I live many contradictions. One in particular has been haunting me lately.
For as long as I can remember I have asserted my independence and been proud of it. I make my own personal decisions and take permission from no one. I have my own money. I own my own things.
I recently realized that I have only done this, however, under the guardianship of a male. The first 24 years of my life my guardian was my father. The following 17 years of my life my guardian was my husband.
Why do I call them guardians?
When I think of my father and of my now ex-husband I think: protection, stability, guidance, companionship, someone to trust in, someone to resort to or to fall back on…
Throughout my 41 years of male guardianship I never would have called my father or my ex-husband my guardians; especially not my ex-husband for the principle of it. He was though. They both were. I realize this now.
For the past year, since my divorce, I have been without guardianship.
My father is now an old man. He is in need of his children to take care of him. My father was my everything. I always always knew that if anything went wrong, my father would take care of it for me. This was not a hope. This was knowledge. I knew this as a matter of fact. I always always knew that if I needed guidance or counseling I could go to my father and that he was wise enough and knowledgeable enough about the world to alleviate my concerns or to point me in the right direction. More often than not I’d make my own decisions based on my own guidance. More often than not I’d solve my own problems without anyone’s help. But I was always safe in the knowledge that my father was there for me.
My husband is now my ex-husband. Regardless of the fact that our relationship did not work out, in the back of my mind I always felt that if I had any problems it was my husband’s responsibility to stand by me and protect me.
And always in the back of my mind I felt – no matter how financially independent I was – that it was my father’s and my ex-husband’s responsibility to provide me with financial stability.
That is how I was raised. That is what my culture tells me. That is what my religion – or my understanding of it – dictates.
“In Islam,” my father has always taught me, “a woman never need worry. There is always a man responsible for her. If not her father then her brother. If not her brother then her husband. If not her husband then ‘those in charge’ [أولي الأمر].”
Whether my father said this to me once or a million times, I am unaware. But this has been in the back of my head for as long as I can remember. He might as well have said it a million times. It has given me comfort. I felt I always had this safety net. And because I had a safety net I felt emboldened enough to assert my independence. I felt free enough to go out into the world and make mistakes. I had the courage to try new things, to be creative, to dream and to achieve my dreams.
I thought I was a strong, independent woman.
I’m not so sure of that now.
My self-perceived independence emboldened me to aspire to a healthier, happier life and to free myself from an unhappy marriage.
After all, I had my own successful career. I was making my own money. I was bearing much of the responsibility for myself and my four children.
I look under my feet.
My safety net is gone.
There is no husband. My father is old and ill. He is no longer capable of being there for me financially or for counsel and guidance.
I stand on the small piece of stable ground I have underneath me and I cannot move forward.
There’s a woman inside of me that I do not recognize from before. She’s not one of the alter-personalities I have come to know in myself over the years.
I can see this woman’s face. It is dark and thin and wrinkled. Her hair is grey and is in a state of disarray. Her thin-lipped mouth is open. Always open. It is distorted into a crooked vertically oval shape. And from it comes the most horrifying silent scream I have ever known to exist. She never closes her mouth. The silent scream is never-ending. I am the only one who hears her.
I find myself at the edge of a precipice. The very edge. Before me I see the ocean. Rolling waves spurt misty salt water I can almost feel gently touching my skin. Below me are ugly, jagged rocks. I can step backward and stabilize myself on well known ground. My hesitance could disorient me enough such that I lose my balance and fall to a hideous death. Or I can believe in myself. I’ve always known I can fly. Always. I can decide I don’t need that safety net any longer to take that bold step forward. I can believe in myself, spread my wings, close my eyes and have faith, and push myself off the precipice as I put my trust in myself and in the friendly breeze to take me places I’ve never been but have always dreamt of visiting.
Screaming Woman: be quiet. Calm yourself. Have faith. I will keep you safe. You will be protected. I will protect you. Do not look behind. Do not look below your feet. Look forward. And fly. Just fly.