But then ‘shadow’ came and slowly took the place of innocence. I guess it was kind of scary, but that just made it exciting.
That shadow got everywhere; it was called George. He followed me everywhere and, like an imaginary friend, my parents never saw him. But this time he was real, I swear he was. I knew because when I cooked for him, behind my mum’s back, the food got eaten.
When I took money from her purse and gave it to him, it disappeared. When he hurt me, I bruised, though I kept it hidden. When he called me a slut, I felt the tears on my face, even though I never let anyone else see them.
He lived in a squat, doing odd construction jobs and drug deals. Who was I to judge? He was only 18 and all on his own. I had to help him; he was my George after all. Sometimes he smiled. Sometimes he didn’t. But it was worth it when he did.
The first time he hit me I looked right at his face. I knew I wasn’t imagining things; I saw love in those eyes. He only did it because he was jealous. That’s why he punched me, kicked me, slept with those girls, and accused me of sleeping with men I’d never been near. That’s why he said my friends and family hated me.
I knew deep down it wasn’t my fault – well, most of me did, anyway. But a little part of me said if I told someone, they would judge me. They wouldn’t understand. He planted a light inside me, but it never got to shine in the world outside. I called it our baby, but he used it as his punching bag.
The light was still shining when he broke my collarbone and my parents took me to hospital the first time; but the light was gone the second time, when I was so broken from his beating I could barely move.
My parents held my hand when the light rose up to the sky to be with the angels. The shadow had engulfed me. So when another light began to glow inside me I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell George or my family. I just wanted to snuff it out in peace. So I did.
My memories after that are a bit hazy. With guilt; without guilt. With George; without George. He called my phone ten times an hour. He stood outside my house day and night. I was so scared when I saw him staring up at my window, but I missed him when he wasn’t there.
I had to break away from him forever. I asked for help and my family and friends stood with me. They stood in front of me to shield me from the shadow. They stood behind me to push me towards the light. They stayed with me.
When I was 20 I heard that George had been arrested, still selling drugs and abusing women. I wondered if I had ever helped him at all. I couldn’t even imagine that life anymore. I was at university now; a new life far away from the shadow.
There is light in front of me now. It’s still far away, but I know one day I will be able to hold it and feel its warmth. And the light will grow…
This article based on a true story from a women’s welfare charity, adapted by Louisa Stratton. It originally appeared in issue 121 of Exposure magazine – a domestic abuse special funded by Barnet Council.
Our short film, Behind Closed Doors forms part of a campaign to raise awareness of domestic abuse, exploring what makes a healthy relationship.