Tom - Rage, Violence, Domestic violence
Desi had learnt to distance herself from people, they won’t ask me questions if I avoid them. Being anonymous was her way of maintaining dignity and respect, and that was the way she dropped off young Luke at school in the morning, she would walk through the gate preferring to be nameless and unidentified. She would give him a hug and walk out the same way.
On less fortunate days however, Desi would leave Luke at the corner of the street, and he would walk up the road to the entrance of the school on his own. She would wave from a distance and blow him a kiss and watch him fade among the other children.
The maximum temperature forecast for that Monday morning was 38 degrees with very high humidity, a day she could not bear the claustrophobic feeling of a long shirt sticking to her humid and sweaty skin. That Monday also happened to be one of the days where signs on her body were clearly visible.
Desi gathered Luke’s lunch box and water bottle, she grabbed her bag and picked up her long sleeve shirt, then she loosened her grip on it and left it on the chair. Her husband Tom was at the kitchen table watching her. She could feel his stare on her; she wondered why Tom was still at home and not at work. She took the keys out of her bag and walked out of the house. She arrived at the school gate holding Luke’s hand. She took a deep breath and walked through the gates, this time wanting to be named and identified. Luke squeezed her hand tightly; despite his innocent young age, he was able to pick up on looks of pity. He felt bad and embarrassed for his mother. He held on tight to his mother’s hand. When I’m older I’ll take care of you and daddy. I promise. Young Luke thought.
Desi thoughts were confused as she observed people’s reactions. She felt a lump in her throat and her hands tingle with nerves, like a clown about to enter the arena to entertain people.
“Oh, my goodness Amanda, don’t look; it’s Desi, she is bruised from head to toe.” Chloe brought a hand to her heart.
“There was a rumour around the school that he was violent, but no one had ever seen anything; I guess it’s true then, look at her poor thing.” Chloe said shaking her head. “I think we need to call the police.”
“What if we make the situation worse and he harms her because we went to the police.” Amanda bit her lip as she spoke. I’m late for work. I’ll call you later, Amanda said as she looked at her watch. “Hey Chloe, do you think you have Time to pop in the principal’s office. Best to let him know.”
“Yes, I will. Have a good day Amanda, let’s talk later.”
Chloe watched Desi from a distance. Both her and Amanda had brainstormed what to do but neither thought of going up to Desiree. It was so obvious that on that sticky hot Monday morning Desi didn’t want to cover up, she didn’t want to hide behind her linen shirt. She wanted to talk, she wanted a mother, any mother, to touch her bruises and ask if she was ok, but Desi was entering a space where it was all too scary and confronting for those around her. Words full of genuine concern were thrown around, but those words never reached Dessie’s ears. Dessie wanted to tell them that she had tried to leave him many times, but she had no job, no qualification, no home to go to, and she felt bad to abandon him. She wanted to tell them, that he had never been that violent, but she couldn’t because the once rare acts of violence had now become habits in Dessie’s home.
Tom sat back on his chair with the coffee cup in his hands, the coffee was already cold; his eyes teary upon seeing the shirt on the table. He picked it up and brought it to his nose. It smelled like Desi, like her favourite perfume. He was surprisingly calm despite she did not take her shirt with her to cover up. Last night was a particularly brutal one. He covered his face with the shirt trying to conceal the shame. He sobbed drenching the shirt as he imagined Dessie holding Luke’s hand tightly as she entered the school grounds.
Tom got the car keys and the shirt and got into his car. He drove to the school and parked the car. Work had already called that morning advising that his morning meeting had been cancelled, so he decided not to go in at all. He watched Desi waving goodbye to their son. Luke was beautiful, Dessie was beautiful. The thought of her leaving him was unbearable; she had mentioned it several times already and it made him feel like a pathetic loser.
Although he had never touched Luke, Tom knew he was dragging him under his umbrella of violence, and now Luke was a victim too. Tom knew that Luke would eventually join him in the inherited family tradition of violent acts. Pain and suffering that went from one generation to another.
That thought chilled him. No, my Luke deserves better. He looked at the humiliation he had brought on Desi as she paraded the schoolground with his wrath over her body. He brought a trembling hand to this phone and dialed the number that was so simple to remember, the number he had seen so many times appear during the news bulletin.
A gentle voice answered the phone, ‘Lifeline how can I help you?’
Tom sat back and wondered why he had never dialed 13 11 14 before, it had always been there, tattooed on his hand, so visible, so easy to remember. If only he had dialed it a long time ago, the operator’s gentle voice would’ve soothed his anger and softened the sense of dread. If only…
Tom put his head back on the car seat and smiled after he hung up with the operator; for the first time he felt hopeful that he could change.
As the drop off crowed died away, Tom looked around for Desi, he couldn’t see her, he had totally forgotten about her. He turned on the car and drove for a while, then entered a carpark, extracted his ticked from the machine and parked his car. The automatic doors underneath the EMERGENCY sign opened and a lady smiled.
“How can I help you?”
“I’d like to be admitted. I’m scared I’m going to harm my family and myself. I don’t want to go home.”
The receptionist hesitated for a fraction of a second as numbers and names of people who she should contact flicked through her mind, then she smiled.
“Yes sir, you’ve come to the right place.”
Tom followed the medical staff thinking that he had just lived a sliding door moment. He didn’t know what his intent was when he left the house that morning, but it wasn’t this. Where would I be if the meeting hadn’t been cancelled? Tom knew the answer, he would be at work and after a long stressful day the evening would be a repeat of the day before, until one day it would be no more.
Why had he just seen the tattooed number on his hand now and not before? And what would have happened instead, if he had not dialled that number while waiting in the car for Desi? What if he had not followed Desi to school and saw the humiliation but had just waited at home for her while his anger increased. What would have happened if he had confronted Desi without the calming voice of the lifeline operator?
From the moment his meeting was cancelled, a sliding door moment occurred. Sliding door moments are the everyday moments that make or break your most meaningful relationships. Sliding door moments are not rare, we just don’t look out for them, or we choose to ignore them. Over a length of time, what you’ve ignored will have life-changing consequences.