The biggest disgrace to any family
is a deflowered damsel.
Ten words that escaped the lips of a man
whose breath was tainted with stale nicotine
belly protruding downwards
scalp half visible
and gums fighting to hold on to them.
His face unpleasantly clenched
like the hands of time
tried to press his cheeks to his forehead
but couldn’t quite let go.
With unapologetic grunts in public
He was a man who had the capacity
to complain about anything
as if criticizing the air around him
would somehow grant him a gold medal
which he would add
to the wealth he hid away
from his family.
Those words were of a man
who inflicted ‘giant disgraces’
on seven families a handful of years ago
before choosing a ‘clean’ woman.
Clean enough to spend her mornings in the kitchen,
her afternoons standing like a five year old
whose lips were infinitely sealed
around loud chewing noises.
Everyday the food was either
or “too dry”
but never quite good enough.
Those words were of a man
whose wife spent her nights
dreading their proximity
as he satisfied his personal urges
taking her body for a love toy
before leaving her undone
on the other side of a cold bed
his snores like ear-tickling background screeches
as she criticized her own
not knowing that
she could not possibly
make love to a body
that refused to know what love was.
Nor could she re-ignite a spark
that was lit merely by
how taut her body looked
in her twenties.
This beast is everywhere.
Some have learned to tame him;
others celebrate him.
Whichever end you’re on,
keep in mind that before you begin
defining what a disgrace is,
make sure you haven’t created one
before washing your hands
and publicly flaunting them
like they were clean all along.
I gave myself six months to grieve.
On the first day, I lay there with a stiff chest and a racing mind. There were no tears. The tape recorder was burning. My toes were cold and the bed was on fire. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I slept like the dead that night.
I spent that month wishing I died.
The next morning, I rushed to write everything I could remember about you before your absence took its toll on my memory. I raped that black journal with the tip of my pen as my wrist grew numb and my arm fell limp. That’s the thing about endings, I realized, you know it’s happening when the fear of moving on hits you.
The second month my tear glands could not produce any more sorrow, so I kept my hands busy. I threw all your things out, dry brushed my body from your fingerprints, cleaned the sheets and made a cup of ginger tea. I learned a big lesson that month. That no amount of disk cleaning up could free a heart as entangled in another human being. So I plastered our memories with foreign faces, let unfamiliar hands hold mine, threw up every other meal I ingested and fell asleep gasping each night.
The third month I packed my bags. The lease was not over, but if everything in this city screamed your name then I needed quiet furniture. I booked a flight and a few bus trips and let my new life simmer in fresh air. For the first time I stopped imagining you with me, let go of the way your eyes lovingly scanned each of mine as you smiled through talks of weddings and children and a lifetime of forever. By the time the plane took off I cracked and sent you a message telling you I forgave you when what I wanted to say was that I miss you through anger and if you were between my hands right now I would rip you to pieces then put you back together and never let go. But I kept it at forgiveness and did not regret my decision nor waited for a reply. Still, you responded with an inflated ego and I began to understand that you never got the point in the first place.
It’s been four months and I’m still learning how to look myself in the mirror and utter the three words that I recklessly showered you with. Today I can barely remember the lines on your face and the way your arms wrapped around me, but it feels like the hugs I need come from God instead. Your voice sounds so obscure and the music has never been better. As for me, I am more cautious. It has been the year of heartbreaks and mine is pickled inside my chest like an abandoned infant on the side of the road. My poetry is no longer about you and this had been both empowering and devastating because there is just so. much. i. want. to. say. Then I swing back to the belief that my metaphors and handwritten letters are too sophisticated for a traditional man like you.
My morning coffee is as bitter and black as our last memory but I am just as vulnerable and just as beautiful and no one will never take that away from me.
The Fifth Month
Some mornings, I don’t brush my teeth and head straight to the French press. The caffeine has built a home in my veins and nothing else can keep me up.
This morning, I woke up before my alarm turned off, learned two sentences in Turkish, and went on a run before the sun came up. I still run on little sleep, with my first waking thought being the number of times I snapped awake the night before.
I’ve had better days. But I’ve also had worse.
Days when I’d keep a smile on my face while carrying the ache like an 8-month-old baby in a uterus made of parchment paper. I’d go for weeks without touching another human being. No hugs. No pats. No outstretched arms. My thoughts are as disoriented as my restless nights, but I keep them in a different box now.
The day we parted ways, my hands felt stiff. When the paralysis eventually subsided I kept them busy and swore to appreciate the reflection in the mirror. To make her my best friend.
Some days, the hope comes creeping in the midst of my tears like thin slivers of light from the bottom of closed doors. I don’t know why moving on is just. so. difficult. A friend of mine said that this pace serves as a testament to the quality of love I give. Maybe she’s right.
I stare at that a lot now. The light that makes its way through every hole it can muster.
So much feels like a closed door. The rejected job applications. The empty studio. The aimless conversations with strangers who remind me that I’ve earned a degree in pushing others away.
But I count my blessings on bits of paper and remind myself that it’s okay to have popcorn for breakfast and cake for dinner, spend a day in bed, or yell out a profanity at someone you love when they make you angry.
It’s okay to keep loving them. To look back if you keep moving forward.
But it’s not okay for them to let you go.
My shower curtain has 81 black roses.
There are 27 stairs that lead to the female section in the mosque I go to;
98 prayer beads etched on a loose string that Jiddo used to carry around;
& two moles on my beautiful mother’s face.
I don’t know why these numbers matter,
Nor do I know whether counting them
is my expression of attachment
or an attempt at detachment.
My shower curtain has 81 black roses.
Sometimes when I’m done counting them,
I stare long enough for the pareidolia to kick in.
Today I saw a man with a pipe, a rooster, and an escort.
I don’t know why these numbers matter,
What I know is that someday
Fridays in this mosque will be a stretch away,
That Jiddo passed away four years ago,
And unconditional love found
My mother’s face for a permanent abode.
These numbers are labels
I place on the crevasses
of my fading memories
and short days.
My fingers & toes turned pruney last night,
The water grew cold and I lay in the tub staring up at the yellow light
I tried to count the amount of times I did not remind my mother that I love her.
The numbers came rushing like quote scrolls in the streets of New York,
and the rest was a blur.
Home smelled like cinnamon the day everyone flew in.
Each one from a discrete nook in the world; & I, from Boston.
There was a lot of side chatter, silently smiling faces, clinking of cups & gift unwrapping.
It went on for a handful of days.
I remember thinking, “I need to take all of this in. It would make a good poem.”
But I was left with snippets of these moments
& decided that poetry was not the reason I was so observant.
It was departure.
Hello smelled like apple cake & fresh mansaf, looked like cigarette smoke & my siblings pressed in between the corners of two couches, tasted like ba’laweh & sounded like my mother singing along with Om Kulthoum late at night.
They all left one after the other, & my trip back was a week later.
That night, the house grew quiet. It smelled like goodbyes & half-eaten chestnuts. The beds were empty & the curtains pulled shut. I wondered why I attach to things. Why words are my time capsule & why everything beautiful comes at a cost.
I cried on the way back. Not for being alone again, but for the two people left to endure the absence of all the rest of us. The plane landed a few hours before midnight, & I was greeted with a different kind of hello.
The hollow kind that sounds like an abrupt farewell & leaves you in utter silence.
I wondered why humans have the capacity to hurt people that they claim they love.
Perhaps love brings a false sense of security that justifies pain.
When I closed the phone, I opened the jar of cinnamon sticks, closed my eyes & inhaled what was thousands of miles away from Boston.
I felt safe again.
It’s 2 a.m. again.
I think of dark eyes and fair skin and strong arms. A mind that could blow up every acre of land in the country that I am. I toss & turn with screeching, cluttered thoughts that make up for the heavy silence in the room.
My scrambled eggs are fluffier today. I run out of soy milk for my coffee and watch the rain slam against the windowsill. I think of you. The eggs turn cold. I chug them down & reapply my lipstick. I wash the same dish four times and catch myself saying your name.
Breath mints and broken Arabic. It smells like winter and I feel you smile in my hair but say nothing. The whole world is mine. I mix up the word “come” with “go” and you disappear. Summer is here and nothing is mine.
02:53. I think of a scruffy beard and dry lips and hollow hugs.
How I went from being your biggest dream to your biggest regret.
Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Nur Hassanain is a Jordanian writer and yogini whose work centers around honor killing, human rights, heartbreak and recovery. She currently lives in Boston, where she pursues finance in daylight and poetry at dawn. Some of her pieces can be found on nurhassanain.com.