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What was it like in your household?
“You want to kill us? No? Then don’t do the secks!”
You were different.
I don’t know if I ever told you that, but there it is. For you, I broke every self-imposed rule I’d ever created. They say the best kind of love is the one you never see coming, the kind that sneaks up on you so slowly that by the time you feel its presence, it has already burrowed deep inside the caverns of your heart that you didn’t even know existed.
You were a surprise, a calamity that happened both slowly and all at once. You were different because you had enough flaws to create a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle in your image, and if I prodded, you would fall apart. Pieces of you would be lost, forever, under coffee tables and between sofa cushions. But I could pick out each one instinctively, as bright to me as each star we counted at night. Yet like the stars themselves, I saw in them beauty and life, and the remnants from which they were built a thousand lifetimes ago. They were scars of your internal universe, expanding and contracting, and I could trace each one softly, so as not to cause you pain.
This is a fictional interview with a real Muslim about an incident that actually happened.
Announcer: Muslims across the United States are receiving notices of account closures from their banks. Today, we are speaking with writer Deonna Kelli Sayed, whose account at a North Carolina bank was closed without explanation in 2011. Ms. Sayed, thank you for joining us today. Tell us what happened.
Deonna Kelli Sayed (DKS):
My debit card stopped working on a Wednesday.
The first rejection arrived early in the day from a gas station pump, which had politely advised me to “please see attendant.”
The card then failed at one grocery store after another. I knew the account held money. My local bank had not contacted me about any suspicious or fraudulent activity. There had to be some sort of simple, honest mistake.
I walked into my favorite branch to speak with a customer service rep that I had come to know. Minnie was a pleasantly plump older woman wore shades of polite pastels. When she spoke, words flew from her mouth wide and jovial, in the way you’d expect a Southern woman of a certain age to speak.
We met approximately every four weeks. Each month, I paid our monthly bills from a lump sum automatically transferred from my then-husband’s account at a New York City credit union. I often had to wait at least five business days before the funds appeared. There were some months the transfer stayed missing for a full two weeks.
I cringed as automatic payments were due and groceries needed to be purchased for the five kids under my care. God forbid if a holiday fell on a Monday or Friday. My husband lived in the Middle East. I lived in North Carolina with the kids. Our main bank account resided in New York City.
Sanem and I took turns crossing the street to each other’s townhomes for afternoon tea, at least once a week, for seven years. In our nearly identical kitchens, we put out similar spreads, a smaller tea pot steamed above a larger tea pot, honey-colored tea served in little glass cups, warm bread, an assortment of cheeses and jams, and cookies for our kids. Sanem was from Turkey, my family was from Iraq, and our tea rituals mirrored one another. While our children played in the upstairs bedrooms, Sanem and I talked about our faith, our families and their impending visits. We discussed decisions we were trying to make, from furniture pieces and home improvements to clothing purchases and afterschool activities for our kids. We got through illnesses, births, and deaths in both our families. Some evenings we simply helped each other cook dinner, but our visits together always left us feel better about our days. On those afternoons, when our husbands came home from work, we weren’t bottles of pent-up emotion, ready to pop. We’d already poured some of our thoughts and frustrations onto each other.
Last year my family and I moved out of state for my husband’s work. Sanem helped me decide what furniture, clothes, and kitchenware to give away, what to bring. She brought us dinner after a long day of packing and breakfast the following morning. She was there when our moving van left, but she couldn’t bear to watch my minivan pull away.
In our new life in a new place, the afternoons stretched in front of me, a wasteland of lonely. I’d pick up my children from school, make them a snack, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was waiting someone to arrive, waiting for the company of a friend. The waiting made me itchy with restlessness, but there was no time to share these feelings with my husband when he came home from work. These were our family’s busiest hours, dinner, homework help, and bedtime. At the end of the night, my husband did his best to sympathize, but he could not offer me the same comforts, time spent over a warm cup of tea, the validation that comes with hearing another person say, ‘It’s the same for me, too.’
And just like that, I remember it all.
At the age of 25, after 6.5 years of marriage, my best friend died with my hand in his. Cancer transported his vitality too quickly into a realm better than life, facilitated by a roomful of angels whose countenances I couldn’t see, but whose warm wings and nur soothed my sore, bloodshot eyes.
He used to call me his “heat seeker,” borrowed from a Talib Kweli Reflection Eternal verse. Ha! Funny. I was anemic, occasionally. I’m cooler blooded anyways, it’s in my chi. When we slept together I hated wearing socks, but my toes were always cold. From my side of the bed I placed my feet on his back for as long as it took for my toes to became warm. He (almost) never minded. He always shared his warmth, his love radiating from within.
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