Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Into the land of the unknown

One of my best friends left for Libya, her family's home country, last night. I can't help but fear that was the last time I'll ever see her.

In her family, there are ten kids. The eldest son refuses to live with his father because of the abuse he sustained in the household, and has spent several years in counseling to overcome his past. My friend happens to be the second oldest. All the girls, even the youngest ones, fear and refuse marriage because they don't want to live life like their mother and be subjected to an overbearing man.

Her father is the type that gives Muslims and Arabs a bad reputation. In public, he's upstanding and polite. Behind closed doors he's oppressive, paranoid, and worse, violent. I've heard countless stories from the girls about what he's done in moments of anger. Coming from an abusive past myself, it's all classic symptoms to me.

And if abuse isn't enough, he uses "religion" as a punishment. For example, in their household, if you do something wrong, you're forced to memorize Qur'an. If you don't memorize it in the certain amount of time, you're beaten, and so on. MashaAllah, most of the kids are hafiz or hafiza, but it means nothing to the heart if it is beaten into you.

I guess over the last couple of years, I've witnessed my friend step in and out of her past. After a particularly violent outburst, she decided to leave home. She couldn't go far because she was tied to the university and of course, her sisters. However, she got a job on her own and stayed with us, her friends, until she could find her own place. She took off her hijab and jilbab that had been forced on her, and colored her hair so the community and her father couldn't easily recognize her in a crowd.

The abuse didn't really go public until a private conversation between a loose-lipped lady at the masjid and one of my friend's sisters somehow got passed along. People started talking badly about her father, who, until the news got spread was referred to as "sheikh" around the community. But still, people still talked badly about my friend for leaving home. They would say "this is her amana" or her responsibility to bear, and she should return to her parents.

My friend was constantly ridiculed and considered "loose" for leaving her violent home. Women in the community would come to her and ask her if she'd like to get married - assuming her purpose for leaving was to have "freedom." They would also try and convince her to go home. Even two notoriously verbose American converts would talk so openly about the family's business and abuse and gladly spread the rumors. However, they said, because she's Arab, she needed to return home. "It's just not the same for them. She's ruining her family," they would say.

It was a conflict I didn't quite understand. However, it started to become clear to me after my friend told me her mom refused to divorce her dad. "This is all she knows," she had told me. "She thinks this is all there is for her." I guess in some, very corrupt circles of thought, abuse and violence towards women is normal and something a woman, if a she is ever so unfortunate to encounter, should keep hidden to protect the honor of her family.

But where is the honor in a family who allows such things? Where is the honor in people who so blatantly go against the teaching of Islam and supposedly do it in the NAME of Islam? And better yet, where is the honor in a group of people who widely accept abuse as the norm?

She ignored it all, and burned bridges and cut ties when needed. I admired her for her strength and her willingness to learn how to live life on her own. She would frequently return home when her father was away to visit her family. But when she came back, I could see how taxing it was to step back into the shadows. Her mother was so needy as she was never allowed to learn to manage finances and life on her own, and constantly asked her to come home. Her sisters yearned to do the same as she did, and eventually, another left as well.

Her father returned from Libya with some relatives all proclaiming how much money he was making and how successful he was. Of course my friend was happy to see new family members and get to know them. However, they all began telling the children how they should return to Libya with their father. It was like a planned act. One by one, the relatives would mention something about how "wonderful" Libya would be.

At first, all the girls rolled their eyes. They all wanted to be in touch with their heritage and culture, but why would they want to leave their colleges, their friends, and the life they've known since they were born?

Then came the plane tickets. Their father told them the lease on their house was ending in August, and produced plane tickets and passports for all of them to board a plane for Libya.

At first, my friend and her sisters completely refused to go. However, one by one, her sisters were convinced that they should go as a family. Still my friend refused. She called me last week to tell me how torn she felt. Her mother and her siblings, all but her oldest brother, were leaving for Libya, and she'd always wanted to go. However, she wanted it to be on her own terms.

She even said she knew her father would have an easier time controlling his children and she suspected that was his prime motivation for the mass exodus to Libya. After all, why would a man who came to the U.S. himself to become educated and make money take his daughters out of colleges here to go to a third world country? It had to be more than just a "visit."

Still she couldn't decide. My husband and I told her to wait. After all she has a job in the university and an apartment of her own here - she could save up money and go to visit soon. Her father promised if no one liked it that they could return. But who's to say he would actually keep his word? Who's to say he won't set fire to their passports as soon as they're on Libyan soil? Where they come from in Libya, not only is it expected of you to marry from the same region and city, it's expected that you marry from the same family. My friend's parents are first cousins who were arranged to marry. So who's to say that there isn't a cousin waiting for each eligible girl when they get there?

In a place to tribal, true Islam is hard to find. Yet her father kept insisting it is where their faith would be strengthened and they would learn to be real Muslims. By "real" I think he means learn to give up all independence. My friend said the women there have no ambition. They're greatest ambition is to produce the most babies and have the best drapes. She was even beginning to be completely annoyed by the close mindedness of her relatives from back home. She has dreams of becoming a doctor or a researcher, but they keep pushing her to get married, of course.

She weighed all the risks and annoyances, and decided it would be best if she stayed behind. After all, if he didn't allow the girls to come back, at least she'd be here to contact the embassy on their behalf.

Last night my husband and I were in a cafe with chatting with a new convert guy that we've been mentoring. My friend walked in with her face wet and her eyes red from tears. "I have some news for you," she said. "I'm going."

I'm sure my jaw dropped clear to the floor. I asked her what had changed her mind. She said her mother had called sobbing and begging her to go and refusing to get on the plane without her. She still said, "no" until her father got on the phone and told her she could return in one week if she wanted, on his word. She beamed, "this is the first time my father has ever come to an agreement with me on my terms."

I bluntly spouted, "- and you really think he means it?"

She shrugged. "I'm excited. I know, I KNOW it's a risk, but I just...I can't Amie. I have to go. Well, aren't you going to hug me?"

I stood to hug her goodbye biting back my tears. "Keep the embassy on speed dial," she said as she squeezed me tightly. "I'll miss you."

My memory flashed back to the night before I got married in the same cafe.

"Things are going to be different, you know," she said, holding back tears.
"No they're not! What do you mean "different?"
"We're just - not going to be as close, you know. And you're one of my best friends."
"We'll always be close."
"You say that now. We'll see."

Those words burned in me as I held her there. She had been right. I was so wrong. I got so caught up in my own life that when she'd call to hang out I'd turn her down a lot of times. Our daily coffee meetings which usually turned into all-day hang outs became weekly phone conversations. Those later turned into random Facebook posts of, "I miss you," and the like. What if I had been there for her like I used to be? Would she feel like she wasn't so alone without her family?

Of course, she's a smart girl, and I'm not going to be so arrogant as to say she's based her decision on my absenteeism. But how did she go from being so upset at her father that she left his house, to trusting him on his home field? The family ties are strong, and I'm sure she's feeling the pressure.

I called her after I got home. I couldn't hold back my sobs when I asked her if she was sure she was going to go and when she would be back. "Don't worry about me, Amie. You have enough to worry about. Take care of that bellybean you've got. I'll be fine."

She texted me today and asked if I wanted anything from the "homeland." I said, "I want you to come back. And anything else cool you can scrounge up."

Call me ye of little faith, but I can't help but imagine what their life is going to be like in Libya. Her mother, behind their backs, went shopping for all of them. She bought them each a wardrobe of black abayas because they need to leave their modest "Western" clothes behind. Already they're expected to shed their identities.

This time, I really hope I'm wrong again.

Friday, August 22, 2008

When the world just seems to be too much

Since I've gotten pregnant, and I'm easily upset by things, I've tried to steer clear of news media and other disturbing images. However, I find that pretty difficult as I'm pretty politically active and like to think of myself as being pretty aware of news events.

A few days ago, I decided to give in and switch on CNN. I was immediately greeted with Caylee, the missing two-year-old from Florida. Then, of course, was the Madrid plane crash. That was enough news to last me quite some time.

Much later that night, as I was sitting and trying to figure out what to do about my financial aid, the phone rang. Usually no one ever calls that late except for my sister or me, and they call our cell phones. I answered to hear a bawling teenage girl on the other end of the phone. She asked to talk to my sister, and I said she was already in bed. The girl then asked if I could please wake her up because it was important. I thought it was kind of rude and weird, as I assumed someone had just broken up with her boyfriend, or some other melodrama was afoot and just had to be discussed at that instant - but I did it anyway.

However, minutes later, my sister emerged from her room carrying a box of kleenex. Her face was red, her eyes bloodshot and her cheeks were tear stained. "Jacob hung himself tonight," she choked through her sobs.

Images of a little boy with goofy glasses and tufted, blonde hair running around the preschool parking lot with his friends flashed through my mind. I'm seven years older than my sister, so I watched the two of them grow up as friends. They even "went out" in upper elementary school for a while.

Jacob's family has been involved in a lot of business in the area, so they are well-known. His grandparents and our grandparents were friends, and they were our neighbors for years.

Jacob's parents decided to leave the area and move to Florida to pursue some other business venture. Jacob didn't want to leave, and I remember the big, sad, farewell among my sister and all of their friends when he left. I guess when he was in Florida, he fell into the wrong crowd and started using drugs.

His parents decided to move back to Indiana, but not back to Jacob's school. He had to start all over again, addictions and all, in a new place. A lot of the friends he had grown up with had changed for the better and had grown up, but some started using, like him, and, as I understand, misery loves company. His other friends tried to help him, but he wouldn't change. My sister, being the girl of standards that makes us all proud, decided to part ways with Jacob (and the rest of her user friends) until they changed. That was last summer.

Just like several stories always surround suicides, as people try to make sense of why such a senseless act took place, many stories surround Jacob's death. Some say he got too deep into drugs and his parents threatened to kick him out. Others say his girlfriend broke up with him. Still others say that all of his 'misbehaving' was trying to get attention for his parents as a call for help. Whatever the case, a seventeen year old boy died, and the rest of us will never have the answers we are looking for.

When they printed Jacob's obituary in the newspaper, his picture was of a strung-out, hollow-eyed, shell of a boy with his black hood of his sweatshirt pulled up. I still couldn't shake the memories of his smile and his laughter and the way my sister blushed when she talked about him when they were younger.

Earlier today, I watched out the window as the longest funeral processional I've seen in a long time passed by our house on its way to the cemetery. I saw the car with the family, and then carload after carload of teenagers followed with boys and girls with tissues in their hands wiping their eyes passed as other traffic respectfully pulled to the side . Some cars had "RIP JACOB - WE'LL MISS YOU" painted on the back windows. My middle sister was with me. I said, "Do you think he would have gone through with it if he would've known how many people really did love him?" Before she could answer, I burst into tears and bellowed, "What a waste!" and had to walk away.

I couldn't get myself to believe that such a clean-cut boy from such an upstanding family fell so far to the wayside. And what could have been so bad that it forced him to take his own life?

I know suicide is so hard because everyone blames themselves. And I wondered as I watched the family's car creep reverently down the road what his mother was feeling as she buried her only son today. Was she angry? Was she feeling guilty? Or was she simply in shock like the rest of us?

To be completely honest, I'm horribly scared for this little baby I have inside to have to enter this world. And I know I'm not alone.

The fear of discomfort of waddling around at eight months pregnant, and the excruciating pain of child birth completely pale in comparison to the fear I have about being a parent.

Everyone thinks, "what if I'm a bad parent?!," but now I'm starting to wonder, can anyone ever be good enough?

I'm completely overwhelmed with thoughts, and I know it's mostly because I'm hormonally imbalanced. But I hate it when I see kids from such a great family fall so far away from the straight path. I know things aren't what they seem from the outside.

But my mother, for example, was a "problem child" in her late teens and twenties. In fact, I was conceived out of wedlock when she was 16, but my parents married before I was born...and divorced before they were 18. I personally know my grandparents (as they've raised me) and what kind of parents they are - and they are fantastic.

I know deep inside that we, as parents, have to just do our best, and leave the rest to God and have faith that what we taught them is enough. The world is just too much, and that's where the faith part comes into play.

I'm starting to see why mother's cry when they drop their children off at Kindergarten. The fear of letting go is already creeping up inside me, and my kid is only nine weeks old.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why I seriously cannot stand community college

While I've been wanting to go to Purdue University to complete my Pharmacy degree, DH and I thought it would be easier and cheaper for me to attend a local community college to get pre-req.s and other nonsensical classes out of the way.

I know in my heart of hearts that you get what you pay for, but I guess I expected a little more from people who supposedly "value [your] education."

Back in 2003, right after I graduated high school, I was dealing with a lot of emotions: my mother had recently passed, my family was torn apart - big, big sob story. Thank God I've moved past it all. I enrolled in classes at the community college and decided I should better myself. We all know that emotions take their toll, and finances were running short for me, so I decided to take a full-time job and pursue my education part-time in another instituion. I dropped an entire semester of classes.

I didn't like the community college when I was there anyway. My classmates were usually high and forced to be there because their moms made them come. The instructors didn't really take class seriously. Unless you took just one class or payed out-of-pocket, they seriously treated you like you were uneducated, couldn't make your own decisions and like - well, a criminal. I can't tell you how many times I had to explain myself over and over that yes, I did understand that I had to actually come to class to receive credits, and this such. Plus, if you tried to get help with anything and they would point you in the direction of their oh, so NOT useful website for students which, to this day, lacks any and all kinds of real information.

Fast forward five years: I paid for my last semesters out-of-pocket, but with the baby coming and DH working his tail off to support all my our insurance needs, etc., I decided to apply for financial aid. I did all the early enrollment protocol, like they tell you to do. I provided all my tax documents, like they asked me to do. And when I requested status of my financial aid in early June, I was told they don't give any awards until July.

I waited until July. I went back to the FA office and was told I needed to provide my husband's tax information. Not a problem. Did it. I was told it would post to the website (*sigh*) in a few days, so I should continue checking in each day until it posted to my account. Several days passed. Nothing posted.

I made a phone call to the office because I needed to know what my award was, if any, for insurance purposes. I was told I would have to wait longer. I waited longer. I decided to check in in person to the FA office. I waited 40 minutes to see a counselor (who was chit-chatting it up in the back - in plain sight - with a younger, hot counselor). When I finally did get in, my "advisor" told me I was awarded a full Pell grant - even provided with with a financial figure, and that I should receive an award letter in the mail shortly.

No letter came. Today I checked the damn website. Nada. I drove 30 minutes to the campus to wait again, full morning sickness-ified in a hot, crowded, stuffy FA office. I waited another 40-45 minutes before he called my name.

I told him, "I just want to check the status of my financial aid. Classes start in six days and I just want to make sure I'm not washed out of registration."

A$$hole Advisor: "Well, it says here your financial aid has been terminated."

Me: "....WHA....? HOW?!"

A$$: "Well, you dropped out of classes in 2003. You have to maintain a 2.0 GPA or complete 2/3 enrolled hours measured cumulatively. You were terminated Summer of 2003. You were notified."

Me: "When was I notified?"

A$$: "Summer of 2003."

Yeah. Five years ago! I was dropped from financial aid from that college FIVE years ago. So what have I been doing all summer long? Running here, making copies there, dropping off forms in this, this, and that mail box? When did they think it was a good time to let me know that I have no funding for the semester?! Six days before it starts?!

If I would have known at the begining of the summer back when I registered, I could have fixed it, or at least saved up enough cash to pay for it. But no, A$$ would rather flirt with some chick than do his damn job, and so now I'm out an entire semester. The baby will come, God willing, in the middle of next semester - so that puts me a good two semesters behind.

I'm infuriated.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Attack of the preggo kitty

Did I mention that my cat is also pregnant?

My sweet, innocent, playful kitty turns into the world's biggest ho about three or four times a year. She doesn't really do the whole midnight howling thing (thank God), but she does offer herself up to anyone and everything male - and it's not an exaggeration. The dog, our other male cats (fixed), my husband, my husband's shoes, houseguests, this giant stuffed squirrel (don't ask) we have - whatever.

I was planning on getting her fixed over the summer, but I found other useful things for my cash like buying pregnancy tests and paying for books and tuition. My vet's fees are ginormous so I was going to wait until the fall when our community's cat clinic spays/neuters for $10. I thought she would be safe inside the house until then. However, when Kitty comes in season, like a horny teenager, she finds any and every way to sneak out in the middle of the night to play with the neighborhood boys.

I didn't really notice for a while. It was like her belly swelled up over night. She starting rolling around on the floor and following me around the house. At first I thought it was just a cute, little "preggies stick together," kindred spirit thing going on. Then I realized what was actually happening.

First, she started eating incredible amounts of food. If there wasn't enough in her dish, she'd walk through the house, squalling, trying to find me so I could fill up her bowl again. She started sleeping in the most comfortable spots in our living room - the recliner, the "nook" (as I like to call it) in our couch's corner, etc. etc.

It was fine, I thought. After all, I know what it's like to be living now for another being inside - and she probably has several swimming around it there. Plus, I thought since she was growing more rotund by the day, she's probably more uncomfortable, so I let it go.

But then as days passed, as my husband and I would sit on the couch watching a movie or whatever we were doing, she would always have to be between us. Uncomfortably wedged between us, she would purr away, loudly, as she sat, mostly curled into my husband's lap. I thought maybe she liked the warmth of our two bodies close to each other until I awoke from my aforementioned five hour nap to find her nestled tightly next to my husband. I thought it was weird, but I let it go.

It wasn't too bad until one morning, I was making cereal for the Bellybean and me, and the cat channeled some sort of Bionic Woman superpowers, sprang up on the counter and started viciously munching away at my Frosted Flakes. After that, every meal I ate was not only a battle between my gag reflex and me, but among Bionic Kitty, my gag reflex, and me.

Now, before I was pregnant, I had three basic rules for social interaction: you don't mess with my man, you don't mess with my money, and you don't mess with my food. Since I've become pregnant and the need to feed has become so ridiculously strong it makes me weak in the knees (literally) at times, and everything else is also way out of order, my rules have been reduced to one: DON'T JACK WITH ME!

I poured a new bowl of cereal, and took it to my room where I thought I'd lounge in peace and it. But no. She bolted through my bedroom door, tripping me (and spilling milk all over my boobs) and jumped atop my bed and sprawled out across the bed horizontally. Oh, hell no.

If I didn't love her, didn't respect her delicate condition, and wasn't such an advocate of animal rights, I would have drop-kicked her right then and there. Instead, I put her on the floor, where, I kid you not, she went immediately into my closet and started pulling my shoes out - like she was kicking my stuff out to make space for herself.

I took her out, made a box for her with an old blanket, gave her some food and left her in the garage for the rest of the day.

Call me crazy, call me cold, but the cat was trying to take over. And if there's one pregnant princess in this house, please believe, it's going to be me.

That was two days ago and I think she's gotten over herself. She hasn't tripped me or messed with my husband or begged me for food since the trip to the garage. Now she's sun bathing in the window - probably planning her revenge.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wow, Mommy's got a tummy ache!

"Morning sickness" is a complete misnomer. I realize the luckiest of the lucky ladies out there have never experienced the slightest gag during this most joyous of joyful times. As for me, I think I've only actually tossed my cookies about three times, but I spend the rest of my days with the impending feeling and/or bent over with dry heaves. Personally, I think, it's freaking worse.

I fell for the marketing and totally bought two packs of Preggie Pops. They're simply lollipops flavored with essential oils of natural plants. I have heard from several girlfriends that sucking on hard candy helps. I've also heard about crackers and blah blah blah - I barfed the crackers, ok?

In all honesty, Preggie Pops helped. I know they're just glorified suckers, but since it's really the only thing to works - they're awesome.

Today, especially, has been a rough ride. I woke up early to make my hubby breakfast, only to discover the smell of eggs cooking is absolutely revolting. Hell, the smell of the fridge (which is perfectly clean, mind you) makes me gag. I took a five hour nap (no joke) and awoke to find out that I still felt like crap. *sigh*

I tried to thaw some chicken for dinner, while retching, of course. My husband came to check on me to find me gagging away with my t-shirt pulled up over my nose. He laughed and told me to go get in the car - we were going to pick up dinner. I love him for that.

I hope tomorrow is better. I can't wait for month three!!

In other news, my pregnancy is no longer a secret, as I was going to keep it - at least until the second trimester begins. A girl I haven't spoken to in seriously six years some how picked up the news and plastered congratulations on my Facebook page. That was special. I hadn't even told my father yet.

My semester starts in a few weeks. I have tons of labs on my schedule this time, which I'm sure will be an extra treat seeing as how at least one is a biology lab. Please, Dear God, don't allow there to be any dissections. I don't think my tummy can take it!

Friday, August 1, 2008

This is me...for now.

I'm a daughter, granddaughter, working member of society, a sister, a pre-pharmacy student, a new wife, and I just found out, last week, that I'm going to be someone's mommy as well.

The news came as an absolute surprise, though, looking back, I shouldn't have been so surprised. Birth control pills made me ill, and they hurt even more in our wallet as we were (at the time) not insured. Having an irregular cycle, I mistakingly figured it would be more difficult to conceive. Thinking it was relatively "safe," we used "safe days" and I decided to ditch the pill and "see what happens." Well, we all know what happens: Baby makes three.


The morning I found out I was in the family way, I awoke, late for class. I panicked for a few seconds, but decided to skip anyway and make DH a more-than-the-normal-cold-cereal breakfast. Something in the back of my mind somehow reminded me that Aunt Flow had delayed her visit for longer than usual, so I decided I should probably take a moment to wizz on a stick.

Now, I have taken many-a-negative test since I've gotten married, seeing as how, as aforementioned, I'm irregular, and while on birth control, I had to test nearly every month to make sure I wasn't hosting a bun in my oven before starting a new pack. Because of this reason, I usually keep a spare test, or two, under the bathroom sink.

This particular morning, I dug out the box from behind the extra TP, opened the little fruit roll-up-esque package, tested, and watched, like so many other mornings, as the result faded from white to a light blue, single, horizontal line.

I tossed the test, made a spectacular breakfast, and got ready for the day. As I revisited the bathroom to brush my teeth, I looked again at the test. (Call me OCD, but I usually look at it two or three times throughout the day - just for good measure.) I noticed that while the negative result did show, the little "control" window contained zip. Not even a hint of blue.

I drove DH to work and kissed him on the cheek as I dropped him off. I didn't clue him in to the information I was harboring inside. We had a pregnancy "scare" (though I hate to use the word "scare" - it's not a horrible thing, after all), soon after we were married. After the test proved to be a negative result, I could see that he had been excited, and was now let down. I didn't like to see that deflated balloon look in his eyes, so I decided from then on that I would only tell him if the results of future tests were indeed something to be excited about.

I needed to visit the pharmacy anyway, and as I passed the family planning aisle, the same annoying voice inside told me I should probably re-test. My sister was with me, and as we stood looking at the vast array and variety of tests, confused, and in a moment of panic, I snagged three different tests off the shelf.

Back home, I chugged 44 ounces of lemonade and decided to make my way into the bathroom for the first test. I waited and expected to see a negative result, as usual. As the second, vertical line appeared, I felt my pulse throb in my body and my breath catch in my throat. I ran out, grabbed my sister off the computer chair and dragged her into the bathroom to look at my pee stick. The result was, in fact, positive.

I immediately began hyperventilating and laughing at the same time. However, the giggles soon turned into uncontrollable sobbing as the gravity of the situation hit me. I. Am. Pregnant. I am pregnant, my husband and I are both in school, and we are basically broke and live at home.

I cried. I cried like a little baby.

My other sister soon arrived and provided me with some soda to produce enough pee for the other two tests. I know the first one was probably sufficient, but I had to be convinced. Of course, the other two proved to be positive.

While I made my sisters swear that they wouldn't tell my offspring, "Mommy cried for two hours when she found out she was going to have you," I tried to plan a nice, romantic way to tell my husband he was a father. But when he got home, he was tired from work and just wanted a nap. I decided there was no better method than simplicity at this point, and I handed him the sticks so he could see himself. At first, I don't think he realized what they were, but he caught on soon. He laughed, covered my face in kisses, and then made fun of me for taking three different tests.


I now find myself trying to redefine my roles and figure out how I plan on surviving Pharmacy school avec baby and husband. My husband is wonderful and loving, but he'll be just as stressed with his work and education as I am, so I know I'll have to shoulder a lot of the baby stress.

I believe babies come into this world, and if you look hard enough, and work hard enough, they provide their own means of shelter and food. I'm not worried about cash for the first time in my life. I'm worried about balancing everything else, and on top of that, being a good parent! I guess I have another seven months or so to figure it all out. But for now, here I am.