In The Beginning

Entry by: Deedee

12th May 2015
Why? That’s the first thing they always ask. I’ve heard that ‘why’ in all of its many incarnations: Why did you let it happen? Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you ask for help? I have traced my fingers along purpled flesh, ripening like summer fruits, and asked myself those same questions countless times.

The problem is, these things start small. The infinitesimal acts or omissions which, taken singularly, mean nothing. Such small occurrences are easy to overlook – simple to ignore. If you were to ask me to recall the very first time – and I have been urged to do so many times; because it’s human nature to seek a beginning to all things – then I would have to say that it was the day I made lasagne for dinner.

I admit, I wasn’t the most domesticated; but I had laboured over that meal. Pouring, measuring, stirring, testing. A little pinch more of this, a sprinkling more of that. In the end, it turned out well, all things considered.

But he had sat there, his face sullen, swirling my offering into nothing more than a grey mush. “Is there anything wrong?” I’d asked him. “Don’t you like it?” but he’d simply lowered his eyes and sighed. I had fallen short for some reason – I felt an ache in my hands and saw that I was wringing them; twisting the life out of them, as anxiety rose in my chest.

He must have sensed my frustration because he leveled me with a gaze which possessed, what I later came to view as, the hallmarks of a challenge. Next thing I knew, the lasagne was thrown against the wall. Voices were raised – his pitched high enough to make my ears ring. That time, I left the room before anything more could happen.

Along with the ‘whys’, come the ‘whens’. When was the next time it happened? When did you figure out this wasn’t a one-off? When did you realise there was a problem? Again – it’s oh so incremental isn’t it. When you love someone, you don’t want to admit that anger or violence or harm can get in the way of it. There are any number of reassurances you give yourself; they trip off the tongue with wild abandon: It’s been a difficult week. Things will get better. It won’t always be like this. I love him – surely that’s enough.

But since I suspect you also want to know – I’ll tell you. We’d been out for the day – it had all been perfectly pleasant; one of those balmy summer afternoons that makes you feel at peace with nature; even the wasps. We arrived home, trailing our sun-drenched happiness behind us like a souvenir of a day well spent. Yet the moment we were through the door, I sensed a change in him. He became sulky – almost petulant. I recognised the mood by then and should have left things alone – his unpredictability had become the only predictable thing about him. Instead, I challenged him.

“What’s the matter with you?” I’d snapped. “Can we not just have one day of peace?” Looking back, I know it was the wrong thing to say. You don’t diffuse a situation by issuing a challenge. Next thing, voices were raised – along with fists.

Afterwards, I huddled against the wall, sobbing. Hating myself. Wanting to hate him. He’d put his arms around me, then, and had looked down at the bruised flesh which was already turning an ugly shade of red. His fingers trembled across it, as though unable to comprehend the reality of this blossoming pain.

And so it went on. Some weeks were better than others. Sometimes I almost believed it was over – an ugly pothole in the course of our relationship that we’d finally managed to bypass.

I was wrong.

As much as everyone wants to know about the beginning, they also feel compelled to ask about the end. Because, of course, one can’t exist without the other. For every ending there has to be a beginning – and for every beginning, there must, ultimately, come and end.

And this was ours . . .

I had been watching a programme on TV. He came into the room and turned it over without even asking. The pattern of escalation was familiar to me – a ratcheting up of emotion that took on a life of its own – but there was little I could do to stop it. There was less shouting that last time – more hitting.

It was only once it was over that I noticed the blood on my hands.

My vision cleared and I saw him slumped in the corner. His eyes were fluttering, lashes butterfly-soft against his plump cheeks. A tear escaped and meandered its way earthwards. “Mummy?” he said – and then his eyes closed completely.

I have often replayed that last word – the question mark beneath the surface haunts my dreams. Was it because, by then, he no longer recognised me as a mother at all – or was it, simply, one last cry for help?

Over the years, the counsellors have all tried to make their mark. Some have been more understanding than others – it’s hard for a single mum, they murmur; their platitudes masking their distaste. Others have sat there with cold accusation in their eyes. It matters little – none of them are able to judge me as harshly as I judge myself.

Yet, oddly, no matter where these many sessions lead us, nor how many psychobabblers I see, it always starts the same way. They will steeple their hands in front of them; mouths pursed in faux understanding – “So,” they will say. “Tell me what happened in the beginning.”