When Rosanna felt something on the back of her head, it was the start of a nightmare.
- Rosanna Robertson, from Sydney, NSW, tells the story in her own words.
A￼s blood pooled around my head, I felt my life draining out of me. Zoning in on my fading heartbeat, I channelled energy into my breath.Thoughts of my beautiful boy Dylan, five, waiting for me at my mum Deryl’s house around the corner filled my mind. I can’t die tonight, my son needs me, I told myself.
Suddenly, it felt like a clamp was tightening around my brain. The pain jolted my eyes open.I’m running out of time,
I thought.Nobody knew I was lying in this dark alleyway apart from my boyfriend, Damien. But I couldn’t afford to panic now, worrying about whether he’d come back...I met Damien three years earlier at a party. With blonde hair and blue eyes, he was handsome and charming. But around a month after we’d been together, Damien started to become controlling.
Sometimes I’d discover he’d emptied out my wallet without asking. I thought it was strange, but he was so attentive and caring most of the time I’d let it go. But about a year into our relationship, we were arguing and he kicked me on my backside.‘That hurt!’ I cried. ‘Don’t lie, you like it,’ he snarled back.‘I’m sorry. I love you,’ he’d say afterwards.
By that time my self- esteem had hit rock bottom and I couldn’t see a way out. Then, one night I went to the pub with Damien after I’d finished teaching a yoga class. After a few drinks, we had a silly fight. ‘Let’s go,’ he spat, grabbing onto my shirt as he marched me out. I was tipsy and laughing. I thought it was a game but I was wrong.
When we got to the back of the pub, there was a car park and a dark alleyway.I still had my back to Damien when I felt something hard touch my head. There was no pain. No sound. Suddenly, I blacked out. Seconds later I woke up on the ground. I knew something was very wrong because I couldn’t move my body.
Did Damien just shoot me? I thought, unable to comprehend the situation. Through the darkness, I could see his shadowy figure above me before he silently disappeared into the night. Left for dead, I was fighting for my life. For an hour, I lay on the ground.
Remembering my yoga studies, I concentrated just on my breath.I need to find help, I thought desperately. Summoning all of my strength, I rolled onto my stomach and commando crawled towards the street. Once there, I languished in the dark for what seemed like an eternity. Then, a security guard from the pub appeared on the street and I grabbed at his ankle as he passed me.‘Please call an ambulance!’ I spluttered, before falling into a deep sleep of wailing sirens.
Waking up in Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, I was attached to machines and breathing through a tracheotomy pipe. My legs were numb and I couldn’t speak. ‘You’ve been in a coma for 10 days,’ explained a doctor. ‘You’ve had brain surgery.’
Damien had shot me. The bullet had lodged in my cerebellum and exploded. Surgeons operated for several hours to try to remove all the fragments. ‘I’m sorry,’ the doctor gently whispered. ‘You may never walk or talk again.’ While I was in the coma, Damien had been arrested for the attack. Police explained that after he shot me, he went to my place, ordered himself a pizza and watched a movie. What a monster.
I was pleased that he could no longer harm me but I also faced a new battle. After three months at Westmead, I spent six months at the Royal Rehab Brain Injury Unit. At first, I couldn’t even bring a spoon to my mouth. Dylan, who was staying with Mum, would often sit by my bedside, too little to know what was going on. My boy needs his mother, I thought, determined to get better.
Lying in bed, I visualized myself running at the beach with waves crashing around my ankles. Over time I re-learned to talk and began walking with a frame.
In October 2007 at Parramatta District Court, Damien George, 24, pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent to murder and was sentenced to 15 years’ jail, with a non-parole period of 11 years.
Today, after nine years of using a walking frame, I now use a stick. Living close to the beach, I go there to feel the waves on my feet. My speech is shaky, but getting better every day. For the past six months I’ve been teaching yoga to disabled people.
The best part of my recovery has been seeing my precious boy, Dylan, now 16, grow up. ‘It’s so good to see you walking on the stick, Mum,’ he smiles at me.
It’s taken me 10 years to find the courage, but now it’s my mission to be brave and share my story. In Australia and New Zealand, one in three women has experienced physical violence. If that woman is you, reach out for help.
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