anyone. It's important, though, that you know.'

I was horrified. My friend was a confident, assertive woman and he had tried to sexually assault her. And here she was embarrassed to report the attack for fear of being blamed for having somehow incited it. Whatever had happened on that night, she said, she ended up having to talk Greg down. Something had seemed to switch in his personality and she realised she didn't really know who this person was or what he was capable of.

Suddenly Greg's behaviour over the previous ten months was cast in a new and sinister light. Sex between us – on the odd occasions it had occurred – had always been confusing. His behaviour towards me sexually was nothing short of deviant. In many instances I would wake up in the middle of the night and find him having sex with me, having let himself into my room and bed. I would be too shocked to do or say anything, and he would gratify himself and then leave. For reasons I still don't really understand today, I never considered it rape. I think I was just so confused by him and this ill-defined relationship we had. He didn't ostensibly force me to have sex with him, but it was all just so furtive and abnormal.

Talking to my friend that night, something in me snapped and I thought, you bastard! I was furious with him – and with myself. It made me realise the emotional and physical abuse to which he had been subjecting me, and I resolved to cut him out of my life.

Later that evening, Greg tried to come into my bedroom. I told him to fuck off and make plans to leave my house immediately. ‘If you don't leave,' I told him, ‘I will be calling the police to have you removed.'

He sensed that something had shifted in me and backed off instinctively.

That weekend I went away with friends for a couple of days. I returned to find Greg gone. He had taken everything he owned and only left behind two gifts I had given him: a mug and a souvenir from England.

With Greg excised from my life, I felt a huge sense of relief – a lightness. I began kicking goals on the work front and my reputation for excellence grew. Eventually, I moved to another computer company into what would become the best job I have
ever had. As a business development representative, I looked after major channels, including Harvey Norman and Myer. The job required me to travel extensively and, in turn, meant the sense of isolation I felt living at Belgrave was significantly reduced. I was happily single and in something of a purple patch.

When I was offered a promotion, I was ecstatic. When it became clear the new job would be based in Sydney, though, I was hesitant. It was 1995 and I had just spent the better part of the last decade getting myself established in Melbourne. All my friends were there, my home, my network. But it was an opportunity too good to refuse, and so I packed up my life, sold my property in Belgrave, and headed north.

At first, the bright lights of Sydney were intoxicating. I loved the harbour city – I loved its energy and I loved the opportunity to explore a brand-new town. The dogs and I set ourselves up in Castle Hill, on the Sydney's north-western outskirts. My new workplace was in Lane Cove. True to Sydney form, I took up daily exercise with a vengeance, waking every morning at five-thirty with the dogs.

The new job – my first in a management position – was demanding. It was not uncommon to turn in fourteen-hour days, leaving the office sometimes at 10 pm. The office environment was relentlessly competitive – which could have been good were it not for the fact it was a bit of a boys' club and I was the only woman. The discrimination was never overt. It was made up of simple things, such as all the male managers – my colleagues – going for lunches and forgetting to invite me, or playing golf together and never thinking to include me. I see it now for the workplace discrimination it was but, at the time, it dented the self-confidence of a girl who had never really dealt with her rejection and abandonment issues.

Nevertheless, I threw myself into my job, determined to prove my worth. But it was all to no end. The division I was in was earmarked for restructuring and I was one of the first to be retrenched. I had given my heart and soul to that job only to be escorted from the premises with a box full of personal effects.

I went to bed for three days and didn't get up. I had given everything to that job to the exclusion of all else in my life. I had moved to Sydney, left behind friends and lived and breathed the role. I had allowed my sense of self-worth to be defined by the job, and now I didn't have it anymore. I felt desolate and so very alone. I understood for the first time why people commit suicide. I thought I was a failure.

I picked myself up and, a month or so later, I got a great new job working for another computer company. My self-esteem and confidence returned.

But eventually a turning point came when I returned to Melbourne one weekend for Leonie's wedding. There, in one room of nuptial-inspired bonhomie, was everything I had been missing in Sydney. These were my friends and I realised how much I needed to be near them.

I made a checklist of the pros and cons of another move. Having sold my Belgrave property when I moved north, I had prevaricated and hadn't invested the money straight into a property in Sydney. Now the market had moved on and I'd missed the boat. The only place I could afford to buy was on the Central Coast, more than an hour's drive north of Sydney. A quick scout of the Melbourne market showed me there were homes available, in my price range, within striking distance of all my friends. In all my time in Sydney I had never really put down roots. I decided to head back south.

6
Turning Point

During my online real-estate fossicking while still living in Sydney, I had come across a property in Menzies Creek, a tiny township in the Dandenong region not far from where I had previously lived in Belgrave. I asked my former Belgrave neighbours to give it the once-over, and they came back with generally positive reviews. I bought it, sight unseen.

When I arrived to see it for myself a few weeks later, it was ten-thirty at night. I loved the place. It was essentially a log cabin with pine-panelled interiors. I thought it was rustic and charming, and a perfect antidote to my three years of city living in Sydney. I sat in the empty living room, opened a bottle of wine and had a toast to whatever lay ahead with my old neighbour, Carrie, and friend Chris, who had brought my furniture from Sydney. The next morning, I returned to see it for the first time in daylight and it was even more spectacular. Nestled in the midst of dense eucalypt forest, with ferns and bracken in the thick undergrowth, it was rugged and private. My own little bush hideaway in the mountains.

Not long after my return to Melbourne, I landed a job with a trade marketing company in St Kilda. The commute – some 50 kilometres each way – was manageable at first, but soon became tiresome. The more hours I spent at work or on my commute, the fewer hours I had to maintain my house and property. So I left my job for a role as a sales representative with a telecommunications company, which, I figured, would at least cut out the daily commute to an office.

The decision to move back to Melbourne had been motivated by a desire to be back in the circle of friends I had known for over a decade. What I hadn't taken into account was the fact that, during the three years I had been in Sydney, most of them had married and had children. I had come back to rejoin the tight-knit Melbourne crew that had once nurtured me, but that crew no longer existed. Or if it did, its members were all busy changing nappies.

Out of the blue one day, a friend called me. ‘You'll never guess who I just bumped into in the city,' she said.

‘Greg Anderson?' I guessed, without knowing why.

‘Yes! How did you guess?' she replied. ‘And he asked me all about you. Whether you were married, whether you had children.'

Almost eight years had passed since I'd seen Greg and we'd had no contact at all in that time. I was bemused that he would ask after me. What would he look like? Would he have met someone and married like everyone else? Was he still the arrogant tosser I had thrown from my house all those years ago?

The intense anger I had felt towards him had faded over the last eight years, and I was intrigued to catch up and see him. What harm could it do to meet for coffee? So I called Greg and we organised to meet in the city. Coming back to Melbourne
had given me the perspective necessary to reflect on my time in Sydney, and I felt good going in to meet Greg, thinking about how I'd lived independently and built on my career up there, despite the way things had ended.

I fronted up to the café and breezed in. Greg had less hair and his face had a few more lines but he was still the tall, imposing figure he had always been. He was the Greg I remembered, but not quite the same.

When I look back now, knowing what I do, our reunion happened around the time Greg was living with the Hare Krishnas in St Kilda. He was, for all intents and purposes, homeless and without a job. He tried to give me the impression he was on a spiritual path. He mentioned also having spent time exploring the Mormon faith and told me he was involved with a Russian Orthodox monastery near the NSW–Victoria border. It all sounded a bit odd. But he'd always been so quirky, so borderline unusual, that I just took it at face value and didn't think too much about it.

Greg told me he hadn't slept with another woman since me. And even though I had left our relationship – such as it was – utterly confused about the sexual side of it, I was nevertheless flattered by this. One of the tenets of his spiritual quest, he would later tell me, was to wean himself off a need for sexual contact with women. In retrospect, who knows whether there was any truth to it.

We talked about old times, and laughed about shared memories. Here he was, calling me McBatty – his nickname for me – again. It felt familiar and, in spite of my better judgement, it felt good. I remembered how he would pick me up and spin me around, and it was a good memory. We reminisced about the work we had done together on my property in Belgrave.

So when he expressed an interest in seeing my new home in Menzies Creek, I invited him back to see it. That afternoon
we chopped wood together and made a lovely fire. He seemed to have changed for the better, and appeared to have genuinely realised how much he'd thought about me during the past eight years. I was flattered and intrigued.

And so began a pattern of him reclaiming a place for himself in my life. Just as before, we were never really ‘going out' in any conventional sense, but he became once again a kind of fixture in my life. He would show up at my place most weekends, and he did a lot of work on the property, clearing brambles, chopping fallen trees, laying sleepers to create a path. He was, it must be said, really good to me in this way.

One weekend, we worked together restoring and repainting an old garden bench that we'd picked up from someone's throw-out pile. It was a rickety old thing, but it seemed to suit the ramshackle nature of the house – not to mention the ill-defined, slightly odd, but nevertheless vaguely comfortable relationship that was developing between Greg and me.

My property was on a hill, and sometimes I'd look down and see him working on my garden. He was going bald and looked like your average mature middle-aged man. But he still appeared strong and I remember regarding him with a degree of fondness. I was lonely, but now I had someone to help build something at the property. I felt that there was a connection between us.

Sometimes Greg would stay overnight, and sometimes he would go back to where he was living in St Kilda. I even went so far as to buy him a pair of slippers to wear on the nights we would sit in front of the fire, watching the wood we had chopped slowly burn to cinders. There was a sense of rekindling a relationship that hadn't worked out before, of two kindred spirits who had gotten to a more mature point in their respective lives.

I was thirty-nine years old and in a period of reassessing my life. I didn't have the same desire and drive to get ahead at work. I'd had years of being all-consumed by my job, but I had lost the passion for that. I remember watching the film
High Fidelity
, with John Cusack, around that time and really relating to it. It was about a guy about to hit forty taking stock of his life and realising everything he had held up as important ten years previously really didn't matter in the grand scheme.

And so, in many respects, the reappearance of Greg in my life was just a matter of timing. I hadn't had a relationship for years. Now I wondered whether I should go back on the Pill, even though I didn't feel comfortable taking it. But I didn't want to fall pregnant, either.

When I told Greg this, he protested. ‘I'm not having sex with you if you're on the Pill,' he said. ‘It's not good for you.' Greg was in the midst of his alternative medicine phase. He was virulently anti-vaccination and thought the Pill – like many modern medicines – was a kind of poison.

Now that I think about it, the fact he was purporting to care about my health, when he had never shown any interest in my welfare before, should have been a red flag.

I was still confused about sex with him, as I had always been. He seemed to put himself on this spiritual pedestal. He had a firm belief that he was spiritually superior – not just to me, but to everyone around him. He truly felt he had complete control over his sexual desire, to the point where, if we did have sex – which happened infrequently – he would control whether or not he came. I often felt rejected because, for the most part, he didn't want to have sex with me.

I can now see that, for him, sex like everything else was about power and control. And on the odd occasions we did have
sex, there was never any suggestion of him satisfying my needs. Once he had gratified himself, that was it. I remember once, after we'd had sex, indicating to him that perhaps I would like to be sexually gratified too. ‘You had your chance,' he said.

One week, Greg took himself off to Queensland on a spiritual retreat of some kind. When he returned, it was like he was a changed man. He was invigorated in a way I hadn't seen him for a long time. He was affectionate and attentive, and suddenly very interested in being intimate and wanting to spend a lot of time in the bedroom. I was only too happy to have this normal, loving man in my life – and I thought that whatever issues he'd had he must have resolved. For a day or two, there was a lot of sexual activity between us – a renewed affection, and what I foolishly believed might even have been a new beginning.

I can pinpoint the day that Luke was conceived. And though Greg would never have admitted it, I am now convinced he contrived the whole thing. Years later, he would tell me how he knew from the first time he saw me that I would make an excellent mother for his child.

I don't mean to say that, from the moment he met me all those years previously, he plotted to impregnate me so I could produce an heir for him, but, looking back, I think his conceiving a baby with me was no accident. The insistence on me not using contraception, the sudden change in mood the weekend he returned from Queensland, the attentiveness, the affection: it was all part of him grooming me for the express purpose of making me fall pregnant with his baby. And, of course, a part of me wanted to be pregnant too. I was almost forty and thought that if it didn't happen now, maybe it would never happen.

I remember in the following weeks becoming quite sure I was pregnant and feeling uneasy at the prospect. Following a
couple of weeks of behaving like a normal human being, Greg had since returned to his hot-headed, unpredictable self. He affected an arrogance and treated me with low-level contempt, reminding me of all the reasons I had pushed him away in the first place.

With a certain amount of trepidation, I bought a home pregnancy test. When it confirmed I was pregnant, I felt mixed emotions. I was carrying Greg's child and things were weird between us, and while I was pretty certain I wanted a child, I was absolutely certain I didn't want to co-parent a child with Greg.

And so I started to weigh up my options. I could terminate the pregnancy – and give up what might be my only chance of being a mother. Or go through with it and endure a future in which Greg would always play a significant role. I didn't know what to do. I went to see Jan to ask her advice. Her son was also visiting and he asked me, ‘Rosie, what did you feel when you found out you were pregnant?' I thought about it, and I eventually replied I would have been disappointed if the pregnancy test had come back negative. It made me realise that, above all else, I did want a child.

I spoke to my friends and told them about my misgivings, but almost to a person they advised me that, had I not fallen pregnant like this, I would never have had a child. Besides, they said, Greg might technically be the father, but there was nothing stopping me from raising the baby on my own.

I remember telling Leonie – who had never liked Greg. She knew me better than anyone and I valued her opinion. I told her I had never wanted a child up until this point, because I was just so scared that what you love the most in life, you ultimately lose. My life up to that point, I said, had been about avoiding putting myself in a situation where I loved something so much it
would break me if I were to lose it. I had spent thirty-odd years protecting myself from those deep-seated feelings of abandonment and rejection. It was why I had never been married, why I had only ever been in self-destructive relationships and why, up until now, I hadn't had children. For me, the fear of having a child and then losing it was greater than any desire to become a mother.

‘But Rosie,' she replied, ‘it's better to have lost in love than never to have loved at all.' This was probably my one and only chance to know motherhood, Leonie said, and the life-affirming, transformative experience it was. I finally decided she was probably right.

And so, when the time was right, I broke the news to Greg. He could not have been more pleased. It seemed to trigger in him a rush of paternal instinct, and – much to my concern – he set about trying to reinsert himself more permanently in my life. He seemed to want to nest, to prepare the house, to shepherd me through the pregnancy.

I had pretty much decided that I was going to do this on my own. And yet Greg
was
the father. Shouldn't he perhaps have some involvement in the pregnancy and rearing of our child?

However, just as I was starting to wonder if there might be some kind of a mutual arrangement between Greg and me, warning signs once again emerged. The first was when we went to a garden centre together in Emerald. Everything was great, we were wandering around looking at plants to buy for my property when, all of a sudden, he turned. It was as if someone had flicked a switch – his mood darkened and suddenly he seemed to be on edge. As we walked back to the car, he started ranting about ‘all these fat people everywhere' and how disgusting he found them, saying nasty things about how dirty they made him feel and how their presence was offensive to him.

As we were driving home in the car, I challenged him about it. I told him to stop being so judgemental and asked why on earth it should be of any concern to him. All of a sudden he started shouting at the top of his voice. He wasn't necessarily shouting at me – it was just irrational screaming, a violent outburst of anger. I went really quiet, tried to focus on the road ahead and burst into tears. I was shocked. Who was this man? I couldn't understand why he had flipped so suddenly – and over something so seemingly inconsequential. I sat there sobbing quietly as I drove.

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