He was sitting on the roof of the house, like a madman, with no sound reason. I was home, with no place to go. Inside the four walls, of our suburban house lay the comfort of my own bed, mingled with fear and dread, it was better not to be home when he came down. I walked that night, alone in the dark, down the road, around the corner, not knowing where to go, I am afraid of the dark. Somehow though I had strength, hard to explain really, I now know God was always with me, but at the time I wasn’t reaching out.
Exhaustion was easy to find, and I found a building site, one lonely tree stood amidst a mass of rubble. The tree provided protection in the dark from lurking shadows, I remember curling under it and escaping my reality to sleep.
The dread and fear came from previous encounters with the demons that lurk within someone who is consumed with substance abuse, desire and anger. It was 8am, the day offered opportunity but again it was greeted with disdain and fury. I carried on anyway. Getting swept up in being away from him, and being greeted by friends and strangers at work, my optimism was often my downfall.
Night fell, he was not home, a momentary blessing, foolish to not be on guard as sleep crept in, as the day closed. A door slammed far in the distance, footsteps closing in, in an instant I found myself flying with the bed into the wall, then being dragged by my hair into the middle of the room, wardrobe door flung, clothes dumped on top of me, more dragging, not so thankful for hair long, through the hall into the kitchen and out into the driveway. He was strong, I was small, not too difficult, I could feel the kicking but most importantly I felt my car keys being thrown onto me. Always a blessing in the midst of the confusion.
I drove that night to my Mom, she was staying that year with a partner, and there was not really space for me. I slept in a rather large mohair blanket on the floor, it was warm and safe. It was not home though. The next morning I went back.
Judgement clouded by tears of remorse, and endless apologies. Threats and bruises, dark black surreal bruises that hid easily under my clothes. My head was always tender, I was always tired, not a physical tiredness more am internal exhaustion.
I turned 22, I love my birthday I had friends over, I can’t remember who they were exactly or if I ever saw them again. My family came, I think it was a good night, it was no longer relevant.
We remained in the lounge, after everyone had left, he and I and his friend and his friends girlfriend. I remember her, red hair, leopard mini skirt, we would probably never have been friends. They just got up and left the room, left the house, the friend and I followed a few minutes later, walking in the dark to a field at the end of the road. There they were kissing, I had never punched anyone nor have I since but I landed my small fist into his face, it felt good to fight back. I left them there, I don’t remember much of that walk back to the house, but somewhere in the darkness my soul decided it could not continue and my body decided to follow. Entering the house in the darkness I could not find a light switch, but I could find the cupboard where I kept all the medicine. It was too dark to read the bottles and boxes but I could feel the tablets and remove them from the packaging. All I needed was water and my bed. The last thing I remember was wanting to go to sleep and never wake up.
One afternoon, I walked eight kilometres then took a bus to some random hotel, slept for most of the day and night and then took a taxi home at midnight. This was just a normal day.
It was afternoon, I do not remember the circumstance around my second attempt to kill myself. I just remember lying on my bathroom floor clinging to the toilet, feeling as if I should have been dead already, with a will to live even though I thought I may be too late. A trip to casualty after a desperate call to my Mom, proved that I had the strength to go on. There was not going to be an easy way out of this.
We moved house, it was perfect, fireplace in the bedroom, beautiful pool, river running through the garden, a momentary lapse, a romantic delusion. The nightmare continued. every blow to my head, every pinch under the table when we were with friends, every squeeze and twisting of the clothes on my upper arms, ensuring bruises were left but could be hidden, chipped away at my confidence, every word spoken even though I cannot remember them now resonated somewhere in my depths, every time I was punished for sins I had not committed I was filled with self-doubt, and self-loathing. Every day I woke to tears and apologies and remorse, and I pitied him more and more and each day I chose to stay.
One morning my sister called, I was busy having my face ground into my carpet when the phone rang. She offered a lifeline, a place to stay, finally a new home, somewhere else I could go. I packed a bag that Sunday, and did not return for two weeks. There it is, two weeks later I went back and I spent a month with him, trying to help me, help him. At the end of it I was depleted, and I moved in with my beautiful sister, my angel. She is no longer with us, she passed away in 2018 after a heart transplant, I am busy writing her story it intermingles with mine, her life and my life, a story worth telling, but in short she saved me from certain failure, possible death. She was home to me – she will always be home for me.
I remember falling in love at 15, he was like a compliment, beautiful, irresistible. Long walks on the beach, confessions of a future together mingled with plans to run away. My sister and I stayed in caravans in the garden. It was easier to sleep there than listen to all the arguing. When I was sixteen we moved house and he went to the army. He wrote me 90 letters which my parents never gave me, so I was never able to write to him. He was killed that year when the ‘Buffel’ army vehicle, he was in, hit a landmine. He was nineteen. At sixteen grief has no boundaries.
We moved into a bachelor flat, my parents on the sleeper couch, my sister and I on the floor. People are adaptable, we can go from three bedrooms to one bedroom and still keep our sanity, we can tolerate change and we can even fake it and mask the pain. My stepfather confessed his sins over dinner, one evening. Announcing his façade as the perfect husband, arrive home at the same time every evening from work and no one questions what you did in-between leaving and arriving. It was a long year after that, confessions of prostitutes, hypnotherapy admittance of molesting a child,and finally when all options were depleted divorce. I was writing my standard nine exams at the time.
I have moved close to 60 times, maybe more I lost count somewhere along the way. It all started when I was four and a half years old when I went to boarding school after my parents got divorced, but even in the midst of confusion there is stability, and my sister and I both have many happy memories.
2018 was my hardest year, losing my sister after journeying with her for 10 long months prior to her heart transplant has been like losing the best part of myself. The last three years have been a roller coaster of high’s and low’s and life remains bitter- sweet. She lives on with me like a best friend that I carry with me, as I move forward in my new normal.
There is so much to say, so much that still needs to be shared, I have had conversations with God, in which I realise that if we are resilient enough then we can go through it, and I realise that if one person can benefit from my story, my testimony, my experience, my loss, my pain, my grief then it is all worth it, because people need to know that there is hope, and love and above all grace, we need to be the light that shines so that other people believe that there is fullness of life, even in misery and pain and loss.
Today I have a beautiful family, and I focus on being positive. It is important that we as adults remember where we have been, remember that childhood, remember the good and the bad, it is part of who you are today. When you look at young people don’t judge them, they are going through the same stages, you have lived but forgotten. I am definitely not saying live in the past, the past is exactly where it is supposed to be, behind us. Hey after all, we survived it.
I hate it when people tell you, that your experiences have made you stronger. Let’s get real how strong does one person have to be, it is not the fear, the rejection or the pain that has made me a strong woman. it is because I am strong that I have endured, my circumstance has not made me stronger it has made me grateful, it has filled me with empathy and compassion for other people and it has shown me that no matter the circumstances the world can throw at us, we can choose love and happiness, and we can take the bad, and use it to help other people.
Today I am grateful to have a family and friends, and while I am not close to being my perfect self, and I still have days, where I realise that my life is fragile, and I feel like I am clinging on by a thread. But I have a choice, and I choose gratitude.
I choose life.
For someone who has never tried to take theirs, this may seem almost strange, but it is a choice I have had to make When I gave my testimony to 300 women a few years back, someone said to me, “Justine, you can only share your story because you have overcome.”
This really resonated with me, because overcoming is a journey, a process of self- recovery, finding one’s identity, not in others but in oneself, and in our Creator. I have had to learn that I am not defined by other people’s opinions of me, or by the belief system of my parents, or by their circumstance. I understand that I too was a victim, of circumstances as well as bad choices.
I have realised that I need to embrace that, I need to be thankful for all I have endured and all that I have overcome, because there is life and there is purpose, and it is good. We can only help others when we have overcome, and believe me it is a journey. It is a choice, I can remain a victim or I can embrace it and use it to encourage and help others.
All human beings are vibrant and colourful and we are designed to live out a fullness of life. Whether it be for one day or 100 years, we all have a purpose and we are all essential cogs in the wheel of life.
We impact each other, we often only realise the impact of one human being in our lives or the lives of others when they are no longer with us, and often it is in death that new life, new opportunity is created.
I do not believe that we have all become so insular and disconnected that people no longer think that a sense of belonging is important, a knowing that we have a place to go, that we have a purpose.
We did not arrive in the world without an identity, and we definitely should not end it that way. There is home in community, in kindness, in compassion, there is home in being part of humanity.
#Alllivesmatter #shareyourstory #strongwomanmatter #chooselife