'And every man that walks through that door, will be compared to you forever more...' (Madonna, Best Friend)
As part of my 'professional development', I attended a course on domestic abuse. Prior to going, I had an idea of what domestic abuse was, but I never really considered myself to be a victim of it. And yet it turns out that I was. For two years. Don't misunderstand me: I realise that my relationship was toxic, damaging and dangerous, but - for whatever reason - I've never evaluated it in terms of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse isn't confined to race or income. And it's not confined to gender or sexuality. In fact, the social worker who led the course said that in her experience, the worst domestic abuse that she has dealt with has been between gay and lesbian couples. When she first said this, I felt defensive and wanted to challenge her, but she quickly answered the questions I wanted to ask: she didn't have statistical proof that this was the case and nor was she saying that same sex couples have a higher propensity of abuse - it's just something that she has encountered on a personal level. I still felt somewhat irked though, but as the course began, I realised that more than anything, she had hit a nerve.
I met my ex when I was vulnerable, although if you'd asked me if I thought that I was vulnerable at the time, I'd have laughed it off. Don't be ridiculous. Me? I'm all right. Nothing wrong with me. I have a great capacity to bounce back from negative situations, even if I do say so myself. Although looking back, I was probably mid-bounce when I met Gary, unknowingly looking for someone to catch me. And catch me he did. A few years earlier, I had lost my Mam and six months later, I got into a relationship with someone - let's call him Twat - who wasn't very nice. He wasn't spectacularly awful, although he could've treated me a lot better than he did. He didn't need to cheat on me, in front of me. When that went belly up, I had to confront a lot of things at the same time: Mam's death, the emotional fragmentation of my family, my sexuality and a bruised, fractured heart. Aged twenty four, I embarked on a two year celibacy stint. It wasn't planned. It just happened. I was too hurt by the actions of Twat to bother with anyone. Wounds needed licking. Mental barriers needed rebuilding and reinforcing. I resolved never to let anyone do that to me again.
And then I met Gary.
It transpires that domestic abuse has five parts to it: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional. It's rooted in control and coercion. Victims are often groomed. They don't realise it's happening until they're in the thick of it. It can be insidious in its nature. It certainly was with Gary. I scored five out of fucking five.
It's only now that I fully appreciate how badly I lost at the mind games he played. I suppose a marker of my ongoing vulnerability - and where I initially went wrong - was how quickly I self-disclosed my past to him. By revealing what had happened to me, I showed him my hand. I told him all that he needed to know. I told him about my Mam dying of cancer. He took my hand and looked me in the eye. He was welling up. He told me that he too had had cancer - testicular - but he'd beat it. I told him about Twat and he revealed that he was currently battling an ex who was seeking to rip him off to the tune of £40,000 - half the profits of the house sale that they had been forced to sell when they split up; a split that was caused by Gary catching his ex cheating. Immediately, I sympathised. I thought that we had a connection. We had been through very similar things - affected by similar circumstances. Or we would have, if he'd not lied. He never had cancer, I later found out. Nor did his ex rip him off. It was the other way around. And so a labyrinth of untruths were set place. Every day for two years, I believed things about Gary that simply weren't true. I wanted to believe him because I loved him. He told me everything I wanted and needed to hear. I had no reason to disbelieve him, although in retrospect, my naivety disgusts me. For a long time, I blamed myself for falling for his bullshit. But I loved him. And like I just said, I had no reason to disbelieve him. I loved him and he loved me and he would never hurt me.
But he did hurt me. Like the time we had a row because I wouldn't buy a round of drinks for him and a group of his friends who had spent all night excluding me from the round when it was their turn. I decided to go home and he announced to his friends that he had also had to go because there was nobody to buy him drinks if I was leaving. I didn't argue with him: I was too angry to talk. When we got home I went to the bedroom. I went to shut the door, but the open window caused it to slam: something I learned never to do. I learned that this was the wrong thing to do because as I went to take my jeans off, he burst into the room, picked up the lamp on the chest of drawers next to him and smashed it over my head. I fell onto the bed and as I rolled over, holding the back of my head, he jumped on top of me - all twenty five stones of him - and laid into me. He punched me, pulled at my hair and then bit my chest so hard that the teeth-mark shaped bruise lasted for four months. I have a lump where he did it. Scar tissue apparently. Whilst he hit me, I laid there, apologising to him and asking him to stop. I couldn't have hit him back because I loved him too much. Sounds pathetic, I know. He then smashed up the flat that I had just spent hundreds of pounds furnishing. But he was going to pay me back as soon as his money came through from his ex.
So why didn't I leave him the following day? Nothing justifies that sort of behaviour, right? You wouldn't put up with that, would you? But when you're in that situation, it's not as clear cut. First off, I couldn't leave. Consider the context before writing me off as a mug. Shortly after meeting him, he had a dispute at work. He told me he was a D-Grade nurse (another lie, I later found out - he was a health care assistant) and after being unfairly harassed at work (another lie), he had lost his temper and walked out (a lie - he was sacked). The only problem was that with his job came his accommodation. And so he was faced with having to move back to his parents house, a seven bedroom house in Sunderland (a lie). He didn't want to go. I didn't want him to go. As he sat there sobbing, I came up with a plan: we would move in together. It seemed like the only solution.
There was a slight problem. My best friend who I lived with, hated him. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are experts at isolating their victim. They require control. Opponents - other loved ones, that is - have to go. Looking back at this, his control was taking effect. He sought to cause a rift between me and my best friend and he succeeded. I'm ashamed of that. And I'm still sorry about that to this day. My only defence is that I loved him. I really loved him. I could see no wrong. My best friend was having none of it, quite rightly, and she was not prepared to live with him. It was for the best: I dread to think what games he would've played had the three of us lived under the same roof. It would not have ended well. So we decided to move in together, elsewhere. The only problem was that he had no job and my name was already on the rent book of another house. He needed a guarantor but couldn't get one - his mum, the only person who could do it for him, was having trouble with the tax man (another lie). He asked if I knew anyone. I did: my other best friend, who hadn't met him, but had only heard good things about him, was prepared to do it for me. For us. So we moved in together. Gary's name was on the tenancy agreement, but my best friend was the guarantor. And that's why I couldn't leave. Because he failed spectacularly to even attempt to get a job. I was paying for everything. Rent, bills, food, drink, nights out (and he loved his nights out), the lot. If I left, I knew what would happen: he wouldn't be able to pay for anything. And my best friend would end up with a huge bill - something that I promised would never happen when he signed the tenancy agreement. Besides, where would I go? Becky, my best friend who I had been living with, had given up the house and had moved on. I had nowhere to go. And I was embarrassed. And I loved him. And I still believed in him. The violence wasn't that common, but it gradually increased. And we did have good times. He used to be able to make me howl with laughter.
Without wanting to labour the point, I loved him. Those feelings overpowered every negative feeling and experience that I had. Like the time when I attempted to leave the flat one night. As I reversed out of the car park, he stood in front of my car, blocking my path whilst holding a breeze block above his head. He once took a knife to me. I can't even remember why. He kicked locked doors off their hinges. If I went out without him, he would text and call me constantly, relentlessly. He took to going out until all hours and when he got home, he would turn the main light on in the bedroom.It didn't matter that I had to go to work and be up at six. If I complained - which I did, he would go ballistic. He once came home with a bucket of greasy chicken and sat there slobbering over it. Before I could get up to go to bed, he - for no reason - threw a piece at me, which hit me straight in the face and ended up on the floor. Then, because it went on the floor, he decided he couldn't eat it and then went bat-shit crazy. Afterwards, he would be apologetic and would blame the drink, which I sadly accepted. He was in control. He knew what to say. Even when he threw a glass at me, which rebounded off my temple and then disintegrated as it hit the wall, I was able to minimise and justify it. I lost most of my friends for a while. He controlled where we went and eventually his embarrassing, pointlessly aggressive behaviour meant that he got barred from our local pub, which was the corner-stone of our social life. I became pretty isolated. In the end, I had him and him alone.
Another reason - probably the main reason by this point - that I couldn't leave, was financial. He was still waiting for the money to come through on the house that he had sold. Until it came through - he and his ex were having a rather long-winded legal battle - he was borrowing from me. Rather extensively. Exhaustively, actually. Not only was I trapped in the flat, he owed me and he owed me big. The flat was furnished on credit - all in my name. His credit rating was shot to pieces and he wasn't earning. Putting it on credit made it easier to keep track of his tab. Or so it seemed. When the money came through, he said he would simply pay it off. And yes, another lie. He bought a car, or rather, I bought him a car. I also put petrol in it weekly, taxed it and insured it. Although insuring it was literally money down the fucking drain as I later found out that he hadn't even passed his test, so if anything happened, they wouldn't have paid out anyway. I paid his half of the rent and all of the bills for the duration of our time living together. Everything he wanted, he got. And he wanted a lot of stuff. Clothes, holidays, very regular nights out, take outs and DVDs on his rare nights in, a 40" flat screen plasma TV, a top of the range computer, phone bills that you wouldn't believe. Two hundred pounds a month were common. He liked expensive furnishings. He had a catch phrase: 'only the best for me.' He would joke, 'what's yours is mine and what is mine is also mine.' Although, I thought he was joking. He meant it. If ever I queried whether he really needed his latest desire, he would sulk - he would sit and radiate negativity until I caved in. Which I did every time.
By the time we finally split, I owed fifty thousand pounds thanks to him. Fifty fucking thousand pounds. I still sit and wonder how he managed it. I would press him about the money from the house and he said he would sort it. I would come home and as I walked through the door, he would be shouting into the phone. Ranting and raving. He would invariably slam the phone down and start cursing his ex. When he finally calmed down, he would tell me that he had been on the phone to his solicitor demanding to know what was happening about the house money. Then one day I came home and he told me that he needed to talk to me. He said that his money was coming through but he had to give it to his mum otherwise she was going to go to prison. I was aghast. It turned out that after his father had died, she had taken over his building firm. She had run the business into the ground and in doing so had fucked up the taxes. She lost her seven bedroom house and had to move into a two bedroom council house. If she didn't pay what she owed, she was going to prison. This, obviously, was utter fiction. She never owned a business, nor had she owned a house, seven bedroom or otherwise. And neither had Gary. He never owned the house with his ex. It was rented. So all along, he allowed me to borrow money, promising to pay it back when money that he knew didn't exist came through.
About a year after we split up, I wrote to his mum and told him what he'd done, knowing that if there was one person he would listen to, it would be his mother. A few days later, I got a call on my mobile phone from a private number. I knew instinctively that it was him. I answered it and was met with a barrage of verbal abuse and threats. Who did I think I was? How dare I tell his mother such things? I told him that I wanted the money he owed me. By this point, I'd lost everything. I lost my house and everything in it. I had to apply for an IVA, a form of insolvency, in order to manage his debts. I was living in a damp bedsit and was working just to pay his debts off. As soon as my monthly outgoings were paid, his creditors took the rest. But because it was all in my name, the debt was mine and mine alone. I sought legal advice and was met with a shrug of the shoulders. He promised to pay me back at fifty quid a month. It didn't touch what I owed, what HE owed, but it was something. Of course, this was a lie. I didn't get anything from him. He also took this opportunity to tell me that he had recently tested HIV positive and also had hepatitis C. As though that made it all right. Again, he was lying. But again, he was controlling me. In the aftermath of splitting up, other people sought me out to find out whether or not things that he had said were true. He had told people that he was dying of brain cancer. He told people that his parents had been killed in the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami. What sort of person does that?
Some of his lies - to me at least - served a purpose. With me, his aim was financial. Although some of what he said was ridiculous: he told me that he had been to America seven times in the year prior to us meeting. A lie. He had travelled the world. A lie. He told me his sister was his twin. A lie. She was several years younger. He told me he owned a jet ski. A lie. He told me that he spelt his name G-A-R-R-Y and even had it tattooed down the inside of his forearm, but when I saw his passport and saw that it only had one R, he told me that he didn't like that way of spelling it and so had changed his name by deed poll from GARY to GARRY. A lie. Equally hilarious and tragic. And to think I believed him. I think he did it because he could. He toyed with me, just to see if I would believe him. He told me all sorts of shit. And I swallowed all of it. I was under his spell.
He ruined me financially. Even though we split up in June 2006, his debt legacy lives on for me and I'll finally be free of it in May next year - eight years after seeing him for the last time. He also damaged me emotionally. But I'm better now, although my bullshit detector is second to none. I used to think that people were my friend until they proved otherwise. These days it's different, which isn't a bad thing I suppose.
I don't often think about him these days, although today I feel as though I've had to confront our shared history and make sense of it. I made terrible choices. There were many dark days in the first few years of the split as I came to terms with the full extent of the lies that he told and the consequences for me. I have no idea where he might be now and what he might be doing and nor do I care. I believe in karma. That's enough.
And some good did eventually come of the relationship. During the ensuing depression, I went out and got hammered one night. Dangerously so. I ended up hospitalising myself: I was that drunk, I cartwheeled down two flights of concrete stairs at Leicester Square tube station, leaving me with a fractured arm, a dislocated shoulder and a gash in my chin that required stitches, I was signed off work for five weeks. And who came to my rescue when I was laying in a bed in a hospital in central London? Becky, my best friend who he sought to drive away.
It was my right arm that I fucked in the fall. I couldn't cook for myself. I couldn't drive. My arm was strapped to my chest, so walking was scary as my balance was off kilter. I could even wipe my arse properly. I needed sleeping tablets (marvellous invention) as the pain would keep me awake. The paramedics who stretchered me out of Leicester Square told me that I was lucky that I hadn't severely damaged myself. They had seen much worse from much less falls. I got some perspective. I jacked in my job in IT and went to Spain for six months, which was amazing. I met someone who I was with for four years, and although it ended, I don't look back in anger. Those four years were an achievement. It was a good relationship. And today, I'm in a job that I love in an entirely different sector and without wanting to sound arrogant, I think I'm pretty good at it. I have published two books. And I've fallen in love with an amazing bloke. We're made for each other. He would never do what Gary did. And I'm grateful for every day. I'm happy. I am where I want to be. And I'm not sure that would be the case if it wasn't for that experience. If it wasn't for Gary. Even though he was a complete cunt.