She wanted to be romanced. She wanted love.
"Anna" and her kids already had "a great life" but she wanted to add to her happiness. "Everyone wants to experience great love."
That yearning unwittingly flung her into a living hell at the hands of a man she didn't know had just got out of jail for domestic violence.
Anna had decided to try-out an online dating website though was careful, considered. She was hesitant to reply to the first message he sent.
Besides, he lived hours from her Border home. It was just a bit too far away and she saw no reason to abandon everything for the sake of a stranger.
A well-educated professional, a hard-working mum, separated from her kids' dad but more than happy with their split-custody arrangements.
He cropped-up after she had already been in contact with others also looking for a relationship, men appearing to be after the same thing.
"They want the feeling, they want love, they want to be married, they want to have their own home."
But Anna got a manipulator, a narcissist who "can make you believe and change your mind like that, without even noticing it".
He persisted with messages and won her over.
Anna's now lost her kids, she's lost the baby she had with him. Child Protection took the child away just days after she cradled the two-month-old in court as he was being prosecuted.
The only way I thought I could get out was if he killed me. And I begged him to kill me so many times"Anna" on her abuser
This cycle of physical and psychological violence, where she would be woken in the middle of the night by him trying to strangle her, where he threatened to jump on her stomach to kill their unborn child, where he would abuse and belittle her in front of his friends.
No one stepped in, she says, because she suspects her world was the same as theirs, that they had reached the same nihilistic twilight zone.
Anna wanted out, but because of the hold he had on her she also didn't want to leave.
She loved him and was deeply, irrationally frightened that she could not exist without him.
"The only way I thought I could get out was if he killed me," she says, through another round of tears, losing her voice, recounting in 72 heart-wrenching minutes her 18 months of hell.
"And I begged him to kill me so many times because I knew my kids would be OK. Their dad is great, he's a wonderful father."
The first weekend she spent in his home town had her overcome with happiness.
And that charm, "oh god, he was so charming. I've never met anyone who can sweep you off your feet over the phone."
This has been the worst time of my life. But now I'm confident with how I am, when I see myself I'm happy."Anna"
His family loved her and he cried when she left, saying he was "going to miss you so much".
Her kids came the following weekend, were warmly welcomed and he played with them in the park. They all went fishing.
But she thought it a little odd when his mum sat next to her and told of how her son had never before brought a woman home.
"The weekend was magical. We went out for dinner, we had drinks at his friend's house," she says.
"But still no one told me he had recently been in jail for domestic violence."
A week later they went to a farewell party at a club. He left for the pokies room and a short while later, she asked someone to watch her kids so she could check on him.
Anna nudged her way into his small group of mates, startling one so much he almost spilled his beer.
Her boyfriend erupted. "He flipped it." He was smashing the pokies machine, hitting buttons and going "f .. this". She told him to pull his head in and stop behaving so badly, to calm down as her kids were present.
The next day she asked him to get the youngsters' Mother's Day presents for her out of the car. Again, he reacted strangely, badly. "I'm not f ... ing doing that, why would I f ... ing do that for you?"
At weekend's end, he decided he wanted to spend a week at Anna's place, which she thought would be wonderful.
He never left.
"I kept making excuses for his behaviour. That party's not anything compared with what I've been through. I constantly lied to the people that I love because I didn't want to step on his toes. I didn't want him to explode."
She copped her first bashing soon after she found out she was pregnant.
He chased her up the stairs of her unit, grabbing her legs out from underneath her, sending her head smashing into a brick wall.
At the time he had warrants out for his arrest in Victoria, so she had to move them all across the border to Lavington, to sign a lease on a "beautiful house before I even had a chance to slow it down".
He'd assault her then apologise in "the most amazing way". Flowers, new earrings, he'd cook her dinner, make a drink for her when she got home from work.
But the violence, always when the kids were at their father's, got worse.
"When the kids were there you couldn't fault him, he was like the stepdad every kid wants. But underneath he was the most horrible monster I had ever met," she says.
"That's when the physical violence got really, really bad," leaving bruises all over her face like fingerprint marks, massive bruises around her neck from the choking.
"He banged my head so hard against my fridge that he knocked me out in my own kitchen. He then grabbed me by the hair and ripped me up and told me 'get the f ... up you pregnant slut, you're going to die now' and then he would slam my head on the ground."
The violence was especially bad when he was coming-down from a night of smoking ice, an old habit he took up again and which no one had ever told her about.
"I've never done drugs, that's not my world. I had no idea about it. I would say to my kids 'all right, we need to be quiet, we need to do as Mum says because we don't want to upset him'.
"I couldn't stop him from coming back to that house. He would break-in in the middle of the night and then strangle me in my sleep."
And he didn't seem to understand when she told him, in his drug-addled rage, that choking her was also suffocating their baby.
He's now in jail. He had gone on the run for weeks when the cops hit him with a bagful of charges, after Anna finally found the nerve, found that old faith in herself to flee and phone for help.
Here she was, running down a Lavington street, heavily pregnant, her dress ripped, screaming for anybody to help, that ice-addicted man, coming down again from the previous night's high, back inside the house.
He would never let her go out, especially now - "you will not be leaving this house with that baby in you" - but when she escaped he then wouldn't let her back in.
This might have been that moment, finally making a statement. She had pleaded with the two women officers who attended the call to take her to her dad's.
They took her to the station instead. They took photos of her injuries, photos she has never seen.
"But I remember what I looked like. I honestly looked like a Dalmatian, I had spots all over me."
Blue. Black. Purple. Green. Yellow. The bruises told a story of her fight to make him leave, "without leaving me. I was terrified that if he left me that would be it, I would never be happy again."
It's how he made her feel. He'd tell her that if she left, she would never have another partner.
"No one ever loves you," she recalls him saying, "like I do."
Anna had at least come to one realisation, even while still under his control, even while giving that statement that she concedes only told a small part of the story.
"This isn't love," she remembers thinking, "this is torture, this is hell, anything would be better than this. All the put downs that made me believe I would never do better than this."
Anna has fought hard to get to a better place. It took her a lot of time, a lot of telling her story to a counsellor at Albury's Women's Centre for Health and Wellbeing to own the true reality of the criminal hold he had over her, let alone the physical violence.
For as much as she had to run to the police, to unveil her shame in the damage done to her, she still wasn't going to leave him.
The pair continued to "sneak out" for rendezvous. Even as she drove him around the day of his arrest, weeks later, he punched her to the body while she fought to stop the car crashing.
"He grabbed hold of the steering wheel and I nearly went over the traffic island on Mate Street. We went around a corner and he hit me in the shoulder and my whole body went to one side and I nearly went into a parked car," she says.
"I was crying and yet I thought 'if I crashed it would hit his side and that f ... er would die'. But then I'd think, 'I don't want him to die because he's going to be the dad of my kid'."
But until she lost her baby, Anna dreamed of a happily-ever-after, that he would get psychological counselling in jail to change his behaviour.
"As hard as it is to say, the best thing that's happened to me was having my baby removed."
- Emergency: 000
- DV Hotline: 1800 656 463
- Safe Steps: 1800 015 188
- Betty's Place Women's Refuge: 02 6058 6200 or 1900 885 355
- DV counselling: 1800 737 732
- Kids' Helpine: 1800 789 978
- MensLine: 1300 789 978
Anna had come to a partial realisation of this when she lost contact with her older kids. With them gone, she had nothing else. She only had him and the baby.
He would say "forget the older kids, forget the baby when they take it". He'd say "we'll run away and we will start over".
That emboldened Anna, as much as that was possible in her state, when the relentless trauma had in effect changed her brain's ability to understand what was going on in her life.
"How can you say that?" she asked him. "Those are my kids".
She hopes court proceedings in May will go her way and her "so beautiful baby" will be returned.
Until then she will continue with the centre's Knots group program, where women who have been through domestic violence get to share their experiences.
It has been such a incredibly positive experience for Anna, one she wishes was mandated for her to do by Child Protection.
"This has been the worst time of my life. But now I'm confident with how I am, when I see myself I'm happy. Even though I don't have the most important people with me, my kids, I am doing everything I can to get them home."
When they do, she will "step-up" and educate them on positive relationships, on how women should be treated.
"I'm not actually going to stop the cycle of domestic violence with me," she says.
"But I want women out there to know there are good people that will be on your side."
- Anna is a name used to protect her identity
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