When you get punched in the face

A couple of years after my transplant, I was assaulted. Had the shit beaten out of me. What made it even more shameful, was that I was beaten up by a girl. Of course this rationale has evolved with the gradual unfurling of my life and hard won wisdom, so I know that it doesn’t matter who hits you. Girl, boy, woman, man – it’s violence and it should never be tolerated.

So here’s some back story: I had been at a Cystic Fibrosis luncheon (as was tradition) and I admit that I was intoxicated during the day, but stopped drinking early afternoon. Around dusk, my friends and I hopped on a ferry from Southbank to go to a friends place at New Farm. I was feeling clear headed and had been drinking water for quite a few hours.

When we arrived, there were quite a few people we didn’t know, so we sat around in a circle (old hippie habits die hard), and I got to talking to a guy about where we had been. He seemed friendly – long red dreads, not quite a hippie, but more of what we would call a ‘feral’ (terrible term, I know, but it was a term nonetheless). I explained that I had CF, to which he responded, ‘you look really well,’ so I told him that I had had a transplant and he commented that I probably had some wicked scars.

We engaged for about twenty minutes, but things started to get a little strange and off topic, so I excused myself and walked away. This man’s wife who I thought looked really friendly, for she too had long dreads and was wearing Doc Martens which transported me back to my youth – had seen us talking, and as she turned towards me, a storm rose in her face and she asked me what I was looking at. I replied, ‘absolutely nothing’, picked up some grated cheese that was on a table with some other snacks, and threw it behind me as I walked away. I wasn’t aiming for her, but it was her perception that I was.

The next thing I remember, she was on me and I was up against an old car; punching me in the chest and ribs, and then grabbing my head and smashing it into the car window. My first thought was to protect my face – I was wearing glasses after all. Then a horrific thought crossed my mind – that my head was going to be smashed through the glass (old glass that shatters, NOT safety glass that sticks together), so I just took it.

She smashed my head into the window so hard that my glasses flew off, she lifted me up against the car so that I lost my shoes, and my friends were behind her screaming to leave me be. The thing is, she was Amazonian when I am not, and she just kept the blows coming. Her husband eventually dragged her off, but she was trying kick me in the face. I copped a boot to the chest which took the wind out of me, and I stumbled away while they got in their car and took off. Then they came back. After about fifteen minutes (we were still waiting for a taxi at this point to go to the police station), I saw her get out of the car, light a cigarette and walk back to the party as though nothing had happened. She was so oddly blissed out and mellow, and my educated guess was that she had had a hit of heroin or something similar which had calmed her down.

I don’t fight dirty. Never have, never will. When I was going in high school, my Dad taught me how to box; how to protect myself even though (or because of) I was going to an all girls school. And so that night, I didn’t fight back. I went into protection mode. If I threw some grated cheese behind me that she mistook for deliberate hostility, making her believe it was ok to beat me up, then that’s on her.

My dear friend M (who happened to be a lawyer at the time) and I went to Police Headquarters and I wrote down a preliminary statement. My memory was pretty fresh, but I was in shock, so the statement was brought up in court as being ‘contradictory’ to my official statement that I made about later that week.

When I got home, my Mum took photographs of the bloodied scratches and bruises across my chest and neck. Even more concerning was that I had had a central line removed just two days before and she had scratched the scab off it and drawn blood with her fingernails. Later that night, I struggled to sleep because the attack kept playing like movie reel in my head – a punch here, a kick there.

When I tried to get out of bed the next day, my whole body ached like I had a really bad flu, so I called the transplant unit and they said to come in straight away – I needed to be checked out, x-rayed and have bloods taken. I could barely move and because this girl was possibly a drug addict, I had to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis because as I mentioned earlier, she had scratched the scab off my CV line and drawn blood. I had fourteen x-rays, was checked out by a physiotherapist and then I went home to rest.

It felt like an age waiting for my blood results to come back, and I admit that I was feeling pretty distressed. When they came back clear, my doctor, family and I were relieved to say the least.

The worst thing about the whole situation was that the woman who assaulted me was in the care industry. She was an occupational therapist at a major metropolitan hospital and  she knew that I had had a transplant and therefore was a ‘soft’ and vulnerable target. My transplant consultant wanted her struck off immediately, but somehow that didn’t transpire.

Court was brutal and unforgiving. I felt so terribly guilty that my friends had to testify, but I was determined that this person was to be accountable for her actions. Her husband arrived at court wearing no shoes and repeatedly walked up to the courtroom to listen to proceedings when he shouldn’t have. The lovely detective who took my official statement didn’t think this was right, so he was given a warning to stay away or go elsewhere.

When I had to get up on the stand, I had strips torn off me by her lawyer (I still remember his name), and he manipulated what had happened on the night, where I was a cheese-throwing bitch who provoked the attack. I know that’s what lawyers are supposed to do, but a few minutes into the cross-examination, I was a bawling mess. In fact, he was very capable at making me feel like shit, but I was lucky enough to have the states top DPP who representing me. I also had a wonderful and compassionate detective who actually gave a shit about what had happened. My lawyer made a very strong argument that she was a violent offender, and after an arduous day of court, Mum and I hopped on a train, but as we were nearing home, we were called back.

I had to get on the stand again, and to cut a long story short, the woman who assaulted me was found guilty of grievous bodily harm which meant that she had to pay me a reasonable sum of money and complete 200 hours of community service. What upset and disappointed me the most, was that there was no conviction recorded. In fact, I would have happily done away with the money in place of a conviction. The fact that this person was an occupational therapist working with vulnerable people and who possibly had a drug problem disturbed me greatly.

For the first few months after the attack, I was constantly checking my back, especially when I was at uni. I didn’t feel safe and that really grated me. It lowered my self-confidence and even though I was already hyper-aware of my surroundings after being with my Mum when two piss poor excuses of men who mugged her tried to run her over in a carpark when I was fourteen, I became a little paranoid for a few months and was always at the ready to fight. My nerves were shot, and even someone running behind me was enough to set me off and put me into fight or flight mode – mostly fight mode where my  fists would curl instinctively until the perceived threat had passed.

Looking back, I was so incredibly naive to think that these people were good people. I’ve always looked for the positive in everyone I meet, and while it was a hard lesson to learn, I refused to let my assault dictate who I engaged with, and soon I was feeling more positive about interacting with humans I did not know – I was just a little more selective.

The entire process, from the assault to the court case, exhausted me and my only real escape was studying for my creating writing degree, which ripped me back to my youth where study was my escape from all of the death and suffering that was all around me on an almost daily basis when I was in hospital. Friends deteriorating before my eyes, friends dying, trying to help said dying friends die a more comfortable death, seeing kids pinned down so doctors could shove in an IV or a nasal-gastric tube for feeding. The word brutal  comes to mind again.

I rarely think about my assault, but something a couple of days ago triggered a surge of memories, and I wanted to write about (and share) what happened. Violence is never the answer, and instead of being embarrassed about not fighting back, I’m proud that I protected myself as best I could and that I walked away with grace and my dignity intact.

You may ask why I didn’t just let it go and not report it to the police. I was always going to report it to police because I  was raised to believe that everyone needs to be responsible and accountable for their actions. I found out a few years later that her marriage ended. Did that make me feel good? Temporarily, yes. Now? Not so much. Did I want something awful to happen to her after she assaulted me? Yes. But then I learned that when you dig a grave for one person, you need to dig another for yourself, and that held no appeal for me. Do I hope that she’s now ok? After my own addiction issues, yes. More than ever. I forgave her a long ago, but I will never forget the physical, emotional and spiritual pain she put me through. Spiritual pain? Well, that’s another blog post entirely …

 

 

21 thoughts on “When you get punched in the face

  1. What a traumatic experience!

    I personally have never been beaten. But that’s probably because I don’t often put myself in situations when that could happen.

    I’m happy that your assaulter got a taste of justice, but, of course, also happy that you have forgiven her. Grudges are not good things to keep.

    1. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve been through, but at the time, it was up there. Holding a grudge is toxic business, and while I had a select few about twenty years ago, I realised that they don’t serve me with how I want to live my life. Also, I discovered these wonderful things a few years ago called ‘boundaries’, and they’ve saved me a world of hurt. Took me long enough, but better late than never. I hope the girl who beat me up is living a happy and full life XO

  2. Carly putting that kind of abuse behind you takes an amazing amount of fortitude. ‘These people’ who think they can treat other this way are out there and it often seems as if they just walk away free, more or less. They can be male, female, strangers, ‘friends’ and even your own relations (That I’m afraid is a book and lots of poetry). Not only did you survive but you continued to be your open loving self. You are a star! Big Love XOXO

    1. Hey gorgeous – as I said to Kath ^^ I’d already experienced so my physical and emotional trauma from a very young age, so it really wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to me or that it did happen. I feel very fortunate that I didn’t end up with Hepatitis or worse. And you’re right – anyone can abuse, but NO ONE has that right. I’m sorry you’ve had so many experiences with violence. Shit like that changes people and takes away your autonomy and identity. Big love to you XOXO

  3. Carly it would have taken me years to get over something like this. What a horror story. I guess the part that shocked me the most was that this person knew you were vulnerable. Im still appalled by that and not sure how I would have dealt with it.

    1. You know Kath, I think it’s because I had been through so much physical and emotional trauma as a child (being held down having cannulas put in, nostril gastric tubes forced up my nose and down my throat, having razor blades shoved into my fingers to get blood), I feel that worse things had happened to me. I just count myself as very lucky the window on that old car didn’t break. I too still find it shocking that she was a healthcare ‘professional’ and knew about my transplant and therefore knew I was a vulnerable target. Thanks for your kind words XO

  4. gosh reading this was a visceral experience – powerful and well written. i don’t know what to say, such inhuman behaviour, but also so very human – how do we as a species walk so deeply in both the dark and light at once? the tragedy being that those in need of the deepest of compassion are those that behave in a way that least attracts it. for you, what courage to hold this person to account. good on you! not for your own revenge, but to know that this person is unlikely to really look at themselves without accountability. terrible, painful journey all round, especially as this kind of experience can draw out the worst in ourselves. thanks for sharing, it moved me! sx

    1. Thank you so much, Sarah. It was good to write it down and send it out into the ether after so many years. I started thinking about it a couple of weeks ago and knew I had to ‘release’ it, and sometimes I do that by blogging. Always writing, but not necessarily sharing it, so I’m glad I did. I didn’t have much compassion for her at the time, but I certainly do now. I can’t pretend to understand why it happened, but it did, I acted accordingly and I moved on. I don’t think it was courageous, but thank you for saying so. I think what I did was right. I know she’s in a better space now, which is somewhat comforting and settling. Thanks for reading, Sarah XO

      1. oh gosh it sounded like abominable predatory behaviour. the why does your head if you let it – i try to only use it to extract the wisdom and lessons. it sounded really traumatising – bet you’re careful about where you throw your cheese now! glad it has been cathartic, bless

      2. Ha! I strictly throw cheese at my own face! If you can’t learn something from a situation, it’s a lesson lost which sucks in the big scheme of things #cheeseinmyfaceFTW! XO

  5. Carly, I hope your silence is not due to health issues. It seems we both have been away from the blog. I do look forward to your return. BIG LOVE! XOXO

    1. Hey darling heart! I’ve been stupendously well up until just before easter, and then I caught the flu … The good news, is that I’m on the improve 🙂 How’re you mon amie? XOXO

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