I started to feel myself falling down the rabbit hole when my sister played me the tapes the police had given her of the interview with her ex after he had been arrested for assault. They asked him (the next day when he was sober) what he was thinking when he attacked her with a hammer, pinning her to the floor, drawing blood, as she begged and begged him to stop. ‘I was glad I was hurting her,’ he said. ‘For a brief moment I thought I might kill her.’
His tone was so dispassionate, so cold that I had to rush into the bathroom and splash water over my face. ‘I had a lucky escape,’ my sister said.
It’s hard to explain what goes through your mind when you realise a family member was in so much danger she could have died at the hands of a man who professed to love her. Your mind almost goes silent, as if it is having trouble processing the information. You feel a little bit like you are burning slowly from the feet up, but it doesn’t hurt, you just turn to ash.
A lucky escape. I thought so too until my Mum rang me in a panic on Friday afternoon saying that the ex was in my sister’s house and had stayed the night. My Mum had gone round to see my sister and was shocked to find Oliver ensconced in the living room watching the midday movie. She thinks it was ‘The Wedding Singer’ but she couldn’t be sure because all she could focus on was the empty beer bottles on the coffee table.
‘We’re just talking,’ Millie said. ‘We need to sort out our finances. Don’t worry, it’s not like we’re getting back together or anything.’
My Mum remained unconvinced. Yes, my sister and her ex need to sort out their finances but that doesn’t include him staying over and drinking a six-pack of beer by noon. Millie convinced Mum to leave, that everything was all right, but a pall had been cast over the day that couldn’t be shifted.
How quickly some people can bring themselves to travel over the same old ground. How willingly some people will thrust themselves into situations they know will end in tears. How hard it can be to kill off old habits for good.
Loneliness. A word coloured grey, etched with grief and pity. A word my sister fears more than any other. I fear it too when it applies to her. She embraces it, enshrouds herself in it. I think of her on dark nights when a sudden wind changes your point of view, moving from being alone with her little dog, her books, her pianos, to being immersed in loneliness. And wanting to break free.
I know what she is thinking – that Oliver has sensed the depth of her loneliness, that he has come to save her from it, that he has changed, knocking on her door in the middle of the night when she was beginning to wonder if her loneliness would go on forever. I wonder if that small part of her that can recall the horror of the police tapes is fighting with the part that can only remember the loneliness. I fear that the part which will destroy her will win.
She has told us to stay away. That she is sorting things out. We have called the police but they have told us if she has willingly let her ex in, then there is nothing they can do.
So we wait. Again. Sick of it. Hoping she will come to her senses, walking in the garden at so frantic a pace that every fallen twig is turned to dust. Every time a cloud covers the sun we bow our heads and cry just a little, recovering ourselves when the light breaks through.
We feel like Alice, curious in a perverse kind of way to see how it all ends, searching for rabbit holes to fall into, a door to a world where the way things seem are not the way they are. How nice that would be – to live in a world where greatest fears are never realised. But alas, for many of us, that type of world remains nothing but a dream.