My original intent with The Story of Tehmina was to post in what would amount to “real time”, i.e, I would post each conversation immediately after it happened. My thought was that it would give readers who had no experience with domestic violence a bird’s-eye view into the dangerous, confusing and contradictory world that victims live in. Though I understand now that the story must be told differently – more carefully – I still believe that that there is much to be gained from even this condensed version.
Twelve hours after Tehmina’s last message on the evening of March 7, she contacts me again. She’s told her parents about the violence she’s continued to endure and they’ve contacted the authorities and a lawyer. There is discussion about the need for a police escort when she goes to retrieve her belongings and a visitation schedule is worked out so that her husband will still have limited access to their newborn. Mina sends me a picture of her son and she is happy, almost giddy. She feels strong and brave and positive. She thanks me and tells me that I saved her. I tell her no; you saved yourself.
She messages me in the middle of the night. Reality is starting to settle in and her emotions are all over the map. This is not an uncommon reaction for victims of domestic violence to have at some point following their departure from their abusive relationship, although I didn’t expect her to boomerang so quickly. I don’t see the message until I get up early the next morning and I message her back immediately. I offer to send her a book, Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. I grab my own copy off of the bookshelf in my bedroom; I had to special order my copy and there’s no time to do the same for her. She needs the book more than I do. I stuff it into a padded mailer while she’s messaging me an address. My hope is that she will see herself and her husband in the pages of Mr. Bancroft’s book and realize that (A) She is not alone and that (B) Her situation is one that is unlikely to change and that no matter how she feels at any given moment, the right thing to do is stay the course and keep herself safe.
The next few days are chaotic. Highs like being able to go and retrieve her personal belongings and getting a call back on a job interview are intermingled with the stress of a husband who continues to call and text – screaming and calling her names one minute, pleading for her forgiveness and asking her to come back the next. He uses guilt and threats, tears and cajoling. The two of them are on a collision course of emotion. Her husband’s uncles schedule a time to meet with her at her parents home in order to speak with her about the allegations she is leveling against him. Though I’m terrified for her, Mina assures me that this is customary in her country and that they’re not going to show up and simply drag her off.
Mina’s fragile emotions and the stifling pressure of living back at home with her family and a newborn get the best of her; when the uncles finally arrive she agrees to cease divorce proceedings and go back to her husband if he agrees to rent her a home of their own. She wants to believe that privacy will help to solve “their issues”. The uncles refuse her and leave. Hours later her husband refuses her, as well, though he is now acutely aware that she’s accidentally opened her heart to him again. I imagine that this fissure in her resolve is exactly what he’s been waiting for.
In the days that follow, Mina and I message daily. She talks and I listen. I try and dispel the myths about domestic violence that she holds on to like a security blanket. I tell her about my own experience as well as what I know about the experience of the woman that I dedicated Leaving Dorian to. I tell her that she’s beautiful and capable and strong and amazing. I tell her that she’s a good mama for keeping her son safe and for trying to show him a different way. I say everything I can think of to lift her up and keep her thoughts on track, but I can feel her spirit slipping. I know that if I can sense her confusion and indecision an ocean away, her husband’s got to know that she’s only a motion away from stepping one foot back in the door. He continues to call and message her, then back off and let her miss him. I tell her that he is playing her just like every batterer has ever played their victim throughout the course of history My own soothing words have given way to tough love and I find myself being supportive but stern. Mina waffles; there are strong moments and weak moments and her exhaustion and fear of the unknown are tempering her hope for the future.
Yesterday morning at 8:30 am EST time Mina messaged that her divorce had been finalized. Her husband had counter-sued and the court had granted him the divorce. It took less than two weeks. He continues to message her and call multiple times a day, sometimes angry and mean, other times sad and sorrowful. He blames her and tells her that it’s all her fault. He tells her that it’s not fair that she took his son away. He never says he loves her. He never says he’s sorry. He never says it’ll never happen again. Mina continues to take his calls.
Sadly, Mina’s situation isn’t unique. Domestic violence knows no cultural, religious or racial bounds.
A couple of days ago I told Mina that a year from now she was going to look back on her life and say, “Wow! Look how far I’ve come!” She messaged me back the word, “Inshalah”.
Do you know what that means?
I told her I didn’t.
Inshalah means “By God’s Will”.
I told her if that’s what it meant, then I agreed. By God’s Will I hope her life will be different.
I’m praying for her.
***** Epilogue *****
On August 8, Mina messaged me that she was going back to her husband. I expressed my concern and told her that he would likely continue to both cheat on her and beat her.
No he won’t beat
Will cheat yes
But not beat…
They re-married shortly thereafter. I have only heard from Mina once since then. She messaged me asking if I hated her for going back to her husband. I told her of course not; as an adult, she has the right to live as she chooses and that nobody should be allowed to sway the decisions that she makes for herself. I also told her that ultimately, she is going to have to live with the consequences of those choices.
I continue to pray for her daily.