If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Part 3- The Final

I read an article in the newspaper yesterday about a small village in Pakistan that had lost a lot of its young men to suicide missions thanks to an Al Qaida recruiting program. The fathers of these young men were talking about how proud they were- how honoured they felt that their sons had sacrificed their own lives for some warped ideology- how they had earned the respect of the entire village and were regarded with esteem as the honourable fathers of martyrs.

It strikes me that some people think that honour is all they have in this world. They hold honour so dear yet they do little to honour themselves, instead placing their own honour in the hands of others. Where is honour if not in your own heart? Why must people die so that others can claim honour? If death is indeed honour, then I choose life.

I will never know exactly what it was that made my father stop himself that night. Perhaps the sight of his own hands closing around my throat as I struggled for breath, reminded him of how they had once guided mine: "Bishwish, Bishwish- softly, softly. Tenderly ya habibti. You are not painting a wall. Paint from the heart. From your heart, to your brush, to your canvas. Let the paintbrush capture your feeling."

Perhaps in that instant- that millisecond when time stood still, he released his grip and allowed the breath to once again enter my body- he had realised what honour really is.

From that point on I became "she", "her", "that girl", "the tainted one", "el bet di". When I tried to speak to my mother she told me that I was no longer her daughter. My father left the room whenever I entered. I became a ghost. I was alive, but in their minds I was dead. How ironic that the consequences of my actions should be that I became an outsider even in the shadows.

Determined to do well in my final school year, I threw myself into my studies. I studied 10 hours each day, everyday, emerging from my room only for bathroom breaks and to eat. Oddly enough, this kind of diversion therapy has helped me get through some rough patches in my life. Years later when I separated from my first husband, I started a Masters degree by Thesis and finished in less than a year. When my boyfriend (now husband) and I broke up, I would divert my attention by immersing my self in home based projects. Had it not been for the fact that we broke up about 5 times during our courtship, the rooms in my house would have remained bare and unpainted.

Occassionally I wandered into my sister's old bedroom. Dr Dickhead, deciding that Australia was a land of painted hussies where a good little Muslim wife could easily be led astray, took my sister to Egypt where she embarked on a life as the good Doctor's coffee machine and baby making factory. I would sit on her bed and the room would come alive with memories of the two of us listening to music, arguing over whether the members of Duran Duran were gay, laughing with glee as we imagined Dr Dickhead's penis as a pale pink flacid appendange no bigger than a peanut dangling helplessly between his thunderous thighs, and squeeling with delight as we found new and even more disgusting ways to degrade him.

My parents kept a close eye on me. They quit full time work so that one of them could be home at all hours to watch me. If I missed the train and took a later one, I would find them waiting for me at the train station questioning why I was 10 minutes late. They regularly raided my room searching for any incriminating evidence that I might have found a way to evade their close surveilance and sneak off at night to fuck a football team (or two). If my period was late, as it often was, my mother would march me down to the clinic to draw blood for a pregnancy test. There were no school excursions, no outings, no extracurricular activities, no acting classes, no debating team, no friends, nothing. Only the shadows and school.

One day my mother told me to get dressed as I had an appointment with a doctor. "But I'm not sick" I protested. As it turned out, this was not the kind of doctor you go to if you're sick.

As we sat in the doctor's office, my mother went through my medical history- tonsils out at five, no major illnesses, no major surgery.... Then she leaned towards the doctor the way people do when they are about to say something shocking and life changing and whispered "Doctor, she is not a virgin." The doctor sat back looked at my mother and then at me and, with a slight grin, responded "So what?". After about 10 minutes it was settled. I would go in for surgery the next week.

I was to be re-virginated. Born again as a pure, untainted, unsniffed rose. I was to reclaim my virginity, re-instate my hymen to its once glorious status as protector of my virtue. I was to become marraigable material- a fine and beautiful virgin for would be Dr Dickheads.

I was angry but I had no choice. What options were there for me? I could run away but what about school, my exams, my dreams of studying law? I was not willing to give that up- that dream was the only control I had over my own life now. I could refuse to have the surgery but what good would that do? It would only serve to incur my parents wrath even more. No. I had to go along with this, even if I strongly believed that your experiences make you who you are and that nobody should ever force you to erase part of yourself.

As the school year neared to an end and I prepared to take my final exams, my parents revealed their plans for the new, improved, re-virginated me. I was to go to Egypt with my mother where I would stay with my widowed Aunt and cousins (whom I had never met) in Cairo. Ofcourse if I wanted to come back to Australia when University started the next year I could, but I would spend at least 4 months there. I was not fooled by their false assurances, not convinced that they would suddenly hand me back control of my life and allow me to step out of the shadows. I was to leave the day after my final exam.

And so the path winds it way and leads us places we never imagined we would go. And we let it because we made that initial choice, we took that initial step and threw ourselves at the mercy of destiny. And now we cannot move- not left, not right, not back, not forward- we only go where the path takes us. We watch helplessly as the scenery changes around us and we are forced to change with it. All the while desperately yearning for a path that is our own.

My parents rang me from Australia the day my final results arrived. I'd done well and was offered a place at Sydney University's Law Faculty, my first choice. But it didn't matter anymore. That dream belonged to a different life, a different path. I had to let it go if I was ever going to regain control. I had to embrace the reality of my new life and forge a new path. And I did.


There. It's done. I've told it. The secret that's lived in the dark places of my mind for so many years. The memories that make up my third life- the life I really have. Now I've released them from the shadows and brought them to the light.

13 comments:

The Raccoon said...

TUS -

Heavy. You're basically describing slavery. It's incredible, that what appears to be loving parents would put their child through this. Just... totally outlandish.

Tonns of respect to you for succesfully living through the ordeal. Even more respect for doing it without acquiring a major scratch to the brain, as fuckupedness is termed in Hebrew. And even more respect for writing it down and sharing it with the world. Since there are insufficient words to describe the respect, I'll fall back on a childish colloqialism - you totally rule.

But... the story is unfinished. It's a cliffhanger - what happened to you in Egypt? How did you get out of the trap? What and where did you go on to study? Cm'on, don't leave your readers hanging like this :)

What I honestly don't understand, though, is your sister. Why did she marry Dr. Dickhead? WTF?

humble simpleton said...

Raccoon was faster to write that part 3 is not final, this is not the end. So he was faster to write outlandish, you rule and WTF?
What is with your sister? One day she is talking about a peanut between his thighs, and the next day she is his wife, WTF? How could she tell your secret, she must have known that it exuals your death warrant, WTF? Do you call her 'sister' anymore?
I'm somehow hesitant to ask about your father, since I don't know whether he is still alive, but I would like to.
As for the pakistani men, I'm speechless, "Our sons went whoknowswhere and they blew themselves up for no good reason. What an honour!" WTF?

Bec said...

Much admiration and respect to you, TUS. Can't even begin to absorb all this yet. Make me want to weep.

About your sister. She may have turned to a powerful male in order to make herself more valuable in the eyes of others. Something women have always done. She may have betrayed you partly to make a bond with Mr. Dickhead and partly because of her resentment of your perceived higher status in the family. Partly from his manipulation, too, I have no doubt. Mr. Dickhead was rebuffed by you. I'm sure he knew how to make your sister feel "special" for sharing that intimate knowledge of you.
She may have feelings of regret sometimes, but people have a way of rationalizing those feelings, don't they? She probably has to continue with her own reality now or risk falling into the abyss.

You on the other hand are our shining star. You'll make a hell of a novelist, too. (I'm talking literature, not pop fiction!) Such were the machinations of families throughout our history - false honor, power, spite - it still exists in that old fashioned way in many parts of the world today, doesn't it? We forget about that in the West. It's a dynamic many of us do not experience in our personal lives. Thanks for opening our eyes. And I'm glad you're with us!!

Roman Kalik said...

TUS,

I'm certain was extremely difficult to share, but thank you. I can't exactly pinpoint what there is to thank for, what I myself gained from reading this, but it's there nontheless.

nominally challenged said...

At the risk of sounding monotonous - WOW!

But I too want to know what happened next. Apart from anything else, you left us hanging on the question of how you did reclaim your life - because reclaim it you did!

The Usual Suspect said...

Thanks to everyone who has left comments here.

Yes, this story is just the beginning- not the end at all- there is so much more, so many more secrets as there are bound to be when you live between two apparently irreconcilable cultures. Hopefully, one day I can tell them all- but I had to start with this one.

My sister- I was angry with her for a long long time. I blamed her for ruining my life. Then I realised that she was only doing what she thought she needed to do to protect herself- her husband had wanted to marry me first- that must have been hard for her to realise that she was his second choice. I still don't know why she married Dr D but I suspect that she saw an opportunity to get out of the shadows and took it. I thought I knew her, but I don't- she is such a different person to the sister I remember- we don't have much in common now- but we do talk and I love her. I have forgiven her because you cannot live your life with hate in your heart- it only ruins who you are and eats away at your life.

My parents- we get on well now but those years of my life are never mentioned- they have been erased- as if I did not exist then. So much has transpired since that time and it took a long time for my parents to acknowledge that the paths I had chosen were right for me. Having children has definitely bridged the gap- I know that it is because my boys are such good kids that my parents renewed their faith and trust in me.

Reclaiming my life- took a very long time and a lot of perseverence and a lot of mistakes and a lot of lessons and a lot of heartache and a lot of confrontation (I hate confrontation) and a lot of soul searching- but that's another story or 10!

I can reassure you all that life can indeed be reclaimed by those who feel that there is no hope or who have given up. I am the most ordinary person in the world- destined for mediocrity- so if I can do it, anybody can!

kinzi said...

Yes, this is a Reclaimed Life. Thank God your father let go.

thank God that He was able to instill you in a sense of your personal worth and uniqueness when everything else was screaming otherwise. God had/has plans for you...

I have a story much like yours. You are brave to share it on-line, I am not ready.

Path2Hope said...

I cannot add to what has already been said. I can only imagine the relief experienced from letting go of this secret, the fear and the memories.

I find myself nodding along with you on certain parts, I hate it when my parents compare my sister to me as well and I loathe confrontation.

But like you said, had it not been all these things in your life it wouldn't have made you into the remarkably strong woman you are today and I have nothing but the utmost respect for you:) Bless!

Miss Fabulous Freelancer said...

T.U.S. your story Part 1, 2 and 3 has brought much tears to my eyes and I feel the pain and heartache you went through as if you were my own sister so I find it so hard to reply to all you have been through without crying cause it moves me deeply and I am left speechless. You are truly amazing to share something so deep with everyone, Im in awe.

To forgive and love like you did (and as your friend, knowing you still do) is heavenly, you are an angel.

Write your book, live all your dreams and move through life with all the things that make you truly happy under your wings. Life is full of trials and tribulations but it is also so precious, wonderful and full of opportunities to be the happiest you can possibly be.

After hearing of the trauma you went through, and knowing of some others too, I ask of you to remember and focus on what it is that makes you truly happy.

Please always listen to your heart and intuition because they are messages from god.

You have been through mammoth proportions of heartache and pain. You have reclaimed your life and I know when you and God are ready that all the joy in the world that makes your heart sing will be yours.

Love you.

Egypeter said...

I'm not sure if I'm most impressed by your bravery, your intelligence, your fortitude, your humor (my fav), your writing skills or your love for your children...oh and the wonderful work you do in Australia's community. Probably a combo of all of the above :)

And as I read I am so saddened by all that you've had to go through in your life but then I stop and think how it ALL molded you into who you are today right now...and then the sadness disappears!

You are one bad-ass Egyptian that Masr should be proud of. And I hope to give you a big hug one day in person :)

halalhippie said...

Holy s#!t ...

+ what raccoon said
+ what all the others said
+ and you came out sane ? remarkable!
You are one shining example to your religion and your place of birth.
Allah yabarik feek.

On another note: Somewhere, in a galaxy far away, you wrote something about Islam and democracy being incompatible (as wieved by some Easterners and Westerners in agreement) and at the same time compatible (as wieved by some other Easterners and Westerners in agreement)

Where was that ? Can't seem to find it. With your permission, I could use it as a basis for a rant of my own.

Mumbo Jumbo said...

The more I learn about you, the more I respect you, US.

It must've felt like your world was crumbling down.

I think your sister definitely got sick of being told, "Your sister, your sister..." and just exploded in rage... but as your story progresses, it was inevitable.

I think that's also the very reason she married Dr. Dickhead (LOL)- for acceptance by your parents and to fit in the role they had tailored for her which she never did; to finally be "the good one".

Parents who hold onto their cultures and values and religion, but take their kids to be raised abroad for "a better life" have to realize that it comes as a package. You get the better environment, the better education, the opportunities, the open-mindedness but they never realize that fitting in is MOST important for a child. It's horrible to feel like an outcast! So this life in a bubble that is expected is really unfair.

I'm proud that there is an Egyptian woman out there as strong and ambitious as you.

You go, girl!

The Usual Suspect said...

Thanks everyone.
Kinzi- I understand :)

P2H- absolutely- I would be a completely different person if that had not happened.

Miss F- you know. love u

Peter- hugs to u ya pasha!

Halal Hippie- sure- my post was questioning the ability of secularism to exist in the ME- In the archives it's 2006 10/01- 10/08

Mumbo- Yes you are absolutely right- I can't possibly be angry at my sister if I have for one minute experienced what she had- being the "dissappointing one". I can't possibly blame her for wanting to be something else for a change- ofcourse I wish she had chosen to tell them about the time I forged my mum's signature on my detention slip or the time I broke the toilet seat then blamed my brother instead of this huge whopper- but like Path2Hope said- it's what made me who I am.