Walking away from the hospital I was aware of my ex watching me the whole way. Standing there looking as though he was pained, yearning, sad to say good bye. I had seen that stance so many times before, an act for the audience, anyone watching would describe a man in love.
Knowing what he is doing, knowing what he has done, it is remarkable he feels no embarrassment to play a part he burnt so long ago.
Just how, the weeks before he left, he repeated lines word for word from movies to me as though they were his own, here he was playing a part he seemed to forget I had seen before.
His request for me to remain his next of kin swirled around in my mind, it failed to wash away with the suds in the shower the following morning as I realised it was a burden he had placed on me for the duration of his illness.
Leaving the children at school, childcare with friends arranged, dinner cooked ahead of time, beds ready made I made my way back to the place I could not breath. I had no desire to see him vulnerable, playing another part in another plot line. I also had no desire to receive a phone call from surgeons, an emergency decision none of his family making it there to help. As he told me the day before, who knows who would make it, and if it would be the ones he wanted to be there. I had to be able to look our children in the eyes and let them know I did more than I wanted, but all that I could. I had not let his monstrous ways remove my humanity.
On arrival to the hospital I was shown to the family room in the recovery bay, a room filled with silence and memories of the many times I had waited whilst he held our lives in his hands. How would I feel if the person who created so much of our pain ceased to be? How would I feel if I never had to answer a call from the person who had me wishing I never had to breath again? An expanse of solitude stretched in front of me and engulfed me as the hours went by waiting for news of the surgery. Conversations with the children playing in my mind, what would I be having to tell them at the end of it all?
Texts and calls began to arrive on my phone. His sister, no contact for years, no concern for the children as though they were no longer family now her brother had disposed of us. So utterly telling from a woman who claimed she feared him, who he over heard telling me that he was the child no parent in the family cared for. There was was, feeling she now had a reason to ask of me, get information from me of what was happening, claiming it was because she was considering my feelings.
Although when they all arrived in the family room, her considerations towards me did not extend to a civil hello. The woman who sat and expected to be waited on every visit to my home, who sat and critiqued my child rearing despite having no children of her own, who sat and told me repeatedly of how her brothers had all married women who wanted to dupe the family. All except me that is, I was her favourite, until his abuse was too obvious, too exposed to hide.
In a family of a sizable nature it is likely more than one manipulator exists.
A surprise turn of events was his oldest brother. The one they called dangerous, the one they said hated my very being, the one he did not want near our children as he had controlled him and silenced him all his life. Who was then the only one to greet me and thank me for being there despite everything. To behave with what seemed to be a genuine respect that left me dumbfounded. This is the brother my abuser blamed for being how he was, the brother he fought hard to keep me away from.
Sitting in the same room as people who bore witness, who watched as my abuser grew from misunderstood to calculating. People who watched as he went from supposedly shy, to controlling and judgmental. Moments in hospitals years before flooded into my mind. Helping his grandfather with a cramp moments before he passed to then be accused of having done so in case I could inherit something. Standing at the funeral with a new baby acutely aware that my abuser and his siblings were not known to that side of the family, were not truly welcome. The night of his grandfather's death in our B&B room another side to my loving husband unleashed itself, one I spent months recovering from, months where I listened to him and his family accuse me of everything they could.
Sitting in that room I had memories of sitting in a hospital corridor for hours. His father lay dying in a room deep within the walls I was told to sit outside of. Only family were to be in his room, I could not stay at home with the children, my ex was too distraught to drive on his own, too worried to be alone among his siblings, scared of facing this loss without me. Yet leaving our children at home I made my way to the hospital in another part of the country to sit on my own for hours as I was not family. To have his sister scream at me for not crying when she walked out of the room with the news, despite me having heard it hours before, despite the fact I sat thinking of my ex father in laws hands. The hands my then husband used to hold our children, the hands I saw my son splay out as he went to stroke my face.
Sitting there in a room of these people who in the most acute moments had ripped at me, stabbed at me, spat all the venom they could, and here we were several of them behaving as though somehow they were the injured party. Across from me sat a woman, a few years older than my eldest child. Groomed as though on her way to a date, nails and mouth fresh as blood, tapping away at her phone. I had thought she sat waiting for a parent, someone she knew in surgery. Only to be introduced to her by one of the brothers. She put her phone down momentarily and flicked her head at me to then go back to tapping away at her screen. I went back to my thoughts, breathing my way through the waves of lava that washed over my skin. It was not until she left the room and I asked that I was told she was "his girlfriend, or ex- girlfriend or something that did not matter".
Until then I had thought nothing of it, but thinking back it made sense, her utter lack of eye contact, complete disregard, fiddling constantly with a band on her ring finger. So close in age to my daughter I had not recognised the potential for her being the next one to fall pray to him. Telling though was his sister's regard for her, not once did she insist that it was only family as legally I was the only one to fall into that bracket.
What followed was a confusing few hours, little information, a very long time in recovery, and the medical information being intercepted by the new woman in his life. Siblings asking if I had heard anything, a lot of pacing, and me siting breathing thinking of doing nothing without running the children through my head first. I was there for them, to be able to help them process what was to come. The rest, I did not want it, it was nothing to do with me.
As his sister rambled on about his laundry, his upkeep and care I looked her in the eye. Did she really think she could stand there in front of the woman he abused for years, the mother of his children and instruct me with the list of what had to happen? My response was simple " He has her, and he has you, I am for the children". Why did she or his latest squeeze feel I would fight for his colostomy bag? That dear women is all yours.
It did hit me watching them sob over him when he came out, laughing with him about what he had put everyone through as he apologised profusely to everyone, stretching his arm out towards me to hold my hand whilst his other hand remained in his fiancees, another finding during the wait. It hit me how not one of these people, including the father of my son was there as I sat on my own in a room as our son slid into an MRI machine. When his father emailed me to ask the percentage chance it was of any real concern, yet here they all were sobbing over a grown man who would not do the same for his child. Who did not show or believe me when our youngest was in A&E with septicemia. He called days later to ask my son if she had needed any medicine or was it something small.
I had done my duty, to every one and to myself. He was alive, he was as devious as ever, and he had a host of enablers around him. As I stood there his young fiancee rubbing his bare chest, both of them attached by the mouth repeatedly as we all watched I found myself thinking how I had ever seen anything where this shell of a person lay. He asked in front of everyone how the kids were, how their progress at school was, mocked how our son could not possibly being doing well. Laughed at the description of how fast he was growing and the pairs of shoes I was having to purchase. Not once did anyone consider how does this man know nothing about his children.
His fiancee schooled me on my own experience of birthing my children. My body, my children, my labour's, had been something he discussed with her to the point she felt she could correct me on how they were. He sat an laughed. I could describe what I felt only as disgust. At every person who stood there listening, at him for stripping me repeatedly of everything that was mine, re-framing it for his new story, to engage in the next set of lies.
She lent over him adjusting his pillow, looking up at me as she pointed remarked "you look after everyone else, care about others too much, when we get home no more. Now it is about you."
Tears choked me as I could no longer speak, the only thing I wanted was to be home, with my children, to hold them tight, to be far away from the horrid putrid air surrounding him.
As she stepped away looking to watch I did not get to close to him, he looked over at me." I am sorry" he floundered " was there communication issues? I have no idea, I get a feeling something went wrong and it shouldn't have. I have no idea why she is here, I dumped her. I have no idea why she feels she can be here". So strange considering how willingly he was responding to her physically.
As I stepped away from his bedside after telling him his behaviour even in illness was lacking in any respect I was pulled aside by his medical team. For this act I will be forever grateful. Until now every person in authority has always been swayed by the privileged White male act he portrays, the charm, the bumbling ineptitude.
Yet here I was having spent two days in his vicinity, emerged in the quagmire of what he brings with him, and they saw him. They saw the game with next of kin details, they saw the young woman child beside him who was intercepting important medical information, they saw the cold sister.
"You are young, you are intelligent and you are free, go, and don't look back". Those words sent me reeling, someone had seen, the patterns had become clearer to others, and I knew then I no longer had to worry about feeling guilt, wondering if I should be doing more, placing myself in a position of undoing so many years of work.
Those words, "Go, don't look back" helped me as I sped home, not once looking back. Home to the children where I sat and explained the events of the past few days, as I held them for fear of them feeling lost. Knowing then that we were solid, he will pull out his stunts, he will throw grenades at us whenever possible, but we had inner peace.
We are far away from him and the pain he brings, within our walls and in our sleep, he can no longer seep into us.