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].


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.

A Traveler

I will not dance to your war drums. I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drums. I will not dance to your beating. I know that beat. It is lifeless. –Suheir Hammad

I met a young boy on the way to the airport last night. He was 19, he said. In an attempt to sound more experienced in this world, I told him I had students his age in my class. He said, “no way,” that I looked like a “kid”. I told him, “I get that a lot” and laughed.

He said that he got stranded in NY because he missed two of his scheduled flights. He was on his way home from his first year in the Army and that everything that could possibly go wrong had gone wrong today. He complained a lot about having to tip the cab drivers. He said that he wanted to see his parents. He told me about his dream of going to college and becoming a history teacher one day. He approved of my being a teacher, but emphasized repeatedly that the Buckeyes were not that big of a deal. He told me all about his 10 siblings and asked me if I wanted a lot of kids one day. Stupidly, I said yes.

He shook a lot when he spoke, hardly able to keep his voice from trembling. An invisible shadow stole his stillness the same way an echo of a drum steals at silence. It made me feel uneasy because I’ve known that feeling, too. He didn’t want to talk about the Army nor Texas. What did he see? I thought to myself but did not ask.

Before he got off the bus, he told me his name was Kelsey and took my hand. His grip was strong and patient–as if he needed to affirm that life and flesh and humanity were, after all, real. After getting off the bus, he looked back at me twice with eyes that reflected desperation and kindness.

I haven’t stopped wondering if he ever made it home.

Written 01/19/2011

Mr. Anthropologist, Sir…

I said ‘no’.

I do not wish to be a sample for the research you are currently conducting on the ‘Muslim population’.


I do not wish to lend myself to your curiosities.

I do not wish that my gestures and responses be part of your data collection for interpretations and formulations.

Please, stop analyzing my facial expressions! And ‘no,’ I’m not angry about your questions. I am angry that you assume I am angry.

If you’d like, you can join my girlfriends and I for coffee. You’ll probably learn a bit about my current interest in graphic novels and my recent love for country music. If you show genuine interest, I’d be glad to say more about it. And, ‘no,’ you cannot take notes. Put that pen away, sir. Quickly, before Ireally do get angry.

Do not study me.

Do not interpret me.

I am not a specimen.

I do not wish to be a sample for anything. If you do learn anything, what you will learn is about me in this particular moment in time and space. I evolve. People evolve. I do not represent two billion people and ‘no’ you cannot make general claims.

Leave Muslim men out of this conversation. Do not try and convince me how they’re ‘hypocritical dirtballs’. And I don’t care to hear your anecdotal evidence to support that. These


black-haired, tawny-skinned…

[men who] sit on the floor [in white robes], leaning forward,

elbow on one raised knee and eat heartily…

They may be mustachio’d, macho, patriarchal,

sexist, egotistical, parochial–

They may, as men may,

think themselves indominable,

being easily manipulated,

–but they’re mine, my

sleek and swarthy, hairy-chested,

curly-headed lovers of the Prophet***

These men are just fine. How are you? Don’t try and turn me against anyone, Mr. Anthropologist. Or I’ll walk away.

Alright, fine. What do you want to know?

My favorite dessert is arroz con leche with extra cinnamon (But I haven’t learned to make it better than mami). Sometimes, I dance in front of the mirror to remind myself that I still got it. I tend to curse a lot and immediately regret it. Oh, and I watch silent black and white films when my roommates are not around. They think it’s dumb, but I don’t care.

What? You want to know why my scarf is purple today? Because my other scarves are in the washer! That’s why. What? No! I did not intend to match my socks. There is no relation!

Why did I just roll up my sleeves? Because it’s getting hot under this microscope light!

Can you stop tilting your head like that and relax those brows? Don’t squint at me!

I can write you faster that you can ever write me, and your head will be spinning for days.


I’ll be damned if I let you write that down!”

***verses were excerpted from Mohja Kahf.

Today, I Learned Something About the Soul

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): “T. E. X. A. S.”

I lowered my book to try to steal a glance at the therapist and his patient in the wheelchair. I wanted to see how the therapist taught him how to communicate through sign language.

I have always felt uncomfortable around disabled people. This is rather strange because my father is disabled. My father has been in a wheelchair for 17 years, so one would think I wouldn’t be as awkward. But I am. I do not like to stare. My mother taught me not to stare at others who were “different” because it was rude.

The man in the wheel chair was young. Maybe 24 years old. Maybe 28 years old. His therapist was also a young man, too, and they were about the same age. It was hard to tell because his back was towards me. I could see his smooth white skin on the side of his face and neck. But I didn’t stare. I didn’t want him to notice me watching the therapist wipe drool from his mouth after feeding him through a tube. I didn’t want him to think I was pitying him. Nobody likes to be pitied.

I tried to get back to work. Read my book. I also noticed that my roommate who sat next to me hadn’t flipped her page for a while. She couldn’t focus either. The Starbuck’s was quiet. Everyone was either studying or eating. The man in the wheelchair disturbed the silence every time his food clogged in the tube, every time he slurred loudly, every time he snorted in an effort to laugh.

I was uncomfortable and I hated myself for this.

A man who was reading next to me walked up to the therapist and the patient and asked to shake the patient’s hand. At this point, I realized that he could understand everything. He was fully conscious. He processed everything. Commands, jokes, conversations. He just couldn’t control his bodily reactions. At the very moment when the men shook hands, the adhan on my computer went off loudly. I quickly turned it off because I didn’t want to disturb others.

Man: How are you?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language):  I. A. M. F. I. N. E.

Man: Where are you from?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): T. E. X. A. S.

Man: Texas, huh?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): S. A. N. A. N. T. O. N. I. O.

Man: How is Texas? Never been there…

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): T. E. X. A. N. S. L. O. V. E. T. H. E. I. R. B. A. S. K. E. T. B. A. L. L. A. N. D. T. H. E. I. R. S. U. M. M. E. R.

Man: (laughs) What is your favorite sport?

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): B. A. S. K. E. T. B. A. L. L.–I. L. O. V E. T. H. E. S. P. U. R. S.–I. L. I. K. E. T. H. E. B. U. C. K. E. Y. E. S. T. O. O.— B. U. T. M. Y. F. I. R. S. T. L. O. V. E. I. S. T. E. X. A. S.

MAN: Nice–I haven’t watched basketball in a while…

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): I. L. O. V. E. T. H. E. S. P. U. R.S.

(The therapist’s phone rings and the man says goodbye)

I listened closely behind my book. Watching how his limp left hand struggled to open and close. How his fingers struggled to form symbols that I couldn’t understand. I watched. I wrote their conversation down in detail. As I went to grab my coffee, I watched the therapist flip the magazine pages for his patient. At that moment, I began to panic silently. It had been so easy to grab and sip my coffee. It had been so easy to flip through my book as I watched the man in front of me depend on tubes and machines and strangers. It had been so easy to idly watch another human being put every effort in his soul into moving his fingers and in keeping his neck stiff to prevent his head from propping down like a heavy sack–

Maghrib was over. I didn’t make it. I am like this sometimes–Lazy. Slow. Unmotivated. The shame took hold of me and I wanted to run. It was a paralyzing kind of panic that took over as I thought about all the things I have ever taken for granted. At that moment, I regretted missing prayer–I lazily passed a chance to command my healthy limbs to praise the God who shaped them. And this has been the worst of all my sins–

After some time, the therapist said it was time to head back. The therapist gathered the food bottles, the feeding tubes, and the towels. The Texan turned his chair with a button. I could see from the corner of my eyes that he was heading towards us. He stopped next to our table and extended his fingers to gesture a handshake. The therapist said that he wanted to shake our hands.

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): N. A. M. E.–He wants to know your names, ladies…

Roommate: Kristen

Me: Cristina

Using his neck, he moved his uncooperative head towards me. I looked up and shook his hand. His face was young and attractive. His body was large, muscular and lean. He had probably been in perfect health before his accident. Maybe even been an athlete. Through his blonde hair, I could see the pink tissue of a scar running along the circumference of his head. He drew his large blue eyes effortlessly towards me. He looked at me for a long time. Silently. He was not afraid to stare. He nodded his head gesturing “nice to meet you”.

As he moved away from us, he signaled to his therapist:

Therapist (interprets his patient’s sign language): B. O. T. H. A. R. E. P. R. E. T. T. Y.—-P. I. C. K.

(When the therapist, my roommate and I realized what he meant, we all laughed loudly)

A Royal Flush

Two men.

“Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” they said.

Wish. Shake. Roll.


Two men. Decent men. They went to study English in the States. “Muslim men,” they said. They were happy because they could finally do the things they could never do back home. Like going on,

Double dates.

Two girls. Nice girls. They sat in a fancy restaurant waiting to meet their two foreign friends. Two bottles of wine. They held hands and talked.  Soon, they were couples. They told stories. Some stories were not entirely true, but it didn’t matter. They laughed and drank.

Double vision.

Two couples. Two years. Dinners. Discussions. Philosophies. Sex. Sex. Sex. Road trips: Florida. Key West. New York. Boston. Chicago. Friendship and love. And, too many —– (things that cannot be put into words).

Double cross.

Two men. Grown up.  “It’s just the way life is.” They said. “We’re too different. You see, we’re Muslims. It would never work.” Two girls. Two men. Broken hearts. Two years later. Nothing had changed, and suddenly, “things were different?” The girls cried together and silently prayed in their own ways.

Double Standards.

Two boys. Back home with heads held high. Honor. They played poker over tea. One reaffirming the other as to why it just couldn’t be. “Too unchaste,” one said. “Too driven,” the other said. “Too different” they both concluded. Two year. Two good girls reduced to too many adjectives. “Good game,” one boy said and they raised their glasses to forget.

(un)inspirational coffee dregs

There’s nothing nice about drinking coffee

while sitting in front of a screen on a Friday night—


listening to drunk neighbors laugh over loud music,

and wondering when I’ll get some sleep because it kind of sucks to be–


while trying to find something incredibly brilliant to say

about Hemingway and (anti)-heroes. It’s like a–


back to the same old routine from those high school

days and nights where I’d do everything else but my work and be–


like these neighbors who bang. bang. bang. on the walls as if they

want to escape the routine and the boredom, too. And I–


they’d invite me over so I can confidently tell them (behind my glasses)

that “I’m too busy getting my work done, no–


I’d rather stay home.” sipping on cold bittersweet coffee between

four. white. walls. like. sudden. death. from–


Someone once told me to flip my coffee cup over

and let the dregs of turkish coffee speak to me and then–