A Fresh Start
I open my eyes and sit up in bed as I hear the sound. The banging has startled me awake and for a split second I don’t know where I am. It takes me a minute to remember I’m at Tanya’s house. My best friend since high school, she let me crash here in her spare room after I showed up on her doorstep with a bloody gash across my forehead and a black eye. She wasn’t even shocked to see me like that – she’d seen it many times before. But this was the first time I’d come to her for help.
I reach up and touch my forehead – yep, still stinging. I grimace as flashes of last night come back to me. Fighting with Tom, telling him I was leaving, then turning around to see his fist flying at me. He was never like this – at least not at the start. He was charming, charismatic and a real gentleman. But I guess when you move in with someone, they have to show their true colours eventually.
More banging, louder this time. I know its Tom, he’s trying to find me. He calls out to Tanya, and I can hear her bedroom door creaking open as she walks to the front door. I lay down in bed again and try to stay calm, even though my heart is racing. Why won’t he just leave me alone? I pull the doona up over my head, somehow feeling slightly safer under its weight.
“Where is Sophie? Where is that bitch?” I hear Tom yell. Yep, such a charmer. I know Tanya won’t open the door to him, let alone tell him I’m here. She’d never liked him. I think she saw through him right at the start. It’s funny how you can be so blinded by love that you are willing to overlook so much. At first it was just him pushing me around. Then he was grabbing me and throwing me to the floor. Then the punches. And now he’d done this to me. My whole body was black and blue, and I felt like I’d been hit by a train. All I could see when I closed my eyes was his face contorted with rage, spitting as he screamed insults at me. I’d had enough. I’d run from the house wearing only my nightdress and got a taxi straight to Tanya’s. She took me in, cleaned me up and listened as I told her about the last 3 months. She had nodded solemnly as I spoke – she knew what Tom had been doing to me, even though I had denied it. She’d begged me to talk to her, but I had shut her out. But now I needed her more than ever, I needed her help. I always thought I was a strong person and I could get through anything life could throw at me by myself. But now I realised its not about being strong or weak – it’s about being safe. I’d never be safe with Tom, I had to get away from him. But how was I supposed to do that when he wouldn’t let me?
“Get out of here before I call the police,” I hear Tanya say. I’d never called the police on Tom, I was always too scared. But I knew Tanya would. She was a tough cookie when she needed to be, and Tom knew that. I hear him growl at her through the front door, then storm off down the driveway, kicking potplants over as he goes. I let out a sigh of relief as I hear his ute rev angrily and zoom off down the road.
Two seconds later Tanya comes into my room. She doesn’t say a word, she just sits down on the bed next to me and hugs me as I start to sob. I don’t think I’d ever be able to tell her how much I appreciate what she’s done for me. It was so hard to come to her for help, to admit to myself that I actually needed it. But now I don’t know why I hadn’t done it as soon as the violence had started. I sit there crying, letting out months worth of tears, and don’t stop for a long time. When I finally calm down, Tanya looks me in the eyes. I see such sadness in her eyes, I know she hates seeing me like this, she hates seeing me hurting, and more than anything, she hates that he has changed me. I hadn’t been my usual outgoing, happy self for months. Instead I’d stay in my house, trying to make everything perfect so Tom had no excuse to start on me. Not that he’d need an excuse – his footy team losing would set him off. I was too scared and ashamed to go outside – what if someone knew my dirty little secret? That I was a worthless punching bag for Tom? No, I’d just stay inside and cut everyone off. Tanya would pop around and see me often though, and that infruriated Tom. But nothing would stop her making sure I was ok.
“What do I do?” I say quietly to Tanya. She smiles at me and holds my hand.
“I’ll help you start fresh.” She smiles. “We’ll get you a new place and get Tom’s crap out of your life. You don’t need that, you deserve so much better.”
I try to smile, but my face is still too sore. She was right, I don’t need that, and I certainly don’t need Tom. I start to feel better as I imagine the next few months. A nice 2 bedroom house, with a room completely dedicated to a workspace for my art. Tom had never been supportive of my painting, he’d said it was a waste of time and that he’d seen some elephants on tv painting better artworks than mine. My art had gotten darker and darker while we were together, til I just stopped painting completely. Now I would be able to take it up again. I’d be able to do so many things I had stopped doing because of Tom. Seeing friends that I had ‘forgotten to get back to’, doing the art course I’d wanted to do last semester. It was all looking up, and finally I could see a way out.
After a bit more of a chat Tanya gets up and heads to bed, leaving me to rest. But I can’t sleep. All I can think about is Tom. Where he is and if he is going to come back here looking for me again. He’s probably been drinking, that’s what usually starts it. God knows what else he’s been doing. I finally manage to drift off but my sleep is restless and the flashes of his furious face keep coming back.
“How did you sleep?” Tanya smiles at me as she hands me a plate of pancakes – homemade especially for me. “I know they’re your favourite” she winks as she hands me the maple syrup. This is why I love Tanya, she always does little things to make your big problems seem not so bad. I sit down at the table and turn on the tv while I eat. The food nearly falls out of my mouth as my jaw hits the floor. On the news is a picture of Tom, taken from what looks like a surveillance camera. I’ve missed the start of the story, but from what I hear Tom is wanted for questioning by the police. I listen in absolute shock as the newsreader says there was an armed robbery at a petrol station not too far away from here. My mind spins. An armed robbery? Tom? I knew he was violent but this was extreme. It sounds like it must have happened not long after he came banging around here. I look up at Tanya who also has her mouth hanging open, half chewed pancakes inside.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” She says when she’s finished her mouthful, “He is just no good.” I nod as I have another mouthful – she certainly doesn’t mince words. My mind is racing. An armed robbery? What kind of weapon did he have? A knife? A gun? I shudder as I realize – the other night could have been a lot worse. Tanya has obviously thought the same because her face is gravely serious.
There’s a solemn silence as we go about our day. I’m in the middle of washing the dishes when Tanya sits at the table with her laptop and calls me over. I dry my hands and sit down next to her.
“So I was thinking, let’s find you a place, yeah?” She smiles at me, “I was thinking of moving down the coast a while ago. Why don’t we move down together and start fresh?” Nothing can stop the smile that comes on my face. To be honest, I was a little scared of moving by myself. I knew I’d have to move from this town, I wouldn’t want Tom to be able to find me or know where I live. But moving to a new town by myself was daunting. Tanya and I had rented a place together for a while after we finished school so I knew we’d get along well. I hug her and we start looking online for a house down the coast. There are so many nice houses, close to the beach. I can imagine sitting on the verandah painting the beautiful landscapes. It would be perfect. And suddenly, some of the solemnness in the air has disappeared.
Throughout the next week I get 17 missed calls, 23 abusive texts and 8 voicemail messages. I delete the texts then delete the voicemails without listening to them. I know they’re just going to be abusive, and I don’t need that. Despite still being a little sore, I’m actually feeling good. The cut on my forehead is healing well and the black eye isn’t as puffy or bruised. I feel like with every physical wound that is healing, something inside me is healing too. Tom hasn’t come around again, at first I was expecting him to, but then I realized he’s probably hiding out from the police. I cringe everytime I think of him, which is still often. Thinking how he had abused me for months, and how I had let it happen.
But the best part by far about the last week was Tanya and I found the perfect house. We drove 3 hours down the coast to look at it and fell in love with it straight away. It’s a 5 minute walk to the beach and is in a nice quiet street – a breath of fresh air. We move down there in just a week. Tanya has quit her job and is looking for a job closer to the new house, as am I. I hope we can get through the next week without seeing Tom, I’m still terrified he will explode and do something terrible, I certainly wouldn’t put it past him. I keeping myself busy packing boxes, trying to keep myself distracted from my thoughts, and trying not to constantly look over my shoulder.
Tanya comes home from shopping 4 days before the move with a big tub of ice cream and some new movies. “I thought we could have a girly night and forget about the packing for a while. It’s exhausting!” I laugh; moving house has certainly never been her favourite pastime. “Not that you’ve done much, Tanya!” I joke, “You made a mess getting everything out of the cupboards, then left for the ice cream.. Not that I’m complaining.” I add and we both laugh as we settle down on the couch for a relaxing night.
We’re halfway through our second movie when I hear banging at the front door. My heart lurches and I whip my head around to stare at the door. Tanya gently touches my shoulder as she gets up and slowly walks toward the door. “Who is it?”
A voice calls back “It’s the police m’aam, could we please have a word?” Tanya quickly looks out the window, then opens the door and from where I’m sitting I can see two police officers in uniforms standing on the porch. Tanya invites them in and they turn to me.
“Are you Sophie Smith?” one police man asks. I nod. “Have you had any contact with Tom Pitt in the last few weeks?”
I explain about the night he came banging on Tanya’s door, about the abuse before that, and the abusive messages afterward.
“I’m sure you know by now that he is suspected of an armed robbery at a petrol station two weeks ago. We are still looking for him, but he’s not making it easy. We believe he is armed and dangerous. Given the circumstances of your relationship with Mr Pitt, I suggest you be careful and if you see him again, let us know.”
“Of course I will, officers. “ I nod, but I feel like the colour has drained from my face. Be careful? Do they think he would come back for me? To hurt me? Or worse? I shiver and realize I’ve been clenching my fists so hard my knuckles are white.
“Thanks for your time ladies, we’ll show ourselves out.” They get up and leave, and Tanya and I sit back on the couch. Neither of us really feel like finishing the movie now. We don’t need to say it out loud, but it’s obvious to both of us that moving day could not come quick enough.
The next few days are hell. Most of the packing is done, but there’s no sense of relief at all. I’ll let myself be relieved when we’re away from this town. And away from Tom. Tanya seems her usual happy self, but I can tell she’s worried too. To be honest, I’m a little surprised Tom hasn’t come back around, looking for me. He’s never let me be away from him this long; even a trip to the supermarket by myself was rare. He always was controlling. At the start I thought it was sweet that he wanted to be around me 24/7, but then I realised it wasn’t sweet at all. It was like he didn’t trust me, but I certainly had never given him a reason not to. If I went out at all, my phone would be constantly beeping with abusive messages. He’d accuse me of being with other men, of being a lying, cheating whore. I don’t know where those thoughts even came from. The first time he said that my jaw hit the floor – I would never cheat. So I gave up trying to go anywhere alone, it just wasn’t worth it. I tried to keep him happy, to keep the peace, but it seemed like nothing I did was good enough. My self esteem had hit rock bottom, and I guess that’s why I’d let him push me around for so long. And in the end, after hearing how much of a fat, ugly bitch I was, I started to believe it. Who would ever want to be with someone like me? And that’s why I stayed with Tom, because he did.
As I sit, deep in thought, Tanya comes home. She’d just been to the shops getting a few snacks for the move in two days time. I turn and smile at her, but when I see her face, my smile disappears. She looks horrified, like she’s just seen a ghost. “Look at my car,” She says quietly and I rush outside to see what is wrong. And now I realise why she is so upset. YOU’RE DEAD BITCHES is scratched into the bonnet. “I was only in the shops for 20 minutes, he must have been watching me or following me. I don’t know…” Her voice trails and tears well up in her eyes. “We need to tell the police and get out of here.”
That night, after speaking to the police, we deadbolt the doors and make arrangements to head down the coast a day early, first thing in the morning. We book a hotel room close to the new house and call the moving company. They’re a little annoyed at the change of plan, but after explaining the situation, they seem happy to help, even waiving the fee for rescheduling. I don’t sleep a wink that night. Just a few more hours and we’d be out of here, and Tom can’t hurt me anymore. I drift off and once again, visions of his face plaguing my dreams.
Morning has come without incident, and Tanya and I are feeling pretty good. The moving men should be arriving an time now, and we’re enjoying a final cup of tea in the town we’d lived in since we were kids. It would be sad to say goodbye to such a beautiful place, but there’s nothing left here for me now. My parents have been off travelling for the past few years, and they probably won’t be back for a few more; and who even knows where they will want to settle down when they do. Nope, it’s time to move on and move forward.
It’s a beautiful day for moving. It’s sunny but not too hot and because it’s still early, there are birds chirping. I smile as I watch them fly overhead, hoping this is a good omen for the rest of the day. But my positive thoughts are interrupted by screeching tyres. My heart sinks as I look out the window and see Tom’s dusty old ute pull up out the front of the house. Tanya and I had hoped the moving men would be here if Tom showed up, but they’re not here yet. I’m scared. After the warning from the police, and Tanya’s car, I don’t know what he could be capable of. Before he’s even turned off his engine, Tanya has reached for her phone and dialed 000. Tom is still on the run, so Tanya tells them to come quick before he leaves again. Then we lock ourselves in the house and watch through the blinds as Tom starts walking towards the house. He’s wearing a big, baggy jacket, which instantly makes me feel uneasy. It’s such a beautiful sunny day, why would he need that? He bangs on the front door, and then reaches into his jacket. I let out a soft cry as he pulls out a huge knife. It looks like something used to gut an animal. My stomach churns at the thought.
“Get out here bitch! I know you’re there!” He screams and I can hear the hatred in his voice. I cower behind the couch and Tanya holds me by my shoulders, trying to stop me shaking. I pray for the police to hurry up. The yelling seems to go on forever, the banging gets louder and louder and I can hear things getting broken outside. He’s in a rage and there is nothing stopping him from smashing his way in to get to me. He keeps screaming insults at me, but my head is a blur. I can’t hear what he’s saying and I can’t hear what Tanya says to me either. I’m a mess and I know that if Tom gets in the house, that’s it. I’m dead.
Tanya is still saying something to me, I try to calm down, focus and listen.
“Sophie, I can hear sirens, we’re going to be ok.” She says, trying to be brave; but I can tell she’s just as terrified as me. “It’s ok.”
Tom stops yelling and banging and all I can hear now is the sound of police cars pulling up out the front. I can’t see Tom but I know he’s running to his car.
“Put down the weapon!” I hear a policeman shout. I can hear scuffling, shouting and then a car door slams. Tom has been arrested.
I stand back and smile at Tanya. We’ve just set up the third bedroom of the new house into a beautiful painting workshop and we’re admiring the finished room. There’s cupboards filled with paints, brushes and canvases. There’s finished works displayed all over the walls. But best of all, there’s an easel to the left of the room, just in front of the window. I look out. Behind the neighbouring houses I can see the ocean and the waves crashing on the rocks. I look closer at the rocks glistening in the sun. They’ve been beaten down again and again and yet they’re still standing strong. What a beautiful painting that will make.