Every time I’d come across a post on Humans of New York, I’d wonder what I would say if I ever got interviewed by Brandon Stanton. The answer would be “nothing special” because I don’t have the wisdom or the struggle that would inspire anyone. I’d think why would my-near perfect life have any depth to it? Why would it even be chosen to be posted on a large platform like his page, where people were working towards causes as big as ending bonded labor as opposed to my average life with the occasional high school drama?
Fast forward to now, my life has a whole other meaning to it. Though I may never come across Brandon Stanton, my story might not go viral, but even if it touches the life of one person, even if it gives one person strength, even if it makes one person aware, even if it makes one person stand up for themselves, I’ll have made an impact. So here goes, my story.
2 months before my Rukhsati:
My husband calls me and says “I think we should talk to our parents and call the wedding off.” I panic. I think my marriage is ending before it started, so I do everything it takes to convince my husband that we can be saved, that it is too early to give up. But I don’t realize, in his mind it is already over. If he can talk about divorce so easily, every feeling on his part has gone and no efforts will be made to make it work. My mother walks in and sees me crying, snatches the phone and tells him to keep her daughter happy, and that she can see everything except tears in her daughter’s eyes. He reassures her that don’t worry I’ll never hurt her. It all seems like a plate of contradictions. I don’t know which side of him to believe, the one who wants to leave me or the one who promised to take care of me and love me for the rest of my life.
2 weeks before my Rukhsati, 1:00am, my first on-call night duty (in the hospital that I dreamt of working in ever since I was a child):
I sit alone in an empty Seminar Room and hear the words “If you do your housejob, I’ll divorce you!” twice. In my mind I say “Say it one more time and I’ll say go ahead and do it.” But he doesn’t. I come home the next day and I tell him I’m resigning. He says, “No, why are you resigning? It’s okay I have no problems with it.” And I see myself standing at the same spot as I did 2 months ago. Not knowing which side to believe, the threat to divorce, or the go ahead to do what I had always dreamt of doing.
And from thereon it became easy for him. Easy to threaten to divorce me over the smallest things. Easy to threaten to kick me out of the house if I mentioned working or giving my medical licensing exam. Easy to verbally and emotionally abuse me, degrade me, easy to shatter my self-confidence and self-worth, easy to punish me when he was angry, easy to kill my voice until “whatever you think is right” remained the only words to be uttered out of my mouth. Every opinion that differed from his, he treated as an argument. Any discussion we’d have lead to hearing “zabaan chala rahi ho!”, every conversation was looked at as “behes”. It became easy for him to restrict me from meeting friends and family. Every permission met with a stern “No” until I stopped asking anymore, until he left me at my parents’ house in the middle of the night and said “tumharay maa baap ke saamne tumhein talaq de ke aata hoon” because out of an 18 day trip to Pakistan I asked to visit my parents for 3 days. He pulled me apart, piece by piece, until there was no more left to tear, like a toddler who get fascinated with tearing a newspaper.
I stopped being me, in the hopes of his behavior towards me getting better. I stopped talking, I stopped going out, I stopped trying to save myself until I remained no more. My broken spirit could relate to family violence ads on TV, and that scared me. Luckily he never hit me, but I think if he had, I would’ve realized much sooner that I was being abused. I stopped trying to be happy. I told myself that this was my fate and I had to accept it. The panic attacks, the insomnia, the depression, the feeling of not being able to breathe, the daily struggle of getting out of bed and fighting to get through the day, the worry when it was time for him to be back home from work. The suicidal thoughts. I still remember it like yesterday.
He didn’t realize that he was turning me into a robot. And robots don’t have hearts, they can’t love another let alone loving themselves. They just exist. And that’s exactly what I was doing. Just barely existing.
My last day in Melbourne: I have been crying incessantly. Wishing I could run out into the open and be able to breathe. I feel trapped, this is not what I envisioned married life to be. Constantly living in fear is not living at all. And I want to live. I am as much human as anyone else, being at peace emotionally and mentally is my right just as anyone else’s. My life means I get to call the shots. I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor and I will survive. I have given it my all and I have nothing left to give. My hands are empty so is my soul. My heart lost. Do I really want to live like this for the rest of my life? In fear of abandonment, in fear of isolation, by getting kicked in the knees (metaphorically) when he needs to feel “man enough”, superior, or needs to feed his ego? My answer was no. For the first time in 3 years, I stood up for myself, I walked out of this marriage.
So to every woman struggling, every woman stuck in an abusive marriage, ask yourselves. Do you really want to live a life like that? Do you really think there’s nothing more to you? Because honey, there is a lot more to you than this, you deserve better, you deserve to be at peace, you deserve to be happy, you deserve everything that your abusive partner takes away from you and most of all, you deserve the freedom to be yourself. Don’t let him cut your wings, because he won’t let you fly and you don’t belong on the ground. Darling, you belong in the sky. You are strong! And as intimidating as life on the other side may seem, trust me, it’s a hundred times better. So gather your courage, pick yourself up, rise, and leave. If you’re strong enough to tolerate abuse, you’re strong enough to walk out. You will heal, just as I have. You will live life to the fullest, just as I am, you will find happiness again, just as I have, and every minute of happiness is worth it. You have yourself, and you are enough.
Submitted by Rabia Shaikh