By Tashinga Wazara, Zimbabwe:
When the doctor told me that I was HIV positive, I didn't even flinch. I knew exactly who had given me the virus and thinking about it just made me weak. I had been through so much emotionally the past few months and I was just tired. Every day I would put on my best face for my husband and act as if everything was ok but then when he went to work I would go into my room, close the blinds and just cry. I would cry and cry until I had no more tears left and my head began to hurt. I felt so dirty and it was the worst kind of dirt. It was that dirt that only I knew was there, that dirt that I couldn't wash off and knew that I would have to carry for the rest of my life. My husband couldn't see the dirt but every night when he came home and kissed me and told me he loved me and that I was the best thing that had ever happened to him, all I could feel was this dirt and a voice inside my head telling me that I didn't deserve this man. If he knew what I had done, he wouldn't look at me the way he did, as if I was the only woman in the world. He definitely wouldn't kiss me the way he did. In fact I doubt he would even touch me.
Today, in the doctor's office, my worst fears came to life. When Max was told I was HIV positive he looked shell shocked and he started shaking. All colour seemed to have left his face as the news sunk in. I imagine it must have been the last thing he expected to hear when he walked into the hospital. Although I understood how much devastation this news about my HIV status had just caused, part of me felt relieved. Finally, he could see my dirt. Finally, I no longer had to pretend to be the woman that he thought I was. No more fake smiles. No more hiding.
Things only took a different, more complicated twist when the doctor said that Max was also HIV positive. In my naivety I had focused only on myself. I had forgotten that the fact that I was HIV positive meant that my husband was also likely to be HIV positive because I was having unprotected sex with the man. When he was told he was also HIV positive he looked down for a couple of minutes with his head in his hands then he got up suddenly in a fit of rage and slapped me. He slapped me so hard that I fell off my chair and the doctor had to come and restrain him. I was sure he would have killed me if the doctor hadn't been there. I had never seen him so angry. He kept shouting, 'Cynthia, what have you done? What have you done?' It was a valid question, and I owed him an explanation, but I didn't know what to tell him. I didn't know if I should tell him the truth because the truth would send him off the edge.
It had all happened about a year after Max and I had gotten married. I had gone for a ladies meeting at church on a Wednesday evening and when I was in the car park on my way out I bumped into our Senior Pastor and he asked me to come into his office for a few minutes because he needed to talk to me. He had sometimes asked to meet me in his office some evenings and so I didn't find it unusual; and I went. When I got there we spoke for a while about general stuff and then he started asking me how married life was and if I was happy with Max. I told him that I was happy, then suddenly his mood changed and he got up and went and locked his office door.
He then came up behind me and started rubbing my shoulders. I asked him to stop and I got up and started for the door but he grabbed me and threw me onto the couch that was in his office. I tried to scream but it was to no avail. It was about 9pm and everyone had left the church. He then took off his pants and forced himself on me. I tried to fight him off but he was too strong for me and I just froze. As he was raping me he was breathing heavily and he kept whispering, 'Don't worry child, it will all be over soon'. Tears were just flowing down my cheeks and I was sobbing quietly. I couldn't believe what was happening, firstly because it was someone who I had trusted and looked up to for so long as a spiritual father and also because of his connection to my family. He was the man who had officiated our marriage; Max and me. I felt so sick. I just wanted him to get it over and done with and get the hell away from that place. When he finished he quickly put on his clothes and said, 'Stop crying. You can go now. Don't you dare think about going and telling anyone about what just happened because nobody will believe you and you'll just look like a fool'.
I left and when I got home I went upstairs to our bedroom. Max was already asleep. I felt so dirty and I couldn't even bare to sleep in the same bed with my husband after what had happened. It was almost as if I was afraid that he might smell it on me and besides, I just didn't want anyone near me. I wanted to be alone. I got a blanket and went and slept downstairs. I cried all night and I hardly slept because every time I closed my eyes that devastating scene of earlier that night kept replaying itself. When Max walked in to the lounge the next morning, I told him that I had fallen asleep watching TV. I swore to myself that I would never tell him what had happened. He would have been too hurt.
Now as he was standing over me, asking me what I had done, I was tongue-tied. I owed him an explanation yet I didn't know what to say. How was I supposed to say, 'Max a year ago, I was raped by a man. But not just any man, it was a Pastor. But not just any pastor, it was your father'.
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