Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

All White Ribbons Fray

All White Ribbons Fray

Runner-Up Year 9/10

Emilyana Di Meco

Year 10, St Margaret's Anglican Girls' School

The neighbours didn't say anything, but they all knew. How could they have missed the symphony of pain that danced into the neighbourhood each night? I don't blame them, though. They could have hounded the police who would've paid us yet another little visit, but that would have ended as every fight did; painfully.

Strangers protest in the street; No Excuse for Abuse stickers hug the back of ambulances; sleezy businessmen with white ribbons of feigned unity preach on television, but so many women and children are still beaten, strangled, killed every day. A contorted smile has found its forever home splayed across my face, it pains me so, how impassioned, how enraged the masses pretend to be.

They say actions speak louder than words, but that's because the words we need aren't being spoken. Because children are taught that the darkness flowering across their chest is their special little secret, and wives are taught that rebellion will just nurture those buds into kaleidoscopes of blooming bouquets. Because the victors write the rules and the abusive are the victors.

It happens behind closed doors and no one seems to complain, so who cares? Not enough people, apparently.

To all of you parading white ribbons: Why is your compassion so intentionally reserved for when the cameras turn to you?

We do not want your ribbons, we do not want your sympathy and we do not want another social worker. You don't talk to us, but at us, about us, when all we need is for you to listen. You can give us a counsellor who sits and watches us choke out our nightmares, but you need to listen to the words we sob, to the lifeline we have no choice but to trust you with. Maybe you won't get the truth out of me the first time, or the second or the third, but try. No one tried with me and I scream now at my festering insides even though there is nothing left to hear it. Whatever was inside me, you never let it escape. It clawed and chewed until its confines rotted black and it grew so hungry it devoured itself.

Now I look in the mirror and see torn edges, inky stains beneath sweater sleeves that faded long ago. I see my mother in myself, in that I am drawn to friends, to people who want to break me down to splintered nothingness. When a child is left to pick up the broken shards of their own mother, they cut themselves, too. The jagged edges cut deep, and sometimes the people who try to put others back together are even more shattered than the mosaics of the broken people they love.

It's over now, and days are calmer, but the terror of those nights has only manifested into something that strangles me as I lie in bed at night, when everything writhes and festers in my memory and I am scared. I am scared of every car that drives by my home, I am scared of my mother who has never been the same, who isn't anything if not a reminder of the blood and the bruises, but most of all, I am scared of myself. I cower from the voices in my head threatening to swallow the suffering. Not threatening, but promising. Grinning slyly and luring me in, with whispers and assurances that they can end the tears and the fear and the sadness. That they can end it all.