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
Fall 2009, just 4 months after relocating to the U.S. midnight paper route A single stream of light blanketed the room and served as a reminder to quietly roll off the mattress that mom and dad had purchased from the thrift store and rise to prepare for the morning route. A faded diploma in Speech comm. and years of being a stay at home mom made options limited when searching for employment. The two youngest children suffered from extreme separation anxiety and even a simple trip to the restroom required promises to never leave and assurances that I would return within minutes. They accompanied me to my job as a cook for a girl’s co-op on campus and so the supplemental income of a paper route or perhaps two, seemed logical and almost easy. The older kids would be in the next room sleeping and I would slip in and out without notice. Each of my two older girls agreed to help take turns and so our little adventure began.
The stack grew wider and taller and was finally deposited on the back seat of the Suburban. Cuts on fingers from winding and wrapping rubber bands had now turned to hard rough scars, resistant to further damage or pain. Small town lights flashed yellow and red, a signal only surpassed by the harvest moon that illuminated our usual routine through darkened country roads. At first it had been tough remembering the various homes that took one of three newspapers but soon it became automatic and something that would be recalled for years to come. It seemed like a good idea at the time, an easy way to help support my family and our new life back in the States. I would be home by 5 a.m. just in time to get breakfast on and wake the two boys who attended public school. The youngest children would not be panicked by my absence and their siblings were there in case they woke. But now it had become a burden, gas for mom and dad’s vehicle was not worth the money made delivering the morning news. Just one more week and it would be over and back to what had become our new normal.
My new career is that of being an author! I have been a cleaner, cook and newspaper lady in addition to my favorite career-MOM! I self published my first poetry book a week ago! Thanks for your support and love!
I will be giving away a book each week for a month starting next week. My e-book can also be purchased for a fairly low price on Amazon.
Al-Khobar Saudi Arabia 1995
Her pleasant yet unreserved demeanor abruptly took on a sharp and commanding tone. Hand gestures that included a wagging finger and pursed lips were now accompanied by a raise in volume. She gave one last sharp look his way as his leg and foot made a loud thud on the kitchen floor. Her once welcoming face now stood clouded in confusion and anger. Guilt and shame stacked neatly piece by piece and a feeling of embarrassment quickly replaced self respect as I backed up. I stared blankly into her eyes as she paced and raised her voice one last time. A mismatched array of English forced its way out of tightened lips, “no no Um Osama, no”!
The customary kiss kiss was given first on the right cheek and then the left. Two female cousins greeted me and hugged little ones that trailed behind. A trip from Riyadh to Al-Khobar had lasted 4 hours and with it a scenic view of red and brown desert that slowly transitioned into sand dotted with shrubs and tents. I was ushered into the sitting room and motioned to sit on the customary pad arrangement.
I took my place and folded legs close to my buttocks, knowing that it was deemed disrespectful to place a foot pointing at others on purpose. Tea, coffee, fruit and sweets were all brought in rounds one after the other. Chatter and talk of school, family and memories of time spent in Damascus kept us communicating while the men attended prayer. My language skills were not perfect but I had put together a list of phrases and understood very basic Arabic that helped but also brought confusion when trying to keep up a conversation. The ladies were limited in their English and so hand gestures and assistance from the boys who had now attended almost two years of schooling made the visit easier this time around.
A family environment that paired duty and service with vigorous expectations and standards was obviously in place. Children were to be respectful to adults, women served men and they in turn worked hard to provide. Wives raised voices and insisted on men returning to the store for items missed, discussions regarding child care were numerous until little ones were eventually handed off to fathers and taken outside for walks to the park. Women requested accessories that were well beyond the meager family budget and husbands were required to comply. A happy mix of loud voices, arguments that ended in laughter, endless amounts of food and finally the last cup of tea, all offered a warm and unusual atmosphere.
I felt at home within these walls and was treated as a guest as well as an immediate part of the family. The female cousins insisted I eat more, drink tea and even urged me to nap wherever I felt comfortable. The message was clear, I was being asked to join this tight knit part of his extended family and no language or cultural barrier would stand between us.
The visit came to a close and we stood talking in the kitchen where the oldest of the two females relished the last bits of a chocolate cake we had thrown together. She joked and laughed with him inquiring about our lifestyle and how he was able to keep up with my American standards. A smug grin crossed his lips as he spoke words that fueled a raging fury and caused his cousin to raise her hands in anger, and with that his foot was placed inches from my mouth “Watch she will do anything I say even kiss my foot“
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.
A perpetual wave of anxiety washed over my entire body and although my arms and legs remained stationary it seemed as if I was no longer standing. Uncontrollable sobbing and gasps for air eked their way out as I struggled to remain upright. This was the moment I had been dreading and now my fears had been realized. Hurried footsteps plodded down the stairs and a small thin figure appeared before me. Foof was now a woman, no longer the feisty little girl who ran the length of the compound scraping knees, refusing to brush her hair or wear socks. The phone was taken forcefully from my hands, the call was ended and the device tossed to the couch. An imposing and formidable entity towered over me, holding my hands, pulling me forward. In a determined tone I was reminded that years of abuse were not love and that we were now safe and free. I struggled to stay standing in a rumpled heap of confusion and sick silence. I had assumed this day would come and yet it felt like another unimaginable blow to my very core. I mouthed the words to her finding no way to actually state the obvious. She shook her head and told me it was better this way, his marriage was now real and we could quit worrying.
The news of his second wife had thrown me off, bringing new symptoms of anxiety and panic. After years of dutiful service it had come to this, a woman and possibly a family. I did my best to move forward and told myself that I was no longer married, a piece of paper meant nothing and I was not part of this insanity. I wavered between two directions making an effort to accept what I could not change and was unable to legally extricate myself from and the unstoppable fury that took hold when I realized I had been thrust into a life of polygamy.
On good days a new kind of happiness and freedom brought a measure of relief. A cessation of phone calls, emails and stalking made room for other emotions that had been stifled by fear and tyranny. Preoccupied with his bride, a well-educated divorcee 18 years his junior, he no longer had time or energy to deal with our family. He offered to buy a home and resume financial support and I reluctantly agreed.
I knew the incessant nature of this lifestyle and had watched numerous friends in Saudi as they accepted a string of wives and children. Each time they grew more distant until they eventually withered away and became a shell of duty, a facade of piety. The journey seemed never ending, filled with degradation and shame.
No amount of scrubbing, cooking, shopping or laughing would remove the stain of humiliation that now tarnished my daily life. I found myself in a state of constant upheaval that would not abate. I had come this far and now once again it seemed I had no control over my own life. I went to bed at night thinking about him and his wife, about their future and a possible family that might be formed. The rage and disbelief that lay concealed amongst anguish and sorrow continued to plague me until it finally spilled over into nightly dreams.
A golden light enclosed the scene and a foreshadowing of what was to come. She was soft and gentle, everything I felt I was not. She sat silently, her dark hair flowing gracefully over back and shoulders. A self-assured expression traced with purity and light, a welcoming smile crossed her face as she played cards with my children. Her Maroon sweater fit snugly around her belly exposing what had been hidden for four months. The idea of a new baby had been nagging at my brain since I was made aware of his marriage and was the hardest part of this new situation. I could not imagine my husband of 30 years marrying someone other than me or having a baby with another woman.
I woke from this foreboding dream with renewed strength and determination, knowing that it was time to have an answer.
The last communication I had with him was a week or so after he left and returned to Saudi. Since that conversation there have been no emails, texts or phone calls. This lack of communication has helped me slowly look at what happened and to start piecing things together but has also meant no financial support. I want to thank each and every one of you who have emailed, called and commented on my blog. You have made a huge difference and your love and encouragement have changed my life.
Days had passed since his departure from our home and an eerie calm pervaded. No one spoke of the previous three weeks but the tension that had permeated every part of our life fell away leaving the usual fear and anxiety. I spoke when inquiries were made about food and transportation but sat silently most days, a confused and lethargic form. It seemed as if I had come so far, walked the road of desperation and betrayal and yet a part of me was still intact until this last event. A new feeling of numb and vacant went unnoticed until it could no longer be denied and I was unable to put thoughts into words and actions.
The last communication had been brief but the usual words were spoken and I played the customary roll reminiscent of years in Saudi, agreeing to any conditions that he listed. He would not allow my parents entrance into his home, nor would my sister and her husband be authorized to enter the premises. He did not want those that were against him eating food that he provided, nor did he agree with anyone spending time with his children. These outside influences were not acceptable and if I agreed to his terms he would consider resuming financial support. I stood in the laundry room, door shut, muffling cries that were undoubtedly still audible. A new hysteria took hold and even with the undeniable reality that he had in fact attacked me, I once again complied. “Yes whatever you want, you are in charge, please send money for the kids” shame and humiliation flooded my system and the cycle had been restored.
A sick feeling overtook me as I grappled with the idea that my refusals and standing tall had brought us to this point. It was the thing I had feared most, a lack of financial support and the idea that I had brought it on in one swift moment of stubborn indignation. I had never been allowed to work and in recent years when I showed interest the innuendo of cutting support always worked its way into our conversations. He reminded me of my honorable place as wife and mother and that scurrying around, acting as a maid was not becoming to my position in this life.
I frantically checked our joint account several times a day looking for that transfer of funds that were to provide food, clothing and medical care for the children. I soothed my injured brain and soul with the words he repeated when monthly money came late. “I will always provide for you no matter what” and so I sat waiting, on high alert, praying that he would make good on his word but acknowledging that the time had come for resumes and applications.
Each day crept past as I vacillated from fear and anxiety to stillness and inactivity. One month after he returned to Al-Khobar, an idea that had been tossed around for years was now put into motion. Saleeha set up a blog, insisting I pick a title. I reluctantly issued the letters that formed a name and remained unmoved by her excitement at the endless possibilities she saw in the future.
A vibrant yellow curry simmered on the stove, potatoes and chicken gently bubbled. A splash of color was needed for the square plate; a thin gold rim etched its way around the dish, adding flare to meringue shells. The sous chefs were summoned to roll pie crust, sauté onions and mix the filling for a broccoli carrot quiche. I fussed over the toppings for peanut butter pie as a decadent chocolate glace was poured over, cascading down the sides and into a glossy pool. Ideas were tossed around regarding the finishing touches, peanut butter cups or tiny bits of cookies and finally whipped cream was piped along the sides. The kitchen clanked and buzzed and had come alive once again with the sounds of family cooking. Preparations for a blog post were underway and this meant that everyone would help, from the youngest to the oldest. Suggestions from the kids who no longer lived at home were received and discussed until a conclusion was made and the final product was presented. A non-stop wave had taken me from my bewildered and dormant position on the recliner to a whirl wind case of cooking and writing. Little thought was given to the events that led up to this point and anything that remained was drowned out by the clinking of pans and the sweet smell of family cooking.
This story has been running through my mind and I am finally able to write it.
Duffle bags, carryalls and backpacks lay strewn on the basement floor packed and ready for our trip to the Oregon coast. A refrigerator for cold drinks, a microwave and full closet were extra amenities that made this area homey and self-contained. Bed sheets were crisp and perfectly made complete with hospital corners. A fragrant bouquet infused with tones of unknown annuals drifted through the room from hanging baskets just outside our door. Trips back from Saudi were spent here, up the mile long dirt road that wound and curved all the way to the house on the hill. Since our move back we spent many weekends and holidays in this very room, laughing and feeling the guarded freedom that we now enjoyed. This house held more than comfort and memories, it reminded me of the person that I had once been.
Sweaty fingers grasped the phone, holding the receiver, pushing buttons and finally disconnecting it from the wall. His words were clear, “You are a liar, a thief” and now it seemed as if his rages had permeated even this safe place and had leaked over to my mother and father. I heard my dad’s voice loud and bold “DO NOT CALL AGAIN” and then the phone was disconnected. I scurried around pushing bags, picking up clothing, pacing past each child, counting heads. It was 1 a.m., I surveyed the darkened room and stood ready, on alert thinking of a plan to pack and head back home. The urge to flee was muted by my mother’s calm yet firm reminders that we needed to get sleep and the vacation would go on as scheduled.
She paced back and forth on the grass just outside the slider, a pensive look could be seen on her face as she fiddled with a shirt sleeve. I surveyed the room, plastic buckets and shovels, treats stacked neatly on the dream bed mom had fashioned for me and the youngest children. I stood frozen staring at the childlike figure that walked back and forth through the early spring foliage. She held the grace and fury of a woman on a mission and she would not be dissuaded by fear and rancor.
Numerous voicemails containing threats and warnings instructed us to leave my parents’ home and return to the little apartment. He cautioned that he would be coming to take his children away if they went anywhere without his express permission. We were not allowed to have a vacation and no one would enjoy the company of his children if he was not along. I held the phone listening to each word repeatedly until her soft slender hands touched mine and removed it from my shaking fingers.
She shut the door and waited for the next call, walking past the window through the trees and bushes. An hour passed and her exasperated and shaken expression turned to sadness. The usual shame and guilt took hold realizing that my daughter now had to manage crazy that had no limits. I collected myself and lightly moved beside her as she listened to his raging voice, “YES I want your mother dead so I can take my children back to Saudi, yes dead!”
Her eyes welled up with tears, but numbness and strength coursed through my brain. It was finally spoken, heard and real and meant that maybe I was not the unbalanced and spoiled woman he had been “burdened” with.
Travelling while I still can.
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