The following post is a huge piece of the puzzle that makes up my life. I have written and deleted this story many times only to return to it again. I want my story to enlighten people and help others and at the same time not strengthen negative stereotypes about religion or culture. I can honestly say that the numerous people I have met from various cultures and religions through the past 30 years, did not fall into the stereotype at all. They have all been different just as we are all different than our neighbors and friends. Religion was used as a tool to keep me in line so it is not the culprit. All of my friends have been supportive and open minded about my experience and I would ask the same when reading this post. I have hesitated to post this because I don’t want to shed a negative light on any religion or start a debate.
Bringing a new baby home to our family was like bringing the latest trendy pop star, famous actor or the president all rolled into one. The kids piled into the car with their Baba and made their way to the hospital where they crowded around the bed to see mom and baby. Each one wanting to hold, kiss and name her. My oldest was the leader of the kids and always dreamed up new ways to trade the older baby for the new. He loved being “in charge” deciding what the kids would wear and lining them up for photos. When I brought home Foof (4th child) he turned to his brother, 16 months younger than him, and told him how lovely See See (3rd child) was, pinching her cheeks and showing him how she could walk and talk and actually play games, none of which a new born could do! His efforts were very transparent and my second son gave him a glum look and refused the generous offer of being “in charge” of See See while he would help out with the new baby! Bringing this baby home was no different, the children were enamored by the presence of this beautiful new born and the household was upside down for a few weeks.
School continued to be a normal experience for the boys and they started making great strides learning Arabic without the threat of humiliation or corporal punishment over their heads. The little kids spent their days watching baby sleep and playing around the compound home. I continued to do what stay at home mother’s do which included stacks of laundry, dishes and cooking favorite meals from scratch. I still saw Gloria and Guadalupe but not as much, as I struggled to run a household of 8 people and take care of a new born on my own. My oldest son always enlisted the help of the kids but they were young and chores often meant more interesting results that required extra time to clean up! He continued to travel from Riyadh to Al-Khobar on the weekends and the kids continued to love their days with Baba. He sat in the living room telling stories of the large Riyadh compound that would be our home after three short months. He made weekly visits to the site to check progress on our home which was still under construction at that time. The kids sat mesmerized by talk of the two pools and the parks that had just been finished, full gym, indoor basketball court and mini market. Although I was leery of a move back to the conservative capital of Saudi Arabia, there were no other options, so making the best of it was the only choice.
When he came home for weekends he ran errands, visited friends and took the boys to the mosque for prayer. Our household was full of love, laughter and the beautiful chaos that comes with a large family. It was also run according to strict religious principles, no music, no television, no pictures and no rebellion towards him. He was the head of the household and his word was the ultimate law, although he told anyone who would listen, “Lynn is the real boss.” He was so convincing that even I grew to some how believe him and his friends seemed to fear and revere me as the true leader of the family. Satellite t.v. had been allowed for a few months only to be disconnected on a weekend visit. He showed disapproval when he saw us watching a popular children’s program explaining that the women were dressed inappropriately and the theme was unacceptable. Although I tried to keep as many of these little comforts as I could, the end result was usually not worth the trade off. Rules remained in place and I had tilted the balance of our teetering peace all for nothing. He gave his speech about the evils of the world and kissed me on the cheek, his eyes fell on my face investigating and probing to see if any resentment or anger was evident. In these early days I was able to bounce back and remember that this was only a temporary life nothing compared to the hereafter.
The phone fell to the floor and the ringing finally stopped. It had been blaring all day and night for weeks, or so it seemed. My careless foot flailing back and forth in a drunken stupor had finally met with the table, knocking the lamp and phone to the floor. The pressure seemed enormous and drinking was a flimsy excuse to escape the constant calls and lectures. It had been three short months since we drove through the winding fields and into the landscape of a tiny town with a wedding chapel. Only a short while later he announced he would be moving 5 hours away to a college where he would finish his degree. He had trouble with language and rumor had it that this school was more accommodating for non English speakers. So he left and within weeks the pressure mounted. I had kept this secret marriage from my parents, sister and friends, tied to a promise. Now within 3 months he had moved away and found religion. He called to announce his new found beliefs and explained to me the importance of all that he had forgotten and up until then left unpracticed. While I was happy for him, I had grown up in the church, attending service each Sunday, going to bible camp during summer and believing very strongly in what I had been taught. Now I was being asked, at first gently, and then obsessively, to change my belief system. Months later under the constant and relentless talk of trust and love, I acquiesced. I entered the mosque shaky and scared, donning the little colorful house scarf they handed me. The men who kindly greeted me inquired as to my knowledge of the religion and how I had come to this decision. Something in their manners seemed hesitant as they reminded me that this was truly a decision only I could make. I was 21 years old and within two years had met and married this man secretly and now would be taking on a whole new religion. I sat at a plain brown table surrounded by strangers and uttered the words he had taught me to say, thus making a new secret to hide.