Routine. We all have one, or at least we try to implement one. My routine included seeing Pan almost on a daily. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was thirty-one, partially because of culture, and then later because when I asserted my want to drive, I couldn’t afford a car. So, Pan always picked me up. I always felt bad for inconveniencing him, but he never seemed to mind. He would often say, “I’m glad you don’t drive because then I get to spend more time with you, and I know where you’re going at all times.” Followed by a wink and a laugh. I would always laugh, not knowing that almost three years later his “joke,” would turn out to be anything but funny- or unrealistic.
My mom wasn’t comfortable with the amount of time we spent together without being engaged, even if he always had me home by 10:00pm, but I didn’t care. Because despite the distasteful beginning, and the comments/actions of Pan, we had agreed to move forward from there and I began to feel alive with him.
His rebel soul inflamed mine; and even when something screamed RUN, I stubbornly clung to him. Focusing at work was hard. I thought only about when I would see him again, hear his voice, feel his touch. Pan felt the same way, and he never failed to let me know with a text that said, “I miss you,” “I need to see you,” “Thinking about you like crazy,” “You make me feel alive.” But my favorite text would be the one that said, “Come outside.”
Anytime I received one of those messages, I knew he was parked in front of my house, standing outside his car with his back against the driver’s door, arms crossed, and leg kicked up like an Arab James Dean. I would sometimes get frustrated because I was NOT ready; like the horror of a Facetime call when you look like shit. The difference is, you can choose to ignore a FaceTime call, but I couldn’t bring myself to send him away. So, I would always fix myself up quickly, tell my mom I would be back in a bit, and head out to him. Well, I’d leave as quickly as I could after telling my mom, which normally included a dozen questions that would find us arguing, me apologizing, and then finally leaving.
It was no different on this day when Pan texted me to come outside the house, but this time I was prepared. He had left work early and wanted to grab a movie with his, “Love Dove,” as he would call me; I’d inherited the nickname I had given my cat Audrey Katherine Hepburn. As I walked down the stairs, he walked to me, his hand extended. I smiled, but declined to take his hand whispering to him, “My mom’s home,” He immediately put his hand down, although he still opened the car door for me. A request I had made to him from the beginning.
When Pan got into the car, he took a moment to look at me.
“You look so beautiful,” he said finding me flushed. I was still not accustomed to compliments from the opposite sex, but with every day spent with Pan, he found ways to remind me of how beautiful he believed I was i.e. my eyes, my hair, my smile, but mostly my laugh. He could never contain himself when he heard me laugh.
“I love that you find me so funny,” he said.
“I think you’re hilarious,” I replied genuinely. I mean there wasn’t a person who could make me laugh like him.
“So something weird happened,” he said. “…I realize I wanna spend the rest of my life with the Love Dove.
Pan always seemed certain we were meant to be. I wanted to feel the same way, but every time I tried, there was always this little voice that whispered, “Don’t.” I always argued that it was just my insecurities about how the relationship had started. That even if I was officially expired, I was able to find a guy who wanted to marry me, despite my age and my opinionated writing.
You have to understand that at this time, I was documenting my journey to find ‘The One,’ and even if it was with my families assistance, or chaperoned up to that point, it was still NOT a subject that MusRab girls talk about. Especially as far as the culture’s concerned. I mean, romance doesn’t really exist in the Arab world. We don’t grow up hearing about romance, seeing our parents hold hands, hug, and we definitely don’t see them kiss. Romance comes across as a “weakness,” something that will probably lead to the “humiliation of you and your family.”
Yet, there I was on a weekly basis talking about love, romance, and how exciting it would be to find both even if it was by dating. I was sharing the thoughts in the deepest corners of many like minded MusRabs, and it wasn’t always accepted by the community.
A fact that became all too real to me when a bus ad I’d had placed on the University Of Illinois at Chicago campus, was removed 24 hours after going up, because the image was labeled “offensive,” by the Muslim students on campus. The ad was an illustration I modeled for, with a Muslim woman raising her niqab, to blow a wedding band off her hand with the text, “It’s MY Choice.” I decided to use the image of niqab to portray this, because I am completely against it. I believe it’s the ultimate silencer and my image portrayed lifting the veil of silence.
This however wasn’t understood and the community found a way to speak up about it. I was labeled a “bad influence,” by the parents, but the youth crying out for change and a voice, flocked to me and did everything they could to make sure that I knew I didn’t stand alone. Even if that meant putting my website address on the inside stalls of the girls’ bathroom at the masjid to lead other women to my page if only so they could see that they were not alone. Even if women silently rallied to me, I found it difficult to rally myself up when every turn found me judged. Sometimes it was so much that I would stop writing, and I did for a few months until meeting Pan. He was very aware of my work and the opinions of others, but he didn’t care.
“They’re hating on you because you’re saying the truth,” he would say. “I’m happy with you doing whatever makes you happy, as long as your name isn’t on the streets.”
This is probably why Pan made it a point to ask the guys in the community if they were familiar with me. In other words, “Have you dated or shishkabobbed with her?” He was beyond excited when he could report back to tell me, “I asked around about you and nobody knows your name. Half of them don’t even know who you are, which I like.”
I remember being offended by the moral assessment he felt he needed to do to see me as a qualifying candidate for him, but another part of me, the reputation obsessing part of me, was proud of myself for having preserved my name morally.
Pan accepting me, and my dreams, was one of the many reasons I felt I had found a gem. Someone I should have been overjoyed to marry. I wasn’t sure I could ever find another like him, but why then could I not bring myself to ever agree to even consider the idea of marriage to him? Did I really not forgive the things he’d said, the way he had shamed me, guilted me, disrespected me? Was I simply not ready? Or was he just not ‘The One’? I didn’t know, but I lived with him in the moment, hoping those moments could become forever.
As we pulled up to the AMC River East, he decided to park and chill for a bit, since the movie didn’t start for another hour. Somewhere in between our conversation my eyes locked on a pair of girls sunglasses in the cup holder.
“Who’s are these?” I asked him believing he would say one of his sisters.
“Oh those belong to my ex,” he said. “She left them in my car when we met after breaking up and I just found them.”
For a moment I believed him, until I rememberd he’d bought his car while we were together.
“You just got this car,” I said.
“Well yeah, but they were in my other car and I put them in here.”
“Why? Are you gonna meet her and give them back?”
“I mean what do you want me to do? Throw them out?”
“Yeah!” I said angrily. “She cheated on you, why would you want to meet her to give her anything back? I’m confused.”
“I already texted her to tell her I found them,” he said looking me dead in the eye.
“Why would you do that?” I asked feeling beyond disrespected.
“You’re making a big deal out of nothing,” he said turning his attention to his phone.
Is there anymore dismissive statement from your partner than, “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”? This was something that had become a pattern anytime we had an argument, and although they seemed so unimportant or not worth the investment of time and energy, it was one of the many ways he bulldozed our relationship.
“How would you feel if I was still in touch with an ex?” I asked.
“You don’t have an ex. I’m your one and only,” he said trying to make light of the situation. It didn’t work.
“IF I had an ex, and I was still in touch with him, how would that make you feel?” I asked angrily. “You shouldn’t be staying in touch with your ex. There’s no reason to! Unless you’re holding out for her?”
“You think you’re a rebound? Really? I took you rot meet my family. I’ve never done that with any other girl I’ve dated!”
“That’s what I feel like when you’re still in touch with your ex. Especially an ex that cheated on you. She slept with your best friend. What are you keeping in touch with her for? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“Give me the glasses,” he said before reaching for them himself. He slid his window down and threw them out. “Happy?”
“No!” I exclaimed frustrated. “You think that makes this better? It’s about the principal. Why can’t you see that?”
“You’re driving me crazy!” He said before punching his steering wheel again. “Fuck!” He yelled half in anger and half in pain as he massaged his right hand.
There was no laughter now. Just silence.
Love can make some of us so stupid. It makes us do, say, and act in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. Common sense told me to open my eyes and see Pan for the ‘Lost Boy’ that he is, but love made me take his hand in mine and massage away the pain.
“Let’s go inside and see this movie okay?” He said cupping my face with his hands.
I nodded my head before meeting him outside the car. We went into the theather where Pan purchased popcorn, nachos, and a shit load of candy, if only to make me happy. It was his way of showing me he was sorry, without ever having to really listen, or address the reasons why there even had to be a sorry to begin with.
I just swallowed my pride and hid the anger because the alternative was to leave him, and even if I wasn’t certain about what we could be, if anything, I wasn’t willing to take the risk of losing someone who made me feel seen- even if it wasn’t always for the right reasons.
After the movie, we made out way down the theater escalators as if nothing had happened earlier that night. The ride down found us standing behind a couple that had just taken each others hands. The tender moment made me look over at Pan with a smile, but when I looked at him, his eyes weren’t locked on the couples hands, but rather the woman’s ass. He caught me, and instead of trying to play it off, he said, “What?” Followed by a silent laugh.
The moment was a reminder that there wasn’t a man that could make me feel as beautiful, smart, wanted, and seen as Pan. But there was also no man who could make me feel as small and unworthy as he could.
When we got to the end of the escalator, I walked ahead of Pan and made my way to the car, with him following behind me. I didn’t want to be near him. I didn’t want to talk to him. My words meant nothing anyway. I was just so beyond angry with him, with myself for having been led by him, but also with God. I wondered was this all some sort of punishment for not doing things the “right way”?
I just wanted to get home.
“Stop!” He called out.
I didn’t listen. I just kept walking feeling like the car was miles away.
“Hey! I said stop!” He called out again.
Once again, I didn’t listen. I had no respect for someone who clearly had none for me.
“I SAID FUCKEN STOP!” He yelled out catching the attention of an elderly couple who lowered their heads and continued walking past me who had now stopped in my tracks. I was shocked.
Did he really just yell at me like that? In public.
I turned to look at Pan who’s eyes were enraged. He didn’t see clearly when his temper took the wheel as it always did. A part of me was afraid- and I have to admit that for the longest time I was ashamed to even admit that.
I found the strength to move again and continue making my way to the car that was now right ahead of me. I expected him to yell again, but instead he sped up his walk, and met me at the car at the same time.
“You don’t hear me telling you to stop? What the fucks your problem?”
For a moment I didn’t know if I should say anything. I wasn’t looking into the eyes of the guy who said he loved me. A demon had taken over. One who’s anger had no cap.
“I wanna go home,” I said.
“What the fucks your problem?” He asked again standing in front of me no differently than a football player ready to charge.
“I saw the way you were looking at that girl’s butt…”
“Are you fucken serious? Who cares! I was just looking! Why are you making this a big deal?”
I couldn’t believe, nor understand his inability to not see the disrespect his actions. I didn’t know how to make him see that, or if I even could. Everytime I tried to argue the points, I felt hurt or offended by, it was always dismissed making me believe that I was in fact making a tsunami over a raindrop.
This was my first time in the dating rodeo. My inexperience was limited- to myself anyway. I was brilliant at giving advice to everyone else regarding their relationship, engagement, or marriage, and there I was… lost. So very very lost.
“Please just take me home,” I said not wanting any other passers by to hear or see this obviously heated argument.
“No!” He said pushing my shoulder back roughly causing me to lose my balnce and trip over the curb. “I wanna know what your problem is?”
I didn’t know how to react. A line had been crossed. So many lines had been crossed. I just shut down emotionally as I stood in front of the car with my head lowered, and my hands crossed and placed firmly in front of chest. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, to make him feel a fraction of what he was making me feel. But I couldn’t do or say nothing anymore. My body and mind literally just shut down.
A frustrated Pan, turned around and kicked the wired fence of the construction site next to us. I couldn’t help but see the symbolism in it all. A couple sitting amongst the rubble of what was now the broken pieces of their relationship.
I wanted to be home. I wanted to jump in a cab. But I couldn’t move. Part of it was fear, and the other part, the stupid part of me that didn’t yet know the definition of love, refused to let Pan return to Neverland. Yet a voice inside said, “Enough!” It was enough. We were not good for each other. No matter what, I had to recognize that. My heart may not want to, but my head- I had to listen to my head.
Pan and I looked up almost in sync. Our eyes met. His calmer, mine empty. I loved him, but I had to love myself more. That meant I would have to say goodbye. Even if I wanted nothing more than to live forever in hello. I had to love me.
He lowered his head and unlocked the doors. We both got into the car and sat silently for just a moment. Pan turned to me. He wanted to say something, but he didn’t. Instead, he started the car and began the drive to my house.
I can’t begin to explain how long this drive took. It felt like years in perpetual silence. The closer we got to my house, the more relieved I was. As we neared my house, Pan stopped at the corner. He would normally do this when he wanted more time to talk to me, or steal a kiss away from my mother’s eyes peeping out the window. But this night, there were no words or kiss that could fix what had just been broken. The line that had been crossed, had been crossed.
“Can you please talk to me,” He said in a defeated tone.
I couldn’t even whisper a word.
“Goodnight,” I said reaching for the door knob. Pan locked the doors and set the child lock, making me feel imprisoned and afraid. “Can you please unlock the doors,” I said. “I really need to get home,” I added my heart beating so loudly that I was sure he could hear it.
“Are we okay?” He asked leaving me perplexed.
“Yeah we’re fine,” I said seeing no other way to be freed from the clostrophoc position I was in.
“I don’t believe you.” He said.
“Wallah we’re fine,” I lied. I felt that taking God’s name in vain was one of the lesser sins I would face considering how I believed God was punishing me anyway.
“I don’t believe you.” He said again.
“Pan, I really have to go inside, my mom is waiting for me. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Call me when you get settled in.” He said about to remove the child lock. “Can I have a kiss?” He added.
I looked into his deep brown eyes thinking to myself, “This is the last time I’m ever going to see him.” This was our goodbye. So I touched the side of his face, fighting back tears. I think a part of him felt that that’s what it was as he looked deep into my eyes and said, “I don’t wanna lose you.”
But he already had.
We kissed once more before he unlocked the doors. I got out of the car, and made my way down the block towards my house. Pan stood watch in his car as he always did until I waved goodbye from the porch. I would normally be acting silly as I made my way back to the house, entertaining him, but that night, I couldn’t turn to even look at him again. It was too painful.
Instead, tears began swelling in my eyes. I tried to fight them because I didn’t want to have to explain anything to my family. I unlocked the door and just went straight inside without waving at Pan like I always did.
I quickly told my mom I had a migraine and was going to head to bed. As I closed my bedroom door, I faced my reflection in the mirror and just broke down crying.
My phone began vibrating. It was Pan. I wanted to answer. I wanted everything to be alright. But it couldn’t be. We wouldn’t be.
I turned my phone off and curled up on my bedroom floor hoping morning light may surprise me with it all being a dream, and if not, give me the strength to break the habit. It was time to let Pan return to Neverland with all the other Lost Boys.