Dear Well Wishers,
Thank you for your concern about me. Some of you ask outright about my big, life changing decision and some of you keep that judicial silence. Writing journals has been a way of life for me. It started with charcoals, and then it was wooden pencils, next came fountain pens and then ball point pens. Now, it’s the fingers working on the keyboard of my laptop. Keep me in your good thought as you read my days entry: March 26, 2017, Sunday.
As I age, life settles like pebbles at the bottom of a stream. There are large and small ones sitting on the ground while the water runs on. My divorce doesn’t seem to be so bad any more, rather it is like the surgery on a finger caught with gangrene, it had to be taken off.
Life goes on, gray hairs show for short times before I color them up again. Like the monkey on an oily bamboo, I climb up and down with matters to wrinkles and hair, age catches up, whether I like it or not. However, with my trust in God, I have the courage to accept life, come what may. He has reasons for each happening beyond my understanding. When stormy days entered my conjugal life, I went with the flow, knowing that if relationships turn sour, life changes. Thus began the divorce chapter of my life. It was about a moment out of a long summer day but one of those things, a dagger’s wound that refuses to go away. A moment of catching the man I trusted with his new woman. It’s not a matter of deleting from the mother board of your computer. They are like a broken china, the cracks will always be there. Even when glued with superglue, you will be aware of them no matter how smooth the look is from the surface.
To me, divorce was something that happened to other women, in movies, till the day I found my ex with his lady. It didn’t make sense, but suddenly she was someone who understood him much better than the wife. Suddenly she was the one who gave him everything he wanted in his own way, no lectures on what is good for health. Men are easy to win when a woman can play up to his whims. It was a confusing truth, difficult to believe. I pinched myself, I wasn’t asleep, it was true and my man was no longer mine.
As a woman caught in a horrible nightmare of a marriage, it was not the husband I started my battle with. It was the truth, it was accepting that my faith in the man was a mirage, that he had no respect for my honesty, sincerity and faithfulness. There was too much pain to realize that the body I had taken to be mine to share, was possessed by another woman. One ‘other woman’ multiplied into many, trust was broken, and foul thoughts came like flies into the opened jar of rotting cookies. It was strange, unbelievable how each inch of my house, each moment of love shared in the past and present suddenly turned into lies. Future, with that man burned like sure hell, making ashes of anything to do with him. I just saw no future for us.
The bed I had been sharing with that man for thirty years smelled of other women’s perfumes. I would put my head down on the pillow and feel compelled to jump out and sleep in the living room. It was not like the past when I would wait for the other pillow to be occupied and his hands to reach out till we slept like entwined ivies. After the ‘caught’ moment happened, at times he would request me to come back but then gave up for that would only result in nightlong quarrels. I began to sleep in the guest room and try to find a footing in the stormy days. It was loathing that took over me when I realized that for the past few months what I had thought to be loving embrace had been a show for him, just putting up with our old ways of sharing the night.
I wished he had been truthful, perhaps I would have respected him a little then. Yes, husbands and wives can fall out on each other, we are humans. If he had tried to communicate where I was falling short of meeting his needs, we could have worked on that. But taking advantage of my innocence and trust was beyond my dignity to forgive. When friends requested me to forgive him for his betrayal, I had to say,
“I am sorry, but I just can’t, even if you think of me as a hard nut. I owe that much respect to my birth as a life from God.”
When changes come gradually with a person, at times we miss seeing them coming till the familiar face is lost. After the bliss of a married life banged the door on my face, I began to see how my life partner had been changing. Only I thought those happened to everyone with time and aging, had no clue that someone else was transforming him. It dawned that we had ceased to husband and wife long ago, but were more like friends who shared a family, a roof and an official social status. Perhaps there was a space within me waiting to want him back in life, but his apologies did not seem to be genuine, were more like similar negligence shown in the beginning of our married life. We had worked on those together but now there was no more of “us”. He continued to argue that he wasn’t sleeping with her, that I didn’t catch them in bed. But by then I had caught him too many times with his lies over the other woman. What I had seen was more than what my vision held, to those two I was a sworn enemy.
How do you live with a person when you know you are despised, that you are no longer welcome and that a stranger has taken over what once was yours?
“You have two choices, either forgive and live with your husband, pretend to start like a new bride or leave the marriage.” So my therapist said when I was getting muddled up with the shocks of my betrayal.
Living in a conservative society, it was a difficult choice to make. I could see my elders and friends telling me that at my age, nearing seventy, there was no point in ending a marriage. And then, came out stories of friends who are caught in unhappy marriages but living through till the end. It was my turn to be surprised to know certain women, who I thought to be perfectly happy, had miseries outlining their hearts. Many were pretending to be good while waiting for a daughter to get married or worried of their families getting caught in awkwardness of a divorce. To me they were like the sacrificial animals in a social drama where each wife was expected to be satisfied, was supposed to take her husband for what he was without thinking of her own good. True, many of them did not have a choice. And some couples were genuinely happy, arranged marriages or not. Otherwise, too many women of my generation were out there, thinking of the happiness of others while they get ready to become older and leave the world. It was like giving into unhappiness without trying to open any window to justice for the self, saying,
“ Ki ache ar jibone?” But I say, even a moment of my life is important to me for a right cause.
The self, or the psyche is what we often overlook in life traps, society and fear of stigma. My inner being suffered injuries, nearly murdered by someone who was supposed to be taking care of it. I understood that my ex fell in love with someone else, it could have been me falling for another man. But honesty was what I expected most from someone to whom I have been totally honest and supporting. The society offers a place when I gave into its conservative attitudes, but the psyche revolts. The society also holds place for those who stand up to what they believe in. I love my inner self for without it, I cease to be. When my soul dies, I become a walking skeleton. I didn’t want to do that.
While the western world has moved on, easier on divorces, family values and social stigma keep men and women tied to unhappy marriages in other societies. A woman may live a double life, pretending to be happy with a womanizer husband. She would rather be covering all his misdeeds rather than give out her own humility. While some women may be involved in extra martial affairs, men forever are the bigger proportions cheating on their wives. This is a truth through times in the puzzles of the sexes. It’s better to leave a marriage than be dishonest and chaotic. Children hate quarreling parents and unhappy homes.
I walked into the marriage registry office and signed the divorce papers. I hoisted a flag on my free soul, a white one with a dove flying, finally it was peace and freedom. I sighed, the war was over as a new life began, I was single once again. After math of wars are never easy to pick up, and mine won’t be. But there are friends who stand by me firmly, waiting to help me in case I fall. Friends, I love you to the end.
A woman can stand up for her rights anywhere, anytime and divorces do not carry stigmas for either men or women, when done for peace. I am now my own free being.
Tulip Chowdhury is an eminent Bangladeshi novelist, poet, columnist and former teacher. At present, she lives in USA.