When I woke up this morning I did what I always do – reached across, bleary-eyed, to hit the snooze button on the phone. Unable to find it in my semi-dozed state I glanced at it to find the right place to tap in order to slip back into sleep and I was met with the BBC News pop up telling me that Australian cricketer Phil Hughes had lost his fight against the freak accident which rendered him unconscious a few days ago. I have to admit that I don’t know who he is – not being a cricket fan – but it had me immediately in tears. It immediately brought back memories of when my first marriage suffered an irreversible change in course.
I have rarely talked about it in much detail as it has always reduced me to tears and I have yet to face the locked up emotions from it but today they flooded to the front and it has been a day of sadness, regret, pent up anger, fear, mourning and loss. I have talked about it clinically and most people who know me know the basics but the intimate, locked away stuff has stayed there – tightly boxed away. Maybe it is time to take the lid off – maybe.
One fateful Friday in July 2003 I dropped my, then, husband into the city for his usual Friday night out with his mates and returned home and did something later that evening I had never done before – I fell asleep before he was home. This might sound like a tiny thing but it felt like a betrayal because that was the night Phil was punched during an argument about football and didn’t come home.
One punch was all it took. One punch – I know – I counted it when I saw the video evidence that the police showed me in case I knew his attacker. One single, solitary punch changed his life, my life, our futures and gave me another hateful view onto my life which I was already fed up with dealing with past memories.
One punch laid my 6 foot, 6 inch husband to the floor with severe head injuries. An extradural haematoma which saw me watching my husband fighting for his life and in a coma for the next 11 days. It saw me arguing with bank bosses who told me “it would have been better if Phil had died” for me to sort out the finances to pay our mortgage and that it “wasn’t his fault if we defaulted from our mortgage payments” despite Phil’s wages still due to be paid into his account which I wasn’t allowed access to. It saw me dissociate into “blank” mode to deal with overwhelming pressures and saw me nearly kill myself as I struggled to understand any of what was happening.
It changed us irrevocably as people and as a couple. People couldn’t understand why I asked them not to let my recovering husband drink alcohol as he visited them in the pub because he “looks fine so stop being a killjoy”. They saw me as the boring, nagging wife who was just trying to spoil Phil’s fun but what they didn’t, or refused to, see was the damage they were doing – the doors in our house with punch holes in, the food thrown across the room in anger, the yellow sticky notes everywhere to teach him the name of a table, chair, window – all things he knew in conversation but couldn’t give you a direct answer to if you asked him “what is this?”.
They didn’t see the times, in the middle of the night, I had to leave the house because it was the only way to guarantee my own safety as he lost the plot again and the only way to help him find it again was by leaving.
I don’t blame him in the slightest for it as I truly believe he didn’t know what he was doing. One of the “side effects” of a head injury is that inhibitors to strong emotions are damaged and once in something like an argument instinct takes over and the only way for it to be stopped is for the uninjured party to totally leave the area. The next day he would know something had happened but wouldn’t know what and that was what made it so much harder to deal with.
In a morning of clarity he said to me “Phil L is dead. RIP Phil L” and he, himself, told me it would have been easier all round if he had not survived that night. It would have made people’s reactions to me totally different. I would have been understood not ridiculed. I would have had sympathy not antagonism and maybe the nasty woman (that I have no idea who she was) wouldn’t have accused me of “deserting my husband when he was so ill”. You had no idea, love, what I had been through so back off! That is what I should have said but instead I took it and locked it away with the rest of the crap I had directed at me. Only one person ever asked me how I was. It was always “how was Phil?” No-one could see the suffering we were both going through – only ever what he was (if they could be bothered to actually look). One person thought enough to ask me if I was okay, if I was coping. That is why she was and still remains my best friend.
I am bitter. I am angry. I love Phil – but the Phil who was taken away from that night and I am mourning – and will always mourn I believe.
I know I have moved on and been extremely lucky to find Richard who is wonderful to me, loves me and is loved in return and we love our three children so very much but a part of me will always be back there in that hospital room, watching, waiting and fearing.