As John grabbed my hand, my heart skipped a beat.
It was our first date and it was going well.
Since breaking up with my school sweetheart of 10 years, I hadn’t thought about dating.
Then I took my car to the garage and John was the auto-electrician. I felt an instant spark and was pleased when he asked me out.
He was a real gentleman too. Always opening doors and giving me compliments.
I soon discovered three years earlier he’d lost his pregnant wife in a car crash. My heart broke thinking what he’d been through.
A few weeks later I moved into John’s place. But that’s when things began to change.
John became obsessed with looking through photos on my phone.
‘Who’s that?’ he asked, looking at a pic of me with one of my male mates.
‘It’s just a friend,’ I replied.
Then he found some photos I’d posted to Instagram before we got together. One was a selfie of me with some cleavage showing, sitting on the end of my bed.
‘Who have you sent that to?’ John asked angrily.
‘No-one!’ I cried, but he was enraged.
Eventually I calmed him down but the selfie became his obsession.
John couldn’t let it go.
Then one day, he picked me up from my job as a carer at an aged care home and seemed to be in a bad mood.
When we got to the house he launched into me.
‘I know you are cheating on me while you’re at work. I know you’re sending photos to someone!’ he bellowed.
THWACK! He’d head-butted me in the nose. Shocked and in pain, tears streamed down my face. John just stalked outside for a cigarette.
Thinking it was a one-off, I forgave him. Part of me hoped his jealousy meant he loved me. But his anger got worse.
Soon I was avoiding my friends and family. John was obsessively clean. I would spend hours mopping floors and polishing, only to be shouted at by John saying it wasn’t good enough.
Eventually, I sought help in a refuge and got a family violence intervention order issued against him.
Then John contacted me on Facebook promising he was sorry and things would be better. I decided to give him another chance.
What a mistake that was.
In April 2013, things got so bad I feared for my life. John had taken my phone and driver’s licence off me. He didn’t like me being away from him so I’d given up work. But my man still wasn’t happy.
One day, he launched into a tirade of abuse.
‘I know you’re cheating on me,’ he screamed. Swinging his fist he punched me in the face. I fell to the ground, where John carried on kicking and punching me.
In the end I had no strength to protect myself and just cowered in the corner as he rained down punches on me.
Then I heard the door shut as John left. I couldn’t believe my perfect man had turned into such a monster.
As the hours passed, I expected him to come back and say sorry. Instead, when John returned he launched into another attack.
This time he grabbed a meat tenderiser from the kitchen and bashed me over the legs and bottom. Bloodied and bruised, I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.
John locked me in the house. I was only let out of the bedroom when John wanted the house to be cleaned.
He attacked me countless times, bashing my head against the wall and yanking my hair out. I lost hope of ever being able to leave.
Was I going to die here?
On the fourth evening, I was cleaning when I noticed John wasn’t around.
Seeing my opportunity, I ran out into the yard and jumped the fence.
Banging on my neighbours’ door, I begged for help.
Thankfully, when they saw what state I was in they wrapped me in a blanket and took me to the police, where they called for an ambulance.
Once in hospital, I finally felt safe. Breaking down, I told the police what happened.
In October 2014, John Grima, then 37, pleaded guilty to one charge of intentionally causing serious injury and one charge of contravening a family violence intervention order.
He was sentenced to six years imprisonment with a non-parole period of four years.
In May 2015, I successfully sued John and he was ordered to pay $70,000 in compensation for pain and suffering.
A year on, I’m still recovering both physically and mentally but I’ve found a new man, Daymion, 34, and feel really happy.
I’m telling my story to warn other women about staying with a violent partner. Walk away the first time he hits you. That’s what I wish I’d done.
If you or someone you know needs help or advice, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), a counselling service available 24 hours.
Originally published in that's life! magazine - issue 21, May 26, 2016.