From Rape and Ruins I Rose
My stepfather tried to rape me when I was six years old. At that time, I had thought I had lived my worst days, but it was only the beginning.
I was born at the dawn of the first day of July 1985. At a local government hospital and named Shurooq, which means dawn in Arabic. I was born premature and weighed a kilo and 200 grams, which dropped 200 grams further post-delivery. With blonde hair and blue eyes. My father, a handsome Bahraini pilot met my mother when he was in Lebanon when she was eighteen years old. He went to a famous church with a glass wall which was constructed atop the Juniya mountain where the cedars were thick, strong and tall, a larger than life Virgin Mary white marble statue stands with her hands open ready to receive believers and curious tourists. My mother was there with her family inside the church. She was crying over the passing of a family member and lit a candle outside under the wooden roof in the winter where there was a slight drizzle. My father, Rashid, was taken by this lady pleading till her knuckles were white and her nose was pink crying and whispering to no one. He came closer and held his umbrella above her to protect and shield her from the rain and wind.
“Who are you?” My mother, Annabelle, noticed he was standing too close to her.
“I’m sorry, I noticed you were crying, and you probably didn’t notice the rain, so I thought to offer you some cover from the rain.” My father was young, and unfamiliar with the Lebanese, let alone the Christian Lebanese. He was careful, but curious. Attracted to this young girl but attentive to her situation and his location. It was 1984, and the Emirates was a new country and small, foreigners were scarce and interaction with different cultures were limited. He just acted out of his nature and they began speaking about each other and why they were there. He met her family inside the church. It was an excuse to admire the glorious architecture, painted glass windows and listen to the children at the choir or perhaps it was an excuse to admire my mother’s lovely features, listen to her speak privately and with her family in addition to learning about the ways of the Lebanese. They invited him for meals, and he visited them often with gifts, and they always had a warm meal waiting for him when he was in Beirut. The situation changed when the relationship was kindled, and the spark ended up with a whirlwind romance of young love which ended in the couple defying religion and culture and eloping.
Mother moved to Al Ain, became Muslim but still celebrated Christmas and Easter with the growing Pan Arab community there, but remained pretty much a housewife. She grew bored of her life, she missed her family who eventually accepted her back after they had disowned her. She had six children, the last of whom were twins. Mother, Annabelle, was a petite woman, and always had her babies early, either naturally or induced because of her size and her strength would fail towards the end of the term. Her twins gave her diabetes her health floundered, and she became bedridden. After the delivery, the babies, a boy and a girl, Jassim and Janna (Destiny and Heaven), had trouble with their heart and lungs. Father would babysit, while Mum would be with the babies in the hospital. Jassim’s heart was weak and he died in the first few days. After a month of struggling, the girl Janna followed her brother.
Father went back to work after having taken a month off to help mother, but she was never the same. I was one of four children, the only girl and the eldest. My three brothers were younger in age but were of a larger build than myself. Mother was never the same after we buried our siblings. She would cry sometimes and have long conversations of the phone with family in Lebanon. She began having fewer gatherings, and I noticed that there was someone else she was speaking to on the phone that was not Papa.
Father walked in one day unannounced which sometimes happens when a flight is cancelled, and Mum abruptly put the phone down quickly and protested at why my father startled her. Father, with one eyebrow raised in doubt and the other straight took a few steps towards the landline and redialled the last number.
I grew lonely on weekends without my brothers but being safe felt better than being loved and in danger. I couldn’t describe it, but I knew that being bored was a better feeling than being raped.
“What happened?!”, a panicked masculine voice questioned.
“Who is this?”, Father asked despite knowing the plot.
“Who are you?”, this time the voice was on the phone was getting ready for a fight.
“I walked in to you speaking to my wife, now, who are you?”, father was seething, still holding on to his briefcase with one hand, the receiver with the other.
“You mean my wife.” His voice calmer, like he was ready for a fight.
Father put the phone down, and that was the first, longest and last fight I remembered between them. Mother was having an affair, plain and simple. She felt vulnerable, alone and needed a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and in her pit of depression she happened to meet someone with Father being out of the country a lot of the time. He blamed her lack of discipline, she blamed his lack of time when she needed him. She slept in our room for a week and one day after school when we came back she was not home. She signed a divorce paper and gave up the custody rights of the children. She wasted no time in marrying her Omani lover. She moved to Al Ain where he worked on an oil rig as an electrical engineer. After he married her he left the rig and lived with her on the main island, as opposed to living on the rig with only men for month and then a month on land. His salary was significantly slashed because of the move.
My grandmother would visit us weekly and was delighted that she has the delight of looking at her mother. I do not look like a typical Arab, perhaps I owe the fairness to my Greek great grandmother from my Lebanese mother’s side. I was a darker version of her, and my hair grew darker as I grew older as well. I was grateful for that as my lashes were a dusty brown and are now a darker brown. My parents had hoped I would plump out with the times, but I was always a waif. My English teacher use to call me a sparrow, and as I grew older she would always bring up anorexia when I was in my sportswear, on days we had physical exercise.
I was five when the divorce happened, but I remember the pain my brothers and I suffered at the time. My youngest brother was a toddler, barely a year and a half old and with no maid to help me, I was laden with the responsibility of being his surrogate mother. He asked about Mother every day in the morning and before he went to sleep. A year later, I mustered the audacity to ask Father if Salim could see Mother.
“Your Mother left you, your brothers and me for her lover, she has no interest in being a good mother”. His eyes were sharp, furious and hurt at the mere mention of her name. Salim latched on to Papa and began hitting him with his toddler hands, but Father just looked away. Dad had taken a non-paid leave to sort out his home affairs and tried hard to fill the vacuum she had left. He invested his time with teaching us, playing with us, taking us out, shopping with us and grocery shopping. We had a better time with him but there was an undeniable element missing from our equation that no matter how hard he tried, he simply could never fill. It made his heart ache to see that he was failing at erasing her memory from our minds. We were all under seven and every night as he put us to bed, we would beg him for one thing, to forgive Mama and let us see her again. Once I think I even saw him shield a tear from us after we made that persistent request.
One day after school we had a Filipino maid waiting for us. Nina, was 30 years old and had three children back in the province. She would sing all the time old Frank Sinatra songs and helped us with our homework. She had beautiful handwriting and we would sing with her sometimes. Having a woman at home lightened the load on Papa, and eventually we were allowed to go see Mama at Grandma’s house only in Al Ain. All except me. I cried and felt cheated of love but was happy to send hand drawn hearts to her in letters carried to her via my messenger brothers. After a few months, and after much convincing from my paternal grandmother to her son, I was allowed.
On my first hour there, Mama told me we were to go to Al Ain and not tell Papa otherwise I will never see her again, and that would break my brothers heart. We went to Al Ain and stayed at her flat there. It was a two bedroom modestly furnished apartment and my brothers made some remarks about there not being enough space. Khalfan, my Omani stepfather, grunted and all throughout dinner was making rude and untrue remarks about Father. My fragile size didn’t stop me from defending or answering back every time he slandered or insulted him. But it didn’t stop him sending me on unnecessary errands to get him Tabasco, a tissue, a fork, a small spoon, a fly swatter, a Diet Coke, the TV remote and water. After he was done, and I had returned to the seat which was a strain to get atop and off, there was no food left on the table, and nothing left for me to eat.
We went to the park but all I wanted was to lay my head on my mother’s lap and listen to her tell me stories. I kept repeating myself like a parrot that I missed her, and that I loved her, and that I was a good girl in school and at home. I told her that father was doing his best for us and she shouldn’t worry about us, but we still sorely need her. I told her tales about how her six-year-old would change diapers and feed a year and a half old baby who was now two years old. I told her about Nina’s singing and how the rooster would crow sometimes if he heard her sing and laughed hysterically. I was so very happy. The kind of happiness that gives you wings to fly with, yet, she was painfully quiet. What made me sad was that she wouldn’t laugh at my stories, she didn’t seem interested. I dismissed it, but she seemed harder, calloused with time. She gently removed my earrings and necklace from my neck for safe keeping and told me she would give it to me later. I tried to find enough flowers but couldn’t figure out how to create a laurel for her to wear or a flower necklace. Both were left in the park that day.
Later that night, all my brothers were asleep on the bed and I at the corner. I was wearing my favourite pink My Little Pony pyjamas and slept grateful that I had my family once again, and most of all that my brother saw Mother again. I slept peacefully that night happy that the worst was behind us, and things were going to go back to normal.
I woke up with a need for air and a sharp pain of a heavy weight that threatened to crush my ribs on top of me resting. It was my stepfather trying to force himself on me. I didn’t understand what was happening, besides my basic instinct to run away and scream, which I did. He held me like a scrawny mouse in his large arms and muzzled me. All I could think was that I was going to die, and it was going to be painful. I kicked, scratched and wiggled as strong as I could I woke my brothers up. Nobody knew what was going on. Mother suddenly switched on the lights and the scene was a self-explanatory. Her husband was carrying her six-year-old daughter with her bottom part of her pyjamas missing and no panties either. He had his hand on her mouth and being a blonde and quite fair, my face turns bright red quickly.
“What are you doing?” She asked hesitantly.
“She wants to go to the bathroom.” he quickly lied, except the bathroom was outside, not in a corner, and he was only in his boxers.
“Get out!” She yelled. She began crying and telling him she gave up her comfortable life, her kids, a man that loved her, that forgave her and here she was with a child molester.
He put me down, and I ran to put on my panties and pyjamas. I then pitter pattered on the ceramic floor to her to hold her, but she shunned me and sat down on the sofa crying. Khalfan put on a kandoora and shoes, scuttling out half-dressed and half ready.
“Mummy, you can come home with us,” I was a child and didn’t know about marriage being a holy commitment, and divorce being a severance that is seldom if ever reconcilable.
I was made to feel that it was my fault for running a family reunion long overdue, but I was too young and naive to understand the catastrophe that just happened. I just wanted Mama home, or close or at the very least happy.
I was five when the divorce happened, but I remember the pain my brothers and I suffered at the time.
Mother subconsciously blamed me for the beginning of the end of her relationship. I never asked to see her again, because I witnessed her failure in protecting me, nurturing or feeding me and loving me. I hadn’t understood what happened, but I was scared for my life. It haunted me in my dreams, and from most big dark men.
My brothers and I never spoke of the ordeal, as I never went to see her again and she would often say nasty things to me that I didn’t love her and that I have no goodness in my body. I was reluctant to see her when still married to that monster. I grew lonely on weekends without my brothers but being safe felt better than being loved and in danger. I couldn’t describe it, but I knew that being bored was a better feeling than being raped.
My youngest brother was the only one that would go regularly, as the elder ones were busy with their friends on weekends and cousins in their family house. After a few years, Father remarried, again to a new Lebanese lady by the name of Seham. Seham was sharp tongued and would punish us severely for the slightest mistakes. We were not allowed to play, and she had a long bamboo stick she would shoo us with and lead us like cattle to do her bidding. The boys had an open dislike to her and would bicker with her every day. When she began hitting us, the boys would hit her back, and that was the end of it. Everyone minded their own business. My situation was different because I had to go with her to the family, and sit with the women, and I disliked how her responses were. Her backhanded criticism and compliments were unappreciated and unwanted. It reached a point where she would hold my head and hit it hard on the table or wall. I was too shy and scared to tell father, but always managed to run away from her mad episodes.
Mother would come time to time, to see me in the back of the house and always took my savings, and jewellery that was given to me by my paternal grandmother on my birthday, Eid and graduation. I knew I would never get them back, but I wanted to make her proud of me, so I would be delighted when I was given a valuable gift, thinking how pleased my mother would be when I give it to her.
I went to Germany to see my Uncle with my father who was battling cancer and therein the hospital I fainted. The hospital refused to release me until I did several health check-ups, which resulted in the discovery of several small tumours in my brain. Apparently, I had an epileptic seizure and I was put on epilepsy medication at the age of twelve. I graduated at seventeen from a private school, and wanted to go to college, but the budgets had been controlled, because my stepmother was keeping a tight watch on spending. Schooling was covered by the airline company- college fees were not. I needed to get my new medication doses adjusted as I was having more seizures than usual.
I stood out like a sore thumb, firstly with my pale appearance and my painfully shy personality and yes, I was labelled as the half breed. Khalfan left my mother having stolen all her jewellery, my jewellery and having a joint account, cleared the account and left the country. She was unable to find him, as he had done no crime technically that the courts could fine or charge him for. She had stolen my jewellery; her money was in an account he was verified to use as he saw fit and she could divorce him on grounds of a sense which she did. My mother’s nationality and history labelled me as a loose woman which stabbed me every time I heard it. It wasn’t fair, and I had no local friends, except the ones I grew up in school. Surprisingly, post my high school graduation I had a suitor. I was excited and elated that somebody had taken an interest in me and wanted me seriously.
I was suddenly the talk of my family, admired that someone from a good family was interested and who was from my school too. My mother received news and before I had heard her blessings and shared my excitement with her, she had called his mother and told her I was the reason she divorced her husband, Khalfan, because she caught me in bed with him! The horror and shock of such an embarrassing episode to be made news for the public was enough to kill me. I was taken to the hospital to be checked if I had been violated or to check the grounds of her accusations, which were all untrue. Needless to say, I, the cancer star sign, whom is famed for her undying love for her mother have severed all relations with her, as she is clearly toxic for my mental, emotional and physical health.
I fell into depression and my seizures were aggravated and increased. I needed to save myself, as clearly no one would or cared. My stepmother stepped up her torture and called me all sorts of names my mother had allowed me to be called. I felt naked, helpless and crucified in public, and I had no one to defend me except two Jordanian classmates that stuck through with me throughout this ordeal.
I found a job in a mall doing marketing work for a part time pay of 3000 Dirhams, then in a magazine for 6000, and then in a bank for 12,000. I saved and bought a second-hand car for instalments and saved to go to Germany to get an updated review on my condition since my father avoided discussing money with me. I was offered board with him and meals, and that was it. This cruelty I was subjected to taught me to work harder and prove myself, and I went to Germany and explained to them that the medications were making me incredibly depressed and borderline suicidal. I was given Cypralex, a mild antidepressant that became the only medication I took despite being told not to stop my Epilepsy medication. I was seizure free for over six months and didn’t care. I even managed to make a successful Epilepsy walk to raise awareness on Epilepsy and speak openly about the disease how people can live completely normal lives, but care should be taken to avoid accidents. For example, I drive but before getting a seizure I get a numbing sensation on my lips, cheeks, and the tips or my fingers and toes. I have anything from 5-15 minutes to pull up my car and wait for my seizure to pass.
I didn’t understand what was happening, besides my basic instinct to run away and scream, which I did.
When the bank knew of my condition, it was a good button for them to push to convince me to leave. I was gently asked to quit, and my compensation package would help me start a new business and try and make a living elsewhere. Also, the economy was facing a challenge and many businesses were struggling, and even the money giving bank was cutting costs and decreasing staff. I left the bank and began working on my healthy gluten free home delivered meals, but demand was needed to be created via marketing which I had no finance for. I spent greater hours at home because I had no job, and after my step mother had her first son, she was becoming more possessive and territorial of the house and father.
After the years of beatings, insults and condescending behaviour, I spoke back and told her I will tell my father about her aggressive nature and if she dared hit me I will hit her back. My soft voice didn’t deter her, and she slapped me, and I snapped. I pushed her and slapped and kicked and yelled at her. I had had enough of the humiliation and physical abuse. She ran away, and I sat on the sofa like a Queen, patiently gloating and waiting for father to come home. When he did, and I told him about the matter, I was thrown out of the house. She said I belong to the street and Father asked me to leave. My brothers stayed in the University dormers to simply avoid living with her, and I spent that night in the car.
For a month I lived in the car and tried to persuade my aunts to let me live with them, but they did not want the half Lebanese child sleeping with their children. I would wash and eat at mosques, and sleep during the day in the mosque and few hours in the car. I didn’t know what to do. I went to my father’s cousin and asked him if I could stay with them temporarily until I got myself a job. He spoke to Father and persuaded him to take me back. My trust in my parents was shaken, and I desperately began my search for a job and thought of a savings account. I found a job in a telecommunications company and the pay was much higher and had better benefits than my old job.
While there I bumped into an old classmate from school, who returned a few times because he had a problem with his phone, bills, packages and laptop. He then asked me if he could propose and get to know me better. I was surprised but decided to tell him all the stories from me and allow him to be the judge. He listened intently and when I was done he asked when he could speak to my father.
We are now married for two years and I have a daughter named Shamsa which means the Sun, named after his mother, and me. My girl doesn’t have my hair colour, but she is beautiful, and I aim to make it my life long mission to give her all the love there is and protect her and support her in what she wants. My healthy food business I sold to a bigger chain for a loss because I couldn’t juggle the job, family and my other commitments. Mother remarried and has new children, she is happier now, but I like to keep a distance because I see it as a buffer zone.