One year ago: A pale, shivering woman sits in a barely lit room, swathed in blankets. She stares blankly in front of her at the blackness of her television screen; she doesn’t move, she barely thinks. She is scared to turn on the television, frightened to turn on another light as she’s unsure of how much electricity is left on the meter and with no money to top this up, she doesn’t want to be left in darkness; darkness terrifies her. Everything terrifies her. In her cold, shivering hand, she barely grips a bottle of tequila, a gift from a friend. The taste is acidic in her mouth, causing her to gag every time she allows a sip to slink down her throat into her empty stomach. But it keeps her warm. The gas in the house went off ages ago; the house is freezing through, a draught blows through the ancient fireplace, sweeping through the house with frosty vigour. She shivers deeply and tries to grab the bottle tighter. Her stomach rumbles, a low, incessant, deep wailing from within: She hasn’t eaten in 24 hours. She’s starving, but there is no gas to light the stove, no food in the cupboards. She wraps the blanket a bit tighter around herself, wishing that this was not such a familiar scene. I wish I was dead, she thinks.
Her phone lights up, a message from her sister:
Hi sweety, how are you? Xxxx
I’m ok thanks. How are you? Xxxx
I’m great thank you! What are you up to? Xxxx
Not much. No heating. Not much electricity. Am keeping TV off so the lights don’t go off before bed. Xxxx
Have you eaten? Xxxx
No food. Or gas. Haha xxxx
Stop being lazy, go to the shop! Xxxx
No money. I don’t have my bank card either. Xxxx
What? Where is he? Xxxx
I don’t know. He took the money dad gave me out of my purse, along with my bank card and left this morning. Xxxx
Oh, Doris, man… Do you want me to Just Eat you a pizza? Xxxx
No, no thank you. I’ll be fine. Love you xxxx
Love you too xxxx
There is a loud knocking on the door. Her heart pounds, her entire body heaves with fear. Cautiously, she stands up, blankets slipping from her body, cold biting at her warm body. She tiptoes towards the door and peeks around the corner. The large shadow of a man casts a shadow throughout the empty hallway.
“Hello?” she asks the shape at the front door.
“Hiya, there’s a delivery for number 23?” smiling, she opens the door.
“Thank you!” She closes the door, locking it, remembering to remove the key just in case he comes home and is angry that he’s locked out. If he comes home. She smiles as her tummy rumbles loudly in anticipation, thankful of her sister’s act of kindness. She puts the pizza down on the coffee table, picks up her phone and types out a message to her sister:
Thank you for being you xxxx
Later, she makes her way to the bedroom. She sends a quick text message, asking when he will be home. There is no reply. She finds the scissors in the bathroom and begins to scrape at the long, healing scab on her thigh.
A few hours later, she hears the door slam, but doesn’t shut properly, banging even louder off the wall as it bounces. Another hole she thinks. Footsteps make their way upstairs. She wraps the duvet more tightly around herself and closes her eyes, slinking down in the bed a little bit, moving her body to the very edge of the bed, trying to act asleep. There is movement in the darkness and a figure stinking of booze and something else falls into bed beside her. A few moments pass and snores that only someone deep in a whiskey induced sleep can produce. Carefully, she slinks out of bed and makes her way downstairs to close and lock the front door. In the dark, she stumbles over a pair of shoes and falls sharply to the floor, slamming her knees off the cold wood. She feels blood trickle down her leg. She sighs.
She climbs back into bed, the booze and unfamiliar smell washing over her, causing her to turn her nose up in disgust. His phone lights up and she notices a message from the girl he works with:
Thanks for tonight 🙂 ❤ xx
She rolls over, wraps the duvet around her tightly, picks up the sharp object she keeps under her bed and begins scraping along the freshly healed scar on her wrist. Oh.
A few days later, she would spend the day with her mother and sister, trying to find some joy in the fact that it was almost Christmas, feeling nothing but emptiness; an encapsulating feeling of non-existence that only cutting into her flesh seemed to eradicate, even if only for a little while. She follows a jubilant mother and cheerful sister around shops, remembering to react to their questions, smile at their jokes, making jokes of her own; anything to appear normal. Eventually, it’s time to go home and the dread associated with going to the house she lives in envelopes her once more. Just a little while longer, she thinks, hoping for a traffic jam or the car to break down. All too soon, they pull up outside of her house. She kisses her family goodbye, noticing her mam staring a little too hard, something impenetrable behind her eyes. She knows, she thinks as she climbs the steps to her house. She turns around, waving at her sister’s disappearing car and steps into the cold, dark house.
She walks through the dark hallway to the living room, flicking on the light as she walks past. She stops in her tracks, turns around and leaves the room, remembering to turn off the switch. Too cold, she thinks. She makes her way into the kitchen, opens the fridge and sighs at its lack of content, turns around and makes her way upstairs. Bed seems like a good a place as any, she thinks, noticing the time: 7pm. As she ascends, she notices a large cupboard door ajar. Frowning, she walks over to it and peers inside. Empty. Her frown deepens as she walks into the bedroom and sees that there are drawers open. They’re all empty too. The wash basket in the corner has been emptied; only her clothes remain, littered on the floor. Hmm. She turns around and goes back downstairs, flicks on the living room light and takes stock of its contents. Computer gone. Xbox gone. On the table, she notices her bank card. Oh.
She sits on the edge of the sofa, heart pounding. She unlocks her phone and brings up her banking app, checking her balance: 43p, a lot less than before. She takes her purse out of her bag and finds a 2 pence piece in the bottom, littered amongst the old bus tickets. Oh.
She texts her sister:
I think he’s left me. Xxxx
What? What do you mean? Xxxx
Well, I got home and all of his stuff is gone, my bank card was on the table. 43p in current account. Xxxx
THAT BASTARD. I’m coming to get you. Xxxx
She didn’t feel anything. She cried, she fell to the floor and sobbed, clutching at her chest, clawing at her face, but she didn’t really feel anything. The truth is, she hadn’t felt anything in a long time; she acted, of course, she knew she was supposed to be happy, she knew that she was supposed to be grateful that there was someone out there who could put up with her: She was difficult, she was unattractive, she lived only to depress people and bring them down to her level of depraved melancholy. She should have been grateful, but she couldn’t feel anything. The only time she felt the semblance of happiness was when she drew knives or scissors or anything with a pointed edge against her skin – not fine cuts, but jagged claw like marks into her skin. She would cry, she would feel guilty and she would think of her mother and cry more. What would she think? She felt empty for a long time. Years. She knew she should cry, so she did, but she didn’t know what she was crying for. It wasn’t loss, or remorse or heartbreak. It was because she knew she had to. Society dictated that. So she cried.
Eventually, when the rubble had cleared, so to speak and when she had time to take stock of her thoughts and consider what had happened to her throughout 2013, she felt humiliated. Humiliated that she had wanted to leave, but was convinced to stay, that things would get better, that this is what relationships were, these days. She felt humiliated that she was followed around, screamed at and bullied by an ancient woman posing as a mother, wishing instead of being respectful of another person’s mother, she had punched her in her botox filled lips and thrashed her senseless for inflicting so much pain onto another human being, allowing her own son to make her the victim of domestic violence (more emotional than physical, admittedly) knowing that she too was once the victim of domestic violence. She felt humiliated that he would take her money, money that her dad gave her for bills and food and warmth; he would take that and spend it all on booze, cosying up to other women, saying vitriolic things about her to these people, laughing at her ignorance of what was going on. Poor, fat, ugly girl, doesn’t know how good she has it, I’m god’s gift… my mam says so. Eventually that humiliation turns to anger and eventually the anger dissipates into an intense lingering pity, until that pity disappears and all that is left is a desire not to have ever known him.
She gets on with her life. She meets new people. She writes again. She smiles as soon as she wakes up. She doesn’t take prescription drugs and downs them with tequila any more. She doesn’t take sharp objects to her skin. She doesn’t wish she’s dead. She comes back to life; like a flower in the spring time, reaching towards the sun. She is brighter, she is stronger. She is happier. She won.