I finally left Crazy Tom in the summer of 2001, after nearly four years of increasingly cataclysmic rows, break-up-and-make-ups and eventually, physical violence. After deciding that I couldn't take any more in February 2001, it took me nearly six months to move out.
This was partly because of the difficulty of finding accommodation - I had, literally, nowhere to go, no friends locally to stay with and because I wasn't working full time, no money to afford to rent somewhere. It was also partly because by this stage in the relationship I was so disempowered that I had trouble making even very small decisions.
In early March, I found myself a very small, very dilapidated house that I could afford on my salary, in a village just north of Newport. In a gargantuan effort of will, I decorated it, furnished it and finally, with a wrench, moved in to it.
Then I packed a rucksack, caught a bus to Heathrow and went to Canada to visit some relatives and travel around for three weeks.
When I got back, the house was a haven. Until it was over, I had had no idea how much I dreaded coming home from work each day to Tom, gradually getting more and more tense on the journey, wondering what sort of mood he would be in when I walked through the door. The absolute relief of being able to go in to my own space, shut the door behind me, put the kettle on and sit in blessed peace is almost indescribable. There was no-one shouting. No-one punching walls or doors to demonstrate how angry they were, with the implicit threat that I was lucky it wasn't me being punched. There was no confrontation about what or when to eat, no issues about who to speak to or not to speak to. It was bliss.
Despite the fact that women living alone in the Welsh Valleys seem to be treated with slight suspicion, all my neighbours were lovely. It was odd to have normal conversations with them, about things like cutting the grass (the tiny house had a huge garden) or their geraniums, or how their kids were doing at school. These impersonal, brief interactions were all I had need of for quite a while.
A lot of our mutual friends had difficulty accepting that Tom had been abusive. On the surface, we had maintained a 'normality at all costs' facade. Even when we threw our regular sizeable parties, not one of our visitors had asked why there were fist-sized holes in every door in the house. I went through a period of intense anger at them, feeling let down and abandoned. As time went on it became obvious who was going to stay in touch and who wasn't and my feelings abated.
Gradually I started to interact with people on more than a superficial level again. I stopped treating everyone with suspicion. I stopped blaming myself for letting Tom treat me like that. And eventually, a relationship started to blossom with B, who was a friend I had known for years.
It was a year of change and a year of gained self-knowledge. I learnt that I had the strength to get myself out of a truly dreadful situation - barely, but I did it. And that I had the resources to start to build my life up again.
Blogging For Books #3: Adaptation