Come over quickly, something bad has happened, I need someone to talk to, I really do. Such was the frantic phone call I received from Isabella around 11:45pm a few years ago. Needless to say, I was already in dreamland when the call came through and I struggled to make sense of her incoherent speech. Sensing desperation and panic in her voice, I quickly hurried out of my house and found myself in her home within the next 10 minutes. Isabella and I had recently become close friends and we lived within a short distance from each other. It’s no wonder then that she called me at that time of the night, indeed I was honored that she would seek my help. That night, I drove like someone on a race course without giving thought to the danger I posed to myself or others on the road. She didn’t say why she needed me over at such an ungodly time, but I concluded it had to be a bad situation.
It was not a pretty sight to behold, one I hope I never have to witness again. There were countless flashing red lights, loud noises, and tons of peering neighbors. Just then, I saw Mark being led away from the house by 4 police officers. What’s happening Isabella, what’s going on, what happened to Mark, I asked? With bruises all over her body and a shaky voice, she began to recount the ordeal of her 11-yearlong marriage to Mark. To understand how I got here, I need to take you to the place where it all begun 11 years ago. Okay, Isabella, I’m here for you, I said, please tell your story. Well then, she remarked, here it is:
“I was 35 years old when I got married to Mark. Judging by family and societal standards, I was rather late to the marriage table. My two younger sisters were already married with children of their own. Theirs was an arranged marriage but I resolved to find my man on my own terms. I suffered some heartbreaks and disappointments but remained hopeful until I met Andrew. Andrew was a real charmer so after dating for a year, we begun making wedding arrangements but unfortunately, tragedy struck again. With less than a month to the wedding date, Andrew called it off without any warning. His excuse was that he was not ready to be married. I bowed my head in shame and embarrassment and swore off love. I must not be lucky in love, I surmised or perhaps, it’s time to try a different approach in finding love. It was around this time that my “loving family” introduced me to Mark. After a few dates, I caved in to Mark and I agreed to be married to him. It seemed like a hasty decision, but it didn’t help that I was constantly reminded by my parents and younger siblings about how quickly my biological clock was ticking and nearing expiration. After all, Mark was a successful Physician, good looking, funny, intelligent, and hardworking, that should suffice, I reckoned.
Finally, it came time for the wedding day. It was a beautiful day, almost perfect, the sun, moon and stars were in alignment, the air was crisp and refreshing and if you paid close attention, you could even hear the birds sing a harmonious melody. It was almost perfect, and I say almost because despite the gleaming ambience, I had a nagging feeling that something was out of sorts and that I was heading in the wrong direction. I had no choice than to shake off my fears, chalk it up to bride jitters and enjoy the moment. Besides, even if I did muster courage, who would I complain to, who would understand me, how many more opportunities would a 35 year old have for “love” and marriage? In that state of confusion, I had an Aha moment and I realized that I had become one of the many brides I had read about who walk down the aisle smiling on the exterior but perishing and kicking themselves within. With each step, they walked closer to the very thing that would cause them much pain. Before I could ponder further or muster courage to act otherwise, the music from the cathedral begun playing and it was time for me to walk down the aisle with my beautiful flowers, expensive dress, uncomfortable make up and high heels. There was no turning back. Alas, the ceremony was over, and it was time for the honeymoon.
The first 2 years of the marriage was great, and I concluded that perhaps, my initial fears were unfounded. Mark came home on time, was very affectionate, and prioritized our relationship. He continued to court me, and I was elated. But after 2 years, that initial unsettling feeling would return to haunt me. I noted a pattern of rampant outbursts, “late meetings” and minimal affection. He had expressed his desire to have children, so I thought that perhaps my inability to have them was causing this unwanted attitude. After 7 years of marriage (5 of which were grueling) and many attempts at fertility treatments, we finally had our set of twins, Bella and Jola. I could see the excitement in Mark’s eye as he held the twins for the first time, he was ecstatic to finally become a father after 7 long years. Little did I know that it would be a rather short-lived experience, like a flash in the pan that glorious moment disappeared as though it never happened.
Barely 2 weeks after the children were born, we got into an intense argument. I was virtually taking care of the children by myself, Mark refused to help, and he purposely came home each day after the children went to bed. I was hurt, disappointed, depressed, and tired. Whenever I asked for help or a little understanding, he simply yelled back. By now, he stopped showing affection towards the children and I. Although he continued to excel in his medical career and was recently promoted at work, his successes at work translated into failures at home. With much resentment, I resolved to taking care of the children on my own. I kept up the façade of a happy couple/family in public and family gatherings for as long as I could, but behind closed doors, I was dying slowly. Call it a mother’s intuition but the only one who suspected that there might be something wrong was my mom. She told me that the once bright light in my eyes were dimming, yet somehow, I convinced her that I was okay, and it was rather a result of fatigue from caring for the twins singlehandedly. There was no need being vulnerable with her, I didn’t consider it a safe space neither was I ready to listen to her long speech of how I should please my husband and not make him angry.
Not surprisingly, Mark and I grew apart over the years, and the arguments became frequent and more intense. Our children were getting older and were beginning to witness some of these unpleasant happenings. I was also now officially scared of my husband and I felt trapped. Who do I talk to, who would believe me, should we seek counseling, would Mark be willing to get help for his rampant and uncontrollable rage? Emboldened by advice from my closest friends, I suggested we seek counseling together. That was the first time Mark slapped me across the face and I almost lost my balance. I could feel my face caving in and when I finally came to, it was as though a tornado had ravaged through our home. He apologized profusely that night and it was accompanied by flowers and expensive gifts the following day. I chose to forgive him and to give us another chance but after many more slaps (followed by apologies and expensive gifts), shoving, beatings and bruises, I knew that I would not make it out alive of this marriage if this continued. I told him I couldn’t stay unless we sought help. His response was that he saw his dad do same to his mom and they still worked it out without outside help, so we will be just fine. I disagreed with him and I did not hesitate to tell him that. That was the night he unleashed the full extent of evil on me. Like a hungry lion who had suddenly been released from a cage, he pounced on me mercilessly, without thought or reason. I managed to take a quick look into his eyes and he no longer looked human, it was a though another force has taken control over his entire being. I endured one beating after the next and my pleas for him to stop fell on deaf ideas. I was convinced that was going to be my last day on earth and all I could think of in that moment were our 2 children who were awoken by the loud noises and were starring helplessly from the upstairs balcony. Mark on the other hand, didn’t seem to care about anything or anyone. It got extremely loud to the point that several of our neighbors inadvertently dialed 911 to report a case of suspected domestic violence. When the police showed up, Mark was still in his elements. They saw the bruises all over me and they took him away. Like a lamb to the slaughter, he obliged without much struggle.
Days later, I dropped all charges against Mark. I was not ready for litigation and I did not want to make it any harder for the children. We needed to reset our lives and I chose to expend my energy on fostering positive change. Mark and I are no more and although it saddens me that our marriage did not work, I still wish him well and I believe in the institution of marriage. It turns out that Mark had a mental health issue which he managed to disguise over the years but the responsibility of fatherhood and being a husband finally took him over the edge. He refused to take medication and/or seek counseling for fear of the stigma attached and the possible implications on his esteemed profession. He chose his career over his family, but I chose my family over career. Clearly, we were traveling on 2 separate paths with no points of convergence.
I’ve learnt a thing or two from this tough experience. I wish I had known then what I know now, my choices would have been different.
1. Maturity in life and the extent of character development are much more important than a person’s chronological age at time of marriage
2. There are many moving pieces to a person’s life, marriage is only 1 piece and without it, a person’s life can/should still be whole
3. Listen to your gut; it could save you from unnecessary trouble
4. Be humble and seek help when needed. No human is infallible
5. The value you place on yourself is the same value others will place on you, so value yourself highly
6. Don’t wait for someone to make you happy, it may never happen
7. Live a healthy and peaceful life. Focus on what matters, let go of pettiness
Bella and Jola are now 8 years old. They are doing great and I couldn’t be happier. They have restricted supervised visitation from their father who has since remarried. I understand his second marriage is traveling down the same pattern as the 1st and I have nothing but sympathy for his current victim.
Although young, I’m teaching my children the importance of self-worth and independence. There are no gender specific roles in my house so sometimes my son helps in the kitchen and with the laundry while my daughter does the yardwork. I need them both to appreciate hard work and to know that the support, respect and love we render each other is much more important than socially constructed roles. For how can I expect a man to be compassionate, responsible, and caring if he is not first introduced to that concept as a child and conversely, how do I expect a woman to know all about the technical stuff if I fail to show her the way. I’m no hero, I’m just trying to let my children and others I meet understand that a man is not better than a woman neither is a woman better than a man.
We may be biologically different, but our essence and value as humans remain the same.