The first time he hit me we were 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. He called to ask where I was, and when he found me, 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 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. I was blessed with a family that could afford my college fees, but he wanted to be the one who took care of me. I never had to ask for anything because he would get it before I asked. When he was taking care of me financially and otherwise, I did not question it- he was fulfilling his duty. The reality is he wanted me to depend solely on him. He made me feel like he was my god and I was nothing without him.
When we qualified for our certificates I told him 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 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. In my mind this man loved me and I figured I could do something else besides Journalism. He was controlling but I did not see it-it was normal for boyfriends to behave like that-or so I thought. I thought this is how people in relationships behaved. I began studying Accounting instead, but that still was not good enough for him. I was studying full-time but he constantly told me that I was not doing anything with my life. I applied for a loan to start a small business that I could run alongside being a 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 to 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 to give them my statement. While behind bars he accused me of planning the whole thing and provoking him so that he could be locked up. He told me to explain to the cops how I deserved it because I had wasted his hard earned money. He bragged about how he knew people who could get him out with no trouble. I felt so hopeless, I left the station. Soon after he called me, his “friends in high places” had gotten 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.
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 with my life. 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 child. He dragged me to the abortion clinic. I cried all the way there and throughout the procedure. It was done. My baby was gone and he just did not care. I was depressed after the abortion. I would cry in the bedroom while he was entertaining his friends in the next room.
One time I was crying and he came to the bedroom and I’ll never forget his words: “Stop crying, my friends need to eat and so do I. I know you, you want to cause drama and you want attention. Besides, the thing you are crying about was just a clot of blood, it was not a child. So stop crying and get cooking.”
The last straw came one day when he called me to his house to buy groceries and cook. He came home and 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 a friend and that Danny knew about my relationship with him. All my male friends did. He told me to call Danny and put him on loud speaker. I dialled Danny’s number. It rang for what felt like ages but Danny did not answer. I told my ex that we could try call later and that he was paranoid. I thought we could laugh it off, that is how silly the accusation was. He got up, and locked the door… I thought I was going to die.
He beat me viciously. He slapped, punched and kicked me everywhere he could. I was trying to find a way out but the only door close to me lead to the balcony and my only option would have been to jump to my death. He slapped and punched and kicked me some more. My face was bleeding. There was a small open space between the lounge and the kitchen that was used to pass food from the kitchen to the lounge. I managed to crawl through it but only got halfway through before he started dragging me back. I grabbed the closest thing I could from the kitchen; a knife. If I could see where his heart was from the twisted position I was in, he would be a dead man today. I ripped his shirt and stabbed him all over his chest and back until he let me go. That is how I lived to tell this story today. I ran away from his house and went back to school.
Days later, he came to see me. No, he didn’t come to apologise. I’m the one who apologised. I don’t know what for. And I still didn’t think about leaving him.
College closed soon after this incident and I went away to another country for two months. The internet connection was poor so communication was difficult. He would call sometimes but we barely spoke. Two days after I came back home, he told me that our relationship could not work, and he left.
In the year that he left I felt even more hopeless. He was and did everything for me in those seven years that I did not know life beyond him. It has been nine years since he left and my family members still do not know that any of this happened to me. Recently I told my closest cousin and her reaction made me realise that there is a lot to learn about how to support people that have been victims of abuse. She said I was stupid for allowing a man to take advantage of me and to “finish” me the way he did. According to her I am the strongest person she knows and so I should not have allowed a man to abuse me in the manner that he did.
If you’re looking for a happy ending, or the kind of story where the victim faces her fear and leaves the man abusing her, this is not that story. The thing about abuse is that it leaves you in denial. Most of us ignore abuse, especially the people on the receiving end. As a victim you do not know if speaking up is the right thing to do, for many reasons.
The truth is there are very few people on a woman’s side in cases of abuse. I did try go to the police again. They asked me why I was reporting a case against my boyfriend when I should be grateful I had one. They accused me of trying to tarnish his name. And that is why a lot of people don’t speak up about abuse.
So maybe this is not the story of triumph you sometimes hear, but I am here and I am alive. I am standing on my own two feet. I am a working as a journalist even though he convinced me I never would.
Sometimes victims of abuse leave boldly through the front door, sometimes silently through the back door, but some only escape through a coffin. If you are a victim, please tell someone. I know it is very difficult. I know. Believe me I know. But please, for your own sake, please try.