Sunday, March 29, 2009

Broken Promises

It became obvious over the course of those few weeks in December that a quick return home and a quick annulment/divorce were not going to be realistic. The family pressure was actually scaring M in a way that I simply never have understood. The paperwork was finally delivered in the last week of December and M was free to book his ticket. The ticket was almost expired at this point and booking a flight with it carried a cash penalty.

M tried to convince me this was the main problem, until I discovered the U.S. Dollar value of 50 Rupees. . . .

The cash penalty wasn't the main problem though, the main problem was booking a flight that corresponded to his original booking from five months earlier. Consistently, he would think he had a flight and then would call me the morning of or the day before, to let me know that the plans had fallen through. Finally, on January 5, 2005 I had had enough. I had waited and waited and actually made plans for my trip to pick him up at the airport in Canada. (A 12-hour trip, mind you.) He called me from the cell phone, while riding in a cab. He sounded out of breath and apologetic as he once again cancelled telling me he had even gone so far as to ride to the airport and his ticket was not accepted. In the background I could hear all of the horns honking and traffic noises. He gave me the news and quickly had to get off the phone due to all of the distractions.

I had been called and cancelled three times in two weeks, and I gave up. I called M on the phone after he got home. I was crying and told him that I did not care if he came back or not. I told him that he obviously had no intention of being honest with me and did not care for me in the way that I had been led to believe. I told him that he had proven it multiple times, first by making the trip when we both knew it was a bad idea, then by extending his stay, marrying some strange woman, and cementing it with 'jerking me around' for such a long time.

Instead of apologizing he simply listened, made an excuse or two, and acted as if I were being unreasonable, which made me more angry. Finally he said, "Fine," and we hung up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

M's Inner Battle

I talked to M for a long time that day. Mostly I did the talking. I grieved as I talked, and said things that had he been strong enough, would have made him angry. Instead, he just took it. His voice was too quiet to hear at times and he thought out loud about his religion, about the 'wedding.'

M is Muslim, very Muslim. He tries to find out what he is 'supposed' to do according to his religion and tries to put aside what he wants no matter how much it hurts. As I said before, he has more than once referred to me as his "weakness." It was his family's opinion that marrying me would weaken his religion and change his "line." This was a worry he had begun to share. Now, being technically married, he worried that even talking to me on the phone was bad, but that turned out to be something he could not leave.

Don't doubt that he tried.

M's parents changed immediately after the marriage was conducted. The watch of his cousins was loosened. Suddenly, M's demeanor started changing back to a more normal replica of himself. He was not getting sick every night and was allowed out of the house alone. I would call and find that he had the cell phone in the market or on the streets. His family started making plans for him to leave but required that he wait for his "wife's" papers before going. The marriage happened November 24, 2004, and on December 13, the paperwork still had not been delivered.

The thing that got more complicated for me was M's guilt. He kept trying to determine if divorcing this woman was allowed by his religion, and at what cost to his family. His marriage had been a work of several both distant and close members of the family. One of the most instrumental in the planning was a certain favorite and trusted cousin of his who wanted to marry one of his other cousins. Theirs was a 'love' match, but unequal in education and wealth. The female was college educated while the male was by description of the prospective bride's mother, "illiterate." Oddly, this part of the match was not made known to M until long after the marriage had taken place and he was no longer even in Pakistan. The trade was the Canadian immigration, which apparently is as good as gold when it comes to marriage planning.

In addition to this matter, were subtle family threats that I cannot begin to understand. I know that families are very involved in marriages in Paksitan and how could this not be true when there are so many interrarranged cousin marriages? But it becomes very personal when someone hints at breaking an engagement or divorce. This is not even to mention the cultural stigma carried with divorce in the first place.

And so, there was M, stuck between a 'wife,' his family, religion, and a gori-amrikaan 'girlfriend,' a word, which, by the way, he despises.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Haze (pt.2)

It would be three more days before I could get in touch with M. I did not spend those days idle, instead I put my time to good use prank calling Pakistan. By this time I was very angry that I was not able to get in touch with M and did not care who I disturbed. I would call intermittantly from around 1:00pm my time to 3:00pm which translated to 12 midnight-2am their time. When someone else answered the phone, that did not stop me. I simply hung up and dialed again.

The person answering was a voice I had never heard before, but that did not stop me either. You could probably very accurately have labeled me both psychotic and obsessive at that point, with a good measure of bitter. I called too many times to count. Allowed the phone to ring until it was answered, no matter how many rings that meant. I shouted at the phone when the line refused to connect, I spoke to the person on the phone in my broken, rehearsed Urdu as much as possible, and then stopped.

On the day that M finally answered the phone he was sullen. He sounded angry and sad at the same time. It took several minutes for him to tell me that he had married and when he did I shook. For a minute I thought that I couldn't breathe and quite literally I could feel my heart. I could feel my heart breaking.

M was mine, at least, he was supposed to be mine. We had firsts together. We had history. I was mad. I was mad at him. I was mad at what I perceived as his weakness. I was mad at his failure. I was mad at his tone and his inability to answer my questions.

I started shouting, "I cannot believe that you have done this!" I berated him, "Do you know how much trouble this is going to cause us? How much time we are going to lose? This is not easy to fix! This was a stupid decision. Why didn't you run? I begged you to run!"

In the time that M had been gone, our preliminary visa paperwork had been approved with an expiration date in December. I used that against him.

I shouted about the "poor girl" he had married. I asked him if he'd even tried to explain the situation to her. His story at the time was jumbled and confused and told in a weak voice. He apologized and then I got to the point.

I asked him where she was and he got angry. He had made it clear to his parents that the one thing he would not budge on was bringing "that woman" home. He would marry as they demanded and then be allowed to leave. Their condition for this was that he wait for all of her "paperwork" so that he could immediately apply for her to immigrate with him to Canada. With her living in NWFP and he several hundred miles away, this would be a logistical problem and take time. He had finally reasoned with them that there was no reason to bring her to his home for her to live while waiting for immigration.

Culturally, an interesting point to this marriage, was the strange matching of the pair. M grew up in a huge city in Pakistan. While his family was definitely not rich, and in fact, was quite poor while he was growing up, M had gone to college, learned English both on his own and by taking classes at a private "institute." He had learned to read and speak English quite well before immigrating to Canada. The girl, on the other hand, was from a small village, spoke only M's "tribal" language, not Urdu and not English. She had finished only the secondary portion of her education and was teaching at a small school in her village. They had never really met, or socialized though technically they were cousins. None of this mattered, what mattered to his parents was that she was not, in fact, me. She was not white, not American, not a stranger, not a Christian. Chosen by them, she was not me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Haze

I had my first panic attack on November 24, 2004. I did not know what was happening at the time, but it was the same day that M got married.

I had gone out to dinner with two really good friends. It had been three days since I had last spoken to M. We drove back from a really nice dinner and all of the sudden I could not breath. My chest hurt and my whole body was numb. I started to hyperventilate and could not speak. This had never happened to me before, nor has it since. I couldn't even cry appropriately, just watery eyes. I had cried too much and I guess in my heart I knew something was really wrong.

Since then I have tried to get M to tell me what happened that day. The part he tells me is after making a long trip from his home to the mountains his whole family piled into a van and they drove for a very long time. He always describes that day almost like a fog. He says they were driving and he had his cell phone in his hand. He would look out the window and think a lot of things, but he vividly remembers wishing that the van would drive off of the mountain. He remembers wondering where they were going, though he really knew.

He describes thinking that his cell phone wouldn't work there and that it was time for me to call him.

They took him into the mosque just long enough to sign the paperwork. Though she signed the nikka nama, it is unclear to me if she was even in the same room of the mosque that he was when it took place. There was no dinner, no party, and no rukhsati.

Her family was given jewelry, purchased by M's mother and aunt, and clothing and then there was the trip back.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Father's Advice

I found myself in this situation while in the middle of a shift. I was crying uncontrollably and could not stop. My luck was that I was working with my best friend who knew all that was going on. There was no way to hide it from her and she was able to listen and not betray her distrust of the whole situation. K was my best friend and roommate and had listened all of the times that M had stood me up in the beginning. She didn't quite trust him, but she knew how attached I was and knew every detail of what had been going on in his absence. I finished out the shift and made my way to my parents' house.

I was 23 years old, but I sat in my father's lap and cried that day. I told him what was happening and got the most unexpected advice. My father said that with all the things I knew about M's situation in Pakistan and the family control of marriages, that M might be telling me the absolute truth.

I had been convinced that no one in the world would be able to respect me if I listened to this story from M. I had assumed I was the only person who would believe it, and even I wasn't completely confident in my trust. In my narrow, naive viewpoint, something like this could never happen. I was more used to the story of the "suspicious Muslim man" having one family in his home country and one in his 'adopted' country. Those were the stories I had read and seen on television.

I had heard of women that this happened to, but not men. I listened to my father's advice, and I went home to research. I googled "forced marriages" and "forced arranged marriages." I googled any topic I thought might bring me closer to finding anyone else who had the same situation. I found fewer men than women, but there were men to whom this had happened.

I laid awake that night trying to think of what to do. I tried to think of ways to encourage M to run and I reminded myself that that had been a failing tactic for nearly three months already. I reminded myself that he didn't even have access to his own passport at this point. There had even been an incident where I got him the phone number to the Canadian Embassy, he'd even called it only to finally cancel their assistance. There was nothing inside him that was able to just run away from his family at this point. That method was futile.

I went the next day and saw one of M's friends. It was this friend who sealed my belief in what M had been telling me from Pakistan. The friend felt that M was not doing enough to get away, but said to me, "How could you not have known this would be a problem. Did you not realize his caste?"

To this day, I'm not really sure what exactly his "caste" had to do with it, though I've come closer to understanding in that M was Pathan. His family had moved one generation before his birth directly from NWFP. No one in his family ever had a "love marriage." No one in his family immigrated outside of Pakistan. No one in his family married anyone else but a cousin properly chosen by their parents. In fact, little did I know, that M had attempted, unsuccessfully, to have his marriage arranged to a cousin long before his immigration to Canada, and that failure was one of the driving motivations for his self-exhile.

M had immigrated to Canada and had since become the family's sole provider, breadwinner and bragging right. This, had not occurred to me.

I called M the next day. It took every ounce of strength I had to tell him, "Do what you have to do, just come home."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Difficult Decisions

I spent the entire months of September and October listening to various excuses about M's father's health and his brother's wedding. I was still working as a Paramedic at that time for two different jobs. I carried my cell phone 24/7, had phone cards stuffed into my bags and made time every day between 12 and 1 to call M on the off chance that he would get the phone instead of his family.

It got to the point that I would be sleeping at 3 am and get a strange international call from M who had gotten time with his brother's cell phone. These calls were always panicked and nearly always irrational. He sounded like a completely different person in these calls. When he was with me he had been happy, and funny, without a care in the world. He could have fun mopping a floor or posing for goofy pictures. But now he was just sick, depressed and paranoid.

I spent those two months carrying around ticket estimates and a visa application. I was always trying to get his address and permission to come bring him back home.

It was in November that M gave me the bottom line, "They are not going to let me leave until I've gotten married."

He explained that his entire day was loaded with family visits from people his parents considered prospects, calls on the telephone and his family shoving pictures of eligible cousins in front of his face. He spent his days arguing his case in futility and being fought by his parents and siblings, as well as the cousins who accompanied him everywhere he went. The cousins were more subtle, but their message was clear.

I was livid and angry and screaming at this point. All I could think of was broken promises and how 'disappointing' he was to me. It was my opinion that there was no way that he could be so sick that he could not run away, that he could not pull himself out of the illness or the reaching distance of his family. Even hearing his voice, listening to his stories, even with the decreasing contact I could not possibly believe that there was nothing else he could do.

I used every argument that I could think of, the paperwork we had processing, the difficulty of obtaining an international divorce once he'd left, the effect on the girl in question having been married and immediately divorced. I reminded him of his promises to me, and I cried, a lot. I spent the conversation trying not to imagine my own reaction if they made him bring this girl home, something that I did not know was optional in Pakistani culture.

His family had chosen the girl, a cousin living in NWFP whom he'd never met. My phone card died.