Moil and Matrimony: The Night Nurse’s Tale

When I was three months pregnant my husband locked me out of his house in Kennesaw because he was drunk and I was angry that he was drunk. I say “his house”, because his name was on the deed, not mine. I was a new immigrant and I was sure that if I called the police to say that he had thrown me out of our house he would say that it wasn’t for “us”. He bought it, not me. So I sat there on the porch like a dog until he sobered up and calmed down and let me back in. Fortunately, the house went into foreclosure and we moved into an apartment soon after that. I made sure my name was on the lease.

My first Mother’s Day, I cried. I just cried. This was my first child, you know? I thought it was going to be a special day.

My husband made sure he worked on that day. He didn’t have to pick up that Sunday shift, but he made sure he did. Later on that night we went to the drive-through to pick up some food and the cashier at the window was so sweet. He said “Happy Mother’s day, ma’am!” Then he told us that his own mother was dead and that he goes to visit her grave every year on Mother’s Day. It’s a special time for him. Do you know what my husband said in reply?

“It’s good you are wishing her happy mother’s day, because that is the only one she will get!”

He thought he was being funny. He was laughing. The cashier and I were just looking at him, shocked. When we got home I told him he didn’t have to embarrass me like that. He didn’t even answer me.

Do you know my husband has never celebrated my birthday? By that I mean he has never bought me a gift, a card, or even said “happy birthday”. I’m 41 and we have been married for 8 years, been together 12. We dated for 4 years before that in Kenya. You are asking me if I had a party for my 40th birthday? 40 is a big deal, right? I am telling you the man didn’t even buy me a card! That’s not to say he has never given me anything. Once, when we were dating in Kenya he gave me a flower. I thought it was a big deal. I thought this was normal, for him not to show lots of affection. And because I also come from a family where there is a lot of physical violence against women, I was satisfied because at least my husband has never hit me.

But our marriage is so sad. He doesn’t spend money on me or our son because he says it is a “waste”. He only spends money on alcohol when he goes out with his friends. Once, after I had come home early in the morning from working my night shift, I came to meet him, his friend and two ladies drunk in our living room. I was so mad! And to make matters worse, the guy had come with his three kids to our house. I just stormed into my room and shut the door. My husband sent one of those drunk good for nothing women into the room to ask me why I was angry. She lay on the bed next to me and was shaking me because she wanted to talk. I screamed at her to get out of my room. How dare she! While all of this was going one, one of his friend’s kids opened the door and wandered outside. I called the police and we searched for him for almost two hours. My husband’s friend got off with a warning. If it had not been for his green card, I’m sure they would have deported him!

That day, I reported him to my pastor. I mean, I work, I pay bills, I organize everything for our son, and you do this? Now way! My pastor told him that if he wants to drink, he needs to do it at a bar and respect his wife and his home. He shouldn’t be bringing drunk friends to his home. My husband was SO angry that I asked the pastor for counseling. He said we are brining outside forces into our home. He’s even lucky I haven’t informed my father. In our tradition in my part of Kenya, a woman can return to her father’s house if the marriage isn’t happy. That’s what my father told my husband when we got married: That before he does anything to make his daughter unhappy, he should just bring me back to his house!

But so many people have prophesied over me and told me to stick with my marriage, including my own pastor. You are asking which one is more important to me: the words of my father or the words of my pastor? Well, I think they are both important…it’s just that I’m in America now, and it’s my decision to stay in the marriage. I want to leave him. I want to leave him. But I will stay for the sake of our son. I always wanted many children, but he has been so neglectful that I have made sure never to get pregnant again. I have suffered too much with just one child… imagine more? I look at you and your four children and I wonder how you manage it all. But I see it’s because you have a good husband who supports you and loves you and your children.

I asked my husband if he is going to be like this for the rest of his life. He has already alienated his son. The boy is 11 and doesn’t want to spend time with him. He sleeps on the sofa because we don’t even like to be near each other. He never meets me half way for anything. He is stuck on this African culture that says he’s the “man of the house”, and so every responsibility must fall on me. We don’t have the support in America to allow him to live those male dominated values. It’s just me and him and our son. And I feel so alone, because we’re not ‘supposed’ to talk about this to anyone.

Thank you for taking me out this evening, and for making me feel so special on my birthday. I will never forget it. I have never been here before! I have been to very few restaurants, actually. You should have seen my husband’s face when I was leaving the house all dressed up in my red heels. It was a shock to him. Haha! He’s not accustomed to me going out, but this is a new me. I’m 41 now. It’s time for a new me.

 

*The tale of the Night Nurse, as narrated over dinner at Cheesecake Factory for her 41st birthday. And as sad as her tale is, it could be worse. She could be the Sunday School Teacher….

 

Discussion notes:

Given that the Night Nurse’s culture allows space for the dissolution of a marriage if it’s a stressful union, do you think religious beliefs should usurp the pursuit of her happiness? Does suffering in marriage make it more holy? Do you think the Night Nurse and her spouse have hope for the future? Do you think it is important for women to be made to feel valued for their contributions, or is the Night Nurse just kvetching over nothing?

  • Ama

    What an awful waste of time and life! Two people choosing to stick together in their misery instead of DOING something about it! Each a crutch for the other. Another tick on the negative ledger of migration.
    Not that things have stayed the same in Kenya. The practice quoted at her marriage that she could return to her father’s house if she was unhappy, now comes with a price tag and people’s scorn at her ‘failure’. And how many people even KNOW of this get out clause for women? We practice the white man’s law now.
    Over on the West Coast of Africa, among the Akan with their matrilineal customs, did you know that the ONLY grounds for divorce are that your husband does not make love to you; and secondly, that he beats you?
    For the former, as children belong to the mother, he was to be discarded asap if he couldn’t help her increase the clan, and give her pleasure whilst at it. For the latter misdemeanour, her brothers were licensed to pay him back in his own coin.
    Now, we practice the white man’s law which never had any respect for women, until women fight for it.
    Personally, I believe that freedom from oppression, whatever the source, is worth fighting for. And if it carries the tag of divorce, well that won’t be a first. There is nothing new under the sun, but it is important to live each day it shows up, as full of contentment as possible. That is the inalienable right of every man, woman and child God created.

  • At the risk of sounding like people who go about preaching when one is in need of comfort: According to our scripture, Jesus says about his purpose on earth: “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” It also says somewhere else that “the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus”. So if you get a prophecy that is doing none of the above-mentioned…..

    Additionally, staying in a marriage for the “sake of your son” having a two-part household, when there is no love or affection in that household, only pain, and indifference….

    Perhaps I unable to empathize because I am confused by the night nurse’s story. It seems like she has the means and ability to leave, and support too (from her parents and family), if only she is willing to ask for it. So…. I just confused.

    However, I hope she finds some way to make some peace and joy in her life.

    • I completely understand your confusion. While we were at dinner, I was entirely perplexed. That’s why I asked the question about The weight of importance of her father’s advice versus her pastor’s. I was trying to be diplomatic and my questioning; but Lord I just wanted to scream!

      My confusion stems from the fact that I am not that beholden to religion where my pain is concerned. I’m not that devout because I’m turmoil adverse. How does two people living in misery glorify God? Especially when one party is absolutely unwilling to change his ways? I’m not here to save my husband, Jesus is!

      I thought her case was interesting because we see the dynamic of what happens when foreign religion (or at least its practice in a patriarchal society) is at loggerheads with the practices of our indigenous culture. Culture allows her a way out. Her faith is keeping her trapped. This is cognitive dissonance at its finest. Smh.