Up Front by Emma Hart


Any Port in a Storm

Imagine you're a woman. This will be easier for some of you than others, obviously. Enjoy the easy, it's about to get harder.

You're widowed, and you've been on your own with your kids for a long time when you meet a man. He's charming and funny. He compliments you and makes you feel better than you have for a long time. There's a very attractive dynamic energy about him. He's got the gift of the gab. Better than any of that, he loves you.

You get married. A bit after that, you have a daughter. He dotes on her: it's pretty clear he thinks she pukes sunshine and poops rainbows. He's a wonderful father to her. He can't spend enough time playing with her. He doesn't read to her, he tells her stories, wonderful made-up stories about an invisible orange leprechaun called George whose job is to look after her. He'll come home after a day at work and let her ride around the lounge on his back. And alright, he spoils her a bit, but obviously only because he loves her.

He's not quite so keen on your other children, but that's understandable. It's not easy raising someone else's kids, especially when they're already surly hormonal teenagers. They push him. Of course he's going to lose his temper with them sometimes. Alright, the time he drove one all the way down the two-storey outside staircase by hitting him in the face with a tea-towel, that was probably a bit not okay, but that only happened once. They're old enough to be leaving home anyway – that’s probably best for everyone.

And yes, when he's had a few drinks, he loses his temper. It's easy for you to set him off even when you don't really mean to. But when he goes a bit far, he's always sorry. He's still lovely when he's sober. He only does it because you mean so much to him. He knows he has a problem with the drinking and he's trying to change. It's not easy, but he is trying.

Then one night, you're having an argument in the kitchen when your five-year-old daughter comes in. She pushes her way between you and yells at her father to leave you alone, her little face a picture of righteous indignation. And he hits her. She's only little: she flies right across the room and hits the floor. And he turns to you in a fury and yells, "Look what you made me do!"

Well screw that. It's okay if it happens to you, you can look out for yourself. And you got your boys away, they're safe. But if you can't protect her, and if he can't stop himself hurting the person he loves most in the world? It's time to make it stop.

So you get your daughter and try to leave while your husband clings on to the door of your Austin 1100 and screams abuse at you and your girl curls up in the passenger seat and just screams. You go to your mother's. Two problems there. First, she's a bit of a stickler for lying in beds you've made. Second, she lives way out in the country, so when your husband tracks you down, you know it's going to be a good hour or so before you could get a cop there, if they even bother. So you go back home.

The next time, you go to a friend's house. He finds you there, too. Rather than watch your friend get her indignant certainty smacked off her face, you go back home. You know she's disappointed with you, but better that than have her understand the only way anyone really can.

Anywhere you go, you're going to take trouble with you. You'd put anyone who tried to help you in danger. He knows all of the friends and family you have left to you, and who else could you impose upon like that?

He's pretty angry that you tried to leave, though, and that you've been talking about private things with other people. When you arrive at the police station, at least the state of your face makes them take you seriously. A really nice, and very large, officer goes back to your house and gets your daughter. Then they take you to a Women's Refuge.

He's really mad now, but he can't find you. That's not easy: it means staying away from your friends and your other kids, and keeping your daughter out of school for a while. You have to take sick leave from work. It means being in a strange place and listening to your kid complain about sharing a room with strangers.

But people are great. They keep telling you it's not your fault. There are people who actually understand what you've gone through. They know how to get you help. It isn't long before you have somewhere new to live, and your other kids have a home to come back to. The first night, you have fish and chips on the floor in the dark because there's no power and no furniture and it's great.

Going back to work isn't easy, and neither is seeing him again, which you have to do. You move once because he finds out where you're living from your daughter. You worry about him too, how he'll cope without you, just how self-destructive he'll get. You want him to get help and sort himself out. You still love him. When he dies, you'll grieve for him. You'll tell your daughter what a good father he was to her, and she'll shut the hell up because she knows you don’t want to hear, "No Mum, he was a complete shit, I was always terrified of him, I'm glad he's dead and nobody who could treat you like that was ever a good anything." It's easy for her, it's much more complicated for you.

Still, it was absolutely worth it. You know that for sure the night your daughter calls you to come pick her up from a party in an absolute fury. You find her walking home with her boyfriend running after her arguing with her, but she just gets in your car and leaves. The bruises on her face don't come up until the next day, when she still won't take his calls, no matter how many times he tries to apologise. And you know she's going to be okay.

You can stop imagining now, because that wasn't your story. It's a story that's happening somewhere, though, right now. All the time.

The Women's Refuge Appeal is collecting on the 24th and 25th of July. But you can slip them a twenty via their website right now. It's something you can do, and it's easy.

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