I never mentioned to my husband that I knew he’d been contacting Mum’s solicitor. All I wanted to do with Mum’s inheritance was knock a chunk off the mortgage and for us to buy a small runabout so that we could take the kids out on the water at weekends. Surely that shouldn’t be so hard?
Less than a month after my inheritance hit our account, he bought a shelf company in case, at some future date, he might want to start up his own business. He then broke the news that he was anticipating a sizeable tax bill at the end of the financial year and suggested it might be more prudent to reserve the money I’d earmarked to buy the boat to put toward a potential debt to the Tax Office. I was bitterly disappointed but mention of the word ‘debt’ was enough to make me return to the boat dealership and get a refund on our deposit.
I had already put most of the proceeds towards the mortgage but a few weeks later he suggested we take out a home equity loan. When the time was right we could use it to buy a boat and possibly take a trip to the UK with the kids. This should have rung warning bells, but I was labouring under a misguided fantasy that I had the situation under control.
I didn’t of course. Before long spreadsheets started to appear showing cash flow projections for joint ventures with none other than his mate, Duncan. The harder I tried to resist, the more pressure was applied. It wasn’t aggressive pressure, more like a malevolent fog pumped methodically into my brain until my ability to think clearly became tossed about in a convincing word salad – “We’d be nuts not to consider it”, “extremely conservative projections”, “it’s passive income”, “building up an asset”, “your mother knew the value of a good investment”, “think of it as a retirement fund”.
It continued relentlessly until I finally buckled, and we used the home equity loan to buy half shares in business ventures with Duncan. Joint family trusts were set up, but the very words were an oxymoron. There was no joint ‘trust’ as far as I was concerned. My brain turned to wool just thinking about the elaborate financial arrangements propping up their business activities. The more resistance I put up, the more he insisted that the kids and I were his number one priority and that he was doing it all for us. I had the problem and merely needed to adjust the way I reacted to the things I perceived as negative. People whose opinions I respected would be quoted to bolster his cause. Examples of others coping masterfully in similar situations were wheeled in to support his estimation that I was over-reacting and being selfish.
As Duncan’s control over our lives increased, the more obvious it became that I was being cleverly stage-managed to make small steps toward their desired destination only to find I was nowhere near where I wanted to be. My draughtsman who I’d thought was too alternative for me had disappeared and I was being manipulated, browbeaten and outmanoeuvred by a stranger I no longer knew.
I hadn’t made many friends on the Gold Coast and was pleased when I became friendly with a woman they’d employed part-time to do computer support. Although my husband had liked her at first, our friendship made him uneasy and he would often tell me how he, and an army of others who supposedly supported his view, thought that she wasn’t normal.
He had a fixation about being ‘normal’. A hint of anything remotely dysfunctional would have him saddling up his high horse and galloping to judgements that were largely unsupported. And a recently separated Jehovah’s Witness approaching forty with no children, certainly came nowhere near to meeting his criteria for ‘normality’. I think even he knew that she was smart enough not to waste her time trying to persuade me to even consider becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, but that didn’t deter him.
I too was often criticised for falling short of his ‘normal’ benchmark. My behaviour in my teens and the fact that I’d had an abnormal one parent upbringing was introduced to support this view, yet unsurprisingly no suggestions were offered as to what I was supposed to do about it. I couldn’t help thinking that this was all a bit rich considering that Duncan had a far greater influence on our lives, and who in my opinion, wasn’t at all normal.
I kept trying to leave, but something always happened to block my path to freedom. On this occasion it was a control drama that was orchestrated by Duncan. I can’t begin to explain it without sounding like a complete lunatic. So I won’t. Suffice to say that we ran around like headless chickens, over-thinking everything until my friend was threatened with legal action and lost her part-time job in rather dramatic circumstances. Although we saw each other occasionally after that, our friendship was essentially ruined.
Thankfully I was able to use the plethora of frequent flyer points he’d clocked up and escape for a couple of weeks to see my sister in England. It was so liberating to temporarily erase that bizarre melodrama and be free from people continually trying to make me feel ashamed and inadequate in order to satisfy their own needs and wants.
I had a fabulous time. We wined and dined at local eateries, stayed on their boat in the Hamble, cycled down country lanes exploring the countryside and discovered an amazing 12th century farm. We got drunk at the local pub and we laughed until we cried. Why couldn’t we do things like this? Like we used to before everything went so horribly wrong. But those days were over and unless I accepted it I would forever be waiting and hoping for a Road to Damascus turnaround that would never come.
After I returned to the Gold Coast we sold the house and ended up living together yet separately in a large rented house on Mount Tamborine. It wasn’t ideal, but I think if I hadn’t moved to Mount Tamborine, I would have gone completely round the bend. The splendour and magic of the ancient rainforest surrounded my shattered psyche and enabled me to maintain a tenuous grip on my sanity. I found it so soothing to be a ten-minute walk away from a magnificent waterfall. A place where I went to clear my mind and listen to nothing but to the sound of the pure, clear water tumbling over the moss-covered rocks before falling into the deep pool below. We had been given a lot of books of a spiritual nature and I read them avidly. It was almost as though some universal intelligence had brought me here and was guiding me throughout my difficulty journey.
By this time, we were up to our eyeballs in in debt and I knew that our largest unencumbered asset was a retail store owned by the joint family trust. On the morning of my 38th birthday I was told that Duncan was planning to sell this business to an agreed buyer for a dollar but that the two of them would put a buy back agreement in place with the purchaser so they could buy back the half share using another entity and give me twenty-five cents for my share.
Evidently Duncan also had a contingency plan should I decide to take the children and move back to New Zealand. He had studied the New Zealand regulations on child support and had discovered that if my husband earned all his income in Australia, he would legally only be obligated to pay ten dollars a week, regardless of what his Australian earnings were. I sought legal advice and found that although he was quite correct about the child support, he was possibly delusional about the twenty-five-cent pay-out scenario.
Although I had tried to find work, the Gold Coast didn’t offer the sort of work I was experienced in. I had lost my only friend on the Gold Coast and had no money of my own. Picking up the kids and taking them back to New Zealand would not only mean a miserable ten dollars a week in child support, but according to Duncan, I could find myself on a charge of kidnapping. I wondered briefly if I should pack up the children and go to a women’s shelter but surely I was losing my grip on reality? I had no bruises and wasn’t in any life-threatening danger, yet I felt strangely … abused in some way.
I was mulling over all of this during one dark night of the soul. I must’ve dozed off because Mum appeared in a dream. We were very happy to see each other but then she became grave and said she had something very important to tell me. I instantly felt a deep sense of shame about the mess I was making of her legacy and started to tell her this, but she just smiled and said that her legacy couldn’t be tallied up in a bank account or in material possessions. She held out her hands as if to take my own and said: “keep going”. I wanted to touch those big, warm, comforting hands that had always made me feel so safe and I tried to get up so that I could reach her but I couldn’t move my legs. I woke up and I was on the floor, still trying to move my legs but even in my awake state they were too weak to support me. I crawled to the toilet and was violently sick.
By this time the strength had returned to my legs, but I returned to bed feeling as though all the energy had been sucked from my body. What did she mean “keep going”? That I should keep our marriage going? Or did ‘going’ mean leaving? I was in no doubt that I needed to get this resolved one way or another and sooner rather than later. But how? I was continually being assured by my husband that he was committed to achieving the best possible result so that my mother’s inheritance could be restored. But the best result for whom?
I was never sure who was really pulling the strings. Duncan reminded me of a ventriloquist’s dummy with his neat, dark hair and the way his jaw moved up and down as he spoke. But was he the dummy or the ventriloquist? He appeared to be the one manipulating his “puppets” but was I confusing him with my husband who always claimed to be acting on Duncan’s directives? One thing I did know for sure – my husband’s acting abilities were never in doubt after that control drama where my friend lost her job. He had given an award-winning performance and I knew that this was something I would be wise never to forget.