As you know, we’re working on a month of awareness of violence against women. Here’s our first story – one that I am witness to.
They fell in love and married each other against all opposition. I was her sounding board and her shoulder to cry on through the roughest patch – after all this is a route the OA and I had travelled down and we were pros at it! To say I was overjoyed when they took that final step and tied the knot would be an understatement.
We signed in court as their witnesses and stood by them as they started life on their own terms. A mattress on the floor and a few utensils in the kitchen. She wielded the utensils with skill and many a night we’d have a quiet dinner with them, out under the stars. In companionable silence. One where we both appreciated the others’ love. He’d look at her and she’d get up with a gentle smile to get him whatever it is that he needed. She had only to ask and he’d get her whatever her heart desired. Eventually the parents on both sides came around and I was happy for them. Life seemed almost perfect, as they planned to visit one side for Diwali and the other set of parents for Holi.
When the phone call came, I was unprepared for the way her voice shook. My independent, smart, well educated friend who was earning a lot more than her husband when they started life, was cowed down and brow beaten. And this man I’d known when he was not even a man so much as a young boy. Gentle, good natured, well-educated, a successful professional, cooking dinner for us over a beer. It just didn’t add up. But then it never does, does it?
I listened and tried to be the friend who didn’t judge. I offered to pick her up immediately – he’d hit her so hard she’d fractured her neck. I told the OA who shot out of bed, ready to get back into his jeans and drive the distance to pick her up. But she refused to leave home right then. She took comfort in the fact that she had friends to turn to and that in turn gave her the strength to sort things out.
I put down the phone and sat in silence and utter shock. These were our friends. Educated friends from the top professional universities of the country. This thing didn’t happen to us. It was unreal. But I persisted, I called her back the next day and then a few days later and I heard the strength and the confidence gradually return to her voice. I realised that my calls to her were a reminder of something she didn’t want to be reminded of, I gave her an indication that I was there should she need to talk and I would still come running if she needed me at 2am and then I left them to settle matters.
A few weeks ago I had a chat with her and she was finally ready to talk about it. What is significant is that she thinks it is over. I give you an approximation of her words since she’s the best equipped to tell her story.
MM, I think we are past that violent stage. As you know, I was the higher income earner and I think it got to my head – I look back and realise that I was ambitious and also slightly arrogant. He said nothing, just put up with my arrogance patiently. After our first child I took a career break and the sudden loss of one income hit our finances where it hurt. But we managed somehow and he did well and rose in his career – but now it was payback time and his ego was on the rise.
His parents who had come around visited us often and a lot of interference from their side began to cause friction. His mother believed that it was time for her son to spoil her after a lifetime of making do, and she didn’t like the way I chose to use our money. So whether it was fruit being bought for the home or clothes I shopped for, she complained about my wastefulness to him. She got after the maids and I kept having to sack them to keep her happy. Which in return placed the burden of work on my shoulders making me very cranky.
Work pressures were increasing at his end and he’d come home to a mother and wife sitting in the same room, refusing to be civil to each other. This became a pattern. Each time they came to visit there would be unrest in our house, and we’d end up fighting. We had our second child and he bought me a beautiful set of gold bangles. His mother lost her temper – she thought he should have bought her the bangles and not me.
The final straw was a fight when we had guests in the house. His mother began a fight in front of them and I, stung into action retorted in public, something I’d never done before. He hit me really hard that day as opposed to the earlier odd slap and I was shocked. I went to bed in pain and by morning it was clear that something was wrong. We went to the doctor and an x-ray showed that my neck was fractured. We tried to hush it up saying that my son had been hanging around my neck, but doctors know their job and he coldly told my husband that no child could hang in such a manner.
I didn’t speak to him for the next couple of days. My in-laws left within a day or two of the incident. My father in law is a sensible man who didn’t want their presence to harm our marriage. They’d already had their elder son and his wife cut all connections with them over such interference. But things didn’t settle down and the hurt kept festering. A couple of days later a huge fight erupted. I walked out of the house, much to his shock. He hadn’t expected me to leave the kids but I knew that I’d get the kids when I went to court. He caught up with me at the railway station and brought me home.
We spent the next couple of days sorting things out. Among the conditions I laid down, the first was that he’d never again raise a hand on me. Others were that I’d not be taking instructions from his mother on running home although she’d always be welcome and respected if she chose to visit. I also suggested that we see a marriage counselor and someone for his anger management issues. We talked more than we’d ever talked before and we brought out all the bitterness and despair and laid our vulnerabilities open for the other to see. And we began our healing process.
It’s been a while now and we’re reaching a better place in our marriage. My in-laws haven’t visited us in a while and it’s given us the time to work on our relationship and sort things out. I am no longer so hung up on certain matters. I realise he was getting torn between his mother and wife and work tensions; the odd occasion that he lashed out was just his frustration finding an outlet. We’d lost what our marriage was built on – communication. Caught up in family politics, the EMIs for the house, rearing our kids and daily pressures we’d stopped talking. We go for long walks now and talk a lot more. In all these months I didn’t know what my MIL complained to him about and he kept that bottled up. But talking about it has eased his mind and also told me what I can work on so that I can make the changes that are acceptable to me. I’ve also made him see my point of view. We’ve loved each other and gone through hell to get married. We’re not going to let something like this tear us apart.
I don’t know if domestic violence always ends in this way. In my experience a lot of men who hit their wives justify it to themselves and to others. In our case my husband has been racked with guilt and never justified it in any way. Others might not see it the way I do, but it’s my life and I am sure that chapter is closed and over. We’ve learnt our lesson and worked on our marriage.
I hung up the phone and prayed that she was right.
Edited to add: My friend read this post and wanted to respond to the comments. This is what she said.
It is not pleasant to see the smiles vanishing from your little ones’ faces. That one week of tension did that to them. My husband is a very good father, a loving son and a good husband. Scars fade over time but if we keep on flogging a dead horse instead of moving ahead, things get ugly. Things are not the same between us; they are better than before. I am working on it. My mom-in-law wants the lion’s share of his attention. I call her every second day, I make him call her every two days. We had to go on a vacation but I asked him to send her for one first so that he had no guilt about not indulging her when we went. I have not backed down on what is important to me, but I have ensured that he doesn’t feel that I am domineering or trying to get one over his mother. Believe me MM, its not easy to walk out of a marriage when things can be worked out. I have to work on it not only for my sake but also for the sake of the kids we brought into this world.