Each day was spent much like the one before, sleeping with the door locked downstairs in Fattima’s bedroom, waking at 3 a.m. to the marching of footsteps overhead. I held my ground as I hid under a soft yellow blanket, coming up for fresh air just as I had in Saudi years before. He didn’t understand why I would not stay in “our” room, insisting that it would put the children on edge and signal trouble in our marriage. It was the first time I boldly said “no”, walking downstairs each night, locking the door behind me.  It was a tug of war, wavering between the fear of ignoring his summons and heeding the call to enter the unknown. The tramping pace paused as if to request and then insist on my acceptance.

Sleep was intermittent until waking at 5 with the reminder that lunches needed to be prepared and the kids did indeed have school. I staggered up the stairs and into the kitchen, hoping and praying that he was asleep in my room at the end of the hall. Slices of bread were slathered with peanut butter, cut and placed into sandwich baggies. My mind was foggy but still in sync with each sound of the morning routine. There was nothing but survival, instinct and awareness, waiting and watching like an animal, protecting my young while keeping one foot ready to bound back down the stairs.

Once again I saw myself standing in a square, unable to move in either direction. My feet were placed firmly at the edge of invisible red tape. Veering outside could trigger panic and reprisals and yet staying put also carried consequences.  I cursed myself for trying to be strong on this visit, for standing up to him and even for not returning to Saudi.  The danger that had spiraled out of control those last years didn’t seem clear any more. I wasn’t sure if it had actually been that bad or if it had been exaggerated as he had claimed. Doubt, guilt and fear flooded back and gave me cause to once again feel I was stuck in an unending and relentless cycle.

After the kids boarded the school bus I waited for him to go outside and work on projects as he pleased. I no longer followed asking him to limit alterations to the house, instead I stood watching, feeling like a silent witness to my own demise.