Eds. Note: This post deals with heterosexual abuse focusing on violence against women in online dating.
He started off aggressively. I got the sense that he felt threatened for some reason. It was only the first date and he asked many questions, only to dismiss my answers and making a point to tell me that I had no idea what I was talking about. He was also the fourth guy within a span of five months who had told me – during a first date – that women often lie about rape and abuse.
Scary isn’t it?
When I tell this story, people ask me if the guy in question was either Muslim or “brown,” because you know, this is a “Muslim/brown man’s problem” (*eye roll*). However, these experiences demonstrate that this issue transcends race, culture, religion and citizenship status.
This Ramadan has been hard, so far. The long summer solstice days and deep heat. The nation charged with racial tensions. The obligatory iftars, the late night taraweeh, the early morning suhoor. The problematic tafsirs with implicit “-isms” that are so triggering. The thirst, the faltering, the not knowing if your piety is enough or how come the piety isn’t feeling more.
It is in this time of chaos and reflection that I choose to write. It’s the only way I know how to calm my mind, to focus my feelings. I know that if I can commit myself to writing one poem every day, that in those words I find healing energy, time to reflect, and a connection with Allah. It is for this reason that every Ramadan I challenge myself to writing a poem daily.
This year marks the second year I’ve hosted an online Poetry a Day for Ramadan virtual writing group. With close to fifty members, the only rule for poets is they must commit to writing daily. They can share if they want to. Just write. Make art.
I was an avid reader growing up. I read everything, even books that weren’t meant for children. Mama by Terry Mcmillan was one of my first novels. I recall reading a novel entitled Hand-me-down Heartache by Tajuana TJ Butler. It was about a woman named Nina who is in a relationship with an attractive, unfaithful basketball player and her unwillingness to leave the relationship. Having witnessed her father’s unfaithfulness to her mother growing up, she has come to accept his behavior, though it’s painful.
There’s a scene where Nina stakes out in front of her boyfriend’s home, bangs on his door, distraught and angry, while he’s inside with another woman. As a young girl, I read this with fresh eyes for the denial and hysteria that Nina was experiencing. The scene was vivid, and so keenly observed that I felt Nina’s embarrassment, especially when he emerges from his home and tells her to leave him alone. I wanted to scream through the page to Nina, and tell her to forget him, but something in me felt for her. I entered the scene fully, imagining the quick beat of Nina’s heart, her wet, mascara-streaked eyes, and the neighbors outside watching as she fell apart.
How do we get there? From young women, reading about love and feeling it in our imaginations, to fighting for it, and refusing to accept that it was never there?
That is my first confession: I spend endless hours drowning in lovelorn prose and will sigh over Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and sundry YA titles (though I draw the line, pragmatic to the finish, at Juliet and her Romeo).
It is not an admission I am ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with a steady diet of fluff and fairytales – a little whipped cream to mask the harsh reality of day-to-day college life and the steady awareness that I am in a smaller circle of friends than I used to be.
There is an obvious line drawn between the single and…well, those who used to be single.
I may be the only person whose sole venture into dating ended less than two weeks after it started because my boyfriend got bored and left.
I was 15 and we met at a casual school dance I attended with friends. He asked me out and I accepted because it seemed like what everybody was doing. We sat together at lunch at school a few times, exchanged notes.
One time he visited me at home and we went for a walk together. Standing on a trail path near the woods, with no one else around, he asked if he could kiss me and I said, OK.
It was a chaste kiss on the lips. My only thought was, “And the point of this was supposed to be what?”
He was one of the sweetest men I have ever known. He was my best friend and my boyfriend.
For my graduation present, he planned an elaborate, thoughtful, and interactive gift. It celebrated the culmination of my years at school in tandem with our time together as a couple. He placed a blindfold over my eyes and took me outside of our school building. It was after sunset and the air was crisp.
He took off the blindfold and I saw a white card on the ground with the numeral one hand-drawn on it in that precious sans-serif script that he practiced daily. I picked it up, heart racing from the excitement, and peeled it open.
I stare at the palms of my hands, as if seeing them anew. They are fairer than I remembered, plumper and drier. All the tiny crinkles have deepened and the slash of my life line has lengthened.
I turn my hands on their sides slowly, looking at melanin’s soft edges. A short, thick, straight black hair is growing out of the side. I pluck it out, firm and deft. I notice another black hair, and then another. I pluck out each one. As I pull the last one out from the plush pad of my palm, it stretches, long and dense. It is a wet, raven-black feather. As I hold it, the shiny feather dries, quickly turning lush, but still as dark as night. I am amazed that it sprang from my skin.
With a startle, I wake up. My eyes open slowly and I stare at the shadows the gray morning light throws on the popcorn ceiling. Under the covers, I clench my hands, tracing their familiar smoothness. No hairs. No feathers.