Trigger warning: mentions of r*pe, domestic violence, manipulation
I’d met her at the beginning of Summer, when the air was hot and full of
woodsmoke and bonfires, and the skies and the days stretched out as long and as
endless as each other.
She was a catalogue of contradiction - rebellious and straight-laced, fearless as
well as frightened, a woman who seemed to be riding the back of the world,
holding on with one hand, and to her, I was a small cup, held beneath Niagara.
It happened all at once, the way things that grow in the heat of summer often do.
I love you’s were whispered, half-drunk as the sunset. Days upon days were spun
together, drifted like dandelion wishes and half-made plans were promised, one
after another, after another…
All filled with her.
She told me she would give me the world. She would make something of me. She
pointed out the holes in my patchwork skirt and the rips in my dungarees, she
took me to clothes shops, took away my bracelets and stripped me to the skin in
a sweaty changing room with fluorescent lighting, dressed me in sensible jeans
and plain white tops, and bought me two of each while I laughed at the thought
of a “girlfriend uniform”.
Then, as autumn crept in with a chill in the wind and a shiver in the mornings, I
found myself becoming more luminous and remote and irresponsible. Friends
and family drifted further and further away. And I didn’t notice. And I didn’t care.
My mind seemed stretched and thin, and odder and odder, things seemed too big
and then too small, as though I were trapped inside a dream. Even the days I
spent working, writing and drawing were eaten into, until they were eaten up
and I found myself alone. With no friends, or family, and no job.
With just her.
She was a lamp surrounded by bumping moths, and I had been Icarus to her sun.
I was a straw whirling down a drain, suddenly and abruptly thrust into a rushing
life of parties and bushfire friendships based on one gin and tonic too many,
people whose names were forgotten the next morning, with only the lip gloss
reminder on the rim of their glass that I scrubbed clean in a kitchen that wasn’t
even my own.
Then winter came, colder than usual. The ground froze, the wind rattled the flags
of old leaves between the bones of the skeleton trees, and I found myself as a
reflection, in the blue-grey window of a house that wasn’t my home, looking out
at a world I no longer recognised.
In the spring we went to the beach for a BBQ with her parents - her father, an
upper-class buffoon of a man who based the value of his friendships on their
bank balances, and his wife, a woman who stared at me with as much expression
as her too-tight-forehead would allow, while she turned over the meat on the
grill and repeated, a vegetarian?! As though she thought Paul McCartney was the
Over the next few months, I noticed I’d lost weight. I noticed that when I was in
the shower, my hands would be webbed with hair that fell out in thin, stringy
clumps that slipped down my back and feathered out across the tiled floor in
shapes the water made like clouds across the sky.
I would stand in the shower, with the tightness of my breath in my chest and I
would hear her voice in my head, every single day she would tell me that I should
“always put her first”, that she should “always be top of my list.”
Above my friends.
Above my family.
Above my children.
She took me to Bingo once. We sat at sticky-topped tables and ate the ends off
soggy chips and she drank pints of warm beer while I sipped flat cider slowly
through my teeth. A trick I had learned to slow down her attempts to get me
I won 150 pounds that night. But when I claimed the prize money, she held out
her hand and grinned at me. Just stood there. Waiting. Eyes as wild and wolfish
as her grin.
And I did. I gave it to her.
Because I was scared of her.
But it was then, in that hesitation, at that moment surrounded by the noise of the
bar and the whooping noise of the slot machines, and the sideways glances of
everyone else's eyes who silently asked, are you ok?… it was then that I realised…
this wasn’t love, that I was feeling.
It was fear.
I was only there because I was scared of what she’d do to me if I tried to leave.
I’d been gaslit to the point where I didn’t just question my reality or my own
thoughts, I had no reality, or independent thoughts of my own. I had become a
rag heap for other people to pick over. I had nothing of myself.
And all the while I held onto the old cliche, that somehow, at some point, things
might just get better.
She used to leave me notes by the kettle, big handwriting scrawled across tight
lines…I still have one of them. I kept one as a reminder…
Here, I’ll show you one:
(Read from an unfolded piece of paper that has clearly been unfolded and folded a
good many times)
One: Give both fridges a good clean and throw out old food.
Two: Locate and put all electronics on charge.
Three: Change and wash all of the bedding on all beds.
Four: Deep clean and tidy whole house - hoover, dust, polish, sweep, bleach
Five: Wash and hang out clothes. Make sure they’re dry before I come
Six: Walk dogs and pick up all dog shit in garden.
Seven: Make sure dinner is cooked by the time I get home.
Eight: Tidy up all the kid's shit and make sure the whole house and garden are
There were other humiliations, too. The kind you say with averted eyes when the
police ask you to repeat yourself. Or the kind you say with a nervous laugh that
covers the memory of violence and pain because nobody believes you when you
say it was another woman who raped you so many times…
I couldn’t say no.
But I never said yes.
Just like my son didn’t say yes, when she asked him if he wanted to go out on the
paddleboard on the day of that spring picnic, because she told him he was a baby
if he didn’t.
She took him out into the sea, and then. Just for fun, she tipped him in. My little
boy, who couldn’t swim. And you know how it is, you can’t see anything in the
sea. It’s grey and brown and cold and strong. And I went in after him. I could feel
the board bumping against the top of my head. And I was screaming his name
underwater and grabbing at handfuls of seaweed and nothing.
And it seemed too long.
But finally, I felt something - a fist…a hand…and I had handfuls of him, and I was
pushing him up above me, through the surface of the water, out towards the sky
and the splintered sunlight. And he was crying. And he was ok.
And he was alive.
And somehow I got him to the shore.
And out of that fucking sea.
I called the police after that.
They took me to a long flat grey building in the middle of nowhere, where I sat
for long, flat, empty hours, hands between my knees, telling and retelling my
story to a policewoman and a camera. Over, and over, and over…
I told them how she’d crushed sedatives into my food. How she’d only let me
wear the clothes and shoes she bought for me, and how she had taken me to the
hairdressers to have my hair cut against my will.
And as I spoke…as I spoke, I remembered. I remembered the inconsistencies in
her stories that I had cast off as my own delusions. I remembered the way she
would tilt her phone away from me when I came near… and how she spun me lie,
after lie, after lie, and I, like a fly was caught in her web of such carefully and
meticulously spun deceit.
And I know what she’ll do.
She’ll tell everyone who will listen the same stories she told me. She’ll cry and tell
them all how she was the victim. She’ll tell them all how I reacted. How I
screamed and cried and scratched at the skin of my own arms. But she won’t tell
them what she did to me to cause that reaction.
She won't tell them how she screwed herself into me, bit by bit. Burrowing under
my skin and into my flesh, into every vein and muscle and bone, until I was
bewitched by this woman who would pick me up like a puppet when she wanted
me, and kick me to the ground the next, telling me I was disgusting, and ugly, and
talentless. And the awful thing is. Maybe the worst thing? Is that when she was
pulled out of me. When I ripped her out of me.
There was this void, left behind. This gaping, aching wound with rotting edges
that I had to tend to, and look after.
As soon as she was gone, I felt the cold air rush in to fill the space where she had
been, like a cork pulled from an empty bottle underwater, suddenly I was full of
everything, feeling everything and noticing everything.
I was suddenly vulnerable. Suddenly exposed.
Before, I had been a ghost in my own life. I had been dead, before I had even
realised I was dying, and now I was coming back to life, and I had to heal. And I
had to do that by myself.
“Elinora’s command of language in Life in the Dressing Room of the Theatre is extraordinary, I couldn’t put it down! Striking, cinematic imagery. Achingly beautiful use of language. It’s a remarkable collection.” - Robbie Jarvis, actor.
"Elinora's poetry collection is breathtaking. The pain of love, both lost and unrequited strikes a chord as does the poignancy of lost childhood. And all through I loved the appearance of Gillian; the tormenter and the ally. It is work that needs to be read and re read and which I'm sure will be quoted in years to come." - Samantha Giles, actress.