Saturday, February 28, 2009

Conspiracy

Things just kept getting worse. For the first several months I spoke to M every single night. We would talk for at least 25 minutes and most of the time longer. I was very inexperienced with international calls back then and all I knew about were those crazy STI phone cards, so I would spend $5 for a 25 minute call, and that was pretty much the best bargain I could get. I would run one card out and start another only to use it completely up too. The phone calls were the high point of my day.

Inconsistently, we could use MSN Messenger. M had taken his computer with him and when he could get online and stay there, we would talk. But it was just not the same since we couldn't hear each other that way.

And then suddenly, M wasn't around for calls each night. It became difficult to contact him and sometimes his mom would get the phone before he could and hang up on me. I finally had to resort to getting one of his male friends in my town to call for me, get M on the phone and then I could talk to him. M was not helping the situation. As depressed as he was he started mentioning how persistent his family was being about getting him married there in Pakistan. They had people calling the house all day long with proposals and daily had pictures of the "prospects." In the beginning M had found this funny and even minorly gratifying. He explained to me that he could have three arms and one eye and be a 'catch,' as long as he still had his Canadian passport.

It was around this time that M's passport disappeared from his bag along with the ticket stub for his return ticket. M's younger brother was getting married and this had been the family's first reason for an extension request, but as they got bolder, they pressed harder and harder about M himself.

The pressure and arguments started about his 'family responsibility.' They pressured about his getting 'citizenship' for one of his cousins. They chose specific members of the family and the extended family got involved.

One of M's closest male cousins was working behind the scenes as well, because his own arranged marriage had become tied to a demand for M to marry a cousin of the woman this cousin wanted to marry. This situation was complicated further by the lack of education of M's cousin as compared to the education level of the woman he wished to marry. For this particular cousin the situation was dire, because theirs was a 'love' match. It did not seem to matter that M had a 'love match' of his own, that was of no consequence.

The interesting thing is that this part of the dynamic was hidden from me, and part of it was hidden even from M. The only information we both had was that M was getting sicker and sicker. M knew about the demands, but he didn't know how many people had a hand in it, and seemed oblivious as to the connection between the demands of his family and his health.

I knew that M was having episodes of vomiting nightly and that he was weak. My real fear came in when he started describing his other symptoms, which I knew to be serious. He was having bleeding problems--which I decline to describe--in addition to hallucinations. This was when I got scared. This was when I started pressuring for M to give me his address in Pakistan. M refused.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Green and Gold

Just before M left for Pakistan we had a huge fight. M did not have a permanent apartment in Canada, so he had to leave his possessions somewhere. There were very few of them, so few that they fit into a small suitcase. It had been my assumption that I would keep them for him since we had already discussed my coming to pick him up when he got back from Pakistan.

One of my favorite M pastimes was going through his stuff. Silly, I know, but it felt good that he really didn't care that I did it. One of my favorites was his wallet, and my new favorite second was this suitcase. M had used his Canadian passport to get his visa to go to Pakistan, and his old, outdated Paksitani passport was inside this suitcase. I opened the book in awe of the picture I found there. In M's Canadian passport was the most beautiful picture of M ever. He was wearing a very fancy burgundy shirt with a tie that appeared silk and was a slightly different color than the shirt.

That outfit had been his pride on the day he went to get his Canadian citizenship and he had had the passport photo taken the same day. Getting his Canadian passport was very important to M. He loved the country and was very proud that he had made it there and made his way to citizenship. In the picture he looked very fancy, hair perfectly coiffed with gel, short and just a tiny up part in the front. He was freshly shaven and had this half smile that was typical for him when he was really proud or happy about something. In this picture, you could even see the tiny dimple to the left of his mouth, the one I fell in love with.

The M inside the Pakistani passport was an entirely different person. The M in that picture had longer, more tousseled hair. He was wearing a large jacket that looked like something a Canadian would wear to a hockey game. The M in the Pakistani passport looked a little mean and very bulky with a square jaw. He was very concerned with bodybuilding back then. My eyes were wide looking at it and M got embarrassed. We laughed over how much he had changed in such a short time.

We drove to M's friend's house and I sat in the car while he walked in to borrow a bigger suitcase. M and I had gone shopping for the relatives and he needed a much larger suitcase than what he had to hold all of the gifts. Shortly after going in, M returned to retrieve his small belongings bag and asked me to give him the Pakistani passport. His friend was going to hold it for him.

I'm not sure if it was the stress of M's trip, or my trip or simply the embarrassment I felt at being asked to hand the belongings over to a complete stranger (to me) or that we'd been discussing his own forebodence of the Pakistan trip, but I got angry. I became a strange kind of angry. I to this day cannot explain what made me so mad because it was nearly unexplainable. My only explanation is that as the girl he was going to marry, it would stand to reason that I would hold his things for him. Besides, I was still insecure about the whole no return ticket thing. His thought was that his friend always did this for him and why would this time be any different?

As a result of the fight, M asked me to keep his things, and I, being stubborn, refused. The Pakistani passport ended up torn into two separate pieces and nearly chucked out the window in a shopping center parking lot. It was the first time I had seen M truly angry. In the end it was returned to the suitcase and dropped with M's friend.

The loss of that passport changed my ability to react in those long months that M was in Pakistan. I lost one very important key to the problem, his address in Karachi which had remained constant, the same over twenty years. The same address written inside that tiny green book with the golden design.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Crazy

The first few calls went beautifully. The phrase worked like a charm, I'm a good parrot. M's mother was always the one answering the phone and she giggled uncontrollably each time I called. She always went yelling for M in the same sing-song voice and I started analyzing the way she said his first name.

One annoying thing about M and I was that when he introduced himself to me, instead of using his given name he used his surname. He did not think I would be able to pronounce his first name properly and he hates his first name anyway so he just told me to call him his last name. It was three months into 'dating' that I found out his real first name and by then I was so stuck on the name he'd given me I just couldn't change it! So when I listened to his mom sing out his real first name I would try my best to imitate it and that made me giggle as well.

M would tell me stories about his visit and how his friends were all coming by and how he was sleeping late every day. He would tell me that his father was taking his time in making appointments and that they had scheduled a date for surgery. He told me his mother wanted him to stay at least a month, but that it was really hot. . .we talked about a little bit of everything.

It took about a week for the fighting to start. His father from the very beginning was against M marrying an American, much less a Christian, white American. His father had never met one, but he knew, certainly, from all of the talk in his city, that we were not a good match. And so it happened one day, probably in the fifth week M was in Pakistan, that M's father happened to answer the phone when I called. To my amazement, my phrase did not work. M's father simply screamed into the telephone, "NO!" and promptly hung up the phone as violently as possible.

It was soon after this that M started to get sick. By sick I mean violently ill. It could be heard in his voice, this depression and weakness. He told me that he was vomiting every day and that there were times he felt like he couldn't even make it out of bed. He would call sounding hopeless and upset. He would tell me about fights he'd had with his parents about our marriage and they always ended with his parents demanding an arranged marriage with one of his cousins. He was told that this was his responsibility to his family. He was told horrible things about 'me' by people who had never met me.

His parents made wild claims about how I would only stay married to him for seven years, and how our children would have no religion and how after seven years I would take the children and he would not be allowed to see them. They even came up with an example of how this had happened to 'so and so' a member of their community as concrete proof that this was the only way it could happen.

Each day we talked and he would start out hopeless. I used memories and pep talks and he always sounded better when we got off the phone. He said he always slept better after those talks and I thought it was giving him resolve to convince his parents or to abandon ship. We had discussed this many times and it was always my conviction that he felt strongly enough that it was his right to marry whomever he wished. The problem was that time was slipping by very quickly. He had left on August 03 and by October he was ill, had lost a lot of weight and suddenly his parents had drastically changed.

My phone calls were limited to after midnight Karachi time, and sometimes we couldn't even talk then. M's brother had a cell phone and M would call me from that sounding more desolate than ever. Constant fighting has a way of taking a toll. M was also advised by one of his close friends that his mother had been out with an aunt to buy 'something' from a magician recommended by his sister. To me, this made the illness make perfect sense. While I don't really believe that 'black magic' can change one's mind or work in the classical way that his mother obviously did, it made perfect sense that having some crazy weed or pill put into his food would make him ill. I begged him to start eating away from home. He thought I was crazy. Three months into his two week trip to Pakistan, he was correct.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Honeymoon Period

It was my opinion that the ticket not having a return date proved a point. I was livid. M quickly left the travel agency to retrieve me. He argued that this was the way 'everyone' buys tickets to Pakistan. He argued that his father was sick and "what if something happened?" He argued that it was cheaper this way. I knew all of this explaining was complete bullshit and that he had only given a date in the first place to placate me. He had a habit of doing things like this in order to avoid conflict. . . .telling me what I wanted to hear.

I had never demanded a time limit, how could I? But I HAD asked when he was coming back. Apparently, he felt that two weeks was reasonable and just faked it. His main argument was that if his father needed him to stay longer, it would be expensive to change the ticket, whereas if he bought an open ticket, he could come back "any time."

M was certain his parents were going to approve of us after he talked to them in person. We were so serious, that I brought all of the paperwork with me to file a fiancee visa for him. We had decided it could start its processing while he was gone and be closer to done by the time he returned. We actually signed all of the papers in the parking garage of the airport. (So began my in-depth immigration education. . . oh how I have learned since then. . . .)

We arrived extra early to get him checked in and so that we could eat together before he got on his flight. As soon as he boarded the plane I was to start my 12 hour trek back home. We sat depressed, eating and he instructed me on how to make an international call and where to get phone cards and how to talk to his parents when I called. No one in his home speaks any English, so I had to ask in Urdu. He taught me the phrase and gave me the dialing instructions on a 'Burger King' napkin. I could tell that he was tense, but he was excited at the prospect of surprising his mom. She knew he was coming in the next few weeks, but he had not told her when. It was going to be a complete surprise.

We scheduled a time for our calls based on the time difference and made the first call within a few hours of his arrival time. I left the airport sobbing to make my way back home.

He called me from a pay phone in the airport waiting room before I even made it out of the airport parking lot. It was things like this that reminded me why I was going to miss him so much. He was worried about my crying and how I was going to make the trip.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ticket to Pakistan

M promised his trip would only last for two weeks and so on August the fourth I drove my crazy self back to Canada to help him get ready for the trip. M was NOT happy about this trip and the more I listened to his stories from Pakistan, I knew why. He was not exactly on good terms with his parents and it seemed obvious to me that the trip was not a good idea. M was set on it though. He had already reserved the tickets and so I went with him to the travel agency to pick them up. It was there that I got my first inkling that something was really wrong.

We went to the agent and he started explaining the terms of the tickets. Now mind you, I am not completely naive. The idea that I could be "fooled" by my Pakistani boyfriend into thinking that we have a chance for a happily married life, did not escape me. I read all the same stories and newspaper articles that you guys have. I read about men who married women in their home countries to make their parents happy. I read about women being married to these men YEARS before they found out. And so, I was on the lookout for anything, everything that might mean I was wrong for caring so much.

When the travel agent laid the tickets down I picked them up. I was curious. I had never flown or actually seen a plane ticket. I had never had a plane ticket, or any other piece of paper make me so angry in all my life. As I read the details of the ticket I seethed. I took in a deep breath, stood up silently, slammed the tickets into M's lap and walked directly out of the travel agent's office and down the street. I heard the travel agent trying to explain something, he had noticed I was angry even before M. And as I stomped down the street I heard M shouting behind me and then standing silently at the door of the travel agency as I walked away.

I had walked three blocks before I realized I had no idea where my car was parked.

There was no return date on the ticket.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Trouble. . .

M and I had to search out a hotel room because there was no way for me to stay with he and his friend. M had never had to use a hotel in his own town so we immediately went to the closest one. It drew a QUICK veto from me, it was the nastiest hotel I had ever seen. We ended up instead renting a room for me in the "cheesiest" place I'd ever seen. Maybe one day I'll share a story about that, but I don't think you know me well enough yet. . .I'd never get you back if I described the place right now.

At any rate, we were extremely happy to see each other again, and M was amazed that I had come all that way just to see him. We spent a few days of him showing me around and doing minorly touristy things. This was the first time I ate samosas or found myself surrounded entirely by desis. M's little neighborhood was like a little piece of Pakistan, mixed in with a few scattered Egyptians and the random Saudi Arabian. I had never actually seen so many white beards in one place at the same time and in M's neighborhood, the people frequently wore Salwar Kameez. In the U.S. all of his friends completely wore Western dress, so this was a bit new for me too. The other new thing was that I had never really been around M and his friends when they spoke only Urdu or Hindko. Here, there were a lot of his friends that didn't speak English at all.

M had spoken to his parents about me before, but it had never ended well. He decided he should call them and tell them that he had decided he was getting married. I set about doing other things to clean up the hotel room, repack, get ready for lunch, anything to pretend to not be listening to his conversation, but I TOTALLY WAS.

He broke it to them slowly and then all hell broke loose. Apparently it started with his mother crying and then with his father yelling at him. His mother basically was sad that she wasn't going to be arranging his marriage but his father was livid. The conversation ended after 35 minutes of mother crying and father and son yelling at each other. This wasn't exactly what he or I had hoped for, but frankly it was what I had expected, at least feared.

I had, early on, made a point of asking M what his parents would think if he were to marry an American. He had told me a very well concocted story about how they would accept it and how they had told him he could marry whomever he wished. It was a nice story, but it was not the truth.

M called back the next day with the same result and on the third day he called back and his father told him that he needed to come to Pakistan. The pretense for the visit was that his father was sick. They said that M needed to be there to shuttle his father back and forth from the hospital. The plan was for his father to go to one of the American hospitals in Karachi and for this reason they wanted M to be there to take him to appointments and take care of him. Based on the sketchy information and timing, we were both pretty sure this was not the reason for the trip, but M was confident that if he went there he could not only help his father but he could convince his parents of his plans.

It was decided that M would go to Karachi on August 4, 2004. I knew I wouldn't survive too many months of separation, so I planned to coordinate another visit so that I could take him to the airport and see him right before he left. M thought it was silly for me to come, but he wasn't going to tell me no.

I returned home elated that my trip had gone so well, but crying the whole way.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Knocking on the Door

As I walked towards the apartment building my stomach started to turn. M did not know I was coming, I had never met the friend he was living with and I had been awake for many hours too long. The buildings were tan and old and looked very run-down. I opened the rickety glass door by it's metal handle, which was broken and stepped off of the cracked stone walk and into the dark tile floored entryway.

Apt 1 was on my right and I knocked, timidly on the door and stepped to the side so that he couldn't see me through the peephole. I wanted to see his reaction when he opened the door. I heard him yelling as he came to the door. He poked his head out to see who was knocking and his eyes opened WIDE. M saw me and immediately took a step back inside and then all the way outside to look for sure.

His eyes were wide open and so was his mouth. He grabbed my arms and hugged me hard. "What are you doing here?" he asked. I could see he was in shock and I was giggling and smiling uncontrollably. "How did you come? Oh my God!" he just kept repeating over and over again. He didn't want to take me inside so we stepped out into the sunshine and I told him about the man on the balcony who had guided me to his house. In awe M walked out with me to introduce me to the man. M kept staring at the car and couldn't believe I had driven the whole way.

I was sleepy, but even more hungry so we drove to a tiny Chinese buffet in the shopping center just down the street from M's house. The food was absolutely aweful, but M just kept staring at my face. I explained the whole story about how I found the address and drove all night. I told him about getting lost and told him about how much I had missed him. M just kept staring at my face. I told him, "I just had to come. I couldn't wait any longer."

He finally just looked at me and said, "We have to get married. You have to marry me, right?"

It was funny, he said it just like that, like it was only logical. We had both thought about it, but never said it out loud. Just like that, it was out loud.