Chapter 14: Lay Me Down
Las Vegas, USA
I had been collecting up the scattered papers in my home office, which filled the desk in front of me, so that Mariam wouldn’t mess them up. I stared at my laptop for a while, trying to decide whether to take the trip with Gilbert. It was supposed to be my gift to Mariam. How could I go without her now? I was caught between the idea of travelling and staying put.
My life with Mariam had become monotonous. Nonetheless, I still remembered our honeymoon to the Caribbean islands. Mariam had danced for me, although she didn’t really know how to dance, and I had carried her onto the beach, sneaking a few kisses, which had transported us to another world, wrapped up in the sunset.
These memories had awakened possibilities in me. I had thought that being in Italy might have given me the chance to hold Mariam in my arms like that again. But did I really want to hold her and embrace her? Did my heart still harbor those feelings for her? If it did, why were we still visiting Dr. Brown?
Every day I asked myself these questions and looked for the answers.
I was once told that marriage is the deathbed of love. That’s why most of my friends didn’t get married but had experienced love, even if they were having multiple affairs. I, on the other hand, was devoted to one woman but still couldn’t find love. Apparently, love had become a transient feeling, experienced during moments of ecstasy. It had been reimagined to fit the relentless pace of our time.
Mariam interrupted my thoughts as she walked into the room to tell me her parents were coming to stay for the weekend.
“Really? That’s good.”
It seemed as though circumstances were boosting my chances of going to the concert. Her parents’ visit would allow me to travel without Mariam suspecting anything. Should I call Gilbert and tell him I would go with him?
Mariam disrupted my distracted thoughts. “What are you thinking about?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing. I have a critical operation, that’s all. Do you remember Michael?”
“Michael who?” She paused, then added: “That kid we operated on together?”
“No way! Has the cancer come back?”
“Yes, but it’s in his intestines this time.”
Mariam stood beside the window, watching the kids playing outside. “Sometimes circumstances force us to ask difficult questions.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why? Why do things like this happen to innocent people? But we shake off this question because we know God has a purpose that hasn’t been revealed to us and that it is beyond our comprehension. In his wisdom, he has the measure of the universe. How could our simple, limited intellect compare with his almighty capabilities? So we suppress the question and don’t allow it to occupy our minds.”
I gazed at her in amazement. Mariam had doubts? That was impossible! Had she contravened any of the tenets? Why did she resist these thoughts if her brain was tackling them with logic? Why didn’t she try to find answers instead of suppressing the questions? Or are all humans designed that way; finding comfort only when we push away our doubts and live according to principles that may or not be true.
Then we can throw our burdens onto faith, believing that the creator wants it that way. How comforting it is to find a higher entity to throw our weights onto, eliminating our worries because he is responsible for whatever happens, even when we fail ourselves! But why did this type of analysis differ between people? How had I addressed the same question she had in her mind and come to the conclusion that no God would allow his created beings to live in such pain?
“What’s the matter?” asked Mariam, interrupting my thoughts once again.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Why would God put Michael through the same painful experience twice when he’s just a kid and has no sins to atone for?”
“Does everything we go through have to be connected to washing away our sins? Of course not! God isn’t just a creator we can’t see; he is a deep certainty. You can feel his existence in your veins and, despite your strengths, weaknesses and pain, he remains merciful.”
“But what? What is it?” she asked, interrupting me a third time.
“Nothing.” I remained silent, thinking about the concept she had just described. What was the definition of this mercy that was inseparable from pain? I didn’t know and I didn’t want to know. It didn’t matter to me.
When Mariam walked out of the room, I picked up the phone and called Gilbert to give him the good news.
“Yes, I’ll go with you, Gilbert,” I said, laughing. “We’re gonna have so much fun, man!”
The moment I hung up, the phone rang again.
“Mom, how are you?” I said.
My mother’s relationship with Mariam had become tense; it was impossible for me to keep the balance between them. I didn’t know why I always made excuses for Mariam.
I regularly had to convince my mother that Mariam didn’t mean to ignore the messages she sent her every now and then to check on me and the kids. Mariam had been very busy lately due to her career change, I explained. She had joined the research department, giving up the practical part of her job. But did that justify her in not replying to my mother’s messages?
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Mom. Okay, bye.”
I hung up and went to sit at the dinner table when Mariam called. The children were already seated. Gathering around the table had been our daily routine for the previous eight years and Mariam always made sure that the table arrangements followed her precise system.
The plates were placed about twenty centimeters from the edge of the table. On the right-hand side would be a fork, a knife and a spoon. The knife blade always faced the plate. A small fork and spoon – either for dessert or salad – were placed above the plate. A cup of water was placed on the left-hand side and for a cup of juice was placed on the right. Two-thirds of the paper napkin was tucked beneath the juice cup while the rest lay beneath the plate. I didn’t know why, but I felt bored just looking at the table.
Had Mariam ever thought about changing that arrangement just once? I didn’t think so. She never even thought about changing her haircut or the way she tied her scarf. Although she always said she was trying to follow the latest fashion, I only ever saw the same style and colors.
“Women think they can change their looks if they have their hair trimmed,” Gilbert had told me once. “They don’t realize that men don’t notice things like that at all. They’d need to dye their hair blue if they wanted us to notice!”
Despite the fact that men barely noticed any dramatic changes, women always did. They even noticed minor alterations. I always tried my best to compliment Mariam on the tiniest changes she made, but despite all my attempts to make her happy, she still couldn’t be bothered to reply to my mother’s messages.
While I was eating the salad in front of me, which, in spite of its varied colors, tasted completely bland, I asked: “Why haven’t you responded to my mother’s messages?”
“Did she call you to complain?”
“She called to make sure everything was okay,” I said, keeping my eyes fixed on the bowl.
“You know how busy I’ve been with my research the past few days.”
“Yes, but it’s just a text.”
“Do you answer all the messages my parents send you?”
I was astounded. “What do your parents have to do with this?”
“Isn’t it the same thing?”
“When have your parents ever sent me a text I haven’t replied to?” I exclaimed.
“The other day on Facebook! My mom commented on your photo and you didn’t reply to it.”
I put my spoon down, feeling annoyed. “What? The other day? A comment on Facebook?”
I remained silent; I simply wasn’t prepared to continue arguing. How far had Mariam gone to monitor my actions? She was even monitoring the comments I received on my Facebook page! Unbelievable! What had happened to us? Our shared life was becoming so empty apart from the minutiae of Facebook and its comments. The thought made me laugh; a satirical, sorrowful laugh. How nonsensical our life had become. Mariam’s words made me feel like we were still teenagers.
Mariam looked at me, trying to comprehend my bizarre laugh. When she couldn’t, she said: “My mother was upset by it. Can’t you understand that?”
Infuriated, I said: “So you didn’t respond to my mom on purpose? Have you lost your mind? How can you think like that?”
I tried to control my nerves, unwilling to accept what was happening. Mariam didn’t even realize what she was doing and I was finally starting to rebel against the life I had been living for so long; a life that was crawling over me like a slow, painful death. My constant problems with her were smashing against my chest, suffocating me. I felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath. I left the table the moment I noticed the fear on my children’s faces.
“By the way, I’m going to a medical conference next week,” I said as I walked through the door, shutting it behind me.
I was longing for those moments of freedom with Gilbert, and for some much-needed man time. I was a prisoner, despite the fact that I was supposedly living in the land of the free. Mariam was a boundary that besieged me in a country where there were no boundaries to be found. With my passport I could cross international borders without a visa, but when it came to Mariam’s boundaries I was powerless unless she gave me her approval and permission. I wanted to make my own decisions, but Mariam was suffocating me.
I had enjoyed lying about my trip with Gilbert and wondered whether that was how thieves felt when they stole something. I had come to realize why people enjoyed doing things that were forbidden, like stealing, lying, taking drugs or committing adultery. It was the elation they felt when they were doing it, fueled by a burning desire to boost their egos and to feel power, joy and fear all at once.
My desperate urge to break free from Mariam’s cage had led me to steal our anniversary trip. The bliss I felt when I made the decision – indifferent to what Mariam did or didn’t want, even if her wishes were undeclared – was priceless to me. Saying no to Mariam was enough to make me feel that happy.