Mulemvo Nianda

Today’s #SurvivorSunday feature comes by way of a voice not often heard; the voice of a male survivor. Here, Mulemovo Nianda, shares a painfully honest story of a toxic relationship, regretful decisions, consequences and lessons learned. We thank him for sharing his truth and ask that you take a moment to follow a survivor’s story, in his words, from a different perspective:

Mulemvo’s Story:

I would like to say that as a strong Black man, it’s very difficult for us to be vulnerable, especially with abuse of any kind, so often times domestic violence is viewed from one perspective, mainly because of the stigma of being weak. But until more male survivors speak out on their experiences with domestic violence or other abuses, the narrative and laws surrounding domestic violence will remain the same.

My journey began in October 2007 when I met my then girlfriend Samantha (name changed for privacy reasons.) In her defense, she did explain to me early on the troubles of her upbringing. From being molested by her cousin when she was young, to the juvenile hall visits and raging temper tantrums, she developed a tough exterior to accompany her miniature stature. Violence and anger had been a normal part of her life and way of thinking. I tend to overlook the negative and accentuate the positives of anyone I come across, so the missteps of Samantha’s life didn’t bother me upon our initial encounters.
The first major red flag came very early in knowing her on a Thanksgiving Day that same year. Samantha got into a physical altercation with her younger sister in which we had to go to the hospital for her to receive stitches in her hand. I remember her saying, “Please don’t judge me… I know we just met.” And I never did; at least not openly. Subconsciously, I slowly began to part myself from her without thinking about how it would make her feel.
A few weeks later she found out I had been actively seeking other people and I believe this is what initiated the verbally abusive outbursts. It started with her yelling, demanding that I hit her and encroaching on my personal space. Being a U.S. Marine at that time, using my hands to do bodily damage was almost second nature. But, I knew the repercussions and I refrained from doing so, doing my best to just avoid those type of altercations with her. Over time, her anger and lack of respect grew worse and I realized no matter what I did to de-escalate situations her aggression stayed the same.
After knowing her for a few months and despite our best interests, circumstances led to us dating and eventually moving in together. It wasn’t long after that I regretted that decision. Samantha’s yelling turned into pushing, the pushing escalated to slapping and after a few more months of cohabitation, she was comfortable doing both at any time she felt the need. I would restrain her of course, or try to escape the situation, but Samantha would take my car keys, my cell phone, or anything else she could hold onto to make me stay and continue the argument.
One dreadful night she jumped in my face about something she felt I didn’t do for her. Fed up, I grabbed her and threw her on the bed, leaving for the night to sleep in my car. I decided that night that this relationship was destructive for the both of us. The next day, while she was at work, I packed up everything I owned and left the key on the counter. I left feeling relieved that I had dodged a bullet but soon my phone was ringing back to back with calls from Samantha. I eventually picked up to hear her sobbing and apologizing for what happened the night before. As she plead her case I began to feel sorry for her, but still not convinced, I told her I just needed space. A few days later she called to tell me she was pregnant….
Now, to this day I’ve never found out the complete truth. I had never seen a pregnancy test nor was I made aware of any doctor’s visits. I simply took her word for it, not thinking that this could be a manipulative tactic to continue our relationship. This notion didn’t cross my mind until I left out of town and received a phone call a few days later saying she had a miscarriage. As disturbed as I was and as Samantha appeared to be, I was there for her, consoling her during that difficult time, which led to us getting back together again.
The relationship was free of incidents for a long while after the miscarriage. Of course, the violent cycle of verbal and physical abuse became the norm until we eventually got married in August of 2009. Although I knew what I was getting myself into, I felt that marriage could possibly change the dynamics of what we had. I hoped that as we got older our maturity levels would increase to the point where we could at least be civilized around one another. But just 2 days after a week long honeymoon, she slapped me while I was driving, sending my sunglasses flying into a busy street.
One serious altercation after another happened, and I eventually started calling the police just so I could exit the situations safely. One incident in particular I remember Samantha taking my keys and wallet but I felt it best to exit the hostility anyway. I called the police hoping that I could at least grab my uniform for work the next day. When the police arrived, Samantha let me back in the house but she berated me with insults the entire time in front of them. They didn’t say a word to calm her as I grabbed what I needed.  The officers laughed at me as they escorted me to my car, asking me why I couldn’t control my wife.
My brother told me once that an unstable person will do their absolute best to destroy your stability, and during my marriage to Samantha I was completely unstable; to the point where I was comfortable acting out my dissatisfaction with our marriage by using infidelity, which of course fueled her fire.
Our altercations also brought us unnecessary attention from our neighbors. One day I received a call from the landlord saying one of our neighbors witnessed me jumping out of our 2 story window in my uniform. I ended up having to explain my embarrassing marital issues to him hoping that he would understand. It was then that I sought marriage counseling but this didn’t even help because neither of us were completely honest. I was reaching the end of my rope….
Samantha gave birth to my daughter in July of 2010, and 3 months after this we found out Samantha was pregnant again with my son. The military was becoming more demanding as I moved up the ranks. Not to mention my father, whom I had an estranged relationship with, passed away suddenly in South Africa. My spiritual life was in a constant turmoil as one of the deacons in the church, all the while I was juggling women to pacify the fact that my marriage was a cover up. I remember dreading coming home to face my wife and constantly having to ask myself how I ended up in this situation.
I then concocted a plan to get myself out of it. I created a story of myself and a few co-workers being part of a drug ring on the military base. My thought was that if I painted a bad enough picture of myself Samantha would want to leave the marriage completely and I could walk away completely in tact. Of course I was in a state of delusion. The plan wasn’t thoroughly thought out at all, and after a few probing questions by her, my defenses were shattered. With my cover blown, I ended up telling her the truth. The truth was that I was barely staying afloat in a sea of lies and I was tired. The truth was that our marriage was a sham and it’s foundation was based on a false image and personal gain. The truth was that I wasn’t in love with her and I wanted to end our unhealthy and volatile marriage. Upon hearing these things Samantha flew off the handle, which escalated into the moment that would shape the course of my life.
I remember sitting on the couch and hearing her throw the most powerful insults she could muster. How weak I am. How my children will never know me. How I’m a waste of life and breath. I could do nothing but sit there and absorb her painful curses. I was ashamed but didn’t saying a word. This went on for minutes before I decided to call someone so they could hear what was happening and help me escape. As I looked down to locate my phone, I felt the humiliating blow of Samantha’s hand strike the right side of my face. The pain stung worse coupled with the insults she had just spewed in my direction. And with that, I reacted.
I leaped from the couch quickly and with my right hand I struck Samantha in the face with a closed fist twice. Immediately the rush of guilt overwhelmed my being as Samantha ran from me sobbing. With tears in my eyes I got dressed, kissed my daughter, and grabbed a few belongings. Before I could reach my car 2 police officers stopped me and placed me in handcuffs. I was told I was being charged with domestic violence. I remained silent.
I bailed out of jail after a few nights, but even with all that time to think, I had no idea the repercussions that would come after this
tumultuous incident. Being a foreigner to the criminal justice system, I accepted a public defender who quickly informed me after hearing my side of the incident that “… No judge would believe that a pregnant 130 lbs woman would be verbally and physically abusive to a muscle bound Marine.”
He also informed me that if I testify in court that our home was that volatile I could lose my children to the foster care system. I was utterly devastated as he read the charges which included 7 to 10 years in prison for felony battery along with kidnapping, fines, and probation. I was offered a plea deal for 3 years probation and a year of domestic violence classes.
I took this along with the misdemeanor charge.
After pleading guilty in criminal court, I had to face my superiors in the military. After speaking to their legal assistance program, I found out that the domestic violence charge triggered the Lautenberg Amendment, which immediately initiated the process of separating me from the Marine Corps. I appealed, but even after bringing forth character witnesses in a military tribunal, a military board determining that I should not be separated due to my 5 years of exceptional service and having reenlisted months prior, the Commanding Officer (who held the final decision) recommended that I be separated. This, after reading the embellished police report and hearing constant complaints by Samantha who called my command nearly everyday.
Although I was released from probation after 18 months for exceptional behavior, and also had the record expunged in 2014, the issues with Samantha continued well after the incident which led to my legal troubles. I filed for divorce quickly after the incident happened in 2011 but Samantha used the incident as evidence to say I was unfit to be a part of my children’s lives. Needless to say my visitation rights were stripped and I even had to petition the court to be in the room for my son’s birth.
Over the next 4 years, Samantha exhibited more incidents of violent behavior including busting my car windows, slashing tires, and of course more verbal assaults. One incident happened at the courthouse where I used the stairwell to avoid getting on the elevator with her, but she followed me and for 4 floors verbally humiliated me while people were passing by. I did my best to keep my composure and leave her behind but when I went to see my children at their daycare she was there also. As I waited in my car for her to leave, she approached my vehicle with more insults and I began recording. I then tried to hand her proof of the therapy I was requested to give her by court and she spat in my face. I filed a restraining order against her (which was the second one by the way) and upon seeing the video the judge only gave her a verbal warning. I couldn’t fathom what I was witnessing.
After this, Samantha made it quite apparent that I was excluded from my children’s lives. Although I was very active and a public figure in the community, I could not find steady work or an income to support myself or keep up with child support payments. I wound up having to voluntarily sell my belongings and give up my apartment. I lived in my car for nearly 2 months until I was able to save enough money to come back home to Virginia in 2015. It was there that I finally found the peace of mind which no one can take away.
Although I am away from my children, whom I love deeply and think about everyday, I finally found what I needed to restart my life in a positive direction. This journey had to be the most difficult I had ever faced, but it led me to discover the joys of poetry and writing, which I use to channel my innermost thoughts and emotions in a way that benefits myself and blesses those around me. This journey has led me to find the woman of my dreams who respects and loves me for who I am, even though I had previously given up on being seriously committed to another woman. The journey has also led me to meet great people and embark on new experiences that I couldn’t have imagined. I used to feel trapped, unworthy, and dirty, which led to me completely losing myself and acting out of character with infidelity and ultimately physically retaliating against my spouse.
Pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence had a profound and devastating effect on my psyche without my realizing it at that time. Although I learned a great deal by actively participating in the various classes and community men’s groups, I subconsciously accepted the fact that I was a criminal, and that guilt permeated various aspects of my life. The guilty plea erased the emotional injuries that were inflicted upon me and focused my attention on the incident that made me a criminal justice statistic. It wasn’t until constant self reflection and being in the healthy relationship I’m in now that I began to see what effect the abuse actually had on me and that I am capable of being a good man. It just took the right woman. She helped me to realize that I was a survivor of a very manipulative situation. I was just the one who felt the repercussions of the volatile relationship I was in.
With everything I have detailed in this story I will say that I could not describe every incident that took place during that time. I wanted to explain my story thoroughly but also not be redundant. I also want to say that although I am a survivor of all that happened, in no way am I perfectly innocent in the cyclical pattern of damage, and I’ve fully accepted my role in what transpired between myself and Samantha.
I think my story is only unique because it is being written and told, but there are a lot of men who will never speak. There are lot of men who deal with abuse silently for fear of “not being a man.” I believe that no one can take someone’s manhood (or womanhood) unless they willingly relinquish it. The definition of what a man or woman is can only be based on the persons within a culture or society. I’ve personally witnessed in other men and have experienced in my own life that when a man is given a safe place to express himself, his self worth and value to his family and community changes for the better. I’m grateful that this happened for me.
Thank you for listening.
Mulemvo Nianda
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