How to find light in the darkness

There are conversation that are hard to forget; hard to forgive.

A few years ago, a conversation with a friend turned awry. During our conversation, she brought up the topic of religion. She started with the question: “What does Allah mean?” I explained that the word was an Arabic term for the word God or dios.

I thought that was the end of her curiosity, until she responded with “Allah is not God. My God is not your God.” I was confused my her remark, so I responded with, “Well, there is only one God.” She went on to explain that her God is one of love, mine was one of war. I was deeply hurt by her comment, but I approached it gently. I told her that she may have misunderstood from the media what the meaning of Islam was (I reminded myself that she had never been exposed to another religion).

She was physically worked up; angry that I did not accept her explanation. I began to realize that she was purposely trying to provoke a reaction.

I remember feeling my throat closing and a sharp pain in my gut. The same reaction I feel when I am about to cry and cannot run away.

Then, she said to me, “Everyone knows the evil in your religion; how you have to deceive and befriend Christians in order to “get by” in the world. I don’t know why you are the only one blind to it.”

My friend, whom I treated as part of my family. One of the only people I trusted to care for my children. I felt like collapsing. It is so different when a keyboard warrior attacks you, but when it is a person that you hold in high regard turns on you, how do you respond? I wanted to physically collapse.

I ended the conversation by calling her an “ignorant person” and asked her to leave my home. After she left, I cried a lot.

The details of the conversation are much worse than I can write.

One week after the confrontation, she called to apologize. I accepted her apology and have since tried to repair my relationship with her. We have become friends again, but it has been almost a year and I still feel very hurt when I remember that conversation. The words that hurt the most were “everyone knows about the evil in your religion”. For the past year, I accepted those words from her. I have second guessed many things; the sincerity of my friendships, my Muslim community, among many other things. I have found myself avoiding talks of religion and any conversation that may reveal that I am a firm believer. For the past year, I have been truly afraid that another person I trusted would turn on me, like the comment section of a social media post gone incarnate.

I have become very nervous when people around me bring up topics surrounding Islam. The words, “everyone knows about the evil in your religion” has made me second guess my family and friends, feelings that they are simply to scared to lash out at me in the same way my friend did at my home.

It has been really hard to forget this particular incident, although I have chosen to forgive her. I hold no ill will towards my friend. Although she was wrong, she is not completely at fault. I have accepted to believe that there are many other factors at hand that have influenced the way she reacted that day.

I try to have hope that forgiveness, especially with your loved ones, can start a process of healing for oneself and the world at large. I try to hold on to this idea.

Today, a friend announced that he would give his first sermon at his Methodist Church. He asked the social world for prayers. A prayer that always makes me surrender myself to God on important days came to mind, the Prayer of Light, also known as the prayer of the prophet Muhammed (pbuh). I hesitated to send it to him, but I went ahead and did so in support of his calling to spread the word of God. I had not shared anything Islam-related with anyone in a very long time, so was a little bit afraid of his response. He responded with gratitude and went on to say how beautiful he found Islam. He further explained that he enjoyed the Quran and recitations. His response made me cry. A Christian, a pastor, validating my beliefs as ones that are good.

It took me a few hours to respond emotionally to the message. Tonight, I have cried a lot. I remembered the scar that my friend left a year ago. That feeling of invalidation and spite towards the path that I hold dearest to my heart; that path through which has penetrated every part of my being with Light.

I am recovering from an encounter that has greatly affected the way I express myself religiously, because I am afraid to do so. Today, my pastor-friend’s message has started the healing process.

There are so many other things going through my mind. How are people able to find common ground despite their religious differences? How do we use framework of our chosen religion to better love others? How do we transcend the human limitations of our chosen religion to connect with people from all walks of life? Is that still possible in today’s world? I know it is possible and I need to hold on to this thread of hope to continue to heal emotionally and grow spiritually.

Paying Myself First: On Beauty and Fashion

Why write about fashion and beauty in such a usually-serious blog? After two years of compulsive budgeting in order to pay off heavy debt, I began to feel a little bit depressed that all my paychecks were being used to pay lenders and debt collectors. It was my debt, and I was set on paying it rather than taking the easier way out through bankruptcy. I was lucky to have a stable job that allowed me to pay off my debt, but I also neglected myself a bit along the way. I finally decided to dedicate a bit of time, effort and money to something I enjoyed that wouldn’t be so time consuming or “heavy” in nature. I like art and beauty products.

Why did I decide to start rebuilding my closet? I am not usually into fashion, but I had to rebuild a wardrobe after getting on a dieting plan that helped me lose over 30lbs and go down 3 sizes. I also had two kids within a three-years span, was overweight, was experiencing some health concerns, and just was not feeling like myself overall. I also wanted a fun hobby that was light and fun. I am by no means a beauty and fashion expert, but I can honestly say that it did not cost me much to rebuild an entire closet of beautiful pieces of clothing for work and play. I spent some money, but it was a relatively small amount compared to what some friends may think. When I say I rebuilt my closet, I mean that I boxed up everything that no longer fit me and either sold or donated it. Over the months, I developed a few hacks on rebuilding a closet around a tight budget. I also would like to clarify that I am not a sponsor where companies will basically pay me to have their products. I have no time for a second job as a full-time couponer or fashion sponsor (or whatever!). The list below are personal tips, and based on services I have used / things I have done that worked well.

The tips I will share are good for someone with a workable budget that can be organized to explore brands, personal styles, beauty products, and make good purchasing decisions. Some money is expected to be spent, but these tips will help you cut big corners.

  1. Sell your things: This is a good place to start: by cleaning out and building a workable budget. You will be surprised at the things people buy. Trust me, there’s a buyer for almost anything. If you have not used it in 12 months, you probably will not use it. Make some money before it gets damaged or collects dust and odors. Some time around November, I grabbed all the things in my home that my kids and I hadn’t used in over a year and posted them online. I made a few hundred bucks doing this and it started a workable budget to start rebuilding my closet. Here are some suggestions where you can sell your goods:
    1. eBay: Great for independent vendors. I sold kids clothes, party decorations and other random things. Don’t post things that are heavy and expensive to ship.
    2. Amazon: Not great for independent vendors unless you have an established online presence. It is great for selling used books. I sold a few textbooks that were collecting dust and made a few hundred bucks.
    3. ThredUp*: This is a great quality used-clothing online store. You can both sell your clothes to them (though they pay very little) and purchase lightly used designer clothing. I purchased basic work pants and a few pairs of shoes. When you first sign up, they will send you coupon codes to use. Their online platform is also great, as you can search by style, size, category, colors, and so on.
    4. Craigslist: I use this site to sell things that are difficult to ship, such as strollers, furniture, bags of baby clothing, and so on. I sold over $100 in kids clothing using Craigslist–I literally just divided them by size, posted various pictures and had interested locals come and get them. This site is very public, so it’s important to use safety protocol (i.e., meet in public places, verify buyers by speaking to them by phone only, and have friends present if possible).
  2. Coupons: This is an obvious tip. Let me just say that I will never be one of those extreme couponers whose closets look like Walmart. I can’t do it, I won’t do it. I find it a bit compulsive, but to each their own. With that said, it’s still great to know exactly where to find the best coupons for additional discounts.
    1. Mail-in coupons: Those annoying coupons you get sent in the mail…just clip the ones you may use and clean them out every week.
    2. Phone applications: Most stores have free mobile apps with sections for coupons if you register your e-mail. Trust me, you can save quite a bit during your shopping trips. It all adds up.
  3. Monthly subscriptions: These subscription services are not “new,” but I don’t know many people who use them. Basically, you pay a monthly fee and receive a box of sample (and sometimes full size) goods to try out and keep. It’s awesome if you’re rediscovering your tastes and interests. Most of them allow you to cancel any time you need to take a break. I tried all the following, but only kept a few after testing them out.
    1. Birchbox*: A $10 a month subscription service that allows you to sample 5-6 beauty and lifestyle products. When you review the products, you earn points and cash to shop. My daily beauty ritual is low-key, so little samples here and there keep my stash full. I don’t normally commit to full-size products anyway, but there’s always that one “unicorn” product you are thankful you found.
    2. Stitchfix: I’m not a huge fan, but I tried it out for 4 months at $20 per box (1 box per month) because people rave about it and I wanted to give them an honest try. This styling service subscription sends you 5 pieces of clothing and accessories per month. You keep what you want and send the rest back in a pre-paid envelope. The $20 styling fee is deducted from any item(s) you purchase. I found the clothing to be very overpriced, but it was worth trying out because I got to test new styles that I normally wouldn’t. It helped me define my style from the comfort of my home. I only bought one necklace that I was classic and my style. This service won’t save you money (items are very overpriced), but it will be a fun experience to try out.
  4. Rent the fashion: This is my favorite hack. If you don’t want to commit to fashion pieces, think about renting them. The plus is that it is a way to “reuse” and share clothing– kind of like sharing a closet with a friend. Some people argue that you’re throwing the money away, because your’re not keeping the clothes. If you’re someone who sticks to classics always, then this may not be for you. However, if you like to keep a few short-lived fashion pieces in your closet, why not keep them on rotation?
    1. LeTote*: This company allows you to rent 5-6 pieces of clothing per month for a fixed monthly fee. They also have maternity. You can purchase the items you love for a discounted price and return what you are done using. When you’re tote is ready to be styled, you are notified via email, you enter your account and select the items you want to be sent to you from your virtual closet. Most totes ship out the same day and you’ll have your tote within 2 days. What I loved, I purchased.
    2. Rocksbox: This company allows you to rent designer jewelry for $19 per month and you receive a $10 credit towards any purchase you may make. You wear your set, keep/pay for what you love, and return what you don’t want to keep. The next box is ready within days again.
  5. Shopping Applications: These are different than store apps. Shopping apps advertise to you various products and usually give you some type of reward for being an active user of the app. Basically, they reward you to allow them to advertise products to you.
    1. Shopkick*: This shopping app gives you points (“kicks”) for entering selected stores, scanning items, making purchases and referring friends. You can convert points into gift cards of various amounts. You’ll need a smart phone to effectively use this app and it’s most appropriate for those who like to physically go to stores. I have received over $100 in Sephora giftcards.
    2. Ebates*: This app / website gives you cash back when you make online purchases. Many popular stores are available through this site and each store have different cash back % rates. You also get cash when a referral makes their first purchase. Every 3 months, they’ll disburse your money by mailing you a check or making a deposit to your Paypal account.
  6. Return eligible things: I hesitated to include this point, because I find compulsive returning to be in poor taste. However, there are times when we buy things on a whim, put them away and never use them. If you have such forgotten items that qualify for returns, get them back to the store and get some credit to use. The other day, I found a beauty product that I bought a few months back; I had never used it, and just stuck it in the drawer with its receipt. I took it back to the store and traded it in for something that I actually needed. It was still my money, but I put that money to better use.
  7. Buy Second Hand: I like buying second hand for the same reason that I like renting. I find it to be less wasteful than shopping new. Also, you save a ton on high quality brands.
    1. Thrift stores
    2. Vintage shops
    3. Craigslist
    5. Garage sales
  8. Trade with Friends: I have started to make conversations about fashion and beauty a part of my regular conversation with friends of similar interests. I always thought that swapping was just something nerds like myself did only with books, but just the other day my friend mentioned that she needed warm clothes for a trip to New Jersey. I told her I had a ton of winter clothes in her size. I actually offered to lend / give them to her, but she suggested to buy them from me or do a trade for one of the handbags she sells. I was like…sure! I think we both got a steal!
  9. Use Flex Dollars: If you’re employer offers flex dollars (WageWorks) for medical things, I cannot emphasize how useful they are to save money. Basically, a flex account allows an employee to request a certain amount of their wage to be available to them at the beginning of the year pre-tax. If you use glasses, this is a great way to save money on nice, fashionable eye glasses.
  10. Create your own fashion: If you have a crafty skill, put it to good use. I do not sew and truly wish I would so that I can cut corners with hemming my own pants and making some unique fashion pieces. I knit and crochet and make neckwarmers every year. I wear what I make and sometimes even sell them right off my neck. I make extra cash with my own fashionable creations.

*The services that I strongly enjoy and believe it include a referral link. The referral link takes you directly to the site, but most likely gives both of us some kind of credit, points, or other incentive. Nevertheless, this blog or post is not sponsored by any of these sites/ companies and all opinions here are my own.

If there is anything I have learned in the past 6 months of rebuilding a closet is that:

  1. Fashion changes very quickly. This is why I am particularly fond of investing in good rental companies that allow me to keep fashionable pieces on a rotational basis. I have found it more wasteful to buy fashionable pieces that I will not like in a few months.
  2. Investing in basics (jeans, work pants, basic tops,  and so on) can be done affordably through consignment stores and a high quality online store (I love* the most).
  3. Referrals pay off big time. In the same way I have shared with you guys my referral links of my favorite services, share them with your friends. Companies reward you with shopping credit every time you bring a successful referral. Don’t be compulsive in giving referrals to just anything; try out various services and only refer the ones you most believe in. If the services you share are of good value, most friends will be glad you shared it with them.
  4. Thifty does not have to be tacky. In the time I have spent rebuilding my closet, I have not turned to any bad habits or abusing shopping practices. I think I got a little obnoxious with my referrals to Shopkick, but I had a big goal (which I reach today, by the way, of getting my favorite perfume all on Sephora giftcards). Other than that, it’s been important to me to keep it smart and fun, but classy.

I am 6-months new to this, so I am sure there are a ton of other hacks and tips for rebuilding a closet and one’s beauty stash. I would love to learn more to anyone reading who may want to share.

Prayers and Altars

I grew up around altars. Little make shift altars made from spare glass tables that my family’s witches would decorate with cheap, water-stained doilies from the dollar store.

Wait. I am not being fair when I said they are witches. I do not really have any witches in my family, but growing up around a lot of ladies who prayed a lot–to God, to Jesus, to saints and other Afro deities whose names were all robust and full of diphthongs in their pronunciation–I always imaged that I grew up around witches.

Truth is, I never felt comfortable in thinking too much in the unseen. I know I was supposed to believe in someone named Papa Dios and a bloody-faced Jesus, but I was also told to believe in the seen –that statue of the gorgeous Saint Barbara, the morose Virgin Mary, the list of saints that decked the churches and altars unto which I grew up kneeling.

I also did not like to pray on cue. I spent most Sunday admiring stained glass windows, growing increasingly uncomfortable while sitting on wooden pews; I used to narrated the stories of all the saints that surrounded me. I thought about the personal details in their lives, such as the food they ate and the way they may have laughed at jokes. I had to humanize them in the churches that would treat them as deities. I needed to know all of their stories.

I also wasn’t one much for confession. I felt uncomfortable sharing sins with a strange man in a black suit. When I would confess, I always went through the same list of sins that included disobeying my parents, having bad thoughts and saying bad words. I always received 5 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Fathers as penance. I never completed my penance, but I always felt bad about lying to the priest and asked God to forgive me for that. Pretending to pray became an art because it meant that I could kneel at the very front of the altar until I was finished. I didn’t have to return to the wooden pew and the teachers could not say anything to me because they would not dare interrupt my penance.

I think I hated absolutely everything about Catholic school. Looking back, I felt uncomfortable with all small acts of indoctrination, but I never resisted. I was an obedient Catholic school kid. I was an altar girl once too. In all honesty, though, joining the altar team was part of the feminist inside of me who knew that altar boys were the norm until the Church recently decided that girls weren’t as dirty as originally thought and could handle the sacred books and chalices at the altar. I was the only altar girl at my ostentatious church and I was proud of that.

It has been approximately 12 years since I have kneeled at a church altar. I had left Catholicism at the age of 16 and spent many hard-earned dollars at therapist sessions trying to understand why I personally became so affected by the rituals, ceremonies and submission that my child body was forced into since the day I was born. I have been thrust into buckets of herbal water butt naked; I have witnessed the clever way an average-sized woman can decapitate a chicken in a sacrificial ritual; have been left for hours in a room full of wooden deities and their plates of food; have been told when to kneel, confess, pray and repent.

When I decided to release myself from gods and altars, I felt lost but also relieved. I could start all over on my journey to understand my Creator. Somewhere along the road, I met a lot of Muslim people and I also met Islam. Somewhere along that same road, I converted to Islam. I really like Islam. It’s a simple thing to say, but that’s just how it is. After so much awkward worship, I finally felt like I found a simple avenue to God.

But every few years of my life I enter into an existential crisis. Recently, I was thrust into a life changing experience when I met Valeda — the lady who could heal (name changed). I cannot tell you much about the predicament that lead me to meet Valeda, but I can tell you that Valeda can heal; Valeda can know things about people, places and things. Valeda is not a self-promoting fortune teller and she explained that nothing she does is “magic”. She assured me that her gifts were genuine and only possible through God, that she never took money for her help, and that she never used her gifts to harm (only to help). About a month ago, I experienced her healing first hand–and being healed literally felt like my soul was a stagnate river that began moving again. The healing I received nudged me in the right direction and saved my life. Valeda is a Catholic, which complicates my understanding of my beliefs and existence so much more. I do not think I am Catholic by belief even still, but I have come to the conclusion that shit is complicated and that God works through many people’s hands and in a million ways we will never understand.

I still don’t fully understand God. I still don’t fully feel satisfied with my understanding of God and this insatiable thirst only opens me up to accept the many ways that God works through his Creation.

Yesterday, my toddler got up and wrapped herself up in my sweater as if it were a hijab. She said “Allahu Akbar” and kneeled down to pray salaat. I was happy and her father was feeling proud that his daughter began to imitate him in worship. In the middle of the room, my toddler bowed, stood erect, bowed again and prostrated. She lifted one finger in her right hand (the indication for the single God) while performing worship. My daughter sat at her altar of an Arabic prayer rug, probably unaware that she herself has already began her own journey of prayers and altars on her way to knowing her God.

On Why I Support Gaza; Feel Gaza; Am Gaza

Right around this time of Ramadan in 2011, I had gone to a nearby local Arabic market to pick up fresh dates. The owner of the market, a Palestinian who was fluent in English, Spanish and Arabic, greeted me in a manner that is so familiar to me and my Cuban roots; a grandfather-like laugh that was full of things to share with this apparently young and naive stranger at his market: “You could be my granddaughter”.

While I shopped, he started to tell me stories of a month called Ramadhan. He had no idea I was Muslim, and I didn’t find a need to tell him. I just listened to him like I was used to listening to my grandparents’ stories—full of vivid imagery and memories. He told me how he came during the inception of the occupation and had settled in Miami where he married a Cuban woman and had children. He learned to speak Spanish fluently over the years, and I was further surprised by his usage of Cuban expressions and mannerisms too. He offered me a taste of the dates before I bought them, but I told him I was fasting too. He said I was the first Cuban Muslim he had ever met and ran back to get me a giant container of homemade rice and lamb. He also told me that he cooked for the local mosque every night during Ramadan and bragged that his dishes were everybody’s favorite. I wanted to pay him, but he refused and told me it was his responsibility to feed a fasting sister.

This morning, I wonder about Palestinians like him who have been fortunate enough to escape the terrible bloodshed that has occurred the past few weeks. Those who have settled in lands like the United States and replanted their roots to ensure that their children would live humble, yet safe, lives. The displaced millions. Like the Cubans in Miami, would they continue to hold on to hope and stories of days long gone? Will they show their children pictures of monuments and markets, and tell them stories of safer streets, more wholesome fruit and beautiful beaches like my parents did with me growing up? As a Cuban-American who grew up in the heart of a Cuban community in Miami, I grew up overhearing nostalgic men retelling stories of Cuba at café joints, like Versailles and La Carreta; voices talking about a day when the oppressive Castro regime would disappear; some even wishing el hijo de puta to be dead and forgotten.

Every now and then, you’ll overhear a Cuban wondering aloud of the malparido is dead or alive, but we all know that it wouldn’t make a difference because that land cannot heal overnight. As a child of Cuban immigrants, I sympathize with the Palestinian people, but I carry only a second-handed account of having a homeland raped by oppressive ideologies.

But the fight of the Cuban people and Palestinians are not the same. The Cuban people have not been systematically invalidated as human beings like the Palestinians have; we have not been wrongly branded as enemies to values like “democracy” and “freedom”. Our collective ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation and religion have not been used as tools to guarantee the rejoicing of our collective displacement and slaughter. What happens to the stories and histories of a people whose very identity and existence denies them the right to gain sympathy for their struggle and have the entire world watch while their civilians and homeland is beaten to a pulp?

It has always been in my nature and academic training to see two sides to every story; to dissect narratives for multiple perspectives and meanings, and unearth complications for the sake of avoiding reduction and simplifications. The problem is that the occupation is one of the few narratives without two sides because one side has been systematically silenced; the criticism of the actions performed by the Israeli state onto the Palestinians is nearly impossible without some sort of backlash. Today, I turned on computer to catch up with some news and there was a picture of a Palestinian father holding his daughter–same age as my own– who had part of her head blown off; the little girl’s brains dripped from her skull and I could almost hear his father’s cry. I wondered how many times that image had been seen and not felt; or worse, dismissed as just a casualty of war. This is not a war. When a man goes out to kill deer, he refers to this dynamic as a sport, a hunt or a game. Never does he refer to the imbalance of power between his armed self and his prey as a “war”. Why do we do so with the clear imbalance of arms, resources and death toll between the Palestinians and Israeli Defense Force?

A few days ago, I was asked by a relative why the Palestinian struggle was any more important than the recent deaths of the Ukranian people. The comment came after a discussion of why I had decided to start sharing alternative news about Gaza on my social media page. The response to that is that one life is no more important than another life; and there is a saying in Islam that the weight of one life is equal to that of the entire mankind. All life is sacred, and as such, a Palestinian’s victim’s life is not more important than an Israeli victim’s life. Life is life, and it must be preserved and treated in a dignified way until we return to our Creator. However, it is critical that we stop creating more distractions from what is currently happening in Gaza. The Israeli attacks began at the beginning of July, the beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan, with the claim that Hamas had kidnapped and murdered 3 Israeli boys (a claim that has now been corrected by the Israeli government itself); the attacks on the Palestinians continued while the world was distracted by the World Cup, by the 3 plane crashes and the atrocities occurring in Ukraine. For those who continue to passionately advocate for the Palestinians (even if it’s just by trying to raise awareness), it is critical that  others’ efforts to make the issue a casual one (“oh, this has been happening forever between the Arabs and Jews” or “I am tired of seeing bloodshed,” or “What’s wrong with Israel’s right to defend itself?” These moments must continue to be interrupted with awareness and education.   Allowing others to turn away, is to play a role in passively watching a country and ethnic group wiped off the map. Literally. Victims will always exist on both sides, but a neutral and polite position is no longer logical nor okay.

Career and Motherhood

Today my alarm did not go off. I was supposed to be at the store at noon, and I woke up at 12:30 and knew I could not get there until another 2 hours.

While getting dressed, my daughter woke up crying. She had been sick for the past few days with a slight fever due to an ear infection. My husband had been taking care of her these days that I have been working at the store. I had to return to the store because we need the extra cash.

Walking out the door, I here my daughter calling out to me in-between coughs from her room. I stopped, turned around and walked back to my daughter to carry her for a bit. I changed her diaper and rocked her for a few minutes before I started to cry. I didn’t want to go to the store to work today. I wanted to play with my daughter who was suddenly well and happy when I came to her. 

I called the store manager and explained to her that I wouldn’t be coming in today. She understood and gave me the day off.

Going back to the workplace after 15 months, I am going through a lot of emotions. I miss my daughter every second that I am away from her. She goes to daycare for a few hours per day, but it’s not the same when I feel like I am leaving her. Friday night, I came home at 8:30pm and she wasn’t in her usual friendly mood. I blamed myself for being away for so many hours. 

I am currently seeking a full-time job within my own career field, the education industry. It may not be long before I need to start working full-time. I think it’s important for a woman to be independent and work, especially if she has invested so much time in building a career. I also think it’s important for mothers to be mothers. Finding the perfect balance without shredding your emotions apart is an art. This balance depends on women’s ability to act in superhuman ways and do a juggling act in perfect harmony. 

Right now, I am typing this and watching my daughter chasing our cat. Earlier, she was dancing to the tune of Garfield. She also stole my cell phone and ran around the house pretending she was talking to someone on it. It was all hilarious. 

I am glad I stayed home and I thank God for the wisdom and strength to make that decision today. I know that I will not always be able to make this decision and I know there may be moments i will miss. There are many sacrifices that women have to make today in order to pursue careers, achieve independence and be good mothers. These sacrifices causes us to second guess ourselves, blame ourselves and peel at our psychological wellness. 

I pray for my daughter’s growth and that a smile will always be spread across her face. I pray that the bond that holds my husband and I together continues to strengthen. I pray that the efforts that my husband and I have put into our education and into building our careers will foster happiness and reward and never division. I pray that I find my balance and that I never forget that every moment is an important moment.

A Stream of Thoughts on Depression and Death

It’s 4.41pm when I begin writing this post.

Just today, I applied to 17 job postings to which I meet the minimum requirements and qualifications. 17 carefully crafted applications in one day. Each submission bringing a new hope and a different vision of how my life could be. Of the various possibilities of my grown up life.

Over the past few months, I decided that I should begin taking career-searching seriously. I mean, I had been running a business for over 2 years quite successfully and profitably. However, the past two months with the critical illness of my father, I have fallen into a depression.

This is the story of my great depression.

It’s only been two months since my father fell critically ill and my family went through the hell of his near-death experience that eventually lead to an amputation of his right leg. He had lost the left leg to diabetes 18 years ago, when I was eight years old. I still remember when my dad returned home from the hospital after his first amputation. I spent a whole week without looking at him. I was afraid of what I would see (or would not see). I remember him feeling hurt, but taking it slowly with me. Not my brother, though. My brother jumped right on my dad to hug and kiss him. One day, he asked me if I wanted to see it, and I was afraid, but said yes. He showed me the stitch marks and I asked him, “is that it?” I lost my fear. Truth is, that while he had been hospitalized for 3 months, I had convinced myself that he had died and that the father who had returned home was a robot that my mom ordered so that we wouldn’t have to feel so bad about my dad. I had nightmares of my father being a robot for weeks, or months.

Over the past months, I have fallen apart emotionally, psychologically. Waking up in the middle of the night yelling in panic because I had dreamt that I was in the surgery room while surgeons patiently and painstakingly amputated my father’s legs and rewired him back together. Like an automobile. Like the inner plumbing of your kitchen sink. Our bodies. They are nightmares. And doctors, their hands.

Four years ago, I vowed never to have an alcoholic drink again. I became Muslim and this was my big step. Three weeks ago, I had an entire bottle of cheap wine and cried myself to sleep. For those who aren’t regular wine drinkers, the sensation goes like this: you take a sip and get goosebumps all over your body. The hairs stick right up. After a few sips, the cheap wine begins to taste bitter; it never tastes sweet as it should. After many sips, you begin to feel numbness on your skin, hands and things move a bit slower. It’s like anesthesia running through your veins. My husband came home to a mumbling wife. It’s truly tragic to think about what I have become over the months. A depressive maniac who cries and yells from macabre nightmares.

I have another confession. This one is worse, but please just listen. This one made me cry for a long time. Two weeks ago, I decided to spend the day with my 15 month year old daughter, so I kept her from daycare. I went to the yarn store with her because I wanted to make her something warm for the approaching cold weather. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I left her inside the car. I did. She grew quiet while driving and since I wasn’t used to having her with me during the week, I simply forgot her and left her in the car when I went shopping. My hairs are raised just remembering what I did–to remember that my daughter could potentially suffocate because my head is no longer clear. It’s a confession that I am deeply ashamed and disturbed by. At the store, I suddenly remembered that my baby was in the car, dropped the 6 packs of holiday-colored ribbons on the ground and ran out of the store screaming with tears in my eyes. When I found her she was sweating, but she was okay. Thank God. She was okay. I cried myself to sleep that night too and had more nightmares. My head is no longer clear. I love my daughter and am usually the best mother. But, this day, I failed.

I applied to 17 jobs today, because I need healthcare. My husband’s healthcare cannot be extended to us (for reasons I can’t go into now), and I need healthcare. I end up tossing myself in cold showers every time I get a fever as to avoid the hospital. Over the past 6 months, I have applied to over 80 jobs that I qualify for and nothing. Nothing to show for a Master’s degree and plenty of unpaid student loans. No way to pay those loans back without a steady job. Lenders won’t stop calling and I tell them the same story, “I am unemployed, cannot pay anything and that I wish I could.” I really wish I could pay my bills–it leaves me satisfied and I used to enjoy watching my credit score go up a few points each time I paid off any bill.

After my father’s amputation 1 month ago, I lost interest in my consulting business and just let it fall apart slowly. I get work every now and then, but mostly, I get a bunch of hagglers. My desperation stinks and they can smell it. What I used to charge Whole Foods value, I now charge at Walmart price. I hate being the Walmart of College Consulting. It’s pathetic.

I really need to know if we are going through a something like the 1930s Great Depression. There has to be an explanation why I cannot find employment with a Master’s degree. I remind myself that I am bilingual, fairly good looking (looks count), smart, have 3 degree all with honors, solid work experience, I have so many skills…I am a good catch. Yes, there must be another explanation about things that are beyond out control.

I bomb most interview. Never get the job. Yet, I am overqualified for any minimum wage job to get by until I find a good position. Most employers think that someone with a Master’s will demand a higher salary, so they simply never call. People without college degree, I think, tend to stay at their jobs for longer periods of time because they are perceived as less ambitious. I am not ambitious. I just need to be employed. I need healthcare.

It’s 4am and I am staring at my computer, rewriting this post, yet it all sounds like the same old thing.

Watching Chuck on Netflix.

I prayed today, but I didn’t feel anything. That anesthetic effect is taking over me, but I can still feel my husband toes on my toes. I measure his love by his efforts to intertwine his legs and toes with mine while he sleeps. This is the measurement of love. Of affection. Of marriage.

Hands are numb and it’s getting hard to type.

High tides; A love story.

I used to believe that we shared things–
Like the moon.

And I trusted that a current would instinctually bring us together
The same way in which birds flock to the South in the Winter.
We were part of natural order.

I used to believe that all things were written in a large, unalterable Book;
but I learned that God never paid attention to the details.
We write those ourselves.

When I learned you were back, I was in traffic–
waiting for the light to change.
I knew I would not call, so I rolled down my window–
taking a deep breath.

I still believe that we share things–
like the salty, coastline wind;
and that the tides reconcile our differences.

As time dissipates and waves wear at our spirits,
I search for a trinket–
a manifestation of a good memory; my good story.
It makes me feel juvenile.

I believe we share things–
like recollections of springtide.

[A draft, always].

I Want to Speak to the Owner!

I am a business owner now. And manager. And customer service. And secretary. And filing clerk.

This is the feeling of having a brand new business that has been slowly, but surely, rising.

Didn’t someone once make a song about “mo money, mo problem?” I don’t want to make it seem like I am rolling in hundred dollar bills, or anything like that. It isn’t like that at all. But, I would say, “mo clients, mo problems.” My advertiser does a good job, so the clients are there, I guess.

I, however, am trying to find a way to divide myself between various positions, perform various tasks, without driving myself into insanity.

As owner, I am the boss lady. I guess. I am also the one responsible for taking sure my clients are happy. For the most part, they are happy enough to refer friends. My business thrives on “word of mouth.” And, customer service is crucial.

I started doing customer service since I was 16 years old at David’s Bridal. Had that gig for 6 years on and off. Was pretty good at it; enough for them to take me between college semester, or on my summer vacation while in grad school. I was pretty good at customer service. Looking back, I know that the secret to good customer service is to have someone who is not emotionally involved in the business to do it. Did I give a damn about David’s Bridal? Not really. Did I care that a customer did not like the ugly bridesmaid dress? Not really. My job was to be nice and solve the problem so that the client leaves with a smile on their face.

After 6 years, I thought I had this customer service gig down to the T. Over this past week, I realized I have lots to learn.

It all started last week when one of my clients suddenly demanded a refund. We had done half the work he paid for, had been working on his file for 4 weeks, and our invoice clearly states 80% REFUND WITHIN THE FIRST 48 HOURS OF PAYMENT. There’s a logic to my ‘no refund policy”. First, I only take about 8 clients per month (it’s impossible to take more at this time). Secondly, I begin a client’s file within the first 48 hours, so some time is spent. Lastly, Paypal charges me a processing fee for accepting money AND returning. Refunding is really a hassle; therefore, it is clearly explained at time of pay.

Back to the story. Client demands full refund. His reason was that I had only done half the work; therefore, he was entitled to a full refund (?)! Of course, I said in my head: no fucking freaking way dude I just worked on your file, edited your essays, created your personal statement, searched for graduate programs for you and had two scheduled consulting conferences. WTF?” Of course, all this was communicated professionally through e-mail. Guy goes nuts and begins to trash me on my Twitter advertising page. Guy grabs all my potential clients and calls me a THIEF! A THIEF! I let it go on for a few days until he grew tired; thought he did, and later realized that he was using a second profile to continue to spam my clients.

Today, I needed to put a stop to this. He was undeservedly accusing me of lying and stealing. STEALING! Oh my God! My potential clients were believing this, and they avoided me like the plague. I called him, so that he can answer to me. I wanted to hear the shame in his voice.

I told him calmly: “why are you doing this, if you KNOW we have given you exactly as you paid for?”

He said, “I want my money back! I want my money back!”

I asked him, “Do you think it’s fair that we work and don’t get paid?”

He said, “I changed my mind. I want my money back! If I get money back, I will stop on Twitter?”

I told him, “Should I say thank you for putting a stop to your lies on Twitter?”

He said, “I don’t care. I just want my money back.”


I said, “Listen, Rayed, YOU are the liar, the thief and what you have been doing to me will come back to you much harder!”

He said, “I am Muslim, I am honest, and I just want my money back.”

I said, “Honest person? You defamed me and my business AFTER I worked honestly for you! You call me a liar after I have tried repeatedly to cooperate with you! You take my clients away from me, when I am simply trying to make an honest living…! A Muslim does NOT act like this! I work so hard everyday to build what I have for the sake of my family. YOU HAVE A BLACK HEART!”

I actually told the guy that he has a BLACK HEART (lol). I have to laugh now, because I am done with crying.

I finished the conversation with, “I will give you your entire money back today. I am worth more than $XXX.XX.” I hung up the phone, cried and sobbed in my car outside my office for a good 10 minutes.

The guy calls me back and begins to apologize, “I am very sorry, Cristina. I was very wrong. I took down everything from Twitter. I don’t want my money back anymore.I’m very sorry.”

I said to him, “I don’t want any favors, nor money from you. You can’t repair the damages you have done with your lying. What you did to me will happen to you, and it will cost you more than your refund.”

After months of not blogging, this experience has prompted me to write. Writing is my therapy, and I feel like a broken person today. Rayed did not break me. My inability to do everything well at the same time; the impossible task of making every single client happy; the struggle to divide myself into a million pieces as I try to build the foundations of my business. Every dollar I work for, I feel its gain and its loss, because I put my soul into my work. I feel deteriorated today. I feel so tired. I just want to take a bubble bath, get into my PJs and sleep a good sleep.

Business exhausts. Trying to be fair, yet firm, has made me tired. My business is at its birth, yet, it is growing strong. Someone comes along to damage what I have built, yet I know these are the responsibilities that come with managing a business. The customer is always right, they say. How about when he is dead wrong?

I wanted to finally make Rayed see me as a human being, so I let him hear me cry to make him feel.

Finally, he felt. And tonight, I just feel for myself.

The Psychology of Guilt, Repentance and Belief

 A few days ago, my husband and I waited in the grocery line while I carried our daughter. 

When it was our turn at the register, my husband joked with the bag boy and said to him: “hey, you look a little young to be losing your hair…” The 18-year old boy didn’t laugh, but began to embarrassingly explain himself. He spoke in Spanish and only I had understood that he was losing his hair because he was dying. I looked down in embarrassment while my husband immediately regretted the joke.

In the car, he asked me what had happened to the boy and I told him that he was terminally ill. I felt angry toward my husband and I began to cry. “I didn’t mean to damage his feelings…I didn’t know he was sick” my husband said. He stayed silent the whole ride home. I knew my husband didn’t mean any harm, so I didn’t mention it again. My daughter was beside me –asleep–and I began to think about her birth: 

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah… (God forgive me,  God forgive me, God forgive me…)

Around the 7th hour of labor and as the contractions became more frequent and painful, fear settled over me. I thought about the possibility of death, so I began to ask for forgiveness.

My husband was laying down on an uncomfortable couch next to me half asleep. It had been a long night. I had arrived to the hospital at 11PM after my water broke and, for some odd reason, I thought I’d be out before morning. I wasn’t dilating and the nurse’s words were not hopeful: “Chil’, is this yo’ first baby?” I said it was. She said, “if you lucky, you’ll be outta heah in 12 hours… but you ain’t dilated even fo’ centameetas…we may have to start you on Pitocin by 7am…are you sure you don’t want  the epidural?” I wanted to say “yes”, but I said “no”. Perhaps I would be done in another hour? Clearly, I had no idea the way that this whole having-a-baby-thing worked.

The nurse left. My husband was asleep by now.

Perhaps other mothers can tell you that there is a space  in labor and delivery that belongs only to her–that no one can penetrate. And, there are moments where she feels very alone. I began to think about Surah Maryam and how Maryam (the Virgin Mary) had–while she was in labor with Isa (Jesus)–wished that she were dead. I haven’t wished my own death yet, so I must be ok. I imagined the way that Maryam must have teared at a palm tree that would later nourish her with water and dates.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I decided to change positions and crouch down with legs wide open. Perhaps the gravity would help me dilate. It did. In another hour, I was almost 7 cm dilated. “Whoa, 3 cm’s in an hour. How’d that happin’…?” Said the nurse. “I crouched…” I said. “Well, there ya go…but we still have to start you on Pitocin, dear. It’s been 8 hours and that baby’s gotta come out. It’s fo’ both you and the baby’s safety…Let me know if you change yo’ min’ about the epidural…” She said…

The nurse left. My husband drifted in and out of sleep. I was so bored of ice chips.

I thought about two Muslim sisters who had recently delivered. One delivered in four hours. The other in two. Both didn’t ask for any pain relievers. They were so strong. Why can’t I handle the pain? Why don’t I dilate? What is wrong with my body? I began to cry again.

Again, I was alone.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I called the nurse to ask her how much longer she thought I would be in labor. She told me that even with the Pitocin, it could be another 10 hours or so. It was my first child and my body was taking it’s time. I remembered my friends again and began to think that my body was somehow defective.

Once I began screaming and crying more loudly, my husband stood by my side. He was unsure of how to ease my pain. Perhaps he knew he couldn’t. I turned away from him.

He handed me dhikr beads and I began whispering to myself again:

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Ya Latif, Ya Latif, Ya Latif…(Gentle One, Gentle One, Gentle One…). I was asking God to grant me his Gentleness…

Finally, I called the nurse and asked her to send for the epidural. I wanted relief so badly, but even the epidural sent an electric shock through my whole body. After the anesthesia seeped through my veins, I drifted in and out of sleep. I continued to feel guilt for the numbness below my waist…

I continued to ask forgiveness for things I probably would never write about…

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Twelve hours later, the doctor checked me and said “it’s time to push,” and I did.  “BIS-MI-LLAH!” I screamed in anger. My mom, who was in the room, also prayed with her head in her hands. She couldn’t watch, but she also couldn’t turn away. At the end of that hour and a moment between screams, the doctor tossed my daughter onto my belly. Her eyes were wide open. At that moment, I remember myself in a cold sweat and laughing from relief while my husband, mother, and daughter all cried.

I had done it. My guilt was gone. God must had forgiven me.

The same night of the supermarket incident, my husband suddenly jumped out of bed and got dressed. I asked him where he was going and he told me he’d be right back. When my husband returned home, I asked him what had happened and he said he had returned to the supermarket to apologize. In a desperate attempt to seek his own forgiveness, he also forced the boy to take all the cash he had in his wallet. “I didn’t mean to make him embarrassed…I had very bad Muslim eh-ticks,” he told me in regret. Ethics. A word he had just learned at the English program. I told him he should rest.

“Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…”

He continued until he fell asleep. I stayed awake trying to wrap my mind around the way the human conscience makes its peace with good, evil, life, death, guilt and God.

My Husband: The (Patient and Loving) Arab Villain

“Take care of her, [Muhammed*],” says a relative every time my husband and I leave her house after a weekend visit.

Muhammed: “Why doesn’t she ever tell you to take care of me? After all, I’m the poor guy who needs the extra care…” He laughs it off every time, but deep inside I know that he feels confused as to why anyone would believe otherwise; that is, that anyone would think that Muhammed would do anything else other than take care of me.

I had never thought about my relative’s weekly comments until I started to see the slight hurt on my husband’s face. I had never really thought about it much until we began to receive other similar comments from other relatives and friends: “If you hurt her, I’ll have to kill you…” or “You’re a lucky guy, Muhammed, take care of her…”

I have also received warnings from friends and strangers in casual conversation. “Make sure Muhammed doesn’t take you away to Arabia because we’ll never see you again…” or “Have you seen the movie Not Without My Daughter?” or “Did you husband make you convert?”

These questions and comments are all delivered half-jokingly/half-threatningly and followed with laughter. The truth is, however, that I know that some people who make these comments are usually waiting for my response so that they can cast away their doubt about my Villainous Husband. Others are watching, waiting and counting mistakes so they can say “I told you so,” never stopping to think that attributing someone’s flaws to their race and religion–rather than the fact that were all flawed human beings–is ignorance at the very least.

When I think about my protective, yet gentle and loving, husband, I feel hurt. I cannot understand the constant suspicion and mistrust towards another human being without cause.

The truth of the matter is that the stereotype of the volatile, controlling, sexually perverse and abusive Arab Muslim man is alive and well. 

I remember the sensitivity he felt the day he saw our unborn baby kick her chubby feet at our first ultrasound. Afterwards, he pridefully insisted that our child should bear his first and last name so that everyone would know exactly who her daddy is! I admire the quiet way he washes the dishes on the nights when I cook dinner (the rule at our house is: one cooks, the other cleans). I am thankful for the many times he has encouraged me to pray with him. I am amused when my husband walks to the left of me because he believes he is protecting me from wierdos and speeding cars. I am grateful when he pulls back my hair and rubs my shoulders when I have morning sickness. And, I won’t forget the night he made a healing balm from olive oil and Shea butter to rub on my aching back because I had been crying from the pain. I remember the worth I felt when he bragged to his family about his “smart” wife working on her Ph.D. I laugh when he suggestively picks out matching sweaters and scarves from my side of the closet when he thinks my chest is overexposed (a habit that reminds me of my own Cuban-Catholic father and brother). These flawed, yet well-intentioned, men. Villains, indeed.

My husband is my crutch.

On my last visit home, I snarked back at a relative’s comment: “You know, he beat me senseless yesterday. Look at these bruises (I pointed at my behind)! These Arab men! But, I beat him right back…” My relative rolled her eyes and silenced up. Afterwards, my husband said that I shouldn’t have made that remark and should simply ignore the comments next time.

My husband teaches me patience and back-bending respect.

I chose my husband because I know him and–flaws and all–I love him. The partner in my life, the self-proclaimed protector of our home, the proud father of our unborn child. Yes, this is the Arab Villain I have married.

The comments my husband and I have received have never been made with intentional hatred nor with an effort to inflict pain. On the contrary, they have been made from people who love us. The comments, however, reflect a larger problem in the way we (members of society) are constantly misinformed by the media about who “We” are and who “Others” are. More specifically, about who “Westerners” are and who “Middle Easterners” and Muslims are. We lack insight on this false dichotomy and forget that people are sometimes simply just people.

As frustrated as I feel sometimes, I do not hold these comments personally against anyone. Instead, I hope that my story serves as an example of how our unconscious ignorance really does affect the way we position ourselves in the world–oftentimes dehumanizing “Others” in that process. Most importantly, I hope that we could arrive at the realization that knowing someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background does not mean we know a darn thing about who they are as people. 

*Muhammed is a pseudonym.