November 2000: I'm crouching on the floor in the kitchen. The tiles are cold and my neck hurts where he's just tried to strangle me, again. He's sitting across from me clutching his testicles which I've just punched in order to get his hands from around my neck. There are broken plates and bits of food all around us. I'll be cleaning this up later. He looks across at me and I laugh. It's a nervous laugh. This usually happens and often earns me another beating. He hates it when I laugh at him. This time he laughs too. We look at each other, he slides across to me and we start to kiss, his familiar beer infused breath choking me. I'm glad I'm leaving soon. He's scared me this time. Oddly, I still love him a little, but not enough now.
Summer 1988: I'm 16 years old and I'm very proud to finally have a boyfriend. He's a year older and a bit of a nerd and not the best looking boy around but I don't feel I can be too picky. I lack confidence, am shy and awkward. I dress like a Goth, black dyed hair in a quiff and when I'm feeling particularly daring, mascara and black nail polish. I think I look cool. I don't. We're out drinking in the local gay bar and we get chatting to an older man. He asks me to guess how old he is and says I'll be surprised. I say 46. He's 40. I am surprised and he's offended. He smokes a lot of Marlboro Reds and drinks a lot of gin. He buys me a lot of gin too and I smoke a lot. He always wears a suit. He isn't fantastic looking, big Roman nose and skinny, but I quite like him. He tans easily due to the time he spent on a Kibbutz in the 1970s with his Jewish ex-wife. He isn't Jewish but he pretends to be because it amuses him to mess with people's expectations. He shrugs his shoulders a lot and uses Jewish slang. He talks a lot and I listen. I see him round a lot. He talks too much but his experience and knowledge fascinate me.
A few weeks later he buys me a book, "A Boys Own Story" by Edmund White, for my 17th birthday. I love it. He's written my name in it and an inscription. It's a novel about growing up gay and I relate to it. My actual boyfriend buys me some records, one by "Black", a group I really dislike. I make my displeasure known. He's starting to annoy me with his juvenile stupidity.
I start to hang around with the older man. He lives in a grimy little bedsit with chipped paint and has no money and no job. He tells me stories about the 1980s and when he ran a bar. He met Spandau Ballet and was friends with Tom Robinson (I later find out that he wasn't friends, he just spoke to him after a gig, once). I'm easily impressed. He knows about things I don't. He recommends old films I've never seen and talks about music I've never heard of. I let him kiss me and take pictures of me, which he pins on his wall. He tells me I'm beautiful and I finally feel like I am, briefly. I soon ditch my boyfriend. I grow my hair dye out and return to my natural fair colouring. He likes blond hair and I want to please him.
Autumn 1988: I'm in bed with glandular fever. I kissed a boy at a party and he gave me glandular fever. I sleep for days, weeks, not eating, getting thinner and am so weak I can barely lift an arm above my head. I have months off school and have to drop an A Level. My body throbs with swollen lumps under my arms, in my neck and groin. He sends me a love letter, written in red ink to represent blood. I adore it. I don't think it's odd that a 40 year old man would write in red ink to represent blood. It's juvenile. It stays under my pillow. I spend much of that autumn sleeping and feeling like I want to die. When I wake I read the letter. I get better and we sleep together. It's disappointing. He refuses to use protection and tells me that it's unfair of me to ask him to. I concur. He's drunk and clumsy. I like the way he smells: expensive aftershave, lager and Marlboros. My ex boyfriend makes a feeble teenage attempt at suicide (six Paracetamol). I am contemptuous but secretly thrilled at the drama.
Winter 1988: I stop going to school. I pocket my dinner money and bus fares. I spend time in his bedsit. We listen to music and he talks and I listen. We drink a lot when we have money. My parents give me money each week for helping around the house. I do my chores and we share the money between us.
Spring 1989: My parents find out I've been skipping school. I'm in trouble. My parents also find out I've been stealing alcohol and sleeping pills. We argue, which is usual, and I leave. I'm 17. I move in with him. I'm living in a bedsit. We have to share a kitchen and bathroom with several other bedsits, which is awful. It's cold, filthy and I'm often hungry. I set about home making and clean the room, scrubbing and washing and tidying. I shop and cook meals when we have money for food. I feel very grown up. My parents think I'm staying at a friend's initially. The age of consent is 21. He could go to prison for this. I eventually tell them where I'm living and that I'm gay. They don't ask anything about him, especially not how old he is. They just don't want to know about any of it. He's 3 years younger than my dad. I buy a little green bird and keep him in a cage but he depresses me.
Summer 1989: I fail both my remaining A Levels and I don't care. I need to be with him. I wanted to go to Uni to study English and hoped that I'd become a journalist or work in publishing. I turn 18. He has a job now, and soon, I do too. I'm working in a shop. He works in an office. It's a novelty. I like hard work and I like having my own money. He keeps the bank card for my account. I ask him for money when I need it. I don't buy many clothes or records. I'm happy when we have food. We go out drinking a lot but mostly I like it when I'm at home and he's out and I can read and pretend I live on my own. The flat is too hot and time goes slowly. He comes home from work early one day and tells me he's called his boss 'a cunt'. We now rely on my money for a while. He eventually apologises and works longer until the firm goes bust. I get promoted. I start to hate the shop and I'm bored with my life. I feel very old.
Christmas 1989: We have a small Christmas tree and a bigger flat. He buys me lavish presents (mostly with my money) which we can't afford. He's excited and childlike. I enjoy it. There's a big box on the side, all wrapped up. I shake it and feel it to guess what's inside, when he's not there. Its a little glass greenhouse. The soil is everywhere and the plants are all battered and dead when I open it. We laugh a lot. A man in the pub offers me a job as a rent boy. I turn it down and think he's joking. He wasn't. There's a builder lives upstairs. He's around my age, tall and fair and handsome. He's cheeky, loitering in the kitchen when I cook. He makes saucy remarks, offering to share my bed if I'll cook for him like I do for my partner. I laugh a lot and blush. I think he's joking. I see the builder sunbathing topless in the garden in small white shorts and I peer out of the window and wonder what it would be like to kiss him.
Summer 1990: His mother dies; he gets a better job, after a period of not working. We get offered a house to rent. It's a large detached house and I love it. I buy the bird a bigger cage. He still depresses me. He inherits money which we spend on holidays and a hideously expensive new stereo. We're quite wealthy for a while but it doesn't last long. He drinks more than ever. He has friends who drink too and he spends days in pubs with them. I'm still working in the shop. I have high ideals and the black and white views of the young. If a man ever hits me I know I'd leave him. If a man ever cheats on me I know I'd leave him. This turns out to be idealism. I stop drinking. It's easier to limit the damage when I'm sober. I can watch for the signs, know when he's getting volatile and mostly, avoid incidents. Try and hustle him out of bars when he's getting argumentative and violent. He criticises me a lot. I chop vegetables the wrong way, I clean things the wrong way, I talk the wrong way and I'm stupid. I do all the chopping, cooking and cleaning. We go out and he still wears a suit. I wonder if people think I'm with him because he has money. I dress in jeans and a t-shirt. Somebody I know dies of AIDs. It's someone he slept with. I think I have AIDS and know for sure I'll be dead by 28. (I'm completely wrong. I don't have AIDS at all.) I don't talk to anyone about this. I'm too scared. I don't want to know if I have it. I avoid reading books where AIDs is mentioned. I shudder at the word and feel sick to my stomach but I don't have a test for several years, not even when more people die, one of whom is someone else who he slept with. I'm too scared. I can't see a way out of this. I spend a lot of time fantasising about an alternative life, one where I'm happier. He tells me that I'm dull and that I have no sense of humour or imagination.
1992: I turn 21 and get a huge pile of cards and presents and feel popular and liked. He tells me how worthless I am. He hits me occasionally but not regularly. I hit back occasionally and I always forgive him. I have loads of friends but the fuss is too great when I see them. He times me and is waiting, depressed and drunk when I return. I stop seeing lots of people and I rarely invite anyone to my house. He doesn't like me talking on the phone, it irritates him. He says I talk like an idiot on the phone. A man in the pub asks to paint me naked. I laugh and think it's a joke. I think I look terrible naked but I don't. He gets drunk and asks a boy in the pub to fellate him. He confesses and cries. I read all the time, a book in a day sometimes. I wish I could work seven days a week to avoid him. We go on holiday to British seaside resorts on holiday. I feel very old. We fight in a hotel room and I retaliate when he hits me. I crack his head open on the floor and I apologise, a lot.
1993: I want to go back and study. I'm 21 and hate my job. They want to fast track me to be a shop manager. I don't want it at all. I feel flat and low. I put aside the idea of going to university. I can't afford it and if I live on a grant and he loses his job again, how will we live? I start my nurse training and surprisingly, I love it. He hates me being a nurse. He wants me beside him at weekends, in bars. I still don't drink at all. I like the other students and make good friends but I feel remote and distant from them. I don't live on the hospital campus; I can't go to night clubs and parties with them. I'm very different from them in lots of ways. We adopt a dog, a big stupid yellow dog that dotes on me, following me everywhere. The work as a nurse is physically demanding. I shop, clean, cook and look after the dog. On my days off I'm expected to spend hours sitting in the pub with him whilst he spends my money. He still keeps my bank card and I have to ask him for money. He loses his job and doesn't work for 3 years. He starts to drink more. We move to a rundown terraced house with draughty windows and soiled carpets. I'm ashamed of where we live. We have to eat the cheapest, nastiest food as that's all we can afford. He still buys drink. He often has to have a drink before he can leave the house. We argue more than ever and the balance tips. We no longer laugh much, we rarely sleep together and I avoid him when I can. He sleeps with a 17 year old boy who he meets in a pub and weeps an apology when he gets caught, big snot drenched tears and pathetic pleas. I actually, don't even care. I feel nothing. He gives me an STD from this. We have a row one day and for the first time, I hit him first. It's always been in retaliation before or self defence but this time he infuriates me during a row and I grab the nearest object, a shoe and smack him hard round the head in front of a friend. He is shocked but not as much as I am. I pull my back at work, lifting and am lying in bed sleeping, in a lot of pain. He comes in drunk and punches me hard in the lower back as retaliation.
1995: He gets drunk on Christmas Day and throws my dinner in the bin and smashes my gifts. My crime is that I was late home after visiting my grandfather. My dad and I had gone to pick him up and he was collapsed on the floor. I waited with him for the ambulance and so was late for my lunch. He yanked the phone out of the wall so that I couldn't get through to tell him I was going to be delayed.
1996: I qualify as nurse and start to earn better money and he gets a job too. We have enough money again. I enjoy my job but feel unfulfilled and flat. I tell my GP that I feel depressed and he refers me to a counsellor. She is obsessed with my school days and my childhood and I don't talk about my relationship. She isn't very perceptive. I start antidepressants. I fantasise about him dying. His father and uncle and cousin all dropped dead suddenly with heart attacks in their 50s. I think, it's not long to wait. I can see myself at the funeral, looking magnificent, in black again. I get a lot of migraines and he gets annoyed at this. It gets in the way of his plans and inconveniences him.
1997: I have a bad kidney infection and the doctor has to come out to see me. He's concerned and thinks I may need admitting to hospital. My temperature is high, I'm vomiting and delirious. The doctor gives him a prescription for pain killers and antibiotics and he goes to get them but doesn't come back. The doctor calls back mid afternoon to check on my progress and I lie and say that the painkillers are helping. The doctor says I can stay at home. I'd rather be in hospital. He returns twelve hours later, drunk and has bought me a pot plant and a book of Alan Bennett monologues. The painkillers help, at last.
1998: We have a new house and we own it. It's a 1930s detached house with leaded glass windows and an expanse of garden. I put all my energy into work and the house. I really love the house. I pay most of the mortgage and bills. He's drinking more than ever. He still manages all the money. He goes to work, comes home and drinks. He passes out on the sofa every night by 9pm. I have a nightly ritual. I watch t.v with him until he collapses then I go and fetch a pillow and a blanket and cover him over. I read until bedtime when me and the dog go to sleep in the bed. It's not too bad. I think seriously about leaving him but can't imagine how. I'm 27 and have never changed a light bulb, had my own bank card or paid a bill. I'm too stupid to manage. How would he cope if I left him? He might commit suicide. He's told me would. I can't imagine leaving the dog or my house behind. I also think I have H.I.V. (I eliminate that one and finally get a test which proves I don't have it, amazingly) and that I might die soon. I also know no one else would ever want me. I'm scared at the thought of other men. I've only slept with two men. I can't imagine it. Can't imagine someone seeing my ugly body naked. I can't imagine leaving my house and my dog. I carry on.
Summer 1999 We go on holiday to rural France with my parents (I pay). My parents still haven't asked me how old he is and I try to hide my unhappiness from them. We stay in a converted barn in the middle of nowhere and I'm unhappier than ever. He drinks all week and I'm constantly on edge, waiting for him to explode and humiliate me. I'm constantly criticised too by both him and my parents and I immerse myself in reading and daydreams. The day we get back I tell him I want to leave him and I feel sick with anxiety and excitement. It's hard not to laugh with glee. He implodes, unravels and starts to work his way through all the alcohol we've bought back from France. I weaken and retract. I can't leave him in this state. He drinks for days. I give in and join him.
Winter 1999: I have a brief affair. I didn't want to do this and I hate myself for it. He's married and it isn't much fun. It's like an experiment to see if I can get rid of my desire for more and prove it's all my fault. I feel like I need to see what it would be like to be with another man and get it out of my system. I bask in the attention and want him to want me. It ultimately feels grubby and deceptive and it fizzles out. I feel lonelier than ever. He drinks more than ever and I spend my evenings watching him passed out on the settee, glad he's not conscious. I also buy his drink for him when he asks, glad of the peace. I go on a work night out and I meet another man and start sleeping with him occasionally. I realise that I'm not as hideous as I've been told that I am. I feel guilty but not that much.
December 2000: I work on New Year's Eve to avoid him. The new millennium begins and I start to panic about how trapped I feel.
Spring 2000: He senses me slipping away and starts to make small efforts, too late. I wish he wouldn't. He buys a car, decorates the spare room and turns it into a book lined study for me. He cuts down on his drinking. He lets me make decisions, finally and we go on holiday to Greece, where we finally crack, fight and spit out our bitterness. When we get back he crashes the car and writes it off and unhurt, he takes to the bed with a bottle of vodka.
Spring 2000: I'm finally leaving him. He takes it badly, drinking all day and not going to work. He refuses to leave the house or sell it, refuses to let me take the dog with me. He cries loud tears, wakes me in the night with kicks and punches, screaming at me. He tells everyone in the local pub how cruel and evil I am. They seem to believe him. I'm frightened but happier. I'm 28, have never lived alone or been single and I'm scared. I imagine I won't cope with looking after myself or with managing money, but surprisingly I do.
June 2001: I have a small flat which I've lived in for 6 months. I've painted it throughout, in colours I like. I'm good at managing my money and have spare cash to buy clothes and books. I left my house with nothing but my clothes and books. I've seen him make three dramatic suicide attempts, each one less serious than the last. I've taken him to Accident and Emergency three times and sat there for hours by the trolley while he sleeps off overdoses. I miss my house and my dog but I don't miss him. He's finally agreed to sell the house, before it was repossessed and it turns out he's spent £18,000 and offset it against the mortgage. We have £10,000 in equity. Stupidly, I didn't realise he could do this without me signing anything and I have to pay the remaining money back myself, as he has no means to do so. It's a small price. I came out alive. He moves away to the coast and I break off all contact and am free. I like my life at last, although it takes me a long time to feel comfortable with myself. I meet a new man and we start to see each other. he struggles to understand how troubled I am at times but supports me. He hates my ex with a passion and can't stand his name mentioned. Neither can I.
I choose not to think about him for 10 years, pushing it all the back of my mind. It's only years later that I feel able to be angry with him. Years of shock waves at the physical and emotional violence that was my life. I don't hate many people, it's not worth the energy, but he's deserving of my contempt. Fully deserving.