Broken but not shattered

I was married to the perfect monster. I met him at 19 and was immediately charmed by his chivalrous and mild-mannered temperament. Within a year we married and he continued to shower me with affection, opening doors for me, combing my hair, running my bath water, and many times even bathing me. Along with tending to me in these small, sweet ways, he also taught me how to accept romantic love from a man since I had never experienced it before. This blissful honeymoon stage lasted less than a year.
About nine months into our marriage, his sister came to visit us from Morocco and her stay led to my first glimpse of another, more sordid side, of my doting husband. One day, I heard a loud crash in the kitchen and ran to find my husband standing menacingly over my sister-in-law’s shaking, soaked frame. The hot water from the tea kettle pooled in puddles around her on the linoleum floor. He brusquely explained that she had fallen, spilling the boiling water. Nevertheless, the sheer terror I saw in her eyes belied her reassuring gestures and weak smile, and it was in this moment, I began to realize that the possessiveness he displayed toward his sister was the same controlling attitude he had with me. In my naiveté, what I had mistaken for romantic gestures were, in fact, ways in which he dominated me.

A few weeks later, I found myself squarely planted between my husband and his sister as he proceeded to break every plate and bowl in our kitchen in a rage that I had never before witnessed in my life. When I dialed the police, he yanked the phone line from the wall before I could tell the police dispatch our location. He then lunged toward me and I ran into the bedroom closet, cowering behind the clothes, but of course he found me and for the first time in our married life, he screamed at me like a crazed man, slapping me repeatedly with full force. I managed to fight back until he wrapped both hands around my neck and began to squeeze slowly and deliberately. I fell to the floor pulling clothes and the closet’s metal bars down with me, all the while pleading with him to stop. Satisfied that he had broken me, he released my neck. That was the first time of dozens that he hit me.

That first beating set the tone for the rest of the marriage—he now knew that the best way to bend me to his will was through slapping, punching and kicking me and hurling insults like “nigger” at me. As the months passed, he also began stalking me at my university, harassing my classmates, emptying my gas tank, hiding my car keys, removing the wires from my car and even deliberately crashing my car so I would remain a prisoner in the house, unable to drive away. Over the years, he went to jail several times for spousal abuse, but was almost always released within 72 hours because my county’s district attorney’s office would decide against filing charges. For the short time he would languish in county jail, I would still visit him, write letters and accept his expensive collect calls.

Why? Because as his violence and madness increased, so too did my insecurity. He had thoroughly convinced me that I could not survive without him, that no other man would ever want me, and that I was a pathetic, worthless human being who was fortunate to have him for a husband. In this warped state of mind, I would cling to any reason to justify his behavior—perhaps this was simply his way, however sick, of showing his love or perhaps I needed to be more careful next time so as not to trigger his temper. After each beating, my husband would come to me, remorseful and asking for forgiveness, and each time I allowed myself to fall for his promises because these moments felt like a return to our honeymoon phase and because the alternative was too frightening to swallow. More than anything else, I told myself that that my love could cure my husband of whatever demons within him caused him to behave in this way. It was only on the night that he nearly succeeded in killing me that my love finally turned to unadulterated hatred.

I awoke abruptly one night unable to breathe. I opened my eyes to see my husband looming over me, wearing kitchen gloves with his hands pressed firmly over my nose and mouth. I kicked furiously to free myself from his grasp, but his weight pinned me down to the bed. As my limbs became weaker and my sight began to dim, my mind traveled farther and farther away to hazy old memories of my childhood, my relatives’ faces, and finally to my own death. I imagined that I would try to psychically connect with my mom to let her know that I died at my husband’s hands. I begged Allah to save me. Suddenly, a second wind of energy ran through my body; something deep within me told me that only one thing would stop my husband, my attacker, from murdering me. I managed to hoarsely scream, “Omar, I love you! I love you!” Our eyes locked and I saw his eyes soften and felt his grip loosen.

That night, he held me tight while he slept soundly, as though nothing had happened. I remained wide awake, terrified to sleep again. Even after the attack that night, I never told a single soul my “dirty” secret—that I was an abused wife– but I promised myself to make my life matter again. I was determined to regain my old self by divorcing my abuser.

One year later, I finalized our divorce. My husband had threatened to kill me and himself so many times that nightmares plagued me and I could not sleep easy even months after receiving the news that he had committed suicide. Only after holding a copy of his death certificate in my own hands, could I really exhale and relax.

While he may have broken me in those four years, he failed to shatter me to pieces too small to glue back together. I now know that my history of sexual abuse made me an ideal target for spousal abuse, and despite the personal hell through which I survived, I am grateful for all the lessons I learned about power dynamics, violence, manipulation, fear, love, forgiveness, and resilience.
(Photo Credit: kakhun.wart)

Jameelah X. Medina is an educator, author, business owner and domestic abuse survivor residing in southern CA.

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