White Ribbon Day, 2015


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Today is White Ribbon Day and a plethora of emotions rise to the surface, as do memories. I recall when I was living in a small town, there was a single mum of three little girls. She had been subjected to much violence, and was now starting again. She owned her own business, and she and the girls were finally happy. Her ex-husband starting drinking more, which fuelled his aggression. He was verbally aggressive on the phone and in person, when she dropped the girls to the designated meeting spot for access visits. This lady was a fey-like creature, huge orbital eyes, tiny with long golden hair, and it would break my heart when she recalled the nights of violence she had endured. He was a mountain of a man. I was at her place when he rang one evening, slurring his words. I heard him promise to shoot her when she dropped the girls off in the car park of a fast-food restaurant. He did indeed own a rifle. She had the hide to start her own business and offer her children safety and security. I insisted that I go in her place. It wasn’t an offer, but an order. She was terrified that if she didn’t obey the court order, he would come after her and the courts would again punish her. I got out of the car with the girls, and he appeared startled to see me. This bear of a man was frightened! I nervously offered forth commentary on the weather, and other inane subjects. I got back in the car and my clenched hands were dripping with sweat.

I have had knocks at my door at night, and my home has offered refuge to mums and their kids. One dear lady came by with her little boys, having caught a bus from her house. She had been shoved and she had been hit. I took photos of her bruises. When she went to the bathroom, her seven-year old whispered to me, “he yells all the time.” I drew him close to me, desperate to vanquish this hell from their precious lives.

I have had women come visiting, and delight in keeping me company for ten hours straight whilst I tended the routine chores of everyday life. They have simply not wanted to go home, fearing what may happen. Imagine getting into trouble for talking to a barista at the café, for not having dinner on the table. Imagine flinching when there is silence, and at the screaming to come. Imagine having to deal with rage, not knowing what shall set it off from one day to the next. Imagine being left without money. This heartbreaking pictorial appeared this morning, and I sat and reflected for a while, both on the sketches and also on the description of the women therein. It is up to us all as a society, to be vigilant and to be vocal. It is my dearest wish that the next generation don’t have to be termed ‘survivors,’ for they won’t have any horror to survive.

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Wedding Expos and Cults


I am surrounded by Nicci's cakes!

A friend had a stand at a wedding expo and asked if I could give her a hand. Now I know nothing about wedding expos, other than that they have never been my cup of tea. I can’t even stand trying on clothes or shoes before buying them!  My idea of a heavenly wedding would be to grab a colourful dress and shoes, and quickly organize  flowers and a bespoke cake and voila! My friend is a baker and makes the most beautiful cakes imaginable. Rather than using fondant, she uses organic and locally sourced produce, such as honey, berries and flowers. She makes her cakes affordable, and also does baked donuts, created with coconut oil.

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I offered cake tastings to prospective brides and their families. I met scores of radiant couples, their parents and friends proudly by their sides. I thought it may be confronting, to see a way of being that I hadn’t experienced. Instead, it filled my heart. I am glad that some young women and men have this sense of belonging and security, I really am. There was only one occasion where I felt like pleading with the bloke to do a runner. “I plan on being the biggest bitch,” a bride smirked, promising to be a horror in the lead up to her wedding. Her mother laughed delightedly at the prospect.

I bumped into  an old acquaintance and she asked if I had seen a mutual friend. “No, I haven’t,” I replied. “She became a real hermit,” the woman replied. “I think the disconnect was caused by the  cult she belongs to… Remember all the crap  they taught? She used to go to all their classes,” I said. I went into quite the diatribe about this silly cult with its silly teachings, and how I worried about this friend. The woman paused and then said quite sternly, “I still attend all their classes.” Oops! At least she wont be pushing their teachings onto me!

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I have attended a wedding expo now. It wasn’t as grim as I feared. Far from it. I saw young women about to be married for the first time, and older ladies who had found their true love at last. It was a local expo, filled with local characters. Quite the organic day, really. It wasn’t about grandiose displays; rather the couples were seeking  symbols to represent who they are as individuals and who they shall be when married. I wish them all well, particularly the fellow marrying the bridezilla!

Ten Ways to Help Yourself During a Flashback


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Many people in my circle would probably be surprised to know that I have PTSD. They would be surprised at its ferocity and how hard I have had to work to have a semblance of normality. It hasn’t been easy! There was years of involuntary shaking when the telephone rang or someone knocked at the door. I would have to talk myself into venturing to the letterbox. I rarely went out alone. I can suffer flashbacks pretty easily, especially in social settings. You are out of your comfort zone and when a “red zone” topic comes up in conversation, I can literally feel my body tense and my brain react. I will sometimes feel welded to the seat, unable to move and get away. Sometimes I look placid and I smile. I have covered up my terror with gulps of wine, but when I get home, the horror hits. It can take weeks to get my equilibrium back. When a group of people start talking about the horror in the news and such, I usually think “there goes two weeks of sleep.”
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I began to think that there had to be a better way than to nurse a flute of champagne (well, actually several), to take away my discomfort. There had to be a better way than to stay glued to my seat, listening to horrifying opinions on deeply upsetting topics.
Here is how I cope.
1. Remembering that I am here, not there. I have a little piece of paper that I pull out of my purse. You are here, not there, it reads. I find it deeply assuring when I am feeling myself pulled back into the trauma of the past.


2. I will immediately excuse myself. Whether that be from a conversation or a shop where music is being played that reminds me of the past. I will find a quiet area (usually the bathroom), and concentrate on my breathing.


3. I will watch my diet. Grabbing crackers and dips at a party will not do. A balanced diet is necessary. When I was at my worst, it was found I wasn’t absorbing B12 and needed shots. The difference was quite incredible. Bananas and other foods high in the amino acid Tryptophan are also helpful.


4. I am allowed to state that I am uncomfortable. If the people are unaware, I am allowed to state what my past looked like.


5. I need to have adequate rest. The PTSD (which involves nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks), escalates if I am rushing from one thing to another.


6. On certain dates, I need space. I wont commit to anything on the anniversary of my fall, for instance. It is a time of reflection, grief and also celebration that I survived. It is a deeply personal time.


7. I take a bottle of Rescue Remedy and lavender essential oil with me in my bag. The act of sniffing them -or putting the Rescue Remedy on my tongue- snaps me back to the present.


8. I carry a photo of my daughter with me and take it out and look at her smiling face. The joy contained in the picture helps me to centre. It could be a picture of a pet. Whatever helps you.


9. I wont over-imbibe. The crash that comes afterward emotionally is devastating.


10. I can leave. Wow! I now give myself permission to leave! If the vibe is going South and the conversation is awful, I can leave.

It is a hard thing to live with. Sometimes the past can seem clearer than now. Every detail is etched into my memory, and doesn’t fade with time. Sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste can take me back. No wonder it happens a fair bit! The most important thing is that I show myself kindness. I need regular time to myself to process what I am feeling, and what I have heard. In a week, people can talk about murder, sexual abuse, child abduction, and crime movies/novels many times over. It sticks to my skin, like they have gone mad with a labeller. I go out to nature and breathe. I need silence to oppose the noise in my mind.

I had an experience the other day, whilst visiting a school on the other side of our city. I saw a lady sitting by herself. Her eyes showed abject terror, her body language stiff and self-protective. She was waiting to pick up her kids. I sat with her, and we started talking. She talked about a man from her childhood, a member of her family. “He was too friendly,” she whispered. Her eyes met mine. She knew I knew and I knew that she knew that I knew. I told her how sorry I was. So very sorry. I hope she is treated kindly in her adult life. You don’t “get over” some experiences, but you can live beautifully despite them.

The Old Guard


The Old Guard is going down. The paradigm is finally shifting. I remember a time when harassment was put down to “having a joke.” I recall a time when domestic abuse was laughed off. It was not that long ago. I recall a friend’s uncle making lurid suggestions to me at a sleepover at her home when I was eleven. I recall the grown men thinking that certain commentary was okay.

Years ago,  I had a neighbour who was in his sixties. He didn’t give me a good feeling upon meeting him. By meeting him, I mean he peered over the fence at me, and always seemed to be loitering. He studied my visitors, and a conversation outside was never private. He had  a weather-beaten face, loved a drink, and chain-smoked. I invited he and his wife in for a meal to break the ice. He drank beer and mumbled. When he went outside to smoke, his wife confided that their marriage hadn’t been a barrel of laughs. She talked of his violence, of his erratic behaviour with money, his unpredictability. He was what one could call a larrikin in the Australian vernacular. He never called his wife by her name, rather she was “the missus.” She was a bundle of frayed nerves.

The thing I have noted about these men are that they take up space. They want more than their share. He introduced  a dog to their small yard. This breed of dog is designed to work on farms. It grew insane prowling their small  yard and barked day and night.  We tried talking to him, suggesting he may walk the dog, get him some exercise. He couldn’t have cared less. He used his power tools day and night, taking up every inch of space he was entitled to. He tinkered right on the fence line. Other men in the neighbourhood visited him, smoking and drinking out the front. “A good bloke.” A good bloke alright.

John Singleton has been in the news this week. He threatened a friend over lunch with the stem of a wine glass. He then joked about domestic violence. The next day, he said they were just mucking around. Yes, it is hysterically funny. It is wondrous to witness the woman next door with her anxious voice continually wringing her hands due to anxiety. It is wondrous to hear him bellowing at her, and prowling around like he is a grand old General. The old guard is leaving the building, and  fellows who respect  women and children are coming in. “Flirting” with children is out, as is mocking domestic violence. Sexual innuendos and commentary aren’t laughed off. To my mind larrikins are good men with a cheerful spirit and sense of adventure. They are not the above. Not any more. Thank God.

White Ribbon Day, 2014.


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Today is White Ribbon Day. I was planning on going to a function today, but instead I am in bed, in agony. I took my daughter to a Katy Perry concert last night, and the only tickets I could get were in General Admission. I stood for several hours, yet it was necessary. This lady leant my daughter the encouragement to find her voice, not only as a singer but as a little girl. I had to take her. There was no option.I am not in agony because of the concert. I am in agony because I was thrown off a building at fifteen. I have known violence. I have a scar running the length of my left index finger. I have never had (nor will I), a knife block in my kitchen. These were weapons, not cooking implements. As a matter of fact,  I have no sharp knives.

Katy Perry's Prism Tour
Katy Perry’s Prism Tour

Today I raise a toast to all the beautiful girls and women I have known. Here’s to those who rapped on my door, children in tow. Here’s to those who bravely let me photograph their bruises and cuts. Here’s to those who released  the contents of the fetid garbage they were trying to contain behind closed doors. Here’s to those too ashamed to let anyone know what was going on. I understand. Here’s to those who did. I think of those who tried to defend their abuser, as the truth at that time was too horrible to bear. I commend you on facing the agonizing truth; that he wouldn’t change and you had to leave. I am honoured to have my story told in White Ribbon Writing 2014, under the title, A Scarred Butterfly. This e-book is available from Amazon and all proceeds go to the White Ribbon Foundation. I am so proud of the White Ribbon Foundation. Their sponsors, Suzanne Grae, dressed me for my book launch, an ambassador spoke with heartfelt passion in front of the guests, and more people are taking the pledge to stamp out violence against women each day. There is no more hiding. No more excuses. It has to stop, and we are the one’s to do it.

White Ribbon Writing, 2014
White Ribbon Writing, 2014

 

 

Why I am a Feminist.


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I have been alarmed (more like horrified), at how many young women dismiss feminism. “We don’t need it anymore!” Some give reference to the early 70’s and are convinced that things are different now. Really? Really?! Off the top of my head, here are some reasons why I am a feminist. I grew up in Sydney, in a little town (now quite big), about thirty minutes from the city. I grew up around folks you would find gathered in any town. I am in my thirties. Now here is why I am a feminist.  My appearance was commented on from the time I was tiny. I don’t mean as in “you are a beautiful little girl.”  Rather, “you will be a heartbreaker. Sexy little thing…You will be daddy’s secretary one day.” My appearance as a girl wasn’t part of the package of who I was as an entity. Rather it was isolated as being the sum of me. There was no “you have lovely blue eyes, the hue of the ocean,” the commentary was obscene and made me feel ashamed. All this before starting kindergarten!

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I was exposed to pornography, chilled that this was what women were worth to some men. What a thing to look forward to as I grew! I was made to feel ashamed by being in swimmers or shorts in an Australian summer. If a man made a lurid comment at the local pools, I was to blame, not he. I was threatened at my local shopping centre, on more than one occasion. Walking back from the toilets, a local boy and his gang pinned me against the wall and I hit out wildly to escape. I was threatened walking down the street, and became used to being in a hyper-vigilant state.
Girls were referred to as hoes or bitches, and treated as such. Some were sadly immune and accepted the labelling. My first surgeon said that I could still be a wife and mother after sustaining injuries from male violence, not something I wanted to hear at fifteen after so much trauma. Even now, it makes me livid hearing children referred to as looking ‘cheap’ because they wear certain clothing. Children are never cheap, nor are young women. They are seeking identity and a sense of individual style. The manufacturers and those that demean them are cheap.There wasn’t a time when I didn’t feel threatened. I was a young girl on the train, going on an adventure with friends. A young guy (sometimes older), would often press up to me, stand over me, grope me. I felt rage every day at my pruning. It happened with makeup or without and was independent of what I happened to be wearing. It happened because I was a girl, and they were seeking control. I had to be ready to fight as the threat of harassment and worse accompanied me every day of my life.

I was sent to a private clinic at 14 years of age, as way of punishment by my father. The men wasted no time. I endured listening to them bet on who would “get me” as they sipped their coffee in the café. I was fodder, not a person. On one occasion, I slapped a male nurse, who sidled up and pinched me, whilst whispering a lurid suggestion. Contrary to popular belief, I was a person, not a thing. I had a wide vocabulary and love of science and the arts, and was a voracious reader. I was reduced to being a “little blonde.” When the man who later threw me off the building disobeyed his restraining order, he scoffed, “I showed my lawyer a picture of you, and he told me to go for it.” Told him to go for it. This wasn’t in another era. This was recent history! The court case eventuated, and I was treated as a slut. I was degraded yet again. My being on the pill for severe endometriosis was questioned. Everything was questioned. My mother was more devastated at the ravages surgery inflicted on my body-the scars seared into my flesh- than at the psychic wounds I carried.

If one survives the teenage years, there is more pressure to be found in your twenties. Pressure to look the part at work, pressure to have a family. I discovered that women with fertility problems have to fight a bloody battle to get to see the right doctors and then embark on a brutal drug regime. Every person and their dog sees fit to enquire as to when you plan to have children, as though one isn’t a whole woman without a child. The most personal and sensitive of questions is brought up on a daily basis. I had my daughter, but then the probing into having more kids started. The pressure and judgements were felt continually. Pressure to be a certain weight, dress appropriately, women judging women, whilst men look on. I am angry. Angry that our government doesn’t adequately assist women who have a child get back into the workforce. Angry at the condescending attitudes. Angry that working mums are judged, stay at home mums are judged, single mums are judged and single women are judged. Women in general are judged.
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I am determined that my cheeky, impudent, artistic child can be anything she wants. I took her to see an elaborate display last Christmas. A church had crafted a village to represent old Jerusalem, complete with shepherds, bakers and craftsmen. On the way out, a Roman Soldier stood at the gateway, and demanded my daughter give a gold coin, or he wouldn’t let her pass. He had an arm over the exit, blocking her. “Then what will you do?” this burly man mocked. I was taken aback. She had gone ahead, so was alone at the exit and he was standing over her, close. I don’t believe he had any idea how intimidating it appeared. My seven year old looked up, smiled sweetly, and replied in a strong voice, “I will kick you between your legs if you don’t let me through.” I took her little hand and made a quick getaway. I had always been told to be polite to adults, especially men, and never make waves. Here was my seven year old, feeling able to stand up for herself, knowing she was safe to do so, knowing that this grown man was out of line. I thought about her quick response, and felt immense pride. She thought on her feet, standing her ground against a man. Immense pride. We need to watch what we say to our young girls. Enough with the commentary on their build, their hair, their appearance. Let’s hear more “your eyes carry the depth of the ocean, and your mind holds a library of wisdom.” Being a feminist doesn’t entail hating men, not at all. It means holding yourself in esteem. As long as there is a disparity in pay, the extraordinary emphasis on appearance, the condescending attitudes and violence, feminism must be a revered state.
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24 Hours


Yesterday I woke up feeling ill. My specialist has put me on a new medication, and I know I have to give myself time to adjust. It was bitterly cold and the sky was grey. Someone had smeared the sky with charcoal. My stomach was distended as the endometriosis grew, fed by this new drug, which I need. “Look at the big picture, Raphie,” I urged. Always look at the big picture. I felt the urge to scream from the pain, and the desire to clean and discard. I did both. Why the hell do we keep the things we do? Old numbers on scraps of paper, old ways of being. I put an angel who had lost her wings into the pile of donations. I had stored my maternity clothes in a special drawer. I looked at them, and wondered why I had held on so long. My subconscious must surely have been seared every time I went past that drawer, even if I was unaware. As I washed up, I exhaled heavily. A burden had been lifted. I then heard the ‘snap’ of my spine as I was dragged along the ground after my fall. It was as distinct as though it were happening then and there. “Oh my God!” I cried, bursting into tears. I sat with the memory a while. I assured myself that it was natural to have events, sounds, smells and more clamour to the forefront on the anniversary. On White Ribbon Night.

After school pickup, a friend popped in. She hugged me, and said how sorry she was that today was “the day.” It meant the world to have it acknowledged. This lady knows all about “those days.” The pain ramped up, and I was in a holding pattern of agony, fevers and chills. There was to be a meeting of gentle souls around the corner that evening, and I determined that I would go. I didn’t want to be home with my memories. The hostess is a vegan, and she had made this delicious main meal.

Tofu and nuts.
Tofu and nuts.

We laughed and talked about foster kids, homelessness, travelling, art and beauty. We sipped coconut water and made sure room was saved for this.
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I didn’t stay late, and I gave my gorgeous friend a tight hug and thanked her. My mind had been summoned to wondrous places, leaving that dark building on a winter’s night. The pain was softened by the graciousness of a nourishing meal and a room full of good people. I went home and hugged my little girl, smoothing her tendrils of honeyed hair. “May your world be markedly different, my darling.”

Celebration, Sorrow, Gratitude and Everything in Between.


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On this day, and on this hour, almost two decades ago, I was being bustled into a car, my head pushed down. I felt the cessation of life as I understood it. An event out of my control was going to slap me hard, and I would fall to my knees. Today is the anniversary of my being kidnapped. The bitter cold always reminds me, before I acknowledge the date. It was so cold… Life inside the old hospital-where I neither belonged nor felt at home- was contracting in. Within a few hours, the large ward and long staircases were replaced by a tiny bedsit, bars on the sealed windows. A butterfly already held in a glass jar was having her wings pinched by tweezers. Pins were about to be put in.

Tomorrow heralds the night I fell. I couldn’t fly, as my wings were pinned down. “I am embarking on the last adventure,” I reassured myself when my pleading was ignored. “This bastard has merely sped up my departure by sixty or so years. God speed to you, kiddo!” He hated the bemused smirk which spread across my face. I was holding my own. He hadn’t taken my power. He had tortured me in every way possible for several months, day in and out, but he couldn’t take my spirit. I was terrified, but even as I acknowledged my fear of heights, of pain and death, I kept my own counsel. July 25th is White Ribbon Night. I will commemorate those I have lost to violence. I will celebrate survival and hug my little girl. I will be haunted by memories and recall what it felt like to have soft rain tap my face on the way to the Catscan machine the morning of the 26th. I wept and I smiled. It is possible to have great sorrow and great joy coursing through your body at the same time. There is nothing like the anniversary of your kidnapping and attempted murder to inspire both. If you see me over the next few days, I will be the wild creature hugging everyone and throwing back her head in laughter. I will be the sorrowful girl keeping her own counsel and shedding private tears. I am both, and that’s okay.
http://www.whiteribbon.org.au

DV


The hidden, silent epidemic, wounding our children, scarring families and killing partners. We see the end result on television, and picture the scene we have once viewed in a movie. The partner arrives home, after visiting the pub, his dinner is set down in front of him. “What’s this muck?” he yells, before throwing the plate at the wall. The kids are feuding in the background, after a tiff breaks out over whose turn it was on the Wii. The tension carries on into the night, wherein the police are called by the neighbours. She has a black eye. He is contrite, the children solemn. Formulaic. The picture is quite different most times. The man or woman once met a delightful human being in their love interest. They are confident without being proud, attentive without being cloying. Overtures of warmth and tokens of love are reciprocated. Nobody falls in love with an abuser. There is no sign of what is to come, as the appropriate buttons aren’t being pressed. The monster within can be contained in the early flushes of romance. Add pregnancy, uncertain employment, redundancy, illness, children and a host of other life events into the mix, and those buttons are well and truly pressed. Whilst some couples endure and flourish, some men or women revert to their inherent factory settings. Nobody is more stunned than you.

Financial abuse often occurs,consisting of sabotaging everything from holiday plans, housing, courses, and anything that you derive pleasure from or will advance you. It will all be falling into place, when whoosh, the money isn’t available. You will be given an allowance of your partners deciding. Opportunities are limited. Emotional abuse doesn’t just consist of verbal aggression, but also of deathly silence. You are never praised. Never told how loved you are. That is another sort of loneliness. Frustrated at their own lives, and never taking responsibility for everything from a fine to being sacked (they are always the victim), they take it out on their loved ones. Untapped wells of anger and immature emotional responses come to the fore. Their livers are drowning in a tumult of rage- Chinese herbalists believe this is where anger is stored. So, they take drugs, and hit the bottle, inflaming it even more. You don’t know where your partner has gone, or how it has come to this. The roots are insidious, the tendrils taking hold over time. A shove when you want to discuss a bill just arrived in the mail, an intolerance to the kids and their natural noise. A deathly glare. Suddenly, you can’t do anything right. The house isn’t clean enough, your appearance not up to standard. You keep silent about how your household has tilted at a  peculiar angle, because you don’t know how to voice what is occurring. A grumpy partner; hasn’t everyone endured that at some stage? There are no black eyes, yet.

As the boundaries are stretched, and you are drip-fed abuse every day, they become more arrogant, and angrier. People ask if everything is okay, as your husband drinks copiously, and avoids you at a friend’s BBQ. You defend him. He is hard-working, just under stress. You don’t want people’s esteem of your partner to be altered irretrievably. He is after all, the father of your kids. As you start to avoid people and feel more isolated, it reaches its crescendo. This is often years later. The police are called, and plead with you to make a statement to have him charged. You react with fear. You are defensive. You are suffering Stockholm syndrome, where you have become enmeshed with your captor. You only recall the gentle side, the human side of your spouse. To come to grips with who they have become would break you. http://counsellingresource.com/lib/therapy/self-help/stockholm/There is no turning back from that realization and you aren’t quite ready. When the spell is broken, you need all the support you can from friends and family. To start anew and rebuild a life that has been stripped back to the bare bones, takes time and care. I hope you do it. I understand why you stay, and what you fear. You fear staying and you fear going. Nothing is as bad as the place you are in. I promise.

Lisa.


I tuned into the news a while back, anxious to see what the weather would be doing the next day, and there was a recap of the headline news. I saw a photo of the beautiful Lisa, before hearing of her tragic death, and that a man was on trial, suspected of throwing her off a balcony. I have had this woman in my heart and prayers ever since. Last night, I again looked at the news to catch the weather, and there was a detailed story about the sentencing of this creature, and I listened as her brave mum became a messenger for all women in controlling relationships. It set off my PTSD. It couldn’t help but do so. The events were so similar, only I survived and Lisa didn’t. I had to go out last night, so after a cry, composed myself. I sat in the gardens of this place, a delicate breeze weaving its way down my back, and had a pleasant evening, but my thoughts drifted to this beautiful woman and her mum. I came home early, as my child wasn’t well, and saw her tendrils of soft hair resting on her pillow, her little eyes heavy. Legend has it that the indent above one’s top lip was made when the angels soothed you as a newborn, gently reassuring the bub that all is well in their new world. I think that is lovely. I am bereft that sometimes, things aren’t peaceful in their new world. I watch my child sleep, and pray that she is safe always. Safe from manipulation and control. I don’t know why I survived my fall, and you didn’t, but I now have another girl/woman to honour as I conduct my life. I shall never forget. Today, I lit a candle for you, and another friend, facing PTSD demons by going back to places of pain. I gave my child medicine, and she is laying on the couch. I just want to hug her all throughout this hot day. I think I will.