I spent the beginning of this year chasing joy. Dancing, writing, and dating were my main coping mechanisms because, though things were going well for me outwardly, I was feeling strangely stagnant. Even as I enjoyed my freedom and focused more on my health than ever before, my life still felt a little too flighty. And if feeling flighty and stagnant at the same time sounds like a precarious mix, it’s because it is. Worse, my personal goals started to drift away from me, floating into the space in my brain reserved for things I find too lofty and intimidating. As a way to assuage the guilt I about not tackling my larger goals as aggressively as I’d planned, I found myself working on the things I felt were in arm’s reach for me: weight loss, romance, and more goal-setting. I put myself in a safe space for a few months and stayed there. Opportunities arose for me to challenge myself spiritually and creatively, but I let many of them pass me by because everything swirling around me for the first few months of the year was glittery and intriguing. But as wonderful as those things were, they were also distracting; disorienting, even. I was lost in a colorful cloud of self-care that had morphed into a period of indulgence that felt so good and so earned, that if it wasn’t for some serious self-assessment, I would’ve never found my way out.
Like I said before, I was definitely distracted.
Then, the weekend before the Afropunk festival in Brooklyn, we suffered a deep, personal loss at our own hands. Or rather, my own hands. We still went, though. I insisted. We got weekend passes, a room, and spent the weekend watching the colorful festival-goers in their amazing outfits. We drank overpriced ginger beer, held hands, and listened to bands while seated on the grass. As for me alone, I did all of this while being acutely aware that a cocktail of drugs I’d ingested was circulating in my body and dismantling a quarter-sized clot far before it could bloom into something. Into someone.
Funny how loss seems to be the only way the universe deems fit to pull me out of a dream state, but that’s usually how it goes to me. Something has to end, die, or be born for me to say, “Wow. I’ve been wasting my precious time.”
Also, questions around my fertility have always brought about questions of mortality for me. On a recent checkup, my doctor told me that it’s not uncommon for it to take six months for a woman in their thirties to become pregnant. Sure enough, we’d just passed that marker in our relationship.
Either way, the ink dried on that chapter and to sort my head out I revisited the goals I set for myself in the beginning of the year with hopes of focusing on my purpose again. But then the unexpected happened. The resilient version of myself that always comes along to pick me up during dark times called out sick. And as far as my goals were concerned? I fell flat on my face even as I tried my hardest to white-knuckle through. I don’t know whether it was grief or my hormones trying to regulate themselves again, but I felt sluggish. I felt like a part of me had died and the blood of it had seeped into other parts of my life, staining each of my endeavors. Marking them for failure. Or maybe I was projecting, and seeing things through the lens of my own despair and guilt. Either way, these are the facts of the few weeks that followed the festival.
Each time I found a house that I loved, someone put it under contract before I could see it in person.
Then, I got a rejection letter for a story submission that I worked really hard on.
My semi-new car conked out on me unexpectedly right after buying all my son’s school clothes, and it cost more than an inspection on a new home (which I’d also just paid for nothing because I thought I’d found the perfect house a few weeks prior) to fix it.
spiked my anxiety even more.
Eventually I decided that it wasn’t that my hormones were trying to regulate themselves again, as all the mommy blogs suggested. No; this was grief, heavy as a mountain and full as a swollen, yellow moon. Grief about once again failing at being a good Muslim (or any kind, for that matter), and about terminating a pregnancy that I was at first elated that my body even managed to produce. Grief about making a decision like that when I knew there was money enough, and plans for a house that could’ve easily fit a nursery. Grief about scratching out what could have been a beautiful part of my narrative using permanent, black pen.
It felt as if everything that swirled in the direction of my happiness for the first half of the year had done an about-face and began swirling counterclockwise, spiraling me toward depression and doom. But I’ve been in that space before, though. So again, I tried to summoned the same strength I used to blot out all the bad junk. I went to the gym, forced myself out of my writer’s block, and even altered my sleep schedule.
I suppose that worked out fine…especially since my new habit had become crying until I was exhausted enough to fall asleep as he lay next to me with his arms slung around my waist and his breath on my neck. But other than that sleeping position, I didn’t want to be touched. I lied and said that my breasts were still tender and the nurse at the clinic told me to abstain afterward, but that was only partially true and he knew it. In truth, I just couldn’t do it.
I kept trying to write, instead. Thanks to a little encouragement from my friends, that engine did eventually sputter back to life and I was grateful for it. Writing brought clarity. I felt like I was steering my ship away from the hypnotism and madness of an emotional aurora. I still needed a destination, but that was okay. I’d already decided that I’d pretended to know how to steer for long enough.
Yup. In the end I grudgingly did the thing that I lie and tell people that I do often but actually don’t: I prayed.
It started with little duas.
It’s not that I expected any of them to be answered. I think that it was more likely that I just enjoyed the ritual of it. I found it comforting to cup my hands and murmur the words. I wasn’t quite ready to pull my prayer rug down and use the kiblah-finder on my iPhone to figure out which direction to face in his bedroom, though, because our situation still wasn’t halal. So what would I say to God, anyway?
“Can you forgive me for this one huge thing and let me keep the other one going until I get it sorted out?
Doesn’t work that way. Or, at least that’s what I figured out from all my reading, and eventually accepted through trial and error. But I persisted. I gritted my teeth until the duas got longer. I kept with the ritual until the practice lead to me deciding what I wanted to do on my birthday, which had crept up on me as my tearful days rolled by.
“You want to do what?” he asked.
“I wanna go to the masjid on my birthday,” I repeated.
He took me somewhere nice for my birthday when we got back home. I smiled throughout, but I still felt empty. Nothing had changed. Even my body continued to betray me; I only wanted to eat and sleep. My mind joined that internal coup d’etat, too. I wrote things that I thought seemed brilliant before I went to bed, then downright awful to me when I got up the next day to reread and edit them. I began to feel like I was permanently off-kilter; suitably punished. Only this time, I didn’t tell him. Instead, I was “fine” and “didn’t want to talk about it.” Then, I got a ticket on my car at his place for my tags since I never bothered to get a visitor’s sticker and D.C.’s super-rapid gentrification comes with the caveat of oppressive zone enforcement. I was grateful. I used it as an excuse to move out, warning him that once they get blood lust for a tag, they just keep ticketing. He was frustrated that he couldn’t do anything to remedy the situation, but understood my position.
I called my mom and asked if I could park there. Then I asked if I could stay since it would be easier to sleep in the same location my car was “so that I could get to work–just until I close on the house.” She agreed enthusiastically. Her daughter was crashing for a month. How great. I braided her hair. She taught me to cook egusi. Then mafee. My step-dad joined in and it became a battle of sorts; the Americans against the Yoruba man. His pepper soups easily ground our egos to ogbono powder. We laughed at our old silly stories and looked at our old grainy pictures and my mother didn’t pick up on my sadness; couldn’t tell that I was off-center. In her defense, I was born a tad off-center, so it was probably hard for her to tell.
Then, something so random happened–an event so random, in fact, that I knew that it would either seal my relationship or break it.
“I’m not doing this for you,” he cut me off sharply, but calmly. “I’ve thought about it and I’ve made my decision.”
I cried and laughed, then did the same in reverse. I told my mom and she asked to go to the masjid with us. I wore a dress my jet setting step sister bought me while she was in Abuja. It had been in my trunk, wrapped in clear plastic and awaiting a special occasion. When I first saw it, I was sure that occasion would be an Eid ul Fitr. But it turns out it was meant for a shahada instead.
This is the part that gets strange a little. Know that though I struggle with my faith a lot, I was actually born Muslim. And all Muslims worth their medjool dates know that converts start of with a clean slate. Odometer set to all zeroes. For me, that meant that if I went back and was intimate with him after sitting on the perfectly vacuumed floor of the masjid and witnessing him declare himself Muslim, the blow-back of that would be on me.
So I simply decided that I wouldn’t, and had a difficult talk with him instead.
We had a trip coming up. One big hurrah for my baby sister’s birthday, and we’d already paid for it months in advance. The mini-mansion in Encino with a pool was booked, and all the other stuff that usually beckoned me in L.A awaited. But suddenly, I saw the trip for what it was: a test. A potentially disorienting, colorful blur of fun, alcohol, and sex.
And even though he talked about nikah, I don’t expect anything. I’m already grateful that we met because through my (albeit unorthodox) exposure, he took his shahada and my heart is full.
If we fall apart, I’ll always have that.
If we marry? Same.
The best part? Since returning from the trip, I’ve slept well. My head has been clear. As I repack my things and prepare to move into my first house (did I mention that I found the perfect one this time?), I’ve found that the space that my sadness placed between us brought me some much needed clarity. I’ve even popped my Quran app open more since the trip, trying to reconnect. I’m not where I need to be, but I’m trying.
No matter what does or doesn’t happen in my love life, my ultimate goal is to evolve from being a woman who solely chases joy. Because it’s not a constant state, and it’s not meant to be. Otherwise, how would I define it against anything else. I likely couldn’t. I can have enough joy. I can have love, amazing sex, dancing, success, etc., especially if I stay the course, pace myself, and savor it as it comes bit by bit. I can have it in the best way if I evolve from a woman who chases joy into one who seeks contentment.