The Letter He Couldn’t Write
“So let not this present life deceive you,” Surah Fatir, Verse 5.
October 5th, 2016
My boyfriend decided to come out to his parents today. Well, “come out” might not be the most appropriate phrase. You know, me being a woman and all. But it’s similar in that a person, who has never really done anything wrong, is frightened of his parents, or at least sickeningly nervous about their reaction. I can’t fathom it, but he might be disowned by his family today. I mean, we’re talking about the type of guy that can have one ol’ fashion or a glass of wine while ‘his boys’ are slamming back shot skies—that’s when you glue several shot glasses to an old ski and take the shots simultaneously—and then drive them home. Not that his friends are deadbeats. I remember going out with them one night; most conversations revolved around things like philosophy, speculating about the future, and political rhetoric, but while they further indulged in booze and the conversations grew louder and shifted to Tinder dates, he remained collected and himself. Then, one of his friends, shouted out, “Can you believe that this guy got the mechanical engineer position at GE healthcare?” A position that one in two hundred applicants received, but Usman played it down as though he simply lucked out, and tried to stir the conversation back to their ‘accomplishments.’ Maybe I’m making him sound like a prude. That’s not the case—I mean, when it comes to sharing my dark sense of humor, there’s no one else I can laugh with more. That night we went out with his friends, he asked one of his close friend—a black man—to take a picture of the rest of us, and when his friend asked him why he couldn’t be in it, he told him he didn’t want him to ruin the picture, and then I added (after three hours of knowing this guy) “you should be more worried about him stealing the camera.” Fortunately, his friend had a similar sense of humor, and the privileged white girl and redhead jokes came my way a bit later. And let me remind you, oh diary, that he’s no pansy; boxing was pretty much his identity when I met him—which his parents didn’t even know! Honestly, I don’t think his parents know who he truly is. They don’t even know that we’ve been living together for the past five years. Well, maybe they do, but they’re just in denial.
Today’s the day, though. The day that he will finally tell them he’s living with an atheist white girl—actually, I’m guessing he will leave out the atheist part—and let them know he wants to spend his life with me. Our relationship is fantastic. Like really fantastic. We wouldn’t have stayed in it if it wasn’t so good. We wouldn’t recommend dating outside of your culture, but if your relationship is worth it, then like, you’ve just gotta do it.
He’s not the only one that’s afraid though. Yes, he knows how to make me feel special. It’s like our love creates its own universe that defies thousands of years of cultural constructs. I know my man is strong; that he doesn’t need to rely on religion to form his identity and morals. I know I mean more to him than his parents. But what about all his cousin’s who look up to him? What about his little brother? Would he risk never seeing them again just for me? I don’t know if anyone is that special.
April 1st, 2018
My dear parents,
My hands, raw from lifting furniture and boxes all day, remind me of yours, dad. Like you, I’ve never been one to abstain from laborious tasks; I’ve never been one to back down.
That’s why I’m here, drinking a beer (yes, the type with alcohol) on the terrace of my new home. It’s in Walnut Grove—I know, what kind of white-man town name is that? But there are blueberry farms close by, and you know what that means—I’m not the only brown person on the block. In fact, right now, I can smell a trace of fried onions and coriander wafting from my neighbour’s home. Earlier, I saw the husband carry a rack of lamb out from his SUV and hand it to his wife; her fingers painted orange from turmeric.
What do you think, mom, are they making Nihari?
I hear my neighbour’s kids laughing and running around their yard.
“Rāta dē khāṇē dā samāṁ.” Time for dinner, yells the mother, and the dozen or so children scurry inside.
It reminds of Ramadan, or more specifically, suhoor. There’s nothing like waking at three in the morning, surrounded by cousins, and scurrying downstairs to see a morning feast. The Paratha, what my white friends would call “brown people crepes,” stacked in the middle of the table with gobhi ka paratha, mooli, aloo, and all the other leftover vegetables from iftar. Nobody in the world can prepare suhoor like you, mom. If the spices were too much on a morning stomach, you always made sure there was yogurt to cool the effects. Then there’s your Qawa; green tea with saffron wisps, cinnamon bark, and cardamom husks that created an aroma that guarantees peace and delectation for the rest of the day. I can’t leave such experiences behind. Can I?
October 7th, 2017
“You are no longer my son.”
Those were his mother’s words after he told her he’s living with me and plans to keep on doing so. Some mothers wouldn’t even say that if they found out their son was a serial killer. Maybe, to her, dating a white woman is just as bad as skinning someone alive with a carrot peeler. Who knows? Part of my job is to understand people and to emphasize. I’ve seen a mother’s hatred for the world after the loss of a son, a lover in the state of paralysis after watching their partner pass away, and a child’s first attempt to grasp immortality after their father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’ve always been able to give people love no matter how much venom they spew, but this… this aspect of religion, I will never understand. How can your appearance to strangers be more important than your child’s happiness? Because that’s what it is. Pride, honour, respect, and the ridiculousness of trying to hold faith even though your whole family is falling apart. These people—I can hardly bring myself to say Usman’s parents—-aren’t living in reality. It’s tunnel vision. Maybe that’s how a mother can say, “you are no longer my son.” These corrupted words can only exist in a decent human being—-and I do believe she must be a decent human to have created a child as virtuous as Usman—if they are living outside of reality. A word without logic and where meaning is constructed out of fear—a world of religious fanaticism.
It’s more than just religion; it’s racism. It doesn’t matter if I were to convert to the Muslim faith. And maybe as an upper-middle-class white person, I have no right to ever complain about racism, but fuck it, it’s just you, diary. You can judge me all you want because pretty soon I’m going to be immune to all this jaundiced judgement bullshit.
You know what, maybe I should just thank Usman’s parents. Thank you for being so closed-minded that Usman and I will never have to argue about whose family to see on the holidays. Most couples have to force a smile around their in-laws, and I guess I’ll never have that problem because I’ll never have to look at my in-laws! Easter time—my family. Christmas time—my family. And the secular holidays—my family.
October 8th, 2017
I didn’t really mean what I said in my last entry. Part of me, the more vindictive, selfish part did. I have to look at the positive in these sorts of situations. Of course, I want my Usman to spend time with my family on the holidays, but I would also like to be part of Usman’s family’s traditions. It’s painful for to admit, but I want it. I want to see Usman tear up with joy as I help his mother prepare dinner. I want to learn some Punjabi and make sure that part of Usman’s culture gets passed on to our children one day.
I found the man I want to spend the rest of my life with; a man that I should be engaged with if it weren’t for these archaic ideals holding us back. I’m not saying these ideals are instilled in my man, but they surround us, they’re suffocating us, and sometimes…sometimes I’m afraid there will be no escaping it.
Usman’s Letter Continued.
April 1st, 2018
I can’t leave it all behind because the memories I have of my childhood are too beautiful. They are full of love, and yes, that’s all thanks to you. I thank you for putting me on this earth. No, I don’t thank Allah, I thank you, damn it. Thank you for instilling in me a reverence for learning. Thank you for raising me in two different cultures simultaneously so that I realized that the world is bigger than the street you grew up on. And thank you for never giving me pork because even though I have discovered that bacon is delicious, I’d rather keep my six pack.
Thank you for raising me bilingual and forcing me to read to Quran in Arabic. Because no matter how much I disagree with the majority of that book—because that’s what it is: a fucking book—it, to an extent, defined my tastes and morals. No, I will never support any oppressive regime. No, my woman will never be my property. No, I will never slide her face into an oven for not covering up her beauty in public. However, I will not steal, I will help those less fortunate than me, and I won't harm anyone (well, unless that person steps into the ring with me).
I have already left the Muslim faith, but I won’t leave my culture. I can’t leave my culture behind because it's part of my spirit. I also can’t leave my woman because she is the other half of my soul. My Angie, a beautiful red-haired woman that some might say, does god’s work. Even though she was born into a wealthy family and could have chosen any career, she has given her life to helping others. She’s a social worker that has a work ethic that you would be proud of, dad. And mom, if you ever allowed her to step foot in your kitchen, you would bring tears to my eyes. She has an open mind, an open heart, and as much as I know that a part of her doesn’t want to, she knows there will be an open door for you in our new home. Because “my mercy embraces all things,” Quran 7:156. Except, it’s her mercy. You see, I love Angie as much as you love your god.
You probably have no idea what type of music I listen to, but lately, I’ve been returning to this song by one of my favourite hip-hop artists, Brother Ali. Here’s a passage I think you might understand.
And how you gonna hate me for being what God made me?
It's not a game, I ain't sayin it playfully
They relate to the joy and the pain in me
And seein me make it be watchin a slave get free
Holler like Bilal in the tower
Hayya alal falah, Allah is the power
That albino blind man, Brother Ali, struggled to find respect and love as a white man in the ghetto, but he found it when he converted to Islam. I can respect that even though I can’t relate to it. But how can you disown me and my woman for being what god made us? Can’t you embrace us? I was raised in the West; raised to believe that parents should unconditionally love their children, but I'm starting to think that doesn't pertain to me. Some might say I'm ignorant and that eventually you will come around. I think it's probably best to not get my hopes up.
These are my thoughts, feelings, and desires; this letter is an outgrowth of my soul, but I didn't write it. I couldn’t write what you wouldn’t be willing to understand.