My life had become a fairytale. I was exactly where I wanted to be. The sunlight caught the cut of the diamond on my freshly manicured finger and glistened in the light. It was beautiful. I could not believe that in 6 months time I would be Mrs. Jones. I was engaged! It was not a moment too soon either. My cousin, who was 3 years younger than I was, was celebrating her one-year wedding anniversary with a baby shower – she was expecting twins.
In the Beginning
My relatives were ready to write me off as a lost cause. After all, I was 30 years old, with two degrees and zero prospects. I had often been told I was a ‘very pretty girl’ but my expectations were too high and my opinions too vocal. All that changed when I got engaged to TJ.
He was everything I never knew I always wanted. He was certainly not my type, and from the long list of exes he had shared I was not his either. But somehow we lowered our defenses and got to know one another.
I learned that judging a book by its cover was the wrong approach. Snap judgments don’t work for individuals. We are far more complex than that. You cannot ascertain whom a person is by what school they attended, what country they grew up in, or what they do with their free time. This provides glimpses, but it is also important to let the lead character narrate their own story while you listen. The closer TJ and I got, the more I realized that my conclusions had been wrong.
We found common ground in the desire to be married ASAP, in similar definitions of fun, in sharing a common faith and belief system, and in a more similar background than was initially apparent. Before I knew it I was in love. I had fallen hard and was not willing to get back up. Time was of the essence. Since I had purposed in my heart that this would be the year of marriage it was all I needed. I concluded he was the one.
During our whirlwind courtship, where we spent every single day together between work and general life, things unraveled a little bit. TJ had a tendency to make scathing comments at the most inopportune times. Cutting jokes about seemingly inconsequential things such as my hair, my make up, my body parts. I ignored this. After all, I loved that he paid attention to detail and I figured he just wanted to make me better. For some one that was used to always being right and outspoken, I thought his remarks were proof that he was able to ‘tame me.’ I was learning to submit, to internalize his comments and suggestions as new facts. I found my(new)self able to accept the opinions of another; if this is not love I don’t know what is.
I Beg To Differ
His “spec” and past relationships were everything I was not. They had different body types and different upbringings. If I am being honest, they were women I used to consider myself more advanced than. They were less academic, less serious minded, but “hotter.” So I didn’t worry about the fact that he seemed to have switched gears on his “type” with the onset of our romance. After all, our souls connected and I had met his parents. Besides, I secretly figured I was an upgrade and he was lucky to have me.
He was not who I had envisioned I would end up with, but that did not matter. He was here, he was ready, we had already started talking about marriage. We shared religion, we disliked some of the same things and upheld some of the same principles. I brought a lot to the table, and when I compared myself to others I felt confident that he would soon appreciate that too, and his critique would turn to praise. Besides, every time I looked at the clear diamond glistening on my knuckle it was clear he already did appreciate it – I was the one he proposed to. And he did praise me. He spoke well of me around our friends and families; give or take the few negative comments I mentioned earlier. I felt lucky.
…But Words Can Never Hurt Me
I had always wanted to be out and about with my man, and that was what we had. We went on dates, we went to group activities with our friends, we traveled. One evening we had gone out for a steak dinner with a few friends. I ordered the T-Bone steak with mashed potatoes and TJ made a comment – “why not order the whole cow, woman.” The table erupted in laughter. I was heartbroken. I pushed my food around, barely able to swallow past the lump in my throat. It was the longest night of my life.
When TJ dropped me at home that evening he asked why I was carrying a long face. I went on to explain that he had really hurt me. I was upset about his comment, and referred to a few previous comments that had hurt me too. The longer I spoke the more high pitched my voice got. Suddenly TJ interjected, he grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me really hard and shouted “Pull it together! You need to stop being such a baby. Are you not the one that said you want to lose weight? Is it by eating the whole restaurant it will happen. You need to be realistic babe. Besides those are our friends we were with. Do you think we are all conspiring against you?! Chill out!” Then he stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
I sunk into the couch in shock. My head was spinning. I’m not sure what just happened. Unconsciously I began to rub my upper arms, there was a burning sensation as the shock began to clear and I realized just how hard he had held me. I had bitten my tongue by mistake as my teeth rattled when he shook me. I pulled out my compact mirror and saw blood oozing from where my teeth had cut my tongue. I tried to assess the situation: Was TJ right? Had I been a big baby? It was just a joke right… But then did he really need to grab and shake me like that? I wasn’t sure. I feel asleep on the couch, in between tear stained throw pillows and swirling confusion.
Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones
The next day TJ showed up bright and early. We were going for breakfast. He made no mention of last night’s incident. Neither did I. I was careful not to say anything that could be perceived as rude or combative. I did not complain when my eggs were cold or I found a hair in my baked beans. I remained docile and laughed at all TJ’s jokes. He was in a playful mood.
The following evening we attended a friend’s party. It was extremely fun. One of TJ’s friends was celebrating both his birthday and closing a huge contract. Liquor was flowing and TJ was going toe-to-toe with his friends. The more shots they took the rowdier they became. I sat in the corner with the other girlfriends and wives, rolling our eyes at the boys’ antics. At about 3 a.m. we decided to call it a night. I insisted on driving since TJ had been drinking.
As I maneuvered our way home TJ kept giving me instructions, “turn left up ahead, turn right here.” Initially I obeyed, but the route he was taking us on was actually drawing a circle through downtown. We weren’t getting home. Of course I knew the way so after about 20 minutes of aimless driving I decided to override his instructions. When I had taken two turns that did not correspond with his requests he barked, “park the car!” I laughed it off. He grabbed for the steering wheel, we swerved, I pulled it back and immediately parked the car.
I had barely turned the key in the ignition when he grabbed it. He angrily opened the passenger’s door and stormed out. I followed hesitantly, unsure of what was going on. We were standing in the middle of the road in the middle of the night. I nervously twirled my engagement ring on my finger while he went on a tirade. “Are you stupid? What’s wrong with you? Why are you driving like you have no sense?” he chided. He threw the car keys at me vehemently, it bounced off my collar bone and fell to the pavement. I gazed at him warily, unsure of whether to reach for it or ignore it. Tears filled my eyes. Again.
I bent down and reached for the keys. TJ lunged forward, grabbed me by the wrist, and yanked me away. I staggered close to the highway, just managing to catch my balance as cars zoomed by. He reached for the keys himself, scooped them up, stomped to the driver’s side and yelled for me to get in. Coincidentally, some other friends from the party happened to be driving by at that time. Their car slowed to a stop right by me and I immediately put on my game face. Laughing I asked, “Can you guys please give me a ride? TJ wants to make a food stop, you know how he eats, and I am tired.”
“Of course we can,” my cousin assured me. She was riding shot gun in her boyfriend’s car. I walked back to the car, gingerly picked up my purse and heels, and opened the back door of my cousin’s boyfriend’s car. I avoided eye contact with TJ who was now joking and laughing with our friends. “Thanks guys,” he tossed over his shoulder as he closed the driver’s door and turned the key in the ignition.
The next morning I was awakened by the shrill ringing of my phone. My godmother crooned on the line, “good morning my sweetheart, future wife, future mother. Congratulations my darling Mrs. Jones. What wonderful news! I hear you are engaged.”
“Yes mum,” I responded on cue. “It happened 3 days ago. TJ is a wonderful man. So intelligent and successful. He is my dream husband.”
“There is so much to plan my dear. You sound like you are still sleeping. Or are you okay? Stop by the house when you wake up, okay? It is time to plan the best wedding this town has ever seen.”
“Yes mum, everything is perfect.” I said. The cold fingers of dread gripping my chest. “See you soon,” I said as the line went flat on the other end.
Suddenly I identified the continuous thud that had formed the background noise of this call to be my front door. I hurriedly checked my phone and realized I had three missed calls – all from TJ. That’s what that beeping noise had been. The blood drained from my face and my heart started racing. TJ hated to be kept waiting. I leaped off the bed and raced for the front door…
*** If you are the victim of domestic violence please say something! Do not continue to suffer in silence. If you are not comfortable sharing the details with a friend, family member, or counselor that you know please contact a domestic violence organization in your area where you will find a listening ear and advice on what to do next. You can call anonymously and your private information will not be shared with a third party without your consent.***
Domestic Violence Websites & Hotlines:
Federal Government of Nigeria Toll Free Number for Violation of Girls and Women
0800 727 32255
0808 2000 247
1-800-787-3224 (For the hard of hearing)