There's a lady living next door to you. You don't see her that often. In fact, you almost get the impression that she's avoiding you, that she's hiding something.
You can tell she used to be beautiful. She has gorgeous, slanting eyes like a cats, and a thick mane of blonde hair. But she dresses not to be noticed. In shapeless black. And she's (to use an expression of your mothers) 'let herself go.' She's overweight and puffy, and, when she wears makeup, she wears it like a mask.
Then, one day, you ask her in. You make a pot of tea. And you ask her about her husband, Sam, the large, jovial, slightly-too-loud chap you've met a number of times over the garden fence.
She tells you about the time they first met. She was really young. Gorgeous (although she didn't know it). She seemed confident, popular, one of the crowd. But inside she was riddled with insecurity. She felt like a sham. Don't we all when we're seventeen?
Then she saw Sam, across a crowded room at a party. He enveloped her in his big, bear like arms, and she felt like she'd come home. She was safe. When she was his girl she felt 'more.' More confident, more beautiful, more witty.
They were soul mates. Partners in crime. He made everything more fun, and everyone loved her more and more. She loved herself more.
He was cool, sophisticated. Everyone admired him and wanted him at their parties. As soon as she saw him her shoulders relaxed. She felt at ease and able to cope with anything.
As she tells you all of this, she looks sad. You watch, mesmerised, as a solitary tear falls into her cup of tea. You wonder, idly, if she'll be able to taste the salt. She's hunched over her cup, like she wants to disappear into it.
She tells you how things changed....
Gradually, so slowly that she'd hardly noticed it happening, he became different. Their relationship became different.
Where once he'd made her feel popular, sociable, and they'd constantly been out partying, now he just wanted her home. He didn't like her having other friends. It's like he was worried that they might find out about him, see what their relationship was really like. So she's lonely. Isolated.
Once he'd given her confidence. Made her feel ten foot tall, and able to take on the world. But she's not achieved anything without him for many years, and she's convinced she no longer can. Without him, she says, she's nothing. She's terrified, stressed, unable to cope.
Once he used to protect her. She felt so safe. Now he hits her. Regularly. She shows you the bruises. A rainbow of colours, from deep purple to mustard yellow. She tells you she hurts all over. Inside and outside.
You can't stay quiet any longer. Why don't you just leave him? you ask. He's not good for you. He's killing you, taking away everything you are, bit by bit.
She tells you she's scared. She can't sleep when he's not there. She can't cope with life - she's forgotten how. She's weak and useless.
He's made you feel like that! you yell. You could cope before him. You were strong, independent, able. You will be again. Just ditch the bastard!
But she loves him, she tells you quietly. And he loves her. And it used to be so good. She still remembers all the wonderful times they had together.
You cannot love someone who treats you like this! And those good times were decades ago.
And, you know what? She does leave him. Not immediately, but a few weeks later. And she's looking better already - there's a bounce in her step. You see her confidence, her beauty and her strength returning, like the green shoots of daffodils in spring.
But she takes him back.
"It's different this time!" She says, like they all do. "Those months away from me made him think. It's all fine now - just like when we first met!"
But abusers don't change their spots. It only takes a few weeks before you can hear her crying again through the dividing wall. She's back to wearing black and hiding from you.
Why? you want to yell. Walk away! Take your life back! He makes NOTHING better, he just makes it worse. He is NO GOOD FOR YOU!
Well, just remember that, my friends.
Love SM x
(Today's post was for Suzie, who commented on my post yesterday).