“Touch me through each word you think, write with pen upon my skin, tell our stories, scribble ink on every space.” Alex Sandra Myles
Love is an emotion that is both inexplicable and transparent. It was clear to me that I was in love with Hamoodi, regardless of the inherent consequences. We had ended our affair with the intentions of clearing our consciences, but unfortunately all it did was illustrate the hypnotic draw of our hearts. Within twelve hours of being crushed by the “end” to our relationship, it was renewed with unmatched fervor. We did however, agree that meeting was a horrible idea and would only lead to us continuing down the same path; down into the deepest rabbit hole either of us had ever managed to fall into.
Although affairs and love triangles are common in movies, television series, and steamy novels; no one ever really explains the strange cocktail of emotions that are stirred when one steps outside of the boundaries of fidelity. The excitement and intoxication of newness and illicit love are commonly smeared as the upside to cheating, but in my experience that benefit is fleeting and superfluous. Considering a tandem skydive or bungee jump could provide the same rush of adrenalin without the moral cost; it was not the excitement that rose as the glistening silver lining. Since I was residing in one of the most conservative kingdoms in the world, it was also not the thrill of the illicit. The thrill of illicit is transformed in Saudi Arabia. Those of us rebels who seek pleasure in the push back on authority have plenty to work on before arriving in adulteress territory. A quick spin around the block in my husband’s Toyota would do the trick.
So what was it that was keeping me from tumbling into the depths of depression due to my recently stained soul? It was and is validation. There is nothing more validating than an affair, in the most human of senses. Although it is typically considered validation in the most traditional of senses, for beauty or self-worth, that was not the case for me. My validation came in another form. When I married my husband, everyone had an opinion. Most people were negative, only pointing out the problems and dangers. Everyone thought I was acting in such a radical fashion and making a huge mistake. Most people tried to “save me from myself” and to warn me that they were older and wiser and that I would one day “come around” or “wake up”.
If you are asking yourself whether I received validation that they were right or that moving to Saudi Arabia was an enormous mistake, the answer to that is an absolute and irrevocable no. There is no way I would have ever done anything differently. Even if my husband and I end our relationship in a messy, disgusting, and extremely painful divorce; every good moment was worth it.
I was loved.
I might have forgotten that along the way and gotten lost. We might not be in love any longer, it might not be a fairy tale ending. However, Saudi Arabia will forever be in my bones and this is exactly how it was supposed to be. I was meant to be my husband’s wife for a reason, regardless of whether I know the reason yet or not.
I was brave enough to trust my heart.
Was it all so I could meet a man and fall in love?
Was it simply meant to be a way for me to appreciate my country of origin?
Does it matter?
Our beautiful and imperfect story has already been written.
Alex Sandra Myles http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/02/i-only-want-to-be-touched-by-you/
I would say that when most people say they “escaped” Saudi Arabia, whether it was quietly in the middle of the night or screaming in broad daylight; to the rest of the world images of abusive religious police, domestic violence, and gross human rights violations committed by extremists carrying ISIS flags on camelback are invoked with the very mention of the Kingdom. As anyone that has been to the Gulf knows, those things lurk in the dark, but are generally not even blips on the radar when it comes to life here. Most of the people here have never experienced anything other than small annoyances, petty crimes, or other acts of criminal mischief that are commonplace everywhere else the world. Saudi Arabia, is all around, usually a safe place.
However, what I find to be the most aggravating and difficult for expatriates, especially those of Western origin, to deal with are the little daily annoyances that seem to build up and balloon into the majority of strife that plagues their existence here.
The coffee machines are inconsistently broken or empty. No one has change…ever. The urges and cravings for food or drink seem to appear only when it is prayer time and everything is closed. The drivers arrive untrained, disoriented, and still more “qualified” to drive than you, despite your driver’s license sitting unused in a wallet stuffed in the bottom of your purse. The incessant questions about your marital status, progeny (or lack therof), and all other personal matters that people refuse to believe are private details of a life that is no business of theirs. Being stared at because of your English, “yellow hair”, or simple existence can be jarring. The complete lack of organization and efficiency in almost everything leads to the necessity of wasta.
These are the things that make Saudi, the land of contradictions. They are also part of some things that bring joy. For every deficiency, there is a good side that can be derived. This life is not for everyone. I can’t even tell you if it is for me. I can just tell you…it is. This is Saudi Arabia.
I am afraid.
I am excited.
I am sad.
I am happy.
I am angry.
I am remorseful.
I feel guilty.
I feel entitled.
I feel love.
I feel hate.
I feel at home.
I feel like a stranger.
I have betrayed him.
I have betrayed myself.
I have cried.
I have screamed.
I have smiled.
I have laughed.
Don’t let me leave.
I want to be happy here.
I will go.
I can’t stay.
One thing I have learned from my time here in Riyadh is that there are two kinds of people in your life…those that will become closer to you as you fall and others will use that as an excuse to head in the opposite direction. The problem is sometimes it is easy to determine to which group they belong. The writings in this blog are an amalgam of fiction and non-fiction and they are all snapshots of a complete life that exists outside this forum. There are happy moments, precious moments, and private moments. If I have decided to share something it is because I believe that others will derive benefit; whether that is from emotional support, readability, or a life lesson. The “I’m in Love with the Driver” series has been derived from a combination of personal experience, the experiences of others, imagination, and third party accounts of events. My “negative” posts are generally written so the negativity is purged from my actual life…and so people can relate. My experience living in Saudi Arabia and being married to a Saudi is unique; however it is made of various experiences that are very similar to many of the wonderful human beings that make this place their home. If you are under the belief that you can “catch” loneliness, unhappiness, negativity, or a variety of other ailments from reading my blog…I would advise that you don’t read it. I refuse to drown in sorrow just as adamantly as I refuse to succumb to the naiveté that causes people to call Saudi Arabia the “safe haven for Muslims”. Saudi Arabia is a flawed country, just as I am a flawed person. This blog is not a feel good mantra of Muslimness nor Saudi wifehood. It is not a testament to the human spirit, a tale of survival, or a carefully crafted story of transformation. It is simply a catalog of portraits; ideas, thoughts, and feelings. I am just one channel broadcasting my signal into the universe. Tune in if you’d like.
I imagine every once in a while in all intercultural marriages, there are moments in which both parties are simply unable to come to an understanding in regards to certain cultural nuances. I had one (of many such moments) last night and I would like to share.
Last night, my husband and I could not get the slow cooker I brought from America working properly in time to eat dinner before 10pm. Since we both had work the next day, we decided to go to Nakheel Mall to grab some food. After deciding what to eat, my husband told me to go find a seat and he would remain and order. He pointed towards the far wall and said, “We should sit over there”. I suggested we sit on the other side by the balcony that overlooks the rest of the mall, but he instantly vetoed the choice due to “the heavy traffic”. Not wanting to argue, I began my search for a clean and empty table (no mere feat) towards the far wall of the food court seating. After procuring the sole empty and clean table, I sat facing the restaurants so I could people watch and see my husband’s approach. The family behind us left shortly after, leaving another empty table, which a new family hastily claimed. I sat and played with my phone for a few minutes until my husband arrived with our broasted. Immediately, he began goading me to switch seats with him. “I don’t want to face the family.” The man that was with them was facing the opposite direction, but there were men around us in every direction. My patience as of late for Saudi ridiculousness has been quite shortened, so I immediately refused. “That is ridiculous. There are men all around. There are women all around. What do you want me to do?” I won’t tell you what my husband said in response, simply because I desire to protect him. Let’s just say…it wasn’t nice. He was extremely furious at me for not switching seats and not understanding why “it should be that way”. Call me selfish, call me crazy, call me anything…but for the life of me…I can’t figure out why in the world some “Saudi-ness” exists…or why our Saudi husbands expect adherence to these nuances. My husband spent a total of twenty years in America…more than half of his life…and still cannot shake these…whatever they are….
Was I wrong or unreasonable?
There is something inside of me that only he can reach. I desperately grasp for it when I lay awake next to my sleeping husband, unable to understand how a stranger could hold the skeleton key to my existence. It is as if my body has betrayed me and handed control over to someone else. My body still responds to my husband in the most basic of fashions; need meeting need. However, I am swallowed by a feeling on anonymity in our oneness; as if we are simply two nameless and unidentifiable beings dancing in the dark. His touch dulls the roar of hunger which keeps me awake late into the night, my hands furiously searching for vices; a text message here, a cigarette there. It is unstoppable my desire for him. He has awoken a part of me which I hadn’t realized had been hidden, buried in the tombs of the forgotten, the abandoned. Perhaps, maybe it never even existed; and he carved me up until I was brand new. It doesn’t matter now. We are done.
The pain of losing someone you never truly had is unique in its torture and tragedy. A sudden and youthful death leaves all reeling at the fragile face of mutual and undeniable mortality. The sadness of life stunted is unsurpassed; an unfurled blossom, a stillborn baby, a prom night car accident. The mockery of passion stoked quietly, extinguished without climax or warning. The exquisite ache of unreachable moments taunts. A never promised future exists only in unfulfilled wishes.
Adverse reminders of the unforeseeable end quietly exist, binding us all as the living. The undeniable sensation of dissatisfaction functions as the driving force of humanity; provides fuel for the collective struggle. Life is the tension. Death is the release.
It is a dangerous thing, hope. It crawls within us and creates space for something greater, something more. It creates space where there was none so when exhaled; our body groans in an effort to fill its previously occupied space. If you aren’t careful, scar tissue and gristle expand to reach the edges of the blackness. If you are lucky the emptiness remains; a constant reminder that you were once whole, filled with something out of which great things were made.
Those who have spent a lot of time in Saudi Arabia will tell you that it can be overwhelming and all consuming. I was blessed and lucky enough (or cursed) to have spent fifteen consecutive months in Saudi Arabia with only two days spent out of country (in Bahrain). This was simultaneously the longest time I had ever spent in Saudi Arabia (previously it had been 8 months) as well as the longest time I had ever spent away from my family. I would be fooling myself if I did not say that the experience did not change me. It carved rivers and pathways into my heart and soul and I have spent the last three weeks attempting to understand them. I have a little less than two weeks left until my return flight back to the Kingdom and I truly hope that by the time I have finished with my vacation I have rectified my feelings about the previous fifteen months, and my life since setting foot into the Kingdom. I have become a different person. Living abroad changes a person. Living in Saudi Arabia changes a person. Only time will tell whether it is for the better or for the worse.
salaam wa alaikum
I will remember the kisses
Our lips raw with love
And how you gave me
Everything you had
And how I offered you what was left of me.
I have to let this out, if only to attempt to vindicate myself of the stupidity, the blame, the unhappiness I have experienced and caused. I am in love with my driver. He is in love with me. We have shared four passionate encounters. I am married. He is not. We are lost; in each other, in the moment, in the love, in the greatness and smallness of it all.
The Third Time
Hamoodi slid the car into park and spun quickly around. He reached for me with an intensity and urgency that simultaneously startled and stirred me to my very core. Although he was still in the driver’s seat and I was in the backseat, it didn’t seem to matter. He pulled me close; expertly and effortlessly in only the way that two star-crossed lovers can manage. The wetness of his mouth was now familiar. His hands knew their way around my curves; the small of my back already tingling from his touch. He suddenly pulled back and grabbed my head with two hands. While staring at me with his eyes burning brightly, so green; he touched his forehead to mine and sighed. He pressed into me with a weight that let me know he was preparing himself to say something dually difficult and significant.
“Kate. I can’t do this. I’m tired. You’re married.”
I knew the unsaid words that were forming on his lips. We should stop. This is wrong. Why are we doing this? I reached up and joined my hand to his, leaning into his touch.
We stayed there in that moment; leaning into the pain of the situation, our decisions, and our beating hearts. My eyes began to water, betraying the romance of the moment and causing my mascara to run. I knew what had to be done, but I wasn’t sure if I had the strength to do it. I couldn’t bring myself to say it, so I remained silent. Hamoodi spoke first.
“You know I am a strong man, but I just…” his voice trailed off as he began to absentmindedly stroke my hair.
“You know that we should stop. I shouldn’t touch you or see you or speak with you. You married lady.”
“I know”. I replied, but remained motionless. I was now buried in the chest of a man who was not my husband. How did I get here? I had prayed. I gave to charity. I had fasted for Ramadan for crying out loud. I had chosen to be Muslim. I had committed myself to a life of submission. In my entire twenty-seven years, I had never felt so powerless…or alive.
I began to cycle the now common doubts through my exhausted brain.
Why did I feel like our love was catapulting me into a direction to which I have no control?
Why does it feel so natural to be here with him?
Why didn’t I feel guiltier?
I realized right then what I needed to say to him. The words were bubbling up from the bottom of my chest, spilling out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“Hamoodi. You make me feel like I am in the wrong house.”
He gently used his two fingers to tilt my chin up so that I could look into his eyes. The force of his stare was enough cause me to swallow my speech which would explain exactly what I had meant when I made my declaration. I could see he knew exactly what I had meant and how incomprehensibly stupid and in love that meant we both were. With one breath of a word and a smile that made my gut ache with want; he sealed our fates intertwined.
” عسل ”
Sorry I have not written in awhile. I have been completely overwhelmed with life :) Thank God I am now in the United States on a well deserved vacation! I am going to be using this trip to relax, refresh, and to reevaluate myself. Honestly, I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere and I’m not sure why. Ever since I became Muslim I have been struggling and floating around trying to attach to something, to land somewhere, to be found. I feel like there is nowhere on Earth I can just be anymore. If I am in Saudi I am adapting parts of myself to there, if I am in America I am adapting myself to certain things I don’t like there….when am I going to feel like I am home?
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
After tearing the house apart while searching for my pink lighter, I found it on top of the refrigerator. I was actually not surprised my lighter had mysteriously appeared in the last place I would look. I giggled at the subtle attempt to assert disapproval in reference to my newly formed habit. I shook my head while I pushed open the door to the roof, unlit cigarette dangling from my mouth. The roof smelled like pigeon shit and earth. I imagined that at this point in time, my soul would probably smell the same. My joints ached with despair as I attempted to avoid rumination of any kind. I raised the lighter to my mouth and realized that the cigarette I so desperately craved had broken in half during my pillage of the house. I dissolved into maniacal laughter when I realized that my husband’s passive aggressive attempt to stop me from smoking had in its own blatant childishness actually been extremely effective. My laughter quickly converted into gasping sobs when I realized that somewhere out there buried deep within my husband’s chest was his unearthed love for me. It was my own fault it was not reaching me; I was too busy smearing myself with someone else’s affection. I stayed there for a few minutes, my body quaking as each sob escaped and floated out into the dry desert night. After a few minutes, they simply just stopped. I straightened myself, wiped my eyes and pushed myself through the heavy metal door. I turned back only long enough to notice the moon, burning brightly behind me in the darkness.
My husband had discovered my cigarettes one day while he was searching for scissors in my office. He had asked about them while we sat down in front of an episode of Elementary one evening.
Very casually turned towards me and asked “Whose cigarettes are those? I found them in your desk.”
He asked in a way which indicated to me that he couldn’t believe the only logical conclusion. Since we were the only occupants inside our home and he had found them in my desk; it was pretty obvious whose cigarettes they were. His hopeful eyes peered at me, practically begging for an alternative to the obvious. I considered lying to him for a millisecond and then confirmed his suspicions with a simple affirmation, “Mine.”
The micro-expressions in his face conveyed a hurt and disappointment that triggered a wave of shame. The first blow socked me right in the gut and rippled upwards. It reached right up into my chest cavity, clamping firmly down on the organ that had so desperately misled me. Quickly realizing he had betrayed his true feelings; he pasted on a smile right over the hurt. His face contorted back into something which he considered stoic; he turned back towards the television and started eating.
Just like that, he had vanished. My husband was always retreating back into some impenetrable shell that left me barking into thin air. I never learned to back away before he disappeared. I was always left alone to paw at the ground snarling. He finished his food quietly and withdrew into the majlis to mindlessly click buttons and inhale grape flavored smoke. I sat there on the floor with the remnants of dinner spread out in front of me; knowing that the phone call I was about to make was inescapable.
Later that Night…
We had retreated to our separate corners of the apartment. My husband was occupied with his nightly ritual of tobacco and too much audio-visual stimulation. I had purposefully taken up residence in the furthest room from the majlis, which was ironically our bedroom. I had fallen into a nightly routine of phoning Hamoodi while I nervously paced back and forth between the bedroom and the office. If I was not alone in the house, I was not able to completely give myself to the call. With one ear I absorbed Hamoodi’s improving English and desperate declarations of love. With the other ear, I carefully listened for any sounds indicating that my husband was approaching.
“I can live with you anywhere. I have two hands and two legs al hamdililah. I don’t have anything, but we will have a good life. We can start over, go anywhere. You don’t have to be an English teacher if you don’t want and I don’t have to be a driver. We can do anything.”
I heard him utter these beautiful and romantic words, but I wondered if they were true. Although I was desperate to believe him, would I really be able to start over? Did I deserve to start over after what I had done? Was this all just some phony codependent relationship, designed by circumstance and whipped into frenzy by need and the bitter dryness of a close minded city? Were we simply two satellites orbiting in the blackness, grasping onto each other to avoid going alone into the void?
All I knew was that when a present is opened; you can never re-wrap it the same way. I had opened this door to madness, so it might always remain slightly ajar and creaking. Our place was now beyond right or wrong, beyond reality and illusion; it was further than that. We were beyond each other, souls lying in the grass; speechless at the fullness of it all.