“Death does not exist; people die only when they are forgotten. If you can remember me, I will always be with you.”
Isabel Allende in Eva Luna.
We moved in together during Ramadan. The month was filled with 3 AM alarms that would trigger the wudu–suhoor–adhan-prayer cycle. We took turns leading prayers. We would stand side by side, and I would lead the recitation. He was animate in helping me maintain my very fragile knowledge of Arabic, and he believed that Qur’anic memorization could substitute, to some degree, the lack of formal schooling after I graduated from University. Often times, when we were not praying, he would just sit there hearing me recite over and over again… it made him feel proud… it made him feel useful.
After prayers we would make our way back to bed. Some days we would be just too exhausted, and would just curl up in the living room. I would wake up again around 7 AM, and I would get ready for work. At the time, I wore hijab. It made me “feel Muslim,” and it kept at bay the questions that non-Muslims often raise to fasting Muslim women who do not wear hijab, “Ohhhhh, are you Muslim? How?,” “Did you marry a Muslim man?,” “I did not know you were like really into Islam!” “But Muslim women HAVE to wear hijab, isn’t it???” It was also a way of navigating the mosque environment… I was considered to be an “actual” part of the community, when people thought that I was committed to becoming a visible Muslim.
While getting ready, I often stood in front of the mirror trying to figure out the hijab style of the day, and then I applied matching makeup. My partner would habitually just sit on the bed and observe me… as if he wanted to preserve those moments in his memory. Finally, I would kiss him good bye and head out as he prepared to go to school.
There is something soothing about the stability and predictability of long-term relationships… something that is often forgotten as we convince ourselves that the grass is greener on the other side. The relationship was never perfect. There were endless painful and difficult moments that until this day I would like to hide in the most recondite places of my mind. But there was never a question about the love. He loved me in a way that challenged his religious convictions, his culture’s teachings and his society’s ways. Perhaps the love that he felt for me scared him as much as the love I felt for him frightened me. It was a love that incited care and compromise but, above all, it incited commitment.
We went through all sorts of things; for one, the religious aspect. He met me as an atheist and saw me get transformed into a self-identified Muslim. He watched me put on hijab for “right” and “wrong” reasons, and supported me when I finally decided to take it off because of political convictions. He also stood by me when I broke away from a Muslim community that shamed me due to my choices, and when I had to step-out of non-Muslim circles that rejected me because of my religious choices. So in all those years we got to know each other intimately, and we learned to commit to each other’s struggles.
So the real curse of all this, is that the love is still here, floating around as an imaginary figment… permeating everything I experience. And it triggers a very real fear: that no one will ever love me so intensely again or enough to accept that spiritual commitment.
After years of having to figure out who I was after losing my partner, and after many trial and error situations, I convinced myself that if I met someone who shared my radical values, who understood my feminist politics, who respected my identity and who could relate to my brokenness, things would be fine. But the reality of things is that such is not the case.
It turns out that those who are as radical as I am, have little experience with complex feelings; and those who understand feminist politics have trouble compromising; and those who have intersecting identities have trouble trusting others; and those who are just as broken as I am cannot find in themselves the will to commit to anything other than themselves.
I have spent countless hours trying to figure out the complexities of dating and relationships, perhaps in an attempt to satisfy the yearning that my soul has for that spiritual loving relationship that now feels like a faraway dream. But such an endeavour is also an invitation to heartbreak… a wake-up call showing me that in this day and age feelings are overrated, and that accountability to others is hard to come by.
Thus, death still follows me in the form of nostalgia and desire. It seems to be the only thing I can hold on to as the rest of the feelings I may develop for others get shattered under very real but very human insecurities. And, hence, remembrance, the very core of my brokenness, is the only thing sustaining a yearning for a human and spiritual connection that, these days, seems out of reach and out of sight.