Domestic Violence

The noise of his assault, not just her screams, were so loud I could hear it through their front door.

I was standing on the footpath outside their house – my dinner with my boyfriend and housemate had been interrupted a few minutes earlier by the sound of an argument, the tone of which made us all uneasy –  and it took only seconds to realise how serious the situation was.

I ran home and my housemate called ‘000’, the three of us returned outside, where a small group of people, all on their phones calling for help, had gathered.

The assault continued, mere metres from where we stood.

A small window above the front door was open a crack, and I suppose, thinking things could escalate further before the police arrived, I yelled for him to stop, told him we’d called the police.

The front door opened and there was a woman on the floor, a man standing over her and as she crouched there he began trying to kick her onto the porch while she clutched at his legs.

He wanted her out of his house, she wanted to collect her phone and bag.

Having recently finished Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear I understand now that intuition works faster than the process of logic and so I suppose I had enough time to see he wasn’t carrying a weapon, he was middle-aged, furious and violent but not in any way a threat to me – there were so many neighbours gathered, several of them much younger men, so I didn’t feel at risk – so at almost the same instant my boyfriend and I both started to move into the house.

I understand why one female neighbour screamed at us not to go in, I don’t know that I would have had the situation not presented itself exactly as it did and I don’t know I would do the same if it happened tomorrow, but that night we did.

The man retreated to the lounge room at the end of the hallway and sat there, my boyfriend keeping an eye on him while I went into the front bedroom with the woman and helped her collect her bag, wallet and phone. As we left, she held my hand and she was cold and in shock, limping badly and holding her stomach.

We took her home and waited for the police.

When they arrived, we went out the front to give them the space to interview her and there we watched them load her partner into a van, handcuffed and angry, he had apparently been verbally abusive to the police when they arrived and they’d had him on the footpath and removed his belt and shoes.

An ambulance arrived and paramedics were directed to our lounge room.

Here’s what I learnt that night:

Paramedics don’t know the exact location of shelters for victims of violence, only the police do, but at that time of night there’s barely a chance of finding a bed, most fill up in the afternoon. There are not enough beds in Sydney for all the people who need safety from violence. There are far too few.

A large number of women return to abusive partners and we were cautioned that we should expect that outcome and that the paramedics and police would support her if she wished to press charges, but would refrain from passing judgement if she wished to return home.

The best chance of safety that night was admitting her to hospital and alerting hospital staff that her partner was to be kept away from her. If she wished to return home after being assessed at the hospital, the police would bring her back and make sure the house was safe for her to re-enter.

Here are conclusions I made that night:

A call out to a domestic violence incident that ended without serious injury seemed to be one of the better results the police had experienced. For all the criticisms of the police in this country, some of them well-founded, I don’t have to face what they do in my day-to-day life, or have to play a role in judging it. I have no idea how they do it, the mental strain must be phenomenal and the fact that our society is so violent and that the assault that night could not be classified as the worst of what they had seen says as much about Australian culture as much as it does the police force, laws and funding for victims.

***

A removalist arrived several days after the assault and arrest, presumably to move the victim’s belonging out. I haven’t seen her since, nor have we received any information about whether or not she pressed charges, or if it will go to court, though we all made it clear we were willing to be witnesses.

Two days after the assault I was leaving for work and there he was, on his front porch watering his plants. I had no choice but to walk past him and we made eye contact. I have no idea if he recognised me or not, but nothing was said.

I’ve seen him several times since, he’s still living two doors down.

The young women who lived in the house between us moved in the weeks after it happened. It would not surprise me at all if what they heard that night was the driving force behind the decision, I avoid walking past his front door where possible.

The media and politicians seem to be gripping to recent unprovoked attacks on young men by young men because there’s a common theme, a punch that seems unprovoked and happens suddenly. You can legislate (problematically) against that, because there’s a common theme that ties the incidents all together.

Domestic violence is far more frequent (and occurring increasingly) but it takes on so many different forms, it can happen behind closed doors beyond CCTV or witnesses, victims are often financially and emotionally dependent on the perpetrators and the abuse can build up slowly over time and be more insidious.

Regardless of the complexities, one fact remains: we live in a country where a man backing his partner into a corner and beating her with his fists and attempting to literally kick her out of their home is a level of violence both common and not amongst the most serious seen in domestic situations. That that is the norm is disgusting and frightening. Hospital beds should be for healing, not for protection and police officers and paramedics shouldn’t see so much violence that they have to counsel people to give up hope that victims can get the support they need to leave violent situations.

But that is the norm.

That’s the country we’re living in right now and I’ve given it a lot of thought and I have no idea how we change it.

Back in Black

Last night I went to my hairdresser, H.

She started doing my hair in 2006, when she was a 16-year-old. Now she’s submitting plans to her local council to start building a house and I am still changing my hair colour from blonde to dark all the time.

I was very scared to see her because she had spent many hours getting my hair blonde last year and I decided to dye it brown again because I am having some kind of lady crisis and short of shaving my head, dying it is the most drastic thing I can do.

All the hairdressers crowded around and rolled their eyes at my decision and H looked at my 18-foot long re-growth and said, ‘Uh … have you been avoiding me?’ and I admitted that yes, I had been avoiding her, her and her well kept, perfectly blonde follicles and judgemental ways.

The head hairdresser said, ‘Julia, we’ve done this before and I need you to know something: if you go dark tonight, that’s it, no more blonde for a very long time, your hair will fall out.’.

I felt like telling her how often my mother has told me that I was born with a lovely round head and that I would probably look very good bald. Then I remembered that I was also born with a giant red birthmark on my head. And that in 2001 I cut all my own hair off and it grew back into a mullet which took years to fix.

I flung my plastic cape over my lap and told them I was aware of the risks and was prepared to go over to the dark side and I sat there smugly looking through the Instagram feed of Kyle Sandiland’s ex-wife while they prepared the dye. Life choices: I was making them.

It only took a few hours and I was a brunette and as H dried off my hair she sighed, disappointed and said, ‘Brown does look good on you.’. I had to agree, it’s no more natural than blonde, but I feel like me again.

hur

On Beards

I read Elizabeth Farrelly’s opinion piece on beards today to see what all the fuss on Twitter was about.

Actually, I didn’t read it at all. First I spent ages looking at the illustrations of beards, thinking about how uncannily the illustrated man modelling each of the beards looked like a man named Thom I recently met. Thom had a beard and then the other day he stopped having a beard. He is now beardless.

After I squinted at the pictures and thought about Thom, I skimmed the article for the offending passages and from what I can gather, beards are grown by men whose parents raised them to believe they are owed something in life, a trait apparently linked to Generation Y, which I think I belong to, though I’m never quite sure.

Then I sat and blinked for a while, wondering if Farrelly had been trying for some kind of Fran Lebowitz tone, an amusing hatred of everything that’s really self-deprecation.

Clearly Farrelly has not met my parents, who did not raise us to believe we slid into this world with the world’s oysters owed to us. I love my parents, they are endlessly interesting and amusing people to me, but when it comes to tough love, I’ve never met anyone who does it better. Add to that 13 years of Catholic schooling and I’m a quivering mess of a human who regularly apologises to people who walk into me. In fact, I once apologised to a man who followed me around a shopping centre in order to tell me I was fat.

It bemuses friends of mine, this constant need to apologise. I’ve been told that I answer the phone with an apologetic inflection. I can’t stop saying sorry until I’m told I’ve apologised too much, then a sense of relief washes over me … until I realise how annoying it must be to know a serial apologiser and then I feel bad and remind myself to say sorry next time I see said person.

The first person I knew with facial hair was my dad, back in the ’80s. This is a man whose entire childhood, from what I’ve been able to gather, was spent driving a tractor in circles and who one broke his arm and knowing his parents couldn’t afford the medical bills, simply never mentioned the excruciating pain he was in and let the bone mend on its own. This is not a man who believes things come to you easily.

After sporting a porn mo’ for his wedding photos and the early years of child-raising, he too shaved, though in the last 12 months has sported a fetching set of sideburns, snowy white in shade.

I’m sorry Elizabeth Farrelly that you don’t understand men and their beards and that it perturbs you so. I can’t help but think there’s not that much to it though, that it’s just a trend making its way back around like neon and Phil Collins. By next summer I suspect we’ll see a return of the pointy cupped bra, at which stage perhaps you’ll insist women all have a kind of twisted phallic envy and we’re taking our parents mantras that we can have it all to the extreme logical conclusion.

The only thing I’m not sorry for about this whole sorry affair is the discussion it provoked on Twitter today about which of us have started sporting random hairs where and how long they grow before we notice their arrival.

On Needles

I went for my first blood test of the year today.

I felt confident, I was wearing a floaty skirt and summery sandals and unlike this time last year, I didn’t have a fear of needles that rendered me sweaty and made my mouth fill with bile.

I went to the pathologist near work, which I like less than the one closer to my endocrinologist’s office, where the nurse and I discuss tattoos and how language changes to render seemingly harmless words offensive sometimes. However; blood-givers cannot be choosers.

The waiting room consists of about ten plastic chairs, lined up along the corner of a wall, like an ‘L’. When you arrive, you take a number, printed on an A4 piece of paper and laminated in a soft plastic covering. The numbers are cumbersome because of their size, and I am often left wrestling them and my bag and my referral.

This morning there was a man there, unfamiliar with the process and despite having been in his position once myself, I couldn’t help but feel superior for not needing to ask whether I should make an appointment or take a number, for knowing that no-one in the waiting room wanted to make eye contact or chat: we were there to expel our liquids and be on our way.

I have learnt to time my arrival after the morning rush and so I didn’t have to wait long before I was lead into a little room and seated, left arm stretched out, veins upward.

There is one part of the procedure I always fluff and I am glad it happened behind closed doors. I was asked to list the medications I take and as I am somewhat unsound of ticker, mind and thyroid, there are many and I promptly forgot the name of all of them and the only word that popped into my head and stuck with infuriating persistence was the name of a birth control pill I took many years ago.

The nurse sensed I was flailing and prompted me to just tell her why I take medication, and leave the rest to her. Achieving that, I felt like a well behaved child, up on my stool, sandaled feet swinging, getting the answer to questions somewhat correct.

She strapped my arm, and I looked away: although I was not suffering nerves, it’s been several months since I’ve seen a needle and I thought it best to assume my confidence might falter at the last minute.

As she swabbed the crook of my arm and I made a fist to plump my veins, I began reading the signs on the wall, unfortunately starting with one which discussed, rather graphically, the procedure for dealing with needle stick injuries.

Suddenly I felt sick. While I was much more comfortable with the idea of someone sticking me with a needle, I was overwhelmingly horrified with the idea what my needle might accidentally stick someone else.

I froze, unsure what to do. Should I turn and watch the nurse closely, making sure she followed all precautions for her own safety, but risk the return of my own fear of needles, or should I continue to stare at the wall and hope the nurse could take care of herself?

A familiar bitter taste filled my mouth.

Thankfully at that moment the nurse finished up and released me and I jumped down from the stool and left quickly, sandals slapping against the lino floor, past the waiting queue until I stepped onto George Street and breathed in the smog and exhaust fumes deeply.

Until next time then.

Especially For Fox

BooksFox Woods asked me to write about my favourite books. It was hard to decide what to make of ‘favourite’ so I picked the books that I think have most guided me as a reader.

Little House in the Big WoodsLaura Ingalls Wilder

This was the very first book I ever loved. My mum read the entire series to us many times as children, and I can distinctly remember being a little blonde thing, clad in pyjamas sitting on the edge of the bed while she read them to us.

The Ingalls became so vivid and familiar they were almost like a second family. Looking back on it, I think I felt such a strong tie to them in part because they moved so often and so did we, they were displaced children just like we were and their family went through hardships together, just like we did.

I really believe the magic of getting lost in Laura’s books is why I still read now.

Tomorrow When The War BeganJohn Marsden

Again, I loved the whole series and they were always released in October, so  I got a new one for my birthday each year.

I liked that it was set in the country, something I was familiar with.

John Marsden has an uncanny ability to write characters that aren’t pretentious or jarring to a young audience. It never felt like an adult writing and the plot never seemed far-fetched.

Mum still has my copies but I’m too scared to re-read them and break the spell.

Hells Angels – Hunter S. Thompson

I am lucky enough to have a mother who was more than happy to indulge in my appetite for books and when I was about 13, she lent me Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, the plot of which, even as a Thompsonphile, I have never found that interesting.

However, Hunter is an honest, raw talent and there was enough magic in it to make me want to read more, so she lent me Hells Angels, a gonzo trip into the lives of outlaw bikers and why their existence shook the American psyche.

I’ve never looked back and read everything of his I could get my hands on.

Forget the drugs and guns and infamy, he can construct a sentence that will strike you through your heart.

 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

I read this book for the HSC, as part of a utopia/dystopia unit. I think it was the first time I realised I took feminism for granted, and how easy it would be to lose the rights women had gained.

This book shaped my life for the next five or six years, as I ended up using it as a starting point for my Honours thesis at uni.

I still get chills when I read it, because the mechanics of control in the novel are so basic, yet effective.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation, A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law – Helen Garner

Helen Garner wrote this account of the death of Joe Cinque when her own life was falling apart and I think this perhaps loaned itself to the tone of utter senselessness she uses to describe the crime that led to his death.

I read an except of the book before it was published, as I sat in my car outside Bunnings, before my shift started and spent the rest of the day in a daze. It’s true crime, but it’s poignant, sad and terribly shocking.

I think it has stuck with me because the signs of the danger Joe was in were so apparent to those around him, and no-one could prevent his death because they were overwhelmed by the personality of the woman who killed him.

Between Mexico and Poland – Lily Brett

Lily has written three memoirs, Between Mexico and Poland was the first I read and a book I come back to almost yearly.

It barely touches on her career, in fact, her work as a writer is described almost as being a happy accident.

Instead, through her kalidescope of neuroses, she tells of her parents surviving the Nazi camps in Poland; the way Mexico’s frantic bursts of energy envelop her; how she can’t stop going back to Poland to try and make sense of her parents pain.

It’s a surprisingly funny and tender memoir.

Experience – Martin Amis

Another memoir I read religiously, despite having no real interest in Amis’s fiction, I love Experience because it gives insight into the education and lives of a generation of British writers in an atmosphere that doesn’t exist anymore.

It is a tale that is very much warts-and-all; is even-handed and loving.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

This book broke me.

It took me months to finish it, as I fumbled my way through the footnotes of the footnotes of the footnotes and the themes which were both nightmarish and devastating.

It’s not a perfect book, DFW himself admits as much, but it’s brave and strange and an absolute challenge to read.

I’ve never had a book contain images that have remained with me so long after finishing it. Every time I see a white van, I still think ‘Les Assassins en Fauteuils Roulants!’ and I haven’t picked up the book in over two years.

I am planning on re-reading it this year.

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

I love this book so much. I struggle with Russian to English translations because up until I read this book, they all seemed stilted and cold, anything captivating seemed to be lost in translation.

This is a satire about the Soviet Union, in which the Devil visits Moscow, in the company of a human-sized cat and a rather hideous cast of characters.

It’s very funny, and hard not to love each and every one of the evil protagonists.

The Secret History

Books

When I was a kid, there were two bookstores in town: Angus & Robertson and an independent bookstore which from memory carried a smaller line of books because it also housed an ABC shop.

I have three strong memories of the Angus & Robertson store, which fronted the main street and was an unofficial thoroughfare to the Woolworths car park.

The first is that they stocked Madonna’s Sex book when it first came out, and they displayed several copies of it in its shiny foil wrapper on a display table out the front.

My friend, C and I were obsessed with the idea of getting hold of a copy, mostly I think because we were obsessive pop music fans and the pull of something marketed as being illicit was strong, even for primary schoolers.

We could never figure out a way to get hold of a copy, even her liberal-minded mother wouldn’t have bought it for us and even if she had agreed, there was no was we could have saved the $100 it cost.

My second memory was that C and I used to buy The Baby-sitters Club VHS there. Technically we didn’t buy them, we put them on her mother’s account, a concept I was unfamiliar with so I was always slightly nervous at the prospect, though I don’t remember her mother ever having issue with the occasional $15 charges that must’ve shown up on her account every now and then.

My last memory is when I was much older, I think I might have actually moved out of home and was just back to visit and I was desperate for something to read.

The store had small section marked ‘Literature’ and some of the titles seemed to imply, ‘literature’ meant ‘books that are better than the average airport novel’ so I assumed all of them were critically acclaimed, and bought a copy of The Bride Stripped Bare, which I hadn’t heard of.

Bride Stripped Bare was, and remains one of the most insipid books I’ve ever read and is the sole reason I have never bought a book for myself on a whim again.

All of this became relevant recently when some friends were discussing Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I’d never read it, and had actively avoided it, though I couldn’t remember why. When Tartt’s third novel was published last year it seemed I couldn’t avoid the discussion any longer, and was assured time and time again that it was good.

Suddenly I remembered: The Secret History stood alongside The Bride Stripped Bare in Angus & Robertson’s literature section and I had picked between them and made a very bad choice.

I started reading The Secret History a few nights ago and it’s fantastic, and I want to savour it and finish it all at the same time: it’s a book I’m going to wish I could discover for the first time again and again.