My teenage years were brutal but knew of no-one I could share my pains with. My daily mantra became: Three more years until I can leave home; two more years until I can leave home; one more year more year until I can leave home.
My father’s wife’s actions meant nothing to me. I was numb to her abuse, had psychologically hardened my heart years earlier. I knew I was on my own. Her particular type of tortures were targeted. They began with slaps and welts, and turned into body punches, and psychological abuses the older I got.
In my teenage years, my father’s wife would take my siblings and I to the community swimming pool. People I knew from high school would stop where I sat under her watchful eye.
‘Hey, why aren’t you swimming,’ they’d ask taking in my attire; jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. The perspiration dripped from my forehead, and before I could speak, ‘Karen can’t go swimming today,’ my father’s wife would say.
They’d walk away with a knowing look, and I’d sink into the lawn I was sitting on. She wouldn’t leave me home on those days, instead revelling in my pain.
A short deviation from the tale of betrayal – As I write this post, I’m reminded of an incident that took place when I was around six. It was the same pool, and I’d walked down along its edge towards the deep end.
I think I was jumping in every few steps to test the depth. The last jump put me far from the edge and in deep water. I didn’t know how to swim, and I was so afraid of my father’s wife that when a woman asked me if I needed help, I said no.
I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible she nudged me closer to the edge. Once I was out, I moved back to the shallow end and said nothing – End deviation.
So, it happened on a Sunday afternoon.
I had a friend over, she wasn’t a real friend. I hadn’t known her long, but she’d spat on my brother as he got off the bus one day after school (Everyone was my en enemy).
He’d probably spent the previous 5-10-minutes making sure I knew my father’s wife’s instructions to the letter.
When he arrived home, I heard him telling his mother she should stop me from hanging out with my new friend, ‘Because she spat on me.’
I, mistakenly, thought that friend was a strong person, someone who wouldn’t back down on anything.
Wasn’t I the fuckwit!
Sorry, it was required background information. So much to say, but not everything’s a full story, just parts of.
So again, it happened on a Sunday afternoon. That friend was visiting. We spent the visit in the bedroom listening to music or reading magazines. My father’s wife called me because either a new load of washing needed to be put in, or her toe-nails needed a clean… okay I made up the toe-nails part.
It happened as I left the laundry. On the short walk down a thin hallway towards my room when she grabbed me. I can’t remember what I was being accused of, but every Sunday of my teenage life, when dad was out, she’d accuse me of something, anything, and usually punched me if the punishment fit the crime she’d invented.
‘Why don’t you just fuck off, I fucking want you gone,’ was her usual Sunday mantra, accompanied with saliva spatter, she would be that close to my face, but that Sunday was different.
My father’s wife met me halfway down the hall. My back was pressed against the handles of two linen cupboard doors.
She took me by the throat and slid me up along those doors until my feet were kicking in mid-air. As usual, I had no idea about what I was supposed to have done that day. She began her Sunday mantra, and that’s where she fucked up.
My gasping for breath, my feet kicking the wooden doors, had alerted my friend that something was very wrong. Held by the throat, I looked to the bedroom door as it opened a crack, hoping my friend was that strong individual I believed her to be. When my father’s wife heard the door open, she gripped tighter to my throat, slammed my head against the doors, then threw me to the ground.
‘Finally, a witness,’ I’d thought.
I at first crawled, then got to my feet as I reached the bedroom. She continued to spew her vile into the grain of the wood of the closed bedroom door.
‘Why don’t you just fuck off, I fucking want you gone.’
That was it. I was sixteen, so I did as she had insisted for years, and packed a few things in my school bag. My friend and I made a plan, well I made a plan. She would leave the room first and let me know the coast was clear.
The next thing I knew, I was outside jumping over the creek, running through the aisle of someone’s grape vines. It was getting late, and I knew my father would get home not long after I’d left. Then I heard her car start up.
I wasn’t so much running from something, but too something, freedom.
My friend and I dropped to the dusty ground behind several rows of grapevines. I could see her car crawling along the road as she screamed my name.
‘Karen, get back in the fucking house right now!’
I wasn’t going anywhere. I’d decided that was the day, ‘This is the I’ll escape her,’ day.
‘I’m not taking it anymore,’ I said to my friend. ‘Not going back.’
‘Okay,’ she said.
My father’s wife was panicking. My dad was due home. If he said he’d be home by 4-pm, then that’s when he’d pull into the drive way. Her panic flowed as her demands for me to, ‘Get home!’ became more urgent.
I admit, her panic pleased me. She’d spent years of my life saying, ‘‘Why don’t you just fuck off, I want you fucking gone.’
My friend and I huddled in the dirt, and that was the point I realised my friend wasn’t what she projected.
‘If you don’t get home right now, I’ll call the cops!’ my father’s wife screamed, and up popped my friend.
‘We’re here,’ she yelled.
Her betrayal cut me to the core, and it wouldn’t be the last time she would betray me.
‘What was the point,’ I’d thought so got up and walked back through the grapevines and creek. My friend walked the other way and went home. I walked in the back door as my father pulled into the driveway.
Looking back, I recognise the signs that dad tried to get me to speak, but I lived in my head, I turned every conversation point around to, ‘How do you feel?’
Even now I alter conversations by flipping them. It’s not deliberate, it’s more a part of my psychology. The oppression, abuse, and mistrust my father’s wife spent years honing, led me into, an illusion of power, relationship.
When I realised the illusion, those relationships, with both my ex-husband and my father’s ex-wife, came crashing down.
I’d become a manifestation of their abuses, an unknowable, strong, thinking creature, and I was finally free of them both.
I didn’t know if my dad knew what his, then wife, was doing, but found later in life, he had no idea what was going on.
When I was six, I feared my father’s wife finding I’d jumped into the deep end of the pool. Even then I chose drowning over her knowing.
When I was sixteen, I was almost out the door, but was betrayed by the friend, my witness, who saw her abuse me, watched it happen.
I could’ve run away if I wanted to, but didn’t want to hurt my dad. The day did arrive when I could escape, but it’s a series of short tales for later posts.