My name is Cora, I am a 37 year old part time book keeper from County Down. I could be your sister, your cousin, work colleague, friend or maybe I could even be you. Over the next 10 days, I am going to tell you my story. A story which I didn’t even realise was my story, until it was almost too late.
I met my husband Oliver when I was only 16 and I was head over heels in love. He was much older than I was, very attentive, so loving and showered me with gifts. I felt so lucky. Even though people said I was too young, I was married by the time I was 20 and had my first child Ben when I was 21.
I hadn’t really thought much about children but maybe two would have been nice. Oliver, however, was quite demanding and even though I didn’t really want a big family, we had five children. Ben is now 16 down to the youngest, Simon who is now four.
I look back now and I don’t think I realised what had happened or maybe I tried to block it out because I didn’t want to think bad of Oliver. It started quite simply- the family meetings where my spending was analysed but not his, the use of the car being primarily his because he always had something more important to do, encouraging the children to tell me where I had failed them. That was the worst – your own children telling you how disappointed they are in you. I know now that he was manipulating them but I worry so much for them. The things they have seen and heard over the years. My heart breaks for them. I hope and pray it’s not too late to save them too.
As I tell my story over the next few days and dip into the most painful moments in my life, all I ask is that you ‘See behind the shine’ this Christmas. Don’t assume that because someone is smiling that they are happy, don’t assume that because someone appears to have everything, that they really do have and please don’t forget about organisations like Women’s Aid Armagh Down. They saved me.
Rylan and Simon – my two beautiful boys. Rylan is six now and Simon is only four. They both had so many issues when they were babies. I often sat up all night rocking and cuddling them especially Rylan who I call my blue eyed boy. He looks just like me in old photos. Oliver used to go crazy roaring when the children were crying. I think I just zoned him out and concentrated on the boys but I know the older children used to hide under the bed so he didn’t take it out on them.
Rylan is in P2 now and he is such a lovely boy. He came home from school so excited. He had a note to say there was a karate class starting in the community centre from 6pm-7pm over the winter. It was for 4-7 year olds so of course Simon, who misses nothing, his eyes lit up and both boys were jumping up and down in front of me saying mummy, mummy please can we go.
The excitement in their wee faces, every bone in my body was willing to say yes but I knew I couldn’t until Oliver got home. I know Oliver doesn’t like me going out in the evenings and he gets distressed if I am away for any length of time. I wouldn’t want him taking out his annoyance on the older children.
Anyway when he got home, I asked him, but I think I already knew what the answer would be. He said no straight away. I was absolutely gutted but I didn’t protest. It wasn’t worth it. I just said, let me tell the children. He stomped off. I was so upset, what was I going to say to those two little excited faces.
It was too late, the boys came running in, crying, shouting Daddy is right – you are selfish and so mean. My heart was slowing breaking…my two beautiful blue eyed boys thought it was my fault. I don’t know what he told them. They hated me at that moment, and I hated myself.
Over the years, I had so many instances of confusion that I was convinced there was something really wrong with me. One day, I worked in the morning, picked the children up from school, got the homework done and set to work cleaning the cupboard under the stairs. I worked so hard at it for a couple of hours because Oliver had said it was a mess. I was delighted to get it ship shape. He would be so pleased this evening. I had plenty of time to get it done and the dinner made. He finished work at half five but he never came home until 7.30ish. I never asked where he went. I would say nothing, I daren’t, he would notice the tidy cupboard when he went to hang his coat up.
Later that evening I heard the door and then the door of the cupboard under the stairs then nothing but a bit of rummaging as if he was looking for something. I waited for a little while then I peeked out the door. He was fuming. He said look at the state of this cupboard, I thought you were going to clean it. I looked in, it was a state, worse that it had been…as if someone had deliberately wrecked it. I couldn’t think straight, I thought I had cleaned it. I know I did – no maybe I was dreaming, maybe I fell asleep because I was so exhausted and maybe I dreamt that I tided it. Oliver’s right I am losing it, am I going crazy? Is this how it starts?? Oh dear god I have to get it together!
I am such a bad mother, my children are out of control, especially the teenagers. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to give them what they want but I have no money. What little I earn goes into the house because Oliver says I use all the electricity and the heat working from home, so I need to pay for it. I don’t have anything to give them without clearing it with Oliver. He wouldn’t give me money for a fancy coat. Elisha is 15 – that’s such an impressionable age. The poor girl, all she wanted was a coat from Tesco…I couldn’t even get her that.
I can’t believe she said those things to me. I was only trying to explain to her that I couldn’t afford the coat…everyone in Tesco must have though I was a terrible mother, my teenage child crying and screaming at me, slapping me in the face…saying I’m selfish and hateful… she called me a filthy lying witch.I don’t know how to sort this out, I don’t know what to say anymore, I’m really frightened for Elisha though…she is so angry…this is all my fault…what am I gonna do???
Soap, I can use soap… it’s perfectly ok to wash my hair with soap, Oliver’s right I don’t need shampoo, it’s not like I’m going anywhere and the children don’t notice how my hair is.
Oliver’s right I will get it cut short and then it will be much easier to handle, less bother, yes that right…much less bother and that will give me more time to keep the house sorted. Oliver will be pleased…yes…get the house sorted the way Oliver likes it and the children will be happier as well…perhaps they will sit and talk to me for a while like we used to…yes get the house sorted and everything will be fine!
I am so tired…there’s not much point any more, I’m never going to get it right, it doesn’t seem to make a difference no matter what I try…(sobbing) I’m just a useless stupid woman, I don’t know how Oliver and the children put up with me, I am an embarrassment to them…disgracing them all the time, how could I do that…to my children, my gorgeous children…shaming them like that in front of the family, I thought going to the food bank would help, I only wanted to feed my children, what’s wrong with me…how did I not know… they would be better off without me, I’m the problem. It would be better for everyone if I wasn’t around for everyone.
I can’t believe I told the woman at the counter…it just came out…when I asked for the paracetamol…I was praying she wouldn’t ask about the face but she did, she noticed the marks on my neck and she asked…oh God, she asked…and I just told her…standing there at the counter, the pharmacist! I might even know her, Oliver might even know her, I didn’t care, I just said it, I just started to cry and it all came out…I can’t believe I did that…what’s gonna happen now.
Hello em…I’m not sure what to say here….like it will be all right, won’t it….it’s just…. I don’t want to waste your time….the pharmacist gave me your number… I don’t even know her, you’re probably too busy…oh ok, you have time…a doctor, yes I might need to see a doctor…I am safe at the moment, I’m at my friend’s house, I’m going to be okay, aren’t I? I don’t know…. what about my children, they hate me….what… you don’t think they do…oh please God, I want to believe you…. I need to know my babies will be safe. can you help me do that… oh god, maybe I can do this…what…you will help me…but he will try to kill me…I need to keep me and my babies safe…..you understand, oh God, you understand, I am not alone. I am not alone. (Sobbing)
The reason I’m telling my story is because I know that the service of Women’s Aid Armagh Down is overwhelmed and can’t meet the demand. I know their budgets are frozen for years and the cost of everything is increasing. Every day, there are hundreds of women like me here in our community who need the safety and support Women’s Aid provide. I know times are tough for everyone but if you can help in any way, please do. You can help save another local woman and her children – just the way Women’s Aid did that for me.