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SHE is physically scarred for life. The lighter patches of skin on her hand, the darker, wrinkled patches on her neck tell a fiery tale of their own. Her inner white blouse, designed with a high neckline and the short sleeves of her pinstriped jacket hide the others.
The emotional scars are no less a burden to bear. She feels she has not been a good wife. She worries about one of her children. Now, more than ever before, she yearns for the love and companionship a married couple shares, the kind she once had.
Reminiscing about her life back then, the senior functionary in the education system would, from time to time, murmur, “It was very traumatic; it was hard.”
The hard life of which Anita (not her real name) speaks is the years of abuse she experienced at the hands of a once loving husband.
They were married when he was 19 and she, 18. He was Hindu, and she was Catholic.
“We were a loving couple. We had no quarrels. I was happy, she recalled. The couple had two children, and another baby was on the way. Her husband was excited about the baby, wishing every day for a girl.
“We were happily married. We had a wonderful relationship…,” Anita stressed.
“We planned together; we went about buying things together. He just wanted a girl child. Everything was okay. Then all my dreams just shattered.”
Her husband began `liming’ and drinking with `the boys’, men who worked in trawlers at sea. The nights out with friends became extended, and later, he began `sleeping out’.
“Sometimes he would sleep out for a week, two weeks, and then he would come home and I dare not say anything. I would quarrel, and he would get angry and say things like `I don’t want to hear anything’ and. `I been where I been’”.
Then he began hitting her.
“Most times, he would cuff me in the head. And even though I was pregnant, he still used to behave that way.”
Just before she got the baby, Anita’s husband left home, this time for about one month. He wasn’t there for the birth of the daughter he had wished for, but four days later, he turned up, at midnight.
“I can vividly remember that night. Because it was just four days after (the baby’s birth). I couldn’t get up immediately to open the door when he rapped, so he broke open the window. You see, I think he felt that because he was away, I was upset and didn’t want to open the door. It was a wooden window, so he wrenched it open, jumped into the house, fling me off the bed and started to `chuck’ me, tear off my nightgown and asked me why I couldn’t open the so and so door. Apparently he didn’t know that I’d had the baby and I fainted. The neighbours came over and tried to rescue me. I started haemorrhaging and the neighbour started talking to him. Then he realised that I’d had the baby. Then he heard it was a girl, and he was sorry and started begging for forgiveness, saying he wouldn’t do it again, you know…”
The young, frightened mother had to be hospitalised again for a few days because of the haemorrhaging.
For a short while after that, her husband was his old loving self. He stayed away from work to take care of her and the baby. And he promised to change his abusive ways. The young housewife felt “good” and was quite confident that he would change.
When his friends came calling for him to go on drinking sprees, he would tell them that he couldn’t leave the home because his “wife got a young baby and I got to stay home and help she.”
“So I used to feel good,” Anita remembers.
He celebrated his birthday when the baby was about one month old. He invited his relatives and drinking buddies over to mark the milestone, and then he left later that evening, saying he would return later. Later turned out to be a week away. During that week, the wife of one of his friends informed her that her husband was having an affair. She told the woman she didn’t believe her. But when her husband returned home, she confronted him and an argument ensued.
With a catch in her voice, she remembers what happened after that.
“We started arguing. The stove was on and he throw the stove on me. My clothes caught afire and I got burned - my upper body, my arms, if you notice my hands…,” she trailed off.
The then 23-year-old woman had to be hospitalised for three months.
“You see, it was a traumatic experience and I’d just had the baby… I could do nothing for myself. I was in bed all the time. I had to be under a net. I was kind of delirious and I thought I would have died.”
The Police were called in. His family approached her, and begged her not to put him in trouble.
“I realised that if I die, what will happen to my children if he is in jail. So I told (the Police) a lie. I told them it was an accident.”
While she was in hospital, her husband began living with the woman with whom he was indeed having an affair.
“When I came out of hospital I was determined to leave him, because I told myself that since this thing happen to me (the damage to her body) he would not want me anymore. And then he was living with this other woman. But then he use to come back and beg, and because of the children, I used to tolerate him.
“Eventually, the fights resumed. He would live two days with me, and the rest with the other woman. Then he started getting financial difficulties because he had to find money for two homes,” Anita pointed out.
Added to that, both women then became pregnant at the same time. But her husband claimed that the child Anita was carrying was not his.
He continued to “come and go” and the abuse continued.
“Sometimes he would beat me to the extent that I felt like hollering, and shouting and screaming just to get rid of the anger in me. He would kick and cuff me, and at times my eyes used to be swollen so big. Sometimes my whole body would be black and blue…”
At one point, when she could stand it no longer, she ran from the house straight to the Police Outpost. Her husband followed on his motorcycle. The Police arrested him, but her father, whom she describes as a very quiet man, asked them to “loose him” because he didn’t like “those kinds of story”.
“My eldest son began to suffer. He was afraid of his father. If the father is away for a couple of days, he’s a happy child. When he sees the father coming, he would run and hide. During the time when the father is at home, he would cry and become withdrawn, be by himself, do things all by himself, always hiding in a corner.
“Sometimes he would get sick. I would have to carry him to the doctor. I would often wonder what would happen to this child. It affected his mind. Whenever the father came, he would sit on the step waiting to see if Daddy would beat Mommy. If he sees the father coming, he would run and try to close the door or the gate. At the time he was about four. He would never talk to you when you asked him what was the matter. He was always sad. He’s like that up to today. Always quiet, always by himself.”
With four children to provide for and not enough money to go around, Anita took the conscious decision to find a job. She finally left the `family’ home for about a year, but her husband stalked her, turning up at her place of employment and loudly demanding that she “come out and let’s go”.
“Just not to make a scene, just not to face embarrassment, I would come out…”
She took him back and he continued to move between her home and the other woman’s. He would demand sex and when she refused he would accuse her of having a relationship with someone else. For the sake of peace she would give in. Another child came along.
“He used to come, demand his rights, spend a night or two, and leave.”
How could she stand this physical and emotional assault?
“I used to look at my children and say I don’t want my children to grow up without a father. And I always felt that he would have changed because I would remember the good times we used to have together,” she responded.
Eventually, “mixing with people and moving about” Anita became more confident and made some crucial decisions.
“I decided is either he stay here or go so. But I preferred him to leave because I couldn’t tolerate it any more.”
Her husband wasn’t happy with that decision, and after leaving the home, he would still come around on the pretext of visiting his children. But the children were afraid of him, especially the eldest son. She would ignore him whenever he came.
She subsequently moved out again, taking her children with her. Someone took care of the children while she was at work. She later proceeded to the Courts to claim child support from her husband.
“We went through the Courts and he had to maintain the three kids because he claimed the fourth child was not his. I had to go and get blood tests (to prove paternity) but I didn’t bother with it because I hadn’t time for those things, because at the time I was attending training college,” she recalled.
While she was in training, her second son dropped out of school and became the breadwinner for the family. He worked as a seaman. There were some problems with him, since he began to “drink and smoke.” He no longer does so.
“It wasn’t easy for me. I had to work; I had to study; I had to take care of the kids and send them to school and so on. Eventually I got rid of all the problems. But it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy.”
Anita is now 51 years old. Her children are all grown. She remembers thinking often of ending her life when things were too much to bear. But her children kept her sane.
“I love my children. The children were the reason for me going on and on, and keep forgetting. They are the ones who kept me motivated,” she said.
“I grew up in a home where my parents never quarreled with each other. I never heard my father and mother exchanging harsh words with each other. They used to live a very loving life. My brothers and sisters all of them were married and living happy lives. I was the only one with problems. So I tried hard to keep it (the marriage) together.”
“I wasn’t a strong person then. I was shy, maybe because of the way I grew up - sheltered. I felt ashamed when these things were happening to me. I would lock up the house and not talk to the neighbours for a few days until I got over it. But gradually I became stronger.”
These days, Anita is going through a different kind of trauma.
“I feel that I was a failure as a wife; I feel that to myself. Sometimes when I look at other women, they have a nice home, they share this kind of togetherness with their husband, a husband and wife relationship: husband and wife going out together, you know. These are the things that would worry me. But I think I’m far better off as I am now. I think if I had continued living with him, I would have been a dead woman by now.
“I can’t wear fashionable clothes. When I see some nice fancy things in the store and I want to buy it. Then I remember I can’t wear low neck, I can’t wear something without sleeves… When I have to go to a function, a nice affair and I want to “lash out”, I can’t go and buy clothes. I have to buy the cloth and have it sewn…”
“When I go to conferences and there’s a live-in situation and you have to share a room with other women, sometime you know, as women, we would say we would change off together to have a bath… I don’t do those things. I feel self-conscious. I have to hide my body…”
Ironically, the child her husband never claimed is the “living image of him” she says, and he has some of his abusive tendencies. But she constantly speaks frankly with him and the other kids about abuse, striving always to point them in the right direction, striving to maintain peace at all times.
The enchantment of children exposes the heart’s weakness
That transforms a heart of stone into love and tenderness
Extracting all that’s good, ignoring resentful harm
Facts of reality, lost in the arms of charms
Like a sunny day of activity, transmute into a stormy night
The power of love blindfolds the detection of wrong from right
Like a child been raised to adulthood, yet clings unto the breast
The emotions of love cries pity, from a caring heart in stress
Where love lies, doubt exists, to totally trust a possible risk
Like the servants of nature provide resources so man can survive
Sometimes cause disasters, also taking lives
Like a flower of divine splendour which beauty is widely spread
Yet a parasite that survives on the living and the dead
Life is an existing factor that nourishes the moment of death
Time the universal master who dictates the essence of faith
Actions alert the consciousness of time before, at present
And also when it’s too late.
By Eddie Marques
(For the parents who lost their children in the fight against crime)
They are good children generally, and all treat their father with respect, but there’s a barrier.
As for the husband, whenever he sees the children now, he would cry.
“I know why he cries. I know that he is sorry. But he knows I would never, ever take him back,” she said, though they are still legally married. She now pities him.
Her advice to young women in abusive relationships is: “Get out as quickly as possible.”
“When you’re choosing a partner, you have to make sure that you and the partner can communicate at the same level, because education has a lot to do with it. Peer pressure can cause a lot of relationships to go bad,” she warned.
Camilla seems resigned to waiting it out, hoping that things will change for the better.
Quiet and unassuming, she plies her trade in one of Guyana’s more developed rural areas. Her husband of three years also works, and together they pool their resources to make ends meet for the family.
Life is not that bad, but it could be a lot better should her husband cease the constant verbal abuse he hurls her way.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a bad husband,” the 42-year old woman said of the man she has known for more than 20 years. “He works, he brings money home, you understand. I don’t think there’s any home in Guyana now that’s getting enough money. But he works… I also work, so I could meet him (halfway) But I can’t tek the abuse.”
Camilla (not her real name) says the abuse usually erupts over the children, particularly their adult daughter.
He feels strongly about the 22-year-old going out.
“I feel terrible, because the neighbours hear him… He sometimes use expressions (expletives)… It affects the second daughter a lot. The last time my husband and I had a quarrel she cried; she said the noise was too much. She’s 13.
“I do stand up strongly and speak up for myself. Because of this, he went so far as to say I have somebody else because I behave like that.
To some extent, that attitude stems from his frustration at her stance. She believes that jealousy is the other factor.
“There’s a family friend who used to be home by me. We lived close. This is somebody my husband knows, somebody who he talks to,” Camilla recounted. She said they were chatting one day about her adult son - not her husband’s child - when her husband passed by and called out to her.
“... He doesn’t usually call out to me, but he called out to me that afternoon. When I got home, he didn’t tell me anything, but later, a talk came up - the children, as usual - about this friend. He told me I don’t talk with him, but I’m talking with this guy. I told him I could tell him what the two of us were talking about. I told him I was talking about my son. He then said that I don’t discuss my son with him, so why I’m discussing my son with this boy?
“Since then it continues. Every time we have `talking’ (argument), he brings up this (incident),” she said.
Camilla said her 49-year-old- husband had earlier shown signs of a hot temper, but within the last four to five years, the verbal abuse has worsened.
“It really increase now. I try not to fight it. I always try to control the situation. I would sometimes try not to answer to certain things, but sometimes you got to answer,” Camilla said.