Several of my friends as well as acquaintances in Riyadh had departed without their children in tow, returning to various locations around the globe. While the choice to leave appeared to be voluntary none of us knew the circumstances that had lead to their decision. Marriages that had fallen apart, abuse and the inability to legally remove youngsters from the country resulted in little ones who were left behind. Memories of dear friends separated from their toddlers as well as teenagers were still fresh in my mind and so the tiny window that gave a view from the walkway into our apartment had been spray painted and covered by a piece of printer paper. Although we had made it back home, the idea of losing my children kept anxiety out of control for years to come.
Summer faded into Fall and a routine that was oddly familiar took shape. The tiny townhouse had come together with furniture that had been procured from the Union Gospel mission as well as odds and ends from mom and dad’s wood house. An alarm buzzed and prodded until we climbed out of bed and readied ourselves for the first day of school. There were no more long trips with a driver and the past few years of homeschooling had been exchanged for a public school that could be seen from the upstairs apartment window. We were together and no one had been left behind in Saudi, making it seem as if somehow all would be well.
Documents and papers were shuffled and stacked until everything was finally in order. A quick trip to the school meant walking out of the apartment door, into the parking lot and through a rickety wooden fence. Vaccination records were not available and birth certificates had taken weeks to arrive, being classified as a Birth abroad report from the consulate. I had met with the principal, teachers and office personnel but still felt that this was somehow wrong and I was at the center of upheaval and a leap into uncertainty. Mother reminded me that it was for the better good and school was part of a new freedom.
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.
School came to a close and the lazy days of summer gently crept in. Life on the compound slowed down as most residents packed their bags and made their way home for break. The British family next door did not care for life in Saudi, and so the revolving door began. Workers delivered boxes that would later be carted onto large trucks and hauled away. Teary goodbyes were uttered, children hugged and laughed until a driver came to collect them and deposit them at the airport. Staying in Saudi each summer, first in the villa and then in the apartment, had not been easy. With no furniture and at times no electricity, the relentless hot days drug on, making the arrival of Arabic school seem like a welcome visitor. Compound life had changed all of that and summer meant leisurely days at the pool, riding bikes on the deserted loop and running on the expansive grass near our home. Thoughts of the coming academic year were easily pushed aside to be addressed at another time.
The loop where people walked, biked and played was now abandoned and all signs of life were absent. Swimming at the pool, playing games, building large pad houses and sliding down the stairs had now commenced. When the desert sun dipped behind the compound walls and finally gave in to night, we sat at home watching the forbidden satellite t.v. Deemed inappropriate, the television channels had been disconnected upon arrival to the compound almost a year before. Boredom had now quickly set in and my oldest son was determined to solve the mystery. After asking compound technicians and looking at the cables, he spotted a tiny piece of paper lodged between the connector prongs which had disrupted the signal. This new addition to summer was a welcome relief, watching news and current events that had unfolded in the past year, cartoons and crafting programs. He was shocked to see the t.v. back on, but gave only an admonishing glance that was silently known and accepted. The t.v. was to be turned off before he appeared at the front door and even children’s shows marked G were very suspect and kept to a minimum.
The summer months drifted past and the children became intrigued with making pinatas and paper mache projects which would continue well into their adult life. A sort of summer camp had formed and taken shape in an accidental manner. The morning meal was served and then it was time for swimming lessons at the pool. I stood in my black abaya and scarf, baby Soos attached to my hip, calling out orders and making motions with my arms and legs until the two older boys were able to swim proficiently. We headed home at noon where happy meals were dreamed up out of favorite foods, followed by t.v. programming and art projects. It was a carefree summer where the children and I took delight in the simple things that life now afforded us.
The summer months wore down and I could no longer avoid the issue of getting my daughters into Arabic school. I called for transportation and made my way to the large girls school that stood a block behind the boys facility. I carted the girls and little ones and sat in the office filling out paper work. The feeling that we were once again somehow invisible and at the same time an anomaly, took hold. The principal was not available and the secretary had little grasp on the English language and so I decided to return the next day. I needed to make my position clear on corporal punishment and find a teacher that would be patient with my girls. I put the papers in and returned to the compound, secretly wishing that the girls could continue at American school. The children chattered about our trip to the school and about the Arab ladies that did not speak English. See See and Foof then asked him why they could not return to the American school, after all they were American. I sat, holding my breath, dreading the inevitable response that usually followed. Their father grimaced when he heard these words and loudly pronounced as he regularly did, “Do not not not listen to mama” and he added in “ you are not American”