My name is Amalah and I’d like to share my story. I am from Kenya. I met an American man, we fell in love, and he brought me here to the U.S. so that we could be together.
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We lived together for two months after which we got married. The marriage was stormy from the beginning, but I had high hopes that it would get better. We had a baby girl and today is her birthday! She turns three today. My son, who was 9 at the time, joined us from Kenya. He went back to Kenya last summer to live with my mom.
Initially, I felt that my husband loved me very much, and that was why I wanted my marriage to work out. He came across as very affectionate, attentive and protective of me. But, with time, I realized that the intent of this behavior was to control me, not to love me.
When we were dating, before I came to the U.S., he would call me at my home in Kenya at Midnight, my time – 6 nights a week. We would stay on the phone for 4-5 hours every night. I thought at the time that it was nice that he stayed in such touch with me across the miles. But, after living with him, he told me that the reason for the time and length of his calls was to make sure that I was home every night. By calling me at these hours and for so long, it was his way of keeping tabs on me, even though I was 9,000 miles away.
While we were married, any time we went out socially, I dreaded the aftermath. On our way back home, he would heap accusations on me saying that I had been talking to or looking at someone in a way that he did not approve of. On these occasions, he would drive erratically and threaten to crash the car and kill us both. He was immensely jealous and it was very scary; because I thought many times that we would both end up dead.
Even before we were married, he would hack into my email inbox and read my emails. He would take addresses from my account’s address book and write to them, saying, “She belongs to me and if she says she loves you, she’s lying.” This was embarrassing because some of these were friends and some were business acquaintances. It was his way of policing me.
The policing continued into our marriage. He would check the mileage on my car and demand to know where I had been to. He always knew where I’d been – even when I hadn’t told him. I felt that he had me followed.
He didn’t like me talking to my friends on the phone, because he feared that I was talking to them about how bad things were in our marriage. So he would force me to hang up on them. When I decided to stop engaging in verbal arguments with him, that was when he started to physically hit me.
He would throw things at me during fits of rage. He used personal attacks by calling me names like ugly bitch, idiot, dummy, dunderhead, trash, stupid, retarded, etc. At some point, I started to feel like I was the ugly idiot he was always talking about. He was very critical, degrading, and malicious. He did not accept my feelings and views and was very angry and controlling.
He would always blame me for his outbursts or actions and was unpredictable (I never knew what would anger him next), explosive, sullen, unexpressive of warmth and empathy, intense, competitive towards me, quick with comebacks and put-downs, used the silent treatment and was uncommunicative in private and frequently demanding or argumentative, irritable, and hostile. There was a presence of negation, manipulation, control, and competition but a lack of validation, mutuality, intimacy, goodwill, and partnership.
For most of our marriage, I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I felt controlled but was making excuses for his behavior. I gave into his demands out of fear. He became more agitated; I became more compliant. He yelled; I squirmed. I was trying to minimize problems and denying anger. He took more control; I withdrew to avoid setting him off. The tension became unbearable. He became highly abusive, and I was traumatized.
About six months before I left him, he told me he had paid for us to take lessons at a shooting range together. I said that I didn’t think he could be trusted to have a gun leave alone a license. He already had three guns and threatened to kill himself on a regular basis. He would say that he wanted to commit suicide so I could live with the guilt of his death for the rest of my life. I also told him I personally wanted to have neither gun nor license. He said that it was not a matter of trust, that if we both knew how to shoot, we would both take a long walk in the woods and shoot each other. This made me very confused and sad and scared. The next day, I started counseling without his knowledge to help sort out my feelings.
One night, he said to me, “I can get rid of you and your black kids so fast that you will never know what hit you.” I was stunned. I said to him, “One of these ‘black kids’ is half you.” When I pointed that out to him, he hit me forcefully. While I lay on the ground, I had a paradigm shift. I knew it was over; I knew it would be the last time I got hit. I made the most difficult and scary decision I ever had to make. I was going to leave! With my family 9,000 miles away, I was afraid that if something were to happen to the children or me, there would be no one to alert the authorities, there would be no one to ask questions.
The next day, I called the crisis line and got into shelter on the afternoon of April 24, 2003 – a year ago now. With two children and no money, I was so afraid of shelter. Would there be enough beds for us all to sleep on? Would there be food? I wondered. But I was more afraid of him than I was of the unknown.
I stayed in shelter in Connecticut for two days. Even though I was a 20-minute drive away from my husband’s house, they felt that I was still too close to be safe. So, they sent me to a shelter in Massachusetts. My children and I stayed in emergency shelter for two months, until we came to The Second Step.
We lived at The Second Step for nine months. What I got from The Second Step was a place to stay, a home. Since we were homeless, this was of desperate importance to us. The stability we had there helped me to take the steps I needed in order to move on. My daughter was able to stay in the same day care for a long period, and she is still there.
What I also got from The Second Step was the support of staff. At this point in my life I had a woman’s need to be heard. The staff listened to me and helped me to feel strong enough to go on. I was having the hardest year of my life. I was mourning the breakup of my marriage and separation from my friends, trying to live on a limited income, and dealing with a custody battle and the loss of any structure in my life.
The staff at The Second Step helped me get through all of that. They were patient and encouraging. Through The Second Step, I was able to get a scholarship for school. I needed $16,000 to take a course in graphic and web design at Clarke University. Karen, my case manager at The Second Step, worked very closely with me and the scholarship agency to get the scholarship in place. Karen and I also worked closely to get me a place in class while I waited for the scholarship. I am still attending classes at Clark.
Betsy worked with me to help find affordable day care. My daughter was very shy and closed up, because of all the moves we’d been through. Since she started day care, she has blossomed like a flower. She’s outgoing and has shown rapid development.
There were other programs at The Second Step that I liked, like Yoga. I loved Yoga. I still do it daily. I find it relaxing and energizing. I also went to the Family Nurturing Program for four months and learned a few things about how to be a better mom. The sharing in the group and making new friends was fun.
The Second Step has been so important for me and other women in transition from being victims to being independent. The support that I received and a place to call home were of paramount importance in my situation then. Even after I moved out to a place of my own, staff is still there to support me and hook me up with resources. They helped me move in and get settled with things that I needed.
My husband told me he married me because he thought that women from Africa were docile and submissive and that he was very disappointed in me because I did not seem to know my place. Well, he was wrong. I am a strong, intelligent, and independent woman. My strengths have come as a result of my journey. The journey is not over, and so I’m planning on continuing to grow and on getting stronger every day.
Over the last month, I have found myself an apartment, a car, and a job. I am looking forward to being a real estate agent because I know I will do a fabulous job selling houses. I would appreciate the business of anyone looking to sell or buy a house or their referral.
Last, but not least, I’d like to thank all of the people who volunteer their precious time at The Second Step to help the moms and the children and also all the people who contribute financially. I’d like to say to you, it’s a worthy cause.
In closing, they say that which does not kill you will make you stronger. They also say that through adversity comes change. These are old sayings, and old sayings are old for a reason – they are true! I have grown because of my experience. I am proud of who I have become because everyday in every way I am feeling stronger and stronger.