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Summer of Hope: Madeleine’s story

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After two long years of the global COVID-19 pandemic, so many of us find ourselves tired and lacking energy for even basic tasks.

Facing a new year does not fill us with the joy of possibility as it may once have done. Where, then, do we find hope?

In this uplifting summer series, Ginger Gorman talks to six extraordinary women about how they found hope in unexpected places.

Back in 2013, 41-year-old Madeleine’s life was not full of hope. In fact, it was woven through with despair.

“I was in a very abusive relationship, but I didn’t really understand that myself. Until that point, my understanding of domestic and family violence was if someone physically hit you. But as time went on…I realised this was a really toxic and unwell situation,” she recalls.

“My partner at the time would continuously try and isolate me from my family, particularly from my supportive parents. He tried to isolate me from all my friends and colleagues too.”

Explaining this further, Madeleine gives the example that if there were after-work drinks, her-then partner would make it almost impossible for her to attend.

“It [the abuse] was really cyclical. Everything got worse and worse. Every little affront you would tolerate, it amplified the next time the cycle happened.”

“In the end, we had an argument. And he said, ‘I’m walking away, because I’m going to hit you. And that’s absolutely what you deserve. And if I hit you, it’s your fault.’ And I realised at that point, I was not in a good place,” she says.

The realisation Madeleine was in dire straits was compounded when a dear friend sent a long and heartfelt message—which served as a wakeup call.

“He wrote that ‘…We’ve been friends for such a long time, but he couldn’t stand by and watch me disintegrate in front of his eyes anymore. It was too hard. And I needed to acknowledge that I was in a very bad situation. And if I couldn’t do that, he didn’t know how he could be friends with me anymore,’” Madeleine recalls.

Six months earlier, Madeleine made a decision that would turn out to be life-changing. She was walking through Bondi Junction and saw a black rescue kitten for sale in the window of a pet store.

“I thought that no one would buy him because this was a pet store and they sell fancy ragdoll kittens for $2,000. And he was a stray cat for sale there for $90. And no one wanted him. He’d been there for ages, and I felt really sad [for him],” she says.

“I just thought he was gorgeous. I thought he was beautiful. And he was so friendly and so adventurous. And I thought, ‘I could love this creature. And maybe that would make me feel better’.”

Madeleine decided to adopt him. She called him ‘Percy.’

In a world that seemed pretty dark, Percy became a ray of light: “I just liked getting to know his personality. And we had fun. He’s very, very inquisitive. He’s a bit standoffish. But he loves me more than anything. And I used to come home from work, and I’d be able to hear him yelling at the door for me,” she recalls with a smile.

On the relationship front, there was worse to come.

“At the start of 2013 found out that I was pregnant. It was an unplanned pregnancy. And the news was not warmly received by my then-partner. And I had zero support in that experience. He decided that I would have to get an abortion. But he didn’t want to be part of any of that either. And he refused to take any responsibility for it,” Madeleine says.

When her ex-partner went away on holiday, Madeleine found herself relieved she didn’t have to see him for a while; it gave her time to think, too.

“In that time, I had made the decision that I would keep the baby. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be, and I ended up having an extremely difficult and traumatic miscarriage. My body didn’t want to let go of the baby.”

“I started to get an infection. I was in a lot of pain, so I had to have surgery. Then my partner dumped me via text message telling me I deserved what happened to me,” Madeleine says.

The grief hit Madeleine hard: “I remember I just couldn’t get out of bed. I quit my job. I just didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was in a constant state of fight or flight and panic as I was trying to recover from all the events that have taken place over a two-week period.”

It was Percy who came to the rescue this time.

“He was the light of my life and he still is. Percy needed me to feed him. And he needed his litter box changed. And even though I was complete shell of a person who was absolutely unable to function in any other aspect of my life, I knew that cat needed me to feed him.”

“He needed me to care for him, and in return, he loved me absolutely, unconditionally. He did this after I had been treated really callously by someone who purported to love me. And I think unconditional love is such a great healer,” Madeleine says, adding that this gave her hope: “I thought, ‘There is kindness that exists for me.’”

Reflecting further, she adds: “When you perform even the simplest act of service to somebody else, it brings you out of that [dark] space, because you actually have to consider someone else.”

These days, Madeleine’s life looks very different to how it was back in 2013—she has a daughter, two stepchildren and a life full of love and hope. But through all this, Percy still factors large in Madeleine’s heart. Percy is nine this year and on a hard day, he’s still the first one to purr and offer a cuddle.

Please note that names have been changed in this story

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