I remember the first time he slapped me

Reading time: 6 min

I remember the first time he slapped me. It felt like my cheek was on fire – and he kept them coming. I begged him to stop but it was as if the sight of my blood inflamed his urge to punch me, kick me and throw me against the wall. There was blood everywhere.

His father’s pledges meant nothing; in fact, he played the music so loud and all I could do was to cover my face and wait for the beating to stop. I had no tears left, I felt numb. Worst of all, he would want to sleep with me after that. This was his assurance that I had “forgiven” him, and it broke me to the core. The pain of being kissed while your lips are cut and your body aches. Sometimes I would be bleeding but that didn’t stop him from doing whatever he wanted to my broken body.

The first mistake I ever made was to tell him about my background – how I came from humble beginnings and how my family didn’t get along. He became overprotective and told me how I didn’t need my family, isolating me from them. Even when there were family funerals or gatherings, he would rather take me out or buy me something just to distract me. At that time, I really felt as if he was being a caring partner.

“… he played the music so loud and all I could do was to cover my face and wait for the beating to stop.”

I started working, but his contract was terminated. I begged him to let me work, but he refused to allow me to work overtime – even being held up or 15 minutes late would lead to a rampage where he’d accuse me of sleeping with another man. There was a day in January that I had to work overtime – many people had taken leave over the holiday period and they urgently needed locos.

I asked my line manager to call my boyfriend from the landline to explain the situation and that my boyfriend would see the call came from work. All seemed well when he spoke to my line manager and we worked until 10:30pm, and were given a lift home.

As I opened the door, I heard noises and I thought he might have company – which was very odd because it was a weekday. When I got inside, he struggled to get off the sofa. When he did, he approached me, calling me names. I could see the fire in his eyes, so I ran to a neighbour for help. When they came with me to talk to him, he had left the house along with the money I had withdrawn to pay school fees that week. I had nothing, so had to borrow money from abo mashonisa (loan sharks).

Two weeks went by before he returned, apologising to me and crying as he usually did after such an event. I noticed that he wasn’t well, so bought him medicine but the cough didn’t stop and he continued to lose weight.  I thought he may have had TB because his brother had suffered from it a few months back.

At work, we have Wellness Days where we are tested for HIV, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. To be honest, HIV was the least of my concerns at that stage. I managed to encourage him to attend one of these days with me. His tests came back as positive for TB and HIV – fortunately, my tests were negative.

When you love someone who was there for you during some of your darkest times, you feel indebted to them. We were shocked by the test results, and the doctors drew more blood and told me to return in three days – I was still negative!  I felt for him and I even wished I was also positive so he wouldn’t think I was going to leave him. I encouraged him to eat healthier, take health supplements and even suggested we join a gym together.

I wanted to show him that his status didn’t change a thing, but three months down the line he started drinking heavily and refused to wear a condom – he would then apologise in the morning but I had to go to our family doctor so he could give me those pills that you take within 72 hours. These would make me so ill, but it didn’t stop him from beating me again and even saying he wanted to infect me via blood, as it wasn’t working sexually. I realised then that this person was dealing with a lot and no matter how much I supported him, he would just never change.

The last straw was when I had moved out of our home. I just went to work one day and I came back with the police to fetch my kids – we left other stuff behind. He kept calling and I later gave in and told him we should meet at a police station because I felt it was safer. We met and while we were talking, my phone rang and I tried to ignore it. I was scared of him but he told me to answer it.

As I was about to answer, he snatched it away from me and I asked one of the police officers for assistance. The officer spoke to him and suggested we go to the charge office for privacy. We followed the officer and as I was busy explaining, he snatched a gun from the officer. I just remember running behind the counter where they take statements, and heard the officers beat him up and then locked him up. That still haunts me today. I don’t know what was he thinking – if he was really thinking – and what could have happened if the police hadn’t been there.

By Gugu Masunga

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