As I was shopping for a dress for myself and gift for my husband on the event of our 14th wedding anniversary, I bumped into this beautiful woman at Pick ‘n Pay Clothing, in Lonehill. We started chatting about the dresses available, until I eventually told her why I needed a new dress. She asked, “Do you and your husband get along, or you’re just commemorating because it has to be done?”
She went on to tell me how, for many years, she pretended to celebrate her own anniversary with her now ex-husband. “Thirty-two years!” she said. This woman said she stayed that long in the marriage because of cultural considerations. She is of Portuguese/Brazilian descent and said divorce is very much frowned upon in her culture.
Her husband was a philanderer of note and would spend thousands of Rand wining and dining other women, while spending none on his wife. “I don’t remember him ever taking me on a date,” she said. He was emotionally, psychologically and physically abusive. One day he threw all her clothes outside the house and told her to leave. She sat outside the house as she waited for her sister to come and pick her up. As soon as the sister arrived, the man sprinted towards them, pointed a gun at his sister-in-law’s head, and told her to drive back to her house and not interfere in other people’s relationships. She had no option but to drive off without her sister. As they say, the man with the gun has the final say. He then turned the gun on his wife, told her to pick up all her clothes from the yard and go back inside the house like a good wife. She complied.
She endured more years of abuse until her grown daughter sat her down and said, “Mum, I’m very ashamed of you. You are nothing but a doormat. Where is your pride as a woman and as a human being to allow yourself to be treated this way?” That was all the talk she needed to pack up and leave this man for good. Sometimes women claim to hang on to their marriages to scoundrels “for the children, you know, so that they can grow up under the same roof with their parents.” I rather think it’s the lack of courage to venture into the unknown, especially after being manipulated into believing they can’t make it without their abusive spouses.
She moved to a different suburb and got a peace order against him when he started threatening her life. Left all to himself with no-one to bully, the man just crumbled to pieces. She said his life just spiralled downwards until he decided to leave South Africa for Brazil. Her relatives in Brazil say he has fallen on hard times, and is nothing but a shadow of his former pompous self. Initially the family blamed her for the collapse of her marriage and thought she should have been more resilient. Now that they are geographically closer to the man and see him for the loser he really is, they can’t pat her on the back enough for mustering the courage to leave him.
I couldn’t help marvelling at how almost similar her background and mine are, in terms of views on marriage and divorce, despite the racial difference. Over a period of time, I’ve also come to learn that the scourge of spousal abuse cuts across races. I’ve heard fellow black women wish they they had married white men so they wouldn’t get abused, but alas!
The woman told me she has had a very peaceful and enriching life since leaving her husband, her only regret being that she didn’t leave sooner. She is now able to socialise, and come and go as she pleases, which she couldn’t do under his thumb. He believed he was the only one in the union entitled to happiness, and hers was just to remember to keep her tail tucked neatly between her legs around him. When that power to dictate was taken away from him, he could not survive. We give abusers the power they think they have, and when we disallow it, we expose them for the cowards they really are. This probably applies to everybody that believes they are in positions of authority, such as political leaders, bosses in the workplace, and of course, abusive spouses. No-one can bully you without your acquiescence.We had such an intense discussion on marriage, particularly the abusive side of it. So intense that at the end of it all, we hugged and parted ways without exchanging numbers, let alone names. We probably stood there talking for close to an hour. Pick ‘n Pay staff must have wondered what we were scheming, holding a tête-à-tête in their shop. They must have been relieved when we eventually bought a few things.
Of course, some will claim I didn’t get the husband’s side of the story, but I choose to believe everything she told me. It’s a story I’ve heard one time too many. I really wish I had taken her number so we could chat again. My 14th anniversary celebrations were great, but I think I’ll remember the day for the conversation I had with this lady. That is why I have decided to share it.