It was the day of her school party. She was in the company of friends. Her father had set a curfew, but like many teenagers, she deviated from the path home to a hotel owned by relatives of one of her friends. In the lounge, teenagers, eager to experience the freedoms of adulthood, laughed and chatted as the darkness grew outside.
And then nature’s call separated her from the friends she loved. And out of the shadows he appeared. The door was locked, and she was trapped in that room with the stranger. He placed a knife to her throat and threatened that if she screamed, her neck would bleed. With muffled screams, she experienced her first death as the ordeal seemed like it would never end. He did not consider that she was somebody’s daughter; just an innocent girl looking to use the lavatory.
Weak and dazed, she made her way home. Was she dreaming? Had he kept his promise and slit her throat landing her in some hellish afterlife?
She reached home to the only man who had truly loved her until that point: her Daddy. She collapsed in his arms and told him what had happened. He was calm. Though she had disobeyed him and not returned home at curfew, he did not scold her or told her it was her fault as some parents would have done. His army training must have prepared him for any tragedy. But I wonder how a parent could not weep uncontrollably when such harm would have come to their child. But he did not want her to see him cry.
Daddy helped her with a bath and wrapped her in those sheets as she cried herself to sleep.
Sometime after, she was awakened by him. Without question, she followed him and somewhere near the ocean she saw her rapist trembling. The others who had helped her father apprehend the man, stood around. When he saw her, his pleas were louder, and he repeatedly voiced how sorry he was. But even wide and teary eyed, there was to be no mercy for him, as he had no mercy on her when he took her 14 years of innocence and made them one horrific experience she kept reliving in her head.
Vigilante justice often seems to satisfy the masses, especially when it is intended to offer redress for children who have been hurt. But without law and order, there will be chaos. Without law and order it is not only the guilty who will hurt; the innocent will suffer also.
She was told to shoot, but with her trembling hands, she missed him. As she related the story, it played like a film in my mind. Some horror that only frightens one for a short time. I pondered the questions that may be asked in penning such details: Who would recall some unsolved murder? How many murders remain unsolved in this land? Do we remember men and women who disappeared and are presumed to be cadavers or others whose bodies laid exposed like they had never belonged to this world? Though many years have passed, would someone recall that body some twenty something years ago…?
By age sixteen, her father had died and so her protector was gone. The tears for him have never really ceased. Him who had loved her unconditionally and defended her honour. It left a void in her heart. Two years later, when an overseas based Guyanese in his early fifties sought her hand in marriage, she was wed. What followed was seven years of a marriage a child was not ready for. And then it was the other man. She was 25 and he was 56. He introduced her to wealth as she hopelessly sought to recapture her daddy’s love in the arms of men who did not and perhaps could not understand. The relationship was turbulent. She tempted death with that abusive man because she refused to be submissive. From 14 into her twenties, layer by layer, the innocence of her youth was stripped away. And before long, the woman who stared back when she looked in the mirror was not only her, divine and saviour, but a violent woman who was still trapped in that room at 14 with her rapist; whose ghost would look at her and taunt her as she heard the sound of the gunfire five times near the ocean.
She was tormented by her abusive partner but defended herself. Teeth sunk into his flesh, a gun was brandished and she threatened him with death. Fortunately, she had not shot him in his head or heart. She was trapped by her pain and incessant dying. It was during that time that the substance abuse started. And though eventually she managed to escape that violent and demeaning relationship, she could not live without the puff of smoke or the alcohol.
Her second husband was about 10 years older. She was in love and felt some hope of turning back from dying. But soon distance and time separated them, and he too faded into the past.
Today she stands in her forties. Time has not healed her scars or helped her with sobriety. Her experiences have made her cold and untrusting, so her armour can be spotted from the distance. Yet the need to help other women is one reason why she shared.
“You’re not bad,” is her message to women who would have faced similar challenges, “The end product is not about what happened to you before but about what you make of your experiences. Armour up.”
There are many other tales of Guyanese women. The stories where little girls were left unbothered to enjoy childhood and bloom into stable and successful women. Such stories are probably most of the stories of Guyanese women and girls. I hope my assumption is true for if the horrors I have written about over the last few weeks are the experiences of most Guyanese women and girls, our collective wounds are far deeper than we can ever imagine.
It was challenging listening to the accounts of appalling experiences over and over again, but they chose to speak because their voices deserve to be heard. It reminds the professionals, relatives and friends that the work of healing is a process that cannot be delayed, paused or simply put off. When many of the nation’s nurturers, teachers, mothers, and professionals have not healed from the past, the children they look over, may also suffer.
Maybe these stories will help us check our judgment when we notice peculiar behaviours. Perhaps a start could be if we all could take the time, sometimes, as many times as we could, to ask someone who seems to be struggling if they have a story to share.