It's a rare day that I will admit this, but today, I needed to go home to a man who loves me, who knows how to be there, who could just hold me. I needed to walk in the door and, without a word, walk up to him, close my eyes and put my head against his shoulder, then feel his arms go round me.
Then I needed to cry. (This bit I can do later in my room, since I started at exposition)
I talk about my immediate family so rarely that friends who've known me for years will ask if my parents are dead. Cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents all figure in my stories. Friends who've known me a decade or more and can reel off the names Rabia, Amna, Nageen and Ambereen will ask if I have any siblings, even whilst I ask about theirs.
So not my favourite topic of discussion then.
Today, my cousin's husband, S, popped up on facebook chat. What with it being a slow day at work and my penchant for having facebook chats up behind other apps, I said 'hi'.
He responded, and we chatted about everything from his long hair to their boys, when he asked how long it had been since they'd seen me.
Last time we saw you was whenever you were here last.
I see your brother more than you!
And your parents!
What a shame.
My brother. I froze. I hadn't been in touch with him because the only way is through my parents, and I haven't spoken to them in four years. Even when I WAS speaking to them, he was 'never there'...and there was never an offer to have him ring back. So I said to S:
God, please tell me he's not still living with my parents
his response: Of course he is.
Me: *Shoots self*
To make a long story short, my father is very controlling: my mother couldn't talk to male colleagues, I couldn't talk to male cousins after the age of about 10 and wasn't allowed to do evening activities at school or really have a circle of friends - Dad's favourite line was "You can't trust anyone but your family." The academic pressure was incredible: my brother was supposed to be able to add columns of 3 digit numbers when he was *5* - my mother set him 10-15 problems a day. I had to teach him because I was 'such a good teacher' - so if he didn't get them right, we both caught it as soon as mum got home. Which made me a...less than patient and kind teacher, I suspect. No, I know.
He was FIVE, for God's sake.
We were 7 years apart, and we could be close or fight like cats and dogs, like all siblings. I was the one who would shout back at my father when it all got too much; he would withdraw and not speak. I don't think my father could cope with that from a male any more than he could cope with the fact that his daughter was perfectly happy to yell back at him or physically enter the fray when he'd go for her hair. That didn't mean that there weren't times I shut up out of fear, but I was the mouthy one.
Nor could my father deal with the fact that his daughter would walk out the door at 21 with only a few bin bags full of clothes. Only a few weeks before, my friend Frances had turned to me and said, "Get out. Get out before they take the life out of you and you can't." The words 'arranged' and 'marriage' made me take her advice.
I should have taken him with me then. He was almost 15, we could have worked something out; he might have grown up able to be himself. But I hoped and prayed that he'd follow my example, that if his big sister could do it, HE could do it. Time and again when he'd ring me, I'd beg him to leave, tell him to come and stay with me till we sorted something, anything. Every time, he said no.
And I saw it happen. I watched him slip into the business world, get my father's praise, stop laughing, become very conservative. Defend them. When he came here to visit me in 1998, we did almost nothing but row. I felt like he hated me for rebelling; I assumed he'd taken their side and had been truly assimilated. I thought he was happy living in their basement, free rent, free food...I just thought he was being lazy. To my shame, I held him in contempt for it, for not having the guts to struggle, to fight, to do it the hard way.
Let's pick up the conversation where we left off:
S: Don't laugh. N tries to help him, but something's not right with the guy.
Irim: God, getting away from them was the best thing I ever did. Tell me.
S: He seems so nice, gentle, harmless.[Irim thinks: lifeless?]
S: She looks very, very old- big belly, gray hair. You don't communicate with him?
I: my parents wouldn't let me. [as in, except for their number, I had no contact details for him. And yes, I tried to google him]
S: He, not she! Oops. Fuck your parents.
[And as much as love and appreciation as I have for parents in general, I think that was probably the best advice I've ever been given when it comes to mine.]
Irim: is he angry, can you sense that?
S: No, just depressed. Very low key.
*Puts head in hands* Mea maxima culpa. I know my parents so much better than that. I should have known his hands were tied somehow.
I'm so sorry, kiddo. I've been absolutely crap and totally unfair to you, and I really, really should have pushed to talk to you, but I *do* love you. And not with the 'spider love' (credit: Martha Beck) that our parents gave us. I don't give a shit if you want to be a bin man or an investment banker, Democrat or Republican, love a man or a woman. I just want you to be free to be who you are, not the person you feel you have to be to survive. S, N, A - if you can, get him on facebook and NOT tell my parents. Let's see what we can do. I know you've all been trying - maybe another shoulder to the door will open it an inch.
And sometimes, an inch is all it takes.