Hani was in need of a new wardrobe and of course he turned to Chicago’s local friendly Muslim Arab self-proclaimed fashionista, yours truly–ME! I was more than willing to help and not surprised that he turned to me, since all of my friends both male and female also lean on me to dress them for work meetings, dates, weddings, and yes some funerals. Let’s just say that I should have either been a fashion designer or Victoria Beckham’s personal shopper. How fun would that be?!
So, we met at Oak Brook Mall where we began our shopping experience. I grabbed a couple of things that I thought would look good on him along with items I feel are essential in every man’s wardrobe: a black & white basic V-neck tee and light & dark blue jeans. Hani went into the dressing room to try everything on. A gay man with a better walk than me approached me with a compliment. “You’re so beautiful it’s not even funny!” he said.
“Oh my God! Thank you!” I said. “And you have to teach me how to walk as fabulous as you!” I said. He let out a loud laugh just as Hani came out of the dressing room in a short sleeve black V-neck tee and dark blue jeans.
“Oh you look good!” said my dressing room guy Kevin to Hani.
“Yeah, you look really nice!” I added.
“You think so! See I don’t know how I feel about the jeans!”
“Is there not enough room in the middle area?” asked Kevin, trying to keep himself from laughing at Hani or staring at his junk.
“Maybe we need a different cut,” I said. “Can you grab a boot cut jean?” I asked Kevin who said yes and left the area to grab them.
“You like it?” he asked me, referring to his outfit.
“Yeah, you look really good, but you need more leg room,” I said just as Kevin came in with a different pair of jeans for Hani to try on.
“Try these on and see if they feel better,” said Kevin to Hani who made his way back to his dressing room that was now locked.
“Kevin, he’s been evicted, can you please open the door for him,” I joked to Kevin who laughed as he unlocked the door for Hani.
Hani tried on every outfit I picked and looked better with every change. Kevin and I were like two peas in a pod as we agreed and disagreed with everything: outfits we liked and disliked, shirts that looked good, pants that didn’t. Hani had put himself in capable hands and we were making him look better than he ever had before.
“Try these slacks on,” said Kevin who came in with a pair of light grey striped pants.
“Oh I like those!” I said.
“Are you two a couple?” asked Kevin, adding a level of awkwardness between Hani and I.
“No!” I jumped in. “No, we’re not! He’s just a friend,” I clarified since Hani wasn’t saying anything.
“Oh, you should be!” added Kevin. “You look great together!”
I flashed the most awkward smile imaginable as I said, “Why don’t you try those on,” to Hani who entered the dressing room. I decided to take a seat and relax. Just as I did my phone flashed, notifying me that I had a text. I opened it–it was from Nidal. I couldn’t help but feel that every time I have put the man out of my mind, he somehow finds a way back in. I read the text: Was just thinking about u. Hope ur well.
My heart stopped. Hani exited the dressing room and I forced a smile. My mind stuck on Nidal’s text and Hani’s outfit.
“You look good,” said Kevin. “Don’t he look good?” Kevin asked, snapping me back into reality.
“Oh yeah, you look hot!” I said with a smile.
“Yeah, but they’re a little short,” he said, prompting Kevin to rush out and grab another pair. “You like the way they fit?”
“Yeah, you look good,” I said, my mind stuck on the reason behind why Nidal would send me such a text.
“You OK?” he asked, kneeling down beside me.
“I’m fine! Why?” I asked. One of the things I don’t like about Hani is that it always seems like he can see right through me. As if there’s nothing I can hide from him.
I felt like I couldn’t lie to myself or him and say that I was fine when in fact I wasn’t.
“Nothing,” I began. “I just got a text from someone I didn’t expect to and it bothered me. But, I’m fine. More importantly, you look very good and have some great outfits here.”
“Yeah,” he said.
After shopping we made our way to dinner. I wanted a way to get Nidal off my mind and Hani helped me with that during the car ride by saying something that I didn’t expect. You see, Hani happens to be best friends with the husband of a girl who bullied me relentlessly for over six years in grammar school. The girl was a Class A bitch and made it a point everyday to not only hit me with her books every time I passed her in the hallway, but also trademarked the term half-and-half which she made sure everyone called me. Why? Because I wasn’t a full-blooded Arab, since my mother is Italian and Galician. Not only did she make it a point to make my life in school a living hell, but she also found the need to tarnish my spotless reputation. Apparently, being a half-and-half makes you a slut who dresses like a prostitute and gives out free blowjobs outside the Masjid parking lot. Now, this isn’t the news that Hani told me that floored me, because truth is I don’t give a damn about the girl and have moved on from that experience, but Hani began telling me how he spoke to the bully’s husband and told him that he and I were “seeing each other”.
“Are we?” I asked.
“Aren’t we?” he asked. “I mean, if we’re not and we’re just friends then that’s cool too.”
“No! I mean yeah, I guess we are. I mean, I don’t really know!”
I couldn’t help but be perplexed by the term. I wondered what he meant by it. Did ‘seeing each other’ to him mean that we were unofficially in a relationship? That we’re dating? Does he see me as his girlfriend? Or was ‘seeing each other’ a way of him saying “You’re pretty and I like you so for all intents and purposes we go out, but it’s nothing serious or official. Now, I was comfortable with the latter especially since I hadn’t made up my mind on exactly what I thought of Hani yet.
That night I found myself sitting on Hani’s couch skimming through pictures of his travels with him right beside me. And just then somewhere between Tokyo and Venezuela, Hani put his arm around me. It all felt so natural and I was happily comfortable with the whole situation, to the point that I did something I have only ever done with my ex–I put my head on Hani’s shoulder. A part of me screamed out, “This is all too soon Faiza! Get the hell away from him!” But another part said, “Gosh, this feels nice! I want to stay here as long as I can!” The term, ‘seeing each other’ now felt like a mis-sized heel that shockingly fits you! I hadn’t felt this relaxed with a man since Nidal, and I had begun to forget how nice it was for a man to put his arm around me. I’ll never forget how special I felt when Nidal wrapped his arms around my waist as we stood on a bridge overlooking the lake whispering God-only-knows-what in my ear. Until today I don’t know what he was saying because my mind was so focused on his beautiful muscular arms wrapped around my tiny waist, that he would constantly tease me about. Hani’s arm was similar in size and fit around me just as Nidal’s did–perfectly.
But, like everything golden, the moment was about to end when Hani turned to me and asked, “Have you been honest with me about everything?”
I was thrown for a loop. I didn’t know what kind of question that was to interrupt the tender moment we were just sharing.
“I’m sorry,” I asked.
“I know you said you’ve never had a boyfriend before, but you seem really comfortable with this.”
The moment had suddenly gone from tender to offensive. I tried not to shove him away from me and look him stern in the face with a loud, “Way to ruin the fucken moment!” Apparently, I was giving off the wrong vibes and my close nature with him was saying one thing to him, “Femme Fatale?” My confidence had now deflated and I became uptight and rather uncomfortable although I tried to act like I wasn’t. My first instinct was ‘defend your morality,’ but I felt wrong for even doing that. I owed an explanation to no man and figured that he should have been flattered that I was comfortable enough with him to allow him to put his arm around me after several outings.
Perhaps I should have been more distant, but I couldn’t help but want him to hold me. Normally, I would be timid and scared–a trait Nidal constantly taunted me about. I freaked out the first time he ever held my hand, until it became second nature to me. Now, it wasn’t like I was going to have sex with Hani or even kiss him for that matter and yet I felt as if my morality were being questioned because I was indulging in something that felt natural to me even if I had only done it before with my fiancé, Nidal. Perhaps that was it. Nidal was my fiancé, I could indulge in those tender moments with him because we were going to wed, or so I believed we were. I had no idea that he was secretly dating a bleach-blonde she-devil AKA Natalie.
At that moment my comfort had shifted to guilt. I felt guilty for indulging in something I normally would not! I knew I should have kept my distance.
“I didn’t make a face or judge you, did I?” he stated.
I said nothing, but inside I couldn’t help but feel that he had.
I tried to enjoy the rest of the night and as much as I did, I still found myself thinking about Hani’s question at 2:45am. My mind continuously drifted back to the tender moment Hani and I shared that was over about as quickly as it started. Was I being over analytical?
The next day I called my cousin Caroline, a PhD who is that much closer to finding the cure to cancer and yet that much further to finding true love. She had recently had her boyfriend Derik break up with her after he realized that he “wasn’t feeling a romantic connection” with her although he was the man that sought her out after their first break up, which was done in the most classy manner–via text! I needed her to make it abundantly clear if I was overanalyzing the situation, being offended for nothing, or confirm that I did in fact have a reason to feel offended.
“Well, the worse thing about it is that from now on anytime you try to get close to him, he’s gonna wonder if you’ve done that before or not,” said Caroline.
“Exactly! I almost feel like I shouldn’t have done it, but at the same time I’m not sorry I did. But, then I feel bad for not feeling bad about the whole situation because I was actually enjoying his arm around me, but, why do I feel like I shouldn’t have?”
“Because he made a comment about it!”
“Why did he have to do that? Why couldn’t he just leave things the way they were? It’s awkward now!”
“Well, I don’t think he meant to make things awkward at all. Maybe he’s never known a beautiful confident woman who hasn’t been intimate with a guy, so he’s just curious. Listen. Fai, if you tell someone you’ve never played baseball before in your entire life and then you pick up a bat and on the first strike you hit a home run, everyone is going to question whether or not you were telling them the truth. They’re going to believe you have played before because it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah, but he underestimated me and that’s insulting!”
“Well, men are stupid sometimes. They don’t think before they speak.”
“And then to make things worse, Nidal contacts me saying that he’s thinking about me and hoping that I’m well.”
“When you were out with this guy?”
“How did that make you feel?”
“I don’t know. Truth is, I don’t care about the guy anymore and yet I feel overwhelmed whenever I see his name show up on my phone. Then I go out with Hani and I completely forget Nidal, but then I’m not sure if I could see myself with a man who questions my morality like that. A part of me knows that that’s not what he was trying to do. He’s not judgmental. But, why do I feel like I was judged?”
“Have you ever considered that maybe it’s not him at all that’s judging you? Maybe you’re judging yourself. I’m not saying that he should have questioned your values, but you keep saying that you were comfortable with the whole thing, but maybe deep down inside you actually weren’t!”
The second she said it out loud I knew she was right. I had made myself believe that I was comfortable with the whole situation, but the moment Hani asked me that question, it sparked my own insecurities. Perhaps it wasn’t Hani who judged me, but it was I who judged myself.
The following morning I did the only thing that puts a smile on my face, the only thing mind-consuming enough to keep my mind off of Hani, the question he asked, and my emotional breakdown over the whole situation–I organized my closet.
As I skimmed through clothes I had carefully labeled my favorites by placing them at the front of the rack, I found my father’s brown-checkered sweater, the one we had given him for Christmas one year. Yes judgmental Muslims, I celebrate Christmas. Even after my mother’s conversion to the Jewish faith we still continued to celebrate it. Not for the religious reasons that Christians do but rather the sentiment it expresses about peace, love and gifts! Got to love the commercialized version of Christmas here in the states. Partially because I just love a reason to shop for overpriced items that I can get at half the cost!
I pulled out the sweater and pressed my face against it. I could still smell my father’s cologne on it as if he had just taken it off and placed it on the red wicker chair that was his favorite to sit in. Tears filled my eyes as I began to wonder what he thought of the woman I had become after he passed. I knew that he must have been very disappointed that I was still unmarried and far past my expiration date. That I was giving my family a hard time when it came to their insistence on putting me into an arranged marriage. That I literally went out for a celebratory dinner the night my father’s family flew back to Arizona after getting frustrated by my saying ‘no’ to every guy they brought over for me to meet. But mostly I wondered how my father would have reacted if he watched my comfort with Hani’s arm around me, or my holding his hand and placing my head on his shoulder. I could almost see his look of complete an utter disappointment in front of me.
That night Hani texted me and I did my best to be as nice as I possibly could. I don’t know if he realized that I wasn’t as friendly as I was before his question, but I was confused, scared, guilt-ridden, but mostly lost. I wanted to talk to him about the entire situation and make him aware of how it made me feel, but I didn’t want to do that via text and I wasn’t allowed to take phone calls past 11:30 in the house, so I decided that I would just distance myself from him until he returned from his vacation and me from mine.
The next day, I received a text from Hani expressing his wish to grab coffee with me before we went on vacation. I saw this as an opportunity to get everything off my chest and so I agreed to meet him after having dinner with my friends who were throwing me a goodbye dinner as if I were going away for the next thirty years. We agreed to meet at a Greek Café on Halsted and I can’t tell you how much pacing back and fourth I did outside that café waiting for him to arrive. I reviewed a text he sent me that said that he was with his friend Tamer, “You cool meeting him or you want me to dump him out in the cold?” I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed being that I wanted to discuss the subject with Hani alone, but agreed to meet his friend and enjoy the night.
Although I was looking forward to getting the discomfort I was feeling off my chest alone with Hani, I found myself enjoying the night with the two. Tamer was not only quite the intellect, but a man with a great sense of humor and alluring confidence.
The night had played out so well, that I found myself forgetting why I was offended in the first place. That was until Hani wanted to indulge in a smoke and asked me to join him.
My plan was to divulge as much as I could to him before my mother arrived to pick me up and take me home. I had already gone through the entire beginning of the conversation in my head. I would start by saying, “Hani, you said something the other night that really offended me…” I would then proceed to tell him what that was and wait for him to offer an explanation or an apology. But, of course like most things planned out, it never works that way. I don’t even remember what the hell I spoke to him about standing outside while he smoked his cigarette in the sexiest way a man could. What I do know is that I didn’t get what I should have off my chest. Just when I had mustered enough sense to speak about the subject, my mother turned the corner.
I couldn’t have been more upset with myself. I knew that we were both going away and that I should have said what I had to as opposed to carrying it with me for the next week. But, as my luck would have it, I flaked out on myself and I was saying goodbye to Hani without getting the clarification I wanted.
I decided to take my trip and not focus on Hani or anyone else for that matter. I would take the week to focus on someone I had begun to forget–myself. And that’s the one person you can never lose sight of, no matter how much shit hits the fan.