Surviving

Kay Townson – Deakin University

I walk into the hall with Anna and look around at the other women. They call themselves Survivors – because no matter how battered they are, they’re still here. I’ve been coming every week for a couple of months now, I’ve heard most of their stories, but they haven’t heard mine. Not even Anna. She’s given me a job, a place to stay and every week she brings me here, all in the hopes it will help. And I’m starting to think it does.

I decide I’m ready, I know these women are the only ones that could possibly understand what has happened to me. I stand.

They give me encouraging smiles and I take a deep breath.

***

I’m Lilly and I was nineteen when I first moved out of home and within a few months, I wished I hadn’t.

I was sat in my street one day, idly watching sparrows flit back and forth between power lines when this giant male barrelled into me. He was tall and muscular and one hell of a frightening sight. I was sent flying, and let out an indignant squawk before screaming a few obscenities in his direction.

He apologised profusely; couldn’t get the words out fast enough really. He didn’t see me, he was just trying to scare the birds and he’s sorry, am I okay. Looking back, I think that’s what set me at ease. He may have been huge and intimidating but he seemed so genuinely apologetic, stumbling over his words the way he was, it was…well adorable really. I apologised for screaming at him and introduced myself and he told me his name was Steve, and he lived just down the street. It seemed completely ordinary, like he was just an ordinary guy.

Next time I saw him was a few days later, I was jogging down the street when he jogged up beside me. He said hi, gave me this gorgeous smile and I couldn’t help it, I was attracted to him. It happened time and again and he talked me into trusting him, so we started going out together. We’d go for a walk or go out for dinner and then he introduced me to his friends and…well, things started getting bad.

I was too hung up on trying to make him happy that I never even thought about taking what they were saying seriously. Michael wasn’t as quiet as Steve and had an opinion on just about everything, but Jake was different, he was self-important and just plain nasty. It was little things at first, comments about how short my shorts were, jokes about making sandwiches, stupid stuff that you hear every day. I never dreamt they were serious about what they said; I just thought they were being guys, showing off in front of each other.

Things progressed between Steve and I, and that was okay with me. He never pushed me further than I was willing to go, and he didn’t get mad when I said no, but he never said anything if his mates made me uncomfortable. He’d just get defensive and tell me I was being unreasonable, that they didn’t mean anything by it. I shouldn’t have believed him, and I know that now, but I wanted so badly to please him that I did my best to let it go.

One day we were having a barbecue at Steve’s and I turned around to grab a drink when Jake grabbed my ass. I was so shocked I just froze in place. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but in no uncertain terms I told him not to do it again, and he laughed in my face. When I went to storm off he grabbed me by the wrist and I slapped him. I didn’t even mean to do it, but he got this nasty look on his face before he hit me back, and kept hitting.

That was the first time Michael and Jake beat me. The entire time Steve just watched them, never made a move in my defence. Afterwards he told me it was my fault; if I hadn’t have hit Jake, then they wouldn’t have had to hit me back.

***

My voice starts to quiver and Anna squeezes my hand. I smile at her; grateful for her support. I take a swig of water and look at the faces surrounding me. The horror of what I’m saying is etched in each of their faces, but it’s coupled with understanding. They’re not judging me for my stupidity. I take a deep breath and continue.

***

I hid most of the bruises under my clothes and anything that showed on my face I explained away. I’d say I fell down the stairs or something.

The next few weeks they’d be waiting outside my unit when I got home from work. They would invite themselves in, eat my food, get drunk and order me about. Any protest I made was quickly silenced. Soon I stopped protesting and just did what they said. I couldn’t get away from them – Jake lived in my block of units, Michael across the road and Steve was down the street.

About a week after the first beating, Steve stuck around after the others had left. So far he hadn’t hit me; he just watched his friends with a half smile on his face. I knew what he wanted from me and I was too scared to say no. I thought if I tried denying him that, then he would get violent too, and I didn’t think I could cope with that.

I put up with these men for almost three months before I snapped.

By then I was almost broke. I’d lost my job after missing too much work and I was getting behind in all my bills. I was stressed, I was angry, but more than anything else, I was tired.

Steve’s Aunt had died and he was heading north for a few days for the funeral. I was hoping for a reprieve from the three of them, and I suppose I was partially right. Michael didn’t show up that night, but Jake did. He set himself up in my lounge room, remote in one hand and beer in the other. It was about 4am by the time I gave up hoping he would leave and just went to bed.

I hadn’t realised he’d followed me until I went to turn the light off. I hadn’t shut my door properly and he’d been stood in the doorway watching me change. I asked him to leave; my room, my house, I wasn’t specific. I was shaking when he grabbed me. I fought with everything I could. I tried to pull away. I twisted. I hit. I tried kneeing him in the groin but he blocked it. He held me by the tops of my arms and slammed me against the wall.

He reeked of alcohol when he leaned down. I’ll never forget what he said. He told me ‘this is your fault Lilly. I wouldn’t do it if you weren’t so fucking tempting.’

I don’t know whether it was adrenaline or just plain fury. But I broke his hold. I dug my thumbs into his eyes. I kicked him in the groin when he stumbled back; and when he fell to the floor I kept kicking.

It took a long time to calm down enough to call an ambulance, by then he was unconscious and barely breathing.

The police didn’t know what had happened, they just saw the bruises on both of us and put me in hospital overnight for shock. The doctors did an x-ray and found three fractured and partially healed ribs and sent a policewoman in to talk to me when I calmed down.

And for the first time since the whole ordeal started, I told someone the truth.

***

I stop, my whole body shaking. The other women come over and give me a hug. One massive hug, with me, their youngest Survivor in the middle.

***

Kay Townson is a student of writing, literature and history. She spends her spare time reading, writing and spending time with close friends whilst juggling full-time study and a part-time job. She is a passionate feminist as well as a lover of ancient mythology and history.