JANI ALLAN’S ACCOUNT OF ABUSE:
‘The hell of an abused woman can never be written about enough’
Iwas desperately alone in Washington, D.C. I had arrived in the US with all my belongings in a tin trunk and my Pomeranian in a pet traveller. I went to every museum and practically became a habitué at the Smithsonian and the Pentagon. Tiggy, my Pom, and I walked around Arlington Cemetery until I felt I knew every grave.
I was so starved of company that I went to the convenience shop in the basement of my apartment block (Larry King was a neighbour) to talk to the shopkeepers. But they were Asian and could barely speak English. At the end of March, I got a call from a chap I’d had as a guest on Cape Talk Radio, one Dr Fred Bell. Fred suggested I call his friend Dr Peter Kulish, who was looking for someone to handle the PR for his company.
Peter had a charming manner. He told me his real vocation was a healer, although his industrial
magnets were hugely successful. He sent me a copy of his book about the art of healing with bio-magnets. When I read the introduction I was almost moved to tears. Peter described how he had diagnosed his daughter as having elephantiasis and claimed to have cured her by using magnetic therapy.
We’d speak for hours on the phone. Within weeks, Peter suggested I come to New Hope, Pennsylvania, to work for him. He needed someone to redesign the look of his company and, given my qualifications (I have degrees in fine arts) and my journalistic experience, he said I would be perfect.
It is said that a large part of our time is spent remembering the past. Except what we remember is often images fabricated by our internal dialogue about what has happened to us. We don’t remember the facts. Rather, we remember interpretations of the facts. Usually, we are too involved in repeating to ourselves a mythical history that our ego has developed to justify its existence.
I spent hours thinking about my life. I replayed each mental video until I realised I was myself a little crazy. I prayed. I meditated. I read my Bible, especially the Psalms. They always comfort me. And I decided to embrace the unknown. I accepted Peter’s offer to send me the money for the train ticket.
He was waiting for me at Trenton Transit Center: a short, tubby man with spectacles the size of a small car’s windscreens. On the front seat was a gift for me: a carton of Camel cigarettes. (At that time, I smoked.) I was grateful; it had been a long time since anyone had given me a gift of any kind.
We drove through bucolic Pennsylvania to his rustic home in his old white Cadillac, which he called ‘the angel car’ because of the winged figure on the hood. The modest ranch-style house was situated at the end of a long driveway. Peter carried my red suitcase inside. I followed him, almost dumbstruck by the untidiness.
Iwas also taken aback by the poster-sized photographs of his daughter that adorned every wall, shrine-like. Peter told me his seven-year-old daughter and he were ‘very tight’. Then he showed me to where I would be sleeping. ‘I’m warning you… it’s rustic!’ he said playfully. He wasn’t kidding. It was a wooden shed a couple of hundred metres from the house. There was a futon on the floor, and no bathroom or running water. The guest bedroom in the main house was taken up with the daughter’s toy hoard.
Tiggy and I presented ourselves at the main house at 8.30 the next morning. I was wearing an Armani suit. I got on with the staff and instantly became indispensable to Peter. Or so it seemed.
When Fred called to see how things were going, Peter gushed: ‘Jani is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this company. She’s not going anywhere.’
Within a week, however, one of my co-workers, a bloke who had been a friend of Peter’s since they were teenagers, took me aside. He told me Peter had a history of violent relationships. There was more. Much more. Peter had also had ‘difficulties’ with the law.
When one moves to another country – in my case, the third
– one loses frameworks of reference. Had I been in Johannesburg, Cape Town or even London, I would have been attuned to the signals. But in America I had no idea who I was dealing with. Could this really be the caring middle-aged doctor I was working for? Why was he telling me these things? Was he jealous of Peter?
I pushed what the bloke had said to the back of my mind. Or tried to. But the words sank into me and I lived with them inside me, eating at me slowly and gloomily.
Peter and I didn’t do anything except work. Occasionally we went to his aged parents for supper. I didn’t dare mention what I’d heard about Peter. I knew it would cause huge problems. So I lived with the secrets.
I was enjoying being useful to the company. Every suggestion I made was met with enthusiasm and approval. We worked 16-hour days. Work. Shed. Work. Shed…
I remember the first occasion that Peter made physical advances towards me. When I refused him, he hurled a lamp across the sitting room. I chose to interpret this violence as proof of how much he wanted to be with me. As we worked together, eventually we became more involved. It was not a passionate situation, rather two
The modest ranch-style house was situated at the end of a long driveway. Peter carried my red suitcase inside. I followed him, almost dumbstruck by the untidiness.
middle-aged people having come together to work ‘for the benefit of mankind’, as Peter described his business.
In July I became very ill. Although not a qualified doctor, Peter diagnosed my condition as Lyme disease. It’s caused by bacteria transmitted by ticks, and because there are herds of deer in Pennsylvania, the disease is fairly prevalent. He proceeded to administer vitamin C by IV. With a cigarette clamped between his teeth, he’d curse and mutter, unable to find a vein – despite the fact that I have veins like windswept branches. For days I was semi-delirious from what was supposedly Lyme disease. In retrospect, who knows what it was–Peter refused to take me to a qualified doctor.
One morning in July, some five months after I had arrived in the States, he suggested we go to Maryland to get married. I suppose I was grateful that he’d nursed me and I suppose I had no other options. I was in a foreign country with no support system. I was entirely at his mercy. I had no money or job. What was I to do?
We got married. I wore a faux tiara belonging to his daughter, and jeans. Not the kind of Pamela Anderson ‘look at me, I’m fabulous’ jeans. These were sad, defeated jeans. No one was at the ceremony. I felt as if I were in a dream. I struggled to keep the trembling parcel that was my face together with a tight smile. For the wedding ‘feast’ we went to McDonald’s. Peter assured me it was inverted chic.
In the early days of the marriage, I noticed that Peter had a short fuse, especially with those to whom
he owed money. (There were many.) But he was always courteous with me. He seemed to be astonished by my professionalism, my past achievements. Peter loved to boast about me – but not quite as much as he loved to boast about himself. He never stopped telling me how he was feted by royalty and was an international healer.
eter claimed to be the sponsor of the Tesla Society and spoke of how he was received as a pop idol in India, Thailand, the Philippines – all the usual sex-tourist destinations.
He had promised me a salary of $125 000 a year. It soon became $500 a month. After we married, it ceased completely. Trapped in his car, I was a captive audience. I was told unceasingly about his personal brilliance, of all the famous people he knew, of how he had ‘turned everyone on to acid’, how he had spent time in solitary confinement ‘speaking the truth’, of how so-and-so had stolen his technology, his film script… His stories began to sound far-fetched, even for an American.
He insisted on going for long, hellish rides on his HarleyDavidson with me on the back. After a couple of narrow escapes I became reluctant to go. He became angry.
One of his business partners was a chap called Baba who Peter said was a leader of the Sikh nation. Baba averred that Peter’s daughter was the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali. Peter, of course, was the incarnation of St Peter. He was so flattered by this piece of spurious nonsense that he immediately sent a large donation to Mumbai.
When I suggested that Baba was playing him like a Stradivarius, his rage became frightening. He screamed at me. He ended up throwing my little Pom across the room and grabbed me by the throat. Ah. The throat. Why do so many violent men want to crush the throat? Is it because they want to smash the chakra of speech?
The police came. They examined the marks on my neck. They were to become regular visitors. I had no friends in America. Peter had no friends. No one came to the house. I became increasingly isolated. I was a virtual prisoner. Fear, someone once said, is pain arriving from the anticipation of evil. I lived in fear.
On the occasions that I needed to see a doctor, Peter would sit in the doctor’s room with me. When I wrote to friends overseas, he got into my emails and (without my knowledge) responded in vicious ways. He presented himself as the sane person. I was mad and delusional.
As weeks became months, Peter’s initial infatuation with me was spent. His rages were frightening. He’d kick doors, overturn tables, smash laptops and throw things whenever anything displeased him. The things that
displeased him most were imaginary slights to his ego. If I showed reluctance to be intimate with him, he would rip the duvet off the bed, overturn the nightstand and stomp out of the room, cursing me.
Iwas not allowed to spend any time alone. He’d go into a rage if I spent time on the computer. I had to sit beside him and watch whatever he wanted to watch on TV. When one of the women in the office suggested that I have coffee with the other girls, Peter refused to let me go. He said I had no understanding of the American class system and that it was inappropriate for me to be familiar with the office staff.
To this end, he would police the hallway outside my office to check who was coming in to see me. When the art director came in to talk to me, Peter would leave the intercom on and eavesdrop on our conversations. Peter argued about everything. He even forbade me from wearing certain colours.
His business suffered. More and more I realised that his biography and his boasting didn’t match, and as his business deteriorated, so did our mésalliance – our misalliance.
That winter I slept in the shed with my tiny Pom. It was so cold that the water in her bowl would be frozen in the morning. The house was sold and we had to move. Perhaps the stress of moving contributed to his agitato state. When, in November 2002, my friend Georgia and her husband, Louie, came to visit me from SA, Peter went ballistic. He hated having ‘intruders’ in his home.
He accused me of being a lesbian. Georgia, he said, was ruining our marriage. He pushed her so hard she nearly fell down. One morning he flung open the door of the guest bedroom and swore at Georgia and Louie, then told them to get out. He threw their suitcases down the stairs. They were fearful – for themselves and for me.
When my friend sent a book to me about being abused – I never thought I was abused; I always thought it was my fault – Peter tore it up. I became so depressed that I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. This made Peter curiously cheerful. The more my ‘learnt disability’ increased, the more empowered he felt. My crying went on for weeks until he irritably took me to a counsellor.
Dr Paletz warned me: ‘You’re going to slide over the edge and no one will be able to pull you back.’ I became too frightened of Peter to have feelings for him. At times I’d lose my voice from sheer terror.
I took to sleeping on the far side of the house and propping a steel ladder against the door so that he wouldn’t smash it in when I was sleeping. He refused to give me money for food. I felt that he wanted me dead. I was utterly alone with a deranged man in an isolated old mill in rural Pennsylvania.
Since no one knew I was there, he wasn’t answerable to anyone for what he did to me. The violence became so bad, I was eventually admitted to the local hospital. After extensive tests – blood work, CAT scans and psychiatric examinations – the doctors told me that I was physically manifesting all the signs of a traumatised, abused wife.
When I started seeing the domestic violence counsellor at the Women’s Shelter, my tears ran like rain on bone-dry land. And I cried with relief that I wasn’t to blame for everything in the marriage. The hell of an abused woman can never be written about enough. I write so that you don’t feel alone. I, too, have experienced the shame, the embarrassment, the not knowing where to go or where to put yourself.
Many nights I would walk to the local cemetery. There, among the graves of the Celtic mill workers, for a few hours I would be unharmed. I didn’t know where else to go.
That winter I slept in the shed with my tiny Pom. It was so cold that the water in her bowl would be frozen in the morning. The house was sold and we had to move.
Achance meeting provided the lifeline I needed. Countless women are mired in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. Some stay for the sake of the children and some even stay for the sake of the family pets. On one of my walks to the cemetery, an elderly lady stopped her car alongside me to admire my little pup. We struck up a conversation and I took to visiting her. It turned out that she lived not too far from where I lived.
She opened her heart and her small home to me. In the middle of the night on 14 May, Peter was raging around so much (I’ve since learnt that it’s called ‘ambient abuse’) that I feared for my life. I sneaked out of the house with Tiggy and walked to the old lady’s little home at 4.00 in the morning. My heart was beating in my throat as I escaped onto the hilly, gravelled road of aloneness.
For the next six months I slept on a couch in her living room.
Jani with her Pomeranians, Breeze, Molly and China, in New Jersery where she now lives.
Above: The marital home, a 17th-century silk mill in Pennsylvania.