“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
I was raised by a single mother who taught me two valuable lessons: The first one was never to rely on a man and the second was that decisions should be made by thinking about what is best for myself. The youngest of three children, I grew up watching my mother do life on her own. We didn’t have a father around as I guess mom made the decision that living life as a single mom was what was best for her.
The lesson my mom lived played out for me in high school. I chose not to go to school dances or parties and having a boyfriend was never a concern. Honestly, the idea of dating terrified me and I found myself uncomfortable around boys. It wasn’t until after I graduated, that the desire for companionship surfaced through a casual meeting with who would later become my husband.
He was an immigrant from Africa, not an American citizen and five years older than me. I felt he had more life experience and someone who wasn’t an option for me. Regardless though, he began pursuing me. I’m not sure if the appeal stemmed from my lack of experience with men, his discovery of my virginity, or a genuine interest in who I was as a woman, but his pursuit enticed me. I was flattered that he took an interest in me and reciprocated by beginning a relationship with him. Things moved rather quickly as I left the home I still shared with my mother to move in with the man I barely knew. It was a whirlwind relationship that quickly led to him proposing. My reply? A resounding, “no” which did not settle well with him. He refused to speak to me the next day and I thought the relationship I finally allowed to happen was going to end. When he finally came home, we let the event of the day before fade into the past. Several months later, however, I agreed to marry him. He refused a second proposal, but we proceeded forward with an unspoken understanding that marriage would happen.
What was supposed to be a happy event became somber. My mom disagreed with my decision. Coming from a town with a very small percentage of blacks, she worried about how it would affect me. Not only was he black, but a Muslim. She communicated her concerns to my older sister, who also became concerned. Disregarding the opinions of my family, we married shortly after.
My husband was a devout Muslim. He prayed five times a day, went to mosque on Fridays, and celebrated Ramadan, the holy month in Islam. It was a life I was not accustomed to and was very different from how I was raised.
Disclaimer- *In no way do I blame Islam for my husband’s actions. I believe Islam is a wonderful religion if practiced correctly. Islam definitely has a bad reputation in America and I am not trying to add more fuel to that fire. I have been around the religion for over 10 years now and I am not against what they stand for.
To the outside world, we appeared to be a very happy couple. But inside the walls of our house, things were different. We did not share our personal life with anyone and fought together often. The transition from living with my mom to living with a husband was difficult. I had never experienced life on my own, never had to learn how to survive without the help of others. Undoubtedly, my husband became more of a provider than a partner.
His pursuit of me ended the day he told me he was going back to Africa. We had been married five years and although our relationship had not improved, the shock of his statement still hit me like a bullseye to the heart. “I don’t know if I’m coming back, so you’re going to have to figure out what you’re going to do,” he said.
I became angry at him, telling him I didn’t know where his decision was coming from, but hind site being 20/20, I should have seen the red flags waving.
Not long after, he helped me move into my own apartment and as quickly as he came into my life, he was gone, back to Africa with only a few e-mails being exchanged between us.
With my newfound freedom, I decided to take my mother’s advice and do things for myself. I started going out, going to clubs, enjoying myself and discovering more about myself than I had ever known. I enjoyed coming and going as I pleased. Unfortunately though, nobody in my husband’s local African community knew we were separated. In their culture, my actions (dancing and talking to other men) were similar to that of a whore and they looked down upon me.
Three months after my husband’s departure, he called to let me know he had returned and wanted to let me know he was in town. I didn’t hate him and considered us to be on good terms, however, I told him that before he went back to Africa, he would need to decide whether or not he wanted to remain married to me. I told him I wanted to work on our marriage and prove to myself and others that marriages can withstand trials. Not long after our conversation though, I received divorce papers in the mail. Opening the envelope was one of the most devastating moments of my life. I couldn’t bring myself to sign them right away and instead, held on to them for over a month, contemplating my decision. With the signed papers, I also included some of our wedding pictures, sealed the envelope and mailed it back. He called me the day our divorce was finalized and conversation was had like old war buddies meeting for coffee.
It wasn’t until later, that I discovered the truth to our failed marriage through a mutual friend. The friend told me that while my husband was in Africa, he married a second woman. The woman became pregnant and consequently, he felt it necessary to finally tie up the loose ends of his marriage with me in America.
It wasn’t me. It wasn’t our fighting. It wasn’t my apparent lack of Muslim rituals and practices. It was him. It was his infidelity.
As if the news of our divorce wasn’t devastating enough, the pain of his decision to find another woman dug a deeper pit of despair inside of me. I reacted by sending him hateful messages and making sure other people knew what he had done. He walked around with his religious persona, but the truth was that his actions spoke very differently of the type of man he really was.
Looking back, I realized this man had never truly loved me. He used my naivety as a ticket to American freedom.
The news that his cancer was terminal was difficult despite not seeing him in over 20 years. There’s something humbling about staring death in the face. Although he hadn’t been there for my siblings and me, he was my father and I wanted to help make his last days on earth comfortable. My sister and I moved him into her house where we cared for him until he passed later that month. Although watching my dad die in front of me was one of the worst experiences of my life, all the hate and anger I had toward men died along with him. For a very short time, I finally had the love of my father. It was his love and my mother’s guidance that taught me one of the most valuable lessons of all: Forgive. Not for the other person, but like mom taught me, “Do what’s best for you” because that’s who forgiveness is truly for: you.