This was inspired from some recent events on social media. There are many things about this story that say “incomplete”. I do not write it from experience and only hope I can capture a sliver of what victims of abuse really go through.
Here’s hoping for happy second chances.
There is a photograph of us on my Instagram. It is also on your Facebook page.
In the photo, we are sitting in the Lagoon restaurant, a restaurant named for the parcel of water it sits atop of. In the photo, the lagoon is behind us, an endless, inscrutable thing. At first glance, it would be easy to mistake us for a mermaid and her merman, rising from the depths of the water to pose for the camera.
On Instagram, the photo has over 500 likes, mostly from strangers that chose to build the foundations of their dreams on the picture quality of people they have never met. On Facebook it has only 89 likes, mostly from your friends.
I am not sure what it is about this photo. It isn’t like we haven’t put up nicer ones on social media before. Our airbrushed and photo-shopped wedding photos line our social media accounts. The pre-wedding ones were featured on many online wedding pages. Yet none of them has garnered as much attention as this one.
My friend Aduke tells me that it is because we look ‘ethereal’ and ‘unreal’. Your mother has shared it many times on her Facebook page, where she constantly effuses about how it is a “picture of true love”. She makes me cringe, your mother; always has, always will.
In the photograph, my eyes are light brown and seem to be twinkling. You are wearing your glasses so no one can tell what color yours are. Your smile though is the color of joy, pure unbridled joy. My smile is hesitant. I am afraid to show my not so perfect teeth but not you, you bare it all; teeth, gums and a hint of tongue.
My hair is out of place even though I put a hundred pins in it that morning. My makeup seems to be working overtime. The label on the foundation bottle promised 12 hours but its manufacturers hadn’t taken the heat or humidity of Lagos into question when making it. My lipstick is pale and needs a retouch but there had been no time.
“Could you take a photo of us?” You had asked the friends with whom we were having lunch.
The next thing I knew, your chair was next to mine, your arm was wrapped around my waist and I was trying to mirror your smile.
It really is a great photograph. To the untrained eye, we look like Adam and Eve must have looked before the fall, before evil found the world, before blame and guilt could mark its boundary lines in the anatomy of human emotions.
There is no way to tell that hidden beneath my smile is a wince from the sudden pain your arm around my waist brings. Even if some inquisitive person used a magnifying glass, I doubt that they could see the bruises underneath the sleeve of my blouse. No matter how hard my followers on Instagram look, or how many times your friends on Facebook like with silent wishes in their hearts, the photo will never capture what lies beneath the flash, the toothy smiles, the shining eyes, my signature diamond encrusted wedding ring or the beautiful tailored clothes we wear.
It has been a couple of months since your friend Nimi took that photo. I have often stared at it since then and wondered if the loves and likes on Instagram and Facebook would be so many if the lovers and likers knew that for the seven and a half months we have been married, I have been treated for one broken arm, gone through more makeup foundation than I had before we met, called into work sick about 20 times, been finally forced to resign (no it was not by choice as the Instagram photo of my goodbye party hinted!)… died a million times from shame and been resurrected another million by the determination to keep shame a secret thing.
Our lives are picture perfect. Our love is so photogenic. To the rest of the world this is all that matters. That we fit the picture frames that their minds have picked out for us. That we fit the roles of submissive, gentle wife and loving, perfect husband they have carved out for us. Who are we to wake Sleeping Beauties up from their dreams with our screams of pain and hurt? Who are we to confuse the gallery of their dreams with pictures of our imperfect lives? Who are we? Who am I?
Yesterday I learned something new about who I was, about who I am.
I was on my way home from the hair salon when I stopped by Ebeano to pick up some fruit you like. I was in aisle four when I ran into your friend Nimi and his wife, Nana. She was glowing, and because I am a trained eye, I immediately saw that a new truth was shoring up their love.
“Adaugo!” Nimi exclaimed. “Iyawo iyawo! Look at you shining. My friend must be taking such good care of you. How is he? How are you guys? It has been ages. We should have dinner soon oh. I must call him tomorrow to fix something up.”
“Haba Nimi! When was it we all had dinner at the Lagoon restaurant? They are newlyweds still you know, let them enjoy their honeymoon na!” Nana, scolded as she winked at me.
I didn’t wink back. I have never warmed up to Nana. This is no fault of hers. It is all mine. She has the life that I hoped for when I married you. I had liked her Instagram and Facebook photos before we got married, a silent wish for my own happiness. I had prayed for a semblance of her picture perfect marriage with my online likes. Now, the closer I get to her in the physical, the more salt I get in my wounds to realize that my silent wishes were not enough, to know that her photos didn’t lie while all mine have done is pretend.
I made small talk with them, then made my exit as fast as I could without buying your fruit. You came home with ten roses and made love to me, a balm for the aching wounds you had inflicted the night before.
Nimi and Nana were married 6 months before us. I looked at Nana yesterday and immediately saw what the future held. Soon those Instagram photos will include a child. He will have Nimi’s chocolate brown skin, Nana’s pointed Fulani nose and curly hair and the laughter that only children conceived in love can possess.
I didn’t buy your fruit at Ebeano yesterday but I didn’t leave the store empty handed either. I pilfered a pregnancy test kit. For the first time in my life, I stole. There was no fear, no guilt; it felt right even, to place the kit in my bag and walk out the store. For once, I was getting my own back at a life that had stolen everything from me.
So there it is. I am a thief that is about to be a mother. I am a battered wife with perfect Instagram photos. This is who I am. This is the present. This is the future.
Yesterday at Ebeano, I learned something new about who I was, about who I am. After you made love to me and fell asleep, I stared at my poor naked bruised body in the mirror for a long time. I looked in it and saw the future. Then I decided to change it.
You will come home tonight to find me gone. Your favorite meal will be in the microwave but aside that, there will be no trace of the last seven months left behind here. The child that would have been our firstborn will be in a steel bucket by tomorrow; it is a better fate than to be born to a thief and an abuser.
After that is done, I will be walking back in time to find the lost me.
Someday maybe I will reopen my Instagram account. Hopefully by then, the blind will have moved on and there will be no need for filters. I will take pictures of the scars, of wounds still healing, I will be vulnerable and share my shame and my pain, I will bleed in open spaces and heal loudly…Maybe I will find someone else willing to kiss the wounds better, maybe I won’t. Maybe I will make friends along the way, those that can see past scars and wounds. Maybe I will even be able to steal a second chance at motherhood from fate’s store. Either way, there will be no more hiding.
This is the future, a place with no hiding places. This is who I am; a woman with no more hiding places.
Song of the day: Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow – Picture