(I wrote this poem after lots of conversations with lots of women — it always seems horrifically sad to me that when I mention the work I do with Women’s Aid, nine times out of ten someone will say “Oh, I was in an abusive relationship once” or “I know a woman who experienced that.” Although everyone’s story is different, I feel like one of the repeated, overwhelming feelings is: “I am not who I used to be. I am small now, because I have to be small.” That makes me even sadder, and also v angry. Someone who cares about you should always want you to be your biggest, brightest, strongest, most adventurous self.
Please vist loverespect.co.uk to find out more about what a healthy relationship does and doesn’t look like – and let us know what you think!)
She never wakes up to the sound of alarms
but instead to a buzz, and the hair on her arms
stands on edge as she grabs for the phone by her head.
Her stomach predicts it: he isn’t in bed
‘cause again he can’t sleep. He woke up with a jolt
as he dreamt of her cheating, which of course is her fault.
She was everything-everything yesterday. More.
This morning is different. It’s happened before,
and now some days are better, but some days are worse.
She soothes and placates like a kind children’s nurse.
Begin to untangle – there’s English at ten.
He’s too sad for sixth form. He’ll skip it again,
then he’ll text her: i hate you at ten twenty-five.
He’ll tell her to drop dead as if she’s alive
and in Art class he’ll warn her she’d better lay low,
‘cause Alex Kowalski is there, and we know,
well, that Alex Kowalski wants what’s in her pants.
he likes all your pictures! the angry voice chants.
(In reality, Alex Kowalski is fine.
They talked once last year and he gave out no sign
that he wanted to sleep with her.) ONCE IS ENOUGH!
HE THINKS THAT YOU LIKE HIM! YOU DIDN’T REBUFF!
and so Art class becomes an anxiety hour,
just like all the others he’s managed to sour.
At 4-ish she walks out, head down, at a pace.
He’s waiting — not scheduled, but look at his face:
it says something. yeah, something. yeah, that’s what you did.
She gets in her box and he puts on the lid and
the others are calling; they’re banging the sides.
“We’re here still! We miss you!” They’re lying. Besides
they don’t GET her, he tells her, he knows her the best.
He would tattoo her name now all over his chest
because that’s what real love is. It’s anger and pain.
It’s glass smashed on passion, it’s mutual disdain
for the people who keep on to keep you apart.
It’s knowing that what they see now is the start.
(She had thoughts once, and clarity. Her insides were strong.
He studied them, sneered hard and said you are wrong,
and in daydreams she wonders how life might work out
if one day he begins to do more than just shout:
more than pushes and scratches and throwing the blame.
She hears stories of women who started the same
and she pictures a future with feet in her back.
With cowering children. With walls that will crack.
She eats sadness with cornflakes.
They sit on a shelf,
and he breaks all the things in his way.)
Dinnertime inbox: why would you go home??
but she has to eat sometimes. Now she’s on loan
to her family. One hour is all that she needs.
“Just leave me alone now.” she silently pleads,
“Just give them this evening. They love me as well.”
They see her thumbs-up from the outskirts of Hell
and she looks like his knuckles just after a fight.
“I cannot defend you like this every night.”
He pisses on wishes. He calls thirty times.
He writes her a text message listing her crimes.
When she’s on her own she’ll play back what he’s said,
a papercut chorus inside of her head.
Yet there’s room for more voices – there’s one that can scream.
He says it is nothing. pretend it’s a dream
when she’s with him, but after she’ll hear it half-clear
– like when there’s a POP then a riiiiiiiiing in your ear –
and it tells her “Don’t listen. I know that you know.
If he thinks you are awful, why doesn’t he go?
If you’re ugly and talentless, why stick around?
His effort’s in making you feel like you’ve drowned
and like he is the oxygen. HE ISN’T SHIT.
Stop all your swallowing, give me some spit.
She is in there! I saw her! She breathes out the blue
in sharp flashes. Loud laughter. Short dresses. Big you.”