Contemporary Friendship Sad

Heidi arrived at the meeting feeling very self-conscious. She was having second thoughts about whether it had been a good idea to accept the invitation as the guest speaker at the Women in Action club meeting, where she had been a member. Busi, the chairperson, an old school friend, was hard to refuse.

As Heidi entered, she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout. The morning tea club meeting was jam-packed. With a few minutes to go, people were still milling absorbed in small talk and picking up their refreshments. Latecomers were hunting for somewhere to sit and others were swopping chairs to accommodate their bad backs- the usual suspects. As they sought sympathy about various ailments, no-one ever called them hypochondriacs, but there were enough in the room to open a small hospital.

'Ladies, ladies. Let's settle down. Our guest speaker is an extremely busy woman. We mustn't keep her waiting. I hope everyone has signed in," said Busi as she tried to bring some semblance of order. Busi, a stickler for time, continued,

"We would like to welcome Dr Heidi Chiremba, who has returned from her leave of absence. She is our esteemed guest for International Women's Day. Dr Chiremba's medical practice is part of the all women's clinic behind the Town Hall. Her topic today is Spousal Abuse. I know there will be many questions. So, let's get started. Dr Chiremba, the floor is yours. You have 20 minutes, followed by a Q and A."

Dr Chiremba had graduated at the top of her medical training class. She knew many of the members in her community looked up to her as a role model especially after she had successfully championed the opening of a Women's Clinic. She had a matronly figure with a salt and pepper mop of wild curls. Her warm perpetual smile made her patients feel empathy oozing out of her every word. The motley crowd in front of her waited in anticipation as she prepared to deliver her address. The topic was broad, but she was adept at animated presentations.

"Thank you very much for allowing me to give this talk. I was a very active member of this club, but have of late, been throwing all my energy into my day job at the clinic. Once I finish my talk, I am open to questions and please don't hesitate to contact me at the clinic for a private consultation."

There followed a laboured pause. Busi looked at Heidi, who filled the silence by re-adjusting the microphone and straightening her handwritten notes, a prop in her sweaty hands. She didn't need prompting, but her confidence levels had suffered over the past year. Why had she agreed to talk on such a sensitive topic, especially in a room full of familiar faces? It was now too late to back down. Busi placed a glass of water in front of Heidi and smiled in encouragement while surreptitiously squeezing her friend's hand.

Heidi refocused on her audience and continued, "Spousal Abuse can happen to the best of us. You and I probably know someone who has been impacted. It's no longer a dirty secret. I am sure you have already heard a lot about this year's International Women's Day theme, 'Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World'. I am tying the theme to spousal abuse because within our homes, not all our spouses promote and encourage us to take up leadership positions, especially those steeped in our patriarchal society.

Abuse is a broad term taking many forms: psychological, emotional, sexual, domestic violence, financial, to name a few. I will narrow it down to my own experiences and am sharing with you because I know it will stimulate a lot of us in the room to re-examine our lives."

From her vantage point at the podium, she could sense a level of discomfort among the audience. She touched a raw nerve as she launched into outlining the abuse cycle and shared case studies. After a while, Busi scribbled a note and passed it to Heidi, who glanced at it and nodded.

Busi said, "Ladies, let's take a short break and then continue before we have a question-and-answer session. Thank you very much, Heidi, for your address so far. It is such a pertinent topic."

Busi shielded her friend from the crowd and steered her towards a table ladened with refreshments where some club members stood in clusters, speaking in low voices, looking at Heid in awe. Heidi returned to the podium and continued her talk on coping mechanisms and life choices.

"I should now like to stop there and open the floor to two questions. Thank you very much for listening, and let's keep sharing."

Several hands went up, and Busi could sense that Heidi was beginning to wane after addressing questions on global statistics and why women and men do not report abuse or leave abusive spouses. Someone mentioned the issue of denial. Even though Heidi knew her talk would be therapeutic as she shared her daily torment in the last year, she knew she was one of the lucky ones who had been able to move neighbourhoods and seek temporary refuge with Busi. However, a sense of fragility was now beginning to overwhelm her. With a sideward glance, she appealed to Busi for help. Busi signalled the end of the meeting, followed by a member delivering a vote of thanks.

Sitting afterwards in a nearby café over coffee, Busi clasped Heidi's hand, "Thank you for opening up to us. You did very well, Heidi. Not many people can talk about such a sensitive and controversial topic and still share personal experiences without breaking down. I saw one or two in the audience looking quite distraught when you shared your pain over the abuse perpetrated by your partner. Some of the ladies who left early may have done so because your presentation was too close to the bone. One never knows. Until you told me your story a month ago, I honestly didn't know what was happening under your roof. I feel as if I should have been there for you."

Heidi sighed. "Even though I was about to break down during the meeting, it is getting easier to talk about the abuse I suffered. In the early days, I was more concerned about what you and my family would think. On the surface, we looked and behaved like a successful couple living the life. Yet underneath all that, I dreaded going home where Matthew constantly undermined me with his psychological warfare. I resorted to throwing myself into my work."

" Don't answer if you are not comfortable. But when did it all start? What triggered it? In the early days of your marriage, Matthew was such a lovely social animal. Who would have thought he was also a Jekyll and Hyde character underneath all that?"

"I was blindsided! He initially was so subtle," said Heidi. "I sometimes think it may have been when I started my business and became the Well Woman Clinic Practice Manager. There was a lot of positive media publicity around our services. Matthew probably felt neglected and overshadowed because of my success. But he never verbalised it. I have always tried to do a balancing act and not neglect my responsibilities at home. However, the more profitable the clinic became, the more prickly Matthew became. He would wear me down by intimating my success was just a fluke and throw comments like people would soon wise up to the fact that I was not a businesswoman."

"But, Heidi, who wouldn't want a successful wife and more money coming into the home?"

"Someone with a fragile ego? Remember it was around the time when Matthew's company went bust. So, he had lots of time on his hands, building up his frustrations. He started asking me to account for every cent, yet I have always been the frugal one. Then he began controlling who I socialised with, to the point that I could go for weeks without seeing my parents. He put a tracker on my phone and would always be around listening to my calls. I got to a point where I started calling my friends from work, so I wouldn't have the third degree about what they wanted and how they were always in our business. We rarely went out socially. I'm sure he was deliberately trying to isolate me."

"I am so sorry, Heidi, that I was not there for you," said Busi. "When you said you wanted to have a break from attending our club meetings, I assumed your practice was keeping you busy. I didn't know you were going through so much."

"It's not your fault. You are probably the only person we wanted to impress, and so whenever we met up with you, we were on our best behaviour. I honestly felt at some point that it was all my fault, and no one would believe what I was going through."

"How did you break the cycle of this psychological and financial abuse ?"

"It's been a long journey Busi. Marriage counselling was a nonstarter because Matthew saw it as washing our dirty linen in public. I eventually sat down and examined the pros and cons of staying in such an abusive relationship and decided to opt for separation. I am lucky that he never became violent, so I didn't have that fear hanging over my head. But the sense of feeling inadequate was becoming overwhelming. I was going through some serious mental health issues and eventually sought medical help. That's when I also realised that ghosting is just another form of emotional abuse. I'm proud to have come out in one piece, although I sometimes still feel fragile. It comes and goes in waves."

"Please don't beat yourself up, Heidi. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness."

"Thank you! We don't have enough community support systems like counselling, and when you are going through the trauma, you feel isolated and alone. So giving me a platform to speak at the club today was very helpful. I hope I didn't come across as being too emotional and needy."

" It will take time. You are also coping with separation and loss of confidence in someone you loved. However, a positive outcome for me after your presentation, is you agreeing to resume your club meeting attendance. Guess who's our speaker next week?"

March 24, 2021 00:04

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.