He loved her more...
In my 11 years as a communications professional, I never publicly cried on the job. Until that day.
I was covering the final session of a creative writing programme, "Writing your Life's Story". Holding up my phone as I had routinely done over and over, I began recording the speaker's presentation. Thinking about the social media caption for this piece. The ideal length. Whether I should zoom in to capture her expression. But shortly after she began, I stopped recording. The tears streaming down my face stirred embarrassment. It's written in the PR bible that one is supposed to divorce their emotions from their assignments. But the droplets kept on rolling off my chin. I tried to silence the sniffles, but after realizing that everyone else in the room was crying, I allowed myself to be human and continued crying too.
One year after, her story haunted me. I contacted my colleague who coordinated the programme, got her email address, and there it began.
I felt selfish asking her to open up me. She had already endured a lifetime of trauma, and who was I, a complete stranger, to demand anything of her. But I had to settle that insatiable desire in my heart. I had to write about her long walk to salvation.
I went into a strange state of emotional paralysis after reading her manuscript. It took me a full two months before I could even begin penning this blog post. Even as I wrote, I could not comprehend how one human being gets dragged through the deepest recesses of hell, and yet, rises above it all. I questioned my own strength- what the hell would I have done?
In astrology, star-crossed lovers are those whose connection is thwarted by misaligned stars. Maybe they were soulmates in a past life. But in this one, her love story was destined to be cursed before it even had a beginning.
Her early adulthood seemed exciting. She was living through a radical era in Trinidad’s history- the Black Power Revolution. Perhaps the air emboldened her courage. Courage to love endlessly to the point where the heart poisons the body. She spent many exciting moments with him. Bingo games. Weekends in Mayaro. Parties. Carnival fetes. Gatherings with friends. She was unaware of the brewing storm on the horizon, one that would ravage her life for over a decade.
At 21, she married him. The honeymoon phase of most marriages is consumed with the brightest of dreams and a persuasive tongue that sweetens words leaving its tip. Naivety conceals any warning signs. This phase usually starts off with the vision of a perfect home. One Sunday afternoon, he excitedly whisked her off to Point Cumana on a dreamy parcel of land. From her rented apartment, she halted lunch preparations, turned off the stove, and chased after this dream. Standing on the land, she envisioned the sunsets. He showed her the shape of the driveway. The two-story home. The children's rooms. He fed her the perfect vision.
Soon enough she needed another place to stay and constructed an annex onto her mother's home (Annexes are common in Trinidad for newlyweds starting their lives together; a testament to familial bonds on this Caribbean island). Over the next four years, she held on to him and their dream. The land was purchased and the house with perfect sunsets was still in sight. But the cracks in her marriage began to appear.
His aggression was mild at first. Then came the inevitable late nights that morphed into long weekends away from her. The excuses about having to work late, fixing broken equipment at work. The lies multiplied, and so did her embarrassment at family gatherings. However, she always tilted her head towards the sun and took care of her children. Her family's concerns felt like Sauron's ubiquitous eye piercing through his tainted soul. He then demanded that they leave her mother's home.
“Your F'ING family only filling up your head with a lot of stupidness so it's best we find we own place!"
His gush of vitriol exposed his insecurity. Her family's presence filled the gaping hole inside of her. Her children's school was within walking distance and she was without a car. How could she leave? But, she was loyal to her dream and those happy moments he once gave her. She eventually packed up and left.
I know what this feels like. Growing up I saw women around me bear the worst kinds of abuse from men. Yet they stayed in those broken relationships, perhaps hoping that time and their loyalty will reignite a flicker of love. It never happened...
He bought her a car, perhaps to shut her up. But little did he realize that he contributed to his own demise. She paid secretive visits to his workplace where his car was rarely there. Sometimes, he would leave it overnight at the parking lot. Her suspicions of an extramarital affair grew, but she would have been lucky if it was just another woman.
Strange men came to visit him. The letter from the bank was next- deferred payments on the loan for the land. She marched into the bank without his consent and discovered that his salary was insufficient to cover the payments. Where was his money going? She confronted him.
"Ah, a friend had an emergency and ask me for help."
Unconvinced, she prodded further.
“Oh fuck man! Is everything you have to know!" In her words, she was called a "fucking, suspicious bitch".
She went back to the bank and refinanced their loan. Something was terribly wrong, but she desperately tried to hold her unravelling life together. But destiny slapped her hard one day.
Her husband was a crack cocaine addict. A relative gave her full disclosure. Names. Location of drug dens. Her festering wound was deepened by insights on his gambling activities. For the next six years of her life, she lived in a twilight world, totally consumed by his troubled path. His behaviour became increasingly erratic. Sleep became an elusive necessity. She depended on tranquillizers, and when they weren't potent enough, she upgraded to stronger sleeping pills. Realizing her own dependency, she took herself into rehab.
You're probably wondering about the outcome- how did she escape a double tragedy? Well, it came in the form of a 12-year-old girl starting her first day of high school.
"My daughter then told me that she was about to face seven years of high school education and needed a stable environment, not one filled with a drug-addict father and all the stresses that go with that. She had seen me struggle with depression, emotional and verbal abuse, and financial woes. Many nights she came to my bed to hug me when I was crying myself to sleep."
Those blissful moments in Mayaro; his brawn and charm; those dreamy sunsets at the house in Point Cumana- she was walking away from it all.
She left. And that was the beginning of a long road to recovery...
I wished the women in my life had her strength. I wished that I could turn back the hands of time and share her story; reassuring them that everything is going to be ok; that walking this earth as a single parent isn't a death sentence.
It seemed to me that her strength grew day by day. She received a call from the CEO of his company one day. He had embezzled thousands of dollars from his employer and was fired. For the sake of her children, she asked that the disclaimer not be placed in the newspaper. She vowed to pay back the money which she did.
He was then evicted from his apartment. His world was quickly caving whilst hers was rising from the ground. Naturally, at this stage his violent tendencies spiked. She informed the school principal of her ongoing dilemma, and told her that he was not allowed to visit or take his daughter from the school. Her son moved to the US, reducing any possible collateral damage.
He came over and demanded that the car he bought for her, be returned. Mere weeks later, he crashed it. After a while, she bought her own. He frequently showed up begging for money. Accusing her of infidelity. I admired the fact that she remained committed to her own well-being. I cannot imagine how painful it must have been to walk away from the person who gave you children, the person you swore to love unconditionally through good and bad times.
It was time to formally cut ties with him; the final stage of setting her soul free. She served him divorce papers, more than six years after she discovered his lie. I was honestly relieved when I read this part of her story. She had found her strength and I was proud of her.
He responded by showing up at her place and smashing the windows. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
She went to counselling. Reconnected with God. Began socializing with friends and knitted her life back together. It hasn't always been an easy road. Holding a divorce decree is no badge of honour.
"The judge asked if my decision was final, and I said yes."
I will call her "The Phoenix", a mythological bird that rises from the ashes of its prior form. Thank you for sharing your story with me. For making me realize how strong women can truly be. I hope you realize that your life's story is the stuff found in movies- a surreal story line whose protagonist somehow miraculously makes it out alive and healed. I hope that whenever you look up at the sun, you find solace and happiness. Your journey to freedom is a dream for many...
You are, a true heroine.
Here is an excerpt from a poem in her manuscript "The WHITE Lady"
She did not wear lipstick or Stiletto shoes
She didn’t wear dresses or sexy to dos
She wasn’t a female but oh what a tease
And she took my man away with ease
She wasn’t his lover in the way that you think
Yet when she called, he was gone in a blink
What could I do I hadn’t a clue
Cocaine, Miss Crack I couldn’t fight that