When you start a new relationship everything is a risk. The whole escapade is riddled with uncertainty, but nothing is more risky than moving in with him.
Nothing is more guaranteed to peel safety away from you than surrendering your own flat - that place where you can bolt the door on the rest of the world. It's frightening to feel the comforting walls dissolve around you as you pack up your stuff and move into his flat. He's no longer just your boyfriend, he is now your landlord.
You feel his new power when he says you have to pay rent to him in person. On the 28th of each month, doff your cap, and place the money neatly in the landlord's hand. You argue it'd be easier to set up a standing order but no, the master says, you can't trust banks these days so hand it to me. Just leave it on the kitchen table. Just put it on the window sill. Just do what I say.
The household bills are addressed to him, and only to him. Why go to the fuss of getting your name added? Do you want to spend 40 minutes on the phone sorting that out? He reads the bills to himself and then names a random amount as your contribution. You made a lot of phone calls this month. Who were you phoning? Give me £25, £43.50, £17. Who were you phoning, anyway? Put it on the window sill for me. Who were you phoning?
Domestic abuse can start off slow.
Some argue for a law where the police will tell a woman if her new partner has a history of violence, but I feel this would infantilise women: the dopey girl can't pick a decent man, here she goes again with another one, we'd better chip in with a word of warning because she can't make decisions for herself.
Besides being patronising, such a law doesn't take into account love. If a policeman had tapped me on the shoulder in my first few delirious months with this man, telling me he was a criminal or a thief, it wouldn't have stopped me. Because love was in the way, jarring and inconvenient and stubborn as hell.
It was love which kept me with this man who carried a bike chain on him but didn't own a bike.
And it was this same love that saw me flinching at the sound of his key in the lock. It was this love which made me bounce up from the sofa and switch the TV off when he got home just in case it annoyed him. And it was love which made me go back to him after he throttled me in the hallway. I had almost made it to the front door, that day, and out into safety, but the door had been locked and the key removed, so I was trapped whilst he came roaring down the hall toward me, pinning me against the wallpaper, heaving me up onto tiptoe.
It was so strange to be gripped by the throat like that; it was like the tide had rushed out, leaving me on an absolutely still and silent beach where the only thought which existed was the need to get his thumb off my windpipe.
I finally got out of the flat and sat up all night with my sister. I cried so hard I had mascara ingrained in the soft skin under my eyes which wouldn't budge for days.
And I shook my head when I was told this was domestic abuse. I wasn't punched or slapped or kicked into the corner, was I? Just a little bit of grabbing round the throat. Domestic abuse lite. Besides which, that only happens to poor people, to drunk people, to people in films. Not me, oh please not me because if I look it square in the face, and admit what it is, then I'll have to do something and I can't 'do something' because all the life has leaked out of me in tears.
I left the safety of my sister's house and went back because of sad, tired old love.
We agreed to meet in the Botanic Gardens, on the Ha'Penny Bridge. I met him, dragging my heels, worn and exhausted. He presented me with a DVD called The Day After which I had wanted for ages. He didn't refer to the attack in the hall and I was glad of this omission as I knew he'd play it down, say it wasn't as I remembered, that I was exaggerating and I couldn't bear to see him lie. I could live with being afraid of him but I couldn't live with him lying and making himself small.
We went home in silence, my gift in its HMV carrier bag, my neck still tender and my eyes still grey.
So love made me go back to him. Love which made me take this awful risk. Love had planted its feet in my chest, folded its arms, shook its head and refused to budge. And it wasn't till cold common sense kicked in that I managed to leave.
For soon enough, he went back to growling and sulking and the air in the flat smoked with tension. I flinched if I clattered my Simpsons mug too loud on the table.
One morning I went back to the Botanics and picked a bunch of flowers for him. Now why? Why would anyone pick flowers for a man? How pathetic! But I did, hoping he'd soften at the gesture. It was whilst I was amongst the wet grass, bending to pick the flowers, that my fuzzy mind snapped open and the chill air of common sense rushed in. I saw myself, picking posies like some daft Disney Princess and I was embarrassed. Begging and bowing and scratching just to get a smile from him.
I threw the damp flowers in a bin and went up to the university to see if I could get a flat in student halls. The nice lady in the accommodation office explained that they couldn't give me anything as it was June but I could be placed in a hostel till September. Placed in a hostel. I apologised, got up from the chair, and was out of the office before the tears started.
The Gothic vastness of my university couldn't shelter me and I had nowhere else to go so I did something weak and childish: I phoned my dad. I sat in the park and told him everything, including the throttling incident. Dad was ready to pile into a taxi and 'come up the west end and do him in' but I said no, just please help me find somewhere to live. Dad, you know everyone! You must know of a flat. Anything where I can breathe. Anything that isn't a hostel.
Within a month, I was safe and free. My dad's friend was moving to Nottingham and rented his flat to me. As I was my dad's daughter, he'd didn't require a deposit and only asked me to cover the monthly mortgage payment - £240 - so I was able to afford it on my student loan and part-time call centre income.
So, common sense, the humiliating image of myself picking posies in the park, and an affordable flat - all these things had to align before I could get the courage and the will to leave.
Virginia Woolf said a woman needs money and a room of one's own if she is to write, but we also need it for more fundamental reasons, Virginia, like making sure our necks aren't stretched.
So it was a risk, to live with him, and there's no way it could have been otherwise. When any person cedes their own place to live in anothers, it's a risk. They glide ahead of you, just slightly, and acquire power over you. And when one person says 'I love you', that too is a terrible risk as they're cutting their chest open and inviting you to shove a vinegar-dipped knife right in there.
There is no protection on this earth where love - and the power it brings - is involved, but you still have to take the risk. I suppose the measure of the person is in what they do with that power.
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