i think for the first time since my mother was killed, i’m not feeling bad about feeling good — because usually when i’m in a mood like this, i will start feeling guilty about it, wondering how i could possibly feel good when my mother died like that (and of course the feelings of guilt from being there and not preventing it from happening, etc.)? but i feel good and i’m happy about it alhamdulilah. i’ve been eating breakfast all week, and i’ve started exercising since school started, and today i did a full body workout with the stability ball and it was so hard but i did the whole thing and i feel good and i think i’m gonna try to do it every morning before school inshallah. i also bought myself a new dress last week and it was the first thing i’ve bought for myself since i got back to california, which i don’t mind, but it was nice to get something new to wear. i’m probably gonna shower tonight and wash my hair and heat up zeit zaytoun to massage my scalp with. i can’t remember the last time i’ve done something to help my hair honestly. i’m gonna try wearing it out less, braiding it more, using more products, etc. but yeah. i talked to jennifer last night about how i’ve been having such a hard time writing anything because i’ve been feeling good. this is where i start doubting myself, doubting whether i’m actually a writer, because all i really write about is my mother — so, if i’m in a good mood, then what do i have to write about? does that make sense? i told jennifer i also haven’t written much in the past two weeks because i don’t want to put myself in a bad mood, and she told me that makes sense, that it takes practice to write about things without getting swallowed by the emotion. i’m gonna try to work on that. but i’m also not gonna feel terrible about not writing that much because i think i owe it to myself to savor these moments, and if that means not doing any deep writing for a few weeks, then that’s what i’m gonna do. i mean i danced so much today. and i laughed so much, too. and i’m gonna shower and make salah then watch criminal minds and maybe clean the house if i’m not too tired. i’m excited for my classes on monday. i already love my classmates so much, especially in arabic. the yemeni boy that says my name correctly. and the african american woman who said she decided to take this class after taking a dna test where she found out she was part lebanese/syrian. i ran into her at a bus stop and told her if she ever needs a tutor, i would be so happy to help her. she took my number and i’m already so excited. there’s an eritrean-sudanese boy in my political science class who told me he was imprisoned and beaten in a detention center in khoms for three months after entering libya illegally as he attempted to reach europe. he was so nonchalant about it. there are so many muslims and north/east africans in my classes and it’s such a different experience than what i’ve been used to so yayyy. i have so many ideas for projects and things already. kheir inshallah. ❤
auntie told me the other day, kind of out of the blue, that my mother was also abusive in some ways. abusive?, i asked. i wasn’t sure what she meant, because nothing she ever did could even compare to my father’s violent, controlling behavior. what do you mean, auntie? and she told me that the opposite of an unhealthy, abusive relationship is one where there is compassion — and my mother was not usually compassionate with my father, she said. she would make him feel inadequate because he couldn’t pay the bills anymore and had us live in his workplace for the four years prior to their deaths. she would blurt things out to him about planning to leave him after i graduate high school. things like that, she said. i still don’t understand how this could possibly be categorized as abuse. how could my mother telling my father these things even compare to his death threats, to his beatings, his intimidation, his stalking, etc.? it’s so bizarre to me. and the weird thing is that even though i want to believe that what she said was wrong, i have a hard time doing so because i respect her, because i’ve known her literally my entire life, because i admire her for her knowledge on so many things, because i don’t want to believe that a good friend of my mother’s would ever possibly victim-blame her — especially not to my face. but it’s wrong, isn’t it? i told jennifer about that interaction today, and she told me how toxic it is, especially to have to constantly listen to people say these things to me about my mother over the years. she brought up an important point, that folks tend to focus on the victim’s behaviors rather than the abuser’s. and come to think of it, i can’t think of one person in my community that talks about my father the way that they talk about my mother. do you want to know all the things i’ve had people tell me about her? about how she should have listened to him? about how she should have obeyed him? about how she could have made the relationship work? about how she allowed this to happen to her? about how she provoked him? i have never, not once, heard someone talk about my father in such ways. what do people say about him? how generous he was. how he just “wasn’t in the right mind” the moment he killed her. how he was a very stressed family man. it’s absurd. even when i simply post about it on facebook, certain people from the community will tell me to calm down, to stop talking about, to keep it private, to not expose this part of my father, etc. and at first, i listened to them. but i’m at a point where i don’t see this as a private issue anymore, and i’m so grateful for that. when i choose to write about it, it’s not really about me or my mother, because it embodies so much more than just me and my family. and i say this all the time, but i will say it again: i wish i knew someone like me when i was going through all this. i wish i knew someone that talked about their experiences and domestic violence in general. when it was happening when i was in high school, i felt like we were literally the only family dealing with something like this. you know how awful that feeling is? i mean i don’t know. i don’t want to be consumed by this experience. i don’t want my life to be all about aiding women in these situations. i don’t want all my time and energy to be invested into this one thing. but i do want to know that i helped get a woman and her kids out of that situation. i would feel so much more at peace if i did that. i think i would feel like i saved my mom in some small way, by helping a woman out of her situation. does that make sense? i’m sure i don’t have it in me to make a career out of domestic violence advocacy work, but this is one of my goals. just one woman and her family. just one, at least. i’m also thinking a lot about the essay i’ve been wanting to write about domestic violence in the muslim community. i’ve been so much more clear-headed these last two weeks and i think it’s the most perfect time to start brainstorming and researching for the essay. i would love to get it published and maybe have a little got-an-essay-published party at my mosque, if that’s something that people even do. not really for me, but i see it as the easiest way to start a dialogue about it. there are so many women at the masjid who are survivors, but no one talks about it and it’s honestly ridiculous. plus, if my community is gonna be proud of me the way they say they are, then they have to be proud of this essay that addresses the prevalence of domestic violence in our respective communities and i think that’s pretty powerful. i was also thinking of maybe doing a photo series, too. one of my childhood friends is an incredibly photographer, and she told me that she would love to collaborate on it. i’m so excited just thinking about it but baby steps, baby steps. i’m just sick to my stomach about the fact that domestic violence is normalized, belittled, and encouraged. also, i’m almost done with the domestic violence anthology. it was so incredibly empowering. and yesterday i bought another book on domestic violence, particularly about femicide, and i can’t wait until it gets here. but anyhow, i’m super tired y’all so goodnight. love youu.
I hate that males feel so entitled to a woman’s body, time, etc. There’s this guy that I work with whose eighteen. He just graduated high school in the summer. Like he was pretty cool to joke around with at work, but tonight he started getting way too comfortable with me and would brush his body against me to mess around and I told him to stop several times. And later on he took one of the towels at work and twisted it then used it to hit me from behind while I was walking to the freezer. Like….. I don’t even know why he did that. I don’t know if this is a normal thing that people do. But either way, it made me super uncomfortable and when I’m super uncomfortable I get real firm with people and I think I hurt his feelings when I told him to stop for real and it’s not like I care that I did but it’s like… why the hell would you think that doing that to me is even moderately okay? I think it’s because he has a sense that certain things make me uncomfortable, and that alone just makes him want to try things with me. I don’t know. I don’t like men to do anything to me without asking — not hugging me, not touching my hand or my shoulder or my back or any other part of my body, etc. Few things make me as uncomfortable and anxious.
Before work today, the sadness started creeping on me again. I was actually freaking out about it, talking to myself the half hour before I caught my bus to go to work, trying to give myself one of those corny pep talks like you can do this and you kinda have to do this even if you feel like you can’t and suddenly I got this feeling that I didn’t wanna go to Portland to visit John and Ruben and Jamila anymore and it’s not like it has anything to do with them but I don’t know why that even happened because I still feel it even tonight. Like lately it’s been weird.. I’ve started to want to distance myself from people, to not get too close. I think a part of it has to do with Noemi, my best friend, moving to Chicago next month maybe. And another part I think is that I don’t want to go somewhere to be with people that I feel so good around for four days and then have to say goodbye again. I know I shouldn’t think about it like that, but it’s hard not to. I mean even just talking to people over the phone is the same thing for me — once we hang up, I get into this gloom and I start feeling bad about things again. I’m trying to find my community here. I mean I know they’re here, I can think of a few people, but I’ve just been having a hard time reaching out to them.
I feel sad again. Tonight, Carlos hugged me. I have such a hard time telling guys that I don’t want them to hug me honestly. I mean when I was at VONA, in that one week alone, I probably got hugged by more guys than I ever have in my entire life. I am almost sure of it. I just have a hard time explaining, or just saying “sorry, but I don’t hug guys.” But Carlos is sweet. He compliments me all the time, but today he did so more than usual. Is it terrible that when people — especially guys for some reason — graciously compliment me, I automatically think it’s because they feel sorry for me because my mom was killed (even in instances where there’s absolutely no way that they would even know about all that)? No one at my job knows what happened and I’ve never been dying to tell people either. But tonight Carlos was telling me how beautiful he thinks I am, and how sweet and kind of a person I am, and how he loves when we get to work together. He’s also probably in his late forties, and not a creep, just to give you some context lol. I admire him so much,. But I automatically thought like, man I wonder if he knows what happened and he just feels sorry for me and he’s just saying these things to try and make me feel better even though I’m okay. Like that one time this guy told me that he liked me and I thought the exact same thing, that he only said all those things hoping it would make me feel better. Or when people used to ask to hang out with me and I would get this sense that they’re only doing it because they pity me, not because they actually want to hang out. Or when my friend would compliment my hair or my outfit the following day that I have a breakdown, when she never compliments me at all. I’m also probably just super insecure about who I am now, with a life where my mother is no longer present. This is also a reason I don’t tell people until months and months after we become friends. With some people, I don’t ever disclose anything at all. I think this is one of the only ways for me to exist separate from what happened, by meeting new people who don’t know my past or who I was or what I went through. I can be whoever I am now and be loved or hated or supported simply for being me and that’s cool or whatever.
Amir, this Yemeni boy in my class, pronounces my name the correct way and it’s so beautiful and it just made my heart melt because I’m not used to hearing it pronounced correctly outside of my aunt’s houses. It’s the little things that make everything so worthwhile. Yayyyy
- Jalal told me today for the first time that sometimes when he goes to his friend’s house, he gets envious when he sees his friend with his parents. Not envious, he said, but he will just look at them being a family with each other and he wishes that he had that, that what happened hadn’t happened in the first place. Broke my heart a little bit, but he laughed about it and I laughed about it, too.
- I’m going on nine days of being in a stable, alright, fairly good mood. I can’t remember the last time this happened for this long. Though I’m getting so many bouts of sadness throughout the day. I was reading the collection of essays on domestic violence, and contrary to what you may think, I actually feel so empowered by what I’m reading. It isn’t emotionally taxing in the way that working with, or listening to actual victims is. I read for five hours yesterday. Took myself to a Thai restaurant after class and had lunch there and stayed at the table reading essay after essay until the sun started to set. I would occasionally take a break as I was reading just to get outside of the book for a minute, but as soon as I did I started getting sad again. I mean I don’t even know what I’m thinking about, all I know is that if someone asked me how I was really doing in that sincere way that is so rare to come by, I probably would’ve started crying. So I just went back to reading.
- Right now I’m feeling sad and this is when I ask myself if I should just go to sleep or should I write what I’m feeling or should I just try and distract myself with something like I’ve been doing all day today?
- Just wanna sleep next to somebody right now. I’d feel so much better, I know it.
- Might get my hair braided this week or the next inshallah and I’m excited. I love getting my hair done.
- I recited surat yasin and surat al fajr for isha tonight and I felt so calmed it was unbelievable. I’m going to look into getting a Qur’an teacher.
- Really wanna visit my mama at the cemetery soon inshallah.
- I miss so many people right now.
- Carlos is like my favorite coworker. He’s a Mexican immigrant with the cutest accent. He calls me “pretty,” and he laughs when I speak Spanish, but he’s super encouraging. Today he said to me, “you know, I didn’t know why I thinking today is gonna be beautiful, but it’s because you’re closing tonight (since I usually never close and end my shift just an hour after Carlos starts his).” Carlos is such a sweetheart.
- Even CJ said to me today out of the blue, “I love working with you. I love your energy. Like bruh, after a long day, to come here and see you smiling like you do is the best thing to be around.”
- I’m trying to change my perception. I’m trying to find my power and my strength and the power and strength from my mother to use this experience to grow. I want to be strong. I want to be strong.
- Speaking of, I ate breakfast today. I never eat breakfast so I’m feeling fancy.
- I wanna clean my house this week.
- Might talk to my brothers about our parents this week and I’m not feeling as nervous.
- Aunty says I need to move on, need to stop waiting for that fairy godmother, need to stop dwelling on things.
- I’ve had almost ten good days and ten days is one third of a month and maybe I am really just doing this to myself. Maybe I am just being a baby about it. My brother seems unbothered which doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m happy for him. Maybe it’s just different for me because I was there, or because I’m a girl. I don’t know.
I volunteered at the domestic violence booth over the weekend at Art & Soul. Did real basic stuff. Answered questions folks had about the services that we provide, handed out brochures, etc. It wasn’t as bad as usual, but it did get a little overwhelming for me when every other woman that stopped to talk to us just decided to disclose that she had been in an abusive relationship in the past, or when every other woman that stopped asked for a brochure because “my sister can use this.” I mean it’s weird, because it’s good work and I felt good that there was table at the event dedicated to raising awareness about domestic violence, but it’s just emotionally taxing to see how prevalent this violence is.
I asked Vivian, the DV shelter’s program director, on Saturday if there were any paid positions at the shelter that I qualify for. She told me there is, and she would give me more information tomorrow. And I was excited and looking forward to hearing back from her. So yesterday, she told me that she would give me a call this week about beginning the application process. And when she said that, I pretty much lost all my desire to work at the shelter. Isn’t that weird? I just starting wondering.. can I actually do this? Can I actually dedicate my weekends and whatever else time to these women and children? I mean every time a woman ever really opens up to me about their abuse, I end up crying. It’s so frustrating because I feel so weak for it. I was tutoring this Moroccan boy in English a few months ago because it isn’t that strong, and when he would take his break, his mother would sit with me at the table and tell me all about how her husband hits her and how he is never emotionally available for her, etc. I didn’t even manage a week at her house because she would talk to me about it constantly. My second to last day tutoring her son, I cried in the bathroom. But if I work at the shelter, then what? That’s what I’m there for, that’s what one of my primary responsibilities is: to be emotionally available to women that are just like her.
I’ve been thinking a lot about getting away from this work, just going in a whole new direction, someplace that doesn’t have anything to do with anything that happened to my mother. I mean it doesn’t even have to be social work, it could be anything. Maybe I should take that Afro-Cuban dance class again. Or maybe I should be part of a fiction book club where we aren’t reading heavy, nonfiction works. I want to cultivate a mix of interests in my life instead of constantly being consumed by this one thing in every hour of every day.
Last week, like the entire week, I was in a good mood. The last time this happened was at VONA, and before that, I can’t remember. Even Sunday was good, and I hate Sundays. But the entire week, I couldn’t stop thinking about it in the back of my mind: when is this feeling going to end? I get so suspicious when I feel good, and last night after I finished volunteering, it started creeping up on me again. I mean I think I’m doing it to myself though, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want to learn how to be in the moment and appreciate it for what it is instead of always expecting that I’m going to be swallowed by this darkness again. So here is me testifying that last week was a victory. Today is a victory, too. It’s my first day of school after dropping out two years ago. I completed my first homework assignment. I’m excited to make friends and meet people and work towards my degree again inshallah. I’m going to Portland next month. Might also be helping my friend move to Chicago in September since she’s driving there from Cali.
I’m gonna write a list of everything I am doing (to credit myself) and everything I hope to do (to motivate myself) and everything that I need to do (to discipline myself).
I’m in an okay mood right now and I’m gonna try to hold onto this for as long as I can.
I’ve started reading this anthology again that I put down months ago, called Domestic Violence at the Margins: Readings on Race, Class, Gender, and Culture. I can’t even begin to tell you how empowered I’ve been feeling this whole week since I picked it up again. This is only the second book I’ve managed to find that specifically discusses domestic violence — the first one I read was Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, which I still pick up from time to time to read random excerpts out of because the entire book is golden.
I’m starting a new essay from the anthology tonight which explores domestic violence in the Jewish community. The essay begins with the testimony of an Orthodox Jewish woman. I read it all, but while I was reading it, because it was somewhat implicated that she is Zionist (she had previously lived in Israel and spoke positively of Moshe Dayan), I had a very hard time sympathizing with her. She is talking about how her husband used to beat her and her children constantly, how terrorized they all were by him, how he threatened to kill her on numerous occasions, but I still could not stop thinking about her compliance with Zionism. Is that wrong?
The essay made me think about the different types of women that I will be interacting with on a daily basis as I begin my advocacy work at the shelter. I am there to do one job, and that is to advocate for survivors and their children by aiding them with the resources and education they need to break the cycle of violence to the best of my ability. I am not there to disagree with anyone. I am not there to criticize anyone for the choices they have made, or for the choices they will make in the future. There will certainly be women that I will disagree with on multiple levels, but I know enough to know that it isn’t my place to interfere.
The fact that the woman in the essay is a Zionist and even the fact that it is difficult for me to sympathize with her in the same way I would with others does not mean that I would ever condone this type of violence against her, but I am at odds. I am at odds because Israeli state-sanctioned violence against the Palestinian people is real. Erasure of Palestine and Palestinian culture by the Israeli state is real. Palestinian genocide is real. Occupation is real. Land theft is real. Settler colonialism is real. The uprooting and mass displacement of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, making Palestinians one the largest refugee populations in the world, is real.
But domestic violence is real, too.
So, what exactly does this mean? How will these discrepancies impact my interactions with other women? How can I advocate for the life of someone who supports the erasure of an entire people? How can I properly aid in ending violence against a woman who supports violence against Palestinians on no moral basis? I don’t have an answer to that yet.
That testimony made me realize just how much work I have to do around my own stereotypes and expectations regarding domestic violence victims/survivors. Up until today, I have never even considered that the women I hope to advocate for could very well end up being racist, Islamophobic, Zionist, etc. But does that mean that they don’t deserve the same attention or sympathy or empowerment? I wish I could say something with a sureness, but I cannot.
We all have unpacking to do in this regard. I can at least say this with certainty. But where do you draw the line? Should you ever draw a line? A couple of years ago, I listened to a Hip Hop and Politics Davey D radio interview with Dhoruba Bin Wahad, a former Black Panther member, and Danea Martinez, an activist and scholar. It is still one of my favorite interviews. Martinez was asked by Davey D about how she grapples with her support of Palestinian liberation and self-determination even as she is aware of the rampant antiblackness that exists in the culture. I can’t recall exactly what she said, but I vaguely remember her expressing something about how her support stands on its own, that she does not choose to support the Palestinian people out of a hope that they will show solidarity with her own liberation. She supports the Palestinian people because she supports freedom.
I still don’t have an answer, but these are my thoughts from tonight and thanks for reading y’all.
Amu and I had the longest conversation we’ve ever had in the four years that I’ve been living here. I was watering my plants and he was out fixing his car, and he asked how I was doing. He randomly started talking briefly about him and my father’s friendship, how they often used to travel to attend Islamic lectures together, and how my father made the best Turkish coffee whenever Amu came to visit him at his computer shop. Mama was the one who made that coffee, but he doesn’t know that, and there’s no reason to tell him now anyway.
It is still so bizarre to listen to people talk about my father like he isn’t the whole reason that my mother is dead, like he isn’t the reason that our lives are in turmoil, the reason I have needed to resort to medication to set the imbalance triggered by the incident. I would rather deal with the community’s brazen silence surrounding what happened than listen to people talk about him like he was equally murdered that day along with my mother. A lot of the women in the community will tell me that I need to hold my tongue, have some respect for him because he is my parent and you are supposed to always hold your parents in high regard. But what if your parent is a murderer? What if you parent obviously didn’t hold you in high regard? I have never disrespected him, in spite of everything. It’s incredibly disconcerting to me that shedding light on my mother’s experiences is taken as slander of him.
My father killed her. Is that disrespectful, or is that just the truth?
I haven’t seen anyone from my father’s family since 2012, the year before my mother was killed. I’ve spoken over the phone with a handful of them in the past four years, but the talk is so empty. I know that it isn’t on them to own up to anything, but a part of me has always wished that they would start a dialogue. A part of me wishes that they did more than just send those shitty, tenuous condolences over Facebook messenger. My father killed her, and they have never even acknowledged that much. The closest they got to that was when my older cousin messaged me three days after the fact, over Facebook, and asked me if I watched my father get shot, too. I was furious at her audacity.
It’s far easier to lend out compassion to my mother’s side of the family, because Mama isn’t the one that killed someone. They don’t talk about it with me, either. Once though, Aunty Ashraf cried about Mama being dead right in front of me and that is the closest thing I ever got to a conversation. The woman that was sitting next to Aunty at the table told her, matibkeesh gidam el bint. But she didn’t know just how relieved it made me to know that I am not the only one grieving, because this is how I feel all the time.
I was desperate for a sense of family after Mama died. How could I not have been? Mama was my family, my home. My father mastered his method of isolation. No one could come to visit us, and it was rare that he allowed us to go out. I didn’t have one confidant outside of my mother. To lose her without warning, through such unspeakable means, was catastrophic. I am not the girl I was before. I have begun to realize, slowly, just how drastically I have changed since she died, how reckless and wild I have grown in the face of her death, in the face of my father’s scathing violence.
I’m trying to read more about patriarchy and masculinity. I have said this for years now: my mother and, to an extent, my father, are dead because of patriarchy. Patriarchy is lethal. Patriarchy is the reason my mother was murdered that afternoon. I’ve been thinking a lot about my meeting with Jen, the therapist, last month. That was the first and last time I went to see her. I was talking to her about men, about how this desire to be with a man only blossomed after my mother died. I told her how strange it was to want this while simultaneously being guarded around males. That was when she called me hyper-vigilant. She told me that this is what my trauma has done to me. She told me that my father was supposed to be the safest man in my life, and he ended up becoming the most dangerous.
The only time I can remember telling a man that I loved him, with the fullness that I have always hoped for, is with John and Ruben and my little brother and my grandfather. This is a gift, but isn’t it also insane? I should have loved my father, right? He was an authority figure in my life. When fathers do the bare minimum, they are praised for it. But I have been aspiring to simply imagine a world where fathers contribute to parenting on an equal level, where they are as present and loving and nurturing as the mother. I never felt loved by him, I never felt easy around him, but how I wish I had.
I am trying to learn how to love men as they struggle to grapple with their masculinity. I am trying to learn how to love men even as they are imperfect and broken. I am trying to remind myself, constantly, that many men are working through their complexities, and I am trying to honor that, too.
I read my old journal today from 2008. Thirteen year old me was documenting the things my parents were arguing about at the time. I literally made lists, titled and with bullet points. Some of what my father made an issue out of had apparently included my brother being before him on my mother’s contact list from when she had a flip phone. He would argue about who does more for the family — with him, of course, having done the most. Thirteen year old me wrote at the end of my entry in the bottom right corner, “I really hate to feel that I ever need to be protected from, not by, my father.” This was even before the first time I saw my father beat her, almost one year earlier. Sometimes I forget how deep this pain runs. For some reason I thought the one thing that shattered the most perfect image I had of my father was that night that I saw him hit her, but it wasn’t. The violence that was to come had been fermenting for a long time before. I made an entry the night that he threw the chair at her. It was February 14, 2009. I put “dad” in quotations. I was angry. I wrote that I had gone to my room and cried afterward and couldn’t stop until Mama came to calm me down, and I avowed that I wouldn’t know what I would do without her. Not much has changed.
Why do I feel like this shouldn’t have happened to me? I have such a strained relationship with my brothers, with my family. I don’t know and I cannot even imagine it being any other way. I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve hugged each other since our parents died. The most affectionate things they have done or said bloomed awkwardly, laboriously. We cannot even say that we love each other. The last time Koka said he loved me was when we first moved into this house and we were all sleeping on the tile floor in a cold, vacant room. He said he loved us, but I knew he felt shy about uttering it. I just felt shy having to hear it for the first time in my life that I could remember.
Now he doesn’t say it. Sometimes I think Koka knows that I am sad. Sometimes I think he knows when I’ve cried, when the sorrow is in my face. He must know. But I think he doesn’t want to deal with it. Maybe he just doesn’t know how. I never saw him cry, you know? I saw his eyes burning red and orange like fire that day when we were reunited at the police station, but he acted all cool and undismayed. I couldn’t understand it then, and I can’t now. Why didn’t he cry in front of me? Why didn’t he ever talk about it with me? Why did he leave me to face, all alone, the misery? He knows I saw and he knows how deeply disturbed I was and he still said nothing. Maybe it is too much to expect from one person. Maybe it is just too much to expect from him. Koka knows he doesn’t take to expressing his emotions easily. He’s talked about it to me before, once. But I told him that he needed to learn how, that it is the only way to let people know how you feel.
It’s been more than four years since she’s passed. All I want is for my family to share the part of themselves that they are so desperately trying to keep away. I am hiding it, too, I guess. I don’t cry in front of them, either. I don’t talk about it, either. I have thought about sharing this blog with my brothers, maybe use it as a way to initiate this beginning that I am after. Sometimes, when they are home, I will just glance over at them and wonder so much about what they feel or think about all the things that have happened in our lives. Do they think about it at all? A couple years back, when I was walking to the store with Jalal, he told me he never thinks about our parents. Ever. I wondered if he was lying but I didn’t know for what reason he would have lied about that to me. And Sharif, he’s never talked about it either. A couple months ago we were having a random conversation, and somehow I went off on this tangent about Mama and I was talking fast and full and it was the most words that I have ever offered any one of my family about how I was feeling. He didn’t say much, but for the first time, I was able to tell that he thinks about it a lot, too.
Tonight I spent a long time looking through our old photographs again. We have lived in over thirteen different homes. The last home we lived in with our parents was my father’s computer shop, which we were never technically allowed to be. We had to move out that day, but I remember not wanting to leave. I wanted to sleep in the shop on the dirty carpet in that storage closet that me and Mama shared for four years together. I wanted to, but they told me it was time to go. They told me, you can’t live there anymore. How I wish they had come to our aid like this, when we needed it the most. I often wish we had a house at the time. I wish there was something more concrete to hold onto, than this. We had a storage unit, though. It held all of our belongings up until maybe four months ago when my eldest brother stopped paying and didn’t tell us, and we lost everything. Everything — all the keepsakes of our memory. I don’t like to think about it. These photographs, though, they are the only things we have left. I am thinking of what I should do with them. Sometimes I think about writing a book about my mother — not to get it published, but just for my own sake. I think about returning to Libya and looking for the people in the pictures from her wedding, and interviewing them about her. I want to know who she before she had us, before she immigrated to the States, before she married my father. I want to know, and I want to remember.
I wish I was more like her. She was a remarkable person. Sometimes I never want to get married, never want to have kids, never want to be with someone. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel like I would be able to be half the woman she was, half the mother she was to us. I know I shouldn’t worry about that now, but at my age she was already married to my father. How strange is that? Mama told me to put my education first. She said a man can’t do for you what an education can do for you. I never talked to her about marriage, but she was hellbent on making sure I would never end up like her. She regretted each day she stayed with my father. She wasn’t happy with him. She was making breakfast one morning while we were living in the shop and erupted into a hysteria I hadn’t seen from her before. She cried and she wailed and it almost looked as if something had possessed her. My father tried to calm her down and she told him to get away. I wonder if I hugged her that morning, but I don’t think I’ve ever been good at comforting people in the way that they need to be.
Let me just say this much: it is hard to live without her. That day, I not only lost her, but I lost everything I knew. We moved out of the shop that day. I graduated from high school three days before. I lost the one person I trusted, the one person I could go to for advice. I lost the person that most supported me, the person I supported, too. I lost the mother I dreamed a different life with. Suddenly, I was freed from my father’s grip, but immediately obstructed by my mother’s absence.
- I am writing everyday but there is nothing that has been published on this blog that I absolutely love — not even a little bit.
- I don’t feel like my writing is good enough in any way, shape or form, for me to be able to call myself a writer.
- I am so fucking angry. Also, I don’t even cuss in real life but I always do in my writing. I think this is the easiest place for me to be myself. The day my mother was killed though, I was cussing and talking to myself in the police station.
- I used to get harassed a lot when I went out walking in the streets. I don’t walk as often because the bus is closer to home. But anyway, one time this guy was beckoning me over to come into his car and I gave him the finger without even thinking about it first. I was honestly shocked at myself. But I am a much angrier girl than I ever have been. Sometimes I feel like giving everyone the middle finger though, especially my bosses.
- I’m getting super moody again. I don’t feel like talking to anyone, but I also don’t feel like being by myself all the time after I get home from work. I don’t know how to solve myself.
- I don’t think that my writing is ever going to be good or transcendent or important. I don’t even care about praise. That isn’t what I’m looking for at all. What I want the most is for my words to save someone the way that others’ words have saved me.
- But also, someone messaged me after I shared this blog on facebook last month and I was so touched by what he told me. He said that his daughter is currently in an abusive relationship and how this blog is helping him in many ways, and he was sorry for what happened to my mama.
- I spoke with J yesterday and she listened to me rant about my week for over an hour because there has been so much build up and I’ve been thinking a lot about the time that R violated me in my sleep and about my mama of course and then when she started talking to me about what she’s been dealing with in regards to her abusive partner, I got nervous again and I started crying and I don’t even know why I did and I didn’t want to believe that it had anything to do with her talking about what she’s going through but maybe it did and that makes me feel so selfish because the same thing happened when I went to serve food at a dinner for Muslim women survivors of domestic violence in June and as soon as I left I ended up breaking down at the BART station and when am I ever going to be able to stand up straight again?
- I know, I know. There is no timetable for grief, there are no blueprints, however I am dealing with it is valid, etc, etc, etc. But I am so tired of this shit. I am. Honestly I feel like such a baby for being sad about it still. Even with people who I know love and care about me, I feel like if I cry in front of them, that they must be judging me so damn hard for it. I always feel that way. So I try to talk about it less. I deactivated facebook partly for that reason, so I wouldn’t feel tempted to write about every time I’m in a hard place, which is almost always honestly.
- I want to be present in my life, with others. I am alive but like I said before I really do feel like all I am is a vessel for pain. I don’t know what I’m here for. I don’t feel like I’m making contributions to anyone’s life and maybe that sounds harsh to say but that’s how I’ve been feeling for the longest time. I’m just here, trying to learn how to walk again and live again without my mother and I mean I don’t know. I think one of the reasons I feel like that is because my brothers, in a lot of ways, seem so put together. One of them is getting engaged, and the other one has been at his job for a year and a half mashallah and he’s only 17. Like me… I am always switching around and trying to go somewhere and I dropped out of college for a minute and I’m always trying to run away, always always. I feel so fucking restless. I just want to breathe. I want to climb outside of this and I don’t know how. Is there even a way to do that? Whenever I think about my depression, I picture it as just another layer under my skin. I can’t rub it from myself, I can’t cut it, I can’t do anything to it. I literally just have to live with it, inside of me, all the time. It is a part of me and I know I should accept it but I don’t want to and yeah that sucks for me and blah blah blah but I am so tired of this I am so so tired.
- I want to shout it to someone. I want to tell you everything. I want to visit the alley with you and show you where my mother’s body was and show you the tree that the birds flew out of when the first shot rang and I want to show you how close I was to her when he killed her and I want you to ask me if I’m okay so that I can say no and cry and I want you to hold me while I am screaming and I want someone to know how exhausted I am of living this way all the time every day in each passing moment because I am not okay and because this is not a normal way to live this is not a healthy way to live this is not a fair way to live and if I am living this way then there is no moving forward and I will be stuck here forever and ever and ever.
- I’m thinking of talking to my brothers sometime this week about our parents. We’ve never talked about them with each other. We’ve never talked about what happened. I mean once a few years ago I was crying because I felt so guilty still for having walked away from mama which basically gave my father the open door to kill her because if I had stayed standing in between them like the human shield that I practically was that day then she would still be alive or even if she got shot she probably would not have been killed because I don’t think he would have shot me too. But yeah, I was crying and I couldn’t stop and my brother gave me an awkward hug but it was sweet because he started referencing Superman I think it was and talked about a similar case that happened in the show or movie or something where Superman also felt guilty about something like this and he told me that I walked away because I loved mama and I only wanted to listen to her and of course I never woulda thought my father would have killed her and I mean yeah but for a while I thought everyone would hate me if they knew it, if they knew that I left her there. I hated myself.
- Should I talk to them? We don’t talk about anything but I’m a pretty straightforward person and even though I don’t like to beat around the bush I do it sometimes but in this case I think I will just tell them what I want. I think I will tell how much I’m hurting from this and then go from there.
- I want to sleep next to somebody. Like every night I just want that — to sleep next to someone. Or I just want someone to let me fall asleep in their lap while they stroke my hair. I always feel so calmed down when people do that for me. It’s kinda weird to ask though, right? I mean the closest I’ve come to asking anyone for something like this is when I have John call me and rant about his day until I fall asleep because I hate the silence and I just feel so at peace listening to good people talk, you know? I’ve loved falling asleep to conversations for as long as I can remember, and John is so sweet to do that for me. Sometimes he starts saying things that make me laugh though, and then I will tell him how funny he is, and then he tells me, “ok but i’m supposed to be the one talking,” which is hilarious.
- I wish y’all could’ve met my mama. She would’ve loved you all so much.
The last time I went to Libya, my life was severely different to what it is today. My mother was alive. She had to deal with so much when she was there — from her brothers, from her sister, from my father over Skype. But she was still happy. I don’t know a woman who loves her father more than my mother loved her father. I always felt like it was strange that I didn’t feel the way for my father that she felt for hers; a part of me then, still so young, felt like I should have inherited the same kind of father — one that I could love.
Hnena was alive, too. She was walking then, she was sociable, and sometimes she would even make part of the rishta, then hand the work over when it got to be too much for her. Khalti Sharifa was getting weaker and weaker with the sickness. It is always hard being away from the family for so long, because everything — good or bad — feels like an ambush.
We didn’t get to watch the illness progress like everyone else did; we only watched her spilling half her water out of the cup because the disease kept her body in a constant shake until the day that she died. Mama cried silently at this scene, and I could only look away. When Mama left in 1987, a year after she married my father, she wasn’t able to return until well more than a decade later. By then, all her siblings — except for her youngest brother — had gotten married, and her sisters had all borne children, too. Once, while we were in Libya, I asked Mama if she had really not been to any one of her siblings’ weddings. She said no, and she began to weep, and I sat there wishing I hadn’t asked her in the first place.
The country was in a lot better shape, too. We named the whole first year, following the bloody end to our revolution, “the honeymoon period”. It was that good. There were of course problems, but they could never have warranted the same conversations that we have about the country in the present day. Now, we are always talking about Libya as a hopeless, failed state.
In 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting some of my mother’s relatives. I don’t recall which city we visited, but it was far more rural than the Hay al Andalus district of Tripoli that I am most familiar with. I met her cousin, Ahmed, and his little boy. He was such a quiet child, with the most beautiful brown eyes that drooped in the way that was so obviously Libyan. What I remember most from that conversation was when Ahmed told us about his son. He could not have been older than eight when I met him that day. Ahmed said that, during NATO’s bombardment of Tripoli the year prior, his son was constantly covering his ears, crying to the sound of explosives. He had learned to differentiate between the French and British warplanes that were flying overhead after enough time had passed. I have never stopped thinking about the boy and, in turn, about all the children in Libya who are growing up in a country that cannot aid them with what they need.
Everyone who has moved away now, and manages to visit after a certain period of time, comes back describing the country as being marked with an eerie, solemn, somber tone. This gloom is in the faces of the people, they say. You can feel it. They are not happy like they used to be, but they are living.
And me, I hope to go back someday, but there has always been an air of hesitancy around this desire, because I know it will not be the same. It can never be the same. I imagine that when I return, I will swoon from a grief so great. An entire world will end, collapse, and be sucked into the sky and be lost forever. I will come back different, or maybe I will not come back at all. Maybe I will destine myself to die in that country where my mother was born; a final end to the story. I don’t know. But I am not yet ready to say goodbye to the last good thing I had with my mother, to the last memory I have standing from that life.