Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (6 page)

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After a while, he reached out, put his arm around me and apologised.

Afterwards, I tried to analyse it. Why, just as suddenly as he had become angry and irrational, had he returned to his usual rational self? But then life returned to normal, and soon I began to question whether I had remembered it properly – or if it had happened at all. But, somewhere deep inside, my doubt began to fester. A question began to take shape: how well did I really know this person?

Weeks later, I took part in a protest march in the city with a friend. Greg came to collect me afterwards. In the car on the way home, he turned to me, apropos of nothing, and said: ‘Now then, McBatty, should we get married?'

I thought he must be joking and just laughed in response. I was dumbstruck but still not entirely sure he was serious. ‘Don't be ridiculous,' was all I could manage in reply. We had only just rekindled our relationship, we had no security, he didn't have a job – and I was starting to have worrying doubts about his behaviour and state of mind. And, besides, if he had been serious about proposing marriage, surely he would have had a ring and gone in for something a little more romantic than throwing the
question at me as we drove home along the Dandenong Road. So I laughed it off and changed the subject.

I don't recall Greg being especially surprised by my answer or in any way disappointed. Later, however, I would learn he had been deeply wounded by my rejection, and it was something he would carry with him for a long time. During an access visit with Luke ten years later, he told Luke that I had laughed at him when he asked me to marry him. And I remember Luke berating me afterwards, saying how mean it was of me to react to his dad's marriage proposal in that way. But at the time, and in context, it was the only feasible reaction.

The morning of 11 September 2001 was something of a benchmark in our relationship, at least from my point of view. A friend phoned me in the middle of the night and told me to turn on the television. I watched, horrified, as the second of the World Trade Center towers came crumbling down in New York.

I yelled at Greg to get out of bed and come and watch. But he ignored me, so I just sat alone in the dark watching the horror unfurl. Greg got up to get a glass of water at some point and saw me in front of the television, clearly upset, and he said, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Get to bed.'

I just figured he hadn't grasped what was going on. An hour or two later, as I went to bed, exhausted and upset at what I had just seen, I said to him, ‘Do you have any idea what's just happened?'

‘I don't give a fuck,' he said. ‘Just go to sleep. The Americans had it coming to them.'

‘But that was someone's mother, brother, father, sister,' I replied. ‘And all they did was go to work. They didn't deserve that.'

He had no empathy or compassion for the victims. I went to work that day thinking, What are you? How could you not care?

When I got home, he'd obviously registered how upset I was – and no doubt had taken cues from a day's worth of news reports and seeing the world around him in a state of shock and mourning – so he made a few token comments about how awful it all was. But he didn't mean it. He didn't feel a thing. Not a single thing.

And so I started to consciously distance myself from him. Knowing that, with Greg, knowledge was power and power meant control, I learned to drip-feed him information about my life. I was careful not to give too much away. He always wanted to know exactly how much money I was earning, and I made a point of remaining vague about it. Any information he gleaned about me, he would invariably use against me. It was better, I decided, to limit my exposure and vulnerability.

Another red flag was raised not long after when Karena came to visit. Years previously, I had taken part in the Big Brother, Big Sister mentoring program, signing up to mentor a young person from a disadvantaged background. I had been paired with Karena. She was a lovely girl, sweet and good-natured, but deeply scarred after having been abandoned by her mother when she was only thirteen years old. When her mum got a new boyfriend, she suddenly didn't have room in her life for Karena anymore, so she left her in the care of the local youth centre. By the time Karena came into my life, she had been through several foster homes, none of them very harmonious. For the ten years we had known each other, I had been one of the few constants in a life otherwise filled with uncertainty. I was about as close to her as anyone had ever been.

Karena had made her way to Melbourne and found accommodation in a boarding house, but it was an awful place, so she asked if she could stay with me for a while. I was more than happy to have her.

But the first night, over dinner, Karena was being her cheeky, bubbly self when, out of the blue, Greg's mood darkened and he threw a couple of books at her across the dinner table, muttering under his breath. He seemed to have taken an instant, irrational dislike to her for reasons I couldn't fathom. The dislike turned to distrust, and a few days later he told me he was convinced that Karena was looking through his stuff when we weren't at home. He had these paranoid delusions that she was spying on him.

One morning Karena and I went to the supermarket. As we pulled into the driveway at home, Greg came running out to the car and accused Karena of having locked him out of the house. He was really aggressive, right up in her face, shouting abuse.

I intervened, trying to calm the situation. I didn't like the way he was talking to Karena and told him so in no uncertain terms. I went inside to take a bath, whereupon Greg barged into the bathroom and started arguing with me about Karena, smacking the wall in frustration. I told him to get out, but when I emerged from the bathroom minutes later Greg was once again laying into Karena, accusing her of all manner of ridiculous things. I told him he had to leave.

Somehow, I managed to coax him into my car so I could drive him to the railway station. He spent the whole journey smacking the dashboard, repeating over and over, ‘Why am I the one who has to leave? Why not her?' To Greg's way of thinking, I had chosen Karena over him, and he wasn't happy about it. Since I had shared with him the news of my pregnancy, he had started to construct a happy family fantasy – an expectation that, despite all of his odd behaviour and our clearly dysfunctional relationship, we were somehow going to be the perfect family unit.

The following day he came back to collect his things. I was at work, but Karena was at home. She stayed in her bedroom, so
as not to cross paths with Greg. When I returned that night, she told me how he had come into the house and cut up the slippers I had given him as a present. Then he had gone out into the garden, taken an axe and smashed up the garden bench we had restored together. It was now just a pile of tinder, a terrifying symbol of his strength and anger.

Karena stayed with me for a couple more weeks, until she had to go into hospital. Unbeknown to me, she had become addicted to prescription medicines. I only realised after she had left that every aspirin in my house had disappeared.

Some weeks later, Karena left hospital and found a small house in Belgrave. She agreed to go to Narcotics Anonymous, and I offered to accompany her. She was determined to turn her life around – or at least that's how it appeared from the outside.

Christmas came around and I invited Karena to join me and my cousin, who was visiting from the UK, for Christmas lunch. But as midday came and went with no sign of her, I began to worry. She had been unreliable, and so I assumed she'd simply decided at the last minute that she couldn't be bothered and hadn't thought to call. She wasn't answering her phone, and so I told my cousin to start cooking lunch without me while I went to check on her. I got to her house and saw her cat sitting in the front window. I knocked on the door and received no reply. I went around to her bedroom window and smelled something bad. My stomach sank. I had a bad feeling.

I got on the phone to my friends Carri and David, who also knew Karena. They came straight over. The cat inside the window seemed agitated, desperate to get out or for us to get in. We called the police, who arrived soon after and climbed into Karena's apartment through the roof. They found her decomposing body in the bedroom. She had been there for five
days – dead from a combination of prescription drugs. She was twenty-three years old.

The police let us into the house, not saying what they had found. The smell was overwhelming. At first, I thought it was the kitty litter tray, but a police officer sat us down and broke the news. As we sat there, trying to take it all in, Karena's mobile phone started ringing. It was her mother, phoning to wish her daughter Merry Christmas. I told her Karena was dead and she started screaming hysterically. In a state of shock myself, all I remember thinking was, my cousin has come here on holiday and I have left her at my home cooking Christmas lunch.

The police wanted someone to identify the body, and I thought, I cannot desert her now. So the practical side of me kicked in and I walked into the bedroom. In the end, when something bad like that is happening, you don't want pussyfooting around and mealy-mouthed language. You don't want people sugar-coating things. You just want facts, so you can make decisions. If she was dead, I needed to see it, identify the body and get on with dealing with the consequences.

I went back home, deeply shaken. But I didn't want to have the day ruined for my cousin. Later that evening, we went to a friend's house for Christmas dinner. We were all really sad and in shock, but it was Christmas day and I was determined to maintain the plans we'd made.

I spent the next couple of days phoning all the people in Karena's address book to break the news to them. I spent a lot of time on the phone with her mum, who, despite her obvious shortcomings as a mother, was nevertheless devastated by the death of her child. It was not my place to judge her mother. I had known Karena for ten years and she had loved her mum, even if she had never recovered from being rejected by her.

Between Karena's death and her funeral, I travelled to Sydney with my cousin and we did the Harbour Bridge climb. My pregnancy was starting to show, but it hadn't slowed me down. And I had never been one for histrionics. My template in life when confronted with tragedy had been to push down the sadness, draw on my reserves of country English stoicism and do what must be done. It didn't mean I wasn't devastated at my loss or profoundly sad for the waste of a young life. It simply meant I was going to mourn Karena's death in my own, private way. In the meantime, I would honour my obligations to a cousin who had travelled all the way from the UK to visit me. So I put my head down and got on with it.

At the funeral, I was determined to be the peace broker between Karena's mother and those, including youth workers and foster carers, who had taken in Karena and had nothing but contempt for her mum. I stood in the funeral parlour, staring at the coffin and feeling an overwhelming desire to howl: to scream at the gods at the senselessness of it all. But I held it in. I had a pregnancy to concentrate on and a baby on the way.

12 February 2014, around midday

In a boarding house in Frankston South, 16 kilometres from Tyabb, Greg is in his room, packing almost all of his belongings into a black backpack. Leaving behind the sparsely furnished room that had been his temporary home, he visits the kitchen of his share house and places a large, black-handled knife into his bag. He sets off, bound for Tyabb. It's a journey he has made many times before. The route, the modes of transport, the semi-rural Mornington Peninsula landscape through which he travels that afternoon are all familiar to him. He would have boarded the Frankston-Tyabb bus shuttle, paid his fare and taken a seat. There would have been nothing unusual about his appearance. Just a man with a backpack going about his business on a summer's day in Frankston.

Sometime around 2.30 pm, the bus would have dropped Greg near the train station in Tyabb. He would have been oblivious to the locals scurrying about their business – heading off to collect children from school, preparing to drop them at after-school sporting activities, popping in to the local IGA for last-minute dinner supplies.

He would have walked past the tiny strip of shops that serves as Tyabb's town centre – past the pizza restaurant, past the little cafe.
His destination is little more than a half a kilometre away: Bunguyan Reserve, home of the Tyabb Cricket Club and the Tyabb Yabbies junior AFL club.

He would have arrived at the oval long before any of the parents or children started to trickle in for cricket practice. He may have taken shelter from the afternoon sun under the aluiminum awning of the cricket club; he may have waited in the shade of the trees that encircle the oval. It's the second-last training session for the year. Only Greg knows what he is thinking. Only Greg can attest to his state of mind that afternoon.

I choose not to think about him, full stop. I choose not to reflect on what went through his mind when he saw my car pull up, when he saw Luke bundle out of the car and hurry over to his team to join in the training. Was it excitement at seeing his son? Was it a feeling of foreboding, knowing what he was about to do? He was Luke's father. No one loved Luke more than Greg or I did. What does a father think about in the hour leading up to murdering his own son?

A New Life

I thoroughly enjoyed being pregnant. There is a shine and radiance to a pregnant woman that everyone seems to notice and revel in. And I loved the attention. Then there's the not insignificant excitement of beginning to plan for a new life.

I felt really healthy. I had next to no morning sickness, ate a lot and put on weight. I was careful to exercise as much as possible, but as I lived by myself on a large, hilly property with three dogs and two goats, I didn't have much of a choice when it came to staying active. I was still working full-time, but I felt really invigorated by my pregnancy and, perhaps mindful that this was going to be the only time I would experience being pregnant, I resolved to savour it all as much as I could.

It had been so exciting to go to the six-week scan and see a tiny human being moving around inside me. I looked enraptured at the ultrasound monitor, hardly believing that a little person was taking shape inside me and, at the end, I was going to end up with a baby in my arms. My baby.

When it came to finding out the sex, I wanted to know simply because I could. I had been secretly hoping I was carrying a little girl. Coming as I had from a house full of brothers, and never really enjoying a close relationship with a mother figure of my own, I hankered after a little girl. With my being a single parent, I figured, the chances of a daughter looking after me in my dotage and being a lifelong friend and companion were going to be manifestly greater than if I had a son.

But the doctor soon set me straight. I was carrying a little boy. And I couldn't have been happier. I immediately started thinking about names. I liked all the Old Testament names. There was something solid and classic about them. Matthew was a name I especially liked, along with Trent, after the river next to which I had been raised. Particularly important was that I choose a name that worked well with my surname, Batty, a name that had been a source of great amusement to various people throughout my life. (Greg wanted the baby to have his surname but I insisted it be Batty.)

When I mentioned the name Trent to my cousin and grandmother in England, they were horrified. They thought it was a terrible idea. I decided at that point it was better not to involve others in the name deliberations. And so, whenever anyone asked, I would simply tell them I was planning to call my child Norman. It usually shut them up.

While I loved being pregnant, there were certain things that made me feel sad. My pregnancy, while pleasant, was not like the ones my friends had had. I was under a lot of financial pressure. On a single income, pregnant and with a mortgage to service, I was never going to be able to afford to take much in the way of maternity leave. I looked into refinancing the mortgage and my car loan. I did the sums and determined the longest maternity
leave I could afford to take was going to be four months. I couldn't even afford maternity clothing. Everything was given to me by friends – even my maternity bra.

Greg, who continued to visit occasionally and help out where he could around the property, didn't help matters. When I mentioned I was worried about taking time off to have the baby and wished I was financially secure enough to take a proper amount of maternity leave, he retorted, ‘If you think I'm going to work while you sit on your fat arse having coffee with your friends, you have another thing coming.' This made me really upset, and I vowed to never ask him for anything again. It served to confirm what I already knew only too well: that I was going to be dealing with this baby alone, financially and emotionally.

I can't remember any violent outbursts from Greg as the pregnancy progressed. I was starting to get the impression that he responded violently or with abuse only when he was made to feel inadequate. He used his so-called spiritual pursuits as a convenient excuse for the fact he couldn't hold down a job and therefore buy any of the things a normal father might seek to buy for his unborn child. Rather than admit he was incapable of providing for his child, it was more convenient for him to say he was not interested in material possessions.

We never had a specific discussion about the role Greg would play in the baby's life, but it was always clear that Greg would be involved in his son's life. I continued to make it clear to him that I had no interest in us being a couple, that, while I welcomed his interest in the pregnancy and would always encourage him to have a relationship with his child, there was no question of us pretending at playing happy families. What had gone on between us already made me certain that the best relationship to have with Greg was one at arm's length. We were friends; we
had inadvertently created a baby that I had decided to keep and intended to raise on my own. It seemed simple enough to me.

Greg accompanied me to parenting classes, which I was happy with. He was the father and he clearly wanted to have an active role in our baby's life – and I had no objection to that. He was jobless around this time, still based in St Kilda and floating between the Hare Krishnas and the Mormon Church there. He seemed to spend a lot of our time together ensuring I understood how spiritually superior he was to me. I would have preferred he focused less on his religious enlightenment and more on getting a job.

Since I had fallen pregnant, Greg had taken an unusual interest in the food I was putting in my mouth. (It is perhaps noteworthy that he had no similar concern for whether I was exhausted or stressed from having to work every hour God gave to keep up mortgage payments and singlehandedly maintain a household.)

‘Are you eating properly, McBatty?' he would ask me. ‘Plenty of fruit and vegetables and iron?' He wanted to make sure his offspring was being properly nourished. On the odd occasion he had money, he would run out and spend it all on organic fruit, which he would proceed to juice for me to drink. And that was fine, except that there were so many other things the baby needed before organic fruit juice. My dad gave me money for my fortieth birthday, which came and went with a whimper. I used the money to buy a change table, high chair and all the other equipment necessary for a baby.

Greg was always obsessed with purging himself. He seemed to be detoxing all the time, as if he was always trying to expel something from himself. It was always done to extremes, whether it was with organic fruit cleanses or with substances altogether
far less suited to polite society. One afternoon he phoned to say he was on his way to Menzies Creek and would swing by the fish markets. I assumed he was stopping to collect a couple of nice salmon fillets for dinner. But when he arrived, he pulled out a bag of fish guts, which he promptly proceeded to burn on an open fire in the yard before stripping down and smothering his naked torso with the ashes. He told me it was some sort of cleansing ritual. I told him he was an idiot, and that there was no way he was coming in the house smelling of burnt fish gut. He would laugh at himself, half-realising how odd he was being.

But behind the quirkiness, something deeper and more sinister was simmering. And as the months passed, his behaviour became more and more disturbing. One evening he showed up at my house wearing a pair of goggles. It transpired that he thought the wire frames of his glasses were interfering with his brain waves, so he had removed the lens from the frames. He looked ridiculous but, coming as it did after the fish gut episode, I wrote it off as another one of his strange eccentricities.

Every now and then I would be afforded a glimpse into just how troubled his mind was. But it would only ever be a fleeting glimpse – and usually only ever hinted at in a throwaway comment. Because he was convinced that everyone was out to get him, it was rare that Greg confided in anyone. So for him to tell me one afternoon that he sometimes heard voices was a major admission. It set off alarm bells, but because he would offer something up and then shut down completely – refusing to elaborate and making it clear it was not a topic for further discussion – I was left unsure how serious he was or whether in fact I had even heard it.

I came to expect the ridiculous from him – and not knowing how else to handle it, I would just treat it with humour. One
evening he came to me in the living room, holding a glass of water. ‘Have you put something in my water?' he asked. ‘It tastes funny.'

‘What would I have put in your water, Greg?' I asked, part-exasperated, part-amused.

‘Rosie,' he asked in all seriousness, ‘are you trying to poison me?'

I laughed it off. It was, I was almost certain, just another example of his odd sense of humour.

I can remember him getting cross with me on another day because I reacted to one of his moments of madness by exclaiming, ‘You do know you are totally bloody deluded?' He remembered that and brought it up years later.

The confusing part was that when he wasn't being barking mad, he had a sharp wit and we shared a good sense of humour. He never appeared to let things bother him. He lost jobs within weeks of getting them, he never had any money, he was living to a large extent relying on the kindness of strangers – and he would just potter around as if he had no cares in the world. It was only when I ventured a comment about how nice it would be to have a longer maternity leave that I discovered the insouciance was all a façade. He took it as a slight and arced up. At a fundamental level, he hated feeling inadequate.

Was it wrong for me to want to be a full-time mum? Was I a bad person for wishing the father of my child was more conventional – more capable of being the breadwinner I needed him to be?

I did feel I had Greg's loyalty. He was no longer interested in chasing other women. I had the distinct impression he thought he was connected to me. He saw me as this woman he had chosen, and with a baby on the way, we were meant to be together. But I
was the one with the house, the car and the career. The sum total of what he was bringing to the partnership was pretty meagre.

It was also telling that I avoided exposing my friends to Greg. As long as he was around, there was no fear of me inviting my friends to come and visit me – Greg was too unpopular with them and his behaviour far too unpredictable. And so, without even noticing it, I became increasingly isolated. Greg, for his part, had never introduced me to a single friend in all the time I had known him. He always fell out with anyone he got even mildly close to, another symptom of his paranoia that everyone had an agenda to bring him down.

The only friendships he maintained were with his brothers, who I hadn't met. He had three brothers, and he was the second oldest. Years previously, in Belgrave, he had shared with me stories about growing up. Because his dad had a career in which they had to move all the time, they changed schools so often he didn't really form any lasting friendships in boyhood. So he and his brothers became a tight-knit unit. He felt his father didn't like him. He used to say he'd wished his mother would leave the marriage and take Greg with her. When I met his parents, they appeared to have a loving marriage, so I assumed it was just Greg being Greg.


Greg assumed he would be present at the birth but I had always had my misgivings. And as the pregnancy progressed, I became more certain I didn't want him anywhere near me during labour. I resolved that, when the time came, I would simply get through the birthing process alone. As a girl, I had been sent to the dentist alone to have teeth pulled. Taking on something like this by
myself didn't seem like such a big deal. After all, my mum – and countless women before me – had managed on their own, and so would I. As the due date loomed, however, I started to worry about how I'd get to hospital, and so I reached out to my friend Carri. She fell over herself to help, offering to be on standby in the event I needed her.

I had chosen Monash Hospital for the birth, because it specialised in difficult and premature births. Because I was forty and this was my first pregnancy, I figured it was better to be in a place prepared for anything. I had no reason to be concerned – my doctors had been pleased with my pregnancy and all the signs were for a normal birth – but it was 2002, when having a baby at forty was still considered high-risk, as every medical professional I encountered seemed to take delight in reminding me.

A few weeks before my due date, Greg headed north for one of his semi-regular retreats at the Russian monastery, where he would help around the property with manual labour in return for food, lodging and inclusion in some of the monks' prayer sessions. Greg would sometimes describe it as the only place he could go for solace and respite. This time, his visit was scheduled to finish long before the baby was supposed to arrive.

I finished work four weeks before my due date. Because Greg was not around to help, I bustled awkwardly about the property tending to my animals. I remember picking up a 30-kilogram bag of meal to feed the goats, not realising what effect that may have.

I went to my weekly doctor's appointment a few days later, but I had to wait to see a doctor. Suddenly I became aware that I was wetting myself. When eventually a doctor saw me, he told me my membranes had ruptured, but to go home and return in the morning when they would induce me. I headed home, packed
my bags and readied my little house in Menzies Creek for the arrival of my baby. Contractions began early the next morning, so I called Carri, who came to collect me. I tried reaching Greg at the monastery, but to no avail. I felt relieved that he was out of contact.

As I slung my meticulously packed overnight bag over my shoulder and made final arrangements for the dogs, I looked around the house, my emotions a mixture of anxiousness and excitement. The next time I would cross this threshold, I would be a mother; I would be carrying a baby, and a new chapter of my life would begin. Nothing would ever be the same.

Upon arriving at the hospital, I was immediately admitted and induced. Another friend, Sharon, was there, and both Carri and Sharon stayed with me until my baby was born.

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