‘The hell of an abused woman can never be writ­ten about enough’

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Jani Al­lan

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.

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