Why don’t women just leave Abusive Relationships?
Why don’t women just leave partners who control them financially, socially, and generally coerce them or become violent towards them? People just don’t understand until they’ve been there themselves, Sophie thought as she packed her picnic things and the tablet computer into the paniers on Bea’s E-bike. A park bench located deep in the woods where it had been completely silent other than odd bird calls was where she’d been transcribing from the last video conversation with her aunt Bea.
As she cycled through the forest there was no sound on the firm loam soil. The trees‘ leaves were very soft even when they fell on the ground. She smiled as she found the places where the rhododendrons had been flowering during a walk with Bea and her sister with one of her daughters and partner in the previous year’s visit during spring. The peace calmed her mind; the gentle exercise relaxed her body; the air cleaned by the trees revitalised her lungs after the intensity of her trip from Australia to Amsterdam.
This cycle trip was her first during her second year’s visit to Bea in her new apartment, in the small, quiet farm village surrounded by rich, lush farming districts fairly close to where Alida had been institutionalised. It was too far to cycle to Alida’s grave, even with the E-bike.
Sophie planned to catch an infrequent bus to a train station, where she could catch a train which would arrive an hour later in the village where Alida had spent the last year of her life and was buried.
After a morning’s cycle to a larger town about five kilometres away to buy various cotton sewing threads and groceries not supplied by the local mini-supermarket, Sophie joined Bea for lunch.
‘What are your plans for this holiday?’
Sophie beamed, ‘To relax, spend time with you, go on some train trips with day-travel cards which Anna already bought before I arrived, and of course write a lot about Alida’s story.’
‘You are always working very hard at home, so relaxing is important. I’m curious to know what you are still writing about with regard to Alida.’
‘Well, I’m using more of my experiences with abusive men to show what Alida’s life was probably like before she went into the institution, and still lived with Opa. Thanks to his sister’s letter, we now have a clear idea of how badly he could behave – even with an older sister who loved and cared for him so much. We have also witnessed a lot of angry, coercive behaviour from him and have had other family members confide about some of the violence he unleashed.’
‘I see. So, are you going to share what it must have been like for Alida to be married to such a man?’
‘Yes, as you know, I try to turn all my bad experiences into useful knowledge and that way hope to help others manage their bad situations better and quicker.’
‘I think Alida might be happy with you. What you are suggesting is wise. But your task is neither easy nor pleasant.’ Bea patted Sophie’s arm. ‘Are you sure that’s how you want to spend your holiday?’
‘Yes. Writing is therapeutic for me. It’s the only time I have for myself to write a little, in lovely places like the forest yesterday afternoon, sometimes on train journeys, and then go walking or cycling in beautiful nature. It is a release for me, and peace.
‘That makes sense.’
‘Alida is very happy that this book is being written!’
Bea stared at Sophie. ‘How can you know that?’
‘Nearly three months before the launch of the online book last year, I met someone who knew nothing about me. The day after my birthday party she and her boyfriend gave me a lift to the train in his car, and she turned to me, saying, ‘I don’t know if you believe in this type of stuff, but as I was talking to one of your friends at the birthday party I could see her grandfather, John Septimus Roe.’
Bea didn’t say anything, so Sophie added very quickly, ‘The next week she said she could see a woman behind me. I couldn’t work out who it might be, but when I got home I looked closely at Alida’s photo. It was clear that she had long dark hair that was swept up to the back of her head. We emailed to and fro, as my friend was passing on messages from Alida. The main message was that Alida wanted me to hurry up and publish the book.’
Sophie could see that Bea wasn’t going to engage in this conversation, so chose to defer that part of the story to later. They ate in silence for a few minutes.
Bea cupped her chin between thumb and index finger. ‘Why don’t women just leave? I know many of the reasons from your terrible experiences and from other women I’ve known who’ve experienced violent partners. But why does it have to get to the point where you are nearly murdered? Indeed, some women are killed?’
‘In the early 2000s the police did nothing.’
‘So, when he tried to strangle you… is that why didn’t you call the police?’ Bea touched Sophie’s wrist.
‘You are still such a good social worker.’ Sophie smiled at her aunt as she nodded. There was a long silence as she sipped her tea and nibbled some of her raw vegetables. ‘I didn’t tell my best friend who I stayed with for a month or so – I can’t remember. It was until the end of the housesit she was doing. When I asked Dad to drive with his car behind mine all the way from his house in the hills to the coast, I didn’t explain what had happened – just that I needed him to stay overnight in the room next to mine when I moved back in. Oh, and I asked him to help me talk to my ex to discuss where we went from there.’
‘And…’ Bea broke the silence then paused. ‘Would I be right in thinking that your dear dad just came along without asking you very many questions?’
‘Mmm… he tried to ask a little bit, but accepted that the aim was just to try to get my ex to speak with us. Dad’s way of doing things was to get on and solve the problem of what to do with our new home, given that the relationship wasn’t working.’
‘I’m very curious about how the discussion went with your ex.’
‘We went upstairs to the parents’ retreat living area where he was watching TV as usual and asked if we could have a chat with him. I don’t remember much. He barely acknowledged Dad. He certainly had no suggestions and stormed out into the master bedroom. I know Dad said on a number of occasions that night, “Just sell the place and go your separate ways.” It was probably that which made my ex-whatever-he-was storm out.’
Bea rubbed her chin. ‘From all that I’ve heard and seen of both you and him, your Dad’s suggestion was probably not acceptable to either of you.’
‘Did you and your dad succeed in having more conversation with your ex?’
‘We knocked and called, but after some time, I told Dad that we might as well give up and get some sleep. He agreed with very loud sighs.’
Bea sat back against the chair with a thud, arms folded. ‘Now I see why don’t women just leave. It’s complicated in very subtle ways. Your dad was such a patient man. So are you. Probably too much so.’
‘Dad was getting a bit frail by then, as you know when you visited a couple of months later. And I had just been nearly strangled…’
Bea stroked Sophie’s shoulder. ‘I’m sorry. Yes, to fight would not have been helpful in that particular situation. But surely you must’ve made a plan?’
‘The only thing I remember is eventually having dinner together with my ex. I did say something like this to him. I really need you to promise that our piece of paradise will never see that type of violence again. We might have visited our new home during the day. I remember the conversation ended up with him promising to never do anything like that again.’ Sophie began eating again.
‘So you just tried to continue where you’d left off – like I saw you do so many times when I visited?’
‘You must’ve worked very hard in that conversation; used all your counselling skills?’
‘Yeah. I’d just graduated as an Imago Relationship counsellor and was getting quite a lot of clients, plus I was working three days a week supporting families with a mentally ill child or parent on top of part-time psychology study – so my counselling hat stayed on for homelife too.’
‘I still can’t imagine such a strong woman as you are letting him treat you like he did.’
‘Mmm… it’s nearly become a distant memory, like another nightmare. So, I’m almost back to my old self. But it takes nearly nothing to cause a panic attack in me. I still try very hard to please others.’
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