How Did I Not Know?
She told me that the last words he ever said to her were, “Watch it bitch or I’ll punch your head in.” Recently broken up, they were at the same house – an engagement party with a Hawaiian theme. Not much of a family affair, really more of a booze up.
The groom to be worked at a large fabrication factory and most of the party were his work mates. Her newly engaged friends lived in a neglected house on the edge of town where the bitumen road turns to dirt and the house slouched beside disused paddocks.
She said it was cold, mid winter and she was freezing in a white flowing dress with a fake frangipani lei and flowers in her hair. It had been weeks since she had seen him, that is if you didn’t count driving by his house to check if his car was there or pulling into the dark corner of the football ground on training night.
As she spoke I felt everything changing from the flighty catch up exchange we had been having into this deep revelation of a time when I had been sliding through life with her and yet I had not had a wisp of an idea about what had been going on.
At the party she had been chatting with one of his mates, one who had always liked her. “To be honest,” she said, “I was being full on. Look at me, so cute, so together. I knew he was checking us out. I drove out there and wasn’t drinking. For sure, he would need a lift home and you know, we’d get back together.”
Going on she explained that after awhile when the other guy went to get a drink, he started walking towards her. “In my head I could hear him telling me I looked great, that he had missed me and we’d be hanging out for the rest of the party. That’s not what happened.”
Her eyes looked down for just a second then she pressed on but with a determined voice. “He came up beside me and leaned in close and spoke softly in my ear.” “Watch it bitch or I’ll punch your head in.” She said his voice was cold and eerily deliberate but that his face had no such expression. Anyone watching would swear he must have swooped in and said, “Hey. Glad you came. Have fun.”
“He barely stopped. He said that to me and just kept walking. I stood there alone and stunned but only for a few seconds. You know what, I remember every last detail. I turned around and walked over to the table. I put my plastic cup of water down and went inside and thankfully the grinning couple were right there. I told them I had to go, that he was drinking and in a mood to make trouble. They tried to talk me out of leaving but I felt so calm, in control. I swear it was like a switch being turned on. When I went out to my car I did not look back and I just knew I was walking away forever. It was a physical feeling so deep inside of me but it felt good, sad too, but so good. As I drove back past the house I expected to see him coming out, to catch up with me, to say sorry, to say he didn’t mean it. Nothing. That was the best thing he ever did for me. Right then, that night, driving away alone – I actually remember thinking, I just grew up. I just grew bloody well up, at last! I felt it, right in that moment I knew everything from that point on was going to be be completely different. And it was.”
She did give me a sheepish grin at that point as I think she was taking in my utter astonishment. How could I not know? Why did I not see it, sense anything? I was never fussed on him and could never see what she had seen in him, but this? So is this how it happens – victim allies?
Yes, she tells me his private behaviour could be despicable. Yes, he did get physical at times. Yes, he was abusive and rotten to her. On and off, with her covering up, making excuses to herself and most importantly hiding it from everyone. The shame of it was hideous she said, but the shame of anyone knowing, well that was just unbearable.
My good friend, whom I know and did not know says, “For sure I wish it never happened. But it did. I allowed it to happen too. For me, I wanted to accept that.
I had some ownership in those awful years. But that night, that horrible night – just got me to wake the hell up, to grow up!”
She reached over and hugged me then. There were no tears in her eyes, no regrets in her voice. I was still stunned; my head was shaking silently without moving. It felt like maybe I just grew up; all be it – quite a few years behind my friend.