So for anyone who has spoken to me since January 1st, I have been banging on about starting a blog. I wanted to talk about self care and mental health and make up and baking and life (I mean, I hadn’t quite established an aesthetic, and I use commas way too much, but I was well on my way). Anyway, at the end of January, all my plans for everything changed. And now I’m going to talk about that. Because I think it’s really fucking important that people speak about difficult, shitty times. Also, quite selfishly, I think this will be pretty cathartic. Haven’t started yet but this could potentially be a long read. Buckle up kids.
So I was leaving a well known Clapham Club *cough* Infernos *cough* when a man, a stranger, started making sexual comments at me. The sad thing is, I don’t really remember what he said, because (ladies back me up here) it happens so often to women that comments like this tend to become a dull hum in the background, you ignore them, you shrug them off and feel awkward and a little bit gross and walk a bit faster with your head down. I put my hand up, in that gesture all women know, of mock surrender. I had barely begun to walk away when things changed. He grabbed my arm hard and pulled me toward him and I instantly recoiled. I tugged my arm back and told him to fuck off. But that wasn’t enough. He wouldn’t stop, he wouldn’t leave me alone. So I went for the classic ‘I have a boyfriend, he’s here with me’ tactic. I HATE saying that I have a boyfriend when I’m trying to bat off an advance. It’s a matter of principal. It’s accepting that my rejection is not enough, my lack of interest is irrelevant to a man – what does matter, however, is the fact that another man already has me claimed. Not that in my full agency I do not want to continue to speak to you, but that I already belong to someone else. FUCK THAT. So now knowing how much I hate to say it, you can tell I’m getting panicked.
In swoops Jack, he’s not been far away the whole time. Here’s an incredible thing about him: he never patronises me, he knows I am able to handle myself, and he has seen me time and time again deal with situations like this one. But he knows something is different too, and in the space of seconds the mood has changed. Jack has me by the hand, and tells the guy to leave it. ‘She’s clearly said no mate, fuck off’. You’d think someone would be embarrassed and back off at this point. Nope. His face contorts, ‘You’re fucking ugly anyway, look at you, you fat fucking slag’. ANOTHER CLASSIC!!!! LADIES CAN I GET AN AMEN! I find this sadly laughable. I mean, weren’t you literally JUST trying to come on to me? Men reacting this way to rejection is interesting. To me, it looks a final clawing struggle to regain some power in the conversation, because God forbid you allow yourself to be turned down by a woman. It’s pathetic, and I told him that was what I thought. We began to walk away, up to our waiting cab. He began to follow us, he couldn’t drop it. He was winding himself up more and more, screaming at me as we walked away continuing to tell him to leave, until it came to a head and he told Jack he would stab him. He grabbed the bag he had on, and made it clear he could, and wanted to. From then everything is pretty surreal, we started to walk much faster, I was scared and I knew just around the next corner was a cab waiting for us. It seemed as though the guy peels off, I don’t see him again.
We reached the corner of the road where we are expecting to find the cab and our friends who are waiting with it. Someone approaches and again, they were screaming at me. At the time I was convinced it was the same man as before, but he’s not in a grey t-shirt any more, he’s in a black one. I shrug it off at the time, but it eventually becomes clear that this is the first man’s identical twin brother who has come to pick up where the other left off.
He is instantly physically intimidating, a man, bigger than me, shouting, I feel flecks of spit on my face. Calling me a whore, a slag, ugly, fat, stupid… “Do you know who I am?” he bellows. I’m furious, I’m so angry that someone could speak to me like this. But more than that, I’m terrified. I tell him to get the fuck out of my face, and he pushes me. Both hands on my chest. I stumble back. Before I realise what is going on Jack is in-between us. I watch the man swing for Jack, he hits him, I hear a crack, and Jack is falling to the floor. I barely have time to put my hands up to protect myself when I am punched. The punch lands hard and all I can see is white. I can’t hear anything but ringing and I know I am going to fall to the floor. Except I am not falling. I can’t see but someone is holding me up. I have no memories after this, but witnesses say that the man held me in a headlock and continued to punch me again and again in the head. This, to me, is telling. It wasn’t one punch in a moment of lapsed judgement. It was prolonged, he carried on, he held me up and continued to hit me. He meant it. Later, as I am being treated on the scene, the two men stand on the side of the other street and point and laugh at me. The police failed to arrest both of them on the night which complicates the whole case later on. This all came from telling a man NO.
My recollections of the night after the actual assault are hazy. I am holding my head and screaming in pain, my poor, lovely, caring friend is back and trying to deal with the fallout. There are police everywhere. Black. I am sat in the back of a car trying to call my Mum for help. I am so scared. I can’t see. I don’t know where Jack is. Black. I am in an ambulance, I see Jack across from me and his face and body are covered in blood and I start to scream again. These memories come in snippets, but mostly I remember nothing.
I arrive in hospital and my sister is there waiting for me. They take me in for Xrays and scans. It’s my first MRI and it is like a clinical noisy vacuum of terror. My sister is told she can’t be in the room when the machine is on, thus commences my first panic attack of the evening. I am told that the punches have caused me to haemorrhage. I am bleeding behind my eye, so much so, that it will soon go blind if the doctors don’t act. From there, again, not many memories. I’m rushed into emergency surgery, and they make 3 incisions in my eye to bleed it out. So that the pressure of the blood doesn’t crush my optic nerve. I’m still petrified, still screaming, but through all of this mess I am telling the nurses how pretty and nice they are and apologising for being a nuisance. It sounds endearing but in hindsight to think that a violent assault has me apologising to hospital staff upsets me. It’s ingrained in us to think we are not deserving of care and attention even when we need it most, women especially.
My Dad has arrived and he has my hand and is holding back tears. All I can think is, ‘Fuck, I must look pretty bad’. He wipes my eye and I realise I am literally crying blood. Which is pretty metal if you ask me. I think I’m being glib about this part because this is less action-packed, and more just crushingly sad. Jack is stood at the end of the bed, bloodied, with a broken nose and a huge eye, and I keep crying whenever I look at him, which he can’t really help, and Eddie is there too stroking my arm softly. I am surrounded by love. My Mum arrives (she’d been away on a trip) the following night and finally my heart settles down in a way that it only can when you’ve had a cuddle from your Mum. I was hospitalised for 3 days. Here is the fucking biggest shout out to our nation’s most valuable resource: the National Health Service and its staff, who displayed brilliance, competence and compassion like I have never seen (and a second smaller shout out to the chocolate cake and custard they serve).
Additionally to the haemorrhage, I was told that I had two fractures to my eye socket. I had been punched so hard, and so many times that a large part of the socket floor had snapped off, and was hanging about in my sinus. The swelling was too bad to do anything at the time, so 2 weeks later, I went back for surgery to fix it. They scooped my eyeball out of the hole and put a titanium plate in my skull to prop it up. And hey, surprise surprise this fucking hurt too. I had 3 panic attacks throughout the process. I was on morphine which made me vomit. I couldn’t stand or see and it was like going back to square one.
On top of the 2 major injuries there is a macular hole in the back of my left retina, which means there is a small grey spot in my field of vision that is a blur, but the doctors have said they can’t do anything for it – I just have to hope it heals in time. My left eye muscles are frozen from the trauma. I can’t move my left eye up at all, which gives me constant nauseating double vision. So much has gone wrong from a series of events that lasted 10 minutes at most.
The police have taken multiple statements, victim impact reports, DNA, clothes. They know who did this to me, but have been held up charging them due to various mistakes they made early on. I will most likely have to testify in court, but the process takes a long time – it could be a year from now. They are confident there will be long sentences. I’m not their biggest fan, but I am putting faith in justice being done.
Look this hasn’t been pretty, but I’ve tried incredibly hard to be descriptive and to be real because I am not ashamed. When I first posted about what happened to me, women in my circle reached out to me, and so many told me that they had been through the same thing in one way or another. One woman was brave enough to tell me she had been through much worse and not reported it to police through fear. She wanted the situation to disappear rather than deal with it. It broke my heart, but I completely understood. At first I described what happened to me as a reality check – that I wasn’t invincible and it’s just the way it is, that there are men out there who will try hard to hurt you and make you feel small and it’s safer to shut your mouth and be amicable than to speak up and put yourself in harms way. The fact of the matter is, sometimes, for your own safety, you do have to let things go in moments of conflict. But fuck knows I will advocate and scream from the rooftops and protest and march and lead by example in every way I possibly can.
So if I can speak up, and raise my voice and completely and utterly overshare then I guess I hope it’s some form of encouragement. Because here I am, still very much standing. DESPITE men who would rather I lived in silence, fear, and submission. This will not be the last blog post I write about this. What happened to me was horrendous, I am still reeling in disbelief and battling with a lot emotionally… But I’m working incredibly hard to ensure that I’m not defined by it.
– Bills x