I met him when I was 16, two years after my family and I moved to the US. He was a few years older, smooth dark skin, tall and athletic (he played basketball), good kid from a good Burundian family… Well, yes ladies, he was THE guy.
We started our relationship like most Burundians do, as friends. Talking a lot, going to the movies with friends we had in common… Our families knew we were “friends” and loved it. Although he never said it, I knew my dad was happy I was “friends” with a boy from our country, even if I was now living abroad. Anyway… I’ll skip through our first 2 years of friendship or relationship; I don’t know how to define it per se, as we didn’t have any sexual encounter.
I moved out of my parents’ house at 18, headed to college, a few hours away from home. I’d be living on campus with one of my best friends. He was already attending the same university, but a different campus. That meant that we could hang out as much as we wanted, do whatever we wanted together. We were free from our parents and all their Burundian rules #Freedom #CollegeLife. So you already know what happened… He was my first everything (Yes… Everything). We were living that crazy college life together, but still managed to get good grades (Our parents did teach us some about having goals in life and working hard; thanks to them). So overall, it was amazing! We were that couple that everybody knew and loved, and all my girlfriends wished they were me sometimes #SorryImNotSorry.
Let’s fast forward to my last year of college. By that time I was 21 (finally legal to do all the things I have been doing for the past few years, haaaa #DontJudgeMe), he was 24, living in his own apartment an hour away from campus and starting an internship that would eventually turn into a real position. I was living the perfect relationship any girl could wish for, whether Burundian or American.
Until one day I showed up to his place an hour later than I was supposed to. He was furious. At first I thought it was cute, he was worried about me (sigh). Then it happened. He put his hand on me. Then hit the widow until it shattered. I was traumatized, my whole body was shaking. I couldn’t move or speak. He left the apartment and only came back a few hours later, drunk. He forced himself on me. He was a different man. We had been friends for 5 years and dating for 3. I thought I knew him. But I didn’t. He turned me against my sisters and friends. He told me he loved me and that nobody else would ever love me like him (“the usual story”, I know that’s what you’re thinking). It sounds crazy I know. But I believed him. Me, this strong fancy college girl, I was in an abusive relationship! Me! How? Why? When? It sounds simple now that I can type it just like that. But it took me 2 years to admit it and get out of it. Needless to say I failed my classes during that time, unable to do anything but be “his”. I would stay with him thinking I could fix him. I thought my love for him would make him get back to being the one I fell for at 16…
So why am I writing this, sharing such a personal failure with strangers? So you can feel sorry for me? Not really. I just wanted to share. So that young girls out there can know that if they are in this situation, they are not alone. I was there too, but I got out. It took me 2 years, lots of sleepless nights, alcohol (okay… some drugs too) to get out of there. I thought I could make it all go away and pretend nothing happened, pretend he didn’t hit me or lock me in the bathroom…
You know what’s funny? The only reason I spoke up wasn’t even so I could save myself, but I wanted to save him. So I called our families on him. Yes, I got out because I loved him. Can you imagine? After all the shit he got me into, I still cared and loved him.
It’s been 3 years now, I am now 28, and it’s the first time I actually talk about it. Besides the day I called his brother to let him know what was actually going on, I never spoke about it. I know my family knew what happened. But not the details. They respected my silence, and I love them for that.
So girls, women, you ought to know your worth. No man can hit you and tell you he loves you. Even if he does, you deserve a better type of love. At some point I thought love was pain and pain was love. Don’t! Speak up, seek help and stand tall for yourself. I know I didn’t. And today, I still pay the price for it. I can’t meet a guy without thinking he is there to hurt me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to love again, be intimate with someone again… Maybe one day… I hope one day!
(Photo credit: Chris Schwagga and Nelson Niyakire)