Heart and soul heart and soul
Mindless fury takes its toll
Live to please
just play my role
Heart and soul heart and soul
Mindless fury takes its toll
Live to please
just play my role
In a room well-hidden
I stood inside a box
Corners of seclusion
Marked only by his thoughts
Bow down and own your choices
Senses meld to grey
Peace for one more day
This is an ongoing story recounting our first year back in America. There are three parts that can be found on my menu page.
Fight flight or freeze were words we all knew well. There was never a place to seek refuge in Saudi and fighting might have meant dire circumstances and so the mode of coping was usually freeze. Fighting only ensued when the children were involved and a demeanor of reason, reminders of religious principles and finally a stance of locked rebellion meant that the worst would not come to pass. Battles were picked according to priority which meant safety, basic needs and issues regarding personal liberation but I held firm when it came to my children. I was well versed in the operation of pick and chose, making sure that every decision took its place, stacked upon years of training, seasoned with fear.
The first grade teacher’s voice was no longer sweet and calm but had taken a turn towards dry resolve. She remarked that my son was clearly not ready for school and that it would be better if he did not return. Her heels clicked on the patterned floor as she marched the other students to the door to line up. We walked to the brightly painted cubby and collected a single backpack, hoodie and lunch bag. No words were spoken and a sense of defeat hung heavy as we unlatched the wooden gate that lead to the apartment parking lot. My three other children who had attended the first day of school also remained silent and the unremarkable yet familiar feeling of dread lagged shortly behind us.
Fattima stood at the ready stirring homemade sauce that bubbled and spattered, leaving red dots on the yellow tinted 70’s stove. She started to ask how it had gone but stopped when she saw my face and instead plated meals and grabbed backpacks. Mom and Dad’s hand me down lake table was opened and chairs positioned near the slider so that the meal could begin. It was a tight fit but the table brought back cheery thoughts of carefree days spent in the paddle boat, laying on the dock and roasting marshmallows. As each one finished they trudged into the tiny living room and plopped onto the couch.
It was clear that Heme was not going back to school, there was no option given and it was not worth the fight. It was almost a relief to keep him with me as his name had been mentioned and the idea that he should be returned to his father where he belonged. No other child was discussed but a message was clearly sent through a mediator that my youngest child belonged back in Saudi.
I walk the road of no regrets
Dirt scuffed shoes and poplar leaves
Fallen heroes grieve for me
Womankind stacked at my feet
Her voice calls out in unison
I sing in tandem heart bereaved
The chime says no regrets for me
A wasted form of liberty
Can I be me
Am I that free
Answer to no one
Live in the moment
Smile while you’re laughing
Stand running forward
Chair near the wall
Rug in a corner
Walk through a puddle
Not get in trouble
Joy now reflected
Talk at the table
Say words that matter
No mindless clatter
Dust covered shelf
Volumes of life
Marked with a pen
Climb to the top
Stand on the mountain
As we head towards the wedding I thought I would repost this story of Ben and Fattima’s romance!
He continued with his lecture on marriage and travel until tears hung in the creases of her eyelids. No decent man would allow his daughter to travel unaccompanied, not even for educational purposes. Her tiny silhouette stood in the form of a young woman, unfortunately the feisty and willful girl who had roamed the compound streets was no longer visible. Tears slowly dripped down her cheeks and onto wistful lips that had once been playful. She struggled to eat meals and found every excuse to avoid food that seemed distasteful and at times repulsive. As an infant and toddler her weight had been low much like her oldest brother and was eventually chalked up to family genes and the transition from breastfeeding to solid food. But now a slow decline was obviously due to lack of appetite and low caloric intake. Visits to the ER were made when stomach pain and distress could not be controlled at home and this continued well into her twenties. The connection between stress, anxiety and mealtime had not been made while still in a state of frozen survival.
A raise in his voice became evident as he circled back to the topic of marriage,when he handed over his duties to a husband it would be up to him, but until then the answer was still squarely no. She would not be allowed to travel with her grandparents to Paris, it was out of the question. Her older sister had been tricked into taking this trip and there was no going back but he could still shield her from this fate. He finished by reminding her that she was not just any girl and a man of upstanding character, wealth and reputable familial lineage would be the only acceptable suitor. A silent laugh and grin emanated from curved lips as he shook his head back and forth.
One last glance in the mirror produced a perfect figure but one that she was not accustomed to. In recent months bits and pieces, curves and a more voluptuous appearance had emerged leaving her both confused and frustrated. The dress fit nicely around her waist but somehow what had seemed delicate and flattering now stood as questionable. It was costly and she could not imagine spending so much for a garment that would be worn only once. A parade of dresses back and forth from dressing room to pedestal where she stood examining every detail were followed by discussion and finally a phone call to her betrothed. She giggled and smiled through a wisp of golden tinged hair until the conversation came to an end. There was no mistaking his feelings, it was up to her and she should be happy. The perfect ring of her choosing, a new home and now a dream wedding were all in her hands. It was clear that the past had faded and was no match for the sincerity of his blue and flawless eyes.
Foof did get to travel with her sister and grandparents to Paris and then to the United States! A deal of sorts was struck, that they would agree to cover their hair and abide by certain rules and we were able to make it happen. They got to see Paris, stayed at my childhood home in the woods with my parents, played in the snow and went with their brothers to the Oregon coast! They were gone for two months!!
The trickle of soft red wine being poured into a single glass broke an awkward silence that had until that point had been persistent and unrelenting. I positioned myself to his right and leaned against a blue pillow, casually propping my arm against his. Mom sat on the large white couch making herself comfortable before dinner was served. It had been a long day like many others and she needed time to unwind which usually meant a warm soak in the tub, music and the occasional glass of red wine. She was a straight-laced, small town, God-fearing woman who remembered where she came from but years of sophistication could not be hidden. Her questions were broad and friendly but it was apparent that she would be honing in on more important details later.
Inquiries regarding education and career goals were interspersed in a causal way that masked a dogged concern regarding his past. He eagerly pieced together sentences and informed her that he was studying Engineering and had already been a draftsman in Damascus for several years. He was the second of 7 children, and his father owned a store in the business district downtown. He smiled graciously and appeared happy, even enthusiastic in response to each and every query.
What he lacked in mastery of the English language he easily made up for tenfold in a polite and appropriate disposition. No request was too large and he would never utter a complaint but contentedly agreed to help whenever needed. A freshly shaven face coupled with dark eyes, black hair and an attitude of worldly yet humble reservation all added to his charm.
His expertise and know how was offered from that point forward in various areas and overshadowed any flaws that might have been visible in this initial stage. A random sheet was sewn into a couch cover for a new floral sofa on the middle floor, a large wooden food dispenser was hand crafted for Bosco and meticulous details on jobs that needed attention were finished in a timely manner.
A dream had become reality but would ever so slowly evolve and blur into abuse, control and rage.
For the past few months Saleeha (oldest daughter) has been working on the book. She has organized, suggested and reviewed. I worked last year until I needed a big break but now that school is almost starting I will put my efforts back into finishing the book and first publishing a poetry book. I am new to all of this but feel that it is time! It is something that I have to do or need to do or just a part of the process of recovery but whatever it is, this is the time. Thank you for being there on this journey. Your love and support mean everything!
Jeans were seen as inappropriate and bad for the bones and female form. Silence gripped the room as he looked up and down rubbing hands across his face and then head, ultimately finding their resting place in his lap. The usual commentary repeated itself and unbeknownst to my scrambled brain, it made little difference what logic I attempted to pursue; she was young and did not have a womanly body, we lived on a western compound where all young girls were allowed to wear jeans and lastly there was no way to return these items. I finished my plea with a reminder that his children were modest beyond the norm and had never engaged in activities that would reflect poorly on him. A roundabout discussion as to why my parents would bring such offensible items into our home and the improbable threat that he would actually speak with them, ended in tears. It was necessary to place myself on the side of caution and therefore I stood firmly with him. I knew there were only two options, we were either with him or against him. The jeans were rumpled into a ball and placed well away from view, hidden in a vast and endless cavern that contained forbidden actions, thoughts and words.
Her frail figure approached the table and placed the plastic sack down on a chair just beside me, tucking it under miscellaneous jackets, bags and items that were stacked in a pile. Her eyes shifted nervously at first forward and then a slight tilt of her head dared to look behind her. He was nowhere in sight that was the obvious and unspoken conclusion. The younger children voiced their irritation at this seemingly wasted trip to Faisaliah (one of the first malls in Riyadh). Clatter of shoes rubbing against the table jangled our nerves as Heme squirmed and rolled between the table, floor and chairs. The pants were eventually taken from the sack and handed over to my lap where I surveyed their color, length and ability to conceal her tiny figure.
Plain light blue, loose fitting and ordinary, they appeared to be the best that we could find and the only suitable option in this upscale, trendy mall. They looked to be perfect, a replacement for the shiny, fashionable jeans and shirt that Grama had recently brought from America. Grama and Grampa supplied all clothing and as far as she knew that is where necessities came from. A play station, toys, shoes, towels, mixers and of course clothing had become my parents “gift” to the children as well as to him. Dress pants, ties and shirts were purchased and put together into suitable and professional sets and then brought as yearly gifts in boxes that either preceded their visit or came along with them. This was undeniably the most helpful lifeline that we were blessed with but also came to be a sharp double edged sword, both welcomed and dreaded.
Little ones jumped to attention and sat upright, the girls fixed loose hairs and smoothed their abayas and I knew that this was it. He smiled and sat directly opposite my chair and I reciprocated with a grin and nervous laugh. Heme pestered and whined asking for ice cream, cheesecake and fries. I shushed him and placed him on my lap informing Baba (their father) that we had found the perfect pair of pants, a replacement for the distasteful and repulsive ones that had been the topic of discussion just days before. He waited patiently as I took them out and did my best to make them look mundane, unflattering and non-threatening. An exasperated sigh wisped between clenched teeth and parted lips, his eyes rolled back and forward and his hands rested in their place on his lap.
This is a series regarding the time period when I met him. I hope to shed light on how it all began. The first 6 installments can be found here:
Spokane Was. 1982
A single pine cone dropped from a tree that lined the well manicured dirt road. Pine needles and other natural debris were constantly raked and hauled away leaving a pristine entry way to the house that stood on the hill. It was the last of five homes that marked this mile long road and mom insisted that it be picture perfect.
I slowly made my way between two towering pine which had become the parking area for extra cars. The smell of popcorn, hot dogs and concessions permeated my hair and clothing making it necessary to quickly make my way in through the car port door and hopefully straight to the shower. I gingerly opened the door and walked just two feet when I was greeted by his smiling face. He approached me cautiously and placed a single kiss above my forehead.
The noise of Dad’s recliner clanking shut reminded me that he was still home and most likely taking a break between projects. He taught high school English and was the department head but for now it was summer and time was spent checking off jobs that mom had listed on a piece of lined paper. Within minutes Dad walked past and reminded him that they would need to start early morning and might possibly need more supplies. He nodded his head and grinned eagerly, piecing sentences together that tasked his rudimentary English skills.
This is an ongoing series explaining how things all began. Links for the first five installments can be found here:
Spokane Wa. 1982
His hands had brushed wet hair away from sleepy eyes and a kiss landed on my cheek and lips. He was reserved, even unassuming but somehow acted as if he belonged just where he was. I watched him walk with Dad to the pickup and found myself in a haze of emotions, unsure of what to think or feel.
Ice bags teetered on my shoulder until I delivered each one to the counter where they were scooped into a container. Orange butter was dropped into a machine followed by popcorn and seasonings. Condiments were refilled along with hot dogs and lunch meat. The morning routine never changed and soon the doors for Bingo would be opened.
Denise raised a neatly manicured eyebrow and stared through steamy glasses after filling paper bags with freshly seasoned cheese corn. An ongoing play by-play was expected and given to my middle-aged co-worker who delighted in these youthful exploits. Her full attention was focused on the morning’s events and the idea that the man from just a week before was now staying at my family’s home.
Each hour was marked by the large clock that hung opposite our counter and the continuous round of games that cycled on the hour; diagonal, X, Letter T and postage stamp until they announced the blackout. “BINGO” and finally it was done, we packed up supplies, washed counters and Denise motioned for me to leave. Her smile melted into a quizzical and almost cautionary look as I waved and made my way out the back.
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Author: The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. Alum: Palomar College, Columbia University, Bennington College. Follow on twitter @SmpageSteve on Instagram @smpagemoria on Facebook @steven.page.1481
Vicki Reinke: Mom, Grandma, Farmer, Author
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