Kind gestures and suspicious looks. (The First Morning)
Poem 4. Continuing the Tenter Hooks series of poems based on leaving an abusive relationship. This poem attempts to express some of the emotions experienced when you find yourself in a women's refuge.
There’s a wait for the bathroom
With babe in arms, scavenged toiletries and one clean towel
We wait our turn
Some take longer than others
We don’t say very much
And under breath
We mostly avoid each other’s eyes
Something too personal
For those who are here to hide
Strange that we share the same loo
But are not brave enough
To say how do you do
Babies are crying
The toddlers are restless
The older ones run wild
Some mothers have given up
It’s not to say they haven’t tried
It’s just they are exhausted
And the kids are wired
Away from home
Away from family and friends
The unspoken question
Hangs in the air
When will this end?
The kitchen is surprisingly small
When you consider how many mouths there are to feed
“You get one shelf in the larder
But you must share a shelf in the fridge.”
She smiles as she speaks
“If I were you I’d do like I do
And keep your stuff in your room, otherwise someone might steal your baked beans!”
“It’s OK.” I say
“I haven’t got any food, I left without any money.”
“But you must eat, you are breastfeeding!
I don’t have much but I’ve got some bananas in my room. You are welcome to have one. Come with me!”
I think I may have made a friend
She is full of smiles
And kind gestures
She tells me she’s been here a while
It’s her second time
But there are others on their third
“There’s Pam, the last time she left him
He broke into her house
Cut her neck from ear to ear
She’s lucky to be alive
It’s a miracle that she survived!”
“Julie, she’s from Liverpool
I feel sorry for her being
So far from home
But her guy’s a nutter
He always finds her!”
Julie is holding a small child to her breast
While chastising two boisterous boys
Who are giving her the runaround
I can’t help but notice the fading bruises
That appear to be tattooed over
Arms, face and chest
“I have to go now.” I tell my new friend
“I need to see someone at the DSS.”
Before I leave I allow my eyes
To sweep the room
A woman or child in every corner
Each with their own stories to tell
Each with their own versions of hell
41% (37 of 91) of women killed by a male partner/former partner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 had separated or taken steps to separate from them. Eleven of these 37 women were killed within the first month of separation and 24 were killed within the first year (Femicide Census, 2020).
Thu 11th May 2023 18:14
Thank you to everyone that took the time to read, like and comment on this.
I realise it is a very heavy subject and that it may elicit some strong feelings. (Isn’t that the job of a writer?)
This is a project very close to my heart - I would like to point out that I was in this situation over twenty years ago and that I am happily married to a wonderful man☺️ In addition to my own personal experiences, I have worked supporting DV survivors for many year's. The aim of this project is to explore some of the issues faced after leaving. I hope I can do it justice - it’s a huge subject! Thanks to all.
Thu 11th May 2023 13:03
We weep, we try to understand why, but we can't, not fully. Perhaps these are questions that can only be answered on the soul level, when we have left our physicality. Clare, this poem is so vivid I could almost smell the sadness and desperation. The kids and the tentative friendship beween the women in the shelter provide a spark of hope...life goes on and there are breakthroughs...including the poetess who got away. Thank you Grace for sharing your sister's story....people going through family heartbreak appreciate knowing they are not alone. Blessings on all.
Uilleam Ó Ceallaigh
Thu 11th May 2023 09:31
Government funding of refuges ought to be a priority, in a nation which calls itself "civilised"; it is perhaps no coincidence that a high profile abuser has recently been recommended for a knighthood!
It has been callously sugested (also in these pages) that abused women could "walk away" from such abusers.
However physical and emotional control / abuse involves fears about financial security and acess to shelter, and other factors; personal safety, and that of children coming second to other considerations.
Thu 11th May 2023 08:25
Amazingly powerful story telling, Clare. As always, you paint a vivid picture, which is terrifying, and yet obviously an accurate depiction of what happens. Thank you. It has opened my eyes.
This series of poems deserves a wider audience, in my view.
Wed 10th May 2023 21:44
Powerful & affecting piece of writing, Clare. 🌈
Wed 10th May 2023 21:28
Grace, I am simply trying to record my own personal experiences and to highlight all the rings women have to jump through once they find the courage to leave. I cannot speak for individual women and their reasons for staying with abusive partners.
All I can say, based on my own experiences and the years that I spent working with survivors is that many women have their reasons for staying. They may not make sense to you or me; but we have not walked in the same shoes.
I am sorry that your sister appears to be lost from you. I truly hope that she finds the clarity and strength to break free.
There is a lot of info on women’s aid and much research done into why women stay - perhaps they can shed some light.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on such an important issue.
Wed 10th May 2023 21:02
Thank you Clare for so importantly reminding us about the suffering that these poor women and children are no doubt going through today and many days to come. Horrendous to say the least, and as you point out, quite a few times ending in the death of some of these poor souls.
I have a sister I haven't seen for years because of her demonic husband who used to beat the living daylights out of her on a regular basis-but!-no matter how many times I and my family tried to help her to escape his clutches, she always went back to him! Now you tell me, would she have loved him that much despite his cruelty or out of fear of her situation one day ending in her losing her life like the poor ladies you mention in your footnote? I think the only way she would get any kind of peace would be for the 'demon' as I call him to die-ASAP!
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