Muslim girls don’t get caught
Are you sure about this? His text read. I can still feel the weight and velvet smooth case of the blue sliding cell phone I had in high school. I responded,Yes. See you in 15. Don’t fall asleep! I love you.
Heart thudding, hearing intensified, I kept my ear pressed to my door for a few hard swallows of the lump in my throat till I could be absolutely sure nothing moved on the other side. I drew all my breath in, and kept my knees relaxed and bent, ready to dart, as soon as I turned the doorknob with expert stealth. At least I thought it was expert stealth for a teenager, anyway. With my phone, keys, and driver’s license in my hoodie jacket pocket, I tiptoed to the laundry room next-door. I imagined myself as a secret agent in an RPG video game, deftly securing one door closed before opening the next one. Before each one, my room, laundry room, garage, side door, side gate, I paused, breath still, eyes shut, and heart quaking. The moonlight was bright and steady, more suspicious than romantic on that night. I parked my Honda Civic outside in the drive way just for this late night meeting, just as I had done some nights before. I prayed that my parents’ bedroom on the second floor was as dark and peaceful as I had left it. I carefully opened the driver’s side door and slipped in. I took a minute to calm myself, try and cool my throbbing forehead, and hear myself think. Straight ahead, I looked through the main foyer window. I thought I saw a figure stoop over the staircase banister on the second floor, peering outside to see who was in the driveway. I froze. I told myself it was just an apparition. It’s just my own gunna punishing me, materialising into a jinn or something.
Muttering the chaar kuls under my breath with nervous speed, I put the gear in neutral and slid down the gentle slope of our driveway, reversing into the main street. Once safely rolled away from earshot of the master bedroom, I turned the engine on and off I went. Prayers muttered and panic subsiding, I turned the heat up full blast, windows down, and put on some music. I was definitely going to hell, I was sure, but better to go as a child in love than anything else, right?
Skimming over the hill, I drove the barely five minutes’ distance to my boyfriend’s house. I parked on the street and skipped up to the side entrance his bedroom was also blessed with, completely apart from his parents’ room. My blood was leaping, body trembling, and smile dancing on my lips as he opened the door. I was in pyjamas and slippers, glasses, no makeup, and hair tousled in what I had hoped was a breezy and lascivious pile of tumbling curls.
He opened the door quietly but confidently, and scooped me up in his arms. I immediately sighed as I melted all the stress of the evening away into him. He smelled cool, like the grey blue walls in his room, like a sea of calm and patience. We untangled and kissed, cooling and calming as our body temperatures adjusted to each other’s.
We attempted conversation in hushed giggles but we knew it was futile; we’d just seen each other that day, as every day that summer, so nothing new had transpired. And I didn’t come over just to talk.
His room was a typical boy’s room, which fascinated me. It wasn’t decorated half with fobby accents of miniature qalma and khana kaabah tapestries, tasbihs, floral watercolours that reminded me of a dentist’s office, our shitty kindergarten art projects, and closets full of old shalwar kameezes in plastic suiters. His room was entirely his own. He had posters of the things he liked on the walls; I was too embarrassed to put up posters of my favourite bands not because of the sin those emo boys definitely put in my mind but because I was too shy to be displayed undressed in front of their likenesses. He had tons of books and souvenirs and collections of things he liked, things he achieved; trophies from bike marathons with his dad, sci fi merch, video games, spare bike parts, bits and pieces of other mechanical projects, a tankard with his name engraved on it, seashell jewelry I made for him, and notes scribbled here and there. These things occupied every corner and yet still didn’t make the room appear messy. He lived everywhere there. It would have made my mom’s skin crawl to see it. If anything was left out of its place she would have to replace it, even if it killed her. No matter what foreign object it was, there would be found a rightful place for it, a place you seldom knew of.
I sat on his twin size dorm bed and shyly kicked off my slippers. Several windows on his computer monitor were open so I asked what he had been doing. He said he was looking up bike mechanic stuff, reading articles online, and chatting with me. Then he fell onto the bed beside me and somewhere between the heavy petting and entangling and disentangling, clothes fell off and we rolled around, finally satisfying our thirst for each other after a whole day of not touching. Well, it wasn’t true. We were a disgustingly PDA couple and couldn’t keep our hands, mouths, and legs separated from each others’ in the car, behind the turned backs of our friends, or in shady enclaves. He had a tall, athletic body and beautiful hair. I used to tell my friends that I was never really attracted to his facial features or the awkward way he carried his broad body in public, or the tensed way he would press his lips together in shy social situations. But, for a teenager, he had a deep voice, long, strong arms, a cute smile, and when he asked me out he strode right up to me one day in the park with our friends, determined and exhilarated, which I found ultimately irresistible.
We had beautiful, long, and romantic sex for a high school age couple. He made me feel beautiful about my body in a way I hadn’t known I could; he loved every single bit, touched, stroked, kissed, licked, and sucked every single bit, and opened me up into a manifold flower. His hands were full of me and I fit in every single part of him.
As we lay together on our backs, fingers dancing and lips pressing against each other’s necks and shoulders, we looked at the stars twinkling through the slats of his blinds. I wished I could hold onto this feeling forever; stop time from happening altogether, stop college from coming closer, closer to the time I was supposed to move away to Irvine. We still had a generous month till then and I was determined to be loved and fucked every day until then, and then convince him to move down with me eventually.
We drifted seamlessly between dozing, murmuring sweet nothings, and having sex. It was like an elaborate dance that only we could have done, and only God could have choreographed. Could I really be such a big sinner if it was meant to feel this good? I was sure I could win God over with my big heart in the end.
My phone buzzed. It was almost 4 AM. The air sucked out of the room like a vacuum, light temporarily failed itself. I turned to him with eyes wide and froze my grasp.
“I think you better answer it.”
I let it buzz out fully, air still sucked in when it buzzed again.
“Sabeen, come home right now.” My mom’s sharp voice commanded.
“Okay, I’m coming.” My hands trembled, locked in the position where they held my phone. I curled up foetal position as Crawley wrapped himself around me.
Safely sealed up in my car, I told myself to relish this last ever moment of freedom I would ever experience. After right now, life would not only ever be the same again, but I would never, my family would never, Crawley would never be the same again. The moon would never again look like it had on that night, the air would never move in the same motion. I did a quick calculation of the logistics of dropping out of UCI and enrolling into community college. No doubt my parents would turn me out of the house and maybe me and Crawley could get a little apartment together and figure it out.
A couple days ago, Munira came over late one night and tore straight through to my bedroom, sat on the foot of my bed, and sobbed. My parents were concerned, as was I, and I told them I’d take care of her. I made her tea, rubbed her back, stroked her hair, and made the bed for us as she told me between stilted sobs that Victoria had gotten drunk and was right then in the process of losing her virginity to some boy at a party they had been at. Munira was dumbfounded why her best friend would do this to her, leave her alienated and alone, and undertake this important step to womanhood without talking to her or even being completely conscious of it first. I was confused but touched by this display of undying sisterhood. What is it about hymens?
“Go to sleep now, we’ll talk in the morning.” My dad said. His voice sounded more fatigued than furious, like all the liveliness and joy it usually had had been sucked out of it forever.
I died in that moment.
That night I got no sleep. Crawley was naturally concerned and texted me to make sure I was alright, I told him I didn’t know and let him go to sleep. I thought about everything that I had ruined. Was I a broken person? Had I become this way because I was psychologically damaged, having adjusted poorly to moving during my adolescence and never really feeling comfortable in my own skin? Had I become this way because my brother was in college across the country and I had no role model to navigate my emerging adulthood? Had I just destroyed the bright future of young Muslim girls in this country? Had I just destroyed the American Dream?
My mind flashed a mini-play. In it my mother was dressed in her bathrobe, on a stage lit by a single overhead spotlight. The set was bare, there was a coffee table and two more chairs. My aunty sat in one and was pouring the tea, rubbing my mom’s forearm and soothing her that she had told her so all along about me. My mom’s aunt was in another chair, mourning that it was a never-ending cycle, that daughters were born destructive, wailing that proper parenting was not meant for them. My mom stayed silent, staring straight ahead into the audience without blinking. While the women around her buzzed with activity, the one wringing her hands and shaking her head with deep discontent, the other saying with sisterly affection that they shouldn’t have raised us here, my mom picked up her teacup. She began to raise it feebly, still unblinking, intimidating the audience. Before it reaches her lips it crashes to the ground, splintering into a delicate mosaic of the floral porcelain she loved to collect. Tea splashes her face and the women around her. The spotlight crackles and burns out.
I alternated the next morning between extreme exhaustion and insomnia. It wasn’t until the late afternoon that I finally lifted myself out of bed and shuffled to the kitchen. It was, in spite of everything, or more suitably perhaps, just to spite me, a beautiful sunny day. Breakfast was laid on the table but I couldn’t eat.
“Where did you go, Sabeeni jaan?” My dad said in a weak voice.
“Do you know that we didn’t know where you went? Did you know that?” My mom’s more hysterical whine added in.
I still couldn’t speak.
“Did you bring the car back safely?”
“How did you get out?”
“Why did you do this to us?”
“We have to do something about this, Shahbaz.”
“Why didn’t you tell us where you were going? We couldn’t have known.”
“We have to put her somewhere. She can’t stay with us anymore like this.”
“Where would she go?”
“I don’t know, but we can’t live together like this.”
Panic rose and I was choking on it. I thought I would drown and die right there, at least on a beautiful sunny day in my parents’ arms.
“I went to Crawley’s house,” I said finally.
The next few days were tense, but not tenser than the weeks before when my parents found out I had lost my virginity. I braced myself for a day of prayer and supplications, of complete and utter atonement, like before. I would have to relinquish all phone and internet privileges and go complete hermit on Crawley once again.
But all that didn’t happen. What happened was far worse.
The next few days my parents turned a cold shoulder to me and ignored altogether my existence. They openly deliberated moving me out of the house to a relative, a family friend, to a women’s centre, even to rehab. What would I have gone to rehab for? For adoring my boyfriend’s penis? They acted like they were counting down the days till I would leave for college while they notified practically every close family relation of what I had done. I felt shattered, like someone had plunged a cold, gelatinous hand through my body and ripped out my spine. I reckoned with giving up my dream of becoming a writer, of travelling and recording my experiences around the world, giving up speaking, and giving up penis forever. Maybe I could be a nun. Does Islam have nuns? Or I could just be gay. No, wait, Islam doesn’t have that either.
What was it about being a Muslim girl in America? Did I have a special station in life, a janky, movable platform that was supposed to slide with ease between the life of a contemporary modern professional woman in the public sphere and a cloistered dutiful god-fearing daughter at home, but broke down every time before reaching either one? It was too overwhelming to think that I had to choose one way of life and stick with it. I didn’t even know how to pronounce the word atheist, and I didn’t know what non-religious people did during holidays.
While I was losing on the home front, my boyfriend inevitably fell distant, glassed out of this realm he could never understand. He had all the patience and calm in the world, and respected and loved everything that I came from, but he had realised his limits. No words could insulate me, only his arms around me could. But that wasn’t an option.
Eventually my parents started talking with me again. We sat down to dinner together and I apologised for what I had done and all the pain I had caused. I didn’t mean to sound defiant when I expressed that I didn’t understand fully why my actions had the consequences they did. I didn’t mean to sound doubtful about the morals they had grown up with and raised me with, when all I’d meant to question was my role in it all. I didn’t mean to sound deaf to their reasoning that these things that I’d done are not things for a girl such as I to have done.
My parents reassured each other that I was still the same person, their little girl, just growing, and were eventually able to take it on the chin. I still feel like I killed a part of them, a part of all Pakistani Americans, and all Muslim girls everywhere on that day. I felt so sorry to be born the way I was in the family I was, and even sorrier that I lacked the strength to be open with my parents and fight on behalf of me and Crawley from the beginning. If they could get over their daughter sneaking out to sleep with her boyfriend to whom she gave her virginity while still under their roof, then they would have gotten over the relationship I had in my mind with him. My faith wasn’t strong at that time that they would have, and I already teetered on the edge of falling out of an Islam the idea of which seemed like a cloaked bearded man lurking in shadows behind me, whispering supplications for my soiled soul and spitting at me. Now I know better that sneaking around was not the way to prove that I deserved dignity for my first adult relationship with someone. Now I also know that I could have trusted my courage, my faith, my god, and my parents to help me become the woman I wanted to be, the woman I’m still looking for now.