By Saba Khan
I started keeping a diary at age 13. My first diary was a present from an older cousin – a beautiful journal with flecked handmade paper and a blue tie-dye hardcover which I eventually ‘personalized’ with glitter and doodles. Not exactly sophisticated, but I do remember writing about some remarkably ‘deep’ topics in that journal – religion, body image, materialism (I had just discovered Adbusters magazine at the time and began a staunch period of anti-brand-name-ism).
And, of course, I recorded every sordid detail of my late-coming social life – friendships and rivalries and crushes. So. Many. Crushes. That first year of journaling was the year I fell in love for the first time, and I recounted in pen every single time I saw him in the hallway, heard him speak up from the back of the classroom, smile at me, joke with me, and the thrilling moment he told me he ‘liked’ me at a friend’s birthday party. Imagine the absolute joy!
Not that I acted on his proclamation of feelings, of course. Dating at that young and tender age didn’t even occur to me as an option. Only in later years did my diary become a log of my blossoming adolescent romances and all their not-so-innocent physical components.
In those later years of high school, in a home where privacy was a foreign concept, my diary was my safe house. A space where I could internally break down the dilemmas of will-he-or-won’t-he and how-exactly-does-a-french-kiss-work-anyway without embarrassing myself in front of my friends or shaming myself in front of my parents.
Of course, because of these horrifying haram accounts, I had to make sure I hid the diary in an extremely secure manner, usually at the bottom of a cluttered drawer or underneath my mattress. Not that my mom didn’t know of my hiding places. The door on my bedroom was merely symbolic. It certainly didn’t stop either of my parents from barging in to eavesdrop on my phone calls or scold me for staying up so late ‘chatting vatting’ on the computer. And of course all the ‘cleaning’ my mother just HAD to do in my room while I was at school, because of course two pairs of pants on the floor were indicative of a pigsty and had to be removed immediately.
On one of these ‘cleaning’ days, I arrived home from school and immediately headed downstairs to my bedroom. I had recently entered my first official relationship with my first official boyfriend, D, so of course all I wanted to do was phone him/email him/chat with him/combinations of the above on those weeknights when I was expected to be home at 4 pm on the dot (or, pretty much every weeknight).
My mother was waiting there for me, sitting on my bed and staring hard at the wall in front of her, holding in her hands… a book… a familiar notebook… SHIT. I recognized the latest incarnation of my diary – an unstylish thick spiral notebook with a few leafs of paper escaping the metal binding. Without looking at me, she handed me a folded piece of paper with my scribbles, presumably fallen (or torn?) out of the notebook.
I took the paper but was frozen on the spot. My body had gone limp but my heart was pounding out of my chest. I knew the kinds of things that I had written in that book that could give my mother the angry and crestfallen look she held in her eyes at that moment. And that look. That look always instantly resulted in a large cavernous queasy pit in my stomach. The feeling of imminent doom.
She told me she had accidentally found my notebook when making my bed (a likely story) and didn’t know what it was, so she had started reading it to figure out if it was one of my school books (mmhmm). “Saba… yeh kya hain? What have you been doing behind my back? Who is this boy you have been seeing? And KISSING? This is WRONG. What you are doing is wrong!” The pitch and volume of my mother’s voice increased rapidly throughout her tirade about my sinful behavior and the lies I had been telling her and my father.
As I tried to sputter out an explanation through my hot tears, I went through a sort of condensed version of the “7 stages”, starting with denial (“N-no! I didn’t write that! Not-not the kissing part! I-I think you read it wrong!”), progressing to bargaining (“Well, what were you doing in my room anyway? Why were you snooping among my private things?”) ending in acceptance: “I’m sorry, Ammi, it was- it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that. I know it’s wrong, I know we are Muslim and I am not to do these kinds of things, to be around boys…”
More tears emerged from both of us as I acknowledged the harm and grief I had created and I spewed out a flurry of promises to never see this boy, or any boy again. We quietly reconciled as I promised to amend my ways and she slipped out of my room to get dinner started, the look of disappointment remaining on her face.
I sat down on my bed in the same spot my mother had left warm, still reeling from the intensity of our conversation. As much as I couldn’t bear the hurt I had given her, I still had trouble truly believing that love could be wrong, that someone as nice and thoughtful as D deserved to be kicked to the curb when we cared about each other. And frankly, I LIKED kissing! I certainly didn’t intend our physical relationship to go further than that, EVER.
As my thoughts raced with confusion over my conflicting wishes to please my parents and ‘be good’ and my desires to follow my heart and be independent, I suddenly realized I was still holding that folded leaflet of scribbles in my hand. I opened it and started reading, curious as to which diary entry had caused such a scandal. It was dated from a couple of weeks ago: “I’m at school, near D’s locker, and we’re holding hands. We hold a gaze and I kiss him, and it feels amazing. Suddenly, we’re outside and the sky feels like it’s opened up, the blue envelops us, the sunshine warms our skin… And then I think there were… vampires? Maybe zombies? Some sort of creepy creatures chased us around!”
I started and cocked my head in bewilderment at the strange series of sentences… Did I-? Was this-? Was THIS one of my DREAMS? Did my mother happen to stumble upon and read a snippet of one of the very few entries in my diary that wasn’t actually REAL? And I hadn’t even realized it until NOW, when I’d already admitted I’d kissed a boy?!
I was stunned, slid off my bed and on to the floor. Exhaled a deep, deep sigh, I looked up from the paper and shook my head at the ceiling, breaking into a small grin with watery eyes. If ever I wondered of God’s existence… well, at least it was confirmed: (s)he definitely had a very strange sense of humor.
May 27, 2012