Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Box

I think there's a box in the shed with his stuff. He hadn't ever had a lot of stuff with me, but there were a few objects. I long ago got rid of the stuff I knew he wouldn't care about, but what about the other things? -- his diploma, a few pictures of his nieces. They're not mine. I don't know how to give them to him. No one else would want them. Yet it seems wrong to dispose of them. So they sit in the box, mostly forgotten.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this post - I haven't been planning it, but I woke up at 4 a.m. to a sound like a book or something falling over in the closet and the heater having turned on and blowing a bit too hot, and as I got up, gradually the urge was there. I find it hard just to say or write the word sometimes. And to mention his name, or to remember any memory that has him in it, no matter how mundane, because I don't know how I should feel about them, and especially to speak those memories, because I think most people don't want to hear about it. I'm normally a very calm person. So when I'm suddenly crying I am so surprised and shocked and confused as to why. I have to try to figure it out, why am I feeling this way? My life is just fine, and while I'm sorry over many horrible affairs going on in the world past and present, they're not the ultimate cause. Some of it is just chemistry, but some of it is things long past and not part of my life anymore, so it is amazing to me how it can suddenly be there when I thought it was resolved. And then leave against just as quickly, for no apparent reason either way. However a large part of my past in reality is something hidden away in a forgotten box.

I've never really talked about my divorce with anyone, no family or friend. It feels like you did something very wrong, like you had a great failure, like your worth to the world has become less, to have that descriptor attached to your name. I feel bad when I fill out all those various demographic forms for various things and the marital status box comes up, trying to figure out which box I should check. If single is an option, I always pick that one, but some of them that isn't an option, only "never married". Then I think of my family. My mother loves to talk about her children, but what mother wants to tell people about her daughter's situation like that? Unfortunately, my mother's friends know about it well, because one of them helped me in the end.

We had met in college. I wasn't looking, but it happened nonetheless. Eventually we got married. The nikah was pronounced by some people I knew up in British Columbia and they phoned to tell us it was done. The U.S. legal marriage was done before a judge here in town. I had just started a new job in Denver and he was still living in Oklahoma. I had to drive down from work on a Friday afternoon, no time to get ready, and stand before the judge with him and my parents. Then we went to dinner somewhere and that was it. I don't like being the center of a spectacle, but was the understatedness of our wedding not just because of that, but because of some underlying current of its impending failure?

Afterward, plans that were made for us to unite in one place never happened. There was always a reason that he couldn't finish his degree or that he couldn't tell his family. I had taken the job in Denver for him because he had said he preferred to live there, but when he never showed up, I tired of being away from anyone I knew if I didn't have to and went back to Colorado Springs to work. Still he didn't come, but I waited. He finished his two year degree in about five years if I remember correctly. He said he was coming. He showed up without his stuff, and having missed the deadline to file papers to start a new degree here. He didn't have a work visa and said he didn't want to sit around and do nothing for 6 months until the next school term, so he went home to visit his family. I never saw him again. Eventually I did hear from him, but I waited months. He said his family had taken his passport and he was trying to get a new one to come back. I often wondered what it was that made him stay away all those years and then leave and never come back. What was it I did or didn't do, had or didn't have? I realize this truth at least - his going or staying was never in my control. Nothing I might have been or done would've mattered.

He had disappeared once long before we had our nikah, shortly after we first met, saying that his embassy had transferred him to a new school against his wishes and he had been trying to figure out a way to tell me. I never had thought it wasn't the truth, but later looking back I was so confused over what was true and what wasn't that I have no idea anymore. Later, I often wondered how much of a gullible fool I was, or how much I should continue to believe and trust - after all, he was my husband. At the time, I believed everything,and thought there were just some unfortunate circumstances. It didn't occur to me that perhaps his intentions all along had been to just take a companion while he studied here and then leave. It was clearly more complicated than he realized at the beginning, because he made himself seriously physically and mentally ill, incapacitated and unable to function, over what was happening in his life. He told me it was because his family was pressuring him. He couldn't wash whatever he was going through off his skin, after spending half a day in the shower, ice cold, with his skin rubbed red raw. Half the things he owned he couldn't touch because to him they were najis. He had mold growing thick on his apartment walls from water that he poured or spilled in his obsession, but he couldn't stop his obsession nor get clean.

After he had gone home, I had no way of contacting him there for most of that time - he would give me no number or address because he didn't want his family to have contact with me at all. After a considerable time he got a cell phone and might call me or allow me to call him on his cell. I knew that sometimes I was being lied to, because his stories changed. But I just didn't know what the truth was. I suspected that if he wanted to come back he could. But he didn't want to. But he said he did - maybe he was telling the truth. Yet he didn't want me to go there, either, in my own best interest, although at the very end he waffled a bit about that. And at that point, I didn't even feel safe to consider going there - I felt he would never stand up for me and I wasn't even sure who he really was anymore. He showed no movement toward coming back, but he didn't want to divorce me. I waited even longer because I couldn't bring myself to be the bad guy, the one who doomed it all after in the very end what was ten years - all of my adult life - invested with him.

But eventually, after several years, I reached my breaking point. I felt I couldn't stand to live another day in limbo and needed finality. What's more, I needed to have hope for myself. It took great effort, because it was never spoken of in my family, but one night I told my mom I wanted to get a divorce. She works with lawyers and knows a lot more about many aspects of the world than I do, so I knew she would be able to tell me what I had to do. One of her friends at work who really cares for my mom took my case pro bono. He had never done a divorce case before as he is in a different legal field. I had to file an intent to divorce notice in the local paper of my husband's last known address in Oklahoma, because I didn't know where he was. I did manage to get one phone call through to my husband before all this, telling him of my need for closure that was overwhelming me. He eventually said his permission for divorce but that he would not have anything to do with it himself. From then on, I had lost all contact with him. I had to appear in court before a judge and appear on a witness stand and be questioned about the circumstances in front of my mom by her friend while the judge also questioned and listened. My mom's friend told me it was most likely only a formality, but still it felt so humiliating. The judge granted the divorce. As far as my mom was concerned, I was free.

But I wasn't. The nikah was still in effect. In some ways I felt worse than before. Before I could say I was married. That was how things were supposed to be. Now, to some people I was divorced but I was really not free to move on. It took me a long time to find an 'alim who would address the case. I don't know many 'alims to begin with, living in a rather isolated place, never having been an integral part of any Muslim community. It wasn't a case people wanted to deal with because my husband was not around to answer their questions or give/verify permission for divorce. All I had was an old cell phone number that was never answered, but that's what I gave the 'alim. The 'alim's actions were to every now and then try to contact my husband. I waited again. It was less than a year later when I got the news. I felt like I had waited a lifetime but at the same time I felt lucky because I heard stories of some women who waited many, many years. Somehow the 'alim had found my husband, and he had given permission for divorce. I never heard any more about what happened, except that the 'alim had done the divorce.

I felt both relief and grief, and felt the future looming before me. I had no idea how to go forward from that place. I was ready to start looking - I had been alone essentially all of the time that I was married, especially the last several years as most of it he wasn't even in the same country. But I also felt damaged. I had never intimately seen a good marriage. Before I went to college, I was frightened of marriage because what I had seen had been truly terrorizing. But I did it anyway, and it failed, and now I was thirty. Is it possible to do something right without having seen it or done it before?

One day I was going through some papers and found my ex-husband's cell phone number. I called, still seeking more closure, still wanting to know the truth. And he answered. He wouldn't answer all those other times, but now he did. He said he had not remarried. He told me about his job. He said his English language skills were helping him a lot. He told me his brother married a non-Muslim European girl he had dated for years. But I couldn't confront him about all the things that he said and all that happened, and so I guess I'll never know the truth of what really happened - what was truth and what was fiction; I'm not sure he would've been willing to tell me anyway. I don't have the number anymore.

So since then I've lived my life and sought a soul mate. While I have looked, I have not enjoyed the process. It is too messy to think of someone as a potential spouse, and then have things not work out for one reason or another. I never wanted more than one man in my life, ever. Just the right one. Maybe I was the reason - was I too picky, too impatient, or too damaged? Lots of people started telling me I had better hurry and get married. I only have so many childbearing years left. Every year that passes I become less desirable to a decent suitor. I was told that I should give up everything in my life - my family, my work, my home, my belongings, my stability, to marry someone I didn't know and wasn't sure about. This is what is expected of women and if I felt any reluctance to do so, there was a problem with my deen. But I didn't feel secure enough to do so. And after trying so hard to restore my relationship with my family after my conversion and succeeding, I didn't want to risk tearing that down again if I didn't have to. I was also told that I should not choose a suitor based on my heart at all, but only my head. If he looked good on paper, get married, then get to know him, and maybe love will follow. I looked for truth in all these comments and tried to learn and tried to see if I was off base, always questioning myself. Sometimes I listened even though my instinct said different than what I was reading or being told, and later I would wish I had trusted my instinct.

I also didn't know what to think about some of the interest I did get - lots of people half my age or twice my age overseas. Lots of married men. Lots of people not too serious but looking to have fun. But also lots of people who were not too different from me, yet my heart just didn't feel the way I thought it should in order to marry someone. Many times I have posted a profile and then removed it, finding it too much to manage. Then put it back after awhile, then taken it down again. I felt a lot of mistakes in this process - especially when things got further in process before deciding to move on. While sometimes I have felt failure, I still don't believe I ultimately failed; I am used to success in what I try to do, by the grace of God - I believe things happen for a reason and that I have always done my best and tried to do right, and I keep learning. So I don't think I would change anything even though I may still feel pain and confusion sometimes.

I feel hope. Maybe through this I am learning to understand what I want and need and will be better able to appreciate true love in my life and appreciate the person who may love me and I love him, too. Just as we are, imperfect, but great together. For I have seen that such a thing is truly a blessing and wonderful gift. Sometimes I have doubted - being pragmatic. In reality I know that not everyone ends up with a good marriage, a loving husband, and healthy, happy, good children. And I also know that I could lead a good enough life no matter what happens for me about marriage. After all, my life right now is "good enough" for me - I have a lot to be thankful for.

But deep inside me, I always felt everything good would happen to me - deep inside me I expect it from God and believe it will happen when and how it is supposed to. And although I have at times doubted, I also expect and believe that I can still freely give my love, and that this is more important to me than getting it back. And although sometimes giving love ends up with hurt, giving love has the best possible returns. Giving love is liberating for the heart and soul, it is elevating. I am hopeful that I will give lots of love and make someone know he is loved, and make children know love - insha'allah. Miracles have unfolded in my life before - how else would I be Shia today, would my father be alive, would I have received the money to go to college, and so much more? Thank you God for your great blessings in my life that continue always. I am very grateful for the guidance and blessings I have received and continue to receive. I pray that I may be a blessing in someone else's life, more so with every passing day, as long as I live.

No comments: