The Color of Green


“Whatever it is that you’re doing to make him react that way, stop it.” Jill blinked through a thick layer of mascara. She stroked back a long blond curl and shook her head. “If you stop upsetting him, then he won’t hurt you.”

Huh?

My jaw dropped, my stomach clenching as I looked at her. Words eluded me in that moment. I had finally found enough courage to confide in someone, to voice the horror of living with an abusive husband, and this was the response my mother-in-law dished out?

I clamped my jaw shut, pursing my lips as another feeling erupted and burned my cheeks. Shame. My eyes drifted down to my feet as I forced out the words. “But I don’t do anything to upset him.”

She crinkled her nose, her pencilled brows lifting as she scrutinized me. Her next words made me want to sink between the twisted carpet beneath my feet.

“Well, you must be doing something wrong. Lucas wouldn’t hurt you otherwise.”

She swivelled towards the kitchen benchtop to pop on the kettle. I watched as she pulled two mugs from an overhanging cupboard before setting them down and looking back at me. “It’s your fault, Ava. He’s always had trouble controlling his emotions. You need to learn how to behave.”

She paused and flashed me a smile. “Coffee?”

Coffee? Was she serious? As I fixed my gaze on her, I realized that she was. I tilted my chin as I circled strands of auburn hair over my ear and narrowed my eyes. At the same time, I became aware of the rage brewing in my veins. Her smile fizzled as I marched closer to her. I tore at the sleeves on my wrists to expose the bruises on my skin, thrusting my arms at her as I spoke through gritted teeth.

“This is my fault? My fault, Jill?” I said, as the heat of my tears stung my eyes. I tried to withhold the tears as I gazed down at her, watching as she barely glanced at the angry welts.

She shrugged. “Like I said, you need to stop upsetting him. It’s not his fault.”

My dark eyes narrowed down to slits as my jaw tightened. “Are you telling me that I deserve this?”

She avoided looking at me as she turned to busy herself with teaspoons and coffee jars. When she didn’t reply, I stepped closer to her.

“Jill?” I said, biting my trembling lip. “I asked you a question.”

Her golden tresses flipped across her shoulders as she whirled around suddenly, treating me to a heated stare. “I don’t want to talk about it, Ava,” she said, clasping her slender hips. “We don’t talk about these kinds of things. We just note it, learn from it and move on.”

“Move on?” I felt the fury overwhelm me. So, I mirrored her moves, gripping my hips and glaring. “Is that the answer that’s been evading me for so long? And how about your grand-babies? He’s already started venting his rage on Liam. Who knows how far he could take it…” my voice trailed and I shuddered.

The thought of my children suffering beneath my husband’s erratic bouts of violence was too much to bear. I knew I had to do something. This life was eating me up from the inside out, and it was guilt that formed the groundwork on which I stood.

Guilt. If I could give it a color, it would be green. And not the green offered of vibrant grasses swaying beneath a summer breeze, but the sludgy green that clung to the walls of a putrid pond. Green shadowed my every waking hour. It was that murky shade that relentlessly haunted me. Green for not protecting my children from the horrific scenes tainting their reality, and green for the strength I lacked. Most of all, though, it was the muddy tint of green that had replaced my convictions.

Jill waved a dismissive hand, snorting. Her gaze hardened as she looked me in the eye.

“He wouldn’t hurt the children,” she said, straightening her short frame. “You married him, Ava. This is the life you chose. Now, you must deal with it, just like I dealt with it. I didn’t go running to my mother-in-law for sympathy.” She took in a breath and hissed. “No, I toughened up and got smarter, and that’s what you need to do. Stop upsetting him and he won’t hurt you.”

I swallowed hard as her words sunk in. She tore her eyes away and made for the fridge. The revelation came to me in a flash.

“You were abused, too?”

I saw her tense before reaching for a bottle of milk and swinging the fridge door closed. When she didn’t answer, I moved up to her, noticing her fingers quivering as she set down the milk. She didn’t look at me.

“Jill, how bad was it?”

Her chin lowered along with her shoulders and she sighed. When she turned around, I saw the pain in her eyes.

“Lucas’s father was a good man.” Her eyes glazed and darted away from me. For a moment, I wondered if she would continue. She let out a breath as she began to speak again. “But sometimes, good people do bad things.”

“Like what?”

Her fingers knotted together, and she shook her head. “He’d always had a hot temper; anything could set him off. Me and the kids lived on our nerves and walked on eggshells. It was like Russian Roulette.” She gave a rueful laugh. “One day, I came home from work to find him…” Her voice faltered.

Her chest began to rack as she leaned heavily against the benchtop. I had never seen her so vulnerable. When she lifted her eyes to mine, they were glistening and my heart cracked. “He was interfering with Lucas.”

I gasped and reached out to her, resting my hand on her arm as I searched for the right words.

My words came in a whisper. “Wha — what happened?”

She jerked away from me as her voice hardened. “Anarchy — that’s what happened, Ava. And what followed was my near death. So, you see now, Lucas isn’t to blame for his behavior. He breathes beneath the treacherous shadow of his father. You must submit to the life you chose, be there for him and forgive his indiscretions.”

My mind went blank then, before a thousand thoughts spiralled as I struggled to understand. My eyes skimmed to the floor. Then, one thought materialised above the whirl in my head — The cycle of abuse stops here.

I could barely breathe when I looked back at her.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you and Lucas,” I said, shaking my head. “But that doesn’t excuse the way he treats me and the kids. Toxic behavior can be unlearned; it doesn’t have to carry on through the generations.”

Her lips contorted in a scowl. “Did you not hear what I said? He’s been through hell! His actions are not always his own. Ava, you need to understand this — he needs you to understand this.”

“No,” I replied, feeling the heat simmer below my skin as I siphoned courage from the fire. “That’s where you’re wrong. Every action is a choice. Every hateful remark, every slap, and every punch that he delivers is a choice he gets to make each and every time.”

I reached for my wedding ring and twisted it off my finger. Her eyes widened as I placed it on the benchtop beside the milk. Then, I levelled my stare on her and lifted my chin. “Love shouldn’t hurt, Jill.”

I stormed out of the kitchen as she chased after me, calling.

“Ava! This is crazy! What are doing?”

When I reached the threshold of my bedroom, I paused to glance over my shoulder at her ashen face. “I’m taking the kids and leaving,” I said, clutching the door frame. “I’m not you, Jill, and no amount of understanding his past will justify another minute of this life. I deserve more; my children deserve more and I’m doing something about it.”

She shrieked, but I didn’t wait around for her reply. I walked into my room and opened the closet where the luggage was kept, before pulling out items from drawers and hangers and flinging them into the bags. It was then that I felt something shift slightly within me, and for the first time in years, the murky green shrouding me lightened.


Originally published by P.S I Love You on Medium – November 8th, 2019.

Give and Take

My mother has been catapulted into a new existence since my stepfather passed away in early 2018. She has had to learn how to stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life. She’s had to work out how to pump her own petrol, pay the bills and handle finances. She’s learned how to interact with industry people, negotiate deals and assert herself in the world. Mostly, she’s had no choice but to sift through the many layers of herself and discover who she is without her husband.

It’s in those small, quiet hours alone that you cannot hide from yourself. Those are the moments when the truth finds you. When you can no longer run from who you are. 

She’s not into being alone. I am. I can happily spend hours at a time without interacting with people. Introspection is my thing – almost to a fault. This might sound weird, but I love thinking, reflecting and delving into the deepest zones of my mind. I can easily become lost in a world of my own making; analyzing, day dreaming, over-thinking situations and playing futuristic conversations and scenes in my head.

Ah, cerebral heaven. Is it wrong that I would rather spend my time in this reflection mode than engage in meaningless, no-point conversations?

This is something else my mother has had to learn since she’s been on her own – me.

Okay, I admit that my preference to living in my own head might sound a little aloof or unfriendly, but it’s really not. It comes down to need and sanity. I need space – lots of space. It’s the way I process the world, my life and feelings. She doesn’t understand. If I’m denied this reflection time for extended periods, I tend to get irritable and edgy. Maybe even a little grouchy.

The same is true when it hits a certain time of the evening and I see one of my kids trouncing around the house. I could never understand how some folks allow their children to stay up till all hours – argh! Give me a break; I need “adult time”. You know, to get my reflection on and chill without looking at a chicken.

My mother likes to talk … a lot. To the point it drives me crazy. She likes to tell me about people – what they’re doing, where they’re going and snippets of conversations. Suffering, that’s what that is. I don’t want to know why so-and-so is going to Timbuktu and how the old buddy is getting the whatchamacallit. In the politest sense possible, I don’t give a fuck.

It gets worse. Well, from an introvert’s perspective. She wants to know stuff that I know too. About people. A few days ago, she asked me about a friend of mine that is planning to move farther north. He and his wife are considering an island life.

Mother took it upon herself to have a rant about this decision – farther north means cyclonic weather. Island life means …. erm …. the probability of encountering Bogans. I didn’t understand why she would bother wasting brain power on other people’s life choices; she really meant that shit. I was utterly baffled.

Then came the question:

“Which island?”

Which island? Was she serious? Does she not know me?

I responded with a shrug and the truth.

“I don’t know; my brain doesn’t retain that information, mum.”

“In other words, you don’t give a fuck?”

Ding, ding! Now we’re getting somewhere. She really said that by the way. Don’t tell her I told you though because she’s truly a lady and we all know that ladies don’t talk that way. Apart from the lady typing these words. And yes, I am a lady. Particularly when it suits. I might be elegantly corrupting her a smidge.

Elegantly. There’s a word. It just rolls off your tongue, does it not?

A little intel for the word nerds:

Elegant origins: Meaning “characterized by refined grace” is from 1520s. Latin elegans originally was a term of reproach, “dainty, fastidious”: the notion of “tastefully refined” emerged in classical Latin. Related: Elegantly.

2019 and the word “fuck” can be elegantly inserted in most annotations. Everybody is aware of the versatility this word holds. In fact, it’s one of the most resourceful words ever created. Its use can convey happiness, sadness, anger, disbelief, arousal, excitement and confusion among other things. But did you know there’s another multi-layered word used in Australia that is just as if not more adaptable?

Hint: It rhymes with runt.

There are all kinds of …. umm …. “runts” here – cheeky ones, sick ones, mad ones, good and bad ones. There are “runts” all over the place in this sun-blessed country. You can’t avoid them, but I try to steer clear of the crazy ones.

As much as Australians have taken this word beneath their laid-back “she’ll be right” wings, I avoid using it like the plague because I fucking hate it. My mother might say it’s not very elegant.   

I walk in the mornings when the sun rises. Sometimes, I run. Mumma-bear sleeps at my place at least one night a week and joins me for these dawn outings when she’s here. She won’t run though. I’m not sure if it’s because running is a bit much for her at her age or if it’s because when she tried it once, I laughed so hard that I almost fell over. I can’t even begin to describe the sight of her arms flapping around in her white sweater like a baby penguin chasing its mother.

Entertainment. Some might even say cheap thrills, but who’s listening and who actually gives a fuck? Apparently, and according to her, I run elegantly. Who knew that was even a thing?

Told you I was a lady.

Jokes aside, it’s not that I don’t care about people – even the crazy “runts” from time to time. On the contrary, I care very much about the people that matter to me. That doesn’t mean I concern myself with the nuts and bolts of their lives or judge their choices and motivations. I’m sure they know what they’re doing. Somewhat. Who really knows what they’re doing, anyhow?

Show me someone who has it all figured out and I’ll show you a pair of earbud cords that never become tangled. They don’t exist, at least not in my world. Have you ever cursed those damned cords? I do. Frequently. They always seem to knot in the most intricate way when you need to get them in your ear quick-smart. They’re the times when I might be inclined to use the word that rhymes with runt.

Psyche.

Maybe one day I will figure it all out. Till then, my mother is still learning that I’m nothing like her and that I don’t have the capacity to engage in a continuous stream of phatic conversation. And I’ll keep trying to pretend to be interested in Bob, Sue and Whathisname for just that little bit longer because in the end, relationships are about giving and taking, even when you don’t give an elegant fuck.  


I Hate the World Today – Parenting in the fast lane

“I hate the world today!” Master Six said, scrunching his nose and treating me to a dark, brooding stare.

“Alrighty, that didn’t take much.”

Seriously, if putting on socks represented my greatest adversities, I’d take it in a flash. I tried not to smile, I really did, but when his rosebud lips began to curl my way, I failed miserably.

 He has a thing for bums.

That wasn’t a typo. Yep, the littlest man of the house has had a thing for the “butt” ever since he could walk and talk. I’m not sure why. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happened to erm… nurture this odd idiosyncrasy of his. Yet, he has this habit of dishing out a light paddle on behinds every now and then as he passes by. Namely, mine. Actually, only mine.

I’ve never seen him try it on his father. I’m thinking because my butt is much more padded than his dad’s – which by the way, wouldn’t take a whole lot to achieve. My husband has one of those behinds you can’t see. Oh, you know it’s there; it has to be – my senses remind me it exists more often than I’d like. It just seems to become swallowed in his clothes.

In my house, it isn’t unusual to spot me randomly break out in my version of a booty dance while slapping my ass and crooning some of the lyrics to Baby Got Back. Well, the only part of the song I remember – “I like big butts and I cannot lie; You other brothers can’t deny.” Okay, I admit, it doesn’t sound like a very mothery thing to do; swinging my hips and wriggling my behind at my children, but they laugh every time. I just hope they don’t go searching up that song on YouTube any time soon. 

Songs can be a good alternative to express ourselves sometimes. For instance, when I hear the words “but it’s not fair” flung from one of my kid’s mouths, I walk away singing The Rolling Stones classic “You can’t always get what you want”. It’s pretty self-explanatory. I tend to not elaborate after that, and they tend to not push the matter.

Unless we’re in teenage territory, which is another ball game altogether. Her current song is Teenage Dirtbag. I know, it’s not so adventurous, but if you could see some of the looks this princess saves just for me, you’d understand. I swear, I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m clueless. You know, adults, like, seriously have no idea about, like, anything. Especially when they croon those annoying words “I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby” in your face, and don’t understand why spending ridiculous amounts of money on acrylic nails is so important.

She doesn’t laugh at my booty dance, by the way. No. She eye rolls and fluffs away into her cave where she spends an extraordinary amount of time on the crucial stuff – lying in bed and getting her social on. Those hours are paying off because the other day she showed us just how skillful she could be with her iPhone. She has cultivated the ability to blind-text. That’s right, I watched as she watched me while her long, painted talons flew over the phone keypad as she produced a perfectly formed text message. It was oddly impressive. Until she told me it was the trick she uses in class.

“I can look right at the teacher and talk to her while texting beneath my desk, mum,” she said, laughing.

What do you say to that when you know, given half the chance, it was something you would’ve done too? Of course, I didn’t tell her as much. I managed to say the expected “motherly” things which do actually occur around here at times. It was promptly met with a smirk and a casual shrug before she pranced back into the den for more essential activities.

I took her shopping for her birthday recently. This is something for me because I hate shopping and she loves it. My dislike for shopping isn’t just limited to the mall. I hate all kinds of shopping. The mall, however, makes me feel giddy and light-headed after a while. Like I can’t breathe. The food halls are the worst. Argh! Just the thought of being in that environment makes my skin crawl. All those people making noise and shuffling around the various food outlets before sitting down together to shovel it in their mouths … no thanks. I’ll pick up something to eat elsewhere and pray the kids have forgotten about McDonald’s.

As if that will ever happen. Gross. Why do kids love that shit?   

Teenage princess wanted her nose pierced for her birthday. After pretending to think about it for a few days, I decided to oblige and allow her to get a small shiny stud on one nostril. So, we went to the body-piercing shop and I watched as she braved the needle. Okay, I didn’t really watch, I just stood at the threshold and gazed at the pictures on the walls while trying to appear supportive. I’m not into watching needles plunge into skin. I don’t even watch when I get poked for blood tests.

It was over in a jiffy and without so much as a squeak from her. It looked kind of cute, too. Hmmm … then came the lightbulb moment. I’m someone that tends to experience these spur-of-the-moment decisions from time to time. I don’t always overthink everything. When I got my first tattoo, I had decided then and there and did it before I could procrastinate. Something similar happened that day when out with my daughter – I walked out of that mall with a brand-new sparkle adorning my left nostril. I, however, yelped during the process. Yep, turns out my teenage dirtbag is tougher than me.

For one glorious moment, I wasn’t a clueless mother. I might’ve even been cool. My cool lasted for less than a week, though, because although I liked my little nose-stud, my subconscious mind rejected it. I ended up tearing it out during my sleep a few nights later and that hurt like hell.

“Go get it done again, mum,” she said.

“No way.”

“But it looked so cute on you.” Blink, blink.

Yeah, I’ll take the clueless mother tag and keep singing, sunshine.