Updated: Jun 25
| This is the 503rd story of Our Life Logs |
“To realize one’s nature perfectly- That is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves nowadays.” Oscar Wilde.
It was a chilly day in 1972 in Okara, Pakistan, when I came into this world as the youngest daughter in the family after my five siblings. As the baby of the family, I was the apple of everyone’s eye. My dad was a businessperson who worked at a supermarket while my mom was a housewife, my dad being the main gaining hand of the house. Despite our little resources, we managed a content life in some way or another. But, to be totally frank, our financial status wasn’t of my concern. Being the youngest, I was high-priority and still could get anything I laid my finger on.
Our life was simple. I grew up happy and well-loved. But our world was shattered one hot day in June 1992.
I walked home from school like any other day. Oddly, my cousins greeted me at the entryway of my house. At first, my gullible psyche thought it was some sort of impromptu family get-together. I strolled rapidly and cheerfully towards them, but as I walked inside, the entire mood dropped. I saw the pursed lips and furrowed brows that claimed everyone’s face. I saw my mom crying her eyes out. I could see that somebody was lying on our patio and several members of my family towered over it. Everybody was lamenting. My mind was reeled as I tried to comprehend what was happening.
One foot in front of the other, I approached the patio. The body was my father’s. I fell unconscious at the sight of him.
I learned later that he had died of a sudden cardiac arrest. And in losing my dad, our lives would never be the same.
Needing someone to provide for the family, my oldest brother stepped up and took the responsibility. Thankfully by then, all my older siblings had completed their education and three of them were already married. But I was still in school, and it was hard for me to focus on my education when my head was filled with grief. Mt brother helped me complete my bachelor’s degree, but he was not inclined to bear the expenses of my studies any further.
After finishing college, my family began looking to marry me off. Many young ladies in Pakistan don’t have the freedom to choose a career over a husband, and I was no different. It was believed that women carried more value if they were married and produced children. Marriage wasn’t something on my mind at the time, but I didn’t want to weigh my brother down any longer than I had to, so I agreed.
My family married me off to the first man who would have me in 1996. I thought that maybe life would be better, and I could move forward from the grief. And it seemed like that was true at first. But after a couple days, my seemingly genuine husband I’d met on the day of our wedding began to show an irate temper. Every night, he would come home drunk which brought out his violent side. His fury erupted over pointless things. If his food was not being hot enough or if he found a wrinkle in his otherwise perfectly-ironed clothes, he would use his hands and strength to harm me. It was a life that nobody deserved.
All the while, I kept the abuse hidden. I told those who asked that the bruises and marks on my face and body came from frivolous household accidents. Eventually, telling those lies every single day got to be too much, so I decided to tell my mother about what I was going through. She was the only chance I had, the only lending hand to escape the hellfire. I told her about the assault and torture that I had to bear. I had hoped for comfort, but instead, her answer left me shattered. ‘‘It’s alright. You have to bear it, as he’s your husband’’
That was when I’d lost hope for help. My mom was like many others in our country who would prefer their daughter dead as opposed to divorced.
I continued to endure the abuse as I had no other choice, and a year later, I got pregnant. The news felt like a cool breeze after quite a while of dog days. I felt a flicker of hope. “Our child will bring harmony to my life and our family,” I thought. I told my husband eagerly, but all that licentious drunkard said was, “The baby must be a boy, not a girl. Be it a girl and I’ll divorce you.”
I remember the day in 1998 when he handed me divorce papers after I gave birth to a girl. How facile was it for him to tread underfoot a relationship that I was trying so hard to save after bearing so much? He simply left the room. I wondered, should I thank God for blessing me with a child or should I cry for getting a divorce? Either way, I was in a tough situation. With no husband to provide support, I was doomed.
In our way of life, divorced women are simply not acceptable. After my husband left me, I turned into the family burden. Everybody looked at me like I had done some offensive crime. Even my mom tossed cruel, penetrating words at me in her high-pitched voice saying, “Sometimes a divorce paper works as an endorsement of loose character for women.”
I knew the burden I’d placed on my family, so I decided to learn some skills to bear expenses for my daughter and me. Despite the seemingly insurmountable opposition from everyone around me, I started attending a beautician course. After going through the proper schooling, I started my own parlor in our neighborhood.
In the beginning, people laughed at me. Being a woman, I wasn’t supposed to run a business. Women simply can’t do that. It was the longest walk from my home to parlor those days among the piercing eyes of people looking down on me. After a night drenched in tears, I began each day more decided than before. I had to survive. If not for me, for my daughter. First divorced and now working, I was twofold a reviled and an absolutely mischievous individual to everybody out there, but still, I did what I had to do to help us survive.
After two years of working and raising my daughter as a single parent, my mother insisted I try to wed again. I truly didn’t want to, but she was persistent in telling me that I could remove the stigma attached to my name and no longer be a divorced woman. “A divorced woman has no life,” she said to me. Finally, I agreed with her and gave in, trusting that things would be better this time.
Despite my divorced label, I was still able to find a consort quickly since I was making good money. I married once more in 2003 with a positive heart and a daunted mind. But I soon found myself in another difficult marriage as my new husband tried to force me to choose him over my daughter. After all I had done for her, I couldn’t just pawn her off to my mother. Although I didn’t want to be divorced again, the fear of losing my daughter took over the fear of losing my husband. So, after six years, we too divorced. I couldn’t forfeit the love of my daughter at any cost, especially for someone who considered girls nothing but a burden.
After this agonizing experience, it was hard to keep hope. Totally despondent, I began to accept that love was not meant for me. I lived in a society where any kind of cross-gender relationship aside from marriage is viewed as taboo and you can get murdered by your own family for it. So, with no sign of companionship to make it through hard times, I latched onto the little hope I had left and put all my efforts into my daughter’s future. She became my beacon of hope to keep fighting. Years passed by, and I battled hard as a provider to give my daughter each conceivable open door for a splendid destiny. I gave her everything that I couldn’t have.
When I stopped hoping for love, it found me. Years later, a man who had cherished me while we were in school (but had been too modest to ever tell me) sent a persistent proposal to me. Three times. I feared that this would be just like my other marriages, but then I asked myself, “How might I live after my little girl is hitched?” I once again thought of my daughter. I didn’t want her to face undesirable inquiries concerning her dad, so I decided to take a risk once more in 2010. But this time, it paid off. He fell right into the loyal and kind father and husband role I had hoped from the beginning. And since then, he has taken all the duties of my daughter’s future and sees her as his own. It took years of hardship, but I have finally reached a happy life.
Life has been hard on me. Fate had served me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows. But I’m happy that I didn’t decide to be a victim of circumstances, rather, I fought the tempest that came my direction and formed my own circumstances. I didn’t bargain for my independence and my love for my daughter. I believe holding onto hope, even when it was just a flicker, is how I made it to today.
This is the story of Shahida
Shahida is a businesswoman from Pakistan where women like her are practically non-existent. She continues to run a beauty parlor, which she established when her husband left her totally dependent on giving birth to a girl. After being divorced twice, her struggle against the stigma of divorce has been a journey of dust and thorns. At long last after two failed marriages, she was able to find the love of her life. Presently, she lives with her husband and daughter who is studying at a university.
This story first touched our hearts on February 11, 2020.
| Writer : Afifa Sarwar | Editor: Colleen Walker |