My Husband, My Jailer
I didn’t know him when I married him. I was a young woman and he was much older than I was. He had never been lucky with women, never been married. My family arranged for me to travel from my country to his to be his wife. They said my life would be better there.
I was taught that wives should behave in a subservient manner towards their husbands so I knew my place. I was clever enough to know I should hide my cleverness. I was efficient. Reliable. Pliable. Not too demanding, at least not initially.
This was my appeal for him. He was a sad, weak man who needed a weaker woman to make him feel strong.
After a couple of years, we had a child. I devoted myself to motherhood which gave me far more pleasure than my marriage. I did not have too many friends. My social circle was very small. For the most part, I was limited to the wives of his friends, of which he had very few. Some of the wives were also foreign-born, married sight unseen like me, but they were not from my country. The language barriers made it difficult to share our experiences although I assumed their stories were similar to mine. I would have loved to have had a friend to talk to about my marriage, but it seemed my own husband was not the only one who preferred to keep me from getting to close with others.
Initially, he was kind to me. He sometimes lost his temper but he went through the motions of apology. He pretended that we were a happy couple in love. But we were not. Soon he made less of an effort to control his temper. He was an unhappy man and nothing I could do could change that, although I worked hard to be a good wife and give him what he needed.
I eventually realized that any intimacy we had at the beginning was purely fantasy. In reality, we had nothing in common. When I first came to him, I respected him. He seemed to me smart and successful and knowledgeable about the world, but of course this was only in comparison to the men I knew from my village. When I got to know him, however, I recognized that he was not worthy of even my insignificant respect. I tried to hide my growing contempt for him, but such things show on the face, in the tone of voice, in the lack of genuine interest in pleasing him.
He took out his anger at the world on me. I could do nothing right. I was useless. He was going to send me back and keep our son. No man would ever want me again. Even my own family would reject me because I was such a terrible wife. I would go back to my village and live out my days sweeping the streets, an outcast, a pariah.
I believed that he could do this. Worse, I believed that he would do this. I tried harder to put on a good face for him; to be obedient and of service. I made myself small and invisible when I was not fulfilling his present needs.
And then, one day in the market, I saw a woman who had a face typical of the women who came from my country. I said something to her in my language to see if she would respond. To my delight, she did! We became fast friends.
She had come over as a young woman and found work as domestic help. The family she worked for was kind, and even allowed her to take some evening classes in school to improve her language skills. This was something I dared not even ask my husband about. I already knew the answer. I’d be punished in one way or another just for suggesting that I wanted to become more independent.
We met once or twice a week, me with my son and her with her charges. We would do our shopping then steal a few minutes for ourselves in the park, while the children played. We chatted in our mother tongue,and for the first the first time since I’d arrived, I felt that I had a friend of my own, someone who understood me.
Even though, as a married woman, I had more status than she did, I was envious of her position. She knew things about this new land that I never would have imagined and never would have discovered on my own. She was a window into the culture. She might not have had much that was her own, but at least she was free (so it seemed to me, anyway.)
Eventually, I confided in her how unhappy I was. I felt like a prisoner in my marriage, with escape being worse than captivity. I didn’t want to stay but I had nowhere to do. I had very little of my own money – just the little bit that I managed to hide away from my household budget. It wouldn’t get me and my son anywhere. I had no skills and could not support us. In any case, my husband would not rest until he had hunted me down.
I felt like a trapped animal. The isolation of my marriage was unbearable. If it weren’t for my son, I might even have killed myself but I would not leave him alone to be raised by that man.
In the early years, when I was merely unhappy, I used to pray for more kindness and understanding from my husband, more patience for myself. Eventually, however, my prayers were not so noble. I began to pray for his death. I knew this was a sin, but it was the only path I could see to my salvation. With him gone, I would be free and have the house and his money.
These wishes soon became manifest in my actions. At first, I was defiant in small, secret ways. For example, I would not wash all his clothes but rather fold them and put them back as if they had been laundered. One afternoon, as I began to prepare dinner, I noticed the meat had gone bad. I fed it to him anyway. Slowly, I became emboldened. Sometimes, I would pull plants from the side of the road and add them to his food, hoping that they were poisonous. One day, after he beat me, I was so angry, I picked up some dog feces in the street and added it to his soup.
I would “accidentally” leave small objects, such as toys or shoes, near door and along the hallway, hoping that he would trip while drunk and break open his head.
I didn’t have the nerve to actually murder him, but I tried to give Fate a helping hand. But none of these efforts, not any of my prayers, seemed to have any effect on him. How could a man so evil be so lucky?
I never told my friend about my prayers or small sabotages. I didn’t want her to feel responsible if I succeeded. Maybe I was afraid she would encourage me to do worse to him, and that I would allow myself to be led.
Finally, one day, after many such miserable years, he was drinking in the local bar and simply fell over, clutching his chest. I pretended to others to be sad – I had become quite good at pretending – but I was relieved that he was finally dead, and that I was not responsible for his death. (I didn’t figure my prayers had killed him because I’d been praying for a long time with no results.)
There wasn’t a lot of money left after everything was sold, but it was enough to let me start over somewhere else. I took my son and my friend, and we went far away, and made a new life for ourselves. It was sometimes a struggle, but at least we were free.