1 year and 364 days after he and I started dating, he broke up with me. 3 days before I travelled across the world to Nablus, Palestine, with the naïve dream of spending a whole 3 months with him after what was, for me at least, the most painful year and seven months living apart, he decides he doesn’t want me anymore. I was destroyed. My towers were crumbling down. Then, as the plot in my love story thickens, I find out that while I was spending my time wishing we were together, he had already gotten over me and by the time he broke up with me, I had been replaced. Yes, replaced. In a plot so cruel that only reality could compose it, she has the same name as me, is full Arab, and one of my new coworkers. (At the time he informed me of this, I was living in the same house as her) Yes, my life had turned overnight into a living nightmare. For days it seemed the only positive thing that could come of my wretched state was that someday I could sell my story to become a Hollywood film, or at least a lifetime movie.
A day shy of 2 years. Too late to not get on the plane. Sara doesn’t quit even after being discarded like a day old newspaper. I thought I was too special to be replaced. Well, I was wrecked. Am wrecked.
Cruelty is augmented when its source claims to love you, and stings for longer when that love is reciprocated.
As important as a love, he had become a best friend.
Sanity in the Most Insane Form
I spent an entire week sleeping and crying. Here I was in a new place, a place just a week earlier he had promised we would experience together, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I was nauseous at the smell of food and completely alone. How that week did not include me drinking myself to death or conclude with me on a plane headed to Ithaca, NY will forever be a testament to my inner strength.
Then the new teachers arrived. As they pulled up in the car I was thankful for the five distractions that lugged their bags into the house. Our clan of teachers is the least homogenous group I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. We were all different colors, sizes, and ages, have drastically different senses of humor, tastes in music, and experiences, yet, so far at least, we all seem to fit together like a puzzle.
I bonded with my new friends using the fear of future regret as motivation to begin building friendships and for the first time, I smiled. I laughed. For hours at a time I hid the tears. My new roommate had the best attitude and could rarely be seen without a smile on her face. The new boys were crazy exciting and amazingly supportive. But still I could barely eat, I had no focus, and I felt like the pieces of garbage that litter each Nablus street.
Struggling from malnourishment and a substantial decrease in desire, my mind struggled to comprehend the labyrinth I had somehow gotten myself into. Who was I? Why had I trusted another person so much that his violating that trust (at an explosive magnitude) could so utterly destroy me? How could anyone that I loved so much, and would have done anything for, be so selfish?
My new friends were a distraction and offered shoulders to cry on, gentle words, and encouragement. With nights of sacrilegious conversations in the kitchen, newly created inside jokes, and always a hot pot of tea being made, there was the perfect amount of insanity to divert me from going insane.
A Rational Mind
I walked out of bed one morning to find a new face in our living room. Every now and then you meet someone and immediately know that this is someone you will miss once they were gone. Linda was one of those, and in fact she was gone quite soon as she was only volunteering with TFP for one week. A beautiful combination of a Turkish mother and Palestinian Father, Linda holds herself with pride. And, while many would point to her elaborately styled Hijab as evidence of weakness and submission, she is one of the strongest girls I have ever met. Though, she did suggest I don’t put my private life on the internet, an ignored suggestion perhaps soon regretted, I have to share just one more personal story to illustrate how Linda worked her magic.
I must backtrack to Christmas.
The Story of the Kindle
As X always loved to read, he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to get many books in Nablus. I realized at this point that a Kindle would be the perfect Christmas present for him, since he would be away for a full year. The problem was, since I was in Amman, there were no Kindles to be found. I was determined, so I contacted his sister about splitting the costs. Then I asked my mother to please order a Kindle from Best Buy ($200) then mail it to me ($50). My mother happily helped because she realized it was important to me. Then I had to spend 5 hours hassling to get it out of Jordanian Customs and paid $40 in taxes. This entire process had already taken 2 months arrangements, a lot of time, and money, but it was important to me because I knew he would love it when I gave it to him on our trip to the Dead Sea scheduled for the weekend before I returned home to the US. But then, he cancelled the trip the week of, and simply suggested that I leave whatever my present was for him in Colorado. Ouch. Incredibly disappointed, I tried hard to be the understanding girlfriend and kept trying, I asked a friend of mine who was going to the West Bank for Christmas if she would carry it across the border and deliver it for me along with some other goodies I’d hoped would make him smile. Here I had spent a lot of money, enlisted my mother and a friend’s help and managed to get a Kindle to him in the fucking occupied territories. But I wanted to because I loved him.
Christmas came and went. I kept wondering what he was going to do for me. I anticipated a package in the mail. Perhaps he would give it to me once I arrived in Nablus.
Next day, still nothing.
With each passing conversation, each passing day, Christmas disappeared further into the past yet he gave no mention of any gift for me, though he did thank me for his Kindle.
It wasn’t until a month later he broke up with me, yet he had blown off Christmas.
In one of our two terrible conversations we have had since I got here, I brought up Christmas, and how he had blown it off. He said he hadn’t and that he had a gift for me. Feeling a little less hurt I put my hands out to receive an unwrapped, no note included, Keffiyeh, which is a scarf. They cost 20 shekels (approximately $6). He bought it at a factory that he had gone to with a group of people, which I am fairly certain included my replacement. They had gone several weeks after Christmas. It wasn’t the price of the gift that hurt. It was the effort, or complete lack of. While I had tried my best to make sure my gift said in a million ways, I love you, his was a fuck you.
-Back to Linda-
I explained this story to Linda on one of my better days, seriously trying to ponder how any human could receive a gift so clearly wrapped in affection (including a hand stitched case) and reciprocate with a gift no better than a last-minute airport present purchased out of obligation.
That is when she said it. “Could the $200 Kindle/20 shekel scarf be a metaphor for your entire relationship?”
and then I realized how right she was. I had always been willing to put in the $200 effort and constantly received a 20 shekel response. (Again, metaphorical, it wasn’t the price that was the problem, of course)
“You are not a 20 Shekel girl”
Her words resonated for a moment. She was right. I am not a 20 shekel girl. The thought was empowering and allowed me to fully open my tear swollen eyes, which coupled with dark shadows from days without sleep had become a part of the new face that cast back from the mirror on the days I had bothered to get out of bed and check my appearance. Why had I let myself be used and treated like trash? Why had I ever allowed it to get to a point where I could be thrown away?
While I was so caught up on what I deserved in comparison to the effort I put in, I hadn’t realized the truth. He didn’t deserve me. He doesn’t deserve me. Even now, he doesn’t deserve the tears I am crying at 3 am because I can’t sleep from the pain, so I’m writing a blog post instead.
During Linda’s few days with us in Nablus, I quietly celebrated my first day not crying in 22 days. A small triumph.
As I prepared to send Linda off in a taxi she said to me “stay strong, super woman.”
Yes, I still cry most days. And each tear is another drop that I will never forgive him for. I still question my value after being treated like dirt. I wonder why I wasn’t worth treating with the decency I wouldn’t deny any human, let alone someone I had claimed to love.
My girls have become the light in my days. This past week we began learning to sing I Am Woman by Helen Reddy. While the bright young ladies I have the pleasure of teaching love the lyrics and music, they’re oblivious to the fact that teacher is relying on their singing to keep her sensible, especially since 2 rooms down, the new girl is working with her girls. My roommate and coworker is not so oblivious, and laughs at our class as we belt out.
I have started making my own relationships with the people to which, 3 months ago I was simply the girlfriend, and with the new people who never knew the two of us. I have sat at the same restaurants we had both gone to together, but this time with better people and now, I no longer wish he was sitting in the chair next to me.
Soon, Nablus will not reek of him, but will smell the sweetness of home and true friends.
I hope to find my smile again. The one I see when I look through old high school photos. I’ve joked with the people here about wanting to be re-virginatized from the realities of the world.I feel like I have aged 10 years in the past 6 months, referring not only to being romantically burned, but also to the pain I have seen in many of my friends’ (locals and foreigners) eyes when they tell about their time in prison, their abusive ex-boyfriends, and a yearning for a home that does not include large guns and sound bombs. The high school Sara knew that things don’t end happily ever after, but she didn’t believe it. Somewhere between “Once upon a time” and where I am now, that reality has set in. Getting out of the country expedited the realization. The high school me is a stranger. I value the wisdom I have gained from travelling. And while I’ll flirt with the desire for innocence, I know that it is both impossible and unprefered, but it must be possible to recreate the emotions of joy and hope that I see in my younger eyes with what I know now.
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong(strong)
I am invincible(invincible)
I am woman