*Molly and *John lived in a condominium in Katong, and were a well-to-do family of three. I visited *Molly in her new home yesterday, and she shared her story with me. *Sarah was dressed in a pale blue frock, engrossed in her colouring. She’s a smart and outgoing child, but there was a certain sadness in her eyes. As I walked in, I saw pretty photographs hanging on the walls, and everything seemed picture perfect to me. Little would I have known that they once lived in an equally beautiful home where little *Sarah witnessed her mum being assaulted by her dad. We sat together, *Molly and I, as she narrated her story to me. With each word she spoke, with each tear that fell, I too died a little on the inside.
When I got married, it was like I was living a fairytale. The whirlwind romance just like in the novels, the storybook proposal, the extensive wedding planning, the actual marriage, buying our first condo, and then welcoming our precious baby girl, *Sarah. Little did I know that my happiness was going to be short-lived. The jovial, sweet, kind-hearted man soon turned into a real-life monster. I am sharing my story here because this is an outlet for me to speak the truth, and free myself. I know many women will judge me and say that I wasn’t strong to leave quick enough. But when you have a child, leaving becomes an unfortunate last option. This was happening for years, but I have finally taken a step to setting myself free.
From fairytale to horror story
The first 2 years before I had *Sarah, things were fine between us. Yes, there were the occasional minor arguments, but nothing serious. He would come home late after work, so there was not much interaction to begin with. Once I took on the role of a stay-at-home-mum, he started coming home earlier, and I was happy about this new change in our home. We had more time together, and with our newborn.
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Things started to change once *Sarah started going to kindergarten (at age 3). He used to come home feeling angsty. He would throw things around randomly, ask for food rudely, and demanded to be told where I had spent the money he had left for home expenses at the start of the week. We had been fortunate to be living well, so spending was never an issue. And now it was. It bugged me, so I asked. That’s when it all started. He slapped me hard across my face, telling me to shut up and not talk back to him. I was shocked as this was the very first time he had ever laid a finger on me. I cried myself to sleep that night, with *Sarah in my arms.
The next day I asked him what was wrong, as he wasn’t acting like himself. I thought he may have had a rough day at work and I may have provoked him. To my horror, he slapped me again, just as hard. I didn’t let it be, I continued demanding for an answer. “What was wrong, tell me and we can fix it together.” He would just storm off, or shut the door on us. *Sarah was too little then to understand what was going on. She kept on playing through the whole commotion. This made me feel less guilty, but I knew that when she got older, and could make sense of what was happening, I would not be able to ignore it anymore. Of course, I never expected him to continue.
The years went by and *John and I would have some happy days, then he would transition into that beast again. I tried countless times to ask him to seek help, and even reached out to his colleagues, but nobody said anything about him showing signs of anything negative. I never told them what was really going on. Only my mum knew. She kept telling me to walk out on him, or to call the police.
But this is what I thought: “He doesn’t beat me enough for it to really be considered domestic violence”. Yes, I realise how stupid I sound now. But this kept me going. I would immerse my time in teaching *Sarah, taking her for classes, cleaning the house, trying out new recipes, visiting friends and family. I started to treat him like a guest of the house, who would just come home to sleep. But not before finding fault with me, and hitting me a little.
Like a prisoner in my own home
When *Sarah (then a little older) saw this happening, she would run into her room and hide. I would later go to her, pretending everything was okay, telling her ‘daddy is really stressed at work and mummy made him angry.” She would ask, “Why does he have to slap you, mummy?” And that would make me break down, on the inside, but I put up a brave front, and explained to her that he was in the wrong, and hitting is never the right thing to do, and that he will one day learn.
“I will pray for you mummy, and for daddy to stop”. My heart shattered into a million pieces. I didn’t want my daughter seeing a man hit a woman and think it’s alright. Why should she? It is NOT alright, and exposing her to such horrific things at such a tender age was not healthy for her. I knew I had to put a stop to this. For my daughter’s sake. She’s soft-hearted and loving little girl, and I felt like I was snatching away her innocence from her by letting her watch all of this. That too, in her home – the place we told her was the safest for her.
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My family never knew about the abuse because my husband would portray me as the best thing on the planet that happened to him, that he adored me and we had a perfect family – so that’s what everybody thought. I was also quite outspoken as a child, so people thought if something was wrong, I would speak up.
I was a prisoner in my own home. I wasn’t allowed to find a job. I needed permission to leave the house and was kept on a tight allowance. That — that was a very hard time, the darkest period of my life. *Sarah, with her warm hugs, smiles and contagious laughter, was what kept me strong and alive. She is truly the light in my life. Without her, there wouldn’t be me.
There was a time where even pillow fights with her were hard for me. It made my hair stand just thinking about something coming down on me with force. Then we had a new rule: “No pillow fights till Mummy can handle it.”
Dreaming of escape
The day things escalated and got out of hand was sometime in the beginning of this year. We were home, *Sarah and I, enjoying a episode of Dora, when *John barged through the main door. He was never an alcoholic, so drinking and then battering his wife was not even the case. So imagine how I was trying to get my head around why he would suddenly act up this way. He came to me, yelled that I was a ‘silly and lazy cow’ who did nothing all day, and was lavishly throwing his money on designer wear and branded things for my daughter and myself. I told him to calm down and I even apologised for not saving money. There was rage in his eyes, and by then I had been so seasoned to these outbursts, that I knew what was coming.
So I ran… with *Sarah in hand, and we locked ourselves in her bedroom cupboard, practically afraid to even breathe. At that moment, from the darkness of the closet, I looked down at my little girl and thought, this is not what I want for her nor for me. What was I doing? I was showing her that someone could smack you around whenever they wanted, and all you could do is run and hide.
It was that day that I started to plot my getaway plan…
Never looking back
I finally mustered up the courage to leave *John. He was away in Bangkok for an overnight work trip, and I took this chance to pack all our things, and to explain things to my daughter, and to my parents. *Sarah really didn’t need much to be said to her. As soon as she saw me packing, she said, “Mummy, I know why we are leaving this house. It is not safe for you, or for me. Let’s go. I will miss daddy but I think he needs to think about all the bad things he has done. Then we can forgive him and come back home.”
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Hearing this, I fell to the ground, sobbing. How did my 6-year-old grow into such a matured girl? I felt extremely guilty. Did I take away her childhood from her? Was I a bad mum for letting her witness this violence? I was lucky that he never hit her. Was I so selfish that I thought about the comforts of being there with him, rather than setting ourselves free?
*Sarah and I live with my parents. We are one big happy family and I have filed for a divorce. *John has never asked for us to come home. He has never apologised nor explained to me why he kept hitting me. And I guess I will never know. But I have come to terms with it, and I don’t need any answers.
I know I have made the right decision. My child is more important.
And then there’s the recurring nightmare: I dream that I’m in my old house and that *John is holding me to the wall and slamming me against it— yet I know that just beyond my front door are my family, my friends, and my new beautiful life, beckoning.
In this dream, I remain trapped in the horror of knowing that freedom is so close but unattainable. But it always ends the same way: I wake up and realise, with relief and joy, that I’ve made it out after all.
*All names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of those involved
(Story as told to Pavin Chopra)
*Molly took some time to say goodbye to her abusive relationship, but she eventually did. Many women face domestic violence, and sadly some remain in silence. If you are or someone you know is experiencing family violence and need someone to talk to, call the AWARE Helpline at 1800-774-5935 or email [email protected].