I was eighteen, pregnant, and nervous about telling my boyfriend that I was pregnant. I did not understand how having painful sex could result in a baby. But I knew from sex ed that just because the sex was painful and unenjoyable, that didn't necessarily mean I couldn't get pregnant. It didn't take long for my boyfriend to notice that I was unusually quiet. So after a little probing, I finally told him. He did not appear to be surprised. In fact, he seemed happy at the news, like he had planned it.
“At least now our moms will let us sleep together in the same room,” he said after a long pause.
I didn't say anything; instead, I look at him as if he had lost his mind. Since I was also guilty in this web of naive thinking, I didn't fault him for thinking that way. I had my own agenda. Before I found out I was pregnant, I had stupidly convinced myself that having a baby could be the only way to bring two feuding families together.
Our families hated each other, so my boyfriend and I were often caught in the middle of their feuds. The main culprits were our brothers, whose fighting got consistently worse over time. There was even a gun involved. I was always scared that one day one of them would get killed. One time, after yet another fight between them, I had reached my limit. I got into the elevator in our building, got off on the last floor, and I walked up the stairs to the rooftop. Once there, I climbed on the edge of the building and sat there. Blinded by my own tears, I didn't even notice my boyfriend was right behind me.
“What are you doing?” he asked me calmly. I didn't respond; I just sat there thinking I could end our family feud once and for all if I just jumped off the building.
“You don't want to do this,” I heard him say. “Someone is going to see you and call the police,” he said, this time his voice broken with desperation.
When I turned around to look at him, I saw something in his eyes that I'd never seen before. I saw fear and dread. So, I extended my hand out to him, and he grabbed it and pulled me off the edge of the building. I was tired of the feuding, so right before my eighteenth birthday, I ran away from home to my boyfriend’s house. With freedom beneath my wings, I felt grown and relieved. Finally, no more curfew, and no more sneaking out to make out with him. More importantly, no more anxiety over getting caught and starting a fight between our two families. My parents hated my boyfriend only because he was American.
“He's not worthy of you, you are too good for him,” they would say to me.
“Those people are moochers and lazy,” my mother would spur out of her mouth.
That didn't stop me; in fact, it made me even more determined to prove them wrong. When my boyfriend's mother suggested we get married after she discovered I was pregnant, it felt like the natural thing to do. It also felt like the big "middle finger" I wanted to give my parents for their racist feelings toward my beloved — the boy who was the air I breathed, the sun to my shine, and the center of my world if such a love existed. Not much planning was put into our wedding. His mother picked out the church and my dress. The big day was a big blur, and when it was over, I was somebody's Mrs.
One presumes after two people stand before God, pledge their eternal love for each other, and vow to stay married for better or worse, that it is the beginning of a beautiful life together. In my case, that was not my experience. Looking back through the eyes of age and wisdom, I can see now that I was just a naive little girl who thought love was all we needed. I heard it said that you really don't know someone until you live with them, and I guess the same is right for myself. Neither my boy-husband nor I knew who we were, or knew what we were getting ourselves into when we got married at such a young age. The only thing we knew for sure was that we loved each other with the sickness of blind love.
A little over two years into our marriage, and two babies later, our marriage deteriorated into a hateful mess of physical and verbal abuse. Two's company and the kids were a crowd. I went to work, and he couldn't keep a job. I began to realize that I was more mature than my boy-husband. A lot of things became an issue in our marriage, especially sex.
We fought day in and day out. Eventually, our fights became physical abuse, to the dangerous point where a knife became a tool to get his point across. He used a knife to violate me because I was his wife and had no right to deny him.
“You are my wife, I own you,” he would scream at me. He was no longer the boy I loved, but the monster I longed to escape. I endured many long scary nights contemplating how to survive his moods. I was terrified of the man I vowed to be with for better or worse.
“Mommy is okay. You are okay,” I would whisper to my babies as their little bodies shook in my arms.
I felt trapped and unable to reach out for help because I was too ashamed. Nothing was for the better, but painfully for the worse. I hid the scars from my family as best as I could, but I couldn't fool my sister who pressed me on many occasions to leave him. Then she said something to me that I dreaded, but never heard said to me out loud.
”If you stay with him, he's going to kill you and my nieces,” she said. Those words hit me like a ton of brick, and I was disillusioned.
I began to question how long I should stay for the worse? How long should I wait to find out? And can we survive the hell we created with children occupying the same space? Though, this was just one extreme case of marrying for better or worse; still, I wondered, what is the acceptable worse situation in a marriage? When all you get is the worse, after awhile, you start to realize that it is absurd to stay together for better or worse, in sickness and health, or just for the sake of the children. The hard lesson I learned from my horrible marriage experience is, no matter what, you have choices. One choice is to get unmarried by getting a divorce, which I eventually did, but not before several unsuccessful attempts to leave.
So, what happened after divorce? After our divorce, I felt a sense of relief, mixed with the feelings of guilt and trepidation. I felt unequipped to do the job that two people initially signed up to do. I sought no therapy, but I should have because the abuse left me broken and ashamed. I felt embarrassed for having chosen the wrong person to father my children. I didn't feel I deserved better and questioned whether I stayed too long, or maybe not long enough. I was ashamed of the message I was sending my children. More importantly, I was ashamed of the long-term repercussions my action or inaction could eventually have on them. I felt like I had let them down. I used to say, given a choice to marry when I did, I would have made the same decision. For two specific reasons: one, my kids are my better half. If I didn't meet and marry the boy I thought I was going to spend my life with, my kids would not be here. Two, I discovered that I could go through adversities and come out on the other side. In the end, I found that I was strong and resilient all along.
Many, including myself at one point or another, believe our worst adversary are the people who want to harm us. In reality, the most dangerous adversary is the person looking back at you in the mirror telling you: you will never get through this, you brought this on yourself, and you deserve it. But if you listen, you might as well find a dark place and take up residence because you are going to be there for awhile. Believe me, I know, because I've taken residence in that dark place at one time or another. The difference is, I didn't dare stay in there long enough to be completely overtaken by fear and resolution. I wanted to live. I wanted to set the standards for my kids. I wanted to face the monster and win. I wanted to take back my power and never again bargain with it. More than anything, I wanted to be able to tell anyone going through a similar situation that they are not trapped. They don't deserve it; moreover, they will persevere and come out on the other side, just as I did.