I MARRY IN AMERICA – AND THE ABUSE BEGINS …
At the beginning of 2001, things were not looking sanguine for me in South Africa. I was sacked from Cape Talk Radio. I was held up at gunpoint outside my apartment in Victoria Road, Clifton. Mario Oriani-Ambrosini*, who had insisted that I come back to South Africa from the UK to work with him and Prince Buthelezi, now insisted that I leave the country. He bought me a business class ticket and sent me to Washington DC. I felt I had no choice in the matter. I was allegedly on a hit-list (again with the hit-list!) …
Pieter-Dirk Uys once described me as a Statue of Liberty standing in the vast bay of South African journalism. He then went on to say (as I recall) that I defeated all would-be assailants with kryptonite. Or wit. I can’t remember which. All of which is just to make it clear that if anyone had me down for becoming an abused woman I would have gazed at them pityingly.
That’s what happens to other people. That’s NOCH – Not Our Class Honey.
The story of my mésalliance with an American should serve as a salutary tale. Life has a way of sending you the lessons you need to learn on your soul’s journey.
I was desperately alone in Washington DC. I had arrived in the country with all my belongings in a tin trunk and tiny Pomeranian in a pet-traveller.
I went to every museum and practically became an habitué at the Smithsonian and the Pentagon. Tinytot Miss Tiggywinkle (aka Tiggy, my Pom) and I walked around Arlington Cemetery until I felt I knew every grave. I sat for hours and looked at the Iwo Jima Memorial. I walked to the Jefferson Memorial with Tiggy every day.
I was so starved of human company that I went to the convenience shop in the basement of my apartment block (Larry King was a neighbour) to talk to the shopkeepers. But that was a failure. They were Asian and could barely speak English.
Some time at the end of March, I got a call from a chap I had had as a guest on Cape Talk radio, one Doctor Fred Bell. Fred suggested that I call his friend, Dr Peter Kulish, who was looking for someone to handle his company’s PR.
So began our telephonic relationship.
Peter Kulish had a charming manner and was compassionate about my plight. He told me that his real vocation was a healer, although his industrial magnets were hugely successful internationally.
Peter sent me a copy of his book about the art of healing with bio-magnets. He told me that I should wear a magnet close to my heart every day in order to keep my organs operating at optimum level. He didn’t even say that I should wear the magnets on my bra – he said I should attach them to my undergarment. I noted his formality and it pleased me.
When I read the introduction to the book I was almost moved to tears. Peter described how he had diagnosed his daughter as having Elephantiasis and claimed to have cured her by using his magnetic therapy.
We would speak for hours on the phone.
He understood about things like the Divine Matrix, about HAARP, about spirit animals …
Why, he used to carry a lop-eared rabbit around with him!
Life was suddenly bearable. Even the pot-holes in the road stopped annoying me. Instead of being sinister because it was laid out by the Freemasons, Washington DC became a glamorous stage-set accessorized with black patent leather limousines.
Within weeks Peter suggested that I come to New Hope, Pennsylvania to work for him. He needed someone to re-design the look of the company and given my qualifications, (I have Fine Arts degrees) and my journalistic experience, he said, I would be perfect. He seemed impressed with the kind of people I knew and suggested that we could utilize them in future business ventures. When I told him that I once got a fax from Prince Charles’ equerry at Buckingham Palace, it seemed to knock his socks off.
Meanwhile Mario, he of the double-barrelled name who sent me to America in the first place, had little time for me.
“You-a get-a off-a your skeeny aas-a. Finda something to do. There is nothing. I repeat – nothing in Soud Africa for you,” he told me. Mario always lapsed into Henry Kissinger-speag (sic) when he was angry with me, which, come to think of it, was most of the time.
I spoke to my friend Katiemou in Greece.
“Hell, you’re lucky someone is interested in you!” she said. ‘Go, GO! You’ve got nothing more left to lose.”
It is said that a large part of our time is spent remembering the past. Except what we remember is more often than not images fabricated by our internal dialogue about what has happened to us. We don’t remember the facts. Rather, we remember interpretations of the facts. Usually we are too involved in repeating to ourselves a mythical history that our ego has developed to justify its existence.
I spent hours walking around Washington DC thinking about my life, about the London libel court-case I had lost, about my apartment being bombed. I replayed each mental video until I realized I was myself a little crazy.
I prayed. I meditated. I read my Bible. Especially the Psalms. They always comfort me.
And I decided to embrace the unknown. I accepted Peter Kulish’s offer to send me the money for the train ticket.
He was waiting for me at the Trenton train station: a small, tubby man with spectacles the size of a small car’s windscreens.
On the front seat was a gift for me: a carton of Camel cigarettes. At that time I smoked. I was grateful for the cancer sticks. It had been a long time since anyone had given me a gift of any kind. Many, many years since the diamonds, the flowers and the champagne.
We drove through bucolic Pennsylvania to his rustic home in his old white Cadillac which he called “the angel car” because of the winged figure on the hood.
The modest, ranch-style house was situated at the end of a long driveway. Peter carried my red suitcase inside. I followed him, almost dumbstruck by the untidiness and the countless tsatskas from the Hammacher Shlemmer (mail order) catalogues.
I was also taken aback by the poster-sized photographs of his daughter which adorned every wall, shrine-like. Peter told me that his seven-year-old daughter and he were “very tight”.
Then he showed me to where I would be sleeping. “I’m warning you. It’s rustic!” he said playfully. He wasn’t kidding.
It was a wooden shed a couple of hundred yards from the house. There was a futon on the floor, no bathroom or running water.
The guest bedroom in the main house was taken up with the daughter’s toy hoard.
Really, Lord. REALLY? You knit me in my mother’s womb, You knew me before I was born … now this?
Tiggy and I presented ourselves at the main house at 8.30 the next morning. I was wearing an Armani suit.
His daughter was sullenly sitting in the front seat of the Cadillac. I got in the back seat. After she was dropped off at school, Peter invited me to sit in the front seat. There was something bizarre about this but I merely assumed that all American children are free-range.
I got on with the staff and became instantly indispensable to Peter. Or so it seemed.
When Fred called to see how things were going and to ask me to come to Laguna Beach, Peter gushed: “Jani is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this company. She’s not going anywhere.”
However, within a week one of my co-workers, a bloke who had been a friend of Peter’s since they were teenagers, took me aside. He told me Peter had a history of violent relationships. There was more. Much more.
Peter had also had “difficulties” with the law. And the friend mentioned Peter’s preference for mail-order Asian women (until then, I was completely unaware that his previous wife was one such.)
When one goes to another country – in my case the third country – one loses frameworks of reference.
Had I been in Johannesburg, Cape Town – or even London – my ear would have been attuned to the signals. But in America I had no idea whom I was dealing with.
Could this really be the caring, middle-aged, grey-haired doctor that I was working for? Was the friend just trying to sow seeds of mistrust? Was he jealous of Peter? Why was he telling me these things?
I pushed what the bloke had said to the back of my mind. Or tried to. But the words sank into me and I lived with them inside me, eating at me slowly and gloomily.
I felt I had run out of options. What was I to do, where was I to go? I had been sacked by Cape Talk, held up at gunpoint in Clifton …
As Mario had said, “Theesa ees your lasta chansa to re-invent youra lie-fa.”
Peter and I didn’t do anything except work. Occasionally we went to his aged parents for supper.
I didn’t dare mention what John had told me. Instinctively I knew that it would cause huge problems. So I lived with the secrets.
I was enjoying being useful to the company. Every suggestion I made to improve the company’s image, was met with enthusiasm and approval. We worked sixteen-hour days re-designing sell-sheets, websites and liaising with press.
Each day was a lithograph, a copy of the one before. Shed, work, shed, work …
I remember clearly, however, on the first occasion that Peter made physical advances on me. When I refused him, he hurled a lamp across the sitting room.
I chose to interpret this violence as proof of how much he wanted to be with me.
As we worked together, eventually we became more involved. It was not a passionate situation, rather two middle-aged people, having come together to work “for the benefit of mankind”, as Peter modestly described his business.
In July I became very ill. Although not a qualified doctor, Peter diagnosed my condition as Lyme Disease. It is a disease carried by deer ticks and since there are herds of deer in Pennsylvania, the disease is fairly prevalent.
Peter transferred me to the couch in the sitting room, where he proceeded to administer Vitamin C by IV.
With a cigarette clamped between his teeth, he would curse and mutter, unable to find a vein – this despite the fact that I have veins like windswept branches.
At one point he made a telephone call to his friend Tom – a real doctor – who instructed him.
For days I was semi-delirious from what was supposedly Lyme Disease.
In retrospect, who knows what it was – Peter refused to take me to a qualified doctor.
One morning in July – some five months after I arrived in the States, he suggested we go to Maryland to get married.
I suppose I was grateful that he had nursed me and I suppose I had no other options.
I was in a foreign country with no support system. I was entirely at his mercy. I had no money or job. What was I to do?
We got married. I wore a faux tiara belonging to his daughter and jeans. Not the kind of Pamela Anderson “look-at-me-I’m-fabulous” jeans. These were sad, defeated jeans.
There was no-one at the ceremony. I felt as though I was in a dream. I struggled to keep the trembling parcel that was my face together with a tight smile.
For the wedding “feast” we went to Macdonalds. Peter assured me that it was inverted chic.
How was I to know that it wasn’t?
(I remember dining with Mandy Rice-Davies at a smart London restaurant where there was a piano-player in a tuxedo – and bangers and mash on the menu.)
In the early days of the marriage, I noticed that Peter was very short-fused, especially with those to whom he owed money. (There were many.)
But he was always courteous with me.
He seemed to be even in awe of me and astonished, or so seemed, by my professionalism, my past achievements.
Peter loved to boast about me. But not quite as much as he loved to boast about himself.
He never stopped telling me how he was feted by royalty and was an international healer. (Again with the healer story!)
Peter claimed to be the sponsor of the Tesla Society and spoke of how he was received as a pop idol in India, Thailand, the Philippines – all the usual sex-tourist destinations.
He had promised me a salary of $125 000 a year. It soon became $500 a month. After we married, it ceased completely.
Trapped in his car, I was a captive audience. I was told unceasingly about his personal brilliance, of all the famous people he knew, of how he had “turned everyone on to acid”, how he had spent time in solitary confinement “speaking the truth”, of how so-and-so had stolen his technology, his film script …
His stories began to sound far-fetched – even for an American.
He insisted on going for long, hellish rides on his Harley Davidson with me on the back. After a couple of narrow escapes I became reluctant to go. He became angry.
One of his business partners was a chap called Baba, whom, Peter said, was a leader of the Sikh nation. Baba averred that Peter’s daughter was the incarnation of the Indian goddess Kali. Peter, of course, was the incarnation of St Peter.
Peter was so flattered by this piece of spurious nonsense that he immediately sent a large donation to Mumbai. When I suggested that Baba was playing him like a Stradivarius, his rage became frightening. He shouted and screamed at me and ended up throwing my little Pom across the room and grabbed me by the throat.
Ah. The throat. Why do so many violent men want to crush the throat? Is it because they want to smash the chakra of speech? Is it because they want to snap the tender Modigliani vulnerability that reminds them of a past palimpsest of gentle kisses?
The police came. They examined the marks on my neck.
They were to become regular visitors.
I had no friends in America. Peter had no friends. No-one came to the house. I became increasingly more isolated. To say I had no independence would be an understatement. I was a virtual prisoner. Fear, someone once said, is pain arriving from the anticipation of evil. In truth, I lived in fear.
On the occasions that I needed to see a doctor, he would make the call and sit in the doctor’s room with me.
When I wrote to friends overseas, he got into my emails and took it upon himself (without my knowledge) to respond in vicious ways. He presented himself as the sane person. I was mad and delusional.
As the weeks became months, Peter’s initial infatuation with me was spent.
His rages were frightening. He would kick doors, overturn coffee-tables, smash laptop computers and throw things whenever anything displeased him.
The things that displeased him most were imaginary slights to his ego. His narcissism was such that he demanded utter obedience. If I showed any reluctance to be intimate with him, he would rip the duvet off the bed, overturn the night-stand and stomp out of the room, cursing me.
I was not allowed to spend any time alone. He would go into a rage if spent time on the computer. I had to sit beside him and watch whatever he wanted to watch on TV.
When one of the women in the office suggested that I have coffee with the other girls, Peter refused to let me go. He said I had no understanding of the American class system and that is was entirely inappropriate for me to become familiar with the office staff.
To this end, he would police the hallway outside my office to check who was coming in to see me. When the art director came in to talk with me, Peter would leave the intercom on and eavesdrop on our conversations.
Whereas in the beginning I could do no wrong, now it seemed that I could do no right. Peter argued about everything. He even forbad me from wearing certain colors. Indeed, his anger rose from him like a molten corona.
His business suffered badly as a result of his pomposity and narcissism.
More and more I realized that his biography and his boasting didn’t match, and as his business deteriorated, so did our mésalliance – our misalliance.
That winter I slept in the shed with my tiny Pom. It was so cold that her water bowl was frozen in the morning.
The house was sold and we had to move. Perhaps the stress of moving contributed to his agitato state. When, in November 2002, my friend Georgia and her husband came to visit me from SA, Peter went ballistic. The visit had been planned months in advance, but he was unable to contain his rage. He hated having “intruders” in his home. He accused me of being a lesbian. Georgia, he said, was ruining our marriage. He pushed her so hard she nearly fell down.
One morning he flung open the door of the guest bedroom and swore at Georgia and Louie, them telling them to get out. He threw their suitcases down the stairs.
They were fearful – for themselves – and for me.
When my friend sent me a book about being abused – I never thought I was abused, I always thought it was my fault – Peter tore it up.
I became so depressed that I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. This made Peter curiously cheerful.
The more my “learned disability” increased, the more empowered he felt. My crying went on for weeks until he irritably took me to a counselor.
Dr Paletz saw my condition and warned me: “You are going to slide over the edge and no-one will be able to pull you back.”
I became too frightened of Peter to have any feelings for him. I was nervous as cellophane all the time. At times I would lose my voice from sheer terror.
When I saw him crouched down, in a rage, his eyes popping, it seemed as though he was taken over by some demonic force.
I took to sleeping on the far side of the house and propping a heavy steel ladder against the door so that he wouldn’t smash it in when I was sleeping. He refused to give me money for food. I felt that he wanted me dead. I was utterly alone with a deranged man in an isolated old mill in rural Pennsylvania.
Since no-one even knew I was there, he was not answerable to anyone for what he did to me.
The violence became so bad that I was eventually admitted to the local hospital. After extensive tests – blood work, CAT scans and psychiatric examinations, the doctors told me that I was physically manifesting all the signs of a traumatized, abused wife.
When I started seeing the Domestic Violence counselor at the Women’s Shelter , my tears ran like rain on bony land. And I cried with relief that I was not to blame for everything in the marriage.
The hell of an abused woman can never be written about enough.
I write so that you don’t feel alone.
I too, have experienced the shame, the embarrassment, the not knowing where to go or where to put yourself. Many, many nights I would walk to the local cemetery. There, among the graves of the Celtic mill-workers, for a few hours I would be unharmed.
I didn’t know where else to go.
A chance meeting with a woman who lived nearby provided the life-line I needed.
Countless women are mired in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go, no-one to turn to. Some stay for the sake of the children and some even stay for the sake of the family pets.
On one of my walks to the cemetery, an elderly lady stopped her car alongside me to admire my little pup. We struck up a conversation and I took to visiting her. It turned out that she lived no too far from where I lived.
She opened her heart and her small home to me.
In the middle of the night on May 14, Peter was raging around so much (I have since learned that it is called “ambient abuse”), that I feared for my life.
I snuck out of the house with my tiny Pomeranian Tiggy and walked to the old lady’s little home at four in the morning. My heart was beating in my throat as I escaped onto the hilly, graveled road of aloneness.
For the next six months I slept on a couch in her living room.
* Mario, Summa cum Laude graduate of Georgetown University, Italian-born American, was, in his professional capacity, Buthelezi’s advisor. In his personal capacity, he was my advisor.
Jani Confidential is published by Jacana (2016).