When we are born, there is this hope that life gives us when we come into the world. Hope that we will become what we are destined to be, hope that the right people will come into our lives and leave a lasting footprint, hope that we won’t have to endure more than we are able to handle.
As girls, we grow up hoping that we will get the job of our dreams, meet and marry our soulmates. We dream of the white picket fence, the big family and a journey of eternal bliss. However, we never fully anticipate who we are going to meet and how they will affect our lives.
My journey has been a roller coaster. I met Mr Wrong when I was a girl but at the time he seemed like Mr Right. He said and did all the right things in the beginning, and yes, he stole my heart. When I look back now, I am aware of my naivety but, go back 32 years, I was a woman in love, but to what end?
A Woman Enslaved
For over three decades, I was a woman enslaved, a prisoner at the mercy of a ruthless bully – and for as long as I can remember, I was his punching bag. I was a victim trapped in a loveless marriage but scared to escape. I lived a life of sadness and reached a place of hopelessness and despair.
I met Raymond* in March 1980. It was a warm and beautiful Sunday afternoon. My cousin and I were waiting to catch a lift to the supermarket in a suburb called Highfield in Zimbabwe. I lived about five miles away in Houghton Park. However, the shopping centre there closed on a Saturday afternoon and this was the reason, on this particular day that we decided to go to Highfield.
I recall that my cousin and I were deep in conversation while we waited for a taxi. I was nineteen at the time, had left school and, was doing a secretarial course. I was looking forward to what the future had iin store.
While we chatted and laughed away at things I can’t even begin to tell you about, we were oblivious to the fact that there was a handsome guy and his friends who had stopped a few meters away from where we were standing. Suddenly, this car reversed and Ray rolled down his window, greeted and asked if we needed a lift. He seemed warm, generous even, and that was our very first encounter – I remember it as if it were yesterday.
His friends were aware that he was besotted with me, and of course teased him about it. They thought he never stood a chance with me, I probably thought the same as well.
He was handsome, very charming
We chatted on the way to Highfield and moments before we went our separate ways, Ray asked if we could be friends and whether we could meet again. He was handsome, very charming and he looked like someone I could easily get to know. I was tempted to say yes immediately but, as you do, I played it cool and said that we could potentially meet again.
I had been on numerous dates in the past; but there was something about Ray that set my heart alight. There was this undeniable chemistry between us and I think it was safe to say that he stole my heart on that very first day. I was giddy, I couldn’t contain the excitement and I couldn’t wait for our first date.
The week flew by, which was surprising, especially considering I was eagerly anticipating this date. I even knew exactly what I wanted to wear and I had gone as far as imagining what our date would be like.
As a child to two pastors, you can imagine the pressure and the expectations that are placed on you but I was not too worried about this date, in fact, I was a little bit too excited.
On the day of the date, my parents were out. My mother had gone shopping and my father was out at a fellowship group.
Prior to Ray picking me up, I had a coffee and drifted off into my own world. I was so deep in thought I did not hear my father come back in.
My father was obviously concerned for me, as in this instance, he realised that his little girl was not so little anymore, and as much as he was overprotective, he knew he had to let me live my life.
Ray arrived and before coming to my door, I saw him chatting to one of my neighbours. I remember feeling a bit anxious minutes before he walked up – it finally hit me, I was about to go on my first date with him.
I remember how we glanced at each other as he led me to his car. We chatted endlessly about what we had done during the week and it was lovely. I think he sensed that I was nervous as I did not maintain eye contact and kept fidgeting. Despite this, he made me feel comfortable. He did most of the talking and I was fascinated by his stories and how he had fought in the war.
I was smitten
We had dinner and after that had drinks and went dancing. It was an amazing date, which was sealed with a kiss. It was official, I was smitten and I knew I wanted to get to know this man more.
We dated for seven months and I think at this point I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. He proposed on or around our seventh month – I call it the dessert proposal, as Ray, on that date, ordered my favourite dessert. Unbeknown to me, he had placed an engagement ring in it. All I remember was eating this strange object and spitting it out quickly, only to discover it was a ring. In that moment, before I even had a chance to compose myself, Ray was on his knee and asked me to marry him. I accepted.I was engaged and, I couldn’t be happier.
The wedding preparations came together nicely. Both families were happy for us and we did not waste time planning the big day but, this is where everything took a turn for the worse. The sad thing is I did not see it coming.
He also accused me of talking to one of his groomsmen. I was taken aback and I remember crying in shock
It was after a pre-wedding meeting, when Ray lashed out at me on the way home, slapping me for being late. He also accused me of talking to one of his groomsmen. I was taken aback and I remember crying in shock. Ray quickly apologised and blamed it on the pressure of the wedding. I naively forgave him, not knowing that this was the beginning of a terrible nightmare.
Two days before the wedding, Ray came to see me, he was drunk. I had an unsettled feeling. The truth is, all the warning signs were right in front of me; but because I loved him I refused to accept that I was potentially marrying an abuser. He was very manipulative and did whatever it took to get his way. His friends had warned me that he had a temper. My friends and family also felt that there was something ominous about our relationship, but I was determined to marry this man and no one was going to stop me.
On our wedding day I had this gnawing and unshakeable fear that something just wasn’t right. It was as though my intuition was trying to save me from heartbreak but I put it down to wedding jitters. Nonetheless, the man I had fallen in love with had changed, he was like a stranger in my life and it later dawned on me, I had married an abuser.
As the years went by, I experienced both verbal and physical abuse. Anything I did or did not do enraged him, I felt suffocated. He was manipulative and constantly played mind games, often making me feel guilty for things I had not even done. I was walking on eggshells in my own home but I was powerless to leave.
I was in HELL
Deep down I was in hell but I loved him and I thought he would change. I tried to do the right thing, say the right thing and be how he wanted me to be. I even gave up work and became a housewife but, nothing was ever good enough for him. There were times when I thought he was going to kill me but l chose to be loyal and true to my vows and remained with him.
Most people would think that being the wife of a successful diplomat was something out of this world but I was a wife yearning to be rescued. I smiled outwardly to keep up appearances but my heart broke a little more each day that I stayed in a marriage that had been over for years.
Ray left me a broken woman, a woman who had lost her voice and purpose. On occasion when I reflect on my roller coaster marriage, I realise that all the warning signs were there from the beginning but I choose to ignore them because I thought I knew better.
It is so easy to think you know what is best for you, to believe that love can conquer all, to be so in love that you are blind to the behaviour of someone who claims to love you. What my experience taught me, is that no one should ever be treated as though they are worthless.
Not Standing for This
Ray had power over me for a long time, even to the point that my children did not quite understand why I stayed with him. However, the day I finally stood up and told myself I was not going to stand for it, was the day I found my voice and set myself free.
I have now started a charity called Ruth for Women that advocates for abused women and children. This project was borne out of my own struggle and the last four years have been very rewarding. I have seen myself develop and I have become a voice for the voiceless. It took me over three decades to set myself free.
I am grateful that God preserved me and has given me the opportunity to share my story and help others who are going through similar or worse experiences.
Today I stand with my head held up high. Today I am not a victim but I am a victor. I won a battle that Ray thought he could keep me from winning.
In the last two years, I have won numerous awards for the various initiatives I have started; including being recognised by the West Yorkshire Police for the work I am doing to stop abuse. There is so much happening at the moment and there is still more to come and I look forward to sharing my next chapter with you soon.
The truth is, we may think we know someone based on what they say but actions speak louder than words. It is important to recognise how a person treats you, how they react to your beliefs and how far they will go to defend and protect you.
Loving someone is no guarantee that they will love you the same, or treat you the same, but allow your God given intuition to help you to discern the type of man you have in your life because invariably, God always reveals to redeem. We must be willing to listen to His voice and take heed to the signs he shows us.
*Not his real name