26th February 2020
If you follow this blog regularly, you’ll know two things, 1) There hasn’t been a post for quite a while, and 2) it is used as a platform to update on equality activities across the University and share our student voice. On this occasion, the post is to share a student voice; a very personal, powerful story.
It was an early Sunday morning, the wind had been brisk, but a refreshing release from the strong scent of hand sanitizer and chemicals that drowned both the visitors and patients that hid behind mint green curtains. I’d just stepped out from the sliding doors of the hospital, a half-lit cigarette between my two fingers and my heart in a Doctor’s hands who didn’t even know my last name.
See, my heart would still beat and my soul would still search for life as long as the woman who brought me up from the nefarious pits of darkness into warm arms would be okay. This twisted path of scans, near diagnoses, blood tests and urine samples had been a constant since late November and we were still nowhere near knowing why my nan, the greatest woman I had ever met, was lying in a hospital bed with the majority of her organs failing.
Every morning I’d arrive with my cheeks pink and nose red from the cold, my hands would shake around my phone and the pennies and pounds in my palms would clatter onto the counter from between my fingers as I bought all the items I could think of to make her smile at me again. The days had blurred, the date just another number on the kitchen wall, but I vowed that today would be clearer, better somehow.
The metallic whir of the far too claustrophobic lifts signalled my rise toward her room, somewhere deep down I knew the closer I got, the lower I fell back to my unwanted origins. If she left me today, I’d have nothing but her memories, and no number of lies would save me from the unspeakable truth- when she died, I would die with her too. Each step closer allowed fear to seep beneath my skin, clouding my blood and dirtying my hopes that she would be okay.
“I brought you a crossword” was all I could say as I tried not to let my voice shake, strength lied in numbers and I’d only ever had her and myself, so I would put on a brave face and be strong for her the way she’d always been strong for me. I owed her so much more, but I was nothing more than a beggar when it came to my ability to save her as she had always saved me; every second, every minute, every hour and every day since she’d first held me close.
Her skin was ashen grey, the light in her eyes dwindling between brightness (what I had always known) and a replication of what life would be like after her. I slipped my hand into hers, enlacing our fingers as it had always been-her by my side with her hand in mine. Flicking to the first crossword, I ran my eyes over the many clues, breath hitching as soon as I saw the three words that would forever cast a dark shadow over my life: Fight Of Honour.
“Duel” she smiled to the side, joy slithering up her arms till it jiggled her shoulders, she was happy she’d gotten it before me and in turn, I too felt a smidge of happiness at her win, afterall, a win for her was a win for us.
But this battle was one I knew too well, one I had fought with courage, bravery and resilience, but one I had lost all the same. With only a rucksack full of emotional baggage that weighed me down and a label on my bedroom shelf formed into a glistening, gold medal awarding me the diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder to show for all I had been through.
Honour Based Violence was a term gift wrapped in the blood of my ancestors, the bow opened with the snap of their bones and their disgust laced voices soon became that of my father’s.
Poison dripped from his tongue, forming insults that tore at my skin like the cuts I had once made across my thighs and arms signifying the countdown of when my misery would be over. I had always believed someday I would reach his ridiculously high standards; be the daughter he yearned for and make him proud.
But pride is one of the seven deadly sins and I wished upon a million stars for him to place down his personal version of the Qur’an and see that the Bible I grew up with told me his pride would send him down a pathway of viscous vices. In Alexander Pope’s own words “What the weak head with strongest bias rules is pride, the never-failing vice of fools”.
And my father had taken me for a fool.
Used his manipulation tactics to make me cross oceans to fall at his feet so the screams of my brother and sister wouldn’t plague me all night. It would never matter to him that children should never step onto a battlefield, they were his ammo and I, his target and no one knew better than me the lengths he’d go to, to have me as his own- a beautiful, Muslim woman who knew her place in society; as his property that he could sell for a fortune in the sham that he called arranged marriage.
Of course, I told him honestly the actual name was forced marriage because without my will, the dotted line he’d write his signature upon could never be classed as a reality where I’d allowed him to sign my life away to the man he’d promised me to when I was birthed, nor could it mean I would agree to the loss of my identity and to the dehumanisation he pled would be my growth.
I was a person before he stamped me as his property and come what may I wouldn’t allow him to be my undoing, he’d taken so much from me already, I couldn’t let him take me too.
I suppose I am unsure of many things, why the grass is green? And why the sky is blue? But the thing I am most unsure of is how the weight of my actions seem to befall upon his shoulders, knocking him down to his knees just so he can use me as a crutch to return to his feet?
He’d tell me tales of how his community would see a method to his madness, but I couldn’t find it within me to agree. I used to think his ways were lined in dots of love that if I searched for hard enough, I would find. I sought poetic beauty in the vaults of his abuse, believed it was his effort to purify my multiracial being when he drowned my head in a toilet at the ripe age of four, considered that the carving of his surname, the one that used to be mine, into my skin was just a reminder of who I had been born as rather than just another brand of distinctiveness he’d like me to be.
Each time I’d pull a scarf over my head and fall forwards in prayer it became crystal clear that this life wasn’t for me, yet still, I pushed forward, allowed the shackles of shaadi (marriage) to bound my wrists and for his taunts of my weight to push me into starvation mode. I was not happy, but he was. For so long I’d craved this vision, to see him so full of honour, pride and esteem. Everything was great, calm, silent.
Until one day it wasn’t.
The saying ‘the silence before the storm’ rung true, the storm now so overbearingly loud that it shook the foundations of everything I’d come to know, to accept, to believe.
Then it all returned; the hits, the punches, the kicks and my fall down the stairs. The second I reached the bottom, my head pounding and my arm and leg bent the wrong way, I knew my mistake: I had pursued love in a world where only my loss would be accepted to ensure his gain
Life didn’t end for me when I left his capture, instead, he stayed with me, watching from a distance while his words remained as the voice in my head, visiting when it suited him so he could get his fix and haunt me again. In the physical sense, I am no longer his prisoner, but my mental state would beg to differ as still I await his arrival, knees to my chest and shaking breaths in anticipation for when his honour will hurt me again.
Throughout this journey I have learnt many things, the most important and likely the hardest to understand is that the man who prayed for me to live a healthy life when I was sent straight to ICU when I was born, is the very same man who poured boiling hot water on my small, chubby hands. I love my dad for his good, but that doesn’t mean I hate him for his bad. My truth is simple, I love my abuser, not because he is abusive, but because he is not, not all the time, anyway. In learning to accept my love for him I still have not found it within me to love myself, as long as I am here, breathing, living, that means I am fighting for my rights and someday soon I hope to stand firm on my feet with pride in my eyes when I look at the reflection of the woman who fought a war and survived.
It will take time to accept that, that woman is me, just like it has taken time to reach the ground of acceptance that pride is not a sin if in small doses, unfortunately, he never got that memo and he fuels his addiction by tormenting me, purging my soul in the traces of what he could have been if only he had turned away from the darkness and bathed his soul in light.
Addiction was the real Devil who took away my father and made him more monster than man, but even the Devil was once an Angel and on some level that means, so was he. Perhaps it will do me more harm than good? But as I have no choice in whether I remember him or not, I will choose how to remember him. My choice lies in my unwavering belief that no one is ever truly bad, therefore when I remember my dad, I’ll remember him fondly, focusing on the good rather than the bad and cherishing what he could have been rather than what he was.
We cannot change what our past was, but we can choose what we do with it. My dad chose a life of punishment and pain for all those he believed had wronged him, whereas I chose a life of love and laughter regardless of those I believed had wronged me.
In many ways, he and I differ, in many ways he and I are the same. So, I will not show anger at the differences that rip us apart, instead, I will show happiness at the similarities that unite us. Our process of survival may not be one we share, but we are still both trying to survive, our paths may be different, but the destination is the same.
Afterall, aren’t we all just humans searching for something to take the pain away? Searching for something to make it easier to live another day?
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