I walked through Hayat Mall one last time as a way to say goodbye. I spent so much of my time here walking alone; I thought it was a fitting end to my time here. You have given me a lot of things and I wanted to make sure you knew that I was grateful.
Riyadh, I’m not sure if we will meet again, but I’m glad we did. I experienced immeasurable romance, indescribable joy, tremendous pain, and unspeakable misery within your boundaries. Your heat, sun, and wind carved me up like a desert rock and I am forever grateful.
Here’s to all there is to be and all there ever was.
Two nights ago I had a horrible dream. My subconscious swirled with darkness and despair as I spun around being chased by biting insects. I was in a dark place with shallow puddles of water, almost like a sewer. My husband (ex?) was there in some capacity, although I cannot remember what exactly his role was.
I had been ruminating on whether to leave Saudi Arabia on a final exit, to leave my options open to returning or simply leaving on an exit/re-entry and burning my options here to the ground. A voice kept repeating the name of the employer for which I had considered returning. My soul was weighed into this dream and I had difficulty returning from it. I was completely shaken and disturbed by this dream. I retrieved my husband from the living room so he could lay with me until I fell asleep. I was feeling very vulnerable and scared and I was so terrified by the dream; I told him I would decide to burn down the bridge for the job as opposed burning down the bridge to him.
In situations like these, we can only do our best to make decisions with the information we are provided at the time. Everything changed for me when I was contacted that morning by an old friend. This friend had known me since I arrived in Riyadh and we had lost touch since I had moved away. They were visiting Riyadh and wanted to meet up for a walk. I decided to take the sign of someone suddenly returning to my life as an opportunity, so I met them in the Diplomat Quarter for a walk. They had some trouble getting into the DQ because of the new security protocols so it was well over an hour before we started walking. As I started to explain my situation, my friend was overcome with emotion. The words that were spoken to me were a shock of perspective.
“I still cannot believe you are still in the same situation you were in exactly three years ago.”
I realized then and there that three entire years of my life were spent in an emotionally unfulfilling relationship. Although this was partially due to circumstances, it is completely unacceptable.
In a remarkably succinct occurrence of fate, the ex-husband stumbled across the “I’m in Love with the Driver” series. The very pages that had served to save me from my pain, illicit desires, and overwhelming grief had been called to serve an even higher purpose. Confronting me this morning with accusations of infidelity, homosexuality, Satanism, and probably even veganism; he illustrated perfectly how little he knew about my life in general.
Instead of playing into the drama, I simply responded with, “I’m done.”
I am done fighting for the sake of fighting.
I am done with sacrificing my very essence.
I am done with separate lives and dreams.
I am done here without happiness.
I am done here alone.
I am done here.
I am done.
I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to seriously leave your Saudi, but be prepared for an emotional war. Men that were cold and distant will suddenly become affectionate and loving husbands. Sub7an’Allah! Why would you ever want to leave them?
I truly cannot take the back and forth and want to flee the country. However, I want to leave with a clean slate so I can come back on a work visa if I shall desire.
Why in the world couldn’t he care so much about my well-being before I had reached the end of my rope?
Despite my warnings, pleadings, and clear ultimatums; he did absolutely nothing until I pushed for the divorce and final exit.
I actually heard this statement this morning from the man who refused to discuss every single problem in our marriage, including our fertility issues:
“You know if you go on a final exit and come back on a work visa; our kids won’t have the nationality.”
Why would he assume that I would still be married/involved with him?
Even if I did stay with him, we had tried for two years to have children…and since he refuses to discuss it or go to the doctor…where are these children going to appear from?
Am I missing something here?
Perhaps I am extremely pessimistic and bitter, but it seems like a low blow to me. An emotional bullet meant to weaken my resolve, not an actual concern.
However, I have been told that cognitive processes are hindered by elevated levels of stress and that definitely applies to this situation.
I think one of the problems about being a writer is that I live in my head. I tend to agonize about decisions and run through all the storyline endings in an attempt to make a decision easier. Unfortunately, although this skill an assist in writing a novel or story; it is not helpful in my real life relationships. Crafting a life in Riyadh that I was proud of and satisfied with has proved to be impossible for me. I have not been able to rectify my personality, desires, goals, and future plans with this desert city. I was not raised to sit in my home all day and to not have experiences with nature. I feel imprisoned simply with the possibility of a walk not being on the table without a driver and a partner. Perhaps to some this might make me selfish, perhaps to some this might make me petty, shallow, or stupid. However, this is my life and I have to wake up to it every day. I’m sure that you all realize there is more to this story than will ever meet the pages of this blog (at least in the non-fiction portion).
I was looking through my diary the other day. Those of you that know me here in Riyadh, probably realize that I have been happy for longer than I would like to admit. Although I have been unhappy for so long; there is a great deal of comfort in that misery. The memories, experiences, and time I spent with my husband will remain with me forever; regardless of whether I leave or not. I just don’t think that that this relationship in its form is a healthy marriage. Thinking about leaving him and leaving this place is the hardest thing I have ever contemplated in my entire life and I thank God for that. I realize that God hates divorce despite it being halal. However, the actions of both parties over the last year and a half are not loved by Allah in any fashion. The thing that most people probably fail to realize is the depths to which marriage is a societal construct and how deeply connected all of us are. To know that if a divorce is to occur it will essentially change the lives of all of those around us is a very sobering thought. As you all know with Saudi Arabia, there is also always a paper monkey on your back; numerous hoops to jump through in order to accomplish the task you want.
I think the most painful thing of all is that; after all of the fighting done for our marriage permission, marriage in Saudi, and iqama transfer; this is where we have ended up. Maybe after all that fighting, we just didn’t have anything left to give to each other.
I’m not sure why I am talking about this other than the fact that I am more lost than I have ever been. Over the last five years, I have made very difficult and scary decisions with ease and full confidence and this decision reduces me to a small child. Change is so terrifying, especially when that change is the result of your failures. I don’t know if I will ever be able to make sense of what has happened to me and my marriage over the last year and half, but I know that I can fight for the life I want. I won’t stop.
For G :)
My hands were shaking ever so slightly with excitement as I snapped the last few buttons on my plain black abaya, obscuring my curvy figure from view. Sweeping my waist length hair into a bun onto my crown; I prepared to don my desert uniform. As I wrapped the thin black veil around my face, I shifted my head from side to side to ensure that the cloth was lying flat and smooth. Picking up my niqab from dresser, I took a deep breath and exhaled in an effort to steady my nerves. I placed the veil on my face and tied the strings in a shoestring knot which crowned my bun.
The reflection staring back at me from the mirror that hung low on the tattered wall was not the familiar reflection to which I had grown accustomed. My features were completely obscured and cloaked in anonymity. The reflection staring back at me was of some picturesque mystery woman. I wiggled my nose which caused the veil to lift in a comical way. I wondered if even my husband would recognize me. I raised my eyebrow testing the limits of my veil’s ability to disguise my identity. The familiar facial expression caused me to smile.
The crinkle of my eyes and shifting of the fabric allowed my smile to be discerned beneath my covering. It also left a slight spit stain in the center of the fabric. I lifted the veil and wiped my lips. Feeling awkward in the unfamiliar, and as anonymous as a masked ball attendee, I realized that this existence was both thrillingly easy and overwhelmingly difficult. The sheer weight of the fabric of against my face inspired an attitude adjustment. Assumptions would be made about my nationality, language, religion, and moral compass simply by my wardrobe change.
I wondered if this simple piece of cloth would truly protect us from the people that would love to discover our love undocumented.
The only flesh visible now was the small rectangle of skin surrounding my almond shaped hazel eyes. I had assumed that because I was not a doe eyed Arab beauty, that my garb would look ridiculous. I assume that my white skin would emit a glow from underneath my outfit, exposing my true identity. Perhaps my head shape would not be flattered by the fabric?
Surely, the gait of a Western woman was different than a Saudi?
Stepping backwards from the mirror, I examined myself from head to toe. I looked like me, but not like me. I was suddenly self-conscious in the harsh lighting of my cheap hotel. I flipped my veil up to reveal my chubby face, further emphasized by the tight scarf hugging my cheeks.
A sudden vibration jolted me from my thoughts. My cell phone was ringing. I answered the call knowing my husband was on the other line.
“Are you almost here? It is getting hot in this stuff” I asked.
“Yeah, five minutes. Saad gave me his car, so we can go to our spot.” He sounded excited.
“Great. See ya soon babe.”
My heart leaped into my throat. My husband had just acquired the key to our night’s success. Although my heart desired more than anything to be in his arms, I was also hesitant because of the consequences. Not able to think of anything else but his warm embrace, I steadied myself for the tense walk from the female apartment complex to my husband’s vehicle parked adjacent to the building, hidden in the shadows. Although my entire body and face was covered, I was still nervous. Numerous other things could be used to identify me; my shoes, my purse, the diamond wedding band on my left hand.
I prayed that the front desk attendant would be satiated with the soccer game and his cup of strong tea. I scanned the apartment making sure I wasn’t forgetting anything and saw fuzzy peaches staring up at me from the counter. The peaches were ripe and fragrant, at the point of no return. Any minute they would turn change from delicacies, sweet and juicy, to simply rotten fruit. I quickly gathered the overripe peaches into a bag thinking that they could serve either as a ruse to turn the front desk attendant’s attention from my departure to my offering, or a sweet snack with my hubby.
Taking a final look in the mirror, I decided I was as close to incognito as I could get, and I headed out the door into the dark hallway. All the other doors in the hall were closed. As I pushed the button for the elevator I heard a doorknob turn. Startled and not wanting to ask questions I bolted for the stairs. Hindered by my unfamiliar outfit, I struggled to remain upright. Clutching the hem of my abaya, I avoided major bodily harm in my descent. The shrill ring of my cell phone echoed off the bare walls of the apartment lobby.
“Hello?” I answered in a whisper.
“I’m here.” My husband’s voice betrayed his apprehension.
I hung up the phone and inhaled. It was time.
Holding the phone up to my ear, pretending I was still in mid-conversation, I mumbled into my cellphone with meaningless chatter. Passing the front desk, I turned my head to the opposite end of the hall from the attendant and pushed through the doors as swiftly as I could. Immediately ducking left, I followed the cement walkway towards the street. Attempting to stay in the shadows and remain alert for any potential witnesses took all my energy. A break in the sidewalk signaled to me that I was halfway there. Seeing black shapes climbing out of a cab on the nearest street coner; I quickened my pace. I couldn’t let my colleagues see me. When I was almost to the end of the building I could hear the familiar hum of an engine idling. As I turned the corner, my heart began to ache. My husband sat behind the wheel of a borrowed SUV in the dark. I rushed to the door, flung it open, and climbed inside.
I exhaled sharply. I hadn’t realized that I was holding my breath. I was safe. I looked forward as my husband started navigating through the parking lot that surrounded the cheap and shabby hotel apartments in which my company had placed forty or so female expat teachers. The company was too cheap to put us in a compound. We were in a residential area of Riyadh that was so newly constructed, most of the locals hadn’t heard of it. The only buildings in proximity were a gas station convenience store, a mosque, and our furnished apartment building. Partially completed houses were on the plots of land to the left and right of our building. The rest of the surrounding area was undeveloped desert. Sand stretched for miles, spotted with miscellaneous plastic garbage, and the occasional piece of scrap metal.
“I brought you some peaches”. I threw the bag into the backseat of the SUV and patted my husband’s hand.
We were on our way.
To Be Continued…
Although my insides quivered with rage, I entered the apartment with the full intention of initiating a calm conversation. I entered the dark hallway that separated the majlis from the roof and peered around the corner, still clutching the irrefutable evidence of my husband’s infidelity. My hands burned, but I wasn’t sure if it was from anger, embarrassment, or from their proximity to the forbidden desires my husband had kept locked up for so long.
He was not in his usual place, parked with glazed eyes glued to the television, dragging on a hookah pipe. I knew then that this was real and that I was not hallucinating or mistaken; my husband was a cheating bastard.
All this time that I been incorrectly labeling my husband emotionally unavailable, enabling him, and even feeling sorry for him; a product of an abusive household. Little did I know that his emotional unavailability was a manipulation; a reorganization of scars in order to garner pity and to negate responsibility.
I spun around the corner on my way towards the bedroom and realized that my husband was speed walking towards me. Both of us had gained so much momentum in our determination, we had to reel back to avoid slamming into each other.
“We need to talk” I seethed.
He immediately spun around and marched towards the bedroom. He huffily called back to me without turning around,
“You’re being ridiculous.Stop acting so crazy and we’ll talk”.
I made a decision in that moment; a visceral element had pushed its way to the surface. I was finished watching him walk away. So many times over this past year I had let him shut me down and out. Over and over again, he refused to speak to me; hiding behind closed doors, hookah pipes, and computer screens. I had been provided with excuse after excuse, promise after promise and empty word after empty word.These were intended only to placate me, manipulate me, and to destroy me little by little.
I was through.
My own discretion aside, I had devoted my life to being by his side; uprooted my life, abandoned my friends and family, changed jobs, cities, and professions.
It was over. Our relationship had ended the second I had read the passionate words, my tirelessly unaffectionate husband had so easily typed to another.
A desperate woman, in a desperate situation; I reached for the only
weapon I had; the one that was clutched in my palm.
“I want to be inside of you right now. I want you so bad.”
I could feel my husband cringing from across the room. He stopped dead in his tracks and paused, still facing away from me. Obviously unsure of the depth of my knowledge; he waited there. Shoulders involuntarily rising, he dared not betray himself. A traitor refusing to blow his
cover, he waited for me to continue. I knew that he recognized that phrase, but since he had uttered those same words to me; I knew that there was still a glimmer of hope he would escape from this unscathed.
“I want to make you come again for me. After that, I want you to make
me come, just like you did last night.”
His sharp exhale let me know that he had been holding his breath. He slowly turned around to face his executioner. The momentary relief experienced due to the destruction of his façade disappeared the instant his eyes met mine. Lowering his eyes to the floor, he attempted to conjure the sweet, innocent, victimized husband that had been the source of so many previous manipulations. Pale and sweaty, he stood there, eyes to the ground, shifting his balance from side to side.
I knew that this was the moment would determine the rest of my life. My hands grasped the cool solid weight of the phone. Although it was lighter than a gun, I held a small killing machine, frequently underestimated. People cling to both, citing safety, not realizing that the very thing that makes them feel safe is going to be their undoing.
I had a choice. I could rid this gun of its bullets, render it useless, and remain forever powerless, or I could let the shrapnel rip through his chest and free me from the misery I had allowed him to inflict on me.
I stood there for a moment ruminating on my options.
Would I remain a partner in this emotional dance of destruction or would I eradicate my captor and free myself?
Always one to back peddle away from a conflict, he raised his hands up in surrender.
“Put it down, Kate. We will talk about it. Let me explain.”
I would like to say that a millisecond of compassion entered my heart before I aimed and pulled the trigger, but that would be a lie.
I always get questions about whether or not I would do it all over again. Of course that is purely a philosophical question, because I am lacking a time machine. However, I would say that one thing I did not consider was that things would not go as we planned. My husband had planned on finishing his studies in America, which did not happen. He did not plan on an auto-immune disorder rearing its ugly head. These two things have severely limited his ability to obtain employment anywhere other that Saudi Arabia. Since, we were always going with the plan of “We will try Saudi and see if it works out” I never felt anything but ease. I went in with my heart open and have given this place almost four years of my life. I have lived on my own here as well as with him and I have also lived in two different regions. I know this place and I know myself. I know that my current situation is unsustainable and has led me to be extremely resentful of my husband. The personality traits that he had in the U.S that did not bother me (laziness and jealousy) rule my life here. There is no way I could have predicted how our personalities would translate in this country nor how the unexpected would cement us here. Essentially the situation has come down to if I want to remain with my husband, I would need to agree to living in Riyadh for the next five years minimum, and possibly for the rest of my life. I would need to submit to raising children here, and be ok with reliving this year over and over again. For those of you that know me, you know that this past year has been the most difficult year of my life and I will not repeat it again if I can help it.
So where does that leave me? It leaves me with a pile of questions not easily answered and emotions not easily sorted through. Do I think it is this difficult for everyone? Of course not.
In hindsight, I would have liked to stayed put in the Eastern Province. However, I am glad to have had this eye-opening experience. Obviously nothing went according to plan.
Although I actually found the book and movie to be ridiculous (most people have to suffer heartbreak through financial hardship instead of traveling for a year after their divorce). However, I did find this quote to be something I related to…
“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn’t want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
I am not a desert flower.
I do not blossom without water
I do not rise to the scorching sun
I am not able to unfurl my wilted petals
Those petals that constantly search for the mercy of the storm
The storm that bends in the direction of the blowing wind
The blowing wind that whistles across scorched earth