Much larger than Pennycuick Street, and able to hold all of us properly (remember, I didn’t decide I was going to Rockhampton until after mum had found the Pennycuick Street house), Smith Street was located in a quiet part of Rockhampton called The Range. I only just now learnt that it’s called The Range, but it makes sense: it would explain the extreme slope of the street and backyard, which turned the relatively simple task of mowing the lawn into a dangerous battle against both the petulance of a two-stroke engine and Newtonian physics.
My change of heart wasn’t the only reason we needed somewhere a bit bigger than Pennycuick Street: Dale found us. Again. He moved himself back in, as he was wont to do, and started throwing his arrogant, muscular weight around once more. Tommy, his only biological son, apple of his eye and baby of the family, was allowed to run bratty, amok-running rings around the household, while either Lauren or I was blamed for every single act of his four-year-old terrorism (I was once, at fifteen years old, blamed for stuffing pegs into the slot of the VCR. I mean, how dare you: I only ever stuffed the VCR with episodes of The X Files or Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman that I’d recorded off the telly).
Meanwhile, mum…I don’t even know what mum ended up living with. At least, not the details. And even if I did know, I don’t think I would want to write them down.
It had now been nearly seven years of this. Mum had tried everything she could within this trapped, hopeless situation. She tried going with the flow: it ended up with us stuck on the Papua New Guinea side of the Torres Strait. She’d tried running, again and again and again and again: he kept finding us (in case you missed it: Dale’s sister worked for the Child Safety Services division of the Queensland Government, and just kept giving Dale our continually updating address). She’d moved to Rockhampton to study at CQU and find a way to better her life, and Dale was there to tear it all down again.
I guess after seven years of such suffering, one might end up thinking there is nothing left to lose. Maybe there isn’t anything left to lose. Maybe when every single available surface is coated in fear, it’s impossible to become any more afraid. So the fear just sets, and rusts over, and turns into hopelessness. Hopelessness is almost indistinguishable from emptiness. And once you’re empty…
…what is there to be afraid of anymore?
I’m no expert, and I’m only an observer in this scenario, but I think that is what happened to mum. I think that’s why, one mid-Saturday morning, during one of Dale’s alarmingly regular rampages about god knows what, with nothing left to lose, mum took a step towards him, planted her foot, and punched him as hard as she could right in his stupid disgusting drunken abusive cunt of a face.
The punch landed squarely enough (and, one assumes, with enough of a surprise) to make Dale stagger back a step. When you’re over six foot three, a kickboxer, and occasionally a bouncer by trade, it must sting when a short, round mother of three clocks you so hard you stumble. It did sting, and the sting made him mad. He strode forward to close the gap she’d mad between them, and said in the low, aggressive voice I’d heard many times before “Don’t you EVER do that again.”
“Do what,” mum asked, “this?” and she swiftly punched him again, in the exact same place on his stupid disgusting drunken abusive cunt of a face.
Kapow II: The Kapowening.
He staggered back a second time. This time, he didn’t step forward again. He didn’t do anything.
And I don’t just mean in that particular fight. I mean he never did anything to hurt any of us ever again. Shortly after this incident, mum, Lauren, Tommy and I would move to another house and Dale would not follow.
Mum was free. We were free. It was over.
So, here’s the thing. Obviously I was, and still am, nothing but thrilled that Dale’s control over the family had evaporated, almost overnight. It was what I’d wanted since at least 1991. But the way it happened. The children’s-textbook manner in which a bully, once confronted, immediately crumbled is insidious and repugnant. This man physically, emotionally, and mentally tormented my mother, and by extension me and my siblings, for years. To discover that all it took was two punches from a tee-totalling cross-stitch enthusiast to cower him is galling. It is almost embarrassing in its Very Special Episode predictability. That his menace was so hollow. Not that his menace wasn’t menacing—the ferocity of his drunken abuse was life threatening—it’s just that it was so brittle. So bafflingly, almost amusingly cliche. To this day I’m as embarrassed for him as I am furious at him. You’d think that the desire to beat a woman and torment her children for the better part of a decade would come with a bit of fucking follow-through.
None of this is the point, however. To disappear into my own head-hole over the semantics of Dale’s behaviour is to completely overlook the very wonderful things that happened: Mum discovered a strength she never knew she had, and we were free of Dale. Never again would we be moving house because of his volatile caprice.
I mean, we’d still move house a lot. You’re reading this from the top, one assumes, so you already know there are sixty stories: I’ve still got twenty-eight to go. But at least the remaining moves are for reasons a lot more capricious and whimsical and nonsensical!