19 Jan

by Michelle Talemaitoga

His face lit up with a grin as he pointed out the glass angel on a swing. It sat perched in a tree. The tree was mandarin jasmine. A peace offering, an attempt at reconciliation. 

The gift was pretty, the gesture thoughtful. 

The glass angel was fragile, the chains of the swing wound around her wings, not through her hands. The seat was of timber, her glass wings splayed, downward, as if in defeat. The mandarin jasmine was in bloom. Glossy green leaves, delicate white flowers. It was potted and he had placed it at the back door then called me outside to see. 

I instinctively knew the intention behind the gift. It was him saying sorry, without acknowledging why, it was also an attempt to recapture our lost love. A romantic gesture. A surprise gift, something that hadn’t been in the landscape of our relationship for many years. 

It was meant to say he still loved me. He did love me. In his own way, as controlling and hurtful as it was, he did love me. I saw it also as a desperate attempt to recapture that whimsical past that was lathered in romance in those early days. He was sorry he had lost that. He was trying to find it again. He was trying to stir the embers again. I understood that. But my eyes were open. 

I had pined for that also, years ago when the abuse first began. I tried so hard then to rekindle the flames but it was to no avail. Instead, it became a cycle. 

Recent events had uncovered a strength and a decision inside of me that would stop the cycle. A strength that had faded, along with my voice over the years, had begun to reemerge. I suspected that strength came from acknowledging that I deserved better which is what the decision was based on. And now, it was too late for mandarin trees and glass angels. 

Yes, I hold blame. Over time, rather than create conflict I had stayed quiet on subjects. I had let them ride by telling myself it was the big picture of a happy family that mattered the most. That delusion was my downfall and it became my trap. 


The sleeping voice and the dormant strength awakened the evening he came at me from behind, three months earlier. 

I had walked from the bathroom to the kitchen where he sat drinking rum at the kitchen bench. I was preparing dinner and we had been talking about daily things, mail, bills and work before I went to the bathroom. 

Re-entering the room there was a feeling that the atmosphere in the room had changed. It felt heavier. As I walked past him, he asked if I still loved him and I paused. 

The pause pulled the pin. 

Within seconds, he flew from the chair, grabbing me by my hair. Pulling my head backwards whilst pushing me forward, the momentum slammed me into the door frame of the laundry. 

My thoughts instantly flew to my children and a head count. My three youngest children, aged 4 – 6 were playing on the kitchen floor around the table as this scene unfolded in front of them. My eldest was in his bedroom reading. They were all accounted for and safe for now.     

My temple connected with the door jamb and my vision blurred. I felt faint and my knees buckled beneath me as I grabbed at the door frame for support. I was winded from the assault and fear filled my chest in case I passed out and couldn’t protect my children. 

I told myself, they weren’t in danger, but you are. I struggled to draw breath into my depleted lungs. I could hear the children scream and cry, and their voices seemed far away as my consciousness struggled to remain present. In a slow-motion daze, I turned my head to see them. My chest tightened. 

My eldest had emerged from his room and was shepherded the young ones towards safety in the bedroom. I felt a sense of relief and also wonder that he had not only stirred but came to intervene. The girl child who was most like me, dashed out of his herding arms and ran past the face of danger. Her focus was to help her mother. As her voice waivered with emotion, she cooed near my ear, ‘It’s alright mummy, you’ll be alright.’ She stroked my hair. 

She was all of five years old. 

Her compassion and care cut through the atmosphere shining like a lighthouse’s beam on a stormy night. My heart swelled with pride amidst the confusion of thoughts in my mind. 

Her heroics were short lived. 

This little angel, who flew to my side, was picked up by the scruff of her pyjamas like a mother cat would pick up her wayward kitten. She was carted, screaming and kicking, to the car while her father barked at the others ‘Come out to the car, now.’ 

I tried to push myself up from the floor, my vision swimming, my orientation was unsteady and my knees weak. My physical reaction was too slow to prevent what was happening. My heart was filled with dread. A stone of fear nestled in my chest. Panic washed over me. 

I willed myself to find my stability and to be able to run and stop the vehicle that I could hear reversing. The abrupt reversing in the driveway kicked up stones and there was a screech as he changed gears on the bitumen, and floored the accelerator, slamming gears into first then quickly into second. He drove off. 

As the sound of the car faded, I finally struggled to my feet taking my first wobbly steps across the open floor of the kitchen. It felt like a vast wasteland, miles and miles away from the car that had squealed out of the driveway and down the street. I was dazed, it had happened so fast. In hindsight, I know I was in shock. I collapsed again as I realised, they would be at the end of the street and my attempt was fruitless. 

My cheeks became a riverbed and my body screamed in anger. I was woolly headed, bewildered and frightened, scared for my children’s wellbeing and equally terrified for my safety, unable to string a complete thought together before my mind raced to another. 

A dawning happened. My home was no longer my home. It had become a prison of misery. 

All the previous assaults were behind closed doors, the children were sheltered from bearing witness, usually tucked up asleep in their beds. Not this night. 

In amongst the raw emotional turmoil, this was the night the fire of self preservation awoke from its slumber. No longer did the dream of holding the family together have the same importance. The cost of this toxic marriage was at the doorstep of my children and they were now paying the price. The lioness in me came out. 

Why had I paused? It was because I could sense the atmosphere of the room had changed. I had sensed that danger lurked. I paused to chose my words wisely.

The remaining trust or loyalty I had for this man kamikazed that night. I realised that love was not a glue that could fix this. 


Now here he was, three months later, trying to put back the pieces, to rekindle the flames. With a glass angel on a swing in a potted tree. 

I could not just see it as an angel on a swing in a tree. I couldn’t see it as an ornament. It was far more significant than that.  

As a child my favourite place in the world was the swing in my backyard. I spent hours there pondering life’s mysteries, day dreaming and imagining. 

I thought about the foolishness of putting a glass angel on a swing. She had wings. She had already known freedom and the feel of the wind caressing her in flight. A swing was for earth-bound folk who longed for the freedom of flight. She was a trapped angel. Fragile, being made of glass. She was heavy, no longer light as a feather. Is this the closest she would ever get to that freedom again? I wondered as I looked at it. 

Would the momentum that a child felt when the wind gushed through their hair, when their breath was taken away in time with the rise and fall of the pendulum movement, or when their stomach lurched, would it ever compare to the freedom of flight? To fly at will, in any direction with no boundaries or restrictions is the ultimate freedom. 

Wouldn’t being tethered to a swing only serve as a hurtful reminder of days past, a better life, a former life, a life of freedom? The days before she was glass, the days before she was trapped. Her wings are entwined with the chains of the swing. She’s a prisoner, just like I have been. 

I looked beyond the glass surface of the angel and I saw me. 

Did he see me as an angel, his angel, frail and delicate?

 Maybe he wanted me to be glass. So, he could break me, when he chose. Hadn’t that been the largest part of the problem over the years? He used control - psychological, physical and emotional. He had ignored my rights. 

My right to use my own vehicle – he would hide the keys or move the car. 

My right to enjoy my grandmother’s heirloom – he smashed in his furies. A hundred-year-old mixing bowl I can still see shattered in shards across the floor as my heart tore apart. That image is etched on my memory indelibly. 

My right to emotional calm – Along with the memories came the feelings that were attached at the time. Fear, disappointment, regret, anger, hatred, confusion, shame and hopelessness. 

My right to feel safe in my own home – I was terrified more often than not, never sure what would come next. 

My right to work – I scored my first client in a home-based business I was starting up. I met with them and came home with boxes of paperwork to file and sort. My husband came home to find me surrounded by paperwork. He kicked me, corked my thigh muscle. While he was very aware of what I wanted to do, he was angry I hadn’t consulted him that day before accepting this job. He wanted to control that decision. 

My right to wear the clothes I chose – during the last month of a pregnancy at the peak of summer, I would wear swimwear with a cheesecloth dress to manage the sweltering heat, in my beached whale condition. I only ever wore this at home, in the house or in the fenced backyard. He was furious. What if the neighbour looked over the fence. The fence was six feet high. Why would he? Is he that sick that perving on 8-month pregnant women gets him off? I don’t think so, his wife and he are pretty tight, she is a looker in a non-beached whale body. And, I wear less on the beach (sans dress) which is a public place. There was no logic in that demand. Just his jealous control that I was to abide by. 

My right to speak my mind – too often I was silenced swiftly with his hands or feet until I learned to keep quiet. My mother encouraged this, telling me it takes two dogs to fight. I should learn to be quiet. 

These rights had been ignored or disregarded, they had gradually been siphoned away and over time, I had given up fighting for them. They were there if an audience was around but not in the privacy of our home. 

I wondered; how does one person gain that much control? When another gives it up too freely?  I was too eager to make a marriage work. I was too eager to hold a family together that I gave up too much of me. In my heart of hearts, I know I did that. I know I gave too much. I forfeited me along the way. That is why I felt so depleted with no more to give. A well completely drained. 

When we first got together, I asked him for a swing for our home. Even as an adult I like a swing. My earliest memories are of afternoons on the swing in my back yard as a child. My escape. 

I never got that swing I ask for. This gesture today, says that he hasn’t forgotten that I had asked. This is why he brings me the gift now. A glass angel on a swing. It is a token. A lure. 

Looking at it I marvelled, ‘How cruel, how symbolic, how old me.’

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