Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (8 page)

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‘Rosie, it's the childcare centre here,' would come the voice down the phone. ‘Luke's running a really high temperature. You're going to have to come and collect him.'

When I was really stuck, I had no choice but to ring Greg. And he would make his way to Menzies Creek and collect Luke and take him home.

I was run ragged. That Christmas, intensely homesick for my family, I booked tickets for Luke and I go to England. I was desperate for my family to meet Luke: and so we set off together on a six-week visit. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt like a weight had been lifted. Josephine came to collect us at the airport, and almost immediately, I relaxed.

I took Luke to meet his great-grandmother, Nanna Atkin. There was no other family member to whom I felt closer. And
so introducing her to Luke was one of my proudest moments as a mother. I still remember that day: the look of glee on Nanna Atkin's face. It meant the world to her. She had just turned one hundred – and while the body was failing, the mind was sharp. She told me she had been staying alive to meet Luke, and now that she had met him and seen how content I was, she could die a happy woman. To have been able to share time with Luke and her – it was so special.

The visit home was instrumental in reminding me the importance of family. For years now I had lived on the other side of the earth, building a surrogate family from friends, but this was the real deal. This hoary collection of misfits, in all their eccentric glory, were the people who would always be there for me. They were obliged to be by dint of being family.

We even brought Aunty Dorothy to visit Nanna Atkin. Aunty Dorothy had only recently had her leg amputated and was keen to show everyone her stump. And so, at various intervals during our visit, she would haul up her skirt and show it off.

‘Keep your pants on, Aunty Dot!' came the cry from all assembled. She had no idea, of course. We were all in tears of laughter.

I came back to Australia with mixed emotions. Keen to get back and get on with my life, but sorry to have left the bosom of my family and painfully aware I might never see Nanna Atkin again.

Greg had been living at my property while I was away: feeding the goats and dogs, maintaining the yard. In return, he had a roof over his head and the use of my car. He had missed Luke terribly and wasn't in a great hurry to leave when we got back. I was okay with him having a day or two with us – it was nice to have a bit of help with Luke as I adjusted to the time change.

One afternoon I asked him to go to Bunnings to change something I had bought or, if not change it, try to get a credit note. He left, making all the right noises about doing what I had asked him, but returned an hour or so later having completely ignored my request. Annoyed that he had clearly decided my wishes were to be dismissed, I made some comment, reprimanding him. It was no big deal, to my mind, but my sense of exasperation was enough to trigger his anger.

I was sitting on the lounge room floor, spoon-feeding Luke in his bouncy chair, when suddenly Greg picked up a large clay urn, lifted it over his head and made to throw it at me. The next thing I knew, he was standing in front of me, enraged. He aimed a kick at my head. I closed my eyes, anticipating contact, but he pulled the kick back just in time.

I was in shock. Shaken and scared, I dared not move from the lounge, but sat, terrified he'd return. That was his first really aggressive gesture towards me. There was no physical violence per se – inasmuch as he didn't make physical contact – but the suggestion of violence was clear. He wanted to hurt me and had only just held himself back from doing so. I sat there shaking, doing my best not to lose it completely for fear it would upset Luke. And so began a cycle of threats and fear that would continue until the day Greg died.

10
Escalation

Luke was a contented baby. He slept and ate well, he loved the undivided attention I was able to heap on him when it was just the two of us and he'd grown to love crèche, where the staff lavished him with affection.

Luke was pretty easygoing as a toddler, too. I remember him having his first tantrum – if you could call it that – on his first birthday, just as he was learning to walk. My brother Terry took Luke's balloon off him and he burst into tears. It seemed that, as he learned to walk, he also learned how to have a meltdown to get his own way. It was a lesson he took to heart and would employ regularly in the ensuing years. In other words, he was just a normal kid.

*

After Greg's recent display of aggression, I started devising strategies for managing his exposure to Luke and me, believing that if I just managed to make clear the boundaries in terms
of acceptable behaviour, he would adhere to them and I could manage to continue my daily juggle. All the while, without my really realising it, Greg's attitude towards me was hardening and his violent tendencies towards me, both psychologically and physically, were escalating.

Vital to his continued intimidation of me was the fact that I felt isolated from family and friends. Because I had always prided myself on my self-sufficiency, and because I lived so very far from any of my friends who also had children, I was loath to ask them for help with Luke. My parents' old friends Vi and Ray would help out wherever they could. They had moved to Australia from New Zealand and their children had all grown up and moved on. Vi was so good with Luke, and he loved her. But, for the most part, I had to lean on Greg, because he was unemployed, available and willing. After all, as Luke's father, I felt he bore no small amount of responsibility to help raise his son.

And so I battled on, trying to be a super-mother to Luke and feeling like I was drowning in the process. Whether or not Greg consciously thought it, or innately sensed it, I was weak and vulnerable and easy prey for his psychological stalking.

Previous to Luke's and my visit to England, Greg had made noises about having another child with me. And I had told him in no uncertain terms that I was repulsed at the idea of him coming anywhere near me. He still harboured these delusions that we were going to create a family together. What was really sad for me was that I would have loved another child. Until I had Luke I'd had no idea that being a mother could fulfil every need I had – that it completed me.

*

The phone rang in the middle of the night. It's never good news for a phone to ring in the middle of the night. I reached over Luke, who was asleep next to me, and put the receiver to my ear.

‘Rosie,' came a familiar voice down the line. ‘It's your dad. Sorry to call you so late, but I thought you should know Nanna Atkin has died.'

Half-asleep and groggy, it took a moment for the news to sink in.

‘Are you there, Rosie?' continued my father. ‘Can you hear me? Is everything all right?'

‘Yes, Dad,' I finally managed to reply. ‘I'm here.' And then the tears welled.

She had reached one hundred, she had packed four lifetimes into one, she had lived, laughed and loved with the best of them. But now she was gone, and I was devastated. The closest thing I'd had to a mum had passed away, and I had been 16,000 kilometres away when it happened. I felt sad, I felt guilty – I was bereft. I hung up the phone, rolled over and cried silently in the darkness.

Living away from home had been, for the most part, a grand adventure. Building a life on the other side of the world to all I had known as a girl was equal parts liberating and exhausting. For the most part, I didn't pine for my family. I missed them, to be sure, and wished on many occasions they were only 16 kilometres away – not 16,000. But usually I was too busy getting on with my life to sit around moping for them. In moments like this, though, you really felt the distance. I wanted more than anything to be home, to be comforted by loved ones and to offer comfort to those who needed it.

Moments like these make you stop and take stock. Was this my lot, then? Far from family for the momentous events? Dad and Josephine weren't getting any younger. Who was going to
take care of them in their old age? As the only daughter, the task would traditionally have fallen to me. But stranded as I was in Australia – tied inexorably to this country by my son – any thought of repatriating was out of the question.

*

As 2003 progressed, I did my best to set parameters around my life, and Luke's life, which I hoped Greg would come to respect. Greg would always ask me to lend him money, which I usually did out of a mixture of pity and obligation. I felt that he had helped me out a lot around the property before Luke was born and stepped in to look after Luke whenever I needed him. So in an attempt to keep the ledger even, and not have Greg assuming the role of an intimate or equal partner in my life, I felt it was better to see the money I gave him as payment for services rendered.

Every now and then Greg would disappear to the Russian Orthodox monastery. He would usually go there for three months at a time, a period of relative peace in my life. From what they later told reporters, the monks seemed to see it as Greg taking refuge there whenever things got too complicated in his life.

He'd do the same things for them that he did for me: offer his services around the monastery and help out with physical labour in return for bed and board. And of course he would take part in their daily religious rituals – praying and attending services. I think he derived a sense of comfort from the monastic routine, plus he liked to associate with the sort of people he considered religiously pure and somehow morally superior.

One afternoon in the second half of the year, Greg called me when he arrived at Belgrave station out of the blue. He had no money and nowhere to live, but he knew full well that I would
take him in – which I did. I didn't know how else to handle it. When people were in need, I didn't like turning them away. When I have an emotional link with someone and they are at a low point in their lives, I can't turn my back. Perhaps I'm too soft-hearted, too forgiving.

I took Greg in with the caveat that he had to move out at the end of that month. And so a routine began to develop. I would go out to work each morning, dropping Luke at crèche on the way, and then returning home to find Greg on the couch, watching TV. It started to infuriate me. He was leading the life I wanted to live. I wanted to be the one pottering about the house with my son, staying at home and rearing my child as a full-time mum while my partner went out and made the money to pay the bills. And I began to understand that this was a perfectly acceptable – if not desirable – arrangement from Greg's point of view. I started to resent his presence, and relations once again became tense.

At night, and perhaps sensing my disdain, he would borrow my computer and sit up into the small hours of the morning firing off job applications. He would come into my room, wake me up and tell me all about the general manager's role he had just applied for with its $150,000 pay packet. And I would lie there staring at him, amazed that he could be so delusional. In all the years I had known him, he hadn't managed to hold down a job for more than a couple of months, and even then they were pretty lowly positions. I couldn't understand what made him think he would have even the slightest chance of landing a senior management role for which he had no demonstrable experience. But such was his sense of entitlement.

At the same time, he worked hard to make sure I understood how inferior I was to him in every way. Nothing I ever did with Luke was right. I was, to his eyes, barely fit to call myself
a mother, and with every day that passed, Luke was sliding backwards developmentally simply from being exposed to me. I used to brush it off as more ranting from a madman – but I was tired, I was alone and I was vulnerable. Like every new mother who had ever gone before me and would follow, I didn't need convincing that I was not much good at this motherhood thing. No matter how hard I tried or how much I worked, I only ever felt like I was barely keeping my head above water.

One afternoon, a friend of mine was having a party that I was determined to attend. Greg and I had been painting the bathroom together. As I left for the party, I told him to down tools, as I wanted to finish it in a certain way. Of course, when I returned, it was to discover he had ignored me and gone ahead and done it the way he thought it ought to be done. I was so angry, I grabbed a paint stirring stick and whacked him with it on his leg.

Both of us were in shock. It wasn't an especially hard whack, but I had been angry enough that it was done with real intent. I immediately started to apologise profusely, offering to take myself off to the police station to report the incident and admit fault. I was instinctively scared of how he might react: worried that he would retaliate with a show of force. But I was also terrified that he was going to use the incident against me. I wanted to neutralise its effect by owning it. I wanted, most of all, for it to never have happened.

Greg looked at me with a malevolent smile and said that there was no point going to the police. Feigning magnanimity, he told me to forget about it.

By the end of the month, the air was thick with tension. One morning he woke up in a really agitated state. I could hear him in his bedroom, muttering to himself. Suddenly, I heard a loud
thud and shattering of glass. He had taken a framed photo of Luke and smashed it on the floor.

I kept my distance, scared of further provoking him. I ventured out into the kitchen, trying hard not to make any noise. Greg came bursting out of his room. He bowled up to me in the kitchen and stood over me. I recoiled, drawing myself away, terrified at the sight of this enormous man bearing down on me. His face was red with rage, his eyes wild. He aimed six punches at my head – drawing his fist back at the last moment each time, before it made contact. I flinched in anticipation of a beating – whimpering in fear and confusion. With a groan of exasperation, he turned on his heel and stormed out of the kitchen.

Sobbing, I raced into my bedroom, collected Luke and jumped straight into the car. Negotiating the road through a torrent of tears, I dropped Luke off at crèche before pulling up at the local shopping centre. For an hour, I wandered aimlessly about the shops, my mind racing. All I could think about was Ingrid Poulson, the woman who had been in the news recently after her estranged husband had murdered her two children and her father in the driveway of her home. Was that me? But Greg hadn't physically assaulted me – or Luke, for that matter. Surely he never would? The thought of it alone was too chilling to dwell on.

After what I felt had been plenty of time for Greg to have either cooled down or left, I returned home. As I approached the house, it became obvious Greg was still there, and I felt ill. I was returning to my home, my haven, which was inhabited by someone I didn't want to be there but whom I didn't know how to get rid of. I felt sickened and defeated at the realisation that Greg was becoming that presence in my life. He had just aimed six punches at my head for reasons I didn't understand, and now I didn't know what I was walking back into.

I stepped across the threshold tentatively, listening out for any sound of Greg. I heard his voice coming from the living room. He was on the phone and I heard him tell the person at the other end of the line that I was an unfit mother and he was concerned for his son's safety.

Enraged, I burst in and demanded to know who he was talking to.

‘I'm talking to the police, Rosie,' he said calmly, staring at me with indifference.

I stormed across the room and grabbed the phone off him.

‘Who is this?' I barked down the line.

The constable on the other end of the phone identified himself.

I looked at Greg, who was watching me with a self-satisfied grin. Whatever reaction he'd gotten from the policeman appeared to have emboldened him. I was suddenly scared again. I gripped the phone tightly, hanging on to it as if it were a lifeline.

The policeman asked me to put Greg back on the phone.

‘Whether you think she is a fit mother or not, she sounds really scared of you,' I heard him tell Greg. ‘I need you to pack your things and go.'

It seemed to placate Greg for some reason, and he hung up the phone and made for his room, where he started packing his things. I immediately phoned my neighbour, Adrian, and asked him to pretend to call in, which he did. Greg wasn't buying that for a second. He made some sneering comment about what a coincidence it was that Adrian had dropped by and walked casually out the door.

As soon as he had gone, I knew that I was at a crisis point. I picked up the phone and called Relationships Australia. They had a counsellor available, so I hopped in the car and went straight away.

My counsellor's name was Nick, and he was gentle and kind. He listened politely as I recounted the morning's events, then proceeded to contextualise them with accounts of previous instances of Greg's threatening behaviour. I remember him asking if Greg was violent to me. I said, ‘Well, I don't think so. I mean, he hasn't actually hit me.'

As I spoke, and as Nick sat and listened, punctuating my narrative with expert questions at crucial junctures, it began to dawn on me: maybe there was a name for what Greg had been subjecting me to. Maybe, moreover, I wasn't alone. Maybe it fit a pattern and that pattern of abuse had been experienced by other women. And there was, oddly enough, a certain comfort in that. A kind of validation in the fact this was not a series of isolated incidents, but part of a wider whole – one part of a bigger picture of a problem that bedevilled society at large, not just my little corner of Menzies Creek.

And gradually, as our meeting went on and my testimony became more frank, Nick started to slide a series of pamphlets across the table to me. Each flyer contained a description of the many forms domestic violence can take – physical, emotional, financial. A checklist of the ways men intimidate and control women. And as I read the list and performed a mental checklist, it was like a light going on: I was a victim of family violence. I was the one in three.

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