Life · Women

Chapter 1: Backstory

The first time he hit me was in public. I was at the passport office and it is a busy place, as you can imagine; with long queues winding from every counter and sweaty people gathered in stuffy waiting rooms. We had argued about something earlier. He called to ask where I was, and I told him. He found me, and he slapped me in full view of everyone. I was shocked and embarrassed not only that he hit me, but also that he could do it in public. I barely had time to recover from my shock when he kicked me in my stomach and I passed out.He was my first boyfriend. I was fresh out of high school; he was already working. We met in college and we were both studying for a certificate in Journalism. He was sweet and caring. I was 18. It did not take long for us to start dating. I was blessed with a family that could afford my college fees, and provide for everything I needed. But he wanted to be the one who took care of me. He would go all out for me. I never had to ask for anything because he would get it even before I asked. He bought me a phone once. I was the first and only person who had that phone in college. He expected me to answer it every single time he called. It seemed like a reasonable request. Three days after he bought it for me, he called me while I was in class and I could not answer. He got so angry, he came over and took the phone away from me, and gave it to someone else.

These were the red flags and I should have seen them as such. When he was taking care of me financially and otherwise, I thought it was sweet, and that it was what boyfriends do. The reality is he wanted me to depend solely on him and see him as my saviour. He made me feel like he was my god and I was nothing without him. I was naive, stupid and blinded by love.

When we qualified for our certificates he asked what I wanted to do next. I wanted to continue with my studies and do a diploma, and later a degree in Journalism. He told me I could not be a journalist and he was not going to be with a woman who was one. He said he had seen and worked with women in the industry and the female journalists in our country are trash. He told me that even if I became a qualified journalist I would not make it in the industry because I was not a good writer, I did not have the face for TV, nor the voice for radio. He said I had to choose between him and my career. I was very young. In my mind this man loved me and I figured I could do something else besides Journalism.

During the time we were together I auditioned for a role in a local drama. I did not think I would get it, after all he had told me I did not have the face for TV. But my brother encouraged me to go ahead and audition and to my surprise I got the part. I told my ex about it and he hated the idea. He said he had seen girls that could act and I was not one of them. I decided to do it anyway and not tell him. I pulled it off secretly for a while until the episodes that I was in were about to be aired and although I was scared to tell him I knew I had to come clean. He was not happy about it and soon after he came to the studio and dragged me off set. That was it, I never went back. That was how my dream of acting died. I begun studying Accounting instead, I did ACCA and CIMA but that still was not good enough because according to him many other girls were doing these courses so it was nothing special.

He looked down on me, insulted my whole being, and ruined my self esteem.  I did not see it that way at the time. He was controlling but I did not see it. To me it was something that was very normal. I thought this is how people in relationships behaved. We were together for seven years. The abuse turned physical in our fourth year. No I did not think about leaving. The thought did not even cross my mind. This is the point where people usually stop listening to an abuse victim’s story. This is the point where they laugh or brush you off because they think you could have left but you did not so it is your own fault. That is also what he did, he made me believe it was my fault he hit me.

I was still a student but he constantly told me that I was not doing anything with my life. So I applied for a loan to start a small business that I could run alongside being a full time student. He agreed to put up the collateral I needed for the loan and soon after my business was up and running. I started paying back the loan and when I had paid about 75%, the creditors began calling him asking for the balance. Since his property was the collateral, my loan became a source of our fights. This is how I found myself at the passport office. I was meeting someone who had promised to give me some money so that I could pay off the balance of the loan. He came over to the passport office and… well you know how that part went.

I passed out. When I woke up I was informed that he had been taken to the police. Truth is if I had woken up and he was still there it would not have crossed my mind that I was supposed to take him to the police. There were cops at the passport office who witnessed the incident and so they had him locked up immediately. I followed them to the station and gave them my statement. While behind bars he was taunting me. He accused me of planning the whole thing and provoking him so that he could be locked up. He asked me if I had explained to the cops why he hit me and how I deserved it because I had wasted his hard earned money. He told me that if I wanted to face him in court I could try, and then he bragged about how he knew the right people and that they could get him out with no trouble. I felt so hopeless and useless, I just left the police station. Before I could go back to finish the process and press charges, he called me saying his “friends in high places” had got him out. He told me if I still wanted to press charges I could and he would meet me in court… I went to his house instead, and I apologised.

In those seven years, every time he hit me, there was never a time that I told my family. There was never a time that I went to the hospital because I was scared I would be asked for a police report to explain my bruises, my wounds, my swollen face and body. I did not want to go through the police again.

When I told him I was pregnant, he was convinced that it was my way of trapping him. He told me I was not ready to be a mother because I was not doing anything to better my life. He said I had no support system, no focus in life, and no income and so he would have to be the sole provider for me and my would have been child. He wanted nothing to do with the child so he forced me to have an abortion. I was against the idea and I told him my fears. A cousin of mine died while getting an abortion and so I was very scared of going through with it. He did not care at all. He dragged me to the hospital. I cried all the way there and throughout the procedure. It was done. My baby was gone and he just did not care.

I sunk into deep depression after the abortion. I would cry in the bedroom while he was entertaining his friends in the next room. I played the typical housewife role for him. I would go over to clean, cook, pay his bills, wash his clothes and everything else. One particular occasion I was crying and he came to the bedroom and I’ll never forget his words: “Why are you crying? My friends need to eat. You want to cause drama and you want attention. I know you. Besides, the thing you are crying about was just a clot of blood. It was not a child. So stop crying my friends need to eat and so do I.”

Did I love him through all of this? I don’t think so. From the very first time he hit me I can not say I still loved him. I was doing things out of obligation and fear because I was scared that if he demanded something and I did not do it I would be beaten. You would probably ask me again why I did not leave. I did not know any other man apart from him. So I thought how do I leave this man that I have always known? How could I restart my life if I left him? He was my pillar. I became isolated from my family and friends and I did not even know that I was. I could not stand on my own feet. He told me I had the ugliest legs ever so I never wore skirts. When he would buy me clothes he would only buy pants so that I never exposed my legs.   He called me stupid. He was very mean to me. He tortured me mentally. For a really long time. He would accuse me of cheating. In all the seven years I was with him I did not know any other man. To me, he was everything. There was the Holy Trinity and then there was him. That is how I regarded him. But he was still insecure, and he was obsessed; he was every terrible thing in a person. I do not know how to explain it.  But again, it all felt normal.

The last straw came one day when he called me to his house to buy groceries and cook. When I was done I called him and he asked me to stay and wait for him to come home. When he did, the first thing he asked me was about this guy; let’s call him Danny. He asked me what my relationship with Danny was. I could not help but laugh because the assumption that anything was going on between Danny and I was so absurd. He knew Danny was just my friend and that Danny knew about my relationship with my him. All my male friends did. In fact they all teased me because of it. My friends would say if I ever got a tattoo it would be of him. They joked that if they woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me what my name was I would say his name. Before I would speak of anyone else to my friends, I would speak of him. I told my ex all of this. He told me to call Danny and put him on loud speaker. I dialed Danny’s number. It rang, and rang, and rang, and rang. Danny did not answer. I told my ex that I had tried and if he wanted to call Danny later and speak to him I would give him Danny’s number. I told him he was paranoid and I did not know where the accusation was coming from. I thought we could laugh it off, that is how silly it was.

He got up, and locked the door… I thought I was going to die.

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