The Post and Courier recently won the Pulitzer Prize for a seven-part series titled,“Till Death Do Us Part” that sheds light on the issue of domestic violence in South Carolina. As I was reading through the series, “Part 4: I just remember the fear” really stood out to me and brought up fears I had not thought of in many years.
As I read about Therese’s plight, I noticed tears welling up in my eyes. It’s hard enough not to be moved after seeing what she endured, but for me, the pain was different. It was scratching at intimate scars. Everything Therese said rung true to my own experience; I understood it from a very personal place.
I was not shot at between the eyes, thankfully, but I have endured abuse. So much abuse that I sometimes question how I got out alive. My abuser maintained his iron grip on me and though I was not married to him, I was under his control 24/7. I could not move or even breathe without his permission. I was so terrified of him that I’d rather do exactly what he said, no matter how ridiculous, than endure the beatings and the pain afterwards.
“My abuser maintained his iron grip on me and though I was not married to him, I was under his control 24/7.”
It all started well. He was the perfect gentleman and the perfect boyfriend. He was smart, witty and spoke with an effortless confidence. Everyone looked up to him, so I was pleased when he asked me out.
After our first few dates, we sat down for a “serious” conversation. I was special, he told me. He did not want to only have a physical relationship with me, he wanted to take this somewhere. My joy knew no bounds because that “somewhere” meant marriage. I could hardly believe my ears. I happily let him take charge and guide us beautifully into the sunset.
I could not have been happier.
One evening, around 7pm, we were at the beach. Walking arm in arm, we were happily in love and I could not believe how blessed my life was. I was wearing a white and golden churidars and my favourite bell earrings.
The next sequence of events is fuzzy and all I remember is a heavy hand landing on my right cheek.
He had slapped me so hard my earring fell off and landed in the sand. A few minutes later, he was gone and I was left alone standing at that beach. It was so hard for me to process what had just happened. I was so dumbfounded that I remember acting normally and trying to find my earring in the sand.
Looking for it, I thought, would somehow alter the reality of everything that had just taken place.
After that, he apologised profusely for his actions and vowed never to lay a hand on me again. I gave him another chance, thinking it was an honest mistake.
But he was just getting started.
In “Til Death Do Us Part”, Therese says her husband had two sides to him. While everyone saw Dr Jekyll, she alone was exposed to Mr Hyde. My boyfriend did that well too. If I were to ever tell anyone of the abuse, they would call me crazy and not believe that someone like him was responsible for such behaviour.
“The physical violence eventually turned sexual. He started to assault me, rip my clothes off if the mood struck him and rape me.”
Over the next five years, the beatings rained down on me constantly. I was beaten if I walked too quickly, too slowly, showed up to meet him five minutes late or five minutes early. He hit me if I wore or did something he did not like or approve of. To him, it meant that everyone else would see me and be attracted to me. I was accused of cheating on him, being a whore, a slut; my family was called names and he threatened to harm my brother if I ever left him.
The physical violence eventually turned sexual. He started to assault me, rip my clothes off if the mood struck him and rape me.
On one Valentine’s Day, the abuse took a particularly harsh turn. After beating me for hours, he ripped my clothes off and pushed me to the ground. I laid there in pain as he started to kick my stomach. Then, he got on to my chest and started to jump. I thought I would pass out. Thinking it would all end if I stopped moving, I laid there with my eyes closed and heard panic in his voice as he tried to “revive” me. As soon as I realised the beating had stopped, I opened my eyes — big mistake, because when he saw that I was okay, he climbed on top of me and raped me. I was too feeble and frail to object or even raise my voice. Three weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.
“True love does not hurt and I have to thank my husband for showing me that reality.”
Over time, there were a million such instances. The violence continued and the beatings went on, as did the sexual assault. There was no light at the end of my tunnel, there was no one to help. My friends had all left after he “showed” me how selfish they all were and how all my male friends only wanted to sleep with me.
I do not even know how I endured it all alone. The images are all so fleeting. I piece them together, now and then, but the only constant image in my mind, like Therese, is of the fear and palpable anxiety I lived with every day of my life.
Life, though, had different plans for me. Fate brought me to a place far, far away from him where I could make a peaceful life. Over the years he has tried to contact me and profess his undying love and faith and although at one point, my reality would let him slide back into my life, things have now changed. I have realised that people who really love you don’t harm you.
True love does not hurt and I have to thank my husband for showing me that reality.