By all normal expectations, we shouldn’t have been married.
In Pakistan and South Asia, there is the issue of caste. If anyone from there tells you any different, they’re covering it up to fit in. It is not as all-encompassing in Pakistan as it is in India, but it is very much a part of marriage decisions. I can prove it. Go to any Muslim magazine. Flip to the back. You’ll see matrimonials. Read the ads. You might see, for example, the word “Rajput”. That’s a caste. They want to marry someone from their caste. They only want to marry someone from their caste.
On top of not being in her caste, or any that I know of, I’m a kalloo, a black. Anti-dark skin and anti-African racism has the potential to unite the world. It is one thing that most cultures seem to agree on, including, sickly, dark-skinned people and Africans themselves. If anyone from anywhere tells you this isn’t true, just go to where they’re from and ask any dark-skinned people or Africans about that. Or, when you visit a country, compare how many dark-skinned people you see on the street compared to how many you see on TV. The only ones you’ll see are in the “before” portion of the skin-lightening cream commercials.
And Pakistan is a controversial country to be connected to, to say the least. A lot of people fear it, or outright hate it. I remember driving a newly-wed couple from their wedding to a hotel for their honeymoon.
“Are you married, too?”
“Oh, really? Where’d you get married?”
We really do make an odd-couple. We’re over a foot apart in height. I’m black, she’s white. I’m the far-flung rebel, she’s the goody-goody homebody. I’m extroverted, she’s introverted. And our cultures and languages are vastly different.
“Why did you say yes when they asked if you wanted to marry me?”
“I don’t know.”
That’s the answer I always get when I ask, and I believe it. When she asks me, I can’t come up with anything different.
Life is like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. Remember those? You read through a situation and it ends with the character facing two choices:
Choose A and turn to page X.
Choose B and turn to page Y.
Your choice, in turn, leads to two more choices. But you didn’t know what they’d be until you’d already turned the page to them.
Except in life, you can’t turn back the page. That choice is never available to you. You don’t come to the options of consequences of your choice, and decide to go back and pick others. You can only continue to choose. And that’s it. There’s no other way to describe it.
It doesn’t matter why I did what I did, because it’s already done; but I’ll still try to tell you. For one, the taste of adventure intrigued me. I’ve always wanted something different. There’s always been something about where I am- wherever I am- and who I am- though the most part I love- that I’ve hated. I’ve always wanted to be different, to do different. Whenever I look at the road that’s paved for me, I step off it and walk on the grass. It’s softer on my feet.
I used to be so filled with rage, and I still am, but no longer consumed by it. I wanted revenge against the society I was born in. You know what I hated the most? Humiliation. I hated the fact that I was in America because my every second there was a reminder that my ancestors had been dominated, ripped from their lands and history, my history, raped and enslaved. I hated my own- the European trophy on the grave of my African and Native American ancestors. I looked around and all I saw was people being abused, and taking it. It was unfathomable. Talk about my mama, and I woulda beat you up, but you know what the real insult was? Telling me what to do. Who did you think you were that I would obey you? Who did you think I was? I will not do what you say, even if it’s what I want to do, for the exact reason that you told me to do it. I will correct you. Further, I will humiliate you for your arrogance against me. I will make you wallow, publicly, in the humiliation you dared to believe I would accept.
I remember once, in 2nd grade, there was an assembly. So the teacher told us to line up and get ready to go. I can’t tell you why, but I refused. She made every threat, but I would not get in line with the rest of the class. Finally, she turned off the lights and led the class out. I called her bluff and stayed right there, until the assembly finished and they came back. Her blunder was that I had no bluff. There was nothing anyone could do to me, no threat that I could even imagine, that was worse than living with humiliation. I could endure anything except shame. Living with the memory of oppression was a worse fate than death.
You know what really used to trip me out? Watching everybody tripping out on me. I’d be looking at them taking orders and conforming and I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t they see they didn’t have to? How could they ever want to? I mean I was there setting the example, fighting for all of us, right in front of their faces. It hurt me to watch them endure what in my eyes could only be suffering, and I was fundamentally, absolutely bewildered that they couldn’t see the point. I was really popular, these were my friends. I was the class clown, class rebel and honor roll student, all at the same time. Everybody liked me and was probably a little leery of me at the same time.
So everything and everyone feels familiar and utterly foreign to me at the same time. There’s no crowd I don’t feel lonely in, no people I can consider wholly mine, none who consider me wholly theirs.
That’s probably why I travel, why I’m free. I have nothing to gain or lose. I feel like I can do anything. There’s nothing to hold me back. I’m always on the outside looking in, and the inside looking out. It’s not so much that I transcend, it’s that everywhere is the same. There are just the obligatory adjustments of language, currency, time zone, etc. Hard times ain’t a hurdle for me.
So that’s why I said yes to the marriage.
Sometimes people say, “I wish I could’ve done that.” Not about this “strange marriage” but other things I’ve done, like transferring to another university, or studying abroad. I’m like “Why couldn’t you have? You could’ve applied as easily as me…” But it wasn’t the practicalities they were talking about. It is only now, and I mean at this exact moment as I am writing to you, that I realize what it was really all about.
You can’t dream.
In Sociology, I learned that institutionalization means taking the present reality for granted to the extent that you can’t imagine anything else, even if you don’t like it, even if it feels wrong.
You can’t even picture yourself even trying.
This isn’t what you want, you’re not who you want, but at least you know what’s on the next page. If you start choosing your own way, you won’t know, and that’s why you don’t choose it. I don’t blame you, because I’m as scared as you. But what I’m scared of is what’s on this page, and what I know is on the next one. What I’m scared of is the way we feel right now. The reason I take the risk isn’t because I’m stronger than you. I have no idea what’s gonna happen next and I swear to God that I’m afraid. But I know it’s our only chance, and that’s why I take it. I’m not brave- I’m just less afraid of change than the misery of things staying the same.
And that’s all this story is really about when you think about: a choice. One simple choice, and all the choices that were opened or closed to me after it. Marry the girl or not. At the same time, so much of that choice was beyond my choosing. Her father chose Islam over culture and that gave his daughter the choice. She, in turn, chose yes, which gave me the choice. There is a verse in the Qur-an which is translated as “and you do not choose except as Allah Chooses”. Before we choose anything, so much has been chosen before it for us to even be able to.
Now I’m gonna ask you a question, the answer to which is a question, that only I can answer.
Do you know what my friend just texted me, tonight, right before I started writing this chapter?
“Based on the story i’m reading on the net. have you been back home with your wife yet?”
The answer’s no and yes: no, I have not taken her to the land of my upbringing; yes, for we are home wherever we are. Wherever we arrive, we project an aura, the same aura, from our hearts, and its beams meet itself right at the top of wherever we are, then we bring it down, then it fills the entire space that we are in. Then we are home, in our love, in our special culture.
Our dream is the only home we have, and by Islam we realize them: that every person was made to live in peace- wholeness within, unity without. Every person has the right to inherit that peace, the duty to uphold it, and the responsibility to pass it . It is only that, truly, that unites my wife and I, across the chasms of culture, background, and personality: we share the same dream.
Don’t underestimate them: dreams are the most powerful things in this world. And the most dangerous. Name anything, and we have more than enough of it. Maybe they’re being squandered or hoarded, but there’s more than enough water, food, land, oil, everything. The one thing there isn’t enough of is room for everyone’s dream to come true. It is for this alone that wars are fought. This, not money, is the root of all evil, for money is only a means to achieve. This is the source of every lie- for at all times, every effort is being made to create your dream for you, because your dreams determine your choices. Everyone wants you to choose as they have chosen, because in life, really, there are only 2 choices: wake up to your dream one day, or somebody else’s.