REAL LIFE

He set me on fire when I tried to leave.

Leesa thought she’d met the love of her life, but then she discovered his dark side
Supplied

Leesa, Hobart Tasmania

I’ll never forget the day I met the man who would change my life forever.

Michael, 44, was a delivery driver who’d often come to the shop where I worked. Funny and charming, he was never short on confidence. After a few flirty conversations, he made his move.

‘Want to grab a drink later?’ he asked.

I’d been single for a few years and was living with my teenage daughter, Amy*, so I felt ready. As we started dating, I loved how friendly and open Michael was.

The only thing I didn’t like was how much alcohol he drank, but I quickly fell for him. After eight months, I moved in with Michael.

Micheal, I thought he was my dream man. (Credit: Supplied)

“What happened to my nice bloke?”

But then my dream man started showing his true colours. He constantly asked where I was going and became suspicious and clingy.

One day, I came home from work and found him in the garage, drunk. We started to argue, and Michael suddenly punched me in the side of the face. I couldn’t believe it. What had happened to the nice bloke I’d fallen for? 

Shocked, I raced upstairs. But the next day Michael was apologetic. It was so out of character, I chalked it up to a drunken mistake. I was wrong.

In April last year we had another argument after we had been out for an evening with friends. ‘You’ve had too much to drink,’ I told him.

Michael shoved me to the ground. My heart thumped as he pressed his arm into my neck. I managed to kick him off and struggle to my feet, but Michael kept going.

Stretching out my right arm to protect myself, Michael grabbed it roughly. As he bent back my wrist, sickening pain shot through me. Crack!

I collapsed to the ground sobbing, but Michael just walked off. It was as if nothing had happened. The next day, scans revealed I had a nasty break in my wrist.

‘I fell down chasing my dogs,’ I lied to the doctor. I was too scared to open up.

But my injury meant I’d have to stop work for nearly three months. As soon as I’m earning money again I’ll leave him, I thought firmly.

When I got home I heard Michael joking on the phone to a friend about how clumsy I was. So evil, I thought.

‘It’s over, Michael,’ I told him later that day. ‘I’ll move out when I’m back at work.’ He seemed to accept this and things were civil between us for the next 11 weeks.

But a few days after I went back to work in June, Michael asked me to meet him at the pub. I thought he might try to convince me to stay, but he seemed distracted and cold.

“I’m going to burn you…”

Back at home, I went upstairs to see Amy while he went to the garage alone. After a little while I went to check on him, but he just glared at me. As we started to bicker, nerves swirled inside me.

I need to leave, I thought. But as I backed away, he picked up a can of petrol.

‘I’m going to burn you,’ he told me calmly, his face devoid of any emotion. Without breaking my gaze he poured the petrol over my body and flicked his lighter.

Within seconds, I was engulfed by the overwhelming heat. Screaming, I tried to beat out the fire with my hands.

Michael never moved to help me. I’d just managed to put out the flames when Amy appeared in the doorway.

‘Mum!’ she screamed. As she raced me upstairs while she called Triple-0, I caught a glimpse of my reflection.

My hair and face were black and burnt, my clothes melting into my body. The skin on my chest and neck was already peeling off me.

Am I going to die? I panicked.

The pain was the most agonising thing I’d ever felt. Everything was a blur as an ambulance arrived, then I blacked out.

The next thing I knew, I woke in hospital. Covered in bandages, I was groggy and sore.

Me in the hospital (Credit: Supplied)

‘You’ve been in an induced coma,’ a doctor said, explaining 12 days had passed while they fought to keep me alive.

That’s when Amy told me Michael had been arrested. I was so relieved, but now I had to face what he’d done to me.

For the next six weeks I underwent skin grafts and therapies. With burns to 25 per cent of my body, I was in never-ending agony. Doctors had to give me morphine just to shower because of the pain when the water hit my skin.

Then one day a balloon with a card attached arrived for me. Opening it, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Thinking of you… Love you lots, the card read. It was from Michael.

What kind of sick person would send a card after what he’s done? I thought, shaking with rage.

A slow recovery

Michael had been ordered not to contact me, so I reported it to police and he was convicted of breaching a court order. After three months, I was finally able to go home.

In March, 2016, Michael John Price, 45, of Austins Ferry, Tas, appeared before the Supreme Court of Tasmania. He pleaded guilty to three counts of assault and one count of causing grievous bodily harm.

In my victim impact statement, I spoke about how Michael had given me a life sentence. I gathered all my strength to stare straight at Michael as it was read out.

‘I’ll never forget the pain from the burns and every time I see the scars the memory is there,’ I said.

Michael was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a six-year non-parole period. I later learnt he is appealing this sentence.

It felt good to have justice served, but nothing will ever make up for what was done to me.

I hope that my story can serve as a warning to other women who might be in situations like I was.

Leave now, don’t wait until it gets worse. Reach out and find help before it’s too late.

One in six Australian women has experienced violence from a current or former partner. One in three Australian women will experience violence in their lifetime. If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au

*name has been changed

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