Content Warning: this story contains sensitive material relating to intimate partner violence. Please be mindful of this and other possible triggers before, during and after reading, and seek assistance if needed from the resources provided below.
Growing up in Egypt, I’ve become accustomed to the many cases of domestic violence against women. Even more terrifying is the normalization of it. Almost every victim was told that domestic violence is okay and blamed for the outcome, so I wanted to show how the excuses said by people close to the victim make these situations worse and negatively impact their mental health. I also wanted to display the idea that it is never too late to speak up and reach out to people, even if the victim tried before and didn't receive any help. It's never too late to reach out and ask for help.
- Salma Ahmed, Author
Eman waited for it to happen. It happened every day so why would today be any different? From the first month of her marriage, she realized that the years remaining in her life would only be described as an endless cycle of suffering, and she couldn’t do anything about it. Her family made it clear that her screams would be muffled, if not by her husband and his family’s hands, than by them alone.
Her own blood.
Eman couldn’t stop herself from letting out a quiet, yet nerve-wracking gasp when she heard the familiar sound of a key chain as the front door of her house opened. It was funny how she believed that after marriage she would call her place of residence a “home,” but now she could only think of the word “prison.”
The sound of the keys wasn’t what terrified her, however, it was the identity of who was trying to open the door; her husband.
“He is your husband.”
“He is allowed to hit you.”
“A good wife won’t be mad at her husband for hitting her. She would be mad at herself for angering him to the point where he hits her!”
The many excuses made by her family were forcing themselves to the front of her thoughts. It was a daily reminder that this was her life; this was the reality she faced every day because her family refused to save her, and even worse, she couldn’t even save herself.
The slam of the front door forced Eman out of her thoughts; she was so close to drowning in them, and if it weren’t for the force of her husband’s hands when he closed the door, she wouldn’t have heard him. Eman did hear him, however, and she knew what was going to happen next.
The bruises that forced her body to own a darker shade than the color of her skin were enough to confirm that, she just didn’t know if her body had any lucky parts that weren’t covered with bruises.
“Please God,” she whispered as the sound of heavy steps started to resonate inside the house. After only one week of her marriage, she learned to memorize the sound of those steps because she learned to fear them.
She could recognize it so well that she developed the ability to learn when he was getting closer and which part of the house he was inside; right now he was inside the kitchen. She also knew what kind of fight he would decide to have today based on where he was standing.
Eman learned to memorize all of it. It’s funny how humans pay attention to the things they fear more than the things they love, she thought to herself.
When she heard the sound of his feet scratching the floor, there was a guaranteed anticipation of the fridge door slamming. Eman asked herself how she knew this would happen. Was it because of the thin walls or had she learned to ignore everything that wasn't related to him?
He was everywhere even when Eman was alone.
A tear glided down her cheek when she remembered how naïve she was before getting married. She used to think what it would be like to be so in love, to be lost in the little details her husband had. Instead, Eman was suffocated by the amount of terror she had to endure.
Perhaps what hurt Eman the most was that they didn’t even have children, and this prevented her family from telling her “you must be patient and accept that this is your life because the kids would suffer if you two separated.” The first time she complained to her parents about how she was treated, she believed that they would tell her “you won't go back there” or “it's a good thing that you don't have any kids yet. It would be easy to get a divorce.”
Eman never heard what she wanted to hear; she certainly didn’t want to hear her husband's footsteps as he entered their bedroom. She would rest there after every beating, losing count of the many bed sheets lost because they were stained with blood. Her soul was stained, too.
He started yelling about how he didn’t like the dinner she made; Eman learned a long time ago that she should never reply with the truth. She should never say “that what you bought and was inside the fridge.” That reply made the day end with another ruined bed sheet.
Sometimes he would reply with “you should have brought meat or chicken.” Eman also learned that she should never remind him how he forced her to quit her job and be a housewife, and how she didn’t have any money with her. She learned that this wasn't the right reply because he wanted her to ask her parents to bring them food from time to time.
“He is your husband.” Eman remembered her parent’s words as the first hit landed across her face.
She was sure that she screamed, but she didn’t hear it because the only sound inside her head was the whispering of her mother. She couldn't explain how her mother's voice was so loud inside her brain despite it being nothing more than whispers; it felt like it became louder because of the pain it caused in Eman.
“You can't just get divorced! What would the people say about you?” She can still see the panicking look in her mother's eyes as her mind went over the many comments that would be thrown at her daughter and family rather than thinking about what Eman had to endure behind closed doors.
“What will they say about me when one day this beating turns me into a corpse?” That was the question that forced itself inside Eman’s head when the second strike landed on another part of her body.
When the beatings started, Eman tried to defend herself. She would explain that she didn’t mean to do whatever made her husband angry or even say that she never imagined that he would change like this; none of these attempts worked.
Eman learned from the first year of her marriage that she was always going to be accused of doing something wrong. Her husband would never stop beating her and her family would never stop making excuses for his actions. So she endured.
She endured the strikes and the swelling. She endured how her screams faded into the background and how she faded into her thoughts. She endured how she was losing herself. She endured all of that until he went outside of the room to watch the TV.
Eman didn’t realize that she was crying until she let out a sob that invaded the high waves caused by the noise inside of her mind.
As a reflex, her hand went to cover her mouth; even her body learned what it needed to do in order to survive, but sometimes Eman faced the reality that what she knew, what she learned, might not be enough to make her survive. In a couple of minutes her husband would fall asleep, heightening the snores of the man who was beating her to death moments ago.
She whispered “please God” as she got off her bed and walked toward the living room, hoping that it would somehow take the meaning of her name, take that belief and faith and insert it inside her heart that was as deeply bruised as her skin. She remembered how her mother proudly explained the meaning behind these four letters that she grew to hate whenever her husband let them roll off his tongue.
“Eman means faith. It means to have faith in God and his decisions. We named you Eman hoping that its meaning will appear in your life. You will always have faith in God, right Eman?”
No. After what Eman endured, having any kind of faith would be like adding salt to her wound; it would be betrayal and she was already betrayed enough.
Eman winced when she felt a whimper escape her lips; she silenced herself for the millionth time because she knew that the sound of snores didn’t mean she was safe. She was never safe. Not even when she was surrounded by people, by strangers, because if her husband dared to show his true self in public, she couldn’t bet that someone would stop him.
If her own family walked away then why would a stranger stop for her?
Eman learned to walk silently just like how she learned to silence herself, and when she reached the couch where her abuser laid unbothered, she reached down to take the remote control and turn off the TV; she couldn’t risk the possibility of some obnoxiously loud commercial waking him up because he would then blame her for not turning off the TV.
The moment her fingers grasped the plastic remote, she stopped mid-movement as she was going to turn the TV off. What made her stop was how the lights coming from the TV dimmed suddenly and with that, darkness was cast upon the room. Eman looked at her husband's face, preparing herself to see his eyes open and him looking back at her with a grimace caused by being disturbed by the change of lights. He would of course blame her. So when his eyes were still shut, Eman focused on the commercial that caused this fear to happen.
She found herself looking at a young woman sitting on a floor in a bedroom and resting her back against the end of the bed. She was holding a wedding dress in her hands, softly touching its fabric.The camera zoomed in on her hands and Eman noticed her wedding ring; she remembered how she had the same joy when she first got married, and how she would keep looking at her wedding dress trying to relive the happiness she felt on what was supposed to be a special night. After the first time he hit her, Eman would look at her wedding dress from time to time, but not in an attempt to relive that night, she did it because she wished that the dress would disappear. That she never got married to him.
“Foolish,” she thought of the woman as she kept caressing the dress.
The camera zoomed out again and Eman was going to turn the TV off, but then the woman removed her hands from the dress and grabbed a small mirror and a concealer that were on the floor beside her. At first, the woman's hair was covering her face but when she held the mirror and the concealer, she moved her hair away and for the first time, Eman saw her. The problem was that she felt like she was looking at herself.
Around the woman’s now-visible neck, Eman could see several bruises she was trying to conceal; the movement of her hands as she used the concealer caused the sleeves of her blouse to be lifted and show her wrists. They were also bruised. The camera focused on how the woman was crying as she tried to hide all the bruises that tainted her skin, and then it became dark.
A logo appeared on the top of the screen with text reading “The National Council for Women.” Only one paragraph was written in the middle of the screen and under it were the council’s phone numbers and locations.
“Not everything looks as it appears. Please reach out. Even if you spoke up and people turned away from you, please speak up again. We will listen.”
Eman’s eyes skimmed over the words and then landed on the location section; the council was near her.
This time when the sound of the house’s keys resonated inside the house and reached Eman’s ears, she didn’t get afraid because she was the one holding them as she opened the door with the council’s address memorized inside her mind.
She wasn’t afraid because maybe this time speaking up would help her.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please reach out to the resources listed below.