Chapter 5: My Same
Las Vegas, USA
The short space of time we spent watching TV after the kids fell asleep was what Mariam considered to be ‘couple time’. Maybe it was another illusion we used to convince ourselves that we spent time together. We usually watched an episode or two of Grey’s Anatomy, my favorite show. I enjoyed it even though I knew it was very overdramatized and unrealistic. I knew first-hand that emergency rooms don’t even come close to anything they show in the series.
Some people believed they might experience love, fear or even infatuation in the emergency room as a result of these shows. Little did they realize that in the urgency and the chaos of critical cases, doctors often forgot to even take a sip of water to get them through the toughest, most fearful moments.
It was during the chaos of such a critical incident that I had met Mariam. Yes, during a moment of great fear!
It all started when a little boy, Michael, lay on his deathbed waiting to be admitted for surgery in a final attempt to remove his brain tumor and save his life.
While I was scrubbing in, I saw her in the corridor, murmuring, “I can’t do it… I can’t… I just can’t… My hands won’t stop shaking… How can I operate like that? It’s impossible.”
It was easy to see how nervous she was as she paced back and forth across the corridor. I watched her the whole time. Then, as she tried to walk her anxiety off with her head bent down, unaware of anybody around her, she bumped into me, despite my best efforts to avoid her.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.” She had lifted her head up as she apologized.
“That’s okay. Are you all right, though?”
“What?” she said abstractedly. “No… I mean yes, everything’s fine.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but it doesn’t look like you’re fine.”
“Actually, you’re right. I’m not really feeling well. It’s my first time.” she said in a shaky voice.
“Your first surgery?”
“No, my first operation on a child!”
“Don’t worry, you’ll do a great job and everything will be okay.”
“Yes, but still —”
“Try to calm down,” I said, interrupting her and taking her hand to reassure her. “Everything will be fine.”
She gazed at me and asked: “Do you think I can do it?”
“If you can’t do it, tell your boss. It’s okay if you don’t feel up to it.”
“No, I would never do that.”
At the time I thought Mariam’s persistence had come from her commitment to her duty as a surgeon, but I realized later that this was just her nature. She never gave up on a mission she knew she could complete. She was a strong woman and this strength gave her the confidence to fulfill anything she put her mind to. Once engaged, nothing could shake it off.
That was the first and last time I ever saw fear in Mariam’s eyes. It was this fear that had triggered my affection for her, which eventually led to us becoming a married couple.
“Are you serious? You want to get married?” my friend and fellow surgeon Gilbert had exclaimed between sips of coffee in the hospital cafeteria when I broke the news just months later.
“Yes, I am.”
“You must have lost your mind! You barely know her. How do you know she’s the one for you?”
“Come on, Gilbert, don’t you know Mariam? She’s been working here for two years now, and I’ve got to know her really well.”
“Yes, she’s been with us for two years, but you only got to know her six months ago. Do you think that’s long enough?”
“Yes. I found what I’ve been looking for in her.”
“And what is that exactly?”
“Faith?” Gilbert yelled in surprise.
Mariam’s convictions and faith had made me feel secure around her. I had been convinced that she would be the best wife; a wife who could support me through times of distress and bless me with a comfortable home.
What sort of faith had I been looking for in Mariam’s heart? Was it the convictions she held or my false expectation that whoever had faith would be a person who lived in peace and happiness? I had assumed that committing to a woman of faith would guarantee me a happy married life.
How naïve and judgmental I had been back then, thinking that faith was restricted to certain fundamental ideas. Faith was a difficult word to describe; a vague, unidentifiable concept that I had thought Mariam carried in her heart. So many thoughts raced through my head when Gilbert asked me why Mariam’s faith had motivated me to ask for her hand in marriage.
“I don’t know,” I had replied, “but an indescribable feeling touched my soul that day, when, despite her intense fear, she said to me…”
“What?” I mumbled.
Gilbert had laughed at me. “No way! You do love her!”
“I do…” I paused and then continued, explaining the exact moment I had fallen for this deep faith; the very day of Michael’s surgery. “She said: ‘At certain times in our lives we lose control, yielding to the power of our creator. Regardless of my fear, fate will decide what happens to Michael.’”
I hadn’t known then whether fate really played such an influential role in people’s lives or whether it was merely a scapegoat we used to blame for our failures. Since I was certainly no longer a fatalist, this had often caused me to wonder whether marrying Mariam had been my preordained fate or my own choice.
I tried to convince myself that I had met her by fate, and that fate had also provoked Gilbert’s response that day when he laughed and concluded: “Well it certainly seems as though fate is bringing you two together now!”
“Seems that way,” I had replied with a smile.
The memory faded and I stared at Mariam as she ate handfuls of popcorn beside me on the couch and flicked between the TV channels.
Then I got up. “I have some errands to run,” I said.
“We have our appointment with Dr. Brown tomorrow. What are we going to tell him?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought of anything suitable to fit his request.”
“Me neither,” Mariam replied. Then she grabbed her phone to respond to a message she had received, or maybe to shuffle through the pictures again in the hope of finding that all-important missing memory.
The realization that we couldn’t remember a single happy, loving memory between us was agonizing. Why couldn’t I remember anything beautiful about our relationship even though I remembered the very moment I had fallen in love with her? Was it because the life we had shared was so hollow? Had our choices been wrong in the first place, and were our attempts at redemption simply a denial of the reality of our hopeless marriage? Was it because our lives were torn between work and our attempts to build a family? Was it because we had got used to our life here in Vegas, which flew by like lightning, leaving us caught up in the moment with no space for memories?
As I walked upstairs, I remembered the day I proposed to Mariam. It had been a long hectic day as we had carried out a difficult operation. I had walked Mariam out of the hospital after the procedure and invited her to join me for a coffee, a habit that had become increasingly frequent during the preceding months.
“Thank you so much. I really need a coffee after that difficult operation,” she said, taking my arm as she always did.
“I feel you. Let’s get a breath of fresh air.”
We sat on a bench in the rain, hoping it would wash away some of our exhaustion. I watched as she sipped her coffee.
I remember pulling out my phone to read a message Gilbert had sent me just as she was about to finish her drink. I had asked him to recommend a popular romantic song and he had sent me a link to ‘My Same’ by Adele.
The music started playing out loud, and then suddenly Mariam coughed hard. She spat a mouthful of coffee over her white lab coat, and as she did so something fell to the ground with a jingle.
“Oh! It’s the ring!” I said, pointing towards the floor. I had been so distracted that I hadn’t spotted the immediate danger.
Mariam stared into my eyes, half-choked and still coughing. “What is it? I almost swallowed it!”
I quickly stood and picked the ring up off the ground.
“What’s going on? They can’t do that! I’m going back to that coffee shop to...” She paused for a moment. “What was that in the cup, Yaser? Give it to me, please!” she said firmly.
I remember feeling so embarrassed. “I’m sorry… I wanted to surprise you.”
“Surprise me with what?”
“I thought you would notice it in the cup.”
I opened the hand that held the ring. “Notice this…”
“How would I notice a ring in a paper cup filled with black coffee?”
“I thought you would feel an unusual weight at the bottom of the cup when you reached the end of it.”
Mariam looked surprised. “A weight in the cup?”
She stared at me for some time and then laughed. “Oh, Yaser.”
I moved closer to her, holding up the ring and laughing. “Will you marry me, Mariam?” I asked gently.
Adele was still singing ‘My Same’ in the background.
After a pause, she said: “Yes, Yaser. I will.”
I happily placed the ring on her finger. “I love you,” I said.
Mariam had still seemed a little surprised as she looked down at her new diamond ring. She laughed again and said: “This Adele song isn’t the best choice for a marriage proposal.”
In the moment of realization that followed I remember really laughing. I hadn’t paid attention to the lyrics before and I realized they didn’t fit the occasion at all.
“You’re right! I hadn’t noticed the lyrics before. I was just looking for a popular romantic song. I didn’t want to propose to you without any music playing.”
Mariam laughed. “I love you, Yaser. This must be the first time a girl choked her way into a marriage!”
Then we laughed together; at the coffee cup, the ring and the incongruous music. It was a beautiful moment.
Mariam had been well aware then that she was marrying a man who was not endowed with a discreet, romantic spirit, or even a man who was skilled at carrying out a marriage proposal, but she had still accepted. So why all this estrangement now? Why weren’t we still laughing the way we had back then? Why had we lost sight of our pursuits, and of what we enjoyed doing together?
I realized that marriage wasn’t about finding the best way to approach your lover and offer that ring as if it were the only sign of the holy bind of marriage. The decision should be based on much deeper and stronger foundations.
On what grounds should a marriage be based? Should it be based on a wife who was a lover beforehand? Or should it be based on a passionate impulse that would vanish at some point in the future? Should a wife be the perfect example of morality and discipline as she would raise her children to understand ethics and principles? Should a man choose a wife who is very different from him or should he choose a woman who is so similar she feels like a soulmate? Could a family be built on difference, or would this become a destructive factor that ruined the union through constant conflict? Did those differences account for the sugar-coated lies and pretentions often used to protect the family’s image?
Mariam’s faith was truly what had attracted me to her, but now it was the thing that was causing us to drift apart. My skepticism regarding faith had culminated in outright atheism and a rejection of everything Mariam believed in. I no longer believed. I didn’t believe in her or in us, but mostly I didn’t believe in God. I couldn’t believe in a God who would give me a wife I couldn’t communicate with and didn’t feel happy being around.
I had begged him and prayed so hard that he would give me a righteous wife and grant us happiness. So could there really be a God? If he did exist, there could be no doubt that he was unjust!
I stopped for a moment on the stairs and looked down at Mariam, who still believed I was following her religion. She was still searching for that memory, not knowing that I had found it amid all the chaos. I was determined to revive it as Dr. Brown had asked.
I entered the bedroom, switched on the laptop, and searched for the Adele song I had played that day, ‘My Same’. It hadn’t been suitable for the proposal, but it perfectly suited our current situation.