Time to go home, I thought.
Hopping up, I went to find my big sister, Mariah, 24, who’d been missing from the table for about five minutes.
Walking around the corner with one of my friends following me, I saw Mariah on the lounge outside the toilets with an upset woman I’d never seen before.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked Mariah.
Apparently, the girl had a fight with her boyfriend and she was scared.
‘Can you walk me outside?’ she asked.
Thinking she wanted to go home, I led her out onto the verandah, towards the exit.
‘Everything’s going to be okay,’ I reassured her.
But as soon as we got outside, a man – who I guessed was her partner – started screaming at her.
My blood boiled.
How dare he?
I couldn’t imagine ever treating my girlfriend Shani, 23, like that.
‘Don’t speak to her like that!’ I said, appalled.
‘What are you going to do about it?’ he sneered.
Just then, my friend lunged towards him, hand raised.
No – I don’t want to get into a fight! I thought.
Before I could say anything, she’d palmed him in the chest. In the blink of an eye, he’d punched her in the face and she went flying, falling to the ground.
Suddenly, his fist slammed into my temple.
He was a big guy, but I was still standing.
As my friend scrambled to her feet, someone tried to hold the enraged bloke back.
Then suddenly, I was pushed out into the car park and a brawl erupted around me.
What’s happening? I panicked.
I was just trying to be a good Samaritan – I never asked for this!
Stuck in the middle of the scuffle, someone pushed me over and pulled my T-shirt over my head. I was blinded!
Is this it? I fretted. Am I going to die?
Getting to my knees as screams reverberated around me, I struggled to rip the fabric free.
But the fray went on around me, so I tried to cover my face with my arms to protect myself.
Suddenly, something slammed into my face and my world went black...
Stirring, my head was cradled in Mariah’s lap.
‘Please don’t die!’ she cried.
Then, I drifted off again...
Coming to in hospital, machines beeped and wires snaked from my body.
Opening my eyes, my nan Kathy, mum Peggy, Mariah, and our brother Rylee, were crying.
Mum wrapped me in a big cuddle.
My head throbbing, I felt numb.
The doctor explained that I’d been rushed to Emergency after being savagely kneed in the face in the pub car park.
I’d suffered a brain injury and after several seizures, I was put into an induced coma for two days.
Discharged five days later, I had strict instructions to take it easy.
A week later, the police helped to fill in some more of the gaps.
I’d been kneed in the face by the man who I’d confronted in the pub.
A father-of-four, his name was Alapati Jake Lemuelu.
The entire attack, including me earlier defending his girlfriend, had been captured on CCTV.
Just over a week after going home, I had another massive seizure and was rushed to hospital again.
Let out on New Year’s Eve, my road to recovery was only just beginning...
Put on anti-seizure meds, they made me drowsy, and I felt sick if I spent too long in the sun. I couldn’t do my job as a landscaper and it hit me hard.
Before, I was an independent go-getter.
Now I can’t even drive, I thought sadly.
Mum had always taught me to help people. But look where it had got me...
This October, Lemuelu appeared at the District Court of Queensland. He pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm and two counts of assault occasioning bodily harm while in company.
While the CCTV was played to the courtroom, Shani gripped my hand, tears running down her face.
It was the first time we’d seen the footage – and it was shockingly brutal. Watching it gave me some closure.
Prosecutor Lara Soldi called the attack, ‘Terrifying, ruthless and totally unjustifiable.’
Lemuelu was sentenced to four years in jail, which will be suspended after he’s spent one year behind bars.
It’s better than nothing, I thought.
But it still wasn’t good enough considering the pain I’d been through – and was still in.
‘I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – not even my worst enemy,’ I told media outside.
Later, I saw Lemuelu on the news.
‘Anything at all to say about what happened that night?’ a TV reporter asked him as he left court.
‘Just that I’m sorry,’ he said.
If he was really remorseful, he would’ve come up and told me himself, I thought, disgusted.
A year on from the attack, I’m waiting for the all-clear from my neurologist to stop taking the meds, and get back to work and behind the wheel again.
I want my life back. I still struggle with nightmares, anxiety and PTSD.
But I have my family and Shani and her two beautiful kids, Emily, seven, and Octavia, two, by my side.
Together, we can get through anything.
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