Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (4 page)

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It would become something of a pattern in my life to be attracted to the underdog. I had a desire to care for and rehabilitate those who are damaged. If a bird has a broken wing, I will always feel compelled to nurse it back to health.

I soon realised, however, that Phil was a slow learner. Despite having lost an arm and a friend to a wholly avoidable driving accident, he still drove like a maniac. And so I called it off.

Not long after, William came into my life. He was another local lad and had always had a crush on me. He was short, and I was shallow, so the interest had never been reciprocated. But as with many good relationships, he persisted and wore me down. We ended up going out together for about three years. Looking back, William was the guy I could – maybe should – have married. He was just a lovely man. He had his own business, and he was loyal and adoring. He was also possessed of the unique skill of falling asleep propped against the bar, a trick he used to pull quite regularly in the Butchers.

I've often wondered how different my life would have turned out had he and I married, and never more so than in the last eighteen months. But William needed someone who was going to keep him on a short lead, and I was never going to be that for him, or anyone. Besides, my time in Austria and subsequent European jaunt had expanded my horizons. I'd had a taste of how big the world was, and how far it extended beyond the Laneham village limits.

Back in those days, Australia was one of the few places to which you could get a six-month working visa. And so, for no other reasons than the suitability of its visa arrangements and the fact that it was about as far removed from Laneham as possible, in 1987 I bought a round-the-world ticket to Australia, never expecting that I would fall in love with the place.

I arrived in Brisbane on Melbourne Cup Day. I distinctly recall complete strangers passing me in the street and being so overtly friendly I wondered if we had met before. They couldn't have been more hospitable. And to a person, at the end of every conversation, no matter how short, they'd say, ‘See you later.' It confused me, because I had only just met them and couldn't work out where or why they thought they were going to see me again.

I picked my way up the east coast, joining the throng of backpackers from all over the world doing likewise. There was whitewater rafting in Tully and deep-sea diving in Cairns, and a stint spent working as a cleaner in a hostel on Cape Tribulation (where the resident bush pig, Lola, would sleep under my bed).

I was meeting all these young English people who hated England and were busily working out ways to stay in Australia. One guy, Nick, had even been creative enough to scan the obituary pages of a local newspaper and assume the identity of a recently deceased local. But I liked England and wanted to go
back. To my mind, I was just having a lovely holiday. It was all a great experience, but I certainly had no intention of living in Australia. The weather and the people – or at least those I had met in far north Queensland – were too extreme. The mosquitoes alone were enough to drive me south. And so, when I met Janet, I took up her invitation to head back down the coast.

Janet worked for a TV network as a set designer. Within a week or so of arriving in Melbourne, she invited me to an engagement party for someone called Leonie.

From the first time we met, Leonie and I hit it off. We had similar outlooks on life and a similar determination to wring every ounce of enjoyment out of each day. Leonie was there at the very beginning of my Australian experience and remains one of my dearest friends to this day.

At Leonie's party I also happened upon a charming bloke who I will call Jake. He worked as a stage hand on various TV shows. Almost immediately I found myself part of a group of like-minded friends enjoying life in our mid twenties. Not long after the party, I accepted Jake's invitation to join his share house, where I cleaned and cooked for him and his flatmates in return for a room.

I found a temp job, working in the office of a cemetery. I was the typist, incredibly timid – and the only female in the workplace. It was just me and the gravediggers. I wanted to do the job well, but I was scared to ask any questions. I was there for a whole week before I dared venture into the tearoom to make myself a cup of coffee, only to turn promptly on my heel at the sight of a wall plastered with Playboy posters and a toilet that looked like something out of
The Young Ones
. Despite travelling to the other side of the world and fending for myself, I was still a sheltered country girl at heart.

When I first arrived in Brisbane, I was too scared to ask people for directions, too intimidated to go into trendy boutiques and much too scared to set foot in a flash restaurant. People often think I am this tower of unshakeable confidence, when the truth is I have a lot of self-doubt and need a lot of reassurance. Over the years I've had to force myself to act confident and self-assured.

With my round-the-world ticket about to expire, I said goodbye to Jake, the housemates, Janet and the gravediggers, and set the compass for home via New Zealand and a brief stopover in Canada to see my old friend from Austria, Coleen.

Arriving back in Laneham, I was immediately struck by how small it seemed. And so I was torn. Did I tend to the itch in my feet and return to Australia? To give a nascent romance with Jake a proper go? To try my hand in a country where I had to admit I felt completely at ease? Or did I stay in my homeland and put down roots? I half-heartedly applied for university and was accepted into a polytechnic to do business studies in Cardiff.

And so I had to weigh it up: return to sunny Australia and throw my fortunes to the wind or study business school in Wales's blustery capital. In the end, the decision was not so difficult to make. And yet, in years to come, I would look back on it and recognise it as one of many ‘sliding doors' moments in my life: where a decision made at a crossroads would alter the entire course of my life.

I bought an airline ticket and flew back to Melbourne.

4
A Fateful Meeting

As the plane touched down in Melbourne, following a frantic couple of months working at a motorway diner near Retford to earn the money for my fare, I was filled with a sense of trepidation. Here I was, aged twenty-five, once again on the other side of the world, having made a conscious decision to return for a relationship that was embryonic at best, in a country where I had no family or any obvious prospect of gainful employment. But, like many thousands of my country folk before me, I was ready to take a chance on this bright and shiny new land.

I moved in with Jake pretty much straight off the plane, an arrangement that would last, as it turned out, for the ensuing five years. For the first few weeks, life was idyllic. Almost immediately, I lodged an application for residency on the grounds of being in a de facto relationship. I wanted time to explore the relationship with Jake, which I felt had enormous promise, without the added pressure of feeling we needed to get married. I started working as a temp, doing secretarial work in the city, and Jake continued to work at the TV network.

Over the next few years, we were part of a group of friends who went out a lot. There always seemed to be a dinner out somewhere or a house party at someone's place. And with every occasion there was alcohol. I liked a drink as much as the next person, but always knew my limits. Jake, on the other hand, began to drink more and more heavily. And, after a while, it started to impact on our relationship. He was never violent when he drank, but he would turn to the bottle whenever life started to become a little difficult for him. It was his coping mechanism – his crutch, if you like.

At work, his boss would try to cover for him and help him. For a long time, I didn't realise the extent of his alcoholism. You just think someone is drinking a little more than usual but that the incidents are isolated. And then you come upon, as I did, empty scotch bottles in the neighbour's garden. And you start to monitor more closely the rate at which they are drinking and the occasions on which they are drunk.

One evening, we had invited people over to dinner. I was driving home from the hairdressers when I saw a man struggling to stay upright as he staggered, clearly drunk, along the footpath. It was Jake. It was the middle of the day and he was lugging a joint of beef he'd picked up at the butcher's. He'd also clearly stopped off at the pub. I was disgusted. For him to write himself off like that when we had friends coming over was the last straw for me. There had been times in our relationship when we'd had troubles because of Jake's drinking. He would invariably straighten himself out for a while before falling off the wagon again. But it had gotten to the point where I was too frightened to go to sleep next to him at night, because I worried he was going to fall asleep drunk with a cigarette and set the house on fire.

I pulled the car over, wound down the window. ‘I hope you enjoy it,' I said, pointing to the joint of beef he was carrying. ‘Because I won't be around to eat it with you.'

I went home, packed my bags and left.

I moved out to a friend's place in Richmond and set about starting over. It was 1992, and I was about to turn thirty. I was determined to get on with my own life, but I still cared for Jake and couldn't just abandon him. And so I would visit him regularly to see how he was doing. He was on a path of self-destruction, drinking heavily and hating himself for it. One time I found him at home nursing a huge scar on the side of his face. He had fallen in the night and cut his face on the kitchen bench. In his fridge was a bottle of Coke and a bottle of milk. On the kitchen table was an empty bottle of scotch.

He had lost his job and sold everything we owned. The rent was in arrears, and I was liable for it because my name was on the lease. He was at the point where he needed someone to take him to rehab, and so I did. From rehab, he ended up going home to live with his mum. Jake was a lovely guy but clearly damaged and susceptible to the ravages of alcoholism. It was, for me, another chapter in my already chequered romantic story.

When Jake's problem with alcohol first became apparent, I suppose I kidded myself that I was going to be his saviour. And so I was gratified when he started to make positive changes in his life, and I believed I was helping to turn him around. But ultimately you can't turn alcoholics around. Nobody can help them until and unless they want to help themselves. Jake used to beg me to stay, telling me I was the only thing keeping him from going completely over the edge – and for the longest time I allowed myself to be emotionally blackmailed like that. When you are young and in love, you make all kinds of excuses for
behaviour that frankly should never be indulged. If only I had been clever enough to learn from that situation. If only that was the only instance of emotional blackmail to which I would be exposed in my life.

I decided to treat myself to a season of skiing at Mt Buller that year to clear my head and to put some space and untouched powder between Jake and me. And it was like a tonic. Weekends that winter were spent happily schussing down the slopes and letting my hair down on the après-ski scene. It was just what I needed.

Towards the end of winter I applied for a job at a recruitment company. The job was in sales and it saw me undertake a daily commute to the company's headquarters in the Melbourne CBD. As it was my first sales job, I was nervous. But there was rent to pay and a new life to forge, so I threw myself into it.

Because of the recession there was a lot of uncertainty in the sector, meaning it wasn't long before I was asked to take on extra duties and become an account manager.

It was in this capacity that I first met Greg Anderson. He was one of the members of the sales team with whom I had contact. He was good-looking, tall and extremely well-groomed. He was also charming in his way, a great bear of a man with a quick (if occasionally off-kilter) sense of humour. We hit it off straight away.

With a romantic past peppered with alcoholics, one-legged Austrian skiers and one-armed farmers, I was open to the idea of embarking on a relationship with an urban sophisticate. And while few others would ever have described Greg as urbane or sophisticated, to my country-girl eyes he presented as eminently more corporate and together than my previous boyfriends. He wore a suit, and he appeared – to all intents and purposes – to
have a job about which he was serious. He had, at least at first glance, what might be referred to in the classics as ‘prospects'.

I bumped into him one day when we were both cold-calling a client and he asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. I did. But instead of meeting at a bar for the customary first date, I invited Greg to join me for a drive out to the Dandenong Ranges where I had only recently put a down payment on a house. And so we set off, driving through the mountains to the small community of Belgrave on Melbourne's outskirts, taking in the tiny cottage on acreage that I had just committed to. It was a day in the country in the company of a man who was clearly intent on impressing me. It was very pleasant.

Greg was charming. It was clear he could hold a conversation, and he managed to put me completely at ease. He told me he had been married, but that the marriage hadn't worked out and he was now estranged from his ex-wife. He gave the distinct impression that the situation had been beyond his control. He also told me he had a son but was estranged from him too. I felt sorry for him.

I was always so nervous whenever I went on a first date with someone. I had a bad habit of drinking more than I should, to ease the nerves. And so, midway through the drive back home to Richmond, I was gripped by an overwhelming desire to go to the toilet. We finally found a place to pull over so that I could whip inside and use the facilities. But I got caught short, returning sheepishly to the car. I spent the remainder of the trip back to Richmond with this man I barely knew – a man I worked with, no less – panicking about how I was going to exit the car without him seeing I had wet myself.

Upon arriving home, I somehow stage-managed it so that he would enter the house in front of me. As I left him in the
living room, chatting to my flatmate, I snuck into the bathroom. That would have been the end of it were it not for the fact that I needed to change my trousers quite urgently – and between the bathroom and my bedroom rather inconveniently lay the living room. So, in a scene reminiscent of the worst sitcom, I crept out of the bathroom, around to the back of the house and back up the side of the house, where I got down on my hands and knees and crawled under the living room window to access my bedroom – then sauntered into the living room as if nothing had happened. I was mortified, but Greg didn't say a word.

A week later he asked me to go for a coffee with him. We sat down over flat whites and started chatting about nothing in particular until, at a certain point, he said, ‘So, how long have you been incontinent?' That was the thing about Greg. He could be charming and funny. And in the next breath, he could be rude or inappropriate.

For instance, he arrived on our first date with a bunch of flowers and made certain I knew he was really keen on me. But then he would go for days or even a week without contacting me. After the emotionally draining experience of Jake, and after feeling so suffocated by that relationship, I think I quite liked the fact that Greg was occasionally aloof: that he appeared to be the master of his own domain and slave to none.

What was less appealing was his habit of saying things in social situations that were either provocative or wildly inappropriate. I remember one instance where we were having drinks with a friend of mine and, out of nowhere, in the middle of our conversation he pointed to my friend's legs and said, ‘How long have you had those veins on your legs?'

I invited him to my thirtieth birthday party to introduce him to all my friends. And at first, they were all excited for me, impressed
at the handsome specimen I had landed. But as the night wore on, almost to a person my friends took me aside and told me Greg was a dickhead who needed to be dumped immediately. Apparently, after making such a good first impression, he had proceeded to deeply offend every person in the party, making remarks that were either deliberately provocative or just plain rude.

In retrospect, it should have been grounds for dumping him. But I didn't, not least because we were never technically going out with one another. We would see each other sporadically, but I was never really sure where I stood with Greg – and I was even less sure when I learned that, while he was seeing me, he had also made passes at other women at our office.

As I write these things, I see them in black and white, and I see how dreadful they look when they are committed to paper but, at the time, in the circumstances, I found myself creating excuses for Greg's bad behaviour. Besides, I had just come out of a bruising five-year relationship and wasn't keen to jump straight back into another one. I decided to enjoy whatever attention Greg showered me with.

All of which would have been fine were it not for the fact that Greg soon after asked me outright to be his girlfriend. And the inference was very much that we be exclusive. We were, he had decided, at some sort of a crossroads, and I needed to decide whether I was interested in a relationship with him. And so I decided, on balance, yes, I was sufficiently flattered and sufficiently interested to give it a go. Again, sliding doors.

The following weekend, I had a trip planned to Sorrento with a girlfriend who Greg had decided he didn't like, and he made sure I was aware of his displeasure. But I wasn't about to let anyone tell me who I could or couldn't spend time with, and so I went. When I returned, he was really off-hand with me, acting
aloof and indifferent. I challenged him, saying, ‘Either you're being like this because you're seeing someone else or you don't want to see me anymore.'

He promptly replied that he was seeing someone else, alluding to the fact that she was some sort of sex goddess. I was hurt, because he'd lashed out and wounded me in the one part of my life he knew I was especially sensitive.

I don't know if it was because I had lost my mum at six and never really had a role model for relations with members of the opposite sex, but I had never been totally at ease – or especially confident – about sex. I remember being fourteen years old and having boys wanting to kiss me or hold my hand, and I always pushed them away. My nickname in the village among boys of a certain age was ‘untouchable'. In that sense, my being sent to boarding school was quite a relief, because I didn't have to deal with any of that stuff.

And so when Greg sought to hurt me with that comment – the truth of which was anyone's guess – I thought to myself, he can go and get stuffed. I had spent all those years in a small village dealing with abandonment and rejection issues, always being especially careful of giving too much of myself away for fear of being rebuffed, and here was Greg repaying the trust I had begun to place in him by treating me like dirt.

Looking back now, it was the first really obvious sign of his need for power and control in a relationship – two qualities that would go on to become a hallmark of all our interactions. But, of course, I didn't recognise it at the time.

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