"Fate" Comes Calling
Oct 5th, 1986 I was a newbie in the Air Force. I was at a training base in Chanute, Ill and was loving my new found freedom...away from my abusive father for the first time in my life. Other newbies found military life hard to handle and spent far too much time on teary phonecalls to home...I did actually have one such phonecall to my Mom, but more because I missed her so much not because I couldn't handle military life. After all, when you grew up in a house with my father and survived that, everything else was cake.
On a previous post I talked about how fate came calling and how I found myself sitting at a pizza parlor on base, playing pool and listening to music...rather than in my room at the dorm studying as I had planned. My future husband was across the room from me playing pool alone...I pause when I write this because it still makes me angry that people with mental problems do not always show those problems in an obvious way. Rather like a cancer, hidden deep within the body but corrupting and destroying everything it touches. We can readily see deformities of the limbs...and spend a little time with someone and you might realize they have a deformity in their intellect...but when someone is an abuser, a rapist, a child molester etc...what is there to show us that this deformity exists within them when we are looking across the room at them? How do we recognize a soul that harbors a beast merely by looking? Sizing them up. Deciding whether they are worth the bother etc. Where are the red flags then?
23 years later it still angers me a great deal about our "chance" meeting. If you believe in God then you do not belive in chance. Everything happens for a reason. I've heard that so many times among Muslims (and non) that I would seriously like to do harm to the next person that says it to me. Seriously.
5 months later almost exactly, Feb 6th, 1987 we were married. He was returning to this far off country of Bahrain, which sounded rather exotic when he described it, and demanded we marry before he left...so that I could follow him there. I didn't want to marry him. I hadn't even decided at the time whether I actually liked him or not. He had already shown signs of extreme jealousy and had punished me several times in ways I would soon come to know very well. At the time I didn't recognize them for what they were....a continuance of exactly what my father had done to me. I soon realized I had actually married my own father...except that this one used Islam and Arab culture to abuse me while my father used Christianity and his own demented beliefs.
I married my father. Irony...you bitch!!
Now, people might ask...why did you marry someone you didn't love, didn't even like for the most part. You had a choice, right? So? Well, unless you grew up in my house, abused by my father and "brainwashed" believing what I was forced to believe then you might not understand what had actually happened to me. My husband told me years later that I was the perfect wife for him at the time because he realized when he first met me that I was a "greenhorn" (his favorite name for me at the time) and that I was a "blank slate" so to speak. He could make me into whatever he wanted...all though he couched it in terms of endearment...as in he saved me before I was corrupted by society into what every western girl eventually became...a slut...a whore...a bitch. He saved me, he said, and expected me to thank him for that over and over again throughout our marriage.
In other words, my father had raised me (if that is the word that fits) to believe that women did not open their mouths to men, did not disagree with whatever the man wanted...did not argue back and certainly didn't express an opinion or thought contrary to what the man said etc. In other words, my brain (which was smart as a whip when it came to intellectual thinking etc) was to be turned off when it came to men. When my soon to be husband said "lets get married"...it never crossed my mind to say no. Not even that I COULD say no. Inside I may have been screaming NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! I don't want to marry you...but for those words to cross my lips was not something I was even close to being able to utter. So yes...I was forced, in a sense, to marry him.
And I'm pretty sure he realized that about me. At that time he knew me far better than I knew myself. He was 27 (possibly, never was sure of his exact age) and I was 17 when I met him, barely 18 when we married. I was a greenhorn remember...and he took every advantage. I never had a chance.
At anyrate, we married and he returned to Bahrain...but called me daily, several times a day, to "keep tabs on me"...to make sure I was all right. I learned later that his phone bill was over $2000 by the time I arrived in Bahrain a few months later. His sister had to pay that bill...could be why we got off on the wrong foot? Maybe.
I'm pretty sure while sitting in my dorm room at the base, by this time I was in Luke AFB outside Phoenix, that I would never have followed him to Bahrain, married or not, because I realized as soon as he was gone that he was as good as gone for me. If I never seen him again that would have been fine with me. I didn't feel married to him, certainly had no loving feelings lingering to make me miss him...and was already considering just letting him know I wouldn't be coming. Plus, the military isn't quite so happy to let you go as they are to sign you up. I had already been told I had to finish out my service before I could get released. That was quite all right with me but when I told him that he became quite angry. It was my first look into the ego of this man who thought the USAF should bend to HIS will and release HIS wife simply because HE said so. He demanded I go to the Base Commander and plead my case. As if I would.
Unfortunately it was about this time I learned I was pregnant. To this day I have no idea why I told him I was pregnant. It set the wheels in motion that would dictate the next 23 years of my life. If he had never known I was pregnant, we might eventually have just let it be, annuled our marriage and got on with life....but once he knew I was pregnant there was no stopping him. Turns out the military allows female soldiers to get out early if they become pregnant. Choice is up to them...or him in this case. He called the base himself from overseas and made sure everyone knew I wanted to leave the military because I was married to him and now pregnant with his child. By the end it seemed as if they were practically kicking me out just to get rid of the pain on the other end of the phone. It was me that signed my military discharge papers...but it was him that made the decision and "forced" it on me.
I discharged from the USAF April 3rd, 1987 (I remember there were many military personel trying to convince me not to go over there. They HAD been to Arab countries and knew what I was headed for...but he caught wind of this and called many many people causing a huge stink...threatening to sue the military for trying to convince HIS wife not to come...it all died down eventually)....I was stepping off the plane in Bahrain April 11, 1987. I hadn't told my family, my mother...nobody. For some reason I felt I couldn't. I knew my mother would stop me from going. I knew she would put a spoke in the wheels of this out of control bus I was on...but for some reason I couldn't call her and tell her. I felt HIS will was stronger...I felt that I couldn't fight him...my father had taught me well. He said come...so I came.
I arrived in Bahrain and was met at the airport by a man in a long white garment and head dress. I didn't even realize it was him at first. He looked handsome and regal in my eyes and I felt a faint stirring in my heart that maybe I could learn to love him. He was commanding and austere. No smiling as he conducted the business of my visa etc. The first thing he asked me, no greeting or anything, was whether I had any money. I did. He took it all. For all of our 20 years of marriage he never let me have more than pocket change...it was something I would get used to..not like, but get used to.
His sister and four neices were there as well. The sister greeted me with her soon familiar cold air (and it was my first real look at a woman wearing an abaya that sat on the head and was clutched together with one hand)...the girls were still young and giggly and one even curtsied when she shook my hand...as if greeting royalty. The airport, at that time, was small and uninteresting...eventually it would become one of the top Duty Free spots on the planet...Bahraini's love their luxery items. Outside was green grass and palm trees...taxis waiting...and various unrecongnizable languages. The weather was still fine for April...I had been in Texas for training so I knew what hot and humid felt like...but it was nothing compared to that first taste of a Bahrain summer that was just around the corner. But for the moment there was a pleasant breeze and everything looked...."ok"...normal.
Not a camel or oil well in sight. hmmm?
As we left the airport I watched out the window at the scenery passing by. It may sound strange coming from me as others may know by now that I am an avid reader. I will read anything and everything and my mind is much the better for it in my opinion...but I realized at this point that I had not bothered myself to read a single thing about Bahrain. Other than the stereotypical "oil wells and camels" I knew nothing about the Arab world. I have no idea why it didn't cross my mind to read up on this country I was leaving mine for...I had only his discription to go by. According to him it was about as western as one could get and still be in an Arab country. I eventually found out that was true...depending on where you lived. There are pockets of extremism in Bahrain, mixed among the more tolerant areas where more foreigners and "open minded" Bahrainis live...but where I was headed was not one of them. Into the heart of Muharraq...one of the oldest settlements in Bahrain...where the streets are barely car width wide, where the houses are practically on top of each other...where greenery has no chance to grow...where hearts and minds are closed like a steel trap on anything perceived as bida..or innovation.
Turns out marrying a foreigner, especially an American one who is thought of as little more than a whore or slut...is considered bida...and didn't I come to learn that pretty damn quick.
As we drew near to his home my heart grew quiet at the surroundings. It seemed as if I were leaving the modern familiar world and was going back in time...everything became older, decayed, dark and dreary. People stopped and looked at me..and they seemed sad, tired...burdened. It was then I noticed I didn't see very many women outside..and almost no girls. Boys ran all over, screaming and playing and causing mischief...but the only girls I seen were very little ones. VERY little ones. It wasn't long before I learned that Arab women love their children very much...but seemed on the whole to be rather blase' about their safety. Very small children ran the streets...as young as 2 or 3 years old...without so much as a bigger sibling in sight. Which I found ironic considering all the derogatory remarks I would eventually hear about how Americans raised their children.
We stopped in front of an old decayed building...sandwiched between equally old and decaying buildings. I could barely open the car door the street was so narrow. There was no color to speak of...other than the multitude of colorful chips bags or coke cans that littered the area. Everything was brown, or tan, or off white. People may find it hard to understand this (or not)...but color plays a huge part in our lives...when you are sad color lifts your spirits...when your in a playful or happy mood you dress in colorful clothes or paint a room to match your emotions etc. The color of life is Green. Love is Red. Ovygen is Blue and so forth (for me anyhow) and so to suddenly be thrust in a world that seemed to have no color was, for me, quite a shock. Not so much as a lick of paint to distinguish one house from another...even most of the cars I could see were white...others were black or dark blue...but nothing bright or eye catching anywhere. Other than trash..and that was in abundance. I felt like I had stepped into the proverbial "ghetto" that I had heard about on TV so much. Funny enough Muharraq was known as the ghetto of Bahrain...but I didn't know that just then. *sigh* (ok I realize some of you, particularly Arabs or even Bahrainis who might be reading this, might be saying...she is painting a very bleak picture of Bahrain...its not like that. All I can say is..this was my impression on my first night in Bahrain 23 years ago. It was what it was)
When he stepped out of the driver's seat he looked at me and said some truly cryptic words. "Don't expect too much." Don't expect too much? What did that mean? Expect too much of his house, his family, his life? What? I felt even further dismay at how things were progressing. He had never used words like that before when I had asked him about his family etc. hmmmm?
I entered through the narrow half door that is typical of most older Bahraini homes and took a few faltering steps into the "foyer". My first thoughts were...My God this house should be condemned!! My second thought was...I want to go home NOW!!!
Of course I said neither.
I looked around at a very small....very broken down interior of a house. Thick dust coated everything. Small rocks and pebbles laid around where they had fallen from the walls or ceilings. Dust coated spider webs, or cobwebs, hung from every nook and cranny. It was a badly made house for the most part. The floors were like hills and valleys, the walls sloped alarmingly, one stair case looked like a broken neck waiting to happen. (considering how many times I would eventually go up and down those stairs...even while heavily pregnant...I still find it amazing that I never did fall. Not everyone was so lucky tho) It was dark and gloomy and had the air of desolation. And the smell was dank and gave me the feeling that the sun never found its way inside. Inside I shivered and felt my skin crawl. I felt "dirty" just by being in there...and I was supposed to LIVE there???
He led me to a small little cave of a room...in time I learned that this was the majlis..or main sitting room etc of the house. It was the only room large enough for everyone to sit on the floor in....though we would be cramped. If I had to guess I would say that room measured about 7 ft wide by 15 to 20 feet long. It had one bed taking up one wall and some cupboards taking up another...so we only had the center of the room to utilize. Not much room to do more than sit Indian style if more than a few people were in there. And because this room had no windows...the smell hit me like a slap in the face. Old and dusty...unaired bed clothes and carpet on the floor that had not been changed in years.
I ducked my head and entered to find his parents sitting on the floor watching TV. I didn't realize it at the time of course, but after viewing many Arabs greeting each other...even the way those that are strangers to each other...I know that they are lavish greeters. Much hugging and kissing and asking about families etc. Of course we Americans greet as well but not on such a noisy exuberrant scale. Putting all that aside...greeting a stranger into your home is something ALL cultures do, regardless of what brought them there. When it is your son's new bride, one would expect a little something extra...yes?
I got nothing. Not so much as a head turn from them. Almost as if I didn't exist for them. My husband said something to them in Arabic and his father turned and said something to me. A greeting? I have no idea. The mother didn't look at me or say anything. He covered for her and said she was shy. I would have to get use to him excusing his mother and sister's abhorrent behavior towards me...there was ALWAYS a reason they behaved the way they did..I just had to be the "better person" and get over it. *sigh*
After a few uncomfortable moments he took me upstairs to our room. We lived on what use to be the roof...but he had made a room up there some years back. I was able to see the sky from here at least...something I would spend a lot of time doing over the years. Sitting outside my room looking up at the sky. The floor and walls were just as crooked up here...and this was where they hung their laundry etc so there wasn't much room...but I would consider it my oasis in time. A space away from his family and thier constant abuse. When I entered his room, our room, I was expecting much of the same as downstairs but was pleasantly surprised to find it fairly modern and clean. Sunny too as there was a window. It had almost the same dimensions as the room downstairs as it was directly overhead...but it looked like worlds apart. There was a bed, a TV and table, and a cupboard. No space for anything else. I wondered where I was going to put all my things....but that was worry for another day. I was exhausted, and secretly terrified I had made the biggest mistake of my life by coming here.
I felt like I was on the far side of the moon...far from everthing familiar to me...far from everyone I loved and loved me...but most of all far from reality. It was as if I were in a dream. A long very elaborate dream...but a dream all the same.
I went and sat on the bed...the only place to sit (a great many rooms in houses in Bahrain I would eventually learn used beds as couches etc...it always felt rather odd sitting on a bed you knew the occupants had sex in...but that was how it was and it didn't seem to bother anyone but me..at the time. LOL)
I looked around. Sighed deeply. And prepared for my first night in Bahrain. If only I knew what awaited me...I might not have stayed glued together quite as well as I was at that moment.
Continued next post.
© Lee Ann Fleetwood, 2010