Kay Schubach was nearing 40 and desperate for a baby when she met a guy who promised her the world. But she soon found out that the man of her dreams was making her life a nightmare. Her harrowing story of domestic violence is detailed in her book Perfect Stranger. Leanne Francis finds out more…
Kay Schubach almost has it all – a great job, a beautiful apartment, a life of champagne and mixing it with Sydney’s A-list, and a steady relationship. By chance she meets handsome and charismatic Simon. He sweeps her off her feet with promises the one thing her younger boyfriend won’t give her – a baby. She takes the biggest risk of her life, leaving all certainties behind for love. All too quickly, the romance turns sour, and Simon goes from charming to controlling, from magnetic to threatening. By the time Kay uncovers his violent past, Simon has decided he will not let her go – and he’s not a man to be argued with. Trapped in a terrifying relationship, isolated from friends and family, Kay must decided what she values most, and fight for it. Perfect Stranger is her first book.
Yours is an incredible story – why tell it now and why tell it in such intimate, soul-revealing detail?
The process of writing this book took a long time. I was so scorched by what Simon had done to me that I went into hiding and then went overseas. I wrote the skeleton of the book as a way of understanding what had happened to me, in forensic detail, so that I could begin to believe that I wasn’t to blame for his abusive behaviour. It took a long time, plus a serious illness, for me to get the perspective to edit it into a manageable and compelling form. The sense of voyeurism is a result of the excruciating detail I recorded – he left me with a photographic memory of every word, look and touch, burned into me. As it turned out the voyeurism became a leitmotif in the book itself.
It was apparent reading it, that even after you realised who he was, by the internet searches, other pieces you had put together, there was still an overwhelming powerlessness and feeling of being trapped. This must have been very difficult as you realised you shouldn’t be with him but still couldn’t get away?
Yes, he was very very clever at manipulating people and events. He quickly gleaned enough information from me to sell himself as the perfect partner, tapping into all my frustrations and longing for a baby and a dynamic man. But he also skilfully and with great malicious intent, hooked into every aspect of my life: my lease agreement, my phone contacts, my wallet, my post office box, my friends’ names and addresses, my car keys. I could not get him out and he followed me everywhere and he made me terribly afraid of going to the police. I felt extremely vulnerable. It is important to know that domestic violence is derived from control and the erosion of your self-esteem. I kept thinking I had done something wrong and that I had to solve the problems. Smart and capable women are used to being able to sort things out and help people’s pain – I just didn’t see that he was a playing me like a fool until almost too late.
Do you think your story will help women who’ve been affected by domestic violence?
Already I’ve had a lot of positive feedback. Violence makes you think you are going crazy. The wild oscillation of the aggressor’s moods leaves you bewildered and confused. So there is enormous relief in knowing that you are not isolated and alone. Just hearing another woman’s voice can finally make you feel sane. Another woman I met who was abused by Simon told me that for years no one believed how destructive and audacious he had been. After reading about my story, her mother finally came back to her and ten years of ill feeling was mended. The message is definitely one of empowerment, and that you have to grab your fear and use it to fight and win. The book also shows that the police and DV liaison officers are incredibly helpful and discreet. You have to learn totally new levels of bravery.
If you had one message for women in similar situations, what would it be?
Reach out and ask for help. Do not be embarrassed or ashamed. You haven’t done anything wrong. Violence is a conscious decision about control and it is not your fault. I am joining up with White Ribbon Day campaign to help spread the message to young men that disrespect is not acceptable. I want women to know that there is no shame in needing help.
How did you cope, how did you will yourself to get through, to continue on and survive?
Eventually my oldest friends helped me see the dire predicament I was in and they were not going to let me go until I faced the reality of my situation. They literally shook sense into me and it was then that I remembered the strong, decisive person I once was. With Simon I had quickly become a physical and mental wreck with absolutely no self-esteem and completely confused as to how to cope. It was love: loving myself enough to fight and the love of my friends and family that saved me.
How have you been able to heal, particularly after suffering cancer as well?
Initially I went to live in Laos with another girl who had been through abuse and she helped me see that I would survive. Writing it all down and shaping it into a book gave me clarity and nourishment. We also lived in a poor village with undernourished children and their loveliness and their appreciation and joy of us was incredibly restorative. Getting cancer was the most important part of my healing. The utter love and care from friends, family, doctors and nurses helped restore my faith in humanity.
The first chapter describes in such detail that first meeting – you describe the air, the leaves rustling in, what he was wearing – it reads as a very pivotal moment. Is it etched in your mind?
Actually I remember every single thing he said and did to me in forensic detail! I’m usually a bit vague, but not when my life and sanity depended on it. But I think that opening scene illustrates the personal power he had. You see it in certain individuals – it’s hard to explain but everyone notices them and the atmosphere changes when they’re around. It is a real and unmistakable presence. In Simon’s case I think it boiled down to sheer audacity. He had no concern for discretion, or modesty. He wanted attention all the time from everyone, whether it be a room full of models or a court full of barristers.
The phone call just before your first meeting with him – from an objective reader’s point of view, there seems to have been warning signs in his commands of you – did you sense any of that at the time?
Yes, it did feel odd – that he was taking away my own presence and potency so quickly. It felt like the situation was tarnished already. But I wasn’t sure if I was reading it correctly, like when someone moves into your personal space – you’re not sure if it’s quirky or a bit off. I was also desperate for a strong, dynamic person to come into my life. I had been dragging a stagnant relationship along for four years by that stage. Simon realised that and fed into my dissatisfactions immediately.
Was it difficult while writing the book to relive all of the horrific details of the abuse you suffered or was it cathartic?
In fact it really healed me to get it out and turn it into something positive, my story as an antidote to his version of who I was. It was important that I went through the stages of trauma and grief: anger, denial, shock, depression, guilt, shame, and then to re-emerge. The whole process was very important.
Have your family and friends read it? How did they react?
My parents are elderly and although my Mum helped catch me afterwards, we have agreed that they should not read the book. My brothers and friends are all so very sad that they didn’t know what was going on at the time. Such was the isolation and shame I felt, I couldn’t tell anyone that I had made such a dreadful mistake and was in trouble.
Simon is incarcerated now; do you feel safe? Are you fearful of the future, upon his release? There have been many women who have spoken out and helped put him in jail – is he likely to forgive and forget?
I feel safe knowing he is in jail. The police have warned me to be careful of being alone and sometimes I think about him escaping and I do get frightened. One thing about narcissists is that they have to move forward. He will have to find another host as he is a parasite and that is all he knows. That’s why I wanted to write the book and make sure that women know what he looks like and know his name (even though he changes his names regularly now). He loves litigation and so I am afraid of him tying me up in court cases. I still want to get more women to speak out against him. This book is making it easier for women who were previously too scared to begin to come forward. I’m shocked at how many women he has abused.
You’ve held many different jobs and positions, some of those involving writing. Did you enjoy the writing process and do you have any further plans to publish another book?
I LOVE writing. I was one of those nerdy kids who wrote long essays and poems and handed them in early. I’ll write anything: a boardroom paper, an art review, a Facebook update, anything. I have two books planned: one on surviving cancer with a positive attitude and one on the effect manic depression can have on families and loved ones. I might help my cousin write her book on the emotional roller coaster of IVF, too.
You’ve also lived in some exotic locations – California, Laos, India, Thailand, West Africa. Which has been your favourite?
I love travelling full stop. I get excited at airports. France and the ex-French colonies are my favourites because I always feel sparklingly well and healthy there (it must be wine, and the saucy food). Asia also had a huge appeal because it also is where I healed. I’d go to the back of Bourke for a day trip if someone asked me, anywhere! The States is underestimated for its breathtaking natural beauty – what jaw-dropping geography that continent has.
The events in the book occurred a few years ago now; in a sense do you feel like a different person now?
I have much more belief in myself now and more self-respect. That gives you a bit of a buffer to weather other people’s moods and views. Beforehand my self-confidence could get easily shaken and then it’s easy to lose your convictions and your path. Healing from cancer, and in a way from Simon’s abuse and my shame, taught me that I have all the resources I will ever need to survive right there inside me if I have the faith and belief to connect with that strength. Fear is not so much in my vocabulary these days. I am happy, yes, and grateful.