My mama told me sometimes marriage comes with conditions, people have their baggage and they need to know you can carry them, “Be careful who you end up attaching yourself to, learn from the mistakes of others”. I wonder what she really meant all the time, maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with marriage. Half the time time I’m scared out of my mind of the idea, the other half I’m overly anxious wondering when my turn will come.
The past one year I have watched a few of my friends ship off one after the other, sailing away on the tide of married ever after… I would have said ‘happily ever after’, but who knows really? And with every new bridesmaid dress on my slender curvy body my mind has been thrown deeper into confusion by my ‘marriage personality disorder’ (see what I did there?). It really drives you insane to have to wonder with every new man, ‘does he want to marry me?’ ‘oh God! What if we get married and it is terrible, what if he beats me or cheats’, keeps you from fully allowing yourself enjoy the ride.
Recently my best friend got engaged, I should have been happy for her; actually a part of me was but for the most part I kept thinking ‘why not me?’, so I asked my boyfriend at the time this question. Chinedu and I had been dating for three years, he loved me, I loved him but I had never met his family. I did not understand why he would not take me to Enugu to meet his mother, it was barely 4 hours away but he was fine with taking me on his spontaneous road trips to Lagos with his friends. I never quite understood why we could not just take a flight or why they had to decide on thursday evening to drive down to Lagos for the weekend the very next morning but I went anyway for several reasons. First, the trips were usually fun; we would stay the weekend at Oriental hotel spending all day indoors and all night partying. Second, leaving Chinedu at the mercy of all those Lagos girls was a chance I was not willing to take. Third, I really wanted him to see me as supportive and I wanted his friends to like me so they could put in a good word for me, I needed Chinedu to be the one, I was tired of being a bridesmaid.
Chinedu promised me we would get married, he wanted me to be the mother of his children, he said this to me all time while he made love to me but that day when I asked him “why not me?” he did not have a response good enough for me. He looked ready to me but he said he was not ready or maybe he was just waiting for the right person. Two months after I asked him that question, I realised I was three weeks pregnant… It was a mistake. Not the pregnancy, I completely planned that because i thought I could make him ready so I stopped taking my birth control pills….. That was the mistake, thinking I could make him ready. The day I got my test results was one of my happiest days, I called Chinedu immediately and told him, trying my best to hide the excitement from my voice, I said “I am scared baby, what are we going to do? How do we tell our parents? We need to make marriage plans before I start showing” I was certain we would get married because he had held me close and whispered it my ear as we climaxed together the previous night. I did not expect Chinedu to ask for time to think about it, I did not expect the coldness that came next. For days we barely spoke, then i began to panic, I was already 4 weeks in and it was getting harder to hide the nausea in the small flat I shared with my mother. I wondered if Chinedu wanted to leave me, maybe he did not love me anymore and he was waiting for the right moment to ask me to get an abortion.
The next time we spoke, I told him exactly how I felt, I cried and screamed, calling him wicked, heartless accusing him of having someone else, “if you don’t want to marry me, just say so you evil man” I remember screaming at him as I threw random objects at him. Chinedu walked out of his house that night and did not come back home, the next morning I got a credit alert for one million naira and for three days after that, Chinedu’s phone was switched off.
I spent all my time crying indoors, confiding in my friend Sandra. It was Sandra who insisted I should have an abortion, time is running out she said, the baby is growing. The thought of killing Chinedu’s baby made me gag, I still saw our wedding and prayed to God he was not kidnapped or killed. Sandra put so much pressure on me, when I was not crying, I was busy fending her off. I called all Chinedu’s friends and when none of them had seen him, I called his mother. Chinedu’s mother sounded so polished, I could tell this from how she said “hello”, I heard the smile in her voice and I hoped it would not fade out when I told her my tale.
“Mommy, good afternoon, this is Gwendoline” I said, pausing for the recognition which never came.
“I’m sorry, that name rings no bells, Gwendoline who?”
“Gwendoline Briggs ma”
“Oh! Lulu Briggs?”
“No ma. I am Chinedu’s girlfriend” Even as I said the word girlfriend, I felt like an imposter; she did not know who I was! For years, Chinedu had told me about how his mum could not wait to meet me, how his siblings tease him about talking too much about me. Everything was a lie, the last three years of my life was all for nothing.
She did not even acknowledge me calling myself Chinedu’s girlfriend, instead she coldly said:
“So who is your father then?”
I just burst out laughing, call it madness or whatever but in that moment, it was all I could do, i had no tears to shed and I had lost my voice so I just kept laughing even long after she had hung up. Who is my father? Who is my father? I muttered to myself over and over again, that question made my fate with Chinedu so real.
I have no father; of course someone donated the sperm that made me but I never met him and my mother never spoke of him, her response when i asked as a child was always a long hiss so at a point I stopped asking. We never visited my hometown because my mum was not interested, sometimes I felt she was afraid of what would happen if we dared go there, maybe she had a past she was running from, I could always tell from the uneasy look in her eyes that she had been through a lot. She had done well for herself, we were not rich but she insisted on sending me to the best schools, I always imagined she just wanted me to mingle with rich people and maybe bag a rich husband in future. All through secondary school, I listened to my classmates and friends talk about their luxurious lifestyles and foreign trips, sometimes I made up stories about my life just to remain a part of the ‘in crowd’, the cool kids. When I got to the university, I knew I had to trade up so I scouted for men that could give me the lifestyle I thought I deserved, I never dated any student so my classmates spread stories about me, calling me a runs girl. I told myself I was not a runs girl because I did not display myself at strategic locations in order to attract men, I did not allow myself get pimped off to men, sure I partied often and I drank and smoked but not any man could take me home. I was just a girl with strict rules for dating, strict rules meaning he had to be rich and have a nice car, I was not willing to suffer with anyone.
That day after speaking with Chinedu’s mother I called Sandra and went for an abortion. The only pain I felt after was the physical pain, my tears seemed to have automatically dried up and even though I had no appetite for food and lost a lot of weight, it seemed to be life as usual. Exactly one week after the last time I heard from him, Chinedu called me, he wanted to meet up and talk about the baby… “what baby?” I started laughing hysterically, Chinedu must have become very confused because he showed up at my house barely one hour later and that was when I told him about the abortion. I told him about calling all his friends, his mother, about the confusion and the pain. Chinedu did not care about anything of it, I did not get a satisfying expression of my anger because his overshadowed mine, he called me a murderer, saying I killed his baby without giving him a chance.
At first it was all so funny, the way he accused me of going behind his back, someone that I spent days trying to find, someone who had spent the last three years lying to me. Chinedu walked away that day and all the pain and confusion of my pregnant days came flooding back, I became a zombie – barely alive. He really should have just stayed missing, coming back did no good to either of us as I no longer felt like I loved him and I did not think there was anything that could be done about it.
My mum noticed my state and tried to find out what happened, without meaning to, I told her everything, the weight on my chest was becoming too much to bear and talking to her seemed like a way out to me. It was then my mother told me the real story of my father; of how she was a child bride who willingly gave herself into marriage to pay off her father’s debt, to a sixty year old man with four other wives, two of which were also child brides like her. She spoke of how he flogged her daily when she did not get pregnant in the first two years, how he manhandled her and forcefully had his way with her over and over again while the others watched. When she could take it no longer, she fled and never looked back, she found her way to Port Harcourt and started doing odd jobs to survive. It was while in Port Harcourt she discovered she was pregnant with me, this would have been her ticket to luxury with her pedophile husband but she feared she would be subjecting me to a terrible fate if she remained in his household. I did not cry when I heard mother’s tale, I just stared at her, maybe it was too much information for me to process with all I was going through, I finally understood mother’s uneasy eyes and all I wanted to do was hug her as my heart ached for the child she was forced to subject herself to slavery in order to protect parents who should have been protecting her.
In the days that followed, I tried to find myself again; the things I used to enjoy no longer appealed to me, almost having a baby change me completely. Some days I wondered if it would have been a boy or girl, what he or she would have looked like, if Chinedu was coming back to marry me, maybe we had a chance to become a family and I ruined it. Chinedu tried to reach out to me, the conversations were awkward and painful, a reminder of what could have been, I was still torn between hating him and feeling guilty so I had no idea how to relate with him. My mum encouraged me to try again with Chinedu, so I did; we talked about our issues, we tried to find a way out but Chinedu was having a hard time forgiving me. Every moment I spent with him was spent on my knees, begging him or blowing him, I had become willing to do anything to get back on track. It is crazy how after everything I knew, I still wanted him, my biological clock was ticking and I just could not imagine starting all over again with someone else. For three months I begged Chinedu, I watched painfully as he spent all his time partying without me, his excuse being depression. Sometimes I went to his house and sensed the presence of another woman, it was there in the little things; the way she made the bed, the arrangement of the throw pillows on the couch, my missing tooth brush in the bathroom, the strange looking soup in the pot, but Chinedu remained elusive.
I did not understand what Chinedu wanted, he would not forgive me but he would not let me go, begging was getting exhausting so I just stopped and started to focus on other things. I enrolled for a masters degree at the University of Port Harcourt, I needed to commit myself to something extra, I needed to be a better person; knowing my mum’s story, I knew I had to become a professional as it was no longer enough to get married to a rich man. I was going to get that degree and make an impact on the world for mother’s sake. It took me hitting my lowest point with Chinedu for me to realise I wanted more out of life; spending months begging a man to love you again really eats at your soul, strips you of all you thought was good about yourself and leaves you feeling worthless. I decided to find some self worth and for the first time in my life I did not look for male gratification, I did not wonder about marriage or envy my friends on that path. I focused on my business and my degree and the pictures of where I was going sent me to sleep at night with a smile.
I came home one day to find Chinedu in my parlor talking with my mum, since I decided to find some worth, I had stopped reaching out to him or trying to see him and I had started to choose to not take all his calls or respond to all his messages. I did not expect him to show up at my house because it had seemed like his calls were starting to dwindle, I did not expect to be happy to see him, i honestly thought I was over him. It was easy for him to convince me to have dinner with him, even though I kept telling myself how foolish and weak I was for going with him a part of me was excited to spend some time with him. He was full of compliments that evening,he told about how sexy I looked, how he could not take his eyes off me, when I smiled he said my smile lit up his world. Everything about me was glorious in his sight, he had forgiven me, he was ready to move forward with our relationship, problem was I was not so sure anymore and a part of me hated him for toying with me this way. Why wait till I was finally trying to get my life together? if he really loved me he should not have been able to stay angry with me, and what about the other woman? I did not state the questions running through my mind, instead I let him hold my hand and kiss me, when he took the turn to his house instead of mine, I did not utter a word… I just sat there, Numb.
Chinedu’s house was back to the way i recognised, the way I usually kept it; all traces of the other woman were gone. “Baby talk to me” he kept saying, making me sit, but I had no more words to say to him, I was simply exhausted and I stated this before proceeding to fall asleep on the couch. The simple act of me sleeping on the couch was to pass a message to Chinedu, letting him know I did not want to be close to him, letting him know ‘we’ were not back to normal. I do not know how long I slept for but I woke to Chinedu trying to strip me, “Chinedu, I’m not having sex with you! You can’t just show up whenever it suits you and expect to find me waiting, I have another boyfriend now”. I did not have another boyfriend but at that moment, it was the most hurtful thing I could think of to say to him and I achieved my aim, Chinedu turned away with a pained look in his eyes and satisfied, I settled back to sleep. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next, my statement had a bigger impact on him than I could have imagined as he hit me across the face several times then proceed to tear off my clothes….I should have screamed, his neighbours would have saved me. I should have done a lot of things that night but yet there I was, a result of one bad decision after another unable to save myself as the man I had loved for three years raped me. At first I tried to push him off, kicking and throwing punches, begging him to stop till my mind shut down and I was just too tired to move a muscle or even think. My body was right there, stuck under him, but I felt nothing – there was just a blank space where my mind used to function as he mumbled several incoherent words.
“I love you, let’s make another baby”
The next morning, Chinedu brought me breakfast in bed – he cooked for me, then I got another one million naira credit alert while he beamed at me like he was doing something absolutely wonderful. As if I did not already feel like a cheap whore for following him home, ‘I should have screamed’, I really should have. I did not tell anyone of what happened with Chinedu, I was not sure I could claim rape when I did not scream or try hard enough to fight him off, did I not even get wet as Chinedu forced himself inside me, did that not mean I liked what he was doing. I blamed myself and I hated Chinedu even more, must he take everything from me, I had given so much that I was certain I had nothing left to give. I tried to move on with my life without Chinedu, unfortunately he proceeded with his delusion of an existing relationship with me.
The following month, my period did not show up when it was meant to but I wrote if off as caused by stress, I had not been with any man and I had made a point of taking emergency contraceptives after that night with Chinedu. It was not until I threw up one morning that I started to worry. I barely had a day of worry before I fainted and had to be rushed to the hospital by my mum; I woke up to be told the news of my pregnancy by my mum and Chinedu, she had proceeded to call him while I received treatment. Being heavily sedated, I could barely form any thoughts and I remained that day for two days; I was dehydrated and overworked so the doctor admitted me. I was discharged only to arrive home to a house filled with friends, Chinedu had thrown me a surprise welcome home party so he could proposed to me. From the moment he got down on one knee in front of our friends and everyone gasped at the size of the diamond on the ring, I reverted back to the girl I had been before; the one obsessed with marriage and I said yes to the ring.
My mum was elated, my friends congratulated me, Chinedu doted over me, I was getting everything I wanted and it felt good. The party raved for hours, people just would not leave and I was tired of playing host so I took a walk. I don’t know how long I walked for or how far I went but I just kept going till my feet started to ache, I was lucky to have my wallet with me so I hailed a cab to take me back home but when I got into the cab and the driver asked “where to?” I found myself saying airport instead of my house address. It was all trance like; it felt like having an out of body experience and until I got to the airport I was not sure of what I was doing. Arriving at the airport and putting my phone in the bin brought a sudden rush of adrenaline to me, even though I was taking the coward’s way out by running away, I knew I just needed to get away and I needed to do that without any distractions.
Onboard the flight to Lagos, I can’t stop laughing at myself for finally getting what I wanted only to turn and run away but I hope it was the right decision. Chinedu was insane and I needed to keep my baby far away from him. I am my mother’s daughter.