Christmas Day 1994 is etched into my memory for all the wrong reasons.

I’d been living with Domestic Violence since 1990 and sadly, due to the hypervigilance; a side effect of constantly living in fear, I instinctively knew today was going to be a bad day for me by the sound of the footsteps on the floorboards above.

It was 3pm in the afternoon. Two of my three children and I had awoken early as was usual for me on Christmas Day, my eldest was staying with my Parents. Christmas had always held fond memories for me growing up,  and despite the circumstances, I was determined to make it special for my own children. Together we had enjoyed unwrapping the gifts that Santa had left under the small white, second hand Christmas tree that was decorated with a mixture of homemade baubles and tinsel, that stood proudly in the corner of the living room.

I’d managed to borrow some high-interest cash from the local Greenwoods representative that pursued the poor and needy along the streets where I lived. I had managed to stretch the £46 in cash that would cost me £5 per week for the rest of my natural life, to buy cheap gifts for the children. It amazes me when I think back now, just how far I was able to make that meagre sum stretch, but stretch it I did. The children were overjoyed with their small piles of plastic toys each, and for a short time that morning, I felt the fullness of contentment warming my soul. Seeing my children happy gave me purpose and made my life worthwhile.

Leaving the children happily playing with their toys and watching Christmas cartoons on the telly, I’d snuck off into the kitchen to prepare the Christmas dinner of Roast Chicken with fresh veg and all the trimmings. I couldn’t afford a turkey but chicken was the next best thing. With the chicken in the oven and all the veg peeled and ready to cook, I returned to the room and spent the rest of the day playing with the kids and watching movies while they slept on the sofa. As usual, my partner spent the day in bed.

He didn’t celebrate Christmas, (he never bought gifts, although he still expected to receive them). His mum had left the family home one Christmas, waking his younger brother who he had shared a room with. She had decided to take her youngest child with her and leave the eldest one, who was just 8 at the time, with his Dad. This had devastated my partner and he had never celebrated Christmas as a result.

He often slept throughout the day and stayed up all night playing on his mega-drive and smoking cannabis – and today was no different. At the beginning of the relationship, I’d complained about his smoking cannabis, it wasn’t something I had ever come across before. I was advised to mind my own business. I’d also complained about his lack of input because of his nocturnal behaviour, but I learned very quickly to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. Being interrogated by me, as he called it made him incredibly angry. The first time I’d experienced his rage was just 3 months into the relationship. Nothing I had ever experienced in life before him had prepared me for that first outburst – it had shattered my world and changed it forever. As far as he was concerned, he wasn’t answerable to anyone, least of all me, At just 20 years of age, I had learned to just let things be, my safety depended on it.

The dinner cooked, I set the Christmas table with napkins and crackers. I’d managed to buy a bottle of Belnor whilst shopping; a cheap bottle of sparkling Perry especially for the Christmas dinner. I was pleased with myself that I had managed to make things nice for us despite living on benefits and having very little money spare. I sat the children at the table, the youngest in his high-chair, and I began dishing out their food.

I heard the creaking of the bed, and the thud of feet landing on the floor above me. I glanced at the clock, it was almost 3pm. I felt the tightening in my chest and the prickling sensation of cold sweat crawling over my skin – I held my breath for a second and listened attentively to the sound of the movements above me –  something felt wrong.

I tried to focus on what I was doing, frantically mashing vegetables into a bowl for my youngest child, the walls started drawing in, the space around me was getting smaller. As the kitchen door opened, I could see the dark stocky shadow of my partner standing in the doorway, through the corner of my eye. I did not look up. I grabbed the bottle of Belnor “Could you open the wine please”, I asked glancing up and making eye contact before quickly looking away. His face was stern, dark circles framed his red eyes, he took the bottle from me and popped the plastic cork. I placed his plate of freshly cooked food on the table in front of him, and picked up the opened bottle of wine. The children were tucking into the food already, as I began to pour the wine into his glass. I could feel his eyes burning into me, my heart was pumping and body began to shake. I was struggling to keep the bottle of wine steady, and as I tried to pull the bottle away from his filled glass, I accidently knocked the glass with the tip of the bottle.

Everything slowed to slow motion. I watched as the glass of wine, losing its balance slowly tipped sideways. I grabbed the glass, with my other hand, and pulled it back in place. A single droplet  of wine splashed, jumping from his glass. Shhhittt! – the panicking voice in my head scolded as it landed on the edge of his plate. I watched in horror, frame by frame as the droplet slowly ran down the curve on the plate, heading straight towards the gravy. Time stood almost still. As the wine droplet reached the gravy – I could hear the pounding of my heart in my chest. I held my breath and looked up, Our eyes met momentarily,  his face flushed red began to  contort – I knew this was it, I was dead. Simultaneously, I let go of the bottle,. grabbing my 4 year old and 2 year old from their seats and pulling them behind He jumped up from his seat, throwing the table of food  up in the air., I pushed the children in front, through the door and into the living room opposite, as my partner scrambled over the carnage coming towards me.  Miraculously, the kids safely behind the closed door, I made up the stairs on all fours, using my hands and feet to propel myself as fast as I could, my partner close behind me, grabbing at my heals. The panic in my chest was agonizing, as I reached the top of the stairs. No sooner had I done so, he was there – grabbing my top with both hands he threw me, forcing me backwards onto the floor, I landed with a thud, and he was still coming – arms and legs peddling backwards, I was desperately trying to get out of the way but I had nowhere left to go. Before I knew it his entire body weight was on top of me, pinning me to the floor. At 6 and half stone, I was no match for him as he forced his knees down onto my arms and squeezed my throat with both hands. My legs were kicking as I struggled for breath – it was hopeless. Powerless, I felt a tingling sensation over my face and lips, Black and White flashes obscured my vision;  silence filled the room – the blackness consumed me.

 

“Mummy, wake up – mummy” – the faint voice of child in the distance. I tried to swallow, my throat was dry and sore. My vision blurred, I could feel the gentle touch of my daughters fingers stroking my face. I started to cry. The silhouette of my partner, sitting on the end of the bed, his head in his hands. The air was still and quiet. Without saying a word, he got up and ran down the stairs. I heard the front door slam behind him.

I hugged my daughter – I was alive. Hurting, Confused, but alive.

The next few hours are a blur. My children and I huddled together in the same bed. I had pushed a set of drawers up against the door, securing the room. Something I had once seen my parents do when we were children in Africa. My partner did not return for the next few nights. He reappeared a few days later, taking his usual chair in the living room and playing quietly on the games console. We never spoke a word. Something felt different.

A few days later, whilst making the children’s breakfast, silent tears began to roll uncontrollably down my cheeks. There was no sound, no thoughts, only numbness.  I was empty, lost, shattered.

I hadn’t visited my parents home for a few years, we’d fallen out – which is another story.

Having dressed the children in their coats and shoes, I fastened my youngest child in his buggy and left the house. I could hear my partner shouting behind me, but the sounds were faint, in the distant. The tears, still rolling, I made the short journey from my home to my parents home with the children, and knocked on their door.

The door opened and my Mum was standing there. We hadn’t spoken in some time. The look on her face was one of surprise. I didn’t speak, I didn’t need to. She invited me in.  I don’t recall there being any conversation between us, there may have been, I don’t recall it.  I can remember her speaking to me, asking me questions which I couldn’t answer – my mind was fuzzy, I couldn’t think.  My body felt unusually calm and peaceful, the shaking had stopped.  It felt as though my mind had withdrawn in side itself to a safe place. I was looking out, from behind the safety of what felt like a clear screen in my mind, just observing the world from a safe distanced. My parents fed and chatted to the children while I looked on. I wasn’t listening.  I was as present in body only. I was sitting in silence,  my mind and spirit observing, but not engaged.

I was in shock.

 

The Lived Experience of Non-Fatal Strangulation Continues with Part 2 – The Aftermath and concludes in Part 3 – The Road to Recovery.