My parents were visiting. My mother and I had previously discussed love and relationships while traveling together to a conference because surprisingly (not really) Indigenous activist/academic women in their late 20s and early 30s are very likely to be single. In fact, there were presentations on decolonizing love and dating while Indigenous. The conference, which featured hundreds of Indigenous academics, activists and students, made it obvious to my mother that I would have a very hard time finding a partner.
Why? Because being an Indigenous woman who has an education, a job and anti-colonial feminist views is not popular these days, even among Indigenous men with the same qualifications and opinions. Then, throw Islam and the immigrant experience into the mix.
As we finished dinner my stepfather asked me if I was seeing someone. Well, yes, I had been seeing a few people. Serious? No. Potential? Who knows. Both my parents cringed a little as I described some of my dating experiences. Sometimes my stepfather was incredulous. Sometimes my mom showed hints of pain.
“I just want you to be with someone who is good enough for you,” my mother said.
I groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.
“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.
On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.
When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.
When I pulled my car into the parking garage of our apartment building, I blinked twice. Standing in our parking spot, wearing a tux, was my boyfriend, Dylan, beaming and holding a rose. I blushed. I couldn’t believe that he’d actually remembered our anniversary in time to get a suit, pick up a rose, and surprise me at the parking garage.
I got out of the car, kissed and hugged him, and then thanked him for the rose.
“You are so lucky!” I said, “I almost didn’t come home tonight! I was about to go have dinner with a friend. I would have totally missed your surprise.”
I didn’t write this summer. Not only were my children home from school all day, but it was Ramadan and we were finally moving into the house we’d been rebuilding from the foundation up for close to two years. It was too much to juggle, the boxes, the hunger, the thirst, the late night iftars, and I thought it would help to declare an official break. Maybe then I could stave off the frustration of trying to write and not getting anything done.
Even when I took a short break for a writing fellowship in Aspen, I came home and got right back to not writing. I unpacked boxes, made arrangements for our unfinished deck, and refinanced our construction loan. At night, I revised my long lists of to dos, filled with subcontractors to call, items to order, items to buy, items to return. During the day, I went from room to room, organizing closets, washing linens that had been in storage for two years and putting them away, asking myself about every mismatched towel, table cloth, and drape, “Why? Why did we bring this?” I waited for the electrician, the plumber, the carpenter, the painter. And still I didn’t write anything. I didn’t look at my manuscript, only rarely scribbled in my journal, and hardly ever read. “This so much better,” I reminded myself. “Get everything done now and then you can focus in the fall.”
But that frustration I thought I was avoiding by lowering my expectations never relented. It chased me down daily if not hourly. Coursing in the back of mind was always this loop of accusations: “You’ve lost your way this time;” “You can’t be a serious writer if you can take such long breaks from your work;” “There must be a minimum word count a week that distinguishes the real writers from fakers like you.”
Eds. Note: This is a response piece to “Why I Don’t Date White Men” by columnist Tanzila Ahmed
My 13-year-old son, an Afghan-American, recently commented that his white mother only likes brown men. That is an interesting thing for a son to say about a mother so white that she looks like she poops pumpkin spice. Plus, he hasn’t seen me with any man other than his father. I asked him to clarify, and he said that “as long as I’ve known you – 13 years – most of the people you associate with are not white.”
That observation isn’t exactly true; my son’s maternal grandparents are white, of course. I have several white friends. Yet, his statement was interesting as he is beginning to actively identify as a person of color at the same time his mother is attempting to negotiate the complex realities of being a divorced white Muslim woman looking for love.
What my son doesn’t know is this: I had a white boy fetish after my divorce.
Eds. Note: Guest columnist Na’aisha Austin returns with a beautiful follow up on finding love again after loss. Read her first piece, Memoirs of the Beautiful Widow, here.
Surely on that Day, the residents of paradise will be busy with their joy; they and their spouses will be in shady groves reclining on soft couches. They will have all kinds of fruit and they will get whatever they call for, they will be greeted with the word salaam from the Lord of Mercy. – Sura Ya Seen (Qur’an 36:55-58)
I awake in a sea of confusion, body quivering, chest heaving. I glance over to my left. There he is, sleeping, lightly snoring. Apparently, we succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep mid-conversation last night.
Neither one of us is under the covers, but I’m sweating profusely.
“My phone, my phone. Where’s my phone?” I whisper in the obsidian darkness.
One press of the button on my smudged iPhone reveals that it is 12:37 a.m. As I stare at the regal and romantic wedding photograph of us set as my wallpaper, it hits me that today is September 8th.
Qaadir, my first husband, died seven years ago today.
In my last column, Welcome to Heartbreak, I wrote about my dilemma in seeing a woman who I know likes me more than I like her.
This situation is not new for me, and was only worth writing about in this case because the woman in question is brand new to the dating game. Otherwise, the story is relatively unremarkable in my experience. I’ve been involved in similar situations many times before, with more experienced women, and my response is to make sure I never patronize them. If they tell me they can handle being with me without me being fully with them, I believe them. Until they tell me they can’t.
The genuinely noteworthy aspect of my last column then is the block I briefly described that prevents me from actually committing to these women.