(Nope, I haven’t watched the movie. I just thought it would make for a good title.)
This past week, I ran into a former classmate of mine in the bank. I was pleasantly surprised. After graduation, I moved to her country for work and she moved to mine. For this reason, it’s always a treat when she arrives in town and pays me a visit. It tickles me to see how ‘Nigerian’ she has become – from her verbal expressions, to her greetings, to her dressing, to her easy-goingness (is that even a word?) – and how she almost feels like a stranger in her own country these days.
We stood in a corner and screamed, hugged, and laughed, ignoring the other bank customers, standing in line and staring at us with curiosity. We had both filed for divorce around the same time. She filed from my country and I filed from hers. I got mine three months ago, and she got hers a couple of months later. My mind went back to our school days and I recalled just how difficult her marriage was, and how she somehow managed to keep up with it with such grace. Like me, she played the part well. So well that I initially mistook her abusive partner as simply being a bit over-protective.
During one of her rare visits to my place in those days, she had planned to just come hang out with me for an hour. We sat in the living room, catching up. Her phone rang incessantly. She would patiently pick it up and speak soothingly to her partner. I only realized it was him after about the third phone call.
‘Didn’t you tell him you were going out?’ I asked, finding it rather strange. We only lived about two blocks away from each other.
‘I did – don’t mind him. He keeps asking when I’m coming back,’ she replied cheerily.
‘Oh. Does he know you’re at my house?’
‘He knows. Don’t mind him. The man won’t let me rest.’
‘Well, I guess he just can’t do without you,’ I said, believing this as I said it, but still finding it rather bizarre since she’d only been with me for a few minutes. ‘The man is missing you, so you better hurry home O – I don’t want trouble.’
She hissed good-naturedly. ‘Let’s just ignore him for a while. I’ll go home soon.’
‘Hmm!’ I teased her, smiling: ‘Gender and Power!!’
This phrase was taken from the tentative title of her dissertation, and we both burst out laughing.
‘Forget all those things,’ she said, waving her hand dismissively. ‘We’re just busy theorizing to get our degrees. We know the real deal, though.’ We laughed some more.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned about the level of abuse, which she divulged to me one day. I could not fathom how she was always so happy-go-lucky, having been through all of that. I had never seen her depressed – not even slightly.
I looked at her now, my eyes going from her head down to her toes and back.
‘You look amazing!’ I said.
‘Really??’ she responded in shock.
‘Yes! You’re glowing. You’ve lost some weight, too, right? You’re looking thinner. In fact, your face looks entirely different. And I’ve never seen you in this style of clothing. It really, really suits you.’
‘Oh, my God. Thank you so much. You don’t know how much that means to me. In two decades of marriage, all I ever heard was how ugly and stupid I was. He would tell me that over and over again.’
‘Yes, my dear. So the way I look now is how I used to be before I got married, what I used to look like. I’m finally re-discovering myself.’
I nodded slowly, understandingly, and sadly, recalling having used those same words almost vertabim myself in the past.
I didn’t get it. This was a gem of a woman: kind, compassionate, hard-working, and a go-getter. She was responsible for bringing her entire family over to the US on her meager scholarship, and ensuring everyone settled in nicely. The family could never have been where they are today, been exposed to the opportunities they now had, without her. She was an attractive woman with an advanced degree who believed she was ugly and stupid because someone had told her so enough times. And she hid all this pain behind the brightest smile.
‘How are the children, though?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen them in a long time.’
She got her divorce, but her children were forcibly taken away, and were now with her ex in a different country. I didn’t know how to adequately express my sorrow over this.
‘Oh, it’s okay. They’re almost all at the age where they’ll be at liberty to make their own decisions and come see me whenever they want. Right now, they have no choice,’ she said breezily. ‘I decided to stop contacting them because I don’t want them to get into the habit of lying to their dad, who regularly asks them if I’ve contacted them, and who takes away their cell phones.’
Wow, I thought to myself. Sweet, sweet mother. I could not even imagine. What would I have done if my children were taken away and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it? I suppose I would just have to kill somebody, I thought, staring at her. That’s easy for you to say. Your ex-husband wasn’t abusive in that way.
I thought of how fortunate I was not to have experienced any real ugliness at all.
‘It is well, my dear,’ I said, the words falling heavily from my mouth. What did that mean, anyway? It is well, keh? How could it be well when a mother couldn’t see her children? ‘I’ll keep you in prayer,’ I said out loud.
She smiled back at me, as usual, laughing a little.
I got home that day and made a note to myself to write about this. At first, I just wanted to share her touching story. But today I decided I wanted to do more than that.
My aim in putting things down on paper isn’t to depress people (believe it or not!).
As much as I want people in similar situations to know that they’re not alone (and people in not-so-similar situations to have insight into what it’s like), I also want them to know that my experiences and my friends experiences do not definitively define marriage, nor manhood. One ‘bad apple’ don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl!
I want the world to know that I’m actually a pretty happy, easy-going person myself, despite my experiences. I conjure up painful memories from the past and convey them as accurately as I can because I simply can’t believe that I went through what I went through for no reason at all. There has to have been a purpose, even if it’s just to let others know it’ll be okay. Just to let you know, it actually takes a bit of work these days to conjure up (some of) these memories. I actually feel guilty sometimes about just how successfully I’ve moved on, about the fact that I barely give my former spouse a thought unless I’m trying to remember something to write about, unless he contacts me for something, or unless I’m playing the role of a dutiful mother and asking the children if they would like to talk to their Daddy. I feel guilty sometimes about the fact that, when I search myself, I don’t seem to come up with any real bitterness. It’s almost like if you’re not bitter, then maybe you didn’t really care that much to begin with. What I do find is a substantial amount of indifference … and I wonder if the indifference and total absence of curiosity I usually feel where he’s concerned aren’t actually worse than bitterness.
People often ask me how I would feel if he got re-married. My sincere response has always been that I’d be really happy for him. From the little I’ve observed, he really does seem to do so much better with a wife (and which man doesn’t, come to think of it?). I’d be a tad relieved, too, as that would be a strong indicator that he’s not holding out hope that we’ll ever re-unite.
I’ve really, really moved on. The only times I feel stirred to pay a bit of attention is when it comes to anything that has to do with his role as a father, and this rarely occurs.
I want the world to know that there are definitely some good men out there. I tell singles all the time to be careful what they hear. The world is full of such bad stories that one feels almost shy and insecure about sharing any good (marital) tales. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Many singles I know don’t believe me, bombarded as they are with women’s negative experiences. I’ve started sharing some really uplifting stories with them, and I thought I’d share them with you, too.
Be encouraged. It is well, afterall: http://thewordsmythe.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/fabulous-40/