Tricia St John
Tricia St John is a mother, author, event coordinator, motivational speaker and domestic violence survivor. St John lost her left forearm and two fingers on her right hand to a domestic violence attack in 2004. In 2009, St John’s ex-husband was found guilty by a nine-member jury of attempting to murder her. He was sentenced to 25 years and ten strokes.
St John is making impressive strides as she moves on with her life. She was recognised by the Traditional Afrikan Women’s Organisation with the Harriet Tubman/Claudia Jones Award on March 27, 2021. Here she continues her story of abuse from last week.
When Curtis began glaring at men who looked at me, or nodded or exchanged a few words, I began to realise that I had more of a problem than I’d originally thought. It became an issue if I smiled back, chatted or waved at any male figure that wasn’t his or my relatives. He saw secrecy in everything. A wave was a prearranged signal to meet. A smile could mean the same, or in the case of a stranger, it meant I wanted to see them again. My friends started to avoid me, but in all honesty, I had started to avoid them first. And if I did go out with a friend, my cell phone was like a living, breathing monster, intent on ensuring that I did not enjoy my outing. It made me anxious to get back to him so it would stop its incessant ringing. He insisted that his being jealous was not a bad thing because all men were jealous. And as for his tendency to smash things, well, that was just his way of venting.
Whenever I tried to explain to him how distracting and embarrassing his constant calling was, I felt like a dog on a leash, he would immediately go from being understanding to being riled up. The one time I felt brave enough to tell him that I could not continue dealing with it, I got slapped so hard my face hurt for days. Of course, after that, I was reminded of how much he didn’t want to lose me. I was allowed to go to the grocery and market alone but he would check the money before I left and after my return to ensure that I’d only spent the stipulated amount and that his change was correct to the last cent.
I was told how to dress and had to function within whatever time frame he insisted on. He claimed concern for my well-being and reminded me that no one loved me like he did. At the age of 23, I decided that if his love was the best the world had to offer, then I didn’t want anyone to ever love me again. If I got home late, I had to stay up to play 20 questions. It mattered not if I was coming from work or the clinic with the boys, I was reminded almost daily that only he knew what was best for me. He made me doubt myself, as I sought his approval for every decision. My control over my life slipped away and his control grew.
Always my fault
There had been nothing unusual at first to point toward him being an abusive man. It became obvious though, as time passed, that he believed that it was his right to control me. He needed that control so badly that all the patience, kind gestures and consideration fell by the wayside. I was left to deal with the cold, stark truth of who he was. After an episode, he would deflect from his vicious behaviour and accuse me of overreacting. And of course, there was the “ ‘well if you hadn’t …’” A clear indication of him declaring his innocence.
“‘You’re so manipulative!’” he’d say “‘You just want to be in control!’”
In control of what? was always the question I wanted to ask him, every single time because I had no control over anything that concerned me.
Curtis blamed everyone but himself. My responsibility was to make him happy, and whenever he wasn’t, it automatically became my fault. Even when he apologised for yelling or putting me down, it remained my fault. How often had I heard, “‘I wish you didn’t make me so crazy.’”
The real and present danger
Curtis would often threaten to kill me, the children and himself. He would force me to sit whilst he explained slowly, as if to a child, that after he killed me, he would kill himself but would have to kill the children too. His reasoning? There would be no one to care for them if we were both dead. I often wondered why I didn’t just stick him with something, thus putting an end to his constant prattling and this fear that fell over me like a blanket that had been left out in the rain.
Some of you ladies insist the man is not serious, he is just saying those things. Wake up and smell the coffee, eh! That fool is as serious as a heart attack! Understand and accept the fact that if he gets desperate enough, that may very well be the end of you and yours. In the end, he may just feel obligated to carry out threats issued over time. Kind of like, ‘I’ve been saying this repeatedly for so long, I have to do it. If I don’t, she will never take me seriously.’
Any weapon he has, like Curtis and his cutlass, can become the weapon that murders you! Temper and cruelty are not to be taken lightly either. You are no one’s property! And trust me when ah say that somebody constantly threatening your life is in no way amusing.
Often times Curtis would flare up for something trivial and I found myself wondering, how far could he go? I would watch him kick stray dogs in the road or pelt them. There seemed to be no reason for this other than to get a laugh as they scampered away, howling in pain.
To protect and serve?
Going to the police was not as good an idea as one would immediately assume. I ran into the Princes Town police station one night, sweaty, breathless, barefoot and scared. I knew Curtis had followed me, but I didn’t care. I was exhausted now, lost somewhere between who I used to be and who I’d become. Fed up with the continuous lashing, the bruises, the pain, the self-hate and self-blame. I wanted to get lost in a quiet, peaceful place where I didn’t have to do or say anything to defend myself.
The police officer on duty, a mean-looking, big, muscular, bald head man, took one look at me and said, “‘Ma’am yuh need to go back home.’”
I stopped short, just inside the door and stared in disbelief. Go back home? He didn’t even know why I’d come.
“Buh … buh … but,” I stammered, fighting to hold my sobs in, “He followed me. He’s outside. He’s beating me!”
“‘Ma’am, you have to go back home,’” he insisted “‘Dat is a family affair. I can’t do anything. Go and talk to de man, reason with him. Alyuh women does know how to do dat.’”
I turned, not bothering to argue. What was there to say if the people charged with protecting and serving had mentally absconded from their duty?
I didn’t get very far before I got the first thump. I didn’t even flinch. Just kept putting one foot in front of the other as I plodded back to my torture chamber.
“‘How yuh cud report me, eh?’” he demanded “‘Yuh mad or something?’”
I must be, I thought walking in silence, I must be. He hit me again. On my back. Thump. Thump. Thump. Without mercy. I stumbled, and almost fell, and he kicked me. I got it on my side and used my hand to avoid hitting my face against the pavement.
I felt alone on more than one level. If only one in every four women reported domestic violence, it was no wonder abuse was continuous. If all officers reacted the same way as the officer I’d just met, there would be no encouragement for us, no hope. It’s no wonder women didn’t report domestic violence if the response was indifference. Leaving one to feel deserted by what had probably been their last resort and adrift in a sea of unimportance, fear, unworthiness, despair, and mistrust.
If, as the statistics say, between 2009-2010 in T&T 13,000 new domestic violence cases were filed and 11,984 in 2010-2011. Between March 2018 to March 2020 there were 2,710 domestic violence cases reported however, for the period March 2020 to March 2022, the figure rose significantly to 4, 857 reports for that time period. Then what is the purpose of the police? Protect who? Serve who?
If they had a list of prospective clients, my name wasn’t on it.
I, having realised, in that moment, that the police were no longer in the protecting and serving business, hereby decree that I will protect and serve my damn self!
Final part next week