Two years ago tonight I took a backhander, right across the face. I’d taken my glasses off for bed, and I remember, in those flickering points of lucidity which spark in crisis, thinking that it was just as well, or they’d have been broken. The night before, there’d been a knife at my throat – me balanced precariously on one knee, rough hands twisted through my hair, and the cold point of a blade riding just above my right clavicle.
Two years ago tonight I went to bed despairing, defeated, completely without plan or hope. I went to bed knowing how close I’d come, the night before, to losing my life: an inch of movement, an unbalanced stumble, could very well have caused blade to penetrate skin, and his parting words that night – “I should have killed you when I had the chance” – still rang in the back of my mind. And part of me didn’t care. There was fear there, yes, but there was also despair – which, it turns out, is a very effective anaesthetic.
It was different in the morning, though, because something happened in my mind overnight. Somehow, on that Saturday night two years ago, something clicked in my brain: some bright, diamond-hard determination to live, to seize freedom, to escape. I woke with a plan, as though I’d spent years working on it, and no blueprint conceived in military headquarters has ever been so well-executed. I woke at five, in the pre-dawn darkness of a Sunday morning, and I packed a bag in the sleeping-it-off silence of our bedroom. I put the bag in the car – I even remembered to pack my phone charger – and put my wedding and engagement ring in their little bowl on the kitchen windowsill, where I used to leave them while I was doing the cooking and washing up. Then, carrying only my keys, I went to tell my husband that I was leaving.
My abiding memory – other than the burning determination in his face that I wasn’t going anywhere, he’d kill me before I left him – was of him, standing in the street outside our house, in his marled grey shirt and pyjama bottoms, ashen-faced with the disbelieving horror of what was happening to him. His wife was leaving him. His world was shattered.
Mine, at twenty to seven on a Sunday morning, with a the beginnings of a black eye and a suitcase full of stuff, and seven hundred dollars to my name, was just beginning.