"Wedding ring is the smallest handcuff ever made, don't be desperate to wear one, study your inmate very carefully so as to sentence yourself wisely"That's what my friend Ifeoma tweeted yesterday. She is right. Well, partly. While I don't believe marriage should feel like prison. It is a "for better or for worse" ordeal and many times, for many people, it feels like they've been handcuffed...like they HAVE TO make it work...especially in a society like Nigeria where marriage is seen more like an accomplishment than your own personal commitment. Scratch that. Its the wedding that you get kudos for because everything that happens afterwards is a "family matter". "Happily married" becomes an assumption. It shouldn't be that way.
I want to get married. In short, I really look forward to it. However, it won't be at the cost of my happiness, my virtue as a woman and my worth as the daughter of my father. I've talked to people who have told me every woman looses herself in marriage. They say, you can't "keep" yourself in marriage. I can. So can you. I have read about what God intends marriage to be. I have seen couples who live according to that. My parents, for one. They're the number one reason I will always believe in love and in "successful" marriages. I know that if I am careful about my choice, my marriage won't be a prison...it will be happy partnership. That's what I pray for.
That's probably also what Ogochukwu wanted when she married Kevin. Her story is heart-wrenching. All this woman wanted to do was gain her husband's love and affection and to make her marriage successful. At any cost. Sadly, the cost was her life.
Ogochukwu's story is not unique. Many women, especially in Nigeria, stay in unhappy marriages for years on end in an effort to peservere. While I'm a passionate advocate for perseverance, please do not do so to the detriment of your health (physical, psychological, or otherwise) or your life.
My mum is crying. I can see her from here. She has aged since the last time I saw her. Why does she look so old and why is she so thin? Can someone console her? Can someone make her stop crying? I try to get up but I can’t. I try to reach for her, but I’m stuck where I am. It is very dark in here, and very cold, so very cold.
What am I doing here? Where is everybody? Where are my children? I begin to panic, to struggle; I want to get out of this dark room.
I can hear Uzo calling. She’s calling my name. Then, I see mum again. And I hear Uzo again. I don’t see my children. Where are my children? I can’t see beyond the walls of this dark and cold room.
Uzo calls again.
She sounds desperate to rouse me from my sleep. I am struggling to wake but I can’t. I open my eyes and they shut of their own accord. I am powerless to keep them from shutting. And I find as soon as I stop struggling, my sleep becomes sweet repose. Suddenly I don’t want to wake from it just yet. It is peaceful.
I see mum again, and I see Uzo. Uzo keeps calling. She won’t stop calling. She is crying too, just like mum.
Can someone bring Kamsi and Amanda to me? Can someone bring my babies to me? I need to hug them, Kamsi, especially. Is he crying too and calling out for me?
Does he understand that I am gone? Kamsi will miss me.
He is a special child, you know; Kamsiyochukwu - my son and my first child.
I prayed and longed for his birth. He was the blessing from above that would seal Kevin’s love for me and give me some footing in his home and some acceptance from his family.
Before Kamsi, I was a nobody in Kevin’s home. I was born the last of nine children, the baby of the family. I was used to love and affection. I was everyone’s baby. I grew up knowing that everyone had my back, I grew up knowing the safety and security of being the baby of the home. You may then understand my shock when I stepped out of my home and into new territory with the man of my dreams only to find that I was really not as special as I had been made to believe. I look back to that day when Kevin took me home to introduce me to my new family. The cold and rude shock of the welcome his brother’s wife gave me set off an alarm in my head.
These people didn’t think I was special. In fact, her first words were, ”Kevin, ebe kwa ka isi dute nka?” (Kevin, “Where on earth did you bring this one from?) That would be the first time I would be addressed as “this one” and from then on, I grappled with the realization that I was not welcome in my new home.
I remember my first Christmas at Ihiala as a new bride. My brother-in-law’s wife would sneer and clap and refer to me as “Ndi ji ukwu azo akwu” (the people who process palm fruits with their bare feet). I knew she meant my impoverished home town of Nsukka. She would sing to me all day long telling me the only reason why their brother married me was because of my beauty and complexion.
Now, I lie here and I wonder if I was in my right mind to ignore the several other alarms over my 12- year union with Kevin.
I had to ignore them, I told myself. I had already taken my vows to be with Kevin until death did us part.
They never really wanted me, I can now see. But I was too blinded by love to realize that. I needed to do something to cement Kevin’s heart with mine. I needed to remain Kevin’s wife and to prove to the world that indeed Love would conquer all.
When after one year of marriage there were still no children, the painful journey that sent me to my grave started. I went from specialist to specialist, ingested every kind of pill that promised to boost my fertility. As my desperation grew, so did pressure from Kevin’s family. My horror-movie life story started playing out; the horror-movie life that has sent me to an early and cold grave from where I write this letter to my husband.
My sweet Kevin,
We started to fight over little things. The fights were worse after you visited home or attended any of your numerous family meetings. You came home one evening and asked me to move out of the bedroom we both shared and into the guestroom downstairs. The next time you returned from the meeting, you tied me up with a rope and used your belt on me. No one heard my screams.
I remember when you told me that your family had asked you to remarry. You showed me documents of all your numerous landed property including the house we lived in. Your brother was listed as next of kin. When I asked you about it, your answer rocked the ground I was standing on. You said, “What have you to show that entitles you to any stake in this household?” You were referring to my barreness.
It is funny how to my family and friends, I was the beautiful and loving Ogo, whilst to you and your family I was a worthless piece of rag. You called me barren. I could have fled but your love and acceptance was of more worth to me than the love and admiration of the world outside our home. I desperately sought to be loved by you, Kevin. In your family’s presence I felt unworthy, unloved and unwanted. Yet, I stayed on. I would make you love me one way or the other and I knew that one sure way would be to produce a child, an heir for you. That was the most important thing to you.
I began the numerous procedures, painful procedures, including surgery. I gave myself daily shots. At some point the needles could no longer pierce my skin. My skin had toughened to the piercing pain of needles.
After seven years of marriage, our prayers were answered. God blessed us with our son Kamsiyochukwu, which means ‘’Just as I asked of the Lord’’. God had intervened and miracles were about to start happening because for the first time in seven years, my mother-in-law called me. Finally I was home. I had been accepted. I was now a woman, a wife and a mother. Finally there was peace. Kamsi will be four in November.
The miracles stayed with me because 18 months later through another procedure, Chimamanda was born. Her birth was bitter sweet for me. Sweet because you Kevin, my husband, and my in-laws would love me more for bearing a second child, but bitter because this particular birth almost cost me my life. The doctors had become very concerned. You see, I had developed too many complications from all the different procedures I had undergone in the journey to have children and these were beginning to get in the way of normal everyday living. I developed conditions that had almost become life threatening. So the doctors sent me off with my new bundle of joy and with a stern warning not to try for another child as I may not be so lucky.
I chuckled, almost gleefully. Why would I want to try for a third child? God had given me a boy and a girl, what more could I ask for. I was only ever so thankful to God.
Kevin, you and I gave numerous and very generous donations to different churches in thanksgiving to God. All was well. I was happy and fulfilled. Kevin, you loved me again. Your family accepted me. Life was good. And all was quiet again. …………………… For a while.
Then fate struck me a blow. As if to remind me that my stay in your house was temporary and was never really going to be peaceful, Kamsi – our son, our first fruit, my pride and joy and the child that gave me a place in my husband’s home, began to show signs of slowed development; the visits to the doctors resumed, this time on account of Kamsi. We started seeing therapists. After we’d been from one doctor to another I decided I had to resort to prayer. I was frightened. I was terrified. I was threatened. I started to feel unwell. I had difficulty breathing. I needed to see my doctors, Kamsi too. He wasn’t doing too well either. He had difficulty with his speech. He was slow to comprehend things. I did not know for sure what was wrong with him but I knew all was not well. Not with him and not with me. We were denied visas to the USA because we had overstayed on our last trip on account of Kamsi’s treatments. So whilst we waited for a lawyer to help us clear up the immigration issues with America, I applied for a UK visa and sought help in London. But by then, trouble had reared its head at home, again.
Kevin, you had again become very impatient with me. My fears were fully alive again. The battles it seemed I had won were again in full rage. My husband, in your irritable impatience and anger, you told me to my face that our son, my Kamsi, was worthless to you. You said he was abnormal. You said that our daughter, my Amanda, was a girl and that you had no need for a girl child because she would someday be married off. I remember, in pain, that you didn’t attend Amanda’s christening because you were upset with me. You told me your mother was more important to you than “THESE THINGS” I brought to your house. You were referring to our children, were you not? “THESE THINGS”.
My heart bled. I wept bitterly. Then I quickly calmed my fears by telling myself that you were under a lot of stress at work and that you were also probably reacting to all the money that you had spent on my treatments. Surely, all that was getting to you? Even when you threatened me with a knife, twice you did that, I still felt unworthy of you and very deserving of your hatred. Even when you would say: “I will kill you and nothing will happen because you have no one to fight for you”, I kept on struggling to get you to love me because, Kevin, your validation was important to me
You had refused to give me money for my medical trip to London. I knew then it was because you had your hands full with caring and catering for everybody who was dear to you. Your finances were stretched. I thought then that in time you would come around.
My health continued to get worse. Eventually, I made it to London. After extensive consultations and tests, I was given a definitive diagnosis. My condition was life threatening. It was from this time, when it was clear that I required surgery to save me life that I came face to face with a different kind of war from our home.
Kevin, you stopped speaking with me. I was in pain, in anguish and in tears. I didn’t understand what was happening. I had stayed three weeks in London and Kevin, you never called, sent a text or inquired how I was faring. You stopped taking my calls. Instead I got a call from my cousin in whose care I had left my children. She was frantic with worry because there was no food in the house for the children to eat;
Kevin you had refused to provide food for our children. Kevin, you had also refused to pay for Kamsi’s home schooling.
Then Kevin, I received that e-mail from you. The only communication from you for the entire period I was in London.
Do you remember? It was an angry email. You berated me for putting your integrity at stake at your work place. Apparently your employers had called a hospital in London to inquire about me and were told that no one by my name was ever their patient. I later found out that you had given the wrong hospital name to your employers. Do you remember, Kevin?
For the first time in my 12 year marriage, the alarm bells in my head began to sound real. For the first time in 12 years, I felt real anger stir up in my heart. Kevin, I was angry because you paid no heed to the hospital where your wife was at in London. You had no clue and cared little about what I was going through. Yet you would berate me for putting your INTEGRITY at work at stake. Your integrity was your primary concern, not my health.
Then it hit me! All these years I was trying to be all I could be for you, Kevin, to make you happy, to please you, Kevin, ……… you actually hated me. You didn’t want me in your life. The signs were all there. Your family had showed me from day one that they didn’t want me. I was the object of a hatred that I could not explain. I
couldn’t understand why.
Then I saw the hand writing on the wall, all those many things that went on. You even sold my car whilst I was still lying on a hospital bed in London, with no word to me. I was not to learn of what you had done until I returned to Nigeria. The doctors had allowed me to return to prepare for surgery.
Kevin, do you remember that on my return I gave you a pair of shoes I had bought for you? Kevin, my husband, do you remember hurling those shoes at me? Kevin, do you remember me breaking down in tears? Kevin, do you remember me asking you that night, many times over, why you hated me so much, what I had done to make you hate me as much as you did?
“You are disturbing me, and if you continue, I`ll move out and inform the company that I no longer live in the house. Then they will come and drive you away”. Kevin, my husband, that was your response to me. Did you know then I only had days to live?
Is that why you told me that would be the last time I would see you physically? Did you know it would only be a few more hours?
I still had a surgery to go through. Kevin, since you wanted no part in it, I had contacted the medical officer in your company directly for referrals. I left Eket for Lagos on Saturday. That same day I consulted with the specialist surgeon and surgery was scheduled for Monday morning.
In those final hours, as I prepared for my surgery, I was alone, my spirit was broken. I had lost all the fight in me. Kevin, I knew that nothing I did or said would turn you heart toward me, and I had nobody for whom you had any regards who would speak up for me.
In those final hours, Kevin, I called you. This was Sunday morning, less than 24 hours to my death. Do you remember, Kevin? I called you to share what the specialist surgeon had said. I was still shaking from your screams on the phone when I got in here. You did not want me to bother you, you screamed. I should go to my brothers and sisters, you screamed. I should pay you back all the money you gave me for my treatment in London, you screamed. Kevin, did you know that would be my last conversation with you? My last conversation with you, my husband, my love, my life, ended with you banging the phone on me.
Recalling the abusive words, the spitting, the beating, the bruising, the knifing, and the promise that I would not live long for daring to forget to buy garden eggs for your mother, an insult you vowed I would pay for with my life ……., I knew then it was over for me. There was no rationalizing needed any longer. Even the blind could see ………. You did not want me in your life.
I went in for surgery on Monday morning, February 27, 2012, and after battling for several hours, I yielded my spirit.
Kevin, my husband, I lived my promise to God. The promise I made on the day I wedded you.
For better ………………………… For worse
For richer …………………………. For poorer
In Sickness ………………………. And in health
To love ………………………….. And to cherish
Till DEATH US DO PART!
And it has. NOW I AM DEAD!!!!!!!
Just as your mum predicted ….. Her cold words follow me to morgue. She swore to me that I would leave her son’s house dead or alive. I couldn’t leave whilst I still breathed. It had to be through death, and death it has become.
Kevin, you are FREE! And, so am I.
Your freedom is temporary. Mine is eternal.
Whilst you still have freedom, remember Kamsi and Chimamanda.
Lovingly yours until death,
I am gone. Gone forever. But if one woman, just one woman will learn from my story, then maybe I would not have gone in vain.
My heart weeps for my children, my mummy, my sisters and my brothers, my extended family. These ones, I was a gift to. These ones, they loved me. These ones, they wanted me. These ones, they needed me. These ones, they wish I had spoken out earlier.
Its a sad sad story. But its value is not in making you cry but in teaching you to never forget to know your worth. Abuse is not only physical, its mental as well. If you're in abusive relationship/marriage, SPEAK UP before its too late.
P.S. The letter was written by a close family member.
P.S. The letter was written by a close family member.