My last post was a cathartic, therapeutic experience. Over the past 26 months, I’ve gone through all of the stages of grief I think, and that post was finally one of acceptance. It was everything I want to say about my marriage, the good, the bad, the way we loved and the way it ended. I can explain until I have no words left, but the questions will never be fully answered, the loss can never truly be understood. And the emotions, the anger, the bitterness, the desperation, the shame, and the guilt, it’s all too big to ever really put into words. So I choose now to stop talking about that marriage itself. It happened, it was whatever it was, and it doesn’t make a bit of difference now to even attempt to analyze where it went wrong.
That doesn’t mean I can’t learn from it. There’s plenty about who I was, what my life was like, and how I allowed myself to be treated and how I responded that was wrong for me. There’s so much I needed to finally see and change and I can do that now because I finally let myself face it. I accept that I will never know if that man became someone I didn’t like or if that was who he always was and I just didn’t see it. I accept that I was young and foolish and naive when I fell in love and that I wasn’t proud enough of myself to set limits to my patience. I didn’t respect and honor myself enough to be clear about what lines could not be crossed. I made myself weak and unhappy by not caring enough about my own wants and needs. And that’s just not a way to live OR love.
There is one last piece to my grief that I have yet to write about. Once I let that out, I will no longer write about those events because I choose to move on in my life now. I have to get this out, though, because it’s the last big thing that happened between us and it defined everything I’ve done since then and how I’ve chosen to be happy instead of being a martyr.
I have always been so hyper-aware of what others expect and that has taken precedence over what I feel. I was happiest making others happy, but sacrificing my own joy was the wrong way to go about it. I’m worth the same amount of effort I put into others’ lives. Why not voice my own desires and, (gasp) MAKE IT HAPPEN?? I know I’m a good person. I know I don’t like to hurt people, to lie, to cheat or steal. I am kind and generous, sympathetic and empathetic. But I have no reason to fear that listening to myself and doing what I want will ever be the wrong choice. If I know I’m that good person, than no choice I make will ever be one that is truly hurtful to someone else.
And as a mom, I want to set the example for my little girl that taking care of herself is a priority. I want her to value other people’s opinions and feelings, but honor her own heart first. I teach her right from wrong, and I teach her to care about the community, her family, the world around her. I can also teach her how to be strong within herself, a lesson I think is the most important one a desi woman today can learn.
The generation before mine was conservative. The generation after will probably be comfortable in a settled balance between the traditions and the new ways of life. But my generation is one of turbulence, extremes of rebellion and obedience.
I’m a first-born American pioneer in my family, the guinea pig that tested out the strange and awkward thing that is growing up Muslim in America… a bit like straddling a spiked fence. The experience is painful and embarrassing at times. I felt like an outsider in both the “American” circles and my family’s. I was different. And I tried to be silent about it, to pass by unnoticed while I satisfied everyone else and attempted not to feel like I wanted something else. But countless times I wished I was one of the little blond girls, the ones who didn’t know where in the world their families were from, whose religion wasn’t a stamp on their foreheads labeling them one way or the other. I wanted so badly to blend in, not to be so pointedly unique while I felt invisible.
That silence was suffocating. My relationship with Zahara’s father was similar, not in such negative ways, but in the way that I quieted my discomfort for the sake of maintaining peace. I was silent, and I was sad. Like I said in my last post, there were some amazing times. But I needed more. I needed to go through the hell of the end of that relationship to truly be set free. I needed to learn how to love myself.
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When I found out about his cheating 2 years ago, I went through periods of the first 2 stages rather quickly. He made it easy for me to get to stage 3, bargaining, by asking for forgiveness and expressing his love and desire to prove himself. I tried to remain objective, but really I was denying that his actions could be as bad as they felt to me, I was angry at myself for not being able to get past it, and I was ready to do all kinds of heavy lifting to make it work. I let him back into my heart and my arms too many times to count that first year.
I thought I was being strong, when in reality I was just trying to ignore my own instincts in order to get us back together. But becoming a mother had given me some new confidence, making me push against my own resistance to care about ME. I was confused and conflicted. I knew something had to change and (or because?) I knew that my daughter deserved a better example. On New Year’s Eve I realized it had been a year since I’d discovered the cheating and I was still just waiting for him to go through with his promises to make it up to me.
This is when he told me he had a week off and asked me to come to Thailand where he’d be for that week so he could finally win my trust back fully. He wanted to explore this random foreign place together while we explored a new kind of relationship with each other, one in which we would be wiser than before and stronger together because of it. So I did it. That was the moment my life really changed.
Sometime during my LONG flight from New York to Japan, his girlfriend got suspicious and made plans to see him and his parents called mine to tell them to tell me to turn around and come home because I was “pressuring” him. Meanwhile, I thought about my life and decided that I was tired of waiting for people to live up to my expectations while I inevitably let them get away with doing the opposite. This was going to be the end of this relationship or the beginning of a new understanding between us (with plenty of marriage counseling along the way, of course!)
I landed in Japan for a short layover and called him to say I was almost in Thailand. When he’d asked for the visit and convinced me it was necessary, I’d asked him three times if he was sure before I finally clicked the enter button to charge my credit card for the ticket. My parents were understandably worried but wanted me to make the decision that felt right to me. I think I was a little desperate at that point, too. I just wanted things to go back to how they had been, with the adjustments that I felt were necessary for Zahara to see in our relationship.
He had started describing the adventures we would have, the hotel and car arrangements he’d make, the tours we could go on. He sounded so excited and enthusiastic and romantic, it was infectious. But when I called from Tokyo after hours wide awake in a cramped airplane seat, he sounded different, abrupt and angry. He told me he wasn’t sure about all this and I told him the decision I’d reached about the visit and its implications. Now that I was almost there and so sick of waiting around and getting hurt, it was in his hands. He could do whatever he wanted, but I was done letting things happen to me. Whatever came next, I’d do what was right for me.
What came next was unexpected. I arrived in Thailand after he angrily ensured that he’d still be there to pick me up. I walked out, looked around, walked outside, walked inside, walked through that whole airport I don’t know how many times. I called to let my family know I’d arrived safely and to calm their fears. I called him and I called him and I walked and walked. I charged my phone by a nice security guard’s chair and I tried to shake off the numbness. And then somehow I did.
I got up, asked the airline about a return flight and found out I was stuck there for the weekend. I got a reservation at the airport hotel and I went there, ate dinner, and got in bed. I flipped through my IPhone pictures and videos of my daughter, of the reason I wanted to go on, of the one person that made me want to be strong. And I laughed at her silly infant dancing style and I cried at my lost love and I tossed and turned and slept.
That sleep only lasted a few hours and then I was awake and still in disbelief. I was struggling to understand how I was where I was, and then I chose not to even try. I had to get home to my little girl. I couldn’t fall apart in a hotel in Thailand with hardly any money and not a soul to rely on but myself. I got myself up.
I swam in the pool.
I ate AMAZING food.
I got dressed up and I got information and I got on a train and I went to the main city. I met a kind older man who talked to a taxi driver for me to get him to give me a tour of the temples and monuments. I took pictures and I soaked in the beauty. And I ate some more. And somehow, I was happy. I was excited. I felt FREE.
On the way to the airport for my flight, my taxi got stuck in horrible, sit still for hours traffic. Turned out there was some sort of a Communist procession protesting the current government in Thailand. I negotiated and got my taxi driver to stop a motorcycle taxi and tell him to take me to a nearby train station. I grabbed my bags, hitched up the skirt of my maxi dress, climbed on the back of that motorcycle and put my arms around the first man since my husband. And then we flew.
I was flying.
It was the most invigorating, liberating, exhilarating feeling ever.
I laughed like a maniac and the wind cooled every last bit of heat from my stages of grief: the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. Because I hadn’t realized but I had been depressed, functioning and smiling because I HAD to for my baby girl, but internally destroyed. I found my sexiness on the back of that motorcycle. I found my adventurous, fabulous, life-loving, self-loving self in those few moments. God, I felt lighter than I had in years and I liked it! And I wasn’t about to let that feeling go.
When I got back from that trip I filed for divorce. Zahara’s father has spent this past year alternately trying to convince me to forgive him and trust him and then disappearing with his girlfriend for weeks at a time. I’ve never let our problems get in the way of his relationship with our daughter, but his sporadic presence in her life through phone calls and skype has remained sporadic. He’s barely visited, and is often out of touch for long periods. That’s his issue. I only want to make sure our daughter is happy and safe and healthy.
My trip to Thailand brought on the process of acceptance. And now, a year later, I wrote my last post about our marriage, accepting that there’s more to it than can ever be explained, and accepting that it is truly over. And now, I’ve written about the experience that finally changed my life.
I am no longer a little girl wishing I was someone else. I am no longer silently suffocating. But I will not argue the details of that relationship anymore. I won’t blame or defend. I won’t focus on that time. Because I am finally done grieving and I can truly say that I am free. And there’s nothing more that needs to be said about it. I am free.