Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (9 page)

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As I walked out of Nick's office, I felt at once empowered and overwhelmed. By coming to understand that Greg's behaviour towards me constituted violence, I felt immediately stronger, as if by giving it a name I might better be able to manage it. But at the same time, I felt scared. If this was now my path, and that path had an already well-defined trajectory, did this mean I was destined to never escape the torment of Greg? Was my journey
now to be that of every other woman debilitated by domestic violence? The thought was too depressing to dwell on.

That day marked the beginning of the rebuilding of my self-esteem. It's an important marker in the life of anyone who has suffered family violence to have someone explain the different types of violence that exist, for the terror you've suffered to be given a name, and to be assured, most importantly, that none of it is your fault. Family violence is a pernicious spiral. Because of the constant verbal abuse, you get worn down and become totally confused – your sense of self is completely eroded. And it takes a third party with experience in these matters to hold up a mirror and encourage you to look into it. I began to understand that it was no accident that Greg had come into my life – that he had targeted me precisely because I was physically isolated from friends and family and vulnerable because of it. Like a lion separating its prey from a fleeing herd, an abuser picks you off, isolates you from the safety of the group and moves in for the kill.

A new cautiousness crept into my dealings with Greg. Through the prism of family violence, so much about the way he treated me became clearer. There was a pattern to his behaviour, a perverse method to it that I had written off as his idiosyncratic madness.

Perhaps sensing my newfound determination – or perhaps out of dumb luck – Greg suddenly landed a job in sales with a transport company. It was enough of a steady income that he could also afford his own room in a furnished hostel in Caulfield. It was, he would casually tell me whenever he visited, the start of him rebuilding his life.

After six months or so, it certainly seemed as if he had turned a corner. He remained employed – a feat in and of itself – and moved into his own apartment and bought a car. He even started
to save money. I could well have done with some of it, but never dared ask, not wishing to rock the boat or place any undue pressure on him while he was re-establishing himself. It was the sleeping-dogs-lie principle. As long as he was preoccupied with getting his life back on track, he wasn't crowding out mine – and that was good enough for me.

Greg began to make noises about wanting to have Luke stay overnight with him. But Luke was not yet two years old and I wasn't ready to be separated from him. I went to see a solicitor about my rights as a single mother. It transpired I didn't really have any. As Luke's father, I was told, Greg had every right to see his son. And until such time as I took my case to the Family Court, I had no legal right to deny him access. I resolved to try to sit down with Greg and a lawyer and mediate a more structured agreement, but in what would become a pattern, he did everything he could to avoid formalising an arrangement between us. It suited him for things to be fluid – that way he could come and go as he pleased, and I was just expected to accommodate him.

One night, when Greg arrived back from crèche with Luke in his arms, I noticed Luke wasn't wearing the jacket he'd been in when I sent him off to daycare. It was winter and already freezing.

‘Where's his jacket?' I asked Greg, mildly irritated. ‘I dropped him off in one this morning.'

He ignored me as he walked into the house and deposited Luke in front of the television. The Wiggles were playing – Luke's favourite show.

‘I'm serious, Greg,' I repeated as he walked back towards the door. ‘Where's Luke's jacket? It's too cold for him to be getting about without one.'

Out of nowhere, Greg's temper flared. He bent down and picked up Luke's diecast ride-on car: a heavy play-vehicle weighing a good 20 kilos. I winced, unsure of where – or on whom – he was intending to bring it down. With a howl of frustration, he smashed it down on the stair railing with an almighty crash. Luke looked up from the television, his face frozen in horror. I rushed to his side instinctively, placing myself between him and Greg. Luke started to wail as his father fumed at the doorway.

Greg strode across the floor and into the living room and grabbed me by the hair. He forced my head down, then pulled it back so I was brought face to face with him. Red-faced and raging, he leaned into my face and practically spat out the words, ‘If you ever stop me from seeing Luke, I will kill you and kill your animals.' He pushed me down onto the ground, where I lay whimpering, then he stormed out the door. Next to me, Luke was wailing, his little face twisted in fear, tears streaming down his cheeks.

The following morning I went straight to Dandenong Court House to apply for an intervention order (IVO). On the spot, the magistrate issued an interim order prohibiting Greg from coming near me. A court date was set for me to stand before a magistrate and explain why I needed a more permanent order.

It was, in many respects, a watershed moment in my life. Raised in a household where encounters with the law – be it the police or courts – were rare to non-existent, it was a massive step for me to involve the police and justice system in what I had previously believed to be my little problem to manage. I had never been in court before; I had never been in trouble with the law. The workings of a police station and a courtroom were foreign to me. And I approached both institutions with a degree of humility, as if my problem would be a waste of their precious time.

A week or two later, there was a knock on my door. I had friends over and opened the door to see a policeman standing there in full uniform. He explained Greg had taken out an IVO on me, and that he was here to serve the papers. I was dumbstruck. I went to court weeks later to discover Greg was planning to testify to a judge that I was the violent one and he needed protection from me. I couldn't believe he would be so bold as to waste the court's time like this. The magistrate set a date several months hence for Greg's case to be heard, knowing full well that there was no evidence against me, that this was a nuisance claim and Greg would lose interest in pursuing it by the time the court date rolled around.

I was eventually granted a one-year IVO by a magistrate at Dandenong Court. I stood before him, nervous as you like, and explained why I feared for my safety. The whole process took no more than ten minutes. The order prevented Greg from coming in or near me or my home. He still had access rights, as Luke's father – for to change that meant a whole different process before the Family Court – but he would no longer be allowed to show up at my place unannounced. And because Greg had never shown even the vaguest of violent tendencies towards Luke, the IVO only named me as a protected person.

It was, I foolishly thought, an important first step in finally establishing the long-overdue boundaries between Greg and me. No longer was I going to allow him to co-parent Luke as he had been doing. New babysitting arrangements would henceforth be launched, with Vi – who couldn't have been more obliging – stepping in to pick up the slack left by Greg's absence.

It was a development that sent Greg apoplectic. He didn't like people as a general rule, but he reserved special disdain for people who busied themselves with the care of his son. He hated the
idea that anyone other than him would be looking after Luke – bringing influence to bear on the way he was reared and the prism through which he saw the world.

Greg phoned one night – in breach of the IVO – to berate me about the new babysitting arrangement. I was at the crèche, helping to prepare for an upcoming fête, and Vi answered the phone. Greg proceeded to abuse her, calling her names and accusing her of unspeakable crimes against his son. She called me, and I phoned the police, who promptly reminded Greg he was in breach of the IVO. Not that he would have cared.

After an access visit a week later, Greg phoned me to say that after he had collected Luke, he had noticed an ‘offensive smell' about him, and demanded to know whether Vi had looked after him the previous night.

Not long after, I received an official notice to submit to a paternity test. Greg had initiated the test to seek confirmation that Luke was in fact his son. It was another power game, another attempt to belittle and embarrass me. Another method by which to manipulate me, waste my time and exert control over me. But I was nothing if not resilient, and figured if the only way to mollify Greg was to wear him down with acquiescence, then that's what I would do.

So I freely gave of my blood and offered up Luke for testing too. The results came back indicating there was a 99.99 percent chance that Luke was Greg's child. Of course, the great irony is that I would have given the world for it to be otherwise.

The Cycle

With Greg working and living in Caulfield, things between us began to calm down. But for the occasional abusive text or phone call, he honoured the terms of the IVO and kept his distance. He was still seeing Luke every weekend, collecting him on a Saturday morning and returning him on a Sunday afternoon.

My grandmother had left a small amount of money for me in her estate, a modest financial windfall that I immediately invested in a state-of-the-art chicken coop. My country roots would flare every now and then, and I would be gripped by a new determination to reassert my farming credentials on the outskirts of suburban Melbourne, no matter how absurd that seemed.

At least one person in the neighbourhood seemed to understand. He had been a farmer all his life and had that salt-of-the-earth quality that reminded me of the farmers I had grown up with in Laneham. He was really good with animals and was only too happy to share his skills with an amateur farmer like me, so he helped me build my chicken coop. He was really passionate about sustainable farming, a subject that interested me greatly.
He was, to a large extent, an enlightened version of my dad, and I enjoyed his company enormously.

As we spent more time together as friends, it became clear that a mutual interest was developing. I had more free time as Luke grew, and with Greg on something of an even keel, I wasn't consumed with the task of managing him or otherwise remaining on permanent tenterhooks in anticipation of his next outburst. And so we began dating. It was nothing serious at first – my full-time job and parenting duties took up most of my waking hours. But when we were together it was easy, and I was reminded that relationships didn't need to be hard.

I didn't mention my new friend to Greg, knowing it would only cause unnecessary stress in my life. It's funny now that I think of it – it never occurred to me that Greg might be seeing someone else. Not that I would have cared. In fact, I would have welcomed someone else distracting him from harassing me. But I think, on reflection, I knew him well enough to know that he had devolved mentally to such a state of paranoia and introspection, there was no way he would trust someone enough to enter into a relationship with them. Which was, of course, to completely ignore the bigger elephant in Greg's room, namely, that no woman in her right mind would go within ten feet of him.

Even though I worked assiduously to ensure that Greg knew nothing, he nevertheless began to sense that I was seeing someone. Whether it was a change in my demeanour, or a sense that I had become that little bit more indifferent to his manipulation of me, he began to pepper me with questions via text, which I studiously ignored. The more I ignored him, the more abusive the text messages would become, accusing me of all sorts of depravity and alleging that I was purposefully exposing Luke to immoral behaviour of a most crude kind.

It was a window into how dark his soul was. That a mind was able to conjure such sick flights of fancy spoke volumes for how disturbed it was. But as long as Greg was otherwise adhering to the terms of the IVO, and collecting Luke and dropping him home at the agreed times, I was prepared to simply ignore it.

Perhaps feeling me slip from his grip, Greg resorted to the only control he had over me. It was crude, but effective. During a brief conversation one Sunday afternoon during the handover of Luke, I mentioned to Greg in passing that the time I had each weekend without having to take care of Luke was a godsend in many ways – time for me to get my life back. It was an epiphany for Greg. For six months, he had faithfully shown up to collect Luke and take him overnight, partly because he was his father and he relished the opportunity to spend time with him, but partly also because he believed it was in some way an annoyance to me. Greg lived to make my life miserable.

To discover that a gesture he had hoped was causing me no end of heartache was, in fact, helping me out threw him completely. And so it was time to move the goalposts. Suddenly, Greg started returning with Luke to Menzies Creek hours earlier than he was supposed to. I suspect he was hoping to catch me in the company of someone, which he never did – or at least impact on any arrangements I might otherwise have had. At first, I was happy enough for Luke to be brought home earlier. He was my life, after all, and I missed him terribly on the nights he was away. But after a while, I started to become annoyed with Greg arriving unannounced at my house.

After a month or so of this cat-and-mouse game, Greg finally asked me if I could meet with him for a coffee. We arranged to meet in a café in Knox, not far from Menzies Creek. We sipped our coffees and made awkward small talk until Greg finally
got to the point. He told me he had been working hard for the past year, holding down a job, looking after Luke, buying him clothes and toys, because he had been trying to win my approval. Trying to prove to me that he could be a responsible provider and head of a household. I was astounded. All this time I had thought we were comfortably growing apart and developing lives independent of one another, he had been working to try and re-establish our relationship.

He told me he had been headhunted for a job – a promotion from his current role to work with a rival company. He told me all this with an air of anticipation, clearly seeking my praise. But I was too dumbstruck to say anything. Greg had twice been physically violent towards me, had once threatened to kill me and spent part of every day composing vile texts or emails to me. I couldn't fathom in which universe he thought it might be possible that we would get back together and play happy families.

‘I'm sorry, Greg, but it's not going to happen,' I eventually managed to say, careful to deliver the news gently, lest he flare up.

He seemed genuinely deflated by my refusal – deflated and confused. In the recesses of that mind, he had us married off, raising kids and living some sort of suburban idyll. The only thing that stymied his fantasy was the cold-hearted English bitch who couldn't see what was good for her.

I left my coffee half-finished, made my excuses and beat a hasty retreat, wondering if I had imagined that entire conversation with Greg.

I got home from work that night to discover everything that Greg had bought for Luke in the past ten months in a pile on our doorstep: a car seat, a collection of toys and clothes. It was deliberately provocative, an act infused with such passive
aggression that it was terrifying. It was, on his part, a declaration of war. If the past ten months had been relatively calm in terms of tension and hostilities between us, it appeared that the truce had been called off. And so I steeled myself. As it turned out, Greg didn't see Luke again for eight months or so. He didn't make contact and travelled overseas.

Luke turned three on 20 June 2005, and I remember the day well. I woke with him next to me in bed. He looked so peaceful – cherubic face, flawless skin, rosebud lips. If there is any experience more wondrous for a parent to watch over their child as he or she sleeps, I don't know what it might be. In the pre-dawn light, our lives together seemed pretty perfect. Certainly, work was unnecessarily stressful and Greg was a constant thorn in my side, but before sunrise – before any of that workaday messiness began to invade our space – it was just me and my perfect little boy. A special kind of happiness.

Not long after Luke's third birthday, I received a phone call from Dad in England to tell me he had decided to sell the family farm. I was blindsided by the news. The farm had been in our family for generations and, in a childhood marked by uncertainty, it had been the one constant in my life. The spectre of losing it made me realise just how important an anchor it was. It was my last remaining link to Laneham, and the touchstone of my childhood. It was the house in which all my memories of Mum – such as they were – were contained. It was the house in which I had mourned, grieved and celebrated all of the milestones in my young life.

My grandfather had pioneered the farm. It had been my dad's entire life. The expectation had always been that it would be passed down the generations. To say that my dad's decision to sell the farm took me by surprise would be an understatement.
Psychologically, the effect of the news was profound. And when it came to the question of staying in Australia or moving back to the UK, it all but sealed the deal.

Until this point, I had kept my options open and a foot in both camps. In fact, when I'd turned forty, a few months before Luke was conceived, I had thought about going back to the UK for good. Everyone close to me was busy raising kids and seemed to be going their separate ways. I had friends here – good friends – but the emotional pull of home had grown stronger and more undeniable with every passing year. I'd been homesick.

And then I'd become pregnant with Luke and something shifted. Suddenly the most important focus in my life lay not in what was behind me but in what was in front of me. What was in front of
. Luke's arrival had given me a sense of belonging in Australia that I had never previously had. He was my family here and we would build a life here together. We were the two-person Battys-from-Laneham diaspora, the colonial outpost of that proud, little-known farming dynasty from a bend on the River Trent.

After Luke was born, I had never seriously considered going home to England. And, anyway, as I understood it I wasn't able to go without Greg's permission. I couldn't just up and leave – Greg had rights, whether I liked it or not. It was something very few people understood. Often over the years friends would learn of my situation with Greg and with the best of intentions naïvely ask: ‘Why don't you just move home?' If only it had been that simple.

When Dad rang to tell me he was selling the farm, he also informed me that I'd receive money from the sale. It was something I had never expected. If there was to be any financial benefit derived from that property, I had always assumed it would
go to my brothers and not to me. My three brothers, Robert, James and Terry, had been encouraged to consider their futures as mapped out on the farm. Dad – and indeed my brothers – assumed they would all work on the farm and that a home would be provided to them. As the girl of the family, it was always made clear that was never going to happen to me.

And so, all of a sudden, I had a large sum of money coming my way that would make a huge difference to our lives. But for reasons I couldn't understand, I was utterly depressed about it. In the fullness of time, I would come to realise that my reaction was perfectly natural – grief in the face of loss. It was a severing of a tie to my past, an irrevocable cutting of the cord.

I must not have been able to hide my shock, because, when Greg next came to collect Luke, he asked me why I was moping – a rare moment of empathy from him. Without thinking, I told him about Dad's decision to sell the farm, how he had tried to offset the sting by reminding me how much money I stood to gain from it, but overall how much it had thrown me. I didn't notice it at the time, but it would become obvious in my subsequent dealings with Greg that the news must have marked him. What he took away was not that I was upset, but that I would soon be in possession of much more disposable income.

As the weeks went by, Greg became more and more convinced that I was seeing someone. I eventually confessed, hopeful that it might encourage him to back off – but it only provoked a new barrage of vile text messages and derogatory comments. The texts were a mixture of contempt and sick imaginings: Greg would delight in accusing me of the most perverted sexual antics, always in lurid detail. He accused me of somehow involving Luke or otherwise exposing him to these antics. It was another insight into his own twisted sexual depravity.

At first the text messages and accusations got me down. I felt dirty and debased. And for the longest time, I engaged with him, trying to reason or argue with him or otherwise defend myself. But responding to the slander only encouraged him, and so I learned to ignore it. Abuse from Greg simply became the wallpaper of my life. Eventually I became desensitised to it, unmoved by even the most outrageous slander on my character. And so the cycle continued.

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