As the mother of a new born without a help in the house, I felt you had the right to leave a few plates unwashed in the sink, but he behaved as if it had been annoying him for ever. Then suddenly, he grabbed me by the neck and pushed me backwards. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God – he’s going to kill me.’ But he just said, ‘You’ve got 10 minutes.’ From then on it went from a push to a shove to a slap, then the slap became a punch – always a little bit more. But he was never violent in front of the children. To be honest, though, the bumps and bruises were nothing compared to the emotional abuse and threats.
Uche was never sorry and he never cried – unlike the stories you read on Stella’s blog about men who are violent and cry and then promise they’ll never do it again. It was as if he didn’t want to lose me but didn’t want me to feel good either. He just broke me down until I didn’t feel I was worth anything. It got to the stage where I didn’t believe that I could have a better life – or even survive – without him.
I became increasingly isolated, too. He didn’t make me a prisoner – his sister would baby-sit for us and we would go out, but I’d never have a good time. If we were at a party, I was always by his side, not looking at anyone and not in a nice dress because I wasn’t allowed to wear anything colourful or beautiful. At home, he made it clear that my friends or family weren’t welcome. He’d come in the room and ignore them until, eventually, they stopped coming round. I admit that I made a bed for my own back because I got defensive when they tried to help. I didn’t want my kids to be from a broken home. I had heard stories of kids from broken homes and I didn’t want my kids to be one of them. I wanted to prove I was a strong woman who could make Uche happy and put things right, because I believed it was my fault. In the end, only my sister and a friend stuck by me.
The turning point came one day after I’d been ‘sitting the wrong way’. Uche grabbed me and punched me in the stomach so hard that I wet myself. He looked at me in disgust, then left and didn’t come home for two days. That was the first time I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of this.’ I didn’t hate him and I didn’t pity him but I had fallen out of love with him. There was just no feeling left, just a blank space. I didn’t even plan our escape like you see in Nollywood. I just took the kids to the church. I was pretending to be strong but I was really scared…so scared I could hear my heart beat in my ears. I called Uche and said it was over. He said he would find me and kill me, he said he had connections to take my kids away from me and make sure I never live to see the next day. But after a while, he stopped threatening and began saying he missed the children.
I was shocked because he’d never really bothered with them, but I agreed he could have them for a weekend. That Saturday, he called and said, ‘You’re never getting your kids back.’ That was the only time I called the police. They told me that because Uche’s name was on the kids’ birth certificates, he wasn’t a threat to them, and as it was a family matter there was nothing they could do. I’d have to take him to court. So I went back home. I thought, ‘I’m going to talk to him, find out what he saw in me when we first got together and why he doesn’t see that now. Maybe we can take a holiday and maybe he’ll start loving me again.’ But Uche just laughed in my face. I was crying and apologising and he just said, ‘You look horrible when you cry. When did you grow so ugly and fat? I don’t know why you left. You could never survive without me.’
I was happy to be back with my kids, then three and four, but the violence and abuse started to escalate again. One problem we’d never had was finance. Uche worked for his dad and was never mean with money. When we needed a new car, he gave me the cash to buy one but instead I hired a driver. I had decided to leave for good. That morning I made him breakfast and he kissed me goodbye and I thought, ‘How ironic he’s being nice today.’ Then, as soon as he left, I took the kids to my sister’s and started packing.
I was frantic, just packing what I could into bags. I got the kids and we set off for my uncle’s. I was so scared, I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m so stupid! I can’t do this!’ I told the driver to turn the car around and started to drive back. Then I thought, ‘No,
I’m leaving, even if I die trying.’
My uncle only had a one-bedroom flat but he took us in. We stayed with him for a while. During that time, I didn’t talk to anyone except my kids and I ended up really depressed. Luckily, that’s when I found an NGO. The woman I spoke to was lovely and they found me a place to stay. For the first week, I was in total denial and whenever anyone tried to help me, my mantra was, ‘I’m not going to be here long.’ But it became our home for the next eight months. I got the kids into school and, eventually, I grew really close to other women working at the NGO. It’s hard to recover your identity in a place like that. I remember telling my case worker, ‘I need to be someone because I’ve never had anything.’
I thought I had something because I had a big TV and a beautiful sofa, but it wasn’t mine. And I need to be something for my kids. She helped me apply for the university, where I got a qualification in Psychology. Now I have my Consultancy Firm and I’m back at the university for my masters. I hope to have a M.Sc. in Clinical psychology.
I met my current partner, Daniel, when I went back to school. We went on two dates, then I panicked and said, ‘I don’t do relationships – I can’t see you.’ He kept calling but I thought, ‘I’m not giving my heart to someone else for them to rip it apart again.’ Then one of the friends I made in my department told me that I couldn’t allow my ex to dictate my future relationships. So I gave Daniel a chance and he was just what I needed – someone to help me regain my trust in men. But even after eight months, I’d be going, ‘Why are you so nice to me,’ and he’d be going, ‘Errm, well, aren’t we dating?’ I was adamant, too, that he shouldn’t meet my children, but eventually it happened and, five years on, they’re really close.
The children never ask to see their dad but I’ve said if they ever want to, they’re to let me know. I’m relieved he’s not around as an influence. Now I think, ‘This is who I was before Uche – the girl who did well at school and wanted to be someone.’ If you’d told me six years ago that I’d have my own business, that my kids would be happy, that we’d be getting by, I’d have said, ‘No way!’ But if you’d told me that ten years ago I’d have said, ‘Of course!’
I don’t let what happened define me – it drives me. I don’t hate myself and I don’t hate Uche. I have a decent life with two beautiful kids. I’m one of the lucky ones.