They say you can break a habit in ninety days. I didn’t believe this because I couldn’t break away from Pan even when all the signs screamed RUN! I knew he wasn’t good for me, and yet day after day I found myself drawn closer to him. It wasn’t only because of the natural connection that happens between two people who shish kabob, but it was also that Pan always knew how to say and do the right things at the right time.
When I would second guess my fearlessness about writing an article that would have been very risqué for a Muslim Arab girl to write, Pan was there to remind me to be fearless, “fuck what everyone says,” and think about me. When I was stressed with work, he would call me up, crack a few jokes; then ask me to sneak out of the house for a minute, and meet him down the corner from my house, where he waited with a few dozen flowers.
Or when I was feeling guilty and shameful for no longer being a Verfied V, and about our dating, Pan would remind me that it was us against the world, and that the community, or people’s opinions didn’t matter because he was, “In it to win it.” We weren’t “just dating,” we were going to get married. This Pan was certain of. I discovered I wasn’t as certain when he called to tell me that he had scheduled a dinner for me to meet his family.
I remember literally dropping the phone when he told me.
“I thought we were gonna take things slow,” I asked after picking my phone up off the floor.
“This is totally chill and laid-back babe, nothing serious,” he said in his usual dismissive manner.
I did my best to make him understand how serious a step it is to meet the parents, especially in our circumstances, not only because we were both Muslim Arabs who were NOT supposed to be dating, but also my family wouldn’t be present to protect my reputation, as well as their own. I mean, we don’t bring a girlfriend or boyfriend over our parents’ house unless we’re ready to get engaged by the end of that week.
Pan insisted that his family was not like the Musrab’s in the community. That I didn’t have to worry about his parents being so rigid, because they were “Americanized.” To many in the Arab community, being labeled “Americanized,” is usually an insult. To those who use that word, it translates to: having no decency, no self respect, or value for reputation. In other words, normal every day human beings living their lives as they see fit. Everything reputation clinging families don’t want their kids to do.
Now, you should understand that although today I see reputation for what it is: a huge mind fuck– at that time I believed, like so many do, that it was EVERYTHING to me. It defined me. It allowed me to walk out of my house with my head held high, gaze lowered. Never making eye contact with a man unless I wanted rumors to be spread and to be labeled a dating slut because “if she looks at a man, she’s doing the man.”
And yes… I’ve had this said about me many many times.
So despite Pan’s insistence, I didn’t feel comfortable meeting his family for fear they may judge me, because let’s just put the gaunlet down and say it, “IN THE ARAB CULTURE, GUYS CAN GET AWAY WITH EVERYTHING A WOMAN NEVER COULD!” They wouldn’t judge their son for dating, but they sure as fuck would judge me, because a woman should know better.
Pan refused to understand my reasoning for wanting to take a LONG raincheck on that dinner, which mind you, was scheduled for that night. He argued that I wasn’t serious about our relationship and that if I were serious, I would have no problem meeting his family. And I think it was at that moment it hit me that he was right: I wasn’t sure if I could spend the rest of my life with him.
Do you even have a choice? I wondered.
After giving him my V, could I ever really leave? Would he tell anyone? He didn’t care about reputation, so would he protect mine? If I walked away, would he make me pay? I didn’t know for certain. A part of me said stay, and another part, the part deep inside, said leave. I stayed, because no matter what Pan said. Or did to me, I always saw the best in him. Love will do that to you and when I love- it’s fucking real.
I will never change that, but I have learned that you have to first know what love REALLY is, and then you have to have even bigger standards on who you give that love to. But at that time, I loved him and I believed he loved me too, so it was worth the risk.
I didn’t want Pan to feel like I wasn’t serious about us, so I agreed to meet him at the Ford City Mall parking lot, where I would jump into his car, and we would drive over to his parents house together. We were scheduled to meet at 4:30pm. I was at the mall at 4:00pm. My excitement to see Pan, almost always erased my logic. I could be questioning every part of what was us in my head, at one moment, and the moment he pulled up, it was erased. He had me…and he knew it. There wasn’t a request he could have that I wouldn’t agree to. There wasn’t a word he could say, or an action he played out, that I wouldn’t have found some way to rationalize, forgive, or defend.
I jumped into his car with such a huge level of excitement, only to have him ask me to step back out, so that he could look at my ensemble and see if it was appropriate. I wore a black long sleeve top, with a grey skirt that covered my knees, that I tied together with a pair of Michael Korrs pumps. Although he approved of the length, he said he would rather the skirt be more loose.
“I thought your family wasn’t strict?” I said as I stepped back into the car.
“They’re not, but I don’t want anyone else to see your body besides me,” he said as he took my hand in his.
“I really hope your family isn’t strict because I don’t wanna have to deal with explaining myself to anyone,” I said.
I never wanted to be in a position where I had to explain why I was going against a cultural and Islamic belief, and dating, knowing very well what a taboo it is. But Pan insisted that his family was different and that I shouldn’t be uncomfortable meeting them, if I was in fact serious about “us.”
“And I hope you are serious especially after everything,” he said referring to us shish kabobbing. There was no way that Pan could make me feel more crippled than to question my morality or values, whether that be directly, or indirectly. It was always at times like that that I questioned if I really wanted to be with him, or if I was only with him out of fear of being judged by him or anyone he might tell.
He could tell I wasn’t exactly comfortable. It was always at times like that when Pan would find a way to make me completely forget about my cares or worries, as if somehow his words, jokes, or actions were sprinkled with Pixie Dust. When we clashed, it was a volcanic eruption, but when our souls were in harmony, it was like the aurora borealis. The time we spent together always went fast and the drive to meet his parents house was no exception.
When he pulled up to the driveway, I felt like I wanted to regurgitate. The level of nervousness running through my body was almost overbearing. I tried to put on a confident face in front of Pan who was flashing the widest smile I had ever seen.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I lied flashing a fake confident smile.
We made our way into the house where his parents stood waiting to greet me with wide smiles.
“Assalamu Alaikum,” I initiated, only to feel like a disgraceful piece of shit. I mean… there I was, a Muslim girl, offering an Islamic greeting to the parents of the guy I was dating, knowing very well that dating doesn’t exist in our faith. However, when both parents replied with a “Wa Alaikum Salam,” and firm non judgemenatal handshakes, I felt comfortable. I was led into the kitchen where I met his siblings who were already seated at the table and ready to eat the dinner that was ready to serve. There wasn’t any conversation in the first part of the night; dinner was served and we ate in complete silence.
This wasn’t strange to me as conversations weren’t held at the dinner table in my home growing up as-well. My dad, Allah yerhamo (God Rest His Soul) always believed that dinner wasn’t a time to talk, but rather a time to thank God and enjoy the food. Conversation was bad for digestion, he’d say, and so most of the time we’d eat in near silence. So, Pan’s family’s dinner talk, or lack thereof, wasn’t foreign to me. If anything, I was grateful for it. It allowed me the opportunity to be observant, which normally puts my mind at ease.
As dinner came to an end, his siblings excused themselves, and it was only Pan, his parents, and I.
“Does your family know about what you two are doing?” his mother asked nonchalantly.
“Mama, let it go,” injected Pan.
“I can’t ask a question,” she snapped back. “I just wanna know if you’ve met her family and how they feel about all of this.”
The truth was, my family didn’t know about my relationship with Pan just yet. I had insisted that he was a co-worker, because boyfriend was not a title I could even bring myself to say. I figured that if the relationship turned out to be naseeb (destinty) then I would tell them that we worked together and fell in love. But I wouldn’t admit to dating him. Not yet. I was still playing tug of war against both worlds: the ancient and the modern. I couldn’t make sense and stand by what I believe when I was still living as an interloper in between both.
“You know dating isn’t accepted in Islam,” added his father. “You want to do things right, especially because your father isn’t here.”
All a person had to ever do, was bring up my father to make me lose myself in a well of emotions. My dad was always a sensitive subject for me because I knew what his expectations were for me. I knew every bit of what he would have approved and disapproved of, and yet… there I was. The shame I knew my dad would feel at seeing me in that home, with the parents of the guy I was dating, would have killed my father. I knew this.
I still do.
I looked straight at Pan feeling completely betrayed never mind humiliated. He’d said his family wasn’t conservative or like the community, and yet there I was being lectured. Pan could read the frustration on my face and jumped into the conversation to tell his parents that we weren’t here to play games, and that we were in fact thinking about getting married. They wanted a date. Pan said he couldn’t give them one just yet. While I sat there wondering if that day would ever really come.
Pan was clearly frustrated by it all and said we had to leave. He ran upstairs to say goodbye to his brothers and sisters and told me to head to the car. I didn’t feel right leaving abruptly like that, so I waited for him to come back downstairs, as his parents stood to one corner side by side. The awkwardness of it all, made the room heavy and me feel suffocated. I wasn’t angry at them for standing by their beliefs, but rather at Pan for putting us all in the situation.
“Thank you for having me over for dinner,” I said trying to lift the discomfort and make the moment less awkward.
“Our pleasure,” said his mother. “Oh! I’m so glad I remembered,” she said before excusing herself and entering the room again with a gift bag. “We got this for you,” she added handing me the gift bag and urging me to open it. I began to do so just as Pan came downstairs.
“What’s that?” he asked me.
“We got her a little something,” answered his mother.
Inside was a bottle of Juicy Couture perfume. I graciously thanked them, and after Pan hugged his mother and shook his fathers hand, we made our way to the car and went on our way.
“You told me…” I began only to be interrupted by Pan who yelled, “Don’t start! I don’t wanna hear about it.”
“Stop shutting me down like that,” I angrily said. I couldn’t continue to remain quiet to Pan. I couldn’t continue to let him believe the louder he got, the more I shut down. I couldn’t let him win, only so he would stay.
“I look so bad in front of your family now,” I said. “You told me they weren’t traditional.”
“Who gives a fuck. So they are. They’re not gonna stop us from talking.”
“This isn’t about us talking, this is about the lack of respect your family must have for me knowing very well they don’t approve of this!”
“Respect?! You’re so fucken dramatic,” he said. “They don’t give a fuck!”
“WHY did you bring me here knowing your family wouldn’t approve of it?” I said angrily.
“You keep promising me you’ll stop treating me like I’m not a part of this relationship and you’re not!”
Pan punched his steering wheel hard twice while driving forcing him to pull the car over to tend to his hand.
They say you learn a lot about a person when they’re angry. I learned that day that Pan, was NOT in control of his anger. We sat in complete silenece. I didn’t know how to react. So I waited for Pan to make the first move, say the first word, do something, anything. He lifted his head and looked over at me. Our eyes met and just for a moment, the world became quiet.
He cupped my face with his hands
I tried not to pull away
He leaned over and pressed his forehead against mine
And just like that… he had me again.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just don’t wanna see you hurt.”
“Then don’t hurt me,” I said.
“I won’t!” He said it so confidently that despite everything that had happened up to that moment…
…I believed him.
Until next week…