An excerpt from “Taboos in Arabic,” my current writing project
Trigger warning: post-trauma, sexual assault.
With Suleiman, time redefined itself. Often, we didn’t have any need for words and we would only sit somewhere for hours, back to back or side by side, our bodies touching. And it was enough, for me. We lived in small capsules of moments, which, as summer was approaching, we both knew were coming to an end. A few weeks before the end of the academic year, we drove to the mountain. We were just walking aimlessly when he suddenly stopped and said in a serious tone, ‘Hayat, I want to feel you. Intensely. I want to touch your soul.’ I knew what he meant the moment he said it but kept silent. I wanted to make love to him too, but I was scared. Scared that it would ruin everything we had. Scared that I wouldn’t be able to see the beauty and purity in making love. Scared that my scars would be ripped open and the wounds start bleeding again.
We stood there in silence, he waiting for my response, me beginning to panic that I’d ruined it all with my silence. And then it happened. At the same moment, when neither of us could bare in any longer, we both reached out our hands to the other. He looked into my eyes, searching for an answer to his unasked question. I looked down at our intertwined hands. My mind was blank. Suleiman got closer, his body leaning into mine. ‘Hayati, I promise I will carry your wounded soul back home.’ When I finally nodded, his face broke into a wide smile. We walked towards his car in complete silence, and drove in complete silence, both of us knowing, yet neither of us speaking a word.
Only when we arrived at his small studio apartment, I began feeling stress. I sat on the edge of the stained brown sofa that had seen better days, and watched Suleiman as he quickly went about picking up dirty clothes from the floor, plates with crusted food on them, a couple of pizza boxes, empty beer bottles and an overflowing ashtray from the low coffee table. He opened the only window in the apartment and came to sit next to me. ‘Hey, Hayat, you alright?’ he put his bony hand on my shoulder, then held my chin and turned my head to face him. ‘You know I’m not going to hurt you, right?’ I couldn’t answer, as I was focusing all my effort on not letting the tears out. I closed my eyes. I wanted to disappear. To roll back the time. Suddenly, I felt his breath on my cheek, then his lips on the corner of my mouth. I wanted and didn’t want it. I was paralyzed with both fear and passion. I wanted him so much, but I was scared of the scars I was carrying inside me. I didn’t know how I’d react. And I couldn’t tell him the secret I’ve been dragging around inside me all these years; not at this moment. So I let him kiss me. It felt good. My heart began beating faster. I kept my eyes closed. I could hear his breath becoming heavier. Then his hand moved under my shirt, and he started massaging my nipple with two fingers. I tilted my head backward, repeating his name in my mind. It’s Suleiman. Stay here, Hayat. Stay in the moment. This is supposed to be beautiful, not ugly. He unbuttoned my shirt, lifted my breasts out of their cups, and began sucking. He was moaning now. I opened my eyes and saw that he was now on his knees in front of me. I knew I was supposed to do something to reciprocate, but didn’t know what, so I began stroking his hair. He looked up at me, grinning. ‘Make you feel happy, habibti,’ he mumbled and was back at my breast. His hand slid down inside my underwear, and he began with gentle, circling movements, until I started feeling a new form of heat emanating from me. My head was spinning, my body began to tremble. I wanted it. I kept my eyes closed, but felt Suleiman as he raised himself, and I heard the zipper of his jeans. A shudder went over my body. I tried to keep my mind in control, but just when I thought I could do it, the flashbacks swept over me like a flood. Within seconds I was crouched on the floor on the other side of the room, my head between my knees. ‘Don’t, just don’t do anything, please. Don’t come near me,’ was all I could say.
I left his place in a flurry of confusion, without a word of explanation. That night, he tried to call, but I just couldn’t bring myself to deal with it. He sent several messages asking if he did something wrong, and if he did, he didn’t mean to hurt me. He was sorry. He wanted to talk to me. He wanted to understand. He wanted to fix things. He wanted to see me again.
The following Sunday, I called in sick, saying I’ve come down with some virus and I’d be out for the whole week. Suleiman kept trying to reach me obsessively. Finally, a few days later, I gathered up the courage and wrote him a message telling him that I’m a survivor of repeated sexual assault and that what happened had nothing to do with him. Flashbacks, Google it, I wrote. I wasn’t prepared for the utter silence that followed. I expected him to reach out to me, to say he understood, that we’d work it out, that we’d take it slowly until I felt safe and comfortable with him.
To read additional excerpts from this work: “Taboos in Arabic”
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