As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to “Maggie”, taken and killed by a man in August 1980, at the age of 25.
My first memory of Maggie was of her shuffling me and mum out the back door and down the fire escape when her husband came home. Maggie was one of my mum’s best mates, and she was lovely. She made getting us out of the way into a game, giggling as we sneaked out the back door before “himself” could come in the front.
Sometimes I can’t picture Maggie’s face, but I remember she had wild hair, and flared jeans that hid her platform shoes. She also had Mellowpuffs (she let me have two). Most of all, I remember her nervous giggle; and her chain smoking, ciggie after ciggie, as she sat in her big, brown corduroy chair, arms and legs crossed like she was protecting herself.
I never met Maggie’s husband, but I knew without her ever saying it that Mum didn’t like him. In my memory, he’s just a giant, dark, lumpen shape through the glass of the front door, keys jangling. An ogre, faceless and terrifying, coming to get us.
It’s funny what kids remember, eh?
Seems like there was a time when living with ogres was common for a few of my mum’s friends, women I loved and – with a child’s innocence – considered blood aunties, family. A neighbour who brushed mum’s worried questions off with, “don’t worry, I give as good as I get!”. Another, who often came for long, hushed talks with mum, arriving with a black eye and telling me she walked into a door.
“How silly am I?”
“It’s my fault.”
“I asked for it.”
When I think about these women, I remember kindness and affection. I remember loving mums who talked endlessly about their kids, who cried for them, laughed with them; mums with strong arms and bottomless reserves of patience. Organisers, orange slice choppers, bake sale bakers, homework helpers, grazed knee and stubbed toe medics. They were liberated and had full time jobs too. Many of them I only knew because of that, through Creche and after school groups.
And then I think about the leery, grinning husbands; dark, shadowy husbands; cold, hard-hearted husbands. How did men like that ever get their claws into women like these? How did they dare?
Maggie went missing in the early hours of the morning. She’d dashed out to the shops in her slippers to grab a bottle of milk and vanished.
People come in and out of your life easily as a child and I only discovered what happened to her years later, when I discovered all the newspaper clippings mum had kept in the back of her photo albums.
They talked about a woman with links to organised crime, about searching the coastline and digging up patios in the suburbs; they talked about drugs, robberies and the seamy underbelly of NZ crime. They talked about it all with a breathlessness that bordered on obscene. Isn’t it terrible what these women get themselves into? Isn’t it awful?
Those “links to crime” included a violent husband, who latched onto her one day and wouldn’t let go, isolating her from family and friends – even my mum eventually – till there was only him left, the ogre king in his stolen cave.
Later, Mum would tell me about the time the police came to talk to her, not long after Maggie disappeared. They asked all about the husband and his terrifying associates, they didn’t ask about Maggie at all.
The ogres had eaten her whole, even the bones.
Maggie would have been 70 today. Although her body has never been found, it seems certain she died not long after she was taken. God, I hope so, anyway.
I wish she knew we still talk about her, mum and I, still think about her and hope for justice for Maggie and all the women who suffer at the hands of selfish, violent men.
I wish she knew that, 40 years after her death, the world has changed – not much, but enough that no one could get away with taking a woman in broad daylight without absolute outcry.
But most of all I wish she knew we call ogres by their names, now. And that there are people who help women like Maggie, who drag ogres into the sunlight and make them disappear.