A history of violence

We found each other by accident. I was looking for a way to burn time while my spouse was working. I didn’t have any children at the time. She was a cardiologist…. moonlighting as a zumba instructor. My spouse and I had recently moved to a town in New Hampshire. Him,looking for a better paying job. Me, hoping the the change in location will help me conceive.

She told me she was a second generation immigrant. Her parents were originally from some Scandinavian backwater. Her blues eyes always seemed to look elsewhere whenever she spoke of her family. My kinky, black ringlets were the attraction. Africans were not a common feature I found after we moved to Azure. My stint in the zumba class was short lived; I discovered I was expecting my first baby. Ad midst much celebration, for our class was a small, close knit one…I hung up my leotard and focused on my new status. She continued to call on me, which was remarkable because of her busy schedule. In addition to consulting at the hospital as a cardiologist and zumba, she ran a low income private clinic with one of her siblings.

She was a breath of fresh air. She helped me navigate the medical insurance landmines; introduced me to a good gynecologist, pointed me in the right direction for Lamaze classes. She always seemed to be available when it came to me.

When my baby finally arrived, my husband was out of town on business.With no family to help me….she was my life saver. She ferried me to the hospital, was there holding my hand through the delivery. She stayed with me through it all; feeding me ice cubes, wiping my sweaty brow. It was her face Azuka first saw when he opened his eyes, not even mine. Never complaining. Always smiling, always encouraging.She was my main stay

Ours was an unlikely sisterhood of sorts. Our hearts spoke the same. And even though she knew so much about me, I knew very little about her. I knew she had three siblings,all younger. I knew her parents had recently divorced after over four decades of marriage. I knew, even though she admired my relationship with my spouse, she always said she would never marry.

Sam, I called her fondly. Even though her real name was Adele. “If you were a man Samson would be a perfect name. And strong she was, for someone so small. She was a few inches shorter than I was. Her slight frame was quite misleading. Once, at the end of my third trimester  I slipped on some ice during winter.She caught me, and I was amazed at the strength of her grip. Whenever I asked her questions towing on relationships, she would smile and say: Ameze good men like yours are rare.” She told me she had no use for a long term relationship. And when I ask her about children: Don’t you want to have children? She would laugh and tease me. We are not all built for maternity Ameze.

It was almost three years into our relationship before she told me of her mother.

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Raised a staunch catholic, she married her high school sweetheart. They had five beautiful children. The marriage was a tumultuous one. Sam’s father struggled with substance abuse. Her mother was left isolated and stranded as a result of verbal,physical and psychological abuse. Leaving her husband was not an option for her.Marriage was to be endured. Leaving was not an option. When they migrated to North America, Sam was about a year old. Her childhood memories are riddled with her mother’s tears,screams and blood. For years she watched her mother suffer. She learned at an early age to bind her mother’s wounds. In fact, her first visit to the neighborhood library was to look for a book on how to stitch a particularly bad gash on her cheek. She found the library and became hooked. The books were an outlet to the horror their lives had become. She would go to the library after school with her siblings and stay till the library closed, not minding the growling pangs of hunger in their stomachs. The thought of going home to see their bloodied mother…. intoxicated father……. kept them reading.

She said she found herself in the quiet hallways of the library. She believes  there was no bone in her mother’s body that had not suffered some kind of trauma from her father’s fists. Once,after a particularly bad beating, her mother unconscious was not able to stop Sam from calling for an ambulance. Her mother had suffered a skull fracture, several broken ribs. It was a miracle she lived, the doctor said. When she was asked what happened to her mother…..Sam said she told the truth. Her father was nowhere to be found.

Her father disappeared for days. When the police came to their door, herself and her siblings hoped…no, prayed it was to tell them he was dead. If only they were that lucky. He had been arrested for drunken, disorderly conduct.He had begged a policeman to tell his wife. He needed her to post his bail . He could not remember he had beaten her to a pulp, broken her jaw,nose and ribs. He did not remember beating her. Sam said she told the policeman where her mother was, what her father had done to her. When the police corroborated her story,her father was sent away to prison for almost a year.

‘The system has changed Ameze. Now,if my father did the same thing..he will be locked away for the rest of his life. But not back then…..her voice trailed off. Justice really is half blind.”

I remembered Nne Chinye. She lived in a small squat opposite my family when i was a little girl. Her husband would beat her black and blue. She never left him. He worked for the railway service. A tall dark handsome man who always greeted my parents with a smile. A smile that never reached his eyes. His wife was always dressed in a wrapper and a mismatched blouse. Her scarf always tied crookedly…hiding a discolored eye, a swollen temple. She walked with a stoop. Her children very beautiful but always cowering behind their door. I remember coming back from school when I was ten and learning from the hushed whispers of gossiping neighbors she had died suddenly. For many months I would wake up screaming….the dream was the same. Nne Chinye was lynched by a faceless crowd. She would lay eventually immobile, covered in blood and gore…Though a child I felt a sense of guilt. Guilt… that nothing was done to save her…..from the monster she married.

By the time he was released, there was no home for him to return to. With him in prison, there was no income to support the family. We lost the apartment. A kind neighbor employed me in her dinner. She also helped my siblings and I secure a small apartment. For two years I worked and attended night school to enable me care for my siblings. My mother needed therapy.She was in a facility for almost a year. In the midst of all that madness,I found joy and peace because Papa was gone. My siblings did beautifully well in school. We had hit rock bottom,the only place to go was up.

When my father came out of prison,he reconciled with my mother. I had no expectations of her. Her choice to hold on to a dead marriage was not going to destroy my siblings and I. My years of living in the library paid off. I found an attorney to represent my siblings and I pro bono. I appealed to our neighbors who had stood idly by as my father continuously abused my mother to stand has witness for us. They showed up en masse in court to support myself and my siblings.I was old enough to file for custody of my siblings and was ready to make the sacrifice to keep us together. My parents cried that day in court. Both clinging to the other. Their tears made me angry. Very angry. The judge ruled in our favor. My parents wept hysterically that day. They kept on begging…. calling out our names. My brother’s face was blank but I knew he was crying inside. My sisters were too young to really understand what was happening but years of turmoil and chaos had taken its effect on their sensibilities. All they knew was, our father was not in the picture and that….. for them, was more than enough.

My parents would come around to the small apartment I shared with my siblings. They would bring groceries and always maintained a united front. I never saw a bruise on her again. He enrolled in a drug rehab program. I guess the loss of his children was the catalyst he needed. When they visited, I would either go to the library, or work extra hours. I couldn’t afford to soften towards them. If I did, we would be back to square one. I couldn’t risk it. I did not go back to school until my last sibling had gotten into high school.

She raised up her hands: These hands, Ameze, have been working for almost twenty two years.

When her siblings started to date, they made bad choices. She said her youngest sister always seemed to be attracted to the dead beats of the society. Men that would take her money.Her other two sisters too made quite a few judgement calls. Her brother dated women with questionable characters. Women, who took his money and gave him sexually transmitted diseases.Each misstep a throw back to their orientation. After series of heart aches, the three girls found relatively stable relationships. Herself and her brother stayed single. She did not trust men. She did not trust herself to choose well.She looked at each man that approached her as an actor. They were all caricatures pretending to be something they were not. The monster would soon escape from the pressed shirt, tailored pants and attractive exterior. She would never marry. She would succeed in dodging the bullet that threatened her mother’s existence.

Her brother was her succor. They encouraged and validated each other.

Her parents, she avoided like the plague. Her mother had tried several times over the years to reconcile with Sam, her father same. They never gave up on her. My friend says they are both poison. Her father was a monster and her mother was worse. She allowed them to be held prisoner because of her fears.She lost her childhood because of a misguided belief in a God that her mother served. When we have conversations on religion and divorce. Sam would say, many of these so called preachers should be sent to the gallows. The pastors tell the women to forgive,they tell them to be docile…to love the man and be submissive. They read their bibles upside down. They keep these women in dead and evil marriages. When she rattles on…. passionate and angry; I listen and smile. I know where she has been and so I do not judge her. I think back to my gentle and loving father. He gave me the blue print of what a good man should be. I shudder to think of what my life would have been if I had her kind of father. I didn’t watch my father raid the family purse to quieten his cravings. I didn’t have to sleep hungry days on end; stitch holes in clothes too small to wear….a father, I prayed fell into a gutter and died.

Our relationship was one of mutual respect. I saw her more clearly after I knew her background. I loved her more, too…if it were possible to love her more than I did before. Perhaps in my love for her, I could make up for the misguided guilt I carried for Nne Chinye.

 

 

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BROKEN PHALLUS

Preload 15I grew up in an asylum. My mother was a cowering, slip of a woman who always spoke in a whisper. I think, I must have been almost ten before I heard her speak properly. She was always afraid. The fear was palpable. We, my brothers and I were raised in fear. My father was the originator of our fears. We never knew what could lead to an explosion. He was quick with his fist…..on my mother, mostly. She always walked with a stoop. I hated him as a child. But as I grew older, my hatred for him extended to her. Her weakness and doleful brown eyes, which were usually surrounded by a bruise; her inability to protect herself and us from him.

I have no memory of being happy as a child. Rather, a feeling of constant despondency.No one ever visited us. We were the outsiders in the community. Our house was located at the end of town. Perhaps he chose the location, so no one could hear our screams.As a teenager, I remember being a loner. I was a good looking kid but sullen,a sullenness mostly misunderstood as arrogance. My father had a thriving business and so we appeared to have all money could buy, our family on the outside looking in, was picturesque.

Eventually, my mother died, a victim of an aneurysm. I was fifteen, the oldest and the only one that did not shed a tear. I spent my days taking care of my brothers, especially Luke, the youngest.

My father cried most days after her passing.He would make to start conversations with me,then stop mid sentence and walk away. He cried for a long time, which I frankly found preposterous because of the abuse she suffered. She always seemed to be trying so hard to get some kind of approval from him and he always responded in cruelty. How they made three children was a mystery. I was never going to be like him, or her I had decided long before her demise. I was never going to let another victimize me.

The days after her passing I barely remember.I felt like I was holding on to a precipice….I would have dreams of climbing a steep hill and then my grip would slip and I would fall into a dark abyss. I would wake up always around midnight, shaking, cold and covered with sweat.My father  stopped hitting us. I wondered why. He seemed to slump within himself. He did his bit: made sure we always had clothing, paid our fees, put food on the table but was emotionally and most of the time physically absent…which was fine. My mother was gone, having him lurking around was a reminder he was responsible. My brothers and I seemed to find ourselves in ourselves after Mama passed. They flourished under my tutelage. I tried hard to play both roles. And I guess to a large extent within all the murk and madness, some good had transcended into me. They did well in school and all left home, one after the other. But I stayed behind. Which is laughable because of the three of us, I was the one who hated the house most.My grades were good and I went on to college and became a doctor.

Ministering to the physically broken; listening to their problems; albeit distantly. It was as if I was frozen in time. I had physically grown up but somewhere deep inside, I was stunted. I knew people wondered about me. The lack of interest in the growing female admirers did not help my reputation much. Oh, I dated from time to time. I satisfied my sexual curiosities. In fact, I was sure the stories my conquests shared among their peers contributed to the crowd of fawning female admirers. They found varying reasons to visit the doctor. I did not mind. They paid for my time and I knew right off the bat those who needed a physical exam genuinely from those who just wanted to show off their goods for appraisal.

My only friend was my vocation. I had a social group that claimed me as theirs but beyond our sharing a monthly comradeship, they had no hold over me. I was the epitome of small-town success….yet defective. I knew something was wrong with me. Something was broken and for the life of me, I did not know how to fix it.

I seemed to survive in this limbo of existence. An old girlfriend once said I worked like a dog. She said I spent so much time with my patients; I didn’t have anything left to offer her…..well apart from the few moments of intimacy during the weekends when my partners were on call. It was convenient for me to have a slew of girlfriends anyway, than to have a constant fixture. I was not ready for that kind of commitment. In fact, I didn’t think I was built to offer any kind of emotional succor to the opposite sex. And honestly, women were a tad irritating. With their constant demands for emotional connection; their inability to just enjoy snatches of intimacy without attaching meanings to everything a man does. My recreational bliss playing golf with my erstwhile social group of yuppies in the country club was always interrupted listening to a friend’s marital woes: “I don’t know what’s wrong with Phyllis.She always used to enjoy………now she says I don’t respond to her emotionally. You don’t know how lucky you are”. I hid a smile and made a mental note to tell his wife at our next rendezvous I needed space.

I was seated in my office that day, waiting for my next patient to be called in when I heard a bit of a raucous outside my door, at the reception. I opened the door to see what was going on. She had two little children with her. The youngest must have been about four. A beautiful looking lad, whose face was all grubby from tears and snot. She was an unusually beautiful woman. Her short afro was a dark mass of curly ringlets. A stark contrast to her chocolate complexion. The little boy refused to let his mother leave. She was my next appointment. The older child sat quietly obviously engrossed with the mother’s cell phone, playing a game.
But the youngest refused to let go of her jacket. She looked thoroughly embarrassed. My office assistant continued to insist “Children are not allowed in the consultation room”.

I ushered them in. And with the curl of my lower lip stilled my staff’s protest. The mother thanked me profusely. My office was big enough. I helped settle her children in one corner. I had a supply of coloring books, crayons and candies I kept handy. Experience had taught me children suffered from separation anxieties at times when in unfamiliar environments with their primary care givers.

I asked her routine questions while peering at her history. I tried very hard not to stare…peering at her through my gold rimmed glasses as I routinely typed on my computer. She was of African descent,recently relocated here with her family. I felt my stomach churn when she smiled. I eyed the golden band that circled her left finger. Her eyes sparkled when she mentioned her husband and from time to time looked over to where her children played in the corner.
I washed my hands and did her examination. The professional kicked in and I tried very hard to keep my eyes and ears on the job and not my swollen phallus. My hands were sweaty and my throat was dry.I couldn’t remember when last I felt such a need for another. She said her name was Ameze.

Long after she had left my office and long after I had closed for the day; I declined drinks with my friends and ignored several calls and voice messages left by my current “girlfriend”, I still thought about her. I remembered the way she smiled when she spoke of her husband. For the first time in my life…I wanted that. I wanted someone to make me smile like that. I wanted to have someone hold onto me the way her youngest held on to her. I wanted that light I saw in her eyes. I deliberately avoided her after that. She continued to be a patient in my clinic but I was never her GP.

I started to take a deeper look at my life, my choices and the ache I had in my heart. The ache I tried hard to dull with alcohol and sex. The ache that refused to go away for twenty six long years…after my Mama died. I had tried to cover my pain for so long,I didn’t realize I wore it like a toga. And then the nightmares started again, the same night mares I had when I lost my mother. These time, I would wake up covered in sweat and I would scream out for my Mama. I couldn’t function any more, I couldn’t eat and was loosing weight…..I knew I had to do something. I was after all a practical man. I made an appointment to meet with a colleague whose specialty was psychiatry. After listening to me, he encouraged me to join his grief counseling support group.

For the first time in almost twenty six years I grieved for my mother. I cried and cried till I was hoarse.I grieved for the past, for the boy I was and the boy that was lost. I grieved for the life my mother never had because of her choices. I thought about the pain we experienced through a kaleidoscope of regret. I pulled the stops on hating my father. I realized if I was going to be whole, I had to let go of his throat.

I stopped sleeping with married women and having casual liaisons . I stopped playing golf and started riding a bicycle. I avoided the familiar watering holes and started treating my body with dignity and took time to really get to know my patients.
From time to time, I would see her when she came for appointments….at times with her husband. I saw the gentle way he looked at her. The light in his eyes when she wasn’t looking. Its amazing how meeting a person albeit briefly can change one’s direction, one’s desire to do better, to want more. I found myself after I met her.