In the Shadows of Men: My Relationship with Another Man


My relationship with the diplomat was not traditional, and wouldn’t normally be accepted. But I wanted it, and I felt it was important. So I fought to give it validation within society. Sadly, society is hypocritical. It likes the surface of things, and domination and power.

The man I loved had the admirable characteristics that would make it possible for him to be welcomed, and for the customs and traditions of Islamism to possibly accommodate our relationship. He was generous and tender, with good manners and a prestigious position. Enough to overlook societal restrictions. With my children and I, the rules were different and they were real, even if those rules were not embraced in our society. He and I discussed the seriousness of these restrictions and what was expected. Ultimately, there was a ring that resembled an engagement ring and a visit to my parents and some talk of love and a willingness to be together, but no promises were made.

The idea of marriage used to horrify me. And it scared the children. I was the center of their safe, closed circle. Allowing anyone to enter was prohibited, as if there were a hidden agreement that said, “Do whatever you wish, as long as we don’t have to share you with anyone.” I was giddy over the idea of marriage to a man who would alleviate my worries and help me fulfill my aspirations. I was torn between this delight and the society that would frown upon us. I was torn between the desire to become a wife and the desires of my children. The idea of marriage was always retreating, dissipating in my mind. However, I insisted back then that we were still getting to know each other. Time might change our desires and our understanding of one another. I didn’t want to marry only to be divorced again.

So time passed and soon after he left the country, the relationship started to break down. After two years, it was completely shattered. I went through rough times that are indescribable. But I was confident that our fracture did not fracture me, or him. There are relationships and emotions that change. Then there are relationships and emotions that simply disappear. My insistence on that relationship posed challenges—to me, to society, to my children. I was walking the line between what was wrong, forbidden, and unacceptable and what was respectable. I was trying to balance my devotion as a mother with what I needed as a woman. I am a mother and a woman—two living in one body. We meet, but we separate in many ways in order to live in peace and security, to enliven both of us.

That relationship became a disgrace to my son, even though he had known about it in detail for years. My son refused this man and refused me. He began to denigrate his sisters. He rejected the boyfriend of his sister. He became the observer and his sisters’ guardian, the one who gave the final orders. He wanted to enter the house when he wished and leave when he wished.

It was almost impossible to stand up to him. He became taller and larger than me. I feared an altercation. I started seeing his father in him.

When he decided to go live with his father, he broke my heart. That was the first time I examined my emotions towards my son, the idea of loving him. What did I want from him? What did I expect? These questions were a strange turn for me, and I asked myself, “What is best for him? What does he want? What are his expectations?”

I left him.

And it was a wise thing to do. I said to him, “Go. And the moment you want to come back, this home is yours. Every moment, wherever you are, I am always with you when you feel that you need me. And when you do not need me, I am still with you.”

I tried to be angry and get away and escape. I was terrified for him. I saw him drifting away, and I remembered what the social worker told the family: “Let him fall. If he doesn’t fall and feel the pain, he will never understand the meaning of mistakes. He will not understand what it means not to fall.” Many years passed as I watched him, waiting. I lost hope sometimes. Sometimes he came back crying, throwing himself to my bosom. Each time, I would send him out to go do what he wanted for himself, allow him to see a new decisive moment. He was mature enough, and he wanted more than just rationalizing; he wanted reason and maturity.

He came back.

He came back a man. The way I raised him to be.

He tried, and still tries, to break the arrogance of the patriarchal beliefs that were instilled in him. I am very aware of the difference in his maturity, his capacity for forgiveness and tenderness. Love fills him, but he feels anger toward his father, who embodies the spoiled patriarchy, who is arrogant and conceited to the point that he forgets that he’s a father.

If I was able to wear the robes of wisdom for my son in the midst of his adolescence, this was not because of virtue or maturity. The feeling of eternal loss was the engine for my wisdom. It is society that pushes the male child to the peak of tribal thinking and arrogance. It pushes the girl inward, like pushing an elephant into a mouse hole. Society wants her pure, untouched, and saint-like. The girl is like crystal; if she is scratched, she loses her value and is reduced to nothing more than glass. As a child, I repeatedly heard the adults talk about the importance of understanding the difference between glass and crystal.

At that time, I could handle what came my way—the ups and downs and extremely difficult situations. But the most difficult moment was seeing my eldest adolescent daughter lying in front of me with her wrists open, covered with blood, surrounded by empty medicine boxes and scraps of paper. This is a moment that will never leave me. It cannot be wiped from my memory. Each time it comes back, I hear my own screaming and feel the same intense fear.

She wasn’t yet sixteen when she attempted suicide after a phone call from her father on her way back from tennis class. He asked her if she was walking alone. She answered that her boyfriend was next to her. Not much happened. Nothing actually happened. But she was so overwhelmed with intense fear that she decided to take her own life. No one could have understood that fear like I did. I used to be terrified of him in that same way, fearful of his suspicion. As if he saw and knew what you couldn’t see or know. He made you feel that he knew about you, and that he was more confident about your actions than you could be. He had absolute knowledge. He had the iron fist that was fixed and fatal. I understood what had happened with my daughter, how he had besieged her with fear. That’s what my life with him had been.

It is a fear you cannot express to anyone. He threatens you and demolishes your life with two calm words that ensure your collapse, as if you never existed. He guarantees that you will take your life with your own hands. She couldn’t handle the pressure that was bearing down on her—for being beautiful and talented. We created for her a schizophrenic life. She was contained within the confines of tradition at home, and then free from those constraints at school, living in a bubble of modernity. In the foreign school she attended, she lived the life of the French until she passed back through the school gate. She enjoyed a cultural and intellectual openness that fell away when she entered the world again. She was a true rebel, and he was a lying, fascist dictator.

Her rescue didn’t necessarily mean my rescue. In that moment, I tasted the meaning of death and its bitterness. I lived a moment of loss that can never be reconciled. There is nothing more difficult than losing a child. I could never survive such a loss. I don’t know how a mother can live after the death of a child.


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