Two weeks later, I typed out a curt email to Robert. I want a divorce, I wrote. I’ll be seeing a lawyer on Monday.
That weekend, Robert pleaded with me to give him one more chance. He seemed desperate to give our marriage another crack, so I agreed to visit a counsellor with him. I felt uneasy, but I still had a tiny bit of hope I could find the Robert I fell in love with again.
Before the session though, it became clear we couldn’t salvage our marriage, so I met with the divorce lawyer.
Later that day, I noticed Robert hovering around my caravan. He was often pottering around the yard, so I thought nothing of it. That evening, I retreated outside to the van and fell into a deep sleep.
But at 2am, I was woken to a weird hissing coming from under my pillow.
What’s that noise? I wondered groggily.
Lying still for a few moments, I listened carefully. Getting out of bed, I went outside to check the back of the caravan. I noticed a hose was snaking down from one of the windows. Following it back inside, I lifted up the mattress. It had been duct taped all the way to my pillow. Stranger still, I saw a jersey had been stuffed in a vent to keep the air out.
Winding all the way to the garage, the hose was connected to a gas cylinder.
Oh my god! I realised. My husband’s trying to kill me!
Tiptoeing barefoot back to the cylinder, I switched it off. Horrified, I quickly dashed to my brother Sasha’s property, which was only a short distance away. Then I tapped loudly on his window until he woke up.
‘You’ve got to help me! Robert... he’s trying to kill me,’ I babbled.
‘Are you having a nightmare?’ he asked.
‘No!’ I cried out.
I felt hysterical and couldn’t get the words out. I managed to call the police and they said a team was on their way. Then Sasha and I headed back to the caravan with a torch, and I showed him the hose and cylinder. An hour later, Robert was arrested at our house but he was released again that afternoon.
Although he went to stay with relatives, the next few weeks were a living hell. I changed the locks and installed surveillance cameras. Finally, a month later, he was charged with attempted murder. In June this year, Robert Wayne Ridgeway, 64, appeared at Brisbane Supreme Court where he pleaded not guilty.
The court heard that the day after I had asked him for a divorce, Robert tried to kill me, silently, by pumping colourless and odourless nitrogen gas into the caravan where I slept.
It took the jury just over an hour to find Robert guilty. He was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison. I am so thankful he is finally behind bars. Now, I want other women to be aware of the signs. If I can help just one woman safely escape an abusive partner, I’ll be happy. Disrespect and violence in a relationship are never, ever okay.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, there is help available. Call 1800 737 732 (Aus) or 0800 456 450 (NZ).
Pepita details her emotional journey in How I Survived, a gripping podcast which shares amazing first-hand survival stories from people who have faced the unimaginable and escaped with their lives.