How the dream of a white wedding turned into a nightmare(07-12-06)

It had always been my dream to have a white wedding and I thought I had met my soul mate in Tom.* He seemed besotted with me and I thought it was just a matter of time before he popped the question. I was ecstatic.
When he suggested we move in together, I quickly agreed t

elling myself this would give us the chance to get to know each other better. I was already renting a lovely place, so he naturally moved in with me.
A few months into our relationship, I fell pregnant. I began to see signs of a bad temper, but was determined to make the relationship work. We had our first child, a son and five years later, we had another son. Still no lobola, and no white wedding, but I was still hopeful.
During the second pregnancy, Tom became very abusive. My story is about the violence that each day corroded this man until it eventually took his life, and very nearly took that of my child as well. Telling my story is one of many ways in which I am trying to find myself again.
I guess the real turning point in our lives came one day in my eighth month of pregnancy. I came back from work to find my domestic worker sitting outside with a child. I learned the child was Tom’s from an affair with his former domestic worker, which caused his first wife to divorce him. I was devastated.
Now, in addition to my own young children, I had a disabled boy who needed special care. At seven, he still wore diapers throughout the day and could not feed or bath himself.
My blood pressure shot up and I was hospitalised three weeks before my due date. Tom visited in the first week, but when I gave birth, he never came to see me. I looked enviously at attentive spouses fussing over other young mothers. I cried myself to sleep most of the time. I resolved to leave Tom, but when the time came, I could not do it.
Tom beat me. He also beat his helpless son. Eventually, I sought counseling from my church and some friends advised me to take the child to an institution where he would receive proper care. When I raised enough money, I told Tom of my idea. He refused and beat me up demanding that I continue to look after the child.
For the first time in our relationship, I disobeyed him. I enrolled the child in the home where he remains today. His father never visited him or phoned to check on him.
I thought this would give us breathing space and we could try to work at our relationship and make a happy home for our children. Tom became even more aggressive. If I refused him sex, he would force himself on me and accuse me of having affairs. He beat me up in front of the children and I grew thin and scared.
One day, my boss saw my blue eye and asked me what I was doing with such a violent man. When I started coughing up blood, she demanded that I seek the help of a lawyer before it was too late.
This gave me courage. In the presence of a lawyer, I told Tom that I wanted him to move out. The lawyer also notified Tom that he would get a peace order against him. I was so relieved, but I did not realise my worst nightmare was about to begin.
When we left the lawyer’s office, Tom spoke reasonably and promised he would move out that day. I went back to the office and he went back to his work, or so I thought.
Tom drove around trying to buy fuel. The country had a fuel shortage, so he only managed to get a five-litre gallon of petrol. He picked up our four-year old from pre-school. He went to the house and doused the curtains, lounge suite and beds with petrol and set everything on fire while our son waited in the car. He drove away in search of more fuel. He phoned and told me what he had done. He said he had our youngest child and was heading for our other son’s boarding school to collect him. He said he would kill himself and the children.
I did not think he was serious because he had threatened to do this on several occasions in the past. I thought he wanted me to change my mind about wanting him to move out.
Half an hour later his office phoned to warn me that he had called them with the same story. I panicked. I phoned my son’s school and asked them to get police protection. I also phoned the police who promised to mount a roadblock somewhere along the road towards my son’s boarding school.
Meanwhile, Tom had laced a packet of fresh chips and some biscuits with rat poison. He urged the four-year-old, who had seen him sprinkle the poison, to eat, but he refused. Tom drove towards the school, searching for fuel. All the time he had a rope around his neck.
The car was low on fuel and he drove into someone’s farm a few kilometres outside of Harare. After sitting the little boy on a rock and again encouraging him to eat the poisoned food, he hung himself from a tree in full view of his child.
My four-year old son narrated this whole ordeal to me. An old woman who was looking for firewood discovered him crying and walking around the tree. Tom was driving a company car inscribed with the company name, so the farm owner called his office.
We have been in counseling for the last two year to help us deal with this trauma. At first, I blamed myself for Tom’s death but the love and support of friends and colleagues helped me work through my confusion, pain and feeling of helplessness.
I feel stronger now, but I am afraid of men. Maybe one day I will meet someone who will help me overcome the way I feel. I still yearn for a fulfilling relationship but memories of the nightmare I went through are still very vivid in my mind.
Right now, I also feel I should focus more on raising my children, help them forget this horrible chapter in our lives. I am struggling to give my children a sense of security. My self-esteem is much better today and I feel stronger. I know now that I should never have accepted brutality.
*Names have been changed.
(This story is part of the I Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinión and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence).

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