I met Cecil when I was at the lowest point of my life. My boyfriend of three years had walked away without a reason and just when I thought there was no greater pain, I lost my father—my first love and the one who taught me what true love was. For several days, I was crying. At some point, I didn’t know what I was crying about. Was I crying about the loss of my dad or I was crying over the loss of my boyfriend? I didn’t know which was which. I kept crying anyway.

It was at the funeral of my dad that I met Cecil. He walked to the table I was seated, looked into my eyes, and said: “Girl, accept my condolence. I know how it feels because I’ve been through it before—three years ago I lost my mum. But I can promise you this, it gets better along the way so just hold on.” After the funeral, he kept sticking around, holding hands with me and telling me to be stronger. Five months or so later, we were in love and very expressive about it. For once, I felt I’d found someone who understands my pain and connects with me in a way no one has. I remember thanking the spirit of my dad for bringing me a comforter.

Three months later, I caught him cheating on me. From the way I saw things, he was with the girl before he found me. We talked about it. He promised it wouldn’t happen again. I forgave him. What’s love without some troubles? He came into my life when I needed someone the most and he had been the best thing that happened to me. Why would I let him go just because he cheated? We kept the love going.

One year later, we were planning to get married. He helped me renew my rent and whenever I had money issues, he came to my rescue. I remember when I was admitted to the hospital, he stayed with me all night, refusing to go home. When the nurses ordered him to go home, he came to my bed and whispered: “I’m at the outside, just in case you need me. I’m not leaving here without you.” I got discharged three days later, and I sat next to him as he drove me home.

Not too long afterward, we had a misunderstanding. There was a guy he thought I was seeing. Maybe the closeness of the guy made him feel uncomfortable. We talked about it but the guy kept coming. He asked: “What is it about that guy that you can’t let go of?” I said: “Why are you obsessed with someone who’s nothing to me or you think I will cheat as you did with that girl?” He threw his hand and he missed me. He threw again and I swerved. The third time I wasn’t lucky. The blow landed and I lost balance. It was the wall that held me up. I told him: “Cecil, it’s over. You dare lay your hand on me? Never ever come close to me.”

When he realised I was serious about leaving him, he suddenly became sweet, saying all the right things and buying me gifts when I didn’t need one. He apologised each day, telling me how he had regretted it and all the while blaming the devil for making him attack me the way he did.

“Cecil, promise me that would never ever happen again.”

“Dear, trust me, I would never ever lay a finger on you again. I won’t. Trust me.”

“Cecil, if that happens again, I will leave and never look back.”

“If that ever happens again, I will support you to leave me. It won’t happen again. Never.”

I got pregnant for him. It took me three months to notice I was pregnant. The day I told him, he asked me: “Who got you pregnant?” I said, “What sort of silly question is that?” He said: “I’m not ready to have a baby. We are supposed to get married before a baby, not the other way round.” I said: “I’m also not ready to have a child but it’s here and there’s nothing we could do about it.” He said: “It’s either you let it go or you leave me out of it.” I said: “So be it!”

For three months he didn’t talk to me. I tried on different occasions to get him to say something to me but he ignored me. I sent him photos of my tummy, telling him how well his kid was growing. He ignored me. After the scan, I sent him a message, “Cecil, it’s a boy.” He said: “So what do you want me to do?” I stopped bothering him. I was eight months pregnant when he came to see me. He said: “I apologise for being the devil. Forgive me. Our son needs us and we have to stay together and raise him.” I was very weak but I stretched my arms wide and embraced him.

I never saw him again from that day on. He always used work to avoid seeing me. One day he told me he had traveled to Nigeria and he’ll try to be home before I give birth. A week later, I delivered. He never came to see me until the baby was two months. When he finally came, he came with apologies: “I’m sorry about everything. I should have been here long ago I know but forgive me. It’s work. I’ve been traveling. I’ve been made the new area manager and the responsibilities are too huge.” I asked: “You’ve been promoted and I never knew about it? Do I matter at all in your life?” Anyway, there lies your son go and look at him.”

Five months later, and he had never bought even diapers for the baby. Every cost since pregnancy had been borne by me. I decided not to complain. Maybe he was having money issues. Maybe something wasn’t going on well in his life. Just maybe. My job was enough to support us so I asked nothing of him.

He came home with his family to do ‘knocking’. None of my family members knew the struggle I was going through with him so they gleefully accepted his drink and offered him the necessary right over me. I thought the marriage was going to follow up immediately. The baby was a year and a half old but this guy said nothing about marriage. One evening, he came over. I told him: “I’m not forcing you to marry me but I need to know my future with you. If you’re not ready, let me know. Don’t continue wasting my time. You’ve wasted enough already.” He got angry: “You mean being with me is a waste of your time?” I gave you a child, you should be grateful.” I said: “A child you’ve never supported? What kind of man are you?”

He threw his hands and it landed directly on my left eye. For weeks I didn’t see well through my left eye. I said: “That’s it. Leave my house.” He said: “You can’t ask me to leave a place I rented for you.” He ranted on. When he left, I locked the door behind. I sat down and cried for hours. “What do I see in this man that I can’t live my life without?” What does he do for me? Why do I need him so much?” I said to myself, this time it’s over and I mean it. That door I locked behind him became the metaphor of our end. He called. He came around apologising. He said: “Don’t walk away when we are this close to getting married. Think of our son and his future. Our son needs us together and not apart.”

I’ve lived with him long enough to understand his tricks. Anytime I tried to walk away, he used the love I had for the things in our lives to control me. He used marriage. He used the love I had for him. He was going to use the love I had for our child to control my emotions but I knew that trick and I was way over it. I got myself a new place and moved there. I brought my mum from the village to live with me. One day, he went to the place he said he rented for me and met an empty room. He called. I told him: “You can have your place now. I’ve moved.”

Love doesn’t hurt. When love begins to hurt, we ought to call it what it truly is; torture. It’s only when we accept the lie that love should hurt that we build a mechanism to withstand all kinds of abuse from the people who are supposed to love us.

It hurts me so much that I didn’t know this truth earlier so I stayed with someone I shouldn’t have had any business living with. It wasn’t easy walking away but when I finally did, the kind of joy that rushed into my heart is something no word can explain. I’m happy now. I’m more than happy. If you’re in any kind of toxic relationship and you’re scared to leave, let me tell you this, life gets better when you gather the courage to walk away.