The reminder

I sat on the bed watching his long slender fingers grip the phone, he smiled and laughed with a sheepish grin and then handed me the receiver as if it were a childish dare. I had come to trust these hands in all matters, the slightest trace of black hair dotted his knuckles, an olive tone and short blunt nails. They had signified strength through adversity and what had once been calm through any storm. I understood the words he had spoken in Arabic, but now they seemed to repeat at the end of every conversation. It had once been an inside joke, but had slowly made it’s way to the surface and into the real world. I answered with a customary greeting and heard a familiar voice from College days, Emad. He had been a good friend and gave me insights into Arab society, we laughed and talked and formed a bond. It had been 15 years since I had last seen him and now his voice sounded agitated, insistent and curious “Um Osama, do you know what these words mean“? I sat motionless, picking at my nails, thinking back to the first time these thoughts had been made public.

I dreaded socializing and always felt quite out of place. Ladies chatted in Arabic as I sat adjusting my coat and scarf, fiddling with my bag and smiling an awkward grin, pretending that I was part of their group. I had picked up many phrases in Arabic and understood some of what was being said but not enough to enter into a fluent conversation.  They always looked at me as if I were an intruder into their private world, snickers and silence.  When I started having babies, I tended to them and didn’t mind the lack of interest that I was being given. I had learned that, I did not and would not ever fit in, the message was clear.  My efforts to be accepted were all for not, making Arabic breads, cheeses and yogurt, bringing homemade desserts, cooking for ladies who had just delivered babies and exchanging recipes. But then I realized it was just not meant to be, I was different, a foreigner. Many issues were frowned upon up each and every time he insisted that we go to visit and invite large groups of people for dinners at our home. They always stared at my mismatched dishes and silverware and made comments on the lack of furniture. In Arab society it is a sign of a good family to have the right things and to be well provided for. Having a substandard family effects everyone, future marriages and even job prospects.  I had resolved myself to not care, to continue with life and all that kept me busy. When we were invited to her house a few months before, this all changed, she laughed and spoke in English, making an effort to be my friend. It was magical and finally all of my best efforts had paid off.  We spoke of raising children and the daily food we cooked, our families and our lives. It seemed some how she understood me and cared, she was open minded and interested in the real me. I looked forward to our visits and felt I was finally a part of this new life I had accepted. But now her face had changed, her warm brown eyes and soft smile seemed distant and vacant as she marched down the stairs and towards me. I smiled at first, thinking she was joking, her steps more serious with each stride, as if she held a summons or a letter of eviction. She handed it to me, a plain piece of paper, a grimace smeared across her lovely face, now accusatory and harsh. I held the paper, opened it and read,  “Would you accept your husband to marry a second wife? Mark yes or no”. I stood looking at the words, a sick feeling came over me, this hidden secret had now been made public. Until this point it had been an inside “joke” that was flippantly thrown out every now and again, perhaps serving as a reminder.  I felt the blood rush to my face, knots formed in my stomach.  She looked at me and then at the other ladies who were present, angry words were exchanged in Arabic until nothing remained but silence. She turned to me and asked me if I would accept such a thing and advised me of my rights in this matter. The thought that I was not livid, somehow signaled my acceptance, which in Arab society would be shameful and a sign that I was most likely remiss in my wifely duties. I stood, dumbfounded and told her that I had no say in the matter.

“Um Osama!  do you know what he is saying“, my thoughts were drawn back to the male voice on the phone. Emad was now speaking in an urgent tone and insisting that I answer.  I looked at him, he sat upright, running his hands over his head in frustration, fingers tracing the outline of the nightstand. “Yes” I answered and then handed him the phone. The same question was asked for years to come, a common ending to most conversations, Biduck shey? (do you want or need anything) and his answer was always the same, Arus ( a bride).

244 thoughts on “The reminder

  1. Lynn,
    Did the lady who was your friend and who brought you the letter or paper, marry your husband ? Was she his second wife ?
    Why did his second wife leave him ? Did he harass her too and threaten her with taking a third wife ?
    I can’t believe Syrians don’t accept a second wife. But that shows what a great culture their’s is. Are the family safe now in Syria ( asking because of the war and all the damage we hear about on TV ?
    Sometimes we women prefer to be doormats and take things lying down because of our children. But actually what we see as the easier way out turns out to be the worse one and would only entangle us more in the mess, we hope we are getting out of. I hope he gives you the divorce- I suggest, you don’t take any support from him but stay clear of him and anything he gives you. I am sure your children and your parents can provide for you, should you need anything.
    Keep the courage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No that was a nice lady who was my friend and the first time he publicly talked about it! So, it was embarrassing and the ladies were mad! Thanks for your comment. When you leave, often you see the real thing you worried about. When I left, it was awful, no money, no credit and threats of taking the kids! he also then threatened me, so your worst fears come true and you know why you didn’t dare leave! for years I felt I should be careful and not dare go against him. When it came to my kids I stood up to him, but I felt something inside about going very far or leaving. It has been 7 years of devastation and constant harrassment! So, leaving is very scary and difficult. I could not take it any more and had to leave and it was becoming unsafe. Women dont leave because it can be dangerous and then can become unsafe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know it was unsafe to leave, especially when you are under your husband’s sponsorship in so many ways. I am glad you are ok and things are working out for you. I somehow sense that maybe if he reforms you might go back to him.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There is no way to reform and it is over. I took him back maybe 3 times after I left! But, the key for me is getting far enough away and not having contact. Being away shines a light on it all and you start seeing the truth. Each step you think you understand and no way to go back, but then you get further and see more. when he came in may it was the last straw! I really got to see him after 2 years of not being with him and it made me sick. The picture was then clear. The first time we reconciled after I had left(7) months later, I did it under total harrassment and fear,so there was no love there I just felt afraid. I was not strong, but I felt ill when I accepted him back, so it lasted about a week! For me it is done, there is no going back and he will not change. I hoped for years and to be honest, this point right now is when I would have caved in years past. He has not paid now for about 8 months, he keeps asking questions of others about me, he has viewed my linkedin profile, sent a few weird emails to me along with others like junk mail. These are things before that meant I was worrying and maybe willing to accept out of fear. But, now there is nothing. I am done. When he pushed me, shoved me, chased me and basically attacked me, and then acted like everything was fine, it was done!!!!!! All of the other stuff was insidious, mind games, things you could pretend didn’t happen. But- that was it- real!!!! You spend years feeling bad, worrying about that person, but I see there is no hope. his other wife left him saying he was impossible, angry, yelling and mad every second! He then did the same thing to her pushed etc. and she left!!!!! So, no there is nothing now not even fear that can bring me back to that!


  2. I have been in somewhat uncomfortable marriages but the ex-husbands cried and showed remorse over their bad behaviors.
    (First, alcoholism, second, unfaithful and third, controlling)
    My parents did not support me when I divorced. In America, you would have left him long before you did, I believe you were between a rock and a hard place, dear Lynn. (hugs)
    I babysat and lived on $9000 a year so life wasn’t easy but I would wish women would realize the sooner the better for children’s sakes. This message is for readers who may be contemplating leaving. Go, run and try to have a safe place for visitation.

    Liked by 1 person

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