Your Final Gift

Love is not measured in minutes or days. If I added up all the moments I spent with you they will be one or two days at most. Yet I grieve your absence from my life, like a widow who mourns the passing of a husband she loved all her life. Because in that brief time, you were that to me, the love of my life. I let you into my world and shared with you everything I know and love. You sat at a table with my closest family. I saved you a portion of every treat I enjoyed. I broke with you bread and chocolate. I bought you dates as sweet and soft as kisses, and juicy baby tomatoes bursting with sunshine and flavour. I introduced you to my favourite books and authors, and to my stories and memories. You shared some parts of yourself too, but I left nothing out, I was an open book. I told how I felt, and I even wrote you a love letter.

You sampled and tasted. You took the gifts, but rejected the underlying emotions. Apart from the times your eyes or words betrayed you, you gave very little, only some impersonal or discarded pieces of your chaotic universe. You liked to see me, but did not want to see my pain. You wanted me to look at you, but not look into you. You disliked me reaching into your soul. You liked to feel adored, yet you left the love letter unread, because reading is getting involved in the emotions of another. It did not suit you that I was expressive, that I spoke my heart, and fully acknowledged and accepted what I felt. You labelled me weird, where I was merely honest. I went through my own phase of denial, but unlike you, I eventually realized that love is a wholesale preposition. You cannot cherry-pick the joyful parts and discard the sorrows. I could not pick out for you the parts that you wanted, so I decided to keep everything that remained to myself. Now I am free to be honest and emotional. I can weep with the memory, and laugh alone at a joke or an anecdote that I am sure you would have enjoyed.

I left you because you rejected the most elemental part of me – that I loved truly and deeply. You did not understand that it was the one thing beyond my will or control. You could have asked for anything else. I would have plucked the stars out of the sky for you, but you went and asked me to deny or ignore the one truth I cannot change.

I left you but you did not leave me. I still see your empty seat at the table. My joy in the simple sights, sounds and tastes is now forever diminished. They were only perfect when shared with you. A small piece of sorrow remains for me at the heart of every joyful moment, each time I taste a perfectly brewed double cappuccino, and every time I read a brilliantly crafted phrase, or an engrossing and touching story. I will never stop looking for you to complete those experiences, even in moments we never shared. I look for you to walk beside me when I am taking a solitary walk on the beach. Alone in my bed, I turn to you on the pillow next to mine, to read you a passage I found interesting. And I see you looking at me over your reading glasses, and your eyes tell me that you are truly with me, listening to me, and seeing me with your soul, not just your eyes.

The last day we met I left empty-handed. You did not give me anything that deserved to be kept. I only have the memories I lived, and the visions I fantasize. The most lasting of your parting gifts has proven to be the grief I feel, the sadness that keeps assailing me and eventually flows out of my eyes. And since it is the last gift, I am reluctant to part with it. It is the only piece of you that is truly mine, and the final proof that you, and what I felt for you, were real.

My Displaced Soul

Fragments of my heart are still floating around. On the internet cloud somewhere, a love letter that he rejected, or refused to read. Half-finished posts, about tender moments, half-lived. I can almost believe now, they were imagined. slivers of paper, or napkins, with childish poems, immature haikus, bittersweet in their honesty and fragility.

I don’t write them anymore, though I haven’t forgotten the taste of pain. I can still feel it, when it rains, when I hear a certain phrase, or see the sour face of Theresa May, who reminds me of the foolish Brits. When I get trouble from my awfully unreliable British car, that I share half the time with the mechanic, as my almost lover put it in his words. The memory arrives, unexpected and unwelcome, it fractures my days, then departs. I know that it will do its damage again, some other time.

And I still haven’t found an answer to the biggest question. What is it that makes us love, so utterly and desperately? How does the feeling survive his near complete absence from my life ? And why do I still miss him, when lately I was only punished for caring? Why did I so easily trade hurt pride for resignation, and anger for forgiveness and compassion?

True love has chosen me, robbed me of pride and anger, and displaced my soul.  Today I  feel like a stranger in all the places that welcomed me in the past. Perhaps it is my cue to move on. I came here for love, and perhaps I will leave out of love too.

The Shadows of My Past

Some time ago I came across an undated handwritten text in my papers. Even though I relocated a dozen times in the last two decades, I find it hard to get rid of anything handwritten. I have with me all the letters I received since I first left my home country, and every single draft I wrote. There are some of my lovelorn laments, my poor attempts at poetry and even exercises I did from a book on creative writing.

More recently my sister in the old country told me that my old teenage diaries are still there in one of the attics, surprising survivors of damp, neglect and war. One day I might be reunited with them, and I will be surprised at how far I strayed from that awkward romantic teenager I used to be.

Discovering old handwritten notes is very exciting. Sadly, rummaging through older blog posts does not have the same magic. The text that I uncovered predates my oldest blog posts, but is not that much older. It is from around 2005. My ex husband and I were running a Shell Service station in East London, South Africa. We lived in the beautiful seaside suburb of Gonubie. I think the questions and answers come from a self-help book I was reading at the time to try and fix my life and my ailing marriage. I believe I went for my first counselling session shortly after I wrote it. And in that same year, I made my first attempt to extricate myself from my unhappy marriage.

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I would like to think that the quality of my writing has improved since, then but I am not sure my handwriting did. I am surprised at how nice and different it used to be.  I now write more forcefully, my letters loop more downwards (according to what I read this could mean I am more aware of my sexuality than I was then), and I have some more assertiveness to my Ps than I did then. I still have the ambiguity about my I in pronoun, sometimes it is a fat big I and other times it is just a plain vertical line. But that ambiguity and insecurity was way more pronounced in the past, and I can safely say that I have done away with my inferiority complex that was so clear in what I wrote about myself in the past.

Here is the text reproduced with all bad metaphors, deleted words and errors. I will keep the original, as I always do. I will comment on it after the note. Keep in mind this was 13 years ago, signalling the identity crisis of my thirties that ended with choosing motherhood, followed closely by a forced separation, and subsequent divorce. To preserve the identity of the protagonists, my ex-husband’s first name has been replaced with his current status (Ex). At that time, obviously, I did not know he will be soon exiting my life, but now that he is out, I don’t want to put him back again (as husband) even in historical recollection.

Q1: what is a happy relationship?
(A) It is a space where you are allowed to be yourself where you
are loved for what you are, and where you do not need to make 
apologies or excuses for the idiosyncrasies* of your behaviour.
(B) It is a place where you give and take in equal measure and 
where nobody ever feels taken advantage of
The first part is probably what I lack. The second part is what 
(Ex) feels is missing.

Q2: Do I feel that I have a right to happiness?
Everyone has a right to happiness. Why do you assume that it's 
me who has the short end of the stick? you haven't heard his 
side of the story. However it became clear to me today that (Ex) 
is doing what he wants. 
Perhaps he is not getting what he needs on an emotional 
the relationship level but neither am I. At least in his mind 
he is going in the right direction, in the direction he wants 
to go. He feels that I am just tagging along, hitching a ride 
on his steamtrain without paying the fare.
I don't blame him. I have never given him a reason to believe 
that I want anything other than what he wants.
Yes everyone has a right to happiness, but you cannot create 
Happiness is just a fleeting moment, it never lasts for long. 
When I walk along the beach I am happy. When (Ex) and I share 
a meal in pleasant surroundings I am happy. When I get an email 
or a letter from home I am happy. When I come home after 
a good run I am also happy. I am where I want to be. I love
this place, I don't want to trade it for anywhere else in the 
world.
(Ex) can be a more pleasant person if he wants, if he quits 
trying to beat mould me into his standards. 
I am not a business person. I am too emotional to have leadership 
characteristics. I can't handle stress! 
To him it is all a walk in the park. It is very easy. He is 
the navigator who leads the stranded ship into a safe harbour. 
I am just a panic stricken saylor (sic) who is reduced to a wreck 
at the first sign of trouble and yesterday we really had bad 
problems. I was lectured for the umpteenth time to take get 
a grip. 
I keep feeling so useless and spineless. I am just a weeping 
Next time I will just step aside and let him handle the crisis 
until the storm passes. 
Funny thing I remember just now that I had a dream last night 
-prior to all this problem- I dreamt that I received news that 
(Ex)'s son had drowned in their house's swimming pool. I really 
wish that someone could give me an interpretation for this dream. 
I was trying to break the news to him. 
Maybe I should seek counselling.

Q3: Do I think that I wasted my life
No. Where do I see myself in the next 5 years?
In five years time I will be fourty ! Scary thought ! Ex's 
version of the answer: (The Service Station) will be running by 
itself or with the help of a manager and we will have time to 
relax, travel and generally put our feet up.
My answer: The pessimist in me would say: We will be still working 
at (the Service Station), earning a good but not great income. 
Things will improve, perhaps the house would be furnished by then
and perhaps I will have a corner in the house to write or to 
translate and generally do things that I sometimes like
The problem between our two answers is that his tries to be 
inclusive while mine is exclusive -it is always just me-
This is one of the major things that are held against me in 
this relationship.
The first question (Ex) asked me when I told him that 
I wanted to go back to school was: -where does this 
fit in our future plans? or was it that No
I lied I read about a competition for Arabic translators 
for the UN and suggested that maybe I should apply ! 
I don't recall the incident that sparked this reaction. 
It is either one of the two !
No, I don't fancy working in the UN. Especially not in 
New York City or Geneva. But it might be interesting say 
to work in Kenya, Addis Ababa or Beirut. I have never been 
to Beirut can you imagine?

I think part of the problem in our relationship is that (Ex) 
is much older than me. In his words he has "been around 
the block a few times". Me I have Just rounded cleared the first 
doorway! It is not that I don't want to settle down, 
It's only that I feel that I will never get a chance to see 
all these places with him. He'd already been there, done that, 
worn the T-shirt.
So, this still leaves the question unanswered. 
Where do I see myself in five years time? 
That depends largely on whether my vision or his will 
come to pass. I have been proven wrong many times before, 
so maybe this time it will be the case as well. 
I would really like to raise my intellectual level 
up a notch in the meantime. 
Not that I have anything against the people I work with. 
They are real people, with real problems, which make 
mine seem very insignificant trivial. 
Yes, just imagine my complaints against that of our 
cleaning lady whose husband is always drunk, 
has no job and will probably give her AIDS before
too long. Yet she is still blessing her life and taking 
to reading the bible in her lunch break ! 
Faith is a wonderful thing ... If you have it !

Q4: Do I think I wasted my life? Do I want to 
waste the rest of it?
I will answer this one with a little bit of humour. 
The last time I checked I wasn't on the roster for any 
divine mission. When I go to sleep, my dreams are the simple 
hallucinations of an overtired mind. 
I never had a revelation yet. 
My sister and most of my schoolmates are good wives 
and mothers. Compared to them I am a phenomenal breakthrough 
and probably an experiment that went horribly wrong. 
On a more serious note though, I will be thirty five on my 
next birthday. I would be lucky if I still have the 2nd half 
of my life to look forward to.
People my age are already where 
At my age people are normally where they want to be 
for the rest of their lives. The fact that I am not 
is not a compliment on my character. It is actually 
a disgrace; I am thoroughly ashamed of this.
Still, my history has been one of lagging behind. 
Perhaps I will catch the last train out?
I don't know ! I have lost the way to the station. 
Why can't I just be content with running a petrol 
station? Why do I have to so snutty (sic-want
to say snooty) and think that I deserve better? 
You really shouldn't encourage this vein of thought. 

My heart aches for the writer of these pages. She was surely trying too hard to be what she felt she was duty-bound to be, at the expense of what she truly wanted. She asked too many questions about what was wrong with her, and rarely questioned the attitude of her self-centered husband. She asked for so little, and even her legitimate desire for motherhood and family was kept well-hidden from herself. A psychologist would have a lot of material to work with with. Even a layperson can recognize the broad themes of denial, self-blame, lack of confidence and total unawareness of self worth.

Over 13 years have passed since I wrote those words. And no matter what life has thrown at me since then, I am grateful that I have left that insecure and self-doubting woman-child behind. My journey to a fulfilling life started when I finally recognized there was nothing wrong with me. It is true that separation from my spouse was forced upon me, but it was, after having my child at 37, the most fortuitous turn of events for my intellectual and personal development. When I read these words now, I can smile and be proud that I have outdone my poor predictions of 2005. Five years after writing these pages I was on my way to realizing most of my dreams, even the unspoken ones.  Now I am finally where I want to be for the rest of my life. I work in Kenya. I translate, I write and I do the things I like. I also get to travel and see the world. Most importantly, I have a family of my own. I am a mother to an intelligent and sensitive child, and I raise him away from the prejudices and cynicism of his biological father. I teach him to appreciate the beauty of our diverse world and the joy of simple things. I aspire to give him the tools to lead a joyful life. I have found more joy in my own life since I left the constant gloom of my marriage. I am mostly content living on my own terms, and can take full responsibility for my happiness and misery. My present life has followed from the disappointments of the past, and I am glad to report that the unhappy writer of these pages has redeemed herself.

A Letter from my Old Self

A few days ago was the fifth anniversary of my divorce. I remembered it briefly in the midst of a busy day. I neither celebrate nor regret it, I just remember it as a landmark of my freedom and living my life the way that I want. In the past five years I have learned that I am better off without my ex, and if I was not totally convinced five years ago my subsequent dealing with him has made a complete believer out of me. It seems like the older the man gets the more alien he becomes to me and the less wisdom and sensitivity he gives to the psychological and emotional development of our son.

When I first thought of breaking up with my ex, my son Robert was not there. He was perhaps a mere thought in my mind that I was scared to articulate. After all I was 35, and my marriage was not working. I was still in love with my husband then, but the feelings were taking serious strain. On August 18th, 2005, I drove from East London to Cape Town, leaving him behind. I took my time there, to heal, to digest what happened.

I remember this today because inside an old dictionary I found a piece I wrote about eight years ago. This was before my experience with blogging, and before my brief reconciliation with my ex, a reconciliation that brought along my son Robert.
I wrote it on the back of a faxed quote for a new computer. I was starting to build up my life, and I needed a tool to work as a translator. The quote was dated August 30th, 2005. So I think I wrote these words early in September that same year. The background was my ex wanting us to reconcile and try to save our marriage. I was not sure then. I think I had a crush on a nice guy I met in Cape Town, and fancied myself starting over with someone new. I did not know what fun was in store for me, but here it is. It is too simple really to be called a poem, but I am still struck by the sincerity of my voice. It was only eight years ago, but I feel like reaching out through time and giving the immature woman who wrote this a hug, she was still somewhat of a pitiful figure just starting to build some backbone.

I am a refugee, afloat but only just
The horizon is clear, the waters are calm
And beyond them, lies the unknown.

With you I traveled far
I carried my pain
Along your side, I lived alone
You looked into my eyes you saw my soul
I looked into yours I saw your dreams
I touched you with love
I wanted you to take me under your skin
into your veins
You touched me back with fondness
and a pitying smile

The road to your dreams grew rough
I fell behind
I faltered, I stumbled, I bled
I carried on.
I forgot what this was for
but I carried on.
You never looked my way
or offered a hand, to hold on.
You know I would simply
soldier on. 

The nights would come 
where I lie in silence.
touching the bruised edges of my heart
while you slept.
feeling the wrinkles on my soul
dry with a thirst for love.
waiting to be given and never received.

The joyous emotions within me
were left to perish slowly.
But sometimes they erupted
in the glare of daylight
haunted and deformed into anger and pain.

The day finally came
When I would no longer bear.
I looked up from your dusty track
I saw stars, I saw sky
and a distant horizon.
I turned around to be embraced
by an endless ocean,
and I kept afloat.

Now you call me back
from your dry perch.
you pledge and you promise
you will never let go.
you love me, you say
You were wrong to drive me away.

The water is still between us
and the ticking of time.
You might not know it
but the tide has turned.
Destiny awaits me, beyond this horizon,
and it's not with you.

Trip to Memory Lane

I have been doing a little housekeeping on my blog. I cannot believe I have been writing here on and off for over six years. I should have amassed more readership if I had more stamina, or if I kept at it consistently.

One of the problems I have is that I am a person with many interests, that change over time, depending on my current work or environment. I am a little shy of being controversial, because I believe I put here a lot of personal things, and people may very well recognize me from my writing.  At some point I kept a few separate blogs, an official personal blog, an anonymous personal blog, a knitting blog, and a professional blog. People who maintain one blog on a regular basis would immediately see the folly of this approach. It is hard enough to keep one vehicle of thought going, let alone two. And it is not possible at all to keep four of them going, not by one person at least. So I come back here, to take stock of what I have, and migrate more of my blogs into this Loskop site. I will work on categories to separate the personal from the professional and I will keep going. I should also try to get over this anxiety about who will, or will not read my blog. I will have to assume that those who keep up with me here will be kindred spirits. Those who do not like what I write will walk away. To me, writing is a completely pointless exercise if I cannot do it honestly. So you might learn that I am an Arabic translator, who loves the English language more than she loves her mother tongue. You will also know that I am a completely secular and non-practicing Muslim, who thinks that religion serves no useful purpose in building societies and nations. Neither piece of information is newsworthy, but you may also find worse revelations here.

About a year ago, my ex asked me to delete any mention of his name on my blog. At the time he was courting his third wife, who apparently looked things like that up. I was peeved at the request, but I still obliged and deleted the names. However, a Google search will still point to the pages, regardless of their content. This has to do with the way web crawlers work and index the web. I did not see the point of his request until today when I was browsing through my old posts in order to organize them. Some of what I wrote during the time of divorce is extremely raw. Many posts are striking for what is left unsaid, or for the pathetic voice of the female trying to make every possible excuse for why the male in her life is treating her like rubbish, and considering their baby a mere inconvenience to his rest and exercise routine. When I later imported my anonymous platform, the truth sometimes outed glaringly, exposing him for the selfish brute he always was. I was forced to re-live some of my personal indignities in detail, it was not a pleasant memory.

There is an upside too. I can look back at the hardships of those fateful months in 2008/2009 and see how transient and insignificant my current troubles are. They are like small weather patterns in the course a transatlantic flight, the jet flies right through them, and they are smaller to warrant a change in the flight path.  I will therefore carry on, taking pleasure in the fact that I now have a continuing contract as a Translator in my international NGO. My job is as secure as any here, and I just need to find my way within the myriads of bureaucracy and inefficiency. I will make the best of my stay in New York, work hard, enjoy good food and grow in spirit with my growing son. I will no longer dwell on things that have been lost, or at least I will try to truly move on. The history, of all my joys, tribulations and mistakes is there, for anyone who cares to read it. I mostly write with my son in mind, and therefore I want to stay open and honest.

I apologize in advance to the people who know me personally and find themselves misrepresented in any way. You are welcome to write and comment if you want. The things I wrote are firmly anchored in their time and place, and the views I held in 2008, for example, are not cast in stone, but they have to stand in their context. From now on I will try to keep a veil on identities, but I cannot help the obvious ones, for example in the case of my Ex husband, and my son. I have only one of each, and this is unlikely to change. I may also need to do some more work in the area of ex boyfriends, there are also pathetically few of them.

So here again, you will get to know all the facets of this Arab South-African Translator Single-Mom Lover-of-Music-Reading-and-Knitting LOSKOP.

Music is the Shortest Way to the Heart

Today I was listening on my iPod to an archive interview with Johnny Clegg, one of the best-known cultural and musical icons in South Africa.

The interview sent me back on a journey down memory lane to the time when I first became aware of South Africa. This was in the mid 1980s, and I was a teenager, going to school in the oppressive environment of a small housing suburb located near an oil refinery but nowhere near any naturally inhabited city in the Emirates. Needless to say I had lots of time on my hand and the radio was my best companion, and I followed the British chart shows religiously. My favourites back then were Madonna of course and some other pop groups I am almost ashamed to mention by name today, but I was slowly developing my preference for rhythms and style that were not strictly western.  I remember being charmed by the message and rhythms of songs such as Something Inside So Strong by Labi Siffre; Gimme Hope Jo’anna by Eddie Grant, and Paul Simon’s famous album Graceland.

But it was the dance music of course that got me going best, and still does on those slow days. My favourite was this song by Johnny Clegg, the Scatterlings of Africa which went to become a major hit at least in Britain and other European countries.

Many years later I would meet my ex husband who was heading to this part of the world and I would take more active interest in the music and the culture but I think those songs were the hook that captured my imagination and brought me eventually here. I adore the music, and cannot resist humming along to Shosholoza, or tapping my foot along with the gumboot dance. I am always enthralled by pure African voices breaking out in spontaneous song.  There is a an undeniable magic there, and certainly the millions who were charmed by Waka Waka would agree. It is, after all, the only World Cup Song that became a bona fide hit.

And since we are speaking about music that speaks the heart I cannot resist including another video that came out of the World Cup hiatus, Helele by Velile Mchunu and the Safri Duo; a beautiful song with scenes from the mother city.

Relationships: The View At Midlife

As my life starts to get into some semblance of orderliness and my son slowly outgrows his attachment to mommy, my mind starts to wander and think about relationships and whether I am ready for a new one in my life.

Since my divorce I have put myself completely out of that market-place, and Cape Town is notorious for being the wrong place to put yourself on the singles market if you were a straight woman. A straight man meanwhile will have lots on offer for his person, my ex can testify to this as he had started “seeing someone” before I even left. I remember asking him very offhand about another woman a week or so before I was pushed into leaving, and he went ballistic.  His rage was so animated and full of pointed fingers, it shocked me into noncommittal silence, and told me more than I really wanted to know.

My ex is perhaps the strongest factor putting me off a relationship, because in all honesty there nothing that I miss about that marriage. For me it was a short step away from a wasteland in every way, and every year that passes gives me more reasons to celebrate rather than regret my divorced status. Celibacy is fine once you get used to it, and Arab women are well-designed to cope with and accept frustration on that front, so I have no reason to complain like many of my female friends do when they spend a long period of drought in relationships and sex.

An Arabic saying goes: Solitude is better than the unworthy companion, and I spend my evenings living this wisdom. My days are filled with my son and life is good, so far. Still sometimes I wonder, should I ever venture into this territory of relationships, what is there for me to find? What do I have to offer? After all, I have half of my life behind me.

Sometimes I feel sad when I contemplate all the things I have missed. I have had a childhood love, a first love, and a committed love and they have all failed for me, and in this failure I have become more cautious, afraid and cynical. I believe that I will never have the same capacity for giving in a relationship as I had in the past, and I fear that I will never really know the next man in my life. After all, it took me nine years and a divorce to truly know my ex.

A friend of mine has been with the man who is now her husband almost forever. She knows this man’s feelings and quirks like she knows herself, it must be such a great comfort to sleep next to a man who you can trust, whose history you know, who was your best friend’s brother or just the guy next door whose mother is your mom’s friend. You might have gone to school with the first girl he dated, or you might have giggled and gossiped about him with your girlfriends long before he wriggled his way into your heart and your life. The circumstances of my life did not allow for such a relationship. I grew up away from my birth country and the summers were fertile times for fantasy and short infatuations but these do not survive over long distances and do not outlive the volatility of teenage feelings. Another impediment in my character is that I am not easily impressed by the guys I meet, and even in my younger years I gravitated towards older men rather than boys of my age.  In forty years of life, my heart fluttered for no more than half a dozen men. Some of my loves were platonic and childish, others were merely one-sided crushes whose only product was love-lorn sighs and a heightened sensitivity to love songs. Ironically, my lack of experience in relationship dynamics were often brought up by my ex as one of my key failures.

I don’t know how anyone can condemn such a thing as the lack of history, especially when it is such a transient state in anybody’s life. I have missed out on meeting the man whose history I would become, I was just a station in the life of my husband, he came to me from a history of another marriage and went on -I presume- to his future as a brooding single man, whose mysterious sadness and misfortune in marriage would intrigue and touch the hearts of many unsuspecting women as it did mine.

Please do not get me wrong, dear blog. I am not actively seeking to complicate my life with a relationship. At the moment I am content to put my head to the grindstone. I work to pay the bills and forge a decent future for my son. The joy I have in life almost exclusively revolves around him. Occasionally, however, I do catch the passing interest of a person, from the straight male variety, but they mostly spell TROUBLE in red capital letters for me. There is the balding middle-aged guy who greets me every morning as I make my daily trip to Robert’s school. He must be well off I tell myself because he has his breakfast every day at that fancy coffee shop cum deli in Green Point. Perhaps he does have a wife, or a couple of ex wives who are glad to be rid of him, who knows. There is the journalist and media specialist I met on one of my assignments, I went out with him for coffee once, and he makes no secret that he has a family somewhere out-of-town. I exchange friendly chats with him every once in a while but I do not see this going anywhere past amicable friendship. There is also the businessman I met on my flight to Geneva, he is getting a boat built here in Cape Town, and he will sail it one day towards Europe. He is smart and wealthy but he reminds me too much of my ex, someone who can tell a thousand and one stories about the world but is uncomfortable divulging information about his private life. This man also has an ex-wife, with grown children, and a two-year-old daughter by another woman. He did not say whether she was also an ex or a current partner; I am more than familiar with this type of omission.

These poor possibilities of relationship may seem sad to anyone else but I am a realist. Also since I was raised in the Arab misogynist society I am less likely to question the fairness of partnership equations when it comes to long-term relationships between men and women. In my culture as long as a man can financially provide and can function in the bedroom then he can marry any woman he sets his mind on; age and compatibility in minor things such as education are not a consideration.  Rich men in oil kingdoms are well-known for fathering dozens of kids by teenage wives well into their sixties and seventies. This was before the age of Viagra and co, and I am sure modern Arab men can continue to break records in the next few generations. My birth country is not one of those rich oil fiefdoms and people generally have a hard time providing for one family, and this is perhaps the only reason Syrian men stick to one wife, although many of them can and will be unfaithful at some stage.

I left my birth country at 28 to go and work in the United Arab Emirates. While I was at home I still got offers of marriage from reasonably aged and decently educated men. Things changed when I went to the playground of the wealthy and would-be wealthy. An octogenarian with whom I had a professional conversation while I was working as a secretary started hinting at marriage, and a colleague of my father’s whom I know to have a wife and family in rural Egypt also tried to make me consider relocating with him to the land of the Nile. Thinking back at how depressed these encounters made me, I feel lucky that I said yes to my ex husband. At least he was younger, better-looking and more educated and intelligent than my other suitors. So if this was my lot at 28/29 years, what can I expect as a single mother of 40? Not much.

I cannot rewrite my history or unlearn what I have learned over the past decade, so the next man in my life will have a woman who cannot love as freely as she did before, which is really a shame, and my previous experience makes me shy away from any man with a past, and the only solution I find is to look for a younger partner. I don’t know why this is such a bad idea, especially in my society. History tells us that Mohammad’s first wife was a woman with history and many previous husbands. She was rich and perhaps offered stability and comfort to the younger man. Early Arabs did not have qualms about a woman marrying a younger man, it is only modernity that made such a partnership unacceptable.

Of course this is only fantasy at this stage. I cannot think of one good reason to venture again into the uncertainty of partner search. We all know that the good ones are already raising their children with their blissfully happy wives. The good-looking widower who is a single father to a child? This is a figment of the imagination or something that we saw on Sleepless in Seattle and even then he would go for the single woman who never married.

Not even escape literature has a willing partner for the 40-something single mom. All heroines of romance novels seems to be blushing virgins (not the case for the males of course). That said, perhaps there is a niche market for me, writing trashy escape novels for desperate middle-aged females.. My first novel will feature a 40-something single mom and the 30-something single hunk who falls for her; dreams are free.

That’s Me in The Corner

Last week I reconnected with a dear friend from the home country and we had an online chat. The talk led me down memory lane and made me think of old songs and music that I listened to in the past, songs that punctuated my life and formed a sort of accompanying sound track to its incidents.

I think everyone has these songs, those that we fell in love to, and those that helped us fall out of love.  Because of my background my soundtrack is an odd mixture of influences and genres, my current iPod play list has songs in Arabic, English, Spanish and German in addition to instrumentals, new age and podcasts. For this blog though I will stick with songs that have special significance for my life.

The melancholy strings of REM’s Losing My Religion take me back to my marriage. I picture myself sitting next to my husband in the car humming along to the words that spoke of my life.

My marriage was a singular fight of trying to keep up with my ex and trying to squeeze out a little bit of love and appreciation out of him. I often felt I was stuck in a corner, especially at the beginning of our relationship when I literally had nobody to turn or speak to. Sometimes I thought the feelings we shared originated only in my wishful thinking or my dreams, because there was nothing tangible in my life to show that he loved me. That is exactly what I thought the singer was talking about when he said:

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot light losing my religion. Trying to keep up with you and I don’t know if I can do it.  Now I said too much, I haven’t said enough. I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing. I think I thought I saw you try.

Listening to it now is like riding in an emotional time capsule, it takes me back ten years to the feelings, the emotions and the torment. I can see myself then, in the passenger seat of a car on a Johannesburg free-way, humming along to the song next to a silent and brooding partner. Yes, that was me in the corner.. No more, no more.