[Trigger and content warning for intimate partner violence in the form of gaslighting, prolonged infidelity and corporeal violence.]
“Who said we had it all?
Our hearts no longer lie.
Who knew the veil would fall?
Who guessed that we would cry?” –Kwabs, Perfect Ruin (2015)
December 31st 2006, 21:30pm
“Hey, have you seen Malaika?” I heard Leroy’s voice from the other room and it made my heart rate accelerate dangerously. The girl in front of me raised her eyebrow at me like a question mark. I paused for a moment; brushing my thumb absentmindedly just below her heavily lip-glossed mouth. I wanted so desperately to press my lips against that sweet-smelling oil and soft flesh but my girlfriend seemed so close to discovering our hiding place in this upstairs bathroom. We’d kept the light off so no one would think anyone was in there but we could see each other pretty clearly by the moonlight bleeding through the curtain-less bathroom window. My eyes travelled to the thin strip of orange-yellow light underneath the door; watching for the shadow of feet outside the bathroom. But no feet shadows approached. I don’t know if the person Leroy was interrogating about my whereabouts answered her or not but soon the only sounds we could hear from beyond the bathroom door were the steady thud of the house song blaring from the speakers downstairs and the distant mumble of drunken people celebrating New Years Eve.
I turned my attention back to the girl in front of me. She was straight and gorgeous. I’d approached her because the curve of her thick bottom lip against her slightly upturned chin reminded me so painfully of Nomsa, the sixth year med student I’d had a fling with almost three years ago. I hadn’t seen Nomsa since I’d tearfully broken things off with her after Leroy slit her wrists because she didn’t want me to leave her for someone else. I missed her and wondered often what became of her. I had no way of finding out. So this cute substitute would have to do. She was looking up at me all wide eyed and seductive, the way straight girls get sometimes. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes at the tackiness of her brand of sexy. I chose to close my eyes instead and leaned forward to kiss her sticky sweet lip-glossed mouth. She opened her mouth for me and presented her tongue like a delicate, precious gift. One of my hands was lightly clasped around her long elegant neck and the other brushed over her nipple in a way that made her breath hitch in her throat. When I leaned my body against her and placed one of my thighs in the middle of her tiny denim skirt I felt her legs part and her hips press forward into me at the same time. I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed intimacy with other girls.
Physical closeness of any kind with Leroy had long since become laborious and repulsive to me.
December 31st 2006, 23:05
“You should leave the room before me,” I muttered, buttoning my blue and white checked shirt up. She paused from retrieving her bra from somewhere near our feet and looked at me incredulously.
“Yes. Seriously. We can’t be seen coming out of the bathroom together,” I said, annoyed that I had to explain all this to this seemingly grown ass human being.
“I don’t understand why you don’t just leave your girlfriend, yazi,” came the tart response. I watched her stick her arms into her bra and deftly reach them behind her back to clasp it.
“You shouldn’t concern yourself with what I choose to do, or not to do with my girlfriend,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Look, don’t flatter yourself,” she chuckled deliciously, “I couldn’t care less what you do or don’t do with your girlfriend. I just know that from what I’ve heard you clearly don’t want to be with her. Why else would you sleep with so many other women? Strangers, futhi?”
“Shut the fuck up and get out of here before someone finds us,” I whispered angrily at her. I didn’t bother rebutting anything else she said about me wanting to leave Leroy. I was afraid that my excuses for staying would sound every bit as flat and weak as they actually were. She put on her tiny black crop top and slipped her tiny denim skirt over her thighs. I had to restrain myself from reaching out to her and pulling those clothes off of her once more. I had to look away when she leaned over the basin and applied a fresh layer of what my taste buds told me was her grape-flavored lip-gloss. She met my eyes through the mirror above the basin and frowned a bit.
“Promiscuity aside, shade aside; you seem really unhappy jo.” She said simply before turning on her heel and pulling the bathroom door opened and closed behind her.
My eyes stung briefly from the sudden brightness of the light beyond the bathroom door. While the door was opened I heard Theo from Boom Shaka’s throaty and lengthy “yeah” at the beginning of It’s About Time. That song was my go-to, get-down tune. But I didn’t feel ready to leave that bathroom just yet. That girl’s words hung heavy in the air around me, like the smell of her perfume, sweat and cum. You seem really unhappy jo. I thought about whether or not that were true. I was with someone who, despite her many, many faults, deeply loved me. Leroy would do anything for me. Anything. She was probably aware of the other women. She still welcomed me home with open, loving arms. We lived together now. Granted it was in student accommodation across the road from the university I still attended, but it still felt a lot like real life living together. I had just completed my second last year of med school. I was one of the top students of my year. Things between my mother and I were looking up. She had come around on the gay thing. She still forced me to go to church with her whenever I went home, but we were getting along.
I had no real reason to be unhappy, to feel so restless and trapped. And yet…
I felt a tear itching its way down my neck before I realized that I’d started crying. The moment it registered that I was crying the waterworks intensified. I sobbed silently into my balled fist. My chest felt hot and sore and my breath came quick like the sporadic staccato of a techno track. I forced myself to take big gulps of air into my lungs to steady my breathing and finally, to stop crying. I needed a drink.
December 31st 2006, 23:50pm
“Where the fuck have you been?” Leroy was drunk and furious. I was drunk and thus extremely defensive.
“I’m not your fucking child. I don’t have to answer to you,” I slurred pushing past her. She grabbed a hold of my arm. Her grip was so tight it hurt. I told myself that she didn’t intend to hurt me; that she was just upset and worried about me.
“What’s gotten into you, Malaika? How could you disappear on me like that? For hours?” she demanded. Her mouth was pressed against my ear and she was still holding my arm in a way that hurt. I was about to apologize when I realized I didn’t feel like being sorry anymore.
“You want to know where I was?” I asked, yanking my arm out of her hand.
“Why else would I ask?”
“I was in the bathroom upstairs, fucking someone else. I don’t even know her name,” I informed her loudly. A small crowd of drunken people had formed around us and seemed to be waiting with baited breath for something to happen. They got their wish a second later when Leroy slapped me across the face. I took a step forward, ready to strike her back and she stepped up to me as well; her fists clenched.
“Fuck you,” I hissed at her and turned to walk out of the front door of the house.
The crisp night air hit my face in a way that reminded me that I had been crying less than an hour before. I suddenly, desperately missed our old friend, Latoya. Toya would have known what to do right then. Shit she may have figured out what both Leroy and I needed to do to get right again. Neither of us had seen or heard from her since the incident in the café three years ago. Leroy had cut herself again. Just because she was upset with Latoya calling her out for trying to kill herself earlier in the year. Toya’s parents had simply said that she was visiting family out of town and would be deferring the rest of her exams for that year. Her parents were very open-minded people who accepted their daughter’s sexuality and that of her two best friends so I was very certain they had been told about Leroy and I. After a while her mother had politely but sternly requested that I stop calling and asking about her daughter. Latoya had moved out of her dingy little flat in Hilbrow. The flat that had been our squad headquarters for almost three years. And when the landlady had allowed me to see if she’d left anything behind the only sign that any of us had ever been in there were the pink stains on the white kitchen tiles where Leroy had slit her wrists.
Thinking about those stains and what had caused them made me want to leave this house party and find some place to be where she wouldn’t find me. I needed space and time to think.
February 14th 2007, 10:00am
The first thing I saw when I woke up was Leroy propped up on her elbow staring at me intently. I was instantly reminded that I’d passed out drunk the night before by my splitting hangover headache. I was not in the mood for whatever she had to say. I groaned from the intensifying pain between my eyebrows and rolled out of the bed without a word to her. I walked to the en suite bathroom and stuck my mouth under the faucet of running cold water. The water tasted bitter on my tongue after countless tequila shots and spirit cocktails. When I straightened up after ingesting enough water to no longer feel as though my head was splitting atom by atom I was confronted by Leroy holding out two unwrapped aspirins and a glass of cold water from the fridge. I took the pills and water from her thanklessly. I still wasn’t ready for whatever conversation she obviously intended for us to have. I gulped down the tablets and water and walked out of the bathroom and to the kitchen to prepare something greasy for me to eat before the waves of nausea set in.
“I think we should open our relationship,” she said to my back as I rummaged through the contents of our fridge. She worked as an assistant pharmacist now and the money she made from that meant our fridge was always well stocked and money for partying and little road trips with our friends was always available. I picked out four eggs and the bag of bacon and tub of butter and the loaf of whole wheat Woolworths bread and walked over to the kitchen counter. I considered what she had suggested but I was weary of her and her little truces. I had no idea whether or not this was some kind of trap to get us stuck in another three week argument cycle the way the events of News Year’s Eve had.
“Did you hear what I said?” she asked, helping me prepare my hangover breakfast.
“Yes,” I said, finally. “I just don’t know if it’s a good idea for us.”
“I don’t know what else to do, Malaika. You can’t seem to stop cheating on me.” She said matter of factly. I wanted to scream. Instead I took a bite of the toast she had already made and buttered.
“You know exactly what to do Leroy. You just refuse to do it.” I said quietly. I was weary of saying it outright.
“No,” she said flatly. “I can’t. I won’t. I love you, Malaika. Don’t you get that?”
“This is not love Leroy.” I said simply. I unintentionally looked towards the small horizontal scars on her left wrist.
“Wow. I haven’t hurt myself in three years. You can’t honestly still be holding that over my head,” she sighed in exasperation. I wanted to slap her. She had no right to be exasperated.
“You know damn well that I have no way of knowing whether or not you’re going to hurt yourself if I tell you I’m leaving you,” I said, feeling my anger begin to boil over.
“Well, I’ll let you know now once and for all. I’m not going to hurt myself. But I’m not going to let you walk out on me either,” she said these words as though they were perfectly reasonable.
“Are you hearing yourself right now Leroy? Is what you’re saying making sense to you? Why can’t I leave you? Why won’t you break up with me?” I was yelling and I didn’t care.
“Why do you want to leave me? Am I so repulsive and worth nothing that you can’t stay?” she asked, her eyes already filling with the tears I’d come to resent. I hated how she wielded her tears like a weapon against me whenever I tried to point out to her how ridiculous it was that we were still together.
“You’re being ridiculous. No one’s called you repulsive or worth nothing. But I’m not happy! I’m not fucking happy!” I screamed the last sentence and felt myself choking on my own tears. I was having a hard time believing this was my life.
“Wow. And now you’re going to cry to make me look like the bad guy when it’s your cheating that’s the problem here. You make me feel like I’m not worth anything, Malaika. You make me feel like I’m not enough. And I keep waiting for you to apologize, to make things right with me but you refuse to,” she sobbed angrily. I was incredulous.
“Are you being for real? You can’t make me solely responsible for your sense of worth, Leroy. I can’t carry all that, please. I can’t fix you. I can’t make you feel any worthier than you do right now; that’s something you have to deal with,” I said. I was no longer screaming. I wanted this conversation to end.
“You’re so selfish, you know that? If you told me that I’d done something to make you feel like you didn’t matter I’d do everything in my power to prove to you that you were worthy of the world,” she said.
“You make me feel as though I’ve lost my mind,” I said.
“You always want to be the victim,” she shot back.
I wasn’t sure what conversation we were having anymore. I just wanted her to stop talking. I wanted this to go away. I felt dizzy and confused. I couldn’t remember why I wanted to leave her in the first place. I figured I was wrong for cheating on her and she was gracious enough to forgive me and even offer that we open our relationship to accommodate my insatiable appetite. She was crying so pityingly that it was breaking my heart to see her that way. My beautiful, tall, complicated best friend and girlfriend. I put down my toast and turned the pan with the eggs and bacon off. I walked over to her and put her head against my chest. Her tears instantly soaked my skin and pajama top. I kissed the top of her head and then her eyes and her cheeks and then her mouth. I sighed in relief when she returned my kisses passionately. If we had sex everything would be fine again. She didn’t really excite me in the ways she used to when we’d first started developing feelings for each other, but no other body was as familiar to me as hers. Fucking her would be like brushing my teeth. I would be methodical, thorough and done as soon as reasonably possible.
February 14th 2007, 17:30pm
“Isn’t that your girlfriend over there?” this time the girl in front of me was also a lesbian. This time we were outside among other lesbians and not locked away in some moonlit bathroom in a random house. Leroy was a few feet away from me, speaking to the rest of the picnickers. I had several drinks in my system and I wanted to know what this girl’s mouth tasted like. She’d been ingesting pineapple and paw-paw slices from Jay-jay’s fruit salad and sipping on the watermelon and vodka cocktail Nokuthula had come with. She’d also nibbled on the Buffalo wings Leroy had bought for the picnic. I’d watched her put all of these foods and the drink into her pert little mouth, salivating at the thought of what her mouth would taste like if I kissed her. When I saw her light up a menthol cigarette I had gotten up from next to Leroy on the picnic blanket and asked her to take a walk with me. Her name was Nqobile. She was significantly shorter than me and darker too. Her body was all creamy thick arms and thighs and boobs falling out of her bikini top. Her hair was dyed platinum grey and she wore a pair of contact lenses in the same shade.
“Yes. That is my girlfriend,” I declared, swaying slightly and clutching onto what was my fifth cup of vodka, neat.
“Why are you trying to make out with me if your girlfriend is right over there?” she asked with a humorless chuckle.
“We’re in an open relationship,” I explained. I covered my mouth and tried to burp as discreetly as possible but it still came out as a rude belch. “Excuse me,” I muttered.
“Look, I’m not into any of that lesbian drama bullshit, yeah? I don’t care what you and your girlfriend call your relationship. But you’re a no-go for me while you’re with her,” Nqobile said.
“Huh,” I murmured. I stumbled towards the blanket where Leroy sat with her back to Nqobile and I. I noticed the circle of our friends grow quiet as I approached.
“How about some water, eh, Malaika?” Jay-jay quipped with a kind smile.
I stuck my middle finger up at her.
“Okay, whoa, easy there,” she said, laughing hollowly.
“I don’t need any fucking water Jay-jay,” I slurred. “I need Leroy to break up me so I can hook up with that gorgeous woman over there.” I pointed in the general direction of where Nqobile was still standing and looking back at me.
I heard their collective sigh. I saw them shoot sympathetic looks in Leroy’s direction as she heaved herself up and turned to face me. It filled me with rage. I looked like the unhinged, drunk girlfriend and she the burdened caregiver, tasked with keeping me in check. She gently put her hand on one of my arms to steer me away from the group.
“Leave me the fuck alone! Leave me the fuck alone!” I yelled, pushing her repeatedly. I felt the anger I’d gulped down earlier in the morning resurface. I was sick to death of the mind games she seemed to be playing with me and everyone around us. One of our close friends, Ndumiso, a trans-guy, stood up and walked towards us. I saw Leroy summon fresh tears for our new audience. I had to restrain myself from strangling her.
“Let’s go talk guys,” Ndumiso said, simply. He led the way to a set of trees not too far from the picnic but far enough away for anything said to be somewhat private. We followed without a word to each other.
“Okay. So I’m not going to ask what the hell is happening between the two of you. I don’t need to know the specifics. But whatever it is I know it’s bad. And it’s got to stop.” I wanted to cry tears of relief. Someone else could see what Leroy was putting me through.
“Jesus, I’m so glad you can see this disaster for what it is. She’s been driving me insane,” I said.
“I’m sure she has. But I’ve seen you hurting her too. The two of you have not been treating each other the way people who love each other ought to treat each other. You fight all the time. There’re always rumors about cheating. I heard that things got physical between you the other day? That’s unacceptable. Are you waiting until one of you winds up in jail or hospital or in a mortuary before you decide you’ve had enough?”
I kept my mouth shut and was surprised to notice that Leroy was doing the same.
“Look. Like I said, I don’t know the specifics. But you need to leave each other. This,” he waved one of his long-fingered delicate hands at the space between us, “this needs to end.”
I nodded and promptly threw up into the grass between our feet. Leroy instinctively reached out to hold me up and wipe at my mouth. I let her. But I could tell by the sadness in her eyes and the defeated way her shoulders slouched that she understood that we were done. Someone else had not only seen the ugly of our relationship; they had let us know they saw it and told us to get the fuck out. There was no way she could make it seem like it was all in my head. It was with a huge sense of relief that I returned to our student digs with her.
February 14th 2007, 20:00pm
Leroy sat on the edge of our shared double bed, crying pathetically while I packed. In that moment I didn’t feel any anger towards her. I had to gulp down my own tears as I folded my clothing into my large suitcase. I wasn’t sure what was waiting for me on the other side of my life as Leroy’s girlfriend. I was scared shitless about all of the uncertainty. I couldn’t afford to continue living in res. I had to firmly turn down Leroy’s offer to continue staying with her until the lease for the year was up. I had nowhere to stay once my welcome on the couches of various friends expired. I had very little money to spend. I couldn’t live with my mother and study; she lived too far away from campus and I wouldn’t have the fare to commute daily. I also suddenly felt very self conscious about being with other women. When I was Leroy’s girlfriend I never doubted that I was desirable. She was always hot for me and always showed that she was attracted to me. Without her I felt I wasn’t quite all that. I suddenly saw myself outside of the rose-tinted lens she had always looked at me through. I was selfish. I drank too much. I was vindictive and petty. I could be terribly spiteful.
In that dimly lit res room, it was difficult for me to find any parts of myself I still liked. I also felt, somewhere in the darker recesses of my mind, that there must have been something fundamentally fucked up about me for something as ghastly as this relationship to have happened to me.
“I’m so sorry, Laika,” Leroy’s voice startled me out of my self-pity reverie. The tone of her voice made me pause packing and turn to look at her.
She had stopped crying and she looked lost and scared. She looked as though she had just woken up from a vivid, bad dream.
“I don’t know what came over me. I never meant to make you this unhappy. Good God,” she continued. The bewilderment in her face and voice made me simultaneously sympathetic and pissed off. The things that she had done; cutting herself up to scare me into staying with her, being too kind even when I cheated so that I felt guilty and stayed, hitting me –how could she just write that off as not knowing what came over her.
“You were my best friend, Leroy.” I said. “But everything changed the day you made those stains in Latoya’s kitchen,” I shuddered remembering the pink blotches on those white tiles.
“Oh my God! Latoya. Whatever happened to her?” she continued speaking through her strange little haze. I realized I had to leave soon or my fury would get the best of me. I had no idea why everything about her incensed me in this way but I knew I needed to put as much distance between her and myself as possible.
“Leroy?” I said quietly.
She looked up at me, her eyes clearing of their fogginess.
“Please get help, yeah? Talk to someone. A therapist or something. You’re not okay.” I tried to make my words sound less harsh but my anger wouldn’t allow them to come off any softer.
“I will. I promise,” she said.
I zipped my suitcase up and flipped it onto the floor. One of our friends was waiting for me downstairs. She lived in a res on a different campus. She had said I could stay with her for as long as I needed to.
“I’m leaving now,” I said into the room, not looking at Leroy. I felt tears roll out of my eyes involuntarily. I let them fall. It was over. I was finally free.
“Goodbye, Laika. I love you.” She said to my back.
I opened the door to the flat and pulled my suitcase out. I closed the door behind me and moved towards the elevators without a single look back.
Read the entire series of these stories under #LetItRainSeries, published every Wednesday. For all the articles and pieces on #QueeringTheCloak (our series on abuse and violence in queer women communities) click here.
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