By Tobore Ovuorie (Award Winning Investigative Journalist)
*September 2016* – The first movie I saw with Ivara was Game of Thrones. I don’t recall the season. But I remember that everything started to go pear-shaped for me, when the head of one of the characters was chopped off with a sword. I began to hyperventilate and my arms stiffened, even as images from November 2013 flashed across my mind in quick succession. My mouth tasted sour and I had the urge to throw up. My head felt light under a splitting headache that had come from nowhere.
Fortunately, I was lying down on the bed, when it happened. Otherwise, how would Ivara have managed? How would he have explained it to neighbours; that I collapsed because of a movie? “Big man disease,” they would have said, like Seun – my former house-help – told my co-tenant some months ago, when she saw me weeping, because I had stumbled upon a bloody scene in a movie.
That kind of thing just baffled many people. “Pull yourself together and move on.” “You can’t just be breaking down anyhow, just because you’ve seen violence” “All movies have at least one violent scene, so toughen up! Do you want us to walk on eggshells around you?” “If you continue with this anxiety or is it panic attacks of yours, no one will watch a movie with you”
And they were as caustic as they were prophetic, because until Friday August 5, 2016, Ivara was the only one who tried watching a movie with me. Nobody else could handle it, because they knew I would just breakdown whenever I saw violence on-screen. It used to be fun watching movies with me. Not anymore. Now, it’s just embarrassing.
Ivara doesn’t watch any film on TV because of me. He places his laptop at an angle away from me and keeps movie window minimised, but quickly pauses whenever I stand behind him. It was in an attempt to prevent me from feeling rejected, that he shopped for a movie we could both watch. Obviously, I’m the first girlfriend Ivara went movie-shopping for.
“I didn’t know it has violence. I asked before buying it and they told me that there was none”. He held me tight, with my head on his chest. I could feel his heartbeat, as I cried silently. There was an image of a lady being attacked by fishes in a big aquarium, with blood gushing everywhere – and it left me in so much confusion. Then, someone started beating drums in my head again.
“Will I ever be OK?” I wondered. “Will I ever get back to being normal?” Ivara held me even closer. “You will be fine. You have come a long way in recovery and you are doing tremendously well,” he replied, as his left hand stroked my back kindly. “Will you also stop watching movies with me? Will you also get tired of me?” I asked, my vulnerability on full display. But he held me, and planted kisses on my head. “You don’t have to watch movies. You have more control with books. If you ever encounter violence, skip two pages and continue reading”.
Ivara. I call him “my breeze”; he sails my boat. Ours isn’t the typical romance story. We became friends, while I was already struggling with depression and instructed to abstain from romantic relationships. He knows a lot of the shit I have been through, including the rape, suicide attempts, and my current messed-up health. But he’s remained. Not out of pity, though. I can tell he loves me. Neither of us is sure when we actually started dating. Our friendship just progressed to the point where he said, “Let’s choose a random date as our anniversary.” We joke each time our no-start-off date pops up.
I don’t know why I love Ivara. But he’s such a rarity for a Nigerian man. “All I want is see you succeed while I cheer you on from the crowd as your number one fan” he tells me almost on a daily basis, especially when I am very depressed. I know he means it.
We don’t have the typical Nigerian relationship … where the most important and common points of conversation between lovers, are “Have you eaten?” and “Where are you?” We discuss our plans for the day, and even months ahead. We do daily and monthly reviews. We spend our time dreaming big, planning and actualising the dreams we have scribbled down. My first radio interview on Nigeria Info Abuja was courtesy of Ivara. He also orchestrated the follow-up one with Wazobia FM Abuja. This was despite the fact that we were officially quarrelling on that day; I even threw a mini-tantrum on the phone. But Ivara ignored that, contacted his presenter friend, then sent me his phone number.
I was so angry with him, that I didn’t want to call his presenter friend. I managed to send text messages, though. Ivara insisted we went to the studio to meet with the presenter, the day before my live radio interview. In keeping with his promise to cheer me from the sidelines, Ivara didn’t even feature in any of the photos from my radio interview sessions. He is my number one fan and breeze. No sooner am I done with a major move, than he brings out a pen and paper to have me scribble the next plans. He pushes me; I’m one of a hell of a procrastinator. Yet, he has so far refused to take credit for the new me. But I would be a liar if I said he has had nothing to do with it.
“Tobore, you have to go complete your PhD program”, has been one of his latest anthems. He doesn’t have a Masters degree and wasn’t interested, until recently when uncle Abah through whom I met him, advised that he listen to me. “At least, do an MBA like she said. You will need it at some point,” he urged him.
He has finally agreed to return to school, on one condition. “I will apply for my MBA when you’ve started your PhD programme. The earlier you do, the better. Don’t know if you can cope in school with pregnancy, so would rather you graduate before we start making babies”. I was actually speechless, when he said that.
I’ve known rejection and stigmatisation since my recovery journey began. Yet, Ivara has stayed and remained true. Even my doctors are shocked because we’re proving the psychiatry rule of “no dating in recovery until after three years” wrong. All breaths are on hold, but also praying that a broken heart doesn’t send me back to a bed.
The psychiatry rule danced down the isle. We died. Too soon.
*This short story is copyrighted and is one of the shortlisted pieces for a literary competition/award to be announced first week in January 2021. Please, DO NOT use without the author’s permission.*