When my childhood sweetheart asked me to marry him I was over the moon, but I never imagined that sitting down to a roast one evening would change everything… By Gemma Hay, 29

From the moment I met Darren at school, aged just 14, I was smitten. He was the nicest guy and he’d do anything for me. The pair of us just clicked.

I grew up in the care system so I moved around a lot but whenever we were nearby, our relationship would start up again as if no time had passed.

By 2010, I was thrilled when we decided to settle down but it was still an incredible surprise when he took me aside one day to ask a question.

‘Gemma, you’re the only girl I want to spend the rest of my life with,’ Darren told me, getting down on one knee. ‘Will you marry me?’

‘Yes, of course I will!’ I exclaimed, throwing my arms around him. I couldn’t believe my luck, after all these years we were finally going to get our happily ever after.

But in August 2012, I was blindsided when Darren was arrested for an attack on his uncle. It was so completely out of character and I couldn’t believe it.

When Darren was sentenced to seven years behind bars, it felt like my fairytale fantasy had fallen apart but I held on to hope that we could salvage it and so I agreed to visit him.

‘I’m so sorry,’ Darren told me, begging for forgiveness. ‘Once I’m released I just want a fresh start for us.’ It was what I wanted too and so I decided to give Darren the benefit of the doubt.

‘I know that’s not who you are,’ I reassured him, believing he could change. ‘I’ll stand by you.’

He wrote to me regularly from prison and sometimes, if I’d missed a visit, I’d receive up to 20 letters in a week. He promised we’d have a happy future and every letter he wrote made me feel loved.

When Darren was released on licence in September 2016, I was worried something might happen again but his comforting words reassured me that this was a new beginning.

‘I’ve learnt my lesson and I’ve changed,’ he said after being let out. ‘I respect you.’ I loved Darren too much to hold a grudge so we agreed to put that chapter of our lives behind us.

After that, Darren was back to his old, sweet self and I was so happy to have him back. I threw myself into wedding planning, excited about what the future would hold.

In December 2016, just three months after Darren’s release, I invited my sister Lucy*, 23, over for a roast dinner and we had a fantastic evening, laughing and joking with each other while I cooked.

I noticed Darren was drinking faster than us, which could sometimes end in a silly argument, but he was in high spirits so we continued to have a good time.

‘Dinner’s ready,’ I called, handing out plates, proud with the roast I’d cooked. But Darren wasn’t pleased.

‘What is this?’ Darren asked, pointing at his untouched food. ‘Your dinner,’ I laughed, looking at Lucy in amusement.

‘I’m not eating that,’ he retorted, shoving the plate away from him. ‘That meat isn’t done how I like it, what a waste of food, you had no right to serve it.’

‘It’s only a waste if you’re not going to eat it,’ I replied and sat down to my own meal. I wasn’t going to let a drunken row spoil the evening but Darren wouldn’t let it go.

‘No, this is your fault,’ he argued back. ‘I hate the roast dinner and I hate everything about you, in fact, I think you might be cheating on me.’ Lucy and I burst out laughing.

The accusation was so irrational that we couldn’t help but find it funny, but the dark look in Darren’s eye told me he was going to wipe the smile off my face.

Out of nowhere, Darren punched me square in the face and I heard a sickening crack as my nose popped. Lucy gasped as blood gushed onto the carpet and I fell to the floor.

But this didn’t stop Darren. With hate in his eyes, he viciously kicked me in the ribs, back, face and head - wherever he could. Pain tore through me and I was sure he was going to kill me.

‘Sorry,’ he sickenly said to Lucy in between the brutal blows, and as she made eye contact with me, Lucy saw her chance to escape.

‘This is your relationship and it has nothing to do with me, can I just go?’ She asked carefully and when Darren nodded, she bolted out the door.

But little did Darren know Lucy had run away to phone the police. It didn’t take long for them to arrive and once he heard the sirens, he fled.

Darren was on the run for three days before police finally tracked him down in January 2017 with my help. Five months later, in June 2017, he was convicted for common assault.

He was sentenced to 20 weeks but because he’d broken the terms of his licence, he will serve three years. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I was finally safe.

Now I’m moving on without Darren and I’m so grateful to my sister for alerting the police. I dread to think what could have happened if she hadn’t been there.

Darren has a lifetime ban on contacting me, but that makes me worried I might be an easy target if he wants to cause trouble again. I dread the day he’s released but I’m just working on putting it all behind me.

I still can’t believe my childhood sweetheart was capable of such brutality and looking back, I just wish I’d been more careful.

The emotional scars run deep and serve as a permanent reminder that my fiance was really a monster in disguise. I’ll never forget the look in Darren’s eyes as he battered me over a roast dinner.

*Lucy’s name has been changed

Gemma wanted to support and inspire other victims of domestic violence when she asked the team at Sell My Story to help her share her personal experience. If you want to raise awareness of an issue or highlight a campaign, a real-life feature could be a good way of doing that. If you want to find out more about how it works, call us on 0117 973 3730.


Leave a comment

© 2023. Website designed and built by Reach Solutions