My fingers brushed against a piece of paper hidden deep in the back of the kitchen cabinet and my blood ran cold. An A4 piece of lined paper, folded and deliberately hidden, tucked away right at the back.  Forgotten but not forgotten.  Out of sight but not completely out of mind.

And in an instant I was transported back to a year previously when Georgina, (not her real name – we do not have the luxury of using our real names here), had come to my house unannounced and late one night and given it to me with shaking hands and a look in her eyes that I knew only too well. 

“If anything happens to me, this is my Will. Please keep it safe for me and make sure that my children are looked after”. 

Just those words.

That was all she said.

And that was all she needed to say.

And that look.

That haunted look of terror and pleading.           

And I knew.

And I knew on a visceral level exactly the narrative and the story between that look and those few words.

And I knew because a few years before that, I had been that woman.

I had turned up unannounced and late one night at my friend Lucy’s house and handed her a similar piece of paper outlining how I would like my home and money to be used for the care of my children, which child was to get what particular keepsake and where I was to be buried. She was absolutely horrified and begged me not to speak like that.

But I had to.  I had to know that should I die at my husband’s hand, my children would be safe, financially at least, and that there might be some shred of stability left for them.  Somehow this action of having my fears witnessed and responded to in a concrete way brought me some degree of comfort and relief. 

To go to that place of ‘knowing’; knowing that there is a real chance or even a possibility that your life will be ended by an act of violence is a dark, cold wilderness that I would not wish on anyone. 

It is bone on bone, blade on flesh pain and it chills to the marrow.   It leaves a footprint stamped on your very soul that never truly goes away. Ever.

There is something exquisitely painful and specific about being hurt by someone who is supposed to love you, or to have loved you once or was supposed to be your ‘safe place’.  That the perpetrator could be the man that you married, in love, and built a home with, in love, and shared a bed with, in love, and bore children to, in love, leaves one breathless with pain. Quite literally unable to draw breath. 

There is a surreal place where wild terror tips into numbness. Like a breaker tripping an overloaded circuit. When everything has been ripped from you and all that you hold dear and sacred and of worth is gone, a numb void remains.  It’s as if you’ve been hollowed out with a large cold metal spoon.  If you know this place, you will fully understand the paradox of being both alive and dead at the same time.  Your heart still beats but your blood is as cold as ice. 

Once a woman has experienced violence or aggression from her partner, the risk of her being murdered by him goes up significantly if she leaves or takes steps to leave him.  

Figures from the 2017 Femicide Census show that over half of women killed by a former intimate partner were killed within the first month of separation while almost 90% of women killed by a former intimate partner were killed within the first year of separation.

These are real figures.

Of real cases.

Of real women.

Real figures of real cases of real women who died because they dared to leave. Or tried to leave.

This is our reality.

Not just empty fears or dramatic notions.  This is what drives women like Georgina and me to sit down in the cold light of day and plan for when we are no longer around to protect our children. This is what it feels like to have everything taken from us in life until all that is left is the hope that our voices will be heard in death.

This is part of the sticky web of abuse that traps us and keeps us bound. This is part of the answer to the blissfully unaware and jarring ‘Well, why didn’t she just leave him?’ question.   In my case the children found a letter their father had written outlining in a ‘fairytale’ format how he would shoot me between the eyes and nail my head to the wall like a wall-mounted bear’s head as an example to others what happens to people who ‘f*cked with him’ or ‘p*ssed him off’. 

When a partner who has shown violence and aggression threatens you with promises that he will destroy you, that he will kill you, that you will not survive him, that you will die… you had better believe him.  

There is no salve to soothe this wound.  There is no relief from the fear that takes root and resides deep, deep inside us.

There is instead a hypervigilance that comes with the territory of surviving. And occasionally I catch the eye of another woman and see it on her too. That ‘here but not quite here’ look of another who has faced the unthinkable and who has visited that icy cold wilderness.  There are legions of us. Survivors who have one eye constantly on the door.

We adapt and we try to keep on living.   We push through.  We press on. 

For the longest time, (and still occasionally now on bad days), my routine was to check that my brakes were working whenever I got into my car:  mirror, signal, manoeuvre, test the brakes.  I figured such was his expertise in operating from the shadows and keeping the abuse well-hidden that this would be the most obvious way he would kill me.

We adapt and we try to keep on living

We get the kids up for breakfast in the morning, feed them, dress them, bundle them into the car for the school run, (Mirror, signal, manoeuvre, test the brakes).  We go to the supermarket and load up our cars with bags of food for our family and drive home, (Mirror, signal, manoeuvre, test the brakes), ready to cook and clean and whatever else needs doing to keep our ship afloat.  We go to work, to friends, to the gym... to wherever (Mirror, signal, manoeuvre, test the brakes), and all the while, behind the façade of normality, the scars and wounds run deep and burn and throb.

My God do they burn.  Especially in the dead of night when the respite of sleep evades, and every shadow and noise become a threat. 

There are truly monsters living under our beds.


(Orli is amongst other things a writer and a poet.  She writes because she can. And because she believes that this is how light is created. And this is how we heal.)