I was writing my impressions of Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come when I realised that the way I felt about a decision made by her protagonist said a lot about the way I’ve been living my life.
If you intend to read the book and are bothered about spoilers, don’t continue reading this post.
Everything Good Will Come is about the life of a Yoruba woman, Enitan, from age eleven to thirty-five. By the end of the novel, Enitan is married to Niyi, whom I think is probably quite a typical man. I was going to say that he is a typical Nigerian man, but I think he is also a typical Malaysian man, or British, Australian and American etc man because surely the enlightened, unsexist males of this world are a minority, a niche group and not typical at all.
Niyi is a typical man of the sort who takes it for granted that when his friends come round, it’s his wife who must serve them drinks and food. When (if) she pleads exhaustion, or asks him if anything is wrong with his hands and legs that he can’t perform the task himself, he is deeply affronted and shocked. He can’t imagine what would make a woman behave in such a manner. Why not just be a reasonable female? He is not asking for the moon and stars, only that she should do what is expected of a decent woman (and wife).
Not only is Niyi a typical male, he is an abusive one. He is not, however, taken to beating his wife to a pulp. That would actually be simpler. Niyi’s brand of abuse comprises treating Enitan as if she were invisible. He ignores her totally, not speaking to her for days, sometimes weeks.
How do you deal with such passive aggression? If you were beaten you could report it, but if your husband simply stops speaking to you, what sort of action could you take? You might, I suppose, divorce him on the grounds of emotional abuse, but how seriously would you be taken? How would you prove it? Might you even be told that you asked for such treatment, or that ‘at least’ you didn’t have to bear physical abuse?
As a victim of verbal abuse, I have found myself being grateful for not having to deal with bruises and black eyes. However, having also experienced physical abuse, I can confirm that both kinds of violence hurt, equally, albeit in different ways. With physical abuse, you suffer physical force and pain. You may then be told that you asked for it and you may agree and then feel like shit that you agreed. With verbal abuse, you suffer the pain of hearing yourself being called hurtful, insulting and derogatory names. You are told things about yourself that are gut-wrenching. You find yourself believing and agreeing with all the names you’re being called and the accusations that are being hurled at you. The thing is, if you did not agree with the nasty things said about you, then they would not have the power to hurt you, which would defeat the purposed of the abuse.
Those who specialise in hurting with words use their knowledge of what is most painful to their victims to cause them maximum damage. Every insult is specially curated to hurt its recipient in the most profoundly personal way. I wonder if those who hit also learn just where to strike to cause the most pain.
I didn’t suffer long drawn-out physical abuse. I was hit (and on one occasion, kicked) a handful of times within the space of about three months. The hitting usually comprised my wrists being held and my hands/fists used to land blows on my own face. If you are angry enough to hit someone, wouldn’t you just do it, with your own fists? What would make you do what was done to me? I’m guessing that the abuser , if questioned, might say that he figured my small hands would have caused me less harm than his would. However, it also occurs to me that if the beatings had left marks, it would have been marks made by my own fists. Was it a precaution – just in case he left a bruise and I made a report? It’s disturbing that on top of the violence he carried out, he might have also have been careful about protecting himself and showing me up as a crazy woman making up stories about him.
Anyway, getting back to the point of this post, in Everything Good Will Come, Niyi has been married before, but his first wife left him and relocated to England with their son. When it comes to the point in the book where Enitan also leaves, I felt a stab of anxiety. What would Niyi feel? Would he be able to cope with being left again? Wasn’t it heartless of Enitan to leave her husband when she knew that his first wife had also done so?
I was writing the blog post when I suddenly thought, ‘WTF. WTF! Why do I feel sorry for Niyi? What about Enitan? What about their daughter?’ I couldn’t (can’t) believe that I was thinking that maybe Enitan could give him another chance. I couldn’t (can’t) believe that I felt sorry for him.
But you see, this is my problem. For years I felt bad for the person who abused me. For years I made excuses for him. For years I was quick to claim the part I played in the breakdown of our relationship. I was also too quick (I now see) to forget. I let bygones be bygones too easily. I felt I should be reasonable. And let’s be honest, I didn’t want to rock the boat because I was afraid. I was afraid of receiving more abuse. I was afraid that he would make life difficult for me. I was afraid he would make a fuss or refuse to help when I asked for financial assistance.
Do I sound ridiculous? I know I do. Imagine putting up with being called a ‘fat and desperate old hag’, an ‘ugly Chink’ and other charming names just because you need help to pay your bills.
Early on in the relationship, I had complained to one of his sisters about this habit he had of being really nasty when he was angry. ‘Oh, he’s always been like that,’ she said, with a shrug, and added, ‘But he loves you, he loves all of us.’
I think I was half-convinced: ‘He says nasty, hurtful things that make me cry, but HE LOVES ME!’
Why did his family let him get away with such behaviour? Why did I? I think he knew we would. Bullies bully those weaker than them because they can, because they know they’ll get away with it. He knew our weaknesses. He knows my weaknesses. He still says the most devastatingly horrid things to me, but their effect has lessened.
And yes, I still see him, not because we are still in a relationship, but because we are linked in other ways. As I type these words, I realise I sound crazy and I feel like I should explain. However, I’m not going to because I don’t feel like it and, really, I don’t have to. Also, I’m going to change this state of affairs. I am going to put many miles between him and me. I am.
So, the book provoked a response from me and kind of forced me to take a closer look at the reasons for that response. This is one of the things I love about books and reading – how they often make me more aware of things, ideas, people, situations etc – including the way I think and feel and react to these things. Sometimes it’s quite revelationary (is that a word?), but sometimes it’s stuff I already know, just never bothered to examine.
Thinking about my relationship with that person needed to happen, and right now was the right time, the perfect time for me to do so.
Since I wrote the previous paragraph, I’ve been to watch the movie The Girl on the Train, which is essentially about a woman who is abused by her husband. Actually, it’s about two abused women: the man was married to one of them and then the other. It’s not a very good movie, but I was sitting there making one face after another because the man had all these lines that made me feel icky. Why do cheating, abusive men say these things? Why do they all say the same things? I don’t know, maybe women who cheat also have a copy of The Cheating Handbook, which lists all the things to say, all the reasons you give, all the excuses you make, all the ways you blame everyone except yourself when you betray your partner.
I posted about this on Facebook and someone said they hoped I wasn’t still affected by the cheating. I said I was, but in a good way. I’m affected in as much as I know this is what happened to me, and I know that I did not deserve it and did not make it happen. None of it was my fault. I did nothing wrong. Nothing.
Also, I believe that things are about to change for me and for the better. Everything good will come. Everything good is coming.