According to my people, when a girl is the only child of her parents she is not allowed to get married. Custom demands that she lives in her parents’ house and reproduce to continue their lineage. I didn’t know about this until I was expected to uphold this tradition.
My father has other children, but I happen to be the only child he has with my mother. Which makes me the only child of my parents. I don’t know if they couldn’t have other children or they just chose not to. They had the means to cater for more children so they took in their siblings’ kids. All of these cousins of mine were boys.
The boys were mostly much older than me. As the only girl child among them, they took their curiosity about the female anatomy and sex out on me. What I am trying to say is, that they molested me. I was only six when it started. I didn’t understand what was going on. All I knew was, they forbade me from telling anyone.
At fourteen, I was addicted to being touched. If I didn’t get anyone to touch me, I would touch myself. At that age, I needed guidance but there was no one to turn to. My parents had started hammering it into my head, “You are our only child so you cannot marry. Your role in this family is to live with us and have babies so that you can continue our family lineage.”
This kind of talk, coupled with my early exposure to sex turned me into the kind of girl society calls, easy. I had low self-esteem so any man who was slightly nice to me could easily have their way with me.
This was my life until I turned twenty-one. It was then I met the first guy who was genuinely interested in me.
This guy is a pastor who was invited to preach at an event I attended with my parents. He spoke to me after the event ended. I could tell from our interactions that he was serious about me. Unfortunately for me, my mother saw me giving my number to him. She didn’t say anything immediately but when we got home she gave me a long lecture.
“Don’t you know that you are not supposed to date or have a serious relationship?” She asked me. I knew better than to answer her question so she went on, “You will not be allowed to get married so there’s no point in leading anyone on. When a man shows interest in you, it’s your job to tell them you won’t get married. You hear?” What choice did I have? I nodded and accepted what she said.
After that conversation, I gave up hope of finding love or settling down. I only entered into relationships to have shuperu. I never bothered to care about my partners. All that mattered to me was that they gave me the satisfaction my body craved.
At twenty-four I had completed college and had never been in a serious relationship. This bothered me so I decided to defy my parents and try my hands at this love thing. I met a guy who had all the traits of a man I would like to marry. And I gave him my heart.
Five months into the relationship I got pregnant. This was the test of our love. I expected him to stand by me and insist on marrying me so we could break my family’s tradition. That was wishful thinking. Because my boyfriend disappeared the moment I broke the news of the pregnancy to him. He left me alone and heartbroken.
When my parents heard the news, they sang praises to their ancestors. It didn’t matter to them that the man who got me pregnant had vanished off the face of this earth. While my heart was in pieces, they celebrated my unborn child. I was jobless and broke but that was no problem. They supported me financially and took care of the pregnancy until the baby arrived. Even after I delivered, they continued to take care of me until I got a job.
Despite the fact that I had given them a grandchild, they still maintained that I couldn’t get married. So by the time I turned thirty, I had a body count of eighteen. I still struggled with self-esteem issues while I dealt with the challenges that came with being a single mother.
My parents were not satisfied with one child so put a lot of pressure on me to have another baby. I didn’t want to do it but they were relentless. “The responsibility of the next generation lies with you,” they would say, “Do you want to be selfish and bear only one child?” I tried to stand firm but I was outnumbered. So when I turned thirty-three, I had another baby.
Now I am here wondering where my life is headed. No man has ever taken me seriously all my life. Can you blame them? Recently, the pastor who showed interest in me over a decade ago visited our church with his wife and two kids. The pain I felt when I saw them is more than words can express. The one question I have been asking myself repeatedly is, “Do my parents love me at all?”
If they cared just a little bit about my well-being, they wouldn’t have denied me a chance to be loved and have a family of my own like they do. I have a good job and I have two beautiful children but I am lonely.
Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I get suicidal thoughts. The only reason I haven’t acted on those thoughts is my children. I am the only parent they have so I am staying strong for them. I want to do more than survive. I want to live. I want to love and be loved. I harbor a lot of resentment towards my parents, for robbing me of these things. And I worry that I cannot live freely if I don’t forgive them.
I want to know if there’s a way I can find peace within myself and let go of all the heaviness in my heart. Will I ever be happy? Above all, what will go wrong with the world if I refuse to toe the line of tradition?