Departure Post 6

No matter how harsh a disciplinarian my mother was, my father had full control over our family unit.  Like so many other children, we lived in constant fear of the phrase: “Don’t make me call your father.”  It was as though he were a Kraken, being summoned as a vessel of vengeance to reap destruction upon any children who’d dared to act in disobedience.

“Don’t make me….” The words were always spoken as though she truly believed she had no choice. It was a poorly spun facade, and the idea that somehow, I was capable of controlling her actions allowed her to accept their result and detach completely from any and all sense of responsibility.

“Don’t make me….” They were words I’ve heard often from both of my parents, but where my mother likely embraced the delusion of her innocence, my father, with his narcissistic tendencies, was far more cunning. He took great pride in his ability to evoke fear amongst his children.

This was never more evident than when I was 10 years old. Sami and I had committed an unforgivable act; we disobeyed our mother. True to form, she summoned my father to punish us. My father maintained his composure that evening, and never raised his voice. He simply walked over to a closet near the foyer of the house, quietly retrieved an instrument of punishment, and commanded me to bend over the wide arm of the living room sofa. He stood silently for several minutes over my shaking and expectant frame. The longer he waited, the more I shook. Then suddenly, just as I was beginning to hope that he would show mercy and stand down, he struck.

His weapon of choice that day was a thick line of insulated wire that had recently framed the exterior of my mother’s car. Not unlike the structure of a whip, it delivered a similar effect, each lash preceded by a hollow warning pitch as it cut through the air and cracked against my body. Minutes later he stopped. I rose, quietly sobbing as I walked over to replace my brother as the observer, and he assumed my position over the wide arm of the sofa. As we passed each other I saw the terror in his eyes and knew immediately that I had gotten off easy. I knew that by forcing Sami to watch my punishment in anticipation of his own, my father would deliver a more potent dose of terror to Sami. My ordeal was over for the night, but the black and blue bruises remained for weeks, as a painful reminder of our disobedience.



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Departure Part 5

Rob and I communicated regularly. Online, I had finally found a reprieve from tribal cultural norms and Islamic doctrines that had stifled me since birth. I took solace in my new friendships and unimpeded interactions. Interactions that simply weren’t possible in my offline reality.

It wasn’t that my parents didn’t allow me to have friends; it was that I’d found issue with the rules they’d instated around the entire process.

Where the average, red-blooded American teenager would frequent malls, movies, or parties on weekends, my mother severely restricted my participation, and my father blindly supported her in this endeavor. They made it clear that no matter how badly I wanted to fit in with my American peers, I would never be the average, red-blooded American girl. I was expected to be the obedient blue-blooded Arab Lady.

Accordingly, in an effort to preserve my honor and my family’s reputation, I was instructed that friends were allowed to either visit me at home, or my elder brother, Sami would have to accompany me as a chaperone. Neither of these was a particularly palatable option.

It wasn’t unusual to hear my mother listen in via speakerphone while I was working on school projects with male-assigned team members. I remember quite distinctly getting a call one afternoon when I was in the 7th grade. My mother hadn’t heard the phone ring. She walked into the kitchen and found me on the phone talking to a boy from school. It was all quite innocent. However, sans inquiry, and driven by a constant belief that I was always up to no good, she slapped me hard on the face, grabbed the receiver –which her blow had sent flying across the kitchen nook, and hung up the phone. It should therefore come as no surprise that by my second year of high school, I’d become withdrawn and avoided making friends completely.

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Departure Part 4

We crossed through several towns, eventually reaching the gently rolling hills that signified the outskirts of the city were behind us. I tried to force myself to relax and focus on something other than the objects in the passenger side mirror. Terrified that at any moment my father would suddenly appear and end my little escapade, I tore my eyes from the mirror and began to survey the contents of the cabin.

I looked over at Rob. His face was thin and gaunt. It was supported by a young and delicate bone structure that, despite weathered skin, belied his 32 years. His hair was sandy blonde and fell smoothly just past his shoulders. He glanced briefly in my direction and smiled, before setting his kind, but tired blue eyes back on the road ahead.

“Did you sleep?” I asked.

“Not much.” He grinned. “I dropped by a truck stop this morning, napped a bit, and showered. I’ll sleep when we get to Tucson.”

I’d met Rob in the spring of 1996 in an Internet chat room. I was 19 years old and attending university full time in pursuit of a degree in electrical engineering. He worked as an electrical engineer for a computer hardware company based out of Provo, Utah.  He was the ideal online friend, laid back, easy going, and supportive. Within months I’d adopted him as a mentor.

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Departure part 3

I exited the highway and drove towards the main entrance to the University where I followed the road past administrative buildings, student dorms, and security booths, eventually stopping at a large parking lot in front of the humanities building.

It didn’t take me long to spot the occupied, white pickup truck in the near empty parking lot. Pulling into my usual parking space opposite the main entrance to the building, I turned off the car engine, grabbed my suitcase, and retrieved the “goodbye” letter I’d penned the night before and hidden in a middle pocket of my backpack.

I placed the car keys on the drivers seat and covered them with the letter, locked the car door, exited the vehicle, and made my way over to the pickup truck.

The occupant of the pickup truck did not step out to greet me. I opened the door, pushed my suitcase and backpack into the truck, and nervously slid into the passenger seat.

“Hey Rob. Did you have a hard time finding the place?”

“No.” He said. “You ready? We’d better get moving before that guy in the security booth notices us.”

By 730am, we’d merged onto the westbound highway leading out of town.


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Departure Part 2

I started the car and drove it mindlessly towards the university. Lulled by the repetitive scenery along the nearly deserted highway, my mind began to wander, and during those moments I began to second guess myself. My thoughts converged onto the events that had occurred exactly one month prior, and had led to my decision to finally leave.

In that month before, my daily routine was fairly consistent.  Wake up. Drive to the university. Complete tasks. Drive home. Rinse. Repeat.  That day I did indeed wake up, drive to the university, complete my school tasks, and drive home.

When I arrived home, Mum was in her usual spot in the kitchen nook, casually reading the newspaper. My 14 year old brother Tal was skulking around the kitchen in search of ways to mitigate his usual bout of after school boredom. To this day, no one remembers what my brother had said; only that it was juvenile. My response however, was equally juvenile.

I never saw him enter the kitchen, but seconds after I’d uttered the words “I don’t care. Stick it in your ear….” my head was in his hands. My father dragged me violently by my thick, waist-length, dark brown hair to the opposite side of the kitchen. Blow after blow, my head screamed in pain as he slammed it repeatedly against the side of the refrigerator.

My mother cried at him to “Please stop!”

My younger brother, more shocked than triumphant, watched in silence.

My elder brother, long out of reach of my father’s wrath and drawn by the commotion, entered the kitchen and made no effort to intervene.

It felt like several minutes before my father’s anger had subsided and he finally released me from his grip. I walked quietly to my room, overcome with a sense of shame, and for the first time in my life, the resolve to never feel that shame again.

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Departure Part 1

This is an account of events that actually happened. The names have been changed to protect the parties involved. Feedback welcome….

There was nothing remarkable about the day I left.  I’m struck most now by how many details remain clear in my mind after all these years.  I remember how little sleep that last night afforded me.  The combination of the intense fear of being discovered, intermingled with the potent measure of excitement at finally living life on my own terms, was intoxicating.

I remember watching my hands shake as I nervously slid open my bedroom window, and how I’d held my breath as I waited a moment or two for sounds of movement within the household. I remember scanning the area outside my window for signs of life.  The stillness outside was bewildering. Dawn had broken, but the Sun had not yet risen. How well it countered the growing sense of turmoil in my mind.

I grabbed my overstuffed, grey Samsonite suitcase, hoisted it over the windowsill, and lowered it clumsily onto the lush green lawn below. I deftly closed the window and held my breath once more as I waited for any signs that my effort had awoken someone. Every sound was jarring to my own senses, yet the sleeping household offered no objections as I reached for my backpack, slid it over my shoulders, and walked out the door.

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