Many years ago, in my first proper job, I was sent to work away from home for a couple of months. In a strange place, I was taken under the wing of a young woman, about my age at the time, who worked in the office. Another colleague and I went out drinking and clubbing with our new friend. She was utterly stunning, one of those women that makes you want to peer closely, thinking, “are you real?” She talked in a wide eyed way about her husband who played in a rock band – they had a beautiful daughter and we were so, so envious of her. She took us to our first karaoke night and while we drunkenly slurred out “Wild thing”, she sang flawlessly, standing tall in white jeans with long glossy hair. God, we LOVED her.
So, one night, we went to a club to hear her husband’s band. There was a break as we arrived and we got a drink while she went to find him. Then she tapped us on the shoulder and said, Hi, meet_____! We turned around and in a comedy moment looked into thin air. Then we looked about a foot lower and there was a man, with a face for which the kindest word would be ‘scrunched’ with a tragic mullet hair cut, even for 1991, wearing double denim and a waistcoat. But of course, appearances are deceptive, all over the world there are women spending their lives with men whose physical attraction is very hard to see, but are loved because of their human kindness and amazing personalities. Bernie Ecclestone, for example. Oh no, wait, that’s because he’s rich. Ok, Rupert Murdoch, no, money again. Umm, William Hague? No, that one’s beyond me too.
Anyway, this guy turns out to have a personality, but that of a nasty wee shite as they said locally. He sneered at our proffered hands of introduction, slapped his stunning wife on the backside telling her she was fat, laughed cruelly when we said what a great singer she was and then turned on his heel and walked off for a sound check. She turned to us with shining eyes and said, “What do you think? Isn’t he great?”. It is to my eternal feminist shame that I didn’t tell her the truth, right there and then. No, he is a total wanker and you are a goddess. What on earth are you thinking?
The point of all of this, is that when I think of Ed, L’s nightmare relationship, with anorexia, I imagine Ed as if he is this guy. Nothing L does is good enough. He has convinced her she is fat and ugly and if she just tries hard enough, she might please him. But she won’t. For some reason, he hates her strength, her cleverness, her beauty and he wants to make her weak and scared. He is the ultimate misogynist. He will take a young woman who has an amazing life ahead of her and by the time he is finished, she will be sobbing because she ate a slice of bread. Every ounce of confidence will be sucked from her; any swagger or cockiness on her part will be beaten out systematically. If she defies him, she will end up begging forgiveness, on her knees in front of the toilet bowl, her fingers soaked in her own vomit and tears. Basic decisions will become impossible as her mind is taken over by him; she will wander around the supermarket picking up packets, putting them down again and eventually walking out.
Her friends and family, will try and save her, but will stand and watch as she goes back to him. They will try and reach an accommodation with him, so they can keep her with them and watch miserably as they concede to Ed’s rules, just to make sure she trusts them and doesn’t push them away altogether. We gaze in bewilderment, wondering how the hell this stunning, clever, creative kind young woman is trapped in the spell of this monster. And worse of all are the times when we think she has seen the light and is walking to freedom, is realising that he isn’t worth it and then turns and goes back to him. There are times when we are all tempted to say, it’s him or us. We can’t watch him destroy you any more, we can’t see you choose a life of abuse over the freedom that is just here, waiting for you. But we love her, and our love is always that bit stronger than the hatred of anorexia, but on so many days, it is only just stronger and we wonder if Ed will win in the end. We cannot ban Ed from the house, because he lives in her head. We cannot see him, but he is there all the time, whispering in L’s ear and waiting for her when she goes to bed. This is a battle of love over hate and patience and determination are my only weapons. Ed may be determined to never give up, but the thing is, so am I.