This is a Love Story

Nijla Mu'min

Nijla Mu’min

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?

We want to make our own stories.

I am transitioning from something that was not good for me. Something that I made into what I wanted. I am a writer, a storyteller by nature, and perhaps this practice has seeped into other avenues of my life because I began to mold a story, envision moments I wanted to have, treasure the good ones we did have, and ignore others. I was editing. I was waiting for someone who wasn’t there.

Some days, I drove home from school, numb. The drive is long from Calarts (in Valencia) to South Los Angeles. There are mountains, big rigs, and long periods of space that I filled with thoughts and strategies of how I’d convince this person that we could make it work.

Unlike Nina, I didn’t learn this behavior from my mother. My mother always said, “Love those who love you.” She stood by this saying, never falling for men, or tolerating people who didn’t reciprocate this belief. Nowhere was this more evident than in her relationship with my stepfather. Some nights, she’d cook spaghetti, his favorite meal – but not without requesting that he pick up certain ingredients on the way home. He’d scour the shelves of the grocery store to ensure he could have my mother’s spaghetti.

The author's mother & step-father

The author’s mother & step-father

When he arrived with the needed items, she’d finish making the meal. Sometimes he picked up the wrong ingredients, or maybe forgot the mushrooms, and would go all the way back to the store to correct the error. Later, he’d finish his plate and come back for seconds. He was full, happy, and they smiled with glasses of wine in their hands. This was a partnership that extended to the meals that were prepared. This was a love that I witnessed.

But I also witnessed a torn love. The love between my mother and father. A love that rendered my father frozen in time, cooking the same meal every night and recalling the lamb chops my mother used to make. His stories of my mother are a tapestry of my childhood, bordering legend, myth, and magic.

We want to create our own stories.

I am fine some days, but others I want to return. I want to return to the sweetest moments. Like, the time he surprised me and flew out to Los Angeles to visit. The day of his arrival, the emotional and physical preparations, new sheets and freshly twisted hair, a smile that wouldn’t disappear.

But the urge to return is quickly beset by the reality that the person cannot be returned to.

I have not been in Nina’s specific situation, but now, I understand. I understand how a feeling can explode into mania, into denial, and into an illusion. There is a need to create a romantic narrative from the unbalanced, from what’s torn and wounded. But, why?

Well, there are years of friendship, years of connection, and years of wanting. There were different states, long distances, and periods of waiting. I am graduating on Friday with a dual-Master’s degree, and I wanted him to be there. I still do. There are days I can’t believe he will not be there. For the last four months, I imagined him there, standing with my family, sharing this momentous day with us. He said he would “try.” That was a central part of my narrative.

I write love stories. This is a love story. This is love for self, a love that will not allow me to write myself into anyone’s life again.

If someone wants to build something, create something with you, they will do that. There’s nothing that will stop them from doing that. No distance, no practicality. When those become reasons to abandon a partnership, there never was one.

There is someone who wants to create an equal narrative. And it may be with me. Until then, I’ll write on my own.

Read more by Nijla on our site, here.

Reposted by permission from the author’s blog, sweet potato pie press (swerved warm)

Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley, and also attended Howard University’s MFA Film Program, where she was the recipient of the 2009 Paul Robeson Award for Best Feature Screenplay. She is a 2013 dual-degree graduate of CalArts’ MFA Film Directing and Writing programs.

Her 2011 short film Two Bodies has screened at festivals across the country, including the Pan African Film Festival, Outfest, Frameline and Newfest at Lincoln Center. Her writing appears in the critically acclaimed book, Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, and she also writes for Shadow and Act on the Indiewire Network, where she’s sought-after for her highly introspective features on black cinema. She also worked as a Production Assistant on Ava DuVernay’s film, Middle of Nowhere. She is a recipient of the 2012 Princess Grace Foundation- Cary Grant Film Award for her graduate thesis film, Deluge, which has screened at BAMcinematek in Brooklyn, with upcoming screenings at Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia and The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA). Recently she was one of 10 writers selected for the Second Annual Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Intensive in March 2014. She is the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Screenplay at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival.

 

 


One Comment on “This is a Love Story”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow, this is a beautiful, evocative piece of writing – thank you x