We all have a story. This is the conclusion I arrived at over the weekend. Many of us, it occurred to me, believe that we have the most traumatic story there is, that no one has a life story that matches or surpasses our own in terms of unfairness or incredulity.
I once believed this about my story too until I became a writer, a storyteller — a career that basically involves telling other people’s stories and which gave me a broader worldview. This job forced me to stop looking inward and start paying attention to the experiences of others. It is then that I realised my story, compared to the many horror stories I have come across, is a comedy.
And after many years of hearing and telling many harrowing stories, I had thought that I had heard it all. Until I met a woman in her 30s whose story might as well be that of a 70-year-old.
What surprised me more was the fact that all the times we had interacted, she seemed so confident, a young woman who had it all figured out. She was assertive, outspoken, an extrovert who seemed to make friends effortlessly.
The first time we met, it was in a boardroom. She had come to interview for a job. She did not get it, but the second time we met, she stopped me and introduced herself, even though she did not need to because I remembered her — she is that kind of person.
Within minutes, we were chatting as if we had known each other for years. How I wished I was capable of making friends that easily, I remember thinking to myself.
And then she happened to tell me her story during subsequent meetings. She got married young. To the first man that made her feel as if she belonged. You see, her parents died when she was very young, leaving her in the care of relatives that did not want her. An only child, with no siblings to share her sorrow with.
Anyway, she got married. The man turned out to be an abuser — a violent man who used her as his punching bag. He once beat her up so badly during her first pregnancy, that she was admitted in hospital.
A few months later, she gave birth to her son, only for the boy to die three months later. His caregiver dropped him on the floor, whether by accident or on purpose, she will never know. She had not been at home on that day. Everyone, including her husband and her in-laws blamed her. Where had she been when the boy died? They asked.
She stayed in the marriage despite the great animosity and daily violence and even went on to have another child. When her son was two, she finally gathered the courage to walk away.
She is a single parent now, his sole provider. She has no support system, she told me, her relatives having long cut ties with her. It is her and her son against the world.
To get to where she is right now, emotionally and psychologically, she had to see a counsellor. She still does. If she didn’t, she told me, she would fall apart. When she was at her lowest, she attempted suicide, thrice.
How much we hide behind our put-together looks! Stylish clothes, well-done hair, perfect make-up and rehearsed confidence. Such is life. It seems, after all, you possibly cannot go about publicly wearing all your scars. It is in bad taste.
This newfound friend told me that it helps to talk about it, so when she finds someone she feels comfortable enough to talk to, she does it.
So what’s the moral of this story? Well, to begin with, you’re not sailing this boat alone. There are many others on board. Also, there are many others with more traumatic pasts and presents, yet they soldier on with the business of living, perhaps buoyed by the positive things in the midst of the depressing ones. Because it cannot all be bad, can it?
The writer is the Editor, ‘Society’ and Magazines, ‘Daily Nation’. [email protected]