Chapter 2: Don't You Remember?
Las Vegas, USA
“I think the two of you need to try something new.”
“Like what, Dr. Brown?” I asked, trying to show a little enthusiasm.
“What do you both suggest?”
“Maybe we should try to listen to each other more,” my wife said.
“No, Mariam. It’s time to take action. The time for words has passed,” Dr. Brown demurred.
“Please give us your suggestions then, Dr. Brown,” Mariam responded with a gloomy sigh.
“Actually, I think today’s session is almost over. Before the next one I want you to think back to a moment of affection you once shared so we can work on reviving that spark between you,” he said, standing up and walking towards us.
Mariam and I stared at him, puzzled, and then I exclaimed: “Okay, and —”
He interrupted me: “Yaser, you and Mariam have to remember and agree upon this special moment together. Once you find it, you must think of a way to revive it and feel it again.”
After we left Dr. Brown’s office, the usual silence crawled back between us. It was a prevailing silence; one that had thwarted our relationship for many years. After our many failed attempts to deny reality, we had decided to seek help from Dr. Brown, a well-known marriage counselor.
For a long time, we had thought we were simply going through a normal phase in an eight-year marriage; that we had reached the typical monotony of life as a couple. However, we had later realized that our life together amounted to nothing more than alienation, dispute, and sugar-coated lies.
I had suggested to Mariam that we needed help a few weeks earlier.
“We should figure our problems out. Let’s go to a marriage counselor,” I had said.
She had replied in a cold voice: “Really? Now you want to get counseling? What about the time I asked you to do it and you refused? What’s changed your mind?”
“I don’t know. I just feel it’s right to take this step now.”
But I did know why I had refused previously. It was because of the four-hour drive to the counselor Mariam had suggested. She had naturally wanted to make sure our neighbors wouldn’t suspect a thing when it came to our broken marriage. We had created the shell of a perfect family, with happy photos all over Facebook to prove it. We had to keep our imperfections and the shattered pieces of our marriage out of people’s sight so that the unspoiled image remained intact.
“Well, seeing as you don’t know why, how come you’re bringing it up again?”
“Because I think it’s our last resort if we want to fix our relationship,” I had said with a sigh of irritation.
I opened the door for Mariam as we left Dr. Brown’s office and we sat quietly in the car for a few moments.
As I started to drive away, I murmured: “Which memory could bring us back together?”
“Are you asking me or just thinking aloud?”
“Ha… what?” I looked straight at Mariam. “No, it was nothing.”
“Does Dr. Brown really believe it’s that easy to dig out a loving memory from the past eight years?” Mariam asked, staring out at the street.
“Why do you think it’s so hard?”
“Can you think of any happy memories we could revive?”
I didn’t say a word as I stopped at a red light on the Las Vegas Strip. I had never understood why it was nicknamed Sin City. To my mind, sin wasn’t an act that could be attached to any particular place or time. I would have gone as far as to say that it was a city that offered pleasure in abundance, without any need for sin, if such a thing even existed.
What was the definition of sin, anyhow? I believe, the fact that our marriage had become an aimless excursion, full of yelling and quarrels was a sin. My dismal failure to recall one loving memory between me and my wife was also a sin. What could the moment Dr. Brown had alluded to possibly be?
Mariam broke the silence. “I can’t remember any happy memories. I’ve been trying really hard to remember something that would fit since we left the doctor’s office, but nothing springs to mind. You know what? Let me scroll through my Facebook profile. Maybe I’ll find some inspiration there.”
I watched her as she looked through her phone.
Then she said: “Do you think my last birthday would work? Or maybe our trip to Hawaii last year? Or maybe… wait… there are some really nice photos of us at Eid Al-Fitr... Ummm… no, not those…”
She paused and then said: “What do you think? Could the Hawaii memory work?”
“I don’t know. Is that a memory we want to revive? What do you think?” I asked.
“Actually, it was a nice trip. We enjoyed our time there.”
“I remember we had a fight on that trip, though. Don’t you remember that you insisted on your parents coming with us but refused to invite my parents?” I reasoned.
“Why would you bring that up? It has nothing to do with the fact that we had a great time there.”
“But I wished my parents could have accompanied us.”
Mariam was starting to get irritated. “Why do your parents have to be part of every moment of my life?”
“For the same reason I didn’t mind your parents coming with us.”
“See! You always compare the two. You need to understand that our families need privacy, and my parents have their right to privacy. They don’t have to include your parents in everything they do and take them everywhere they go. We could have taken your parents on another trip and the issue would have been resolved!”
As usual, it was my mistake and I was the one to blame, according to Mariam. But weren’t most women a bit like that? I thought to myself. I had always struggled to grasp the mentality of the fairer sex. I had even tried to read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus in an attempt to comprehend the complex relationship between the sexes, but I had failed to find the answers to my questions. Were all women ungrateful? Was it always our fault?
“I’m not implying that they shouldn’t have any privacy! All I’m saying is that the Hawaii trip isn’t our best memory.” I continued to drive quietly through the neat streets of Las Vegas.
“You spend all your time and energy trying to please others, but you never take the time to think about our problems or to figure out a path we can take to find each other again,” Mariam said drily.
“How did you come to that conclusion?” I replied.
“You’re never prepared to listen to me!”
“Really? Then what am I doing right now?”
“You’re trying to start another fight.”
It was at that moment that I started to get really pissed off. “Me?”
“Yes, you! I had great memories from that trip and you’re trying to ruin them.”
“That wasn’t my intention. It just obviously wasn’t as great for me as it was for you.”
“And why’s that? Because your parents didn’t come with us? Look at you… you’re holding yourself back from enjoying anything and looking for ridiculous reasons to ruin all the good moments we’ve shared,” she said angrily.
“What moments? Do you think if we’d shared any good moments we’d have ended up in Dr. Brown’s clinic?”
“You don’t understand my needs.” She took a deep breath and continued. “All I want is to lean on you when I’m in need of someone.”
“And all I need is for you to argue without raising your voice at me, and to stop changing the subject based on your false, exaggerated interpretations of my words,” I raged.
“I don’t do that! It’s always you who provokes the fight. Don’t you remember what you did on our engagement day when my father asked you for my dowry?”
“What did I do? Is it because I didn’t pay all the money at once? $10,000 isn’t easy to find, you know! I paid what I could afford at the time.”
“But you disgraced me in front of my relatives when you haggled over the dowry. We only asked for $50,000!”
On hearing those words, I instantly pulled the car over. “And why would the fact that I didn’t have that much money disgrace you?”
“It’s the deferred dowry we were talking about, not the paid one! You knew you wouldn’t have to pay it unless you had undisclosed intentions that would result in you having to do so!” Mariam retaliated.
The deferred dowry or Mahr is the most crucial step before we sign the marriage contract. It signifies the value of and the honor you bestow upon your wife. There should be no negotiations and no haggling, otherwise the wife becomes like a piece of merchandise. It is paid to the wife if the marriage ends in divorce, preserving her rights and her financial equity. So the higher the deferred dowry, the more secure the wife is. But was it so important that she was still reproaching me over it after eight years of marriage?
“And what might these intentions be, dear Mariam, seeing as I’m the one who suggested marriage counseling?”
“I don’t know, but I can see that you’re changing a lot,” Mariam said, gazing out of the window.
I stared at her, speechless. There was nothing I could say to defend myself. The pallor and sharpness of her facial features stirred a strange feeling within me, causing me to wonder how I had ever fallen in love with her. How had she become my wife? I didn’t have the answers, and I still couldn’t recall a single happy memory.
She turned to me suddenly and said: “Let’s go home. We’re going to be late for the kids.”
I started the car and drove, overwhelmed by all that had been said. Was it so impossible to recall a single loving memory? If so, what were we still doing together? Why hadn’t I put an end to this ice-cold marriage?
The road that led us home was deadly silent until Mariam aimlessly turned the radio on just in time to hear Adele singing the words of ‘Don’t You Remember’: