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My story- liar liar

Al-Khobar 2008

Words that were not allowed in our vocabulary made up a list that changed and shifted and seemed somehow ambiguous. Anything disrespectful or prideful was quickly suppressed and marked as ungodly and even blasphemous.  The usage of “ok” might be seen as objectionable if given in a solemn or what might be construed as flippant manner.  But now these two words rang out in bare rooms and empty walls, signaling hostility and confusion.

He had given me the rewards voucher months before, instructing me to use it on whatever gave me pleasure or was needed. Every so often he would bring the subject into conversation and question me, wondering what had become of the certificate. Each time I would pause and ask him what it was to be used for and he would respond that it was up to me.  It held its position tucked neatly away in the side pocket of a diaper bag until holidays approached and an idea shuffled through my mind.

Gifts had been forbidden in our household until a few years prior when Osama questioned the validity of this unspoken rule and finally convinced him to supply the funds for holiday presents.  It was always a stretch and we knew to pick and choose wisely; practical, inexpensive and exchangeable. A modest sum of money was secured and then doled out to each member of the household. But recently everything had changed and with the older boys away at University things had returned to a veto on the exchange of gifts.

A chuckle came from his mouth but was indistinguishable as levity, anger or mere frustration. Our vehicle swerved between cars recklessly and gained speed only to come to a quick and abrupt pause when necessary. The box in question sat precariously on a lap in the front seat, shuffling from side to side. The mall entrance could be seen in the back window and now a day of shopping, food and frivolity seemed reckless and arrogant. A foolish view of reality and a blip into the real world had marred my judgement and remnants of lunch were taken home instead of dumped prior to exiting the boundaries between home and mall.

In an attempt to pacify his anger I explained that I had used my money from tutoring for a day of holiday gift shopping and purchased pizza with the voucher.  I looked at the box that sat on the kitchen counter and with it came the realization that once again I had failed to understand him. He insisted on seeing the voucher although he knew it had already been used. The usual rules would have been followed and no words of our trip to the mall, food or fun would have been mentioned.  But this time somehow I clicked back into the real world and having been pushed to have fun, I did so.

A firm stance was not a sign of defiance on my part but imperative to keep legs from giving way. He held the drill in one hand securing nails for curtain fasteners, waving it intermittently to emphasize each syllable. YOU ARE A LIAR A THIEF A calm demeanor overtook him when grabbing hooks and drill bits from the children’s hands. When fury timed out he spoke of taking them to dinner, offering numerous choices including favorite American restaurants that were most often seen as unfavorable. He gently pinched cheeks, smiled and inquired as to their choice of eateries. The creaky borrowed ladder shook and waved upon a return to the diatribe that started upon entrance to the villa. His tirade peaked and waned, eventually subsiding after piles of endless fury had been depleted.  Each child looked wary of his words but also knew their role in this ongoing escalation. The project was complete and he insisted on taking at least two children out for dinner.

 

Overshadow

 

2008 Saudi Arabia

A desolate and lonely desert wove its way through tiny towns where necessary stops were made for fuel. Tones of brown and red rolled over dunes that swirled in the mid afternoon heat. Seats were laid down and made into a large bed of blankets, pillows and clothing. Although he made several trips each year the children and I had not been to Damascus for a while and Taita (grandmother) had been asking to see our youngest child, Ibrahim. The used vehicle that had been questionable was now seen as a blessing and nothing more was said.

In the months that lead to this trip our household was eerily wrapped in a temporary calm. Talk of visiting Uncles and cousins gave rise to a cheery and reminiscent atmosphere. He was not allowed to take the company car out of Saudi and so he started looking for a suitable vehicle. When asked about my preferences I had only one request and that was that there would be enough seats to accommodate every person.

With each day his frustration mounted as he viewed numerous vans, cars and SUVs until he found the perfect fit. It was a used passenger van with extra seats and amenities, tinted windows, a television and plush carpeting, but most importantly plenty of seating for our family of nine. He took us to see the van that promised to be the beginning of this last trip to Syria. A guarded excitement found its way into our home as we discussed the comfort and luxury that would ease this long and arduous journey.

The next day his plans changed and he announced that this was a frivolous vehicle that would not be used when we returned. That evening he took us to see the SUV he had chosen and asked for my approval.  I pointed to the lack of seating and when confronted, calmly stood my ground.  He asked one more time if this would be a good purchase and if I would agree, but the same words emanated from my mouth, no. It was hard for him to contain his temper and although I was scared I felt proud of myself for having my own opinion. His thobe (men’s long white robe) swished past me and he stomped towards the car,entering and starting it while the children piled in. Only little D and I remained standing, waiting to take our seats. I plopped her onto a seat and felt the crunch and grind of a tire roll over my foot.  The children let out a gasp and called for baba (father) to STOP; he ignored this and kept driving as I hopped into place.

The car fell silent after doors were shut and a measure of safety was secured. Each child glanced my way and the usual tears welled up but this time they were allowed to drip down my nose and onto ragged lips that had been sealed in desperation. The sting of humiliation was too much and no eye contact was returned, afraid that sobbing would be uncontrollable. My instructions were always clear and meant that the children were to remain calm and never intervene.  Physical pain became insignificant and was overshadowed by the feeling that once again I was somehow an accomplice in this vicious cycle that was brought against me.

 

 

 

The visit-9

This is the last story of my series entitled- The visit-

https://lynzrealcooking.com/the-visit/the-visit-1/

May 2015 

Guilt and shame remained my constant companion, beseeching me to make one last effort to keep the family together. Chaotic thought patterns flooded my senses, condemning me for my actions, ridiculing efforts that had landed me where I felt I now belonged, hiding and afraid. A rush of trepidation took hold when I realized that my rebellion had gotten me nowhere and most likely had brought us to the point of no return.

My daughter lay motionless across the room, but her agitated breathing could be heard each time his bags rolled overhead. The familiar clatter of footsteps reverberated, pausing as if to warn and summon. With each sound came the reminder that he was leaving and my fate would be sealed. A loud and garish voice brought me back to the real world as he made his way downstairs, “Abdullah yela, let’s go.

Now the time had come to put my supposed selfish ways aside and end this stand-off. I would once again try to secure financial support for my children and safety for our household. It was 5 a.m., they would be leaving for the airport soon and this would be my last chance to make amends.

I placed one foot on the floor as if to signify my hesitation at the prospect of venturing back into the insidious world of abuse.

The front door shut, leaving anxiety behind.

 

 

 

 

 

The visit-6

This is part 6 of an on going story, it highlights the last time we saw him, May 2015.  If you want to catch up, see THE VISIT at the top of my page.

Each day was spent much like the one before, sleeping with the door locked downstairs in Fattima’s bedroom, waking at 3 a.m. to the marching of footsteps overhead. I held my ground as I hid under a soft yellow blanket, coming up for fresh air just as I had in Saudi years before. He didn’t understand why I would not stay in “our” room, insisting that it would put the children on edge and signal trouble in our marriage. It was the first time I boldly said “no”, walking downstairs each night, locking the door behind me.  It was a tug of war, wavering between the fear of ignoring his summons and heeding the call to enter the unknown. The tramping pace paused as if to request and then insist on my acceptance.

Sleep was intermittent until waking at 5 with the reminder that lunches needed to be prepared and the kids did indeed have school. I staggered up the stairs and into the kitchen, hoping and praying that he was asleep in my room at the end of the hall. Slices of bread were slathered with peanut butter, cut and placed into sandwich baggies. My mind was foggy but still in sync with each sound of the morning routine. There was nothing but survival, instinct and awareness, waiting and watching like an animal, protecting my young while keeping one foot ready to bound back down the stairs.

Once again I saw myself standing in a square, unable to move in either direction. My feet were placed firmly at the edge of invisible red tape. Veering outside could trigger panic and reprisals and yet staying put also carried consequences.  I cursed myself for trying to be strong on this visit, for standing up to him and even for not returning to Saudi.  The danger that had spiraled out of control those last years didn’t seem clear any more. I wasn’t sure if it had actually been that bad or if it had been exaggerated as he had claimed. Doubt, guilt and fear flooded back and gave me cause to once again feel I was stuck in an unending and relentless cycle.

After the kids boarded the school bus I waited for him to go outside and work on projects as he pleased. I no longer followed asking him to limit alterations to the house, instead I stood watching, feeling like a silent witness to my own demise.

 

The visit-5

The last time he came was May 2015. This is part 5 of an ongoing story about our lives. You can catch up by looking at The Visit for parts 1-4.

 

Brown paper lunch bags   Apple slices    grapes   a blue plate

Shaky hands picked up bread and stacked it on the coveted plate. This was Foof’s plate or so she said as she argued, grabbing it from See See. Giggles could be heard throughout the lake house until mom stepped in and handed the girls each a plate to take home.  A simple plastic plate. The morning sky hung a lavender and orange painting, casting it’s reflection across what seemed like miles of placid water. Mom scooped coffee from the white jar, making a contrast against the playful blue counters, “Lynnnnnieeee coffees on”.  My mind snapped back to peanut butter and jelly. Three sandwiches, maybe five, two more for the college kids, no Foof would not be going today, would she?  I stacked another 4 slices of bread on the blue plastic plate, home and safety. Should I cut apple slices or wash grapes. The Assembly, Soos won first place for her painting, Idaho. The accomplishment would be recognized, we had to be there. How could we sneak out, humiliation, fear. I stared down at the plate, struggling to remember who I was.

My strong stance against oppression had failed and once again I faced the inevitable conclusion that we were trapped. A sick and infectious feeling took over as we came to grips with our new reality. The days of hiding prohibited food items, clothing and even ideas, crept back with insidious fervor. The incident had not been mentioned, and like the years spent in Saudi it appeared to be another faded page in a life of guarded existence. Thoughts of calling the police were thrown aside and stuck into the category of precarious after weighing the potential outcome and upheaval that was sure to follow. My brain failed to connect the dots, silence and composure were imperative and had served me well for years and so I vowed to walk the tightrope once again.

His usual raucous footsteps were now soft and silent as he walked into the kitchen undetected. He moved closer and smiled trying to capture my attention, greeting me with the standard Arabic phrase- Peace be unto you.   As he inched closer a frantic angst pushed me to wash, rinse and scramble through the morning routine putting an unsettling distance between us. He stayed put, leaning against the counter, watching my every move. He grinned and made small talk as if nothing had happened just the day before. My hands shook uncontrollably as I opened brown paper lunch sacks trying to avoid eye contact. His words hit my senses, emotions spiraled out of control. “Lynn you always choose not to see how much I love you” Total chaos held me together in a pattern of zig zagged pieces. I looked down at the plate, large drops of fluid fell from my eyes, tears or water, sadness.

 

The visit-4

For the first 10 days I stood assuredly, revoking the authority that had been given away freely for decades. A sudden and powerful confidence blossomed and filled my soul with a compelling strength.  I spoke out against ridiculous edicts and demands, a voice that had faded through stifling oppression had now become audible and confident. I heard myself saying ” no, this is my home too”  and even though a smile widened across his mouth, a cold and calculating disdain rose from within his eyes.

Waves of uncertainty came and went as I struggled to hold onto the increasing power that I felt. It was hard to imagine why I had stayed silent for so long and it seemed as if my words now meant something. Nagging guilt surrounded me as I fought between the urge to stand up and the reality I had known for 30 years.  As a dutiful wife it had been ingrained into my very soul that there were obligations and rights that should not be neglected and that my submission was needed to secure his love and approval.

At every turn I reminded him that this was also my home and that permission should be taken before making alterations. He appeared to be a watered down version of his former self and smiled making sure to secure my acceptance before continuing with the projects he had planned.  I felt confident that I had made headway that I was now in charge of my own life and home until one too many refusals came to a head and sent his temper spiraling out of control.

A small but visible red splotch was a constant reminder of my attempt at regaining misappropriated power that had now faded back into anxiety and fear. Humiliation, shame and confusion swirled through my mind, now shattered by recent events.  I clumsily picked up remnants of the morning routine, socks, a lunch bag and laundry that needed attention. I wandered aimlessly with a strange robotic purpose, stopping momentarily to nod at him, hoping to keep the situation from escalating. This feeling had not been present since we stood in the marble hallway preparing to leave Saudi, never to return. But here it was again, debilitating fear that taunted me, reminding me of the person who had been skillfully manufactured and sworn to live in secrecy.

He marched confidently around the property, hammering and making changes wherever he saw fit, mocking the work I had done, threatening to tear out flower beds and build walls. Any sign of individuality was taken as an affront to a vision carefully groomed for years.  He made holes in window sills to anchor shades, dug up newly planted grass to put up shoddy wooden stairs and made certain to leave his residual stamp throughout the residence.

The visit-2

This is the story of when he was last here (May 2015). I will write what I am able to here and there. This visit was followed by starting a blog and meeting all of you wonderful, supportive friends. It also started a wave of anxiety and panic that I have been trying to recover from for the past year. Thank you for your support and caring! 

 

The visit part 2

Flying down the hall felt surreal, a swift reminder of why I had made few attempts at standing tall, holding dearly to the parts of me that still remained. Years spent groveling, kowtowing and doing whatever was needed to keep this turbulent storm under control had now spiraled into an unstoppable rage.

My cheek had narrowly missed clipping the bedroom door as I tripped and stumbled aimlessly down the hall. His hand grabbed my shirt again and forcefully threw me further into chaos. The warm and gentle brown eyes that had left an indelible mark on my heart, were now blank, cold and formidable. It was a look I had learned to fear, biting my lip and scratching pieces of ragged skin on my cheek had become the only way to stop unwanted tears that mockingly fell to the floor.

Bits and pieces of fear, strength and panic coursed through my mind as I gathered myself, preparing for reality to meet fiction in one swift moment. I ran haphazardly trying to keep my feet steady on the floor, feeling the fury that followed close behind and knowing that the moment had finally come. Years of anxiety and terror had now come to a conclusion and all at once my heart felt as if it would sink and I would give up, crumbling into the person he had ascribed to me.

As I toppled into the living room a strong determined voice called out, a young thin figure, wet hair dripping onto the floor stood before me. She raised her voice and shouted boldly, years of being told to stand, wait and silently watch now discharged into words, “What are you doing!! STOP!

 

 

The visit-1

This is the story of when he was last here (May 2015). I will write what I am able to here and there. This visit was followed by starting a blog and meeting all of you wonderful, supportive friends. It also started a wave of anxiety and panic that I have been trying to recover from for the past year. Thank you for your support and caring! 

Hot water splashed over my hands and face mixed with soapy foam and jags of adrenaline. In my mind somehow I knew that this was it, the dreaded day that had loomed
overhead for years. The fear and utter desolation that had become my daily companion had now vanished and had been replaced by a blank resolution. A strange and constant surge of power overtook my trembling body and signaled me to plant my feet firmly and face what was inevitable.

His footsteps rattled down the hall, at first muted by the sound of water and the unsettling idea that the moment had arrived.  Each step he took represented a rage that had been pent up since his arrival just two weeks before.  Rampant contempt for my bold defiance and rebuffs now came to an unstoppable conclusion. I knew the cycle well but this feeling that welled up inside was somehow different. I told myself that it was time,  I was strong and ready to stand solidly in front of him. I rinsed my hair and let the warmness of the water trickle down my back one last time before returning to reality.

As the pattern of chaotic marching proclaimed his intentions, my mind seemed to mimic each step. I grabbed the towel and dried my hair, confidently pulling on my jeans and shirt. I felt one last surge of energy that swept me into the moment, my hand grasped the door and I walked into the hall.

Click–True life story

I shut the door and quietly clicked the lock into place, covertly listening for little voices as I moved closer to his bed. He sat upright running his hands over the stubble that marked his balding head. A heavy sigh exited his mouth, he managed a sideways grin as if to say he understood that crazy was now where we resided. He didn’t know how much more he could take of my insolence and rebellion, how to rectify this situation or how to fix my broken and deteriorating condition. I stood before him in a shambles, picking nervously at the jagged skin that now marked my face and hands. I felt that I could no longer remain erect, waves of sick and debilitating weakness made my legs sway and twitch.

Giggles and nervous footsteps made their way past the door, stopping momentarily before moving forward.  I gathered myself together once again and placed my feet firmly on the marble floor. I had struggled for several years now, fighting off rebellion that had been fueled by ugly realization and awareness. My existence had become a regimen of locking, checking, monitoring and daily inquisitions.  I questioned each and every movement, making sure that a small pan had not been placed on a large burner, all legs of the couch were either on the rug or off, curtains were drawn and secured at nightfall and that I was always at the ready, waiting to serve. Old worn work pants hung around my waist, laced with blotches of bleach and cleaners, a tattered shirt that served as pajamas and day time attire was stained with sweat and grime, no frills allowed. I inched my way closer to him as tears fell, at first softly and then in waves of indignant humiliation, hoping to purchase another day of peace and freedom.

True life story- Two plastic sacks

No words could be formed,nor could any make their way past her lips. She simply stood motionless, gripping two plastic bags that now threatened to expose items she had haphazardly thrown onto the grocery store counter and then into plastic sacks.  A new era was about to unfold, one that would hurl them even further into the alternate reality where they had sunken deeper with each passing year. It had been three grueling days of heat and sheer boredom for 8 children and their weary mother, sitting in a hotel room waiting for the evening meal to be purchased and delivered. Hours were spent looking out the window, listening to engaging clatter from the street below. Workers sold colorful scarves, books and toys, women and men heeded the call to prayer and walked towards the holy mosque. He lay sleeping in the second room, napping throughout the day, waking only to use the restroom, walk to prayer  and issue reminders that this trip was for worship, not frivolous play.

The 7 hour trip was spent speeding through the desert, from Riyadh to Medina, stopping at bathrooms only when necessity warranted. Feces, soiled diapers and urine lined the stalls, each of the children entered and then made a hasty retreat back to the car, unable to use the facilities. Desert tents, camels and an occasional shrub caught her eye as the vehicle followed a path to the holy city of Medina. A warm anticipation filled her heart and soul as they traveled on this sacred path. But now she stood, staring into the crowd, a booming voice broke through the click clack of ship ships (sandals) that hurriedly marked steps made through the crowded thoroughfare. He marched forward, boldly raising his voice to a level that had been hidden from the public until this time. His arms flailed and waved as he stormed, ranting and raging.  People stopped momentarily to ascertain the situation that appeared out of nowhere and gained momentum and force with each piercing word.   A small crowd formed and then dispersed upon seeing her, salty sweat dripped through her black, tattered abaya, lingering long enough to leave faded stains where she wiped away the constant drip drip of humiliation and fear. She stood steadfast, gripping the coveted treats that would bring a meager but much needed relief to the stagnant living quarters.

 

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