It was a Friday evening, that magical time for children and adults. Briefcases were put away, book bags tossed into a corner to be forgotten until Sunday night, and healthy, well-balanced meals replaced with feel-good foods of questionable nutritious value. And, of course, there was dessert.
My father always had a sweet tooth, something I inherited from him, and Fridays meant the promise of a sweet treat. This particular Friday it was a package of fudge-striped cookies, my favorite. The fudge-striped cookie is a genius creation. From a distance it looks quite ordinary; a shortbread cookie with thin strips of fudge on top. But hidden from plain sight, what you don’t know until you pick one up, is that the bottom is coated with a thick layer of chocolate fudge.
Growing up, cookies and other sweets were special treats. Money was tight, and there were four of us. We were never allowed to help ourselves; we had to ask permission to have any and also how many. The usual number was three. This particular evening, my six-year old self ate a few, and a few more, and a few more, until the package of fudge-striped cookies was empty. I’d pay good money to travel back to that night and see what kind of stealth I used to get to the bottom of the package uncaught. I could only have pled not guilty by reason of insanity.
Back when people called me Her Excellency, I routinely attended gatherings at the home of Bahrain’s First Lady. Cardamom-flavored coffee appeared in demitasse cups. The servers, always women dressed in traditional robes, poured the golden elixir from a gently sloped carafe called a dullah. The women returned at regular intervals with refills until you shook the cup to signify that you wanted no more.
My marriage felt like a fragile container that held the riches of the world, and one that I tilted over when I no longer tasted myself in the swallow.
I asked my husband to marry me while driving on 16th Street in Washington, DC. We had met months earlier in New York City because of landmines; he was an international expert in the removal of bombs buried within the earth. I was twenty-seven years old and lonely in ways that felt flawed and unlovable. This man arrived well-pedigreed with international accolades and a collection of five small children from his first marriage. I felt that he represented my only chance at love, and I am blessed that he turned out to be kind.
Twelve years later, I asked him via email to let me leave.
Two and a half years ago, I left my financially comfortable global marriage for an expired passport and economic uncertainty. It was the saddest and bravest decision I’ve ever made. The US economy teetered in the worst recession since the Great Depression. There was no alimony, and I had not worked in twelve years.
The fear of “what ifs” loomed in monstrous proportions. I had no soft spots to land and no deep-pocketed family members to help me start over. Leaving meant leaping into a terrifying yet potentially poetic abyss.
Marriage had furled me tight. I couldn’t celebrate my complexities, and I longed for a different rapport with my spirituality. I felt like a fat and undesirable failure, and how I experienced my identity within the relationship wasn’t what I wanted to be out in the world.
When you find that you can’t locate yourself in a significant part of your known world, you have a spiritual obligation to make a new map. I jumped wide and fierce into the unseen with no compass.
I started an anonymous, now defunct blog. I had one published book and an anthology essay out in the world, but this secret writing felt unusually invigorating. My hands shook with unspoken truths so badly that I had find release. The words dribbled from my fingers as their own life forms. The writing was raunchy, irreverent, and always deeply personal.
I wrote about everything and everyone, although identities were kept secret. I admitted how I felt undesirable and then documented with questionable discretion the men who proved otherwise. But in those debilitating moments of post-divorce trauma, when nothing seemed to exist except fear and self-loathing, writing offered sanity and empowerment.
Sometimes, the best survival kit is one that includes only hope, prayer, and writing.
At 21 I married a man five years older than me. The second time around, at 31, I married a man five years younger than me.
Eight years into our marriage, it still sends little shock waves through people when I mention this. There are sometimes oooohs and aaahhhs, eyes get bigger and rounder, and I can almost see folks wanting to high five me and slap my husband on the back for biting the bullet and marrying an older, divorced, single mom. I have, no joke, been asked at least a dozen times how I managed to pull this off.
But a decade ago when he proposed to me, I didn’t bounce off the walls. I advised him to speak to his elders and family, which he did. I was mature enough to know that marrying into a South Asian family meant actually marrying the family, and without their blessings there would likely be no blessing in the marriage. So he dutifully approached his parents, armed with the story of Khadijah (ra) and Muhammad (saw), confident as an aalim and haafiz Quran himself. They took the news fairly well, asking for time to think. Istikharas were had all around and the green light came about a month later, at which point his mother called my mother.
Read the rest of Rabia Chaudry’s brilliant piece at Patheos!
First love can be a bittersweet and intense experience, especially if it is unrequited. It can also change us in ways we may not grasp until much later.
I discovered love for the first time when I was seven years old. He was a distant cousin — one amongst many thanks to my large close-knit family in Lahore, Pakistan. We gravitated towards each other, despite the fact that I was the younger, studious little girl while he was a rambunctious boy. We spent our time mostly play acting in our world of Star Wars, space travels and building blocks.
We were sitting in the dirt one evening when I looked at him in wonder. In my seven-year-old mentality, I realized that I loved this little boy. I wanted to marry him so that we could always play together and build castles and spaceships.
From that moment, I knew he was THE ONE. And I didn’t tell a soul.
The Ides of March
–-(or how girl can write her way to a new life)
Last week, snow and ice kept me housebound for the third, and hopefully final time, this winter. This snowfall felt different than the previous ones. It arrived glutinous and sticky and carried a surreal sheen of pristine clean. It seemed that nature had saved the most beautiful display for the last seasonal flurry. I felt that it was sent just for me.
The ice weighed down trees until many limbs plummeted to the earth, as if set free from unspecified burdens. As temperatures rose throughout the day, a glorious soundscape ensued. Imagine a cacophony of dripping and flowing water, the hum of melting snow and cracking limbs, and birds already praising the spring weather that would arrive the next day. It was like a grand tick-tock of a celestial clock, all gears grinding in full glory to mark the end of the year’s darker half.
In less than twenty-four hours, the final winter snow would be in gallant retreat. Along with it would go the last remaining moments of my old self. I stood in my doorway and listened to nature’s majestic regulator. It is now time, I heard this voice say from somewhere deep, to finally let go of your old life.
Lots of things have been going down at LoveInshallah.com and within the Muslim blogosphere. The recent article on Muslim men returning “back home” to find wives generated diverse cyber chatter, with various responses supporting or criticizing different positions. On the heels of that debate, the Miptserz-coining, Somewhere in America, video featuring women in hijabs and cool turbans skateboarding to Jay-Z generated widespread media controversy. Again, Muslims drew well-argued lines on the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the video’s use of hijab and contemporary representations of Muslim female identity. In the middle of these developments, I had two appearances on NPR’s Tell Me More discussing issues around dating, race, and identity.
These events got me thinking about my own orientation to love and belonging. This would not be page worthy except that these thoughts nudge against how I define myself as a Muslim in conjunction with a desire for love and (re)marriage. I had some epiphanies: my current world is too small and too White, yet I probably will end up with a white, non-Muslim guy.
I gleaned from the dialogue on arranged marriage the Mipsterz video is that the space I inhabit as a Muslim woman — a writer and cultural creative, divorced, someone who has been in and out of the hijab (and one day, may wear it again) — is highly problematic. The American Muslim community isn’t quite ready for large-scale cultural juxtaposition, complexities, and emerging personal narratives. We swear that we are. We want to be. But let’s be real: we still like our world cozy and certain.