Weeks passed and the girls started to enjoy their school routine, hopping aboard the big white bus each morning as they made their way out of the compound gates. The boys continued attending Arabic school, but it was clear we would be facing the same issues that we had encountered the first year. I made carrot cakes, tortes and meringues for ladies on the compound and still provided the “sheik” with dessert trays each week. He became frustrated with his new position, receiving a lower salary and less benefits than his counterparts because of his local hire status. Mom and Dad announced a tentative visit during winter break and this news kept the whole household in a state of elation for the coming weeks. Life on the compound was truly diverse, full of expats from numerous countries. Ladies in brightly colored scarves and floral skirts power walked the loop, laughing and giggling, while others wearing sports bras and yoga pants jogged up ahead. The compound sponsored a Halloween Haunted house and plans for the Christmas party and a Ramadan dinner were all under way. Life on the compound started to become routine and a tight knit community was taking shape.
He worked at the front of the compound in the telecommunications office but his enthusiasm for the new job and manager faded as quickly as it had started. We had come back to Riyadh after only 10 months in Al-Khobar, moving away from the Western school and comfort of a modern city. But now the same old complaints cropped up, this position was not up to his standards and others were making more money. The salary, respect and benefits he received were not a true reflection of his abilities. A familiar feeling once again gripped me and reminded me that this carefree life was not to be taken for granted. I smiled nervously not knowing what to say but realizing I could not remain silent. My usual response involved agreeing with his complaints and addressing the unfair treatment he seemed to face in each and every work setting. Any words spoken that were contrary to his opinion were seen as insubordination and were treated as such. It had been ten long years of shifting from job to job and now we started shifting locations as well. His first real job with an engineering firm in Seattle had looked promising until the mounting pressure became too much. We were a young couple with 2 small children starting a life and making plans. That day, a day like any other was a turning point in my life, although it didn’t seem important at the time. Lines were vacuumed in the blue carpet, dishes washed and neatly put away, the fragrant aroma of cinnamon and garlic wafted through the air. A toddler ran to greet baba at the door, tiny arms outstretched, an infant tucked away on mother’s lap. A scene of peace and tranquility and family at it’s best, a day like any other. He walked to the sink and spotted two bottles of dish soap. His sharp tone indicated he was stressed, ” Why are there two soaps, why”? I looked at him confused and responded in a nonchalant manner, “hmm don’t know” I was busy juggling the babies, tired from lack of sleep and hours of work. He turned and looked at me as if he were someone else, red faced, a large vein protruding from his forehead. He stuttered and stammered as he would for years to come, raising his voice only slightly and then louder with each breath he took. What came next was the first episode that would lead to years of silent humiliation and frustration, words never spoken and total confusion. An insidious wave that continued to take away and destroy as it came crashing forth and then receding, a never ending cycle. It was a slow progression that I chalked up to the various things one faces in this life, stress at work being at the top of the list. He slammed the empty bottle and turned abruptly, fists were pounded on the counter as he paced back and forth, dish soap fell into the sink and trickles were left dripping down to the floor. Words were spoken at first loudly and then loud enough to bring the house down, a look in his eyes, beautiful, soft brown eyes where I had once found comfort and abiding love, now were sinister and cold. My babies cried and fussed and held onto me tightly. My mind was reeling and full of chaos, not yet comprehending. I sat motionless, tears dripping down my face like the sticky soap that now lay on the floor. He stomped past me, waving his arms and speaking about my insolence and disrespect. He asked rhetorical questions about my blatant wastefulness, the lack of organization and messy home I tended to, no answers would suffice. He raged for mere minutes and then a calm came over him and he sat down to eat his dinner. It was a whirlwind of emotions and numb disbelief, five years spent living in harmony, a secret and forbidden love. I spoke with him later of this event and he pointed to his stressful job and lack of respect from an ungrateful wife. I encouraged him to be happy, to find a job that would bring his stress level down. In the years that followed I vowed to be the best wife and mother and never allow this behavior to surface again, not realizing that my actions were of little consequence.