I’m begging for help
Day 42 of the Lockdown
Alone in the house without my children, waiting to be kicked out, I descended into darkness as all the memories of my wife’s abuse rose up to overwhelm me. While I was in this state, I got a text from my wife asking how I was.
‘Fine,’ I replied.
‘How’s your other self?’ she asked, and my blood ran cold.
‘What other self?’
‘The other self of you.’
She was fishing. I knew it immediately. Their only defence was to discredit me, and they were trying to get me to say something like, ‘Oh, he’s fine too,’ which they could then use to claim I had two sides to my character too – that I was the abuser.
‘I don’t understand the question,’ I replied. ‘I don’t have an “other” self. I’m just me.’
She was silent for an hour, and then texted, ‘Have you spoken to anyone today?’
‘What does he say?’
‘Supportive of what you do?’
I stared down at the phone. Supportive of what you do? What was she implying?
My body temperature dropped; I felt chilled to my core. I remembered the email her mother had sent six weeks before, the accusation that I was able to conceal my ‘true temperament’ in front of people, and that I provoked my wife into reacting in public, presumably to gain some kind of leverage over her. They were trying to set me up as the abuser, as some kind of monster engaging in a Machiavellian scheme to steal the house and steal the children.
I felt so vulnerable. I was exhausted; I hadn’t slept properly for five years; and I hadn’t had any mental space for twice that. Terror surrounded me, helplessness and loss. I thought my mind was crumbling. Every sound, I thought it was my father-in-law coming to kill me. I repeatedly checked my barricades.
I paced from room to room, anxious, on edge, listening, muscles tight, ready to spring into action. Three full days without my children – the longest we’d ever been apart.
I don’t remember if I slept – I don’t remember much of that time, in the dark, waiting. I don’t know how I survived it. Sometimes, I wonder if I did.
Day 43 of the Lockdown
On Monday, my fourth day without the children, my support worker Vicki came to see me. She was appalled by the deterioration in my mental health – I was a nervous wreck. We had to call the council, she said, to find me housing.
I rang someone on the homelessness team and told her I had just come out of an abusive relationship with my wife and I needed somewhere to live that could accommodate children.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘It’ll be a long wait.’
‘But I need to get out now,’ I said. ‘It’s my wife’s house that she owns with her dad.’
‘Have they told you to leave?’
‘Not yet,’ I said, getting distressed. ‘But they can kick me out whenever they want.’
‘Well, if you leave before they tell you to, you’ll be voluntarily making yourself homeless and go to the back of the queue. So ring back when they kick you out and we’ll see if we can do anything for you.’
I couldn’t cope. Vicki took the phone off me and said, ‘Excuse me, this is his support worker. I just want to clarify – he’s not the abuser, he’s the victim of abuse.’
‘Oh,’ said the woman on the phone – she’d simply assumed that because I was a man, I must have been the abuser. ‘Well, in that case, we’ll put him on the list. But I’m afraid it could be a few weeks.’
‘He can’t stay here, because he’s vulnerable to further abuse.’
‘Well, I’m sorry, but we have nowhere for him. He’ll just have to stay where he is.’
I wandered over to the sofa in a daze and listened as the council worker told Vicki that I had to remain in the house for at least the next month, with all the threat of abuse that might entail. I remember looking at the pictures on the wall – wedding photos, a family shot, all of us together, and smiling, and I felt I was dying.
After the phone call, Vicki asked me what I wanted to do.
‘I don’t have a choice, do I?’ I said. ‘I have to stay here until whatever happens.’
‘But are you going to be strong enough?’ she asked. ‘When she comes back and she cuddles up to you and she says she’s sorry and it won’t happen again if you’d only take her back, are you going to be strong enough to say no? Or is she going to reel you back in?’
I looked at the family photo again and I just shattered.
Crying, shivering, choking, screaming. I totally lost control. Somehow my trousers got covered in snot and tears, and despite the social distancing, Vicki came and sat beside me and stroked my back. Ten minutes or more, I was inconsolable.
‘Richard,’ she said when I’d finally regained some semblance of rationality. ‘I have never seen anyone break down like that before. In the past, I’ve raised safeguardings to protect the children – I’m going to have to raise a safeguarding to protect you. This isn’t a safe place for you anymore. She’s destroying you.’
‘I don’t want to be here anymore,’ I sobbed.
‘Here, as in alive?’
‘No, here in this house.’
‘Then let’s get you out.’
‘I’ve got nowhere to go.’
‘Well, we can either contact your parents, or you can be sectioned for your safety.’
‘Then it’ll have to be my parents.’
She rang my parents. Lockdown be damned, I needed to be removed for my own safety and welfare. They readily agreed and said they’d come to collect me.
I packed a few belongings into a bag. I didn’t have much. My clothes were crammed into an eighth of a wardrobe, stuffed right to one side where they were difficult to access and covered in mildew from the damp. Other than my laptop and a couple of books, I didn’t have much presence in that house.
My eyes fell on my wedding ring, sitting on the bedside table.
‘I’ve failed my marriage,’ I muttered.
‘Say that again. Who failed your marriage?’
‘What should I do with my wedding ring?’
‘Do you want to take it with you?’
I shook my head.
‘Then leave it.’
‘I don’t want her to find it when she comes home,’ I said. ‘I don’t want her to see it and feel bad.’
Vicki stared at me. ‘She’s taken away your children, she’s left you with no other choice than to leave, and you’re worried about what she’s feeling?’
I left it where it was.
When my parents arrived I was led to the car like a man going to his own execution. I could almost feel the neighbours twitching the curtains. I later found out that several of them texted my wife to fill her in on where I had gone.
It didn’t give me any joy to leave that house. It didn’t feel good at all.
But I was out, and I was free.
Or so I thought.