Growing into an Arab family mostly feels like you’re being placed in a room full of toxins and you’re expected to find your way out. Throughout my 22 years on Earth or life, I have never felt freedom. People have always cultivated words for what freedom means to them whether it’s standing on a rooftop with the wind blowing through their hair, traveling the world with no restrictions, or even just going down to the market to grab a candy bar. However, I have never came close enough to my own freedom, to even grab it.
As a Palestinian female who lost her brother at the age of 15, I have learned to excuse my parents behavior for the loss of their son...even though no one excuses my anger for the loss of my brother. Being a female within the Arab society somewhat plasters this invisible mark on you, that you and basic human rights can not exist together.
My situation may not be as strict as others, however it is very mentally draining, so hopefully no one takes this as a challenge of let’s see who has it worse. Studying abroad already comes with its challenges. My mother tagging along, however, has added 100 more. I don’t mean to seem like I hate mother. I don’t. I love her. Even when I’m angry and even when I’m sad. My mother may be one of the strongest women I know. Yet, my mother is also one of the most toxic beings in my life. I have never felt so anxious and suffocated as I do at this very moment. As an anxious person, triggers are mostly around every corner. The smallest of gestures could possibly mean the worst. The simplest of questions could possibly mean the end of me.
When I was working, before heading off for my Masters, I was told that regardless of graduating with a BS, since there is no man beside me, I am still confined to the rules of the house: women don’t stay out till 8 and could possibly go out once every two weeks. I was to strictly head to and from work, back home. I was expected to be dropped off (by the parents) at 4 and picked up by 7:45. Which meant that I’d more or less be back home by 8. In an Arab society, with no one respecting time, that made me feel more of an outcast. At some point, my father asked for all of my friends numbers, just in case whatever I said left him doubtful.
Now, even when I was at work, my mother would ask me questions about what I was doing and where I was. If I didn’t text her that I was on my way home by a certain time, a minute later she’d ask me where I was. I know these things sound so pointless and questionable, but being the daughter of a worrier, pretty much makes you a worrier, unconsciously. Abroad, those little anxieties have somewhat multiplied. Her texts seemed and still do seem even more threatening, because what if she reaches a conclusion and I’m somehow pulled out of my ‘life’? What if I’m married off? See, these may seem like completely bizarre consequences, but it’s not something surprising within our society. Shame happens to be worse than committing Sins, and abusing your kids seems better than comforting them and being there for them regardless.
They’re all what if’s though, right? I can’t possibly ruin my chances at life if I’m not living. But how can I enjoy life if anything I do could jeopardize it?
My mother is known as being very nosy. She had gone through my phone, multiple of times growing up, she had gone through my diary, my letters, books, bags, you name it. She has cultivated an image of myself that does not depict me...and I am slowly starting to see myself as that. Living with toxicity, makes you toxic. Or maybe it doesn’t. I hope I’m not. Slowly, I am becoming helpless. As psychologists would name this, ‘Learned Helplessness’.
I don’t know if I want to fight anymore or lock myself up. Is it even worth it anymore? Is it worth feeling this hollowness? Is it worth making them happy at the cost of my own? And if I Rebel, does that mean I should expect a husband who supposedly knows better than I do? Or do I expect myself to be tucked away into the security of my home...whatever that may be.
All I know is this: do not bring children into this world if you do not know how to protect them within limits. You can not enforce your own experience onto them nor will they acquire the lessons of life through your own experiences. Do not abuse your children...verbally or other. Do not instill fear in them that they choose to rebel than to hold you when their world slowly falls apart. Do not create a surrounding that is anxiety packed, because chances are they may think of death as the only way out. Just because they’re family, does not mean they know better. Toxic people can also be family members.