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Saturday, 30 November 2013

How to leave a bad relationship: My story

I'm reminded of this version of me - office employee, two young children, two-bedroom apartment rented in northern Yokohama, stay-at-home wife - when I see the stories about Lisa Harnum, the young woman who, it turns out, was thrown in a jealous rage off a Sydney city apartment balcony by her then-boyfriend Simon Gittany. Harnum had wanted out, it seems, and had "been planning to go[,] leaving bags of clothes with her personal trainer and a counsellor so that Gittany's suspicions would not be aroused, and discussing one-way flights back to Canada with her mother."

This is what strikes a chord in recollecting my own life back then, in 1999, when things had started to go sour. I had been moved around at work to different groups but the main source of anxiety was domestic, in which sphere there was a chill as my then-wife and I had become estranged to such a degree that not only did we sleep in separate rooms but conjugal intimacy had long ceased. If you can see a half-smile in this photo, if there's a shadow of unease infecting the features of this chap, if he looks a bit care-worn and tired, then these are the reasons. This guy is just making it through each day. Domestic violence may be physical and controlling - as in the case of Harnum, who lived under the gaze of surveillance cameras installed in her home by Gittany - but it can also be psychological, with anxiety fed by attacks in verbal form. This man is on edge despite the fact that the photo is cropped to remove the faces of his two children.

You'll notice that I'm wearing a sweater. It's a style of sweater that was once fashionable, and it was warm. In Japan in the winter it gets very cold and it often snows over the New Year, a time of celebration for all of its people. The cold is important here because it was in the context of freezing weather that my then-wife told me to leave one night that year. That night she sat on the floor in front of the couch where I was perched and, for six straight hours, screamed out her frustrations at me. Leave, she said, or I'll cut up your work clothes. She headed to my bedroom, where my closet stood, brandishing scissors. The crisis had arrived, but I had for some time suspected that this was how it would work out and so for months I had put away part of my weekly allowance - forgoing my much-needed lunch on many occasions - so that I would have funds available if things came to a head.

The car, a green 7-seater Toyota, was loaded with my belongings. The December night was freezing cold and I camped out in a room in the apartment of my parents-in-law for that night and the next because I still had to go to work. I drove south deeper into Yokohama after work on one of those days to secure a letter of recommendation from an old friend (a man who died, I learned recently, in September just past) so that the real estate agent would accept my application to rent a small unit located above a small factory about 15 minutes, by bus, from the train station I had always used to go to work. Japanese landlords do not like renting to foreigners, and my friend's letter was a kind of passport. So within several days I had moved into a new home. I had managed the transition without taking too much time off work - just a couple of days' leave; I remember calling the department chief to explain the need for time - and had done so on my own coin. Those 10,000-yen notes I had put away had served their purpose. I was free of the accusations, the shouting, the complaints. My life would never be the same again.

1 comment:

G Woods said...

Thank you for sharing Matt.

What an incredible journey you have been through

Very brave of you to put your story out there

Take care

Greg