Wednesday, April 05, 2006

November 2005 Diary Entry

Recent weeks have passed in a vicious blur of sorting belongings, packing, giving stuff away, appetite gone from anxiety, disappointment when sons don’t respond as expected, gratitude when they do. Dread that he will die before I get there, split second decisions made about cherished things, what stays, what goes, what to do with what’s left?

My cats were clingy. Do they have ESP? Hilary, my beautiful part Persian, is now happily at home with a friend. Alex, my outdoor adventurer cat, will remain in his territory. The landlord has agreed to feed and care for him. I am grateful for his kindness.

He said on the phone, “I’m dying and you’re worried about cats.” Who was it that said, “I could not love thee so did I not love honor more.” Likewise, if I could abandon two devoted cats would I reorganize my life and fly 6,000 miles to say our last goodbyes. A paradox…he has loved me longest while accepting least the tendencies he has pursued for a lifetime. A fight ensued. There were always the fights except in the early years, my teens and twenties, when I remained silent and retreated into clinical depression. With therapy I learned to fight back.

The marriage ended…at least on paper. He said, “Just as paper doesn’t make a marriage, it doesn’t make a divorce.” He continued his pursuit. Years later a therapist said to me, “There’s something about first marriages, the continuing hold on your mind, as though they were meant to be”. Whatever, he fulfilled a niche among my emotional needs that no one else could. For me there was never a second marriage.

Back to the present. “Sami, you want me to remarry you? So that I can inherit one eighth of your estate”, I say, “A lousy eighth”. It’s an insult to me and every other woman on the planet”. He answers that if I fight it, I will lose and the children and grandchildren will get nothing. This was decided by sharia (Islamic law) and he has no control over it. Over the phone I can hear him gasping for air as he argues with me and I declare I don’t want to fight with him when he is so sick. I muse about how the Israelis will confiscate it anyway and I may as well take a stand for the rights of women…change the law…research…. “Did Muhammad ever say only one eighth?

There are attorneys, female attorneys, Palestinians, serving with me on the board of an American advocacy group for Arab Americans. I’ll ask them the genesis of such an outrageous law. We had discussed it once before. I had objected strongly, “but what if she’s borne 20 children?” “Some do and it’s still only one eighth,” I was told. One warned me if I wanted to preserve the land for my sons I had better go there, remarry him, and live in the house he had built or the brothers and cousins would confiscate everything once my sons and I returned to the states. The woman who advised me did not know my family so her words were not an indictment of them. I asked if this was standard practice among Palestinians. She assured me it was. I often detected resentment toward her culture, perhaps because as she often said she had been married off to someone she did not love when she was seventeen. After moving to the states with him, giving birth to two children, and an ensuing divorce, she returned to school to earn three college degrees, including a law degree, from an American university while bringing up the children. Her ambition and accomplishments were admirable. I had reservations about her advice as she had voted on Bush for president and openly admitted to it.

My sisters-in-law, though a generation older than her, were not compelled by the family to marry anyone they didn’t wish to marry. They had accepted or rejected whomever they wished to marry among the men the family chose for them and then only after they were in their twenties and had earned college degrees. The marriages have lasted for decades, only one having ended by death of the husband.

I decide inheriting only one eighth is a bigger outrage than the tacky head scarves that are an affront to my sense of fairness. During summer in the American south, some Arab men walk around in the sweltering heat with short pants and cool summer shirts while their women are shrouded in black heat absorbing robes and the nun like beauty destroying head scarves. “You’re putting us down; putting us in ‘our place’, I scream silently defending my sisters who do not recognize me as their sister.

An old woman now, I have not lost that childish inner cry of, “It’s not fair.” It should have been broken by decades of the disappointments of life, transformed into acceptance by grudging wisdom. Not so. Buttressed by the self confidence of maturity and the fearlessness of a life mostly spent, it’s stronger than ever, dangerously stronger. “I won’t agree to one eighth,” I say. He says then I will lose all for myself, my sons, and the grandchildren.


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