The church was beautifully decorated. The white and pink lilies strewn all down the aisle filled the air with a sweet scent. The pews were filled with loved ones and friends. The piano played softly in the background.
I held my long flowing gown in my right hand and the cordless microphone in my left. My eyes welled with tears. I was overcome with emotions. I looked out at the sea of guests, dressed in pale pretty colors. I let my own lilac dress pool around my feet as I used the back of my hand to swipe away my tears before mascara streaks further marked my face. I took a deep breath and began my speech.
“My name is Salma. I’m the Maid of Honour. I wrote this poem for my sister, my cousin, the beautiful bride to express just how I feel. I didn’t trust myself to freestyle on this one so please bear with me while I read.”
A few spontaneous applause erupted. I cleared my throat and began my address:
“I mean no disrespect,
But since I was the one who helped pick the dress
Since I grew up with her
Since she truly is my flesh and blood
Allow me to direct my address
As I see fit.
Aunty, Mother-of-the-Bride, this poem is actually for you. I have long held back these emotions. I would include my mother in this address too, since you lived such similar lives and played such crucial roles in both our lives. But as you all know, she died three years ago, may her gentle soul rest in peace. So therefore I read this poem to you dear mother-of-the-bride, and to anyone else who is listening.
‘She’s battered and bruised, she learned it from you.
That’s what you allowed when she was 2.
They say memory emerges when a child reaches 3,
But he did it so much that it scarred her memory.
And when she turned 4, nothing had changed.
You were just a little better at concealing your shame.
But concealer and blush never hid your bruises,
For some stains remain long after the abuses.
You swore he would never lay a finger on your daughter
But letting him hit you – sacrificed her – lamb to the slaughter.
“Do as I say, not as I do,”
Is not a lesson plan with embedded value
And so she grew up as the nightmare unfolded
You never measuring up and you getting scolded
First by his harsh words, then by his big fists,
Grabbing your throat and twisting your wrists
Your skin discoloured, your face swollen,
And your self value shattered when you accepted his tokens.
Gifts wrapped in lies of this being “the last time.”
He’d blame it on the liquor, his job, your whine.
And you knowing full well it would never end,
Deluding yourself as you tried to pretend.
Paralyzed by fear that you could not make it on your own,
You bowed to his beatings, keeping him on the throne.
A coward was your king and his wickedness your sin
For you were his enabler caving to his every whim
You told yourself you’d made a vow
And that this exonerated you from further responsibility somehow
You did not stay because he was rich, although that he was
You stayed because with sustained abuse is an accompanying drug
Love? Fear? A combination of both?
Standing outside looking in, one cannot denote
But you knew it was wrong
Yet you feared he was strong
Mistaking his violence for a backbone
You let him cast stone after stone
And then she was 5, 6, and 7
And you thought “every girl should have a dad”
So you told yourself you were staying
To give her what you had never had
But raised voices were her lullabies
And your fear-filled eyes her night-lights
And as she grew she aged
Wedged between his violence and your fright
Then she was a teenager and you rationalized
If you didn’t stay he wouldn’t pay for college
And after all –
“You can’t put a price on knowledge.”
So you said you’d “tough it out” a few more years
Truth is you didn’t know how to move past your fears
It is what you had known for 20 odd years
And your eyes couldn’t see beyond the tears
Just like you wanted she moved out and went to college
Your gorgeous gorgeous girl excelled.
And you patted yourself on the back
Thinking your suffering had gained her the world
But monkey see, monkey do.
And that’s just what she did.
She graduated and found a man like her daddy
And in his arms she hid.
She told him she loved him
Unfortunately TJ “loved” her more
And every time she showed her lesser love
She was sorry, of that TJ made sure.
Soon everything she said was wrong
Especially when she was right
She “said yes” cuz she felt right at home
In the presence of her fright
This was the love she recognized
Turbulent and full of blows
And monkey will not suspect
What monkey already knows
She was never able to declare ‘enough was enough’
Because this was just how she grew up
We were so used to hidden emotions,
We couldn’t see the ones right before our eyes,
And so we encouraged her “wonderful catch”
And didn’t not notice her soul withering as it died.
I asked her if the dress really fit
Asked her if she felt happy and safe
She told me everything was perfect
Insisted that she was okay
I knew deep down it was not
But I never made her talk
I just helped her plan
Intertwining her destiny, more and more with her man
He continuously killed her with his words
Breaking her down with his fists
We were planning “the best wedding ever”
Manning the wedding register and the guest list
But he might as well have saved us the trouble
And just slit her wrists
Because here we are
Rehearsal dinner done
Now there will never be a wedding
We’ve gathered again in this same place
With different feelings in our heart
And different looks on our face
TJ struck her harder than he knew
And now we gather unto a funeral
I’m sure he never meant to kill her
But then, they never do.
She lived in an invisible prison
Taught that it was okay
Taught that she should conceal her pain
Taught her she should stay
Your gorgeous gorgeous girl
Peaceful and pale
Concealer on her face
Blush bleeding onto her veil
Strategically placed to hide the bruises
The make-up could not mask
Soon to be lowered into the ground
In a coffin of damask
Aunty, you sacrificed so much for her,
But you forgot – monkey see monkey do.
And now her lifeless body,
Is right in front of you.
For violence robs the receiver
And those the receiver loves
And no lies will diminish the echo
Of what staying really does.
I will miss my friend and sister, but since we are already in mourning there is no time like the present to speak out. I do not wish to cause you any more pain, but it would be more painful for us to bury another daughter, sister, friend because they remained. May her delicate soul rest in peace, and TJ – may he rot in jail. I have nothing more to say, except ‘may she go well.’
A stunned silence filled the church. Then the mother of the bride collapsed in sobs. She was speechless. Shrieking and weeping, a wet blubbering mess. No words could express her feelings. She did not rise to her own defense. She knew, I knew, we all knew. My cousin was dead. We were holding a funeral in place of a wedding. And while it was so sad, and the shock of such a tragic event replacing such a festive one loomed large – the larger issue was the fact that we all knew deep down, sooner or later, with TJ and my baby girl – this was where we would end up; with a funeral.
I felt my knees give way and I stepped away from the altar. I’m not sure what happened next. I blacked out, drowning in confusion, regret, grief, and sorrow.
Death did them part.