This is the second instalment of an ongoing series on interfaith marriage. You can read the previous part here.
“Have you seen my blue watch!” I yell from the bedroom while fighting with my tie.
“Did you check the jewelry box?!” Mya yells back from the bathroom.
I hurry over to the dresser where the jewelry box is but, not without tripping over my own foot. It’s Easter Sunday, the first Easter Sunday as an employee at the Cathedral. One of the benefits of my job is I can get balcony seats to events and ceremonies such as, Easter Sunday. The grounds of the Cathedral was swarming with tourists, worshippers, and people just enjoying the day. Mya was a mixture of all three, I was an employee mostly on this day.
“Which balcony are you sitting in?” a voice said from behind me. I didn’t turn around until the same voice said, “and this most be your lovely wife!”
Mya smiles and extends her hand to Peter (one of the Cathedral Police Officers).
“Do you need help finding your seats?” Peter asks. I hand him my ticket and he motions us to follow him. Mya leans in and brushes my beard with the back of her hand.
“Police escorts now? We surely have come a long way,” she says sarcastically.
After climbing the narrow steps to the balcony, we take our seats and take in the beauty of the building. Flowers cover the base of each pillar of the Cathedral. Lights from the stain glass window splatter a rainbow of colors on the walls. From our seat, the copper Abraham Lincoln statue looks like a dot on the floor.
“Let us pray,” the bishop (my boss) says and the service is over. The day however was not yet over; we still had Easter dinner at Mya’s parents house. Her mother is a very conservative Catholic (I must also add, Mya and her parents are Afro-Dominican) and had many objections to our marriage (as it seems 1/5 Muslims on social media feel the same). Mya’s mother keeps pictures of Jesus taped on the inside of her cabinets. The first time I met her, she literally asked me if I worshiped the devil. Her father is an atheist. (I KNOW!) I get along better with him because he asks the same questions I do about religion but is a bit more cynical.
When we walk into her parents house, a familiar smell reaches my nose. As soon as we walk in, Mya and her mother have an exchange of words.
“(Mya says something in Spanish).”
“(Mya’s mom replies in Spanish).”
“You only fixed ham?!” Mya asks her mom in a stern voice. My stomach growls and at this point I’m wondering if Popeye’s is open today. Mya’s father stands up from the sofa and heads to the kitchen and joins the conversation/argument.
“There is lamb too don’t worry. We aren’t monsters you know,” he says, while moving in to kiss Mya on the forehead.
“Ham? I thought I smelled something familiar,” I say, as Mya’s dad puts his arm around me.
“I have something else familiar to you; cards and ice tea outside for us.” I give him a smile and walk with him outside as we leave Mya and her mother in the kitchen (Maybe a little sexist, but that’s what happened). After 20 minutes of cards and chill, Mya’s father stands up and closes the door to the patio.
“My wife, as you know, isn’t your biggest fan,” he says while shuffling the deck and continues. “I don’t care what religion you are or not. I think she sees the absence of religion more suitable than the presence of a different religion.”
“I noticed. She gave herself away when she gave me a Spanish Bible for my birthday.”
“That’s her way of saying she cares. But, there is something my wife and I share a concern over. Remember when…” Mya walks out on the patio.
“Dinner is ready you two, hurry up and wash your hands,” she says while standing in the patio doorway. The train ride home was filled with a strange silence. And in retrospect, so was dinner with her family. As the train jerked, I held Mya’s hand but her grip was looser than usual. A few times I watched her as she gazed out the window like a caged bird who longs to be free.
As we walked home from the train station, we passed a tiny mosque that used to be a townhouse; people were entering it. I checked my phone and it was time for Maghrib. I watched families head inside. Muslim families.
“I guess I should go and pray. It’s time for salah,” I say while heading into the mosque. Mya lets go of my hand and stops.
“I’m going to head home. I don’t feel too well,” she says, folding her arms. I could feel something else was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Are you mad at me?” I ask plainly. Mya laughs and pulls her hair away from her face.
“This isn’t about you, Amir,” she says as she looks into my eyes. I won’t lie, when she looked into my eyes, I was intimidated and looked away.
“Then what’s this about? Or should I be able to read your mind?” I say.
“My father didn’t tell you?” Mya shifts her weight from one leg to another.
“He wanted to tell me something but, he didn’t get around to it. What is it?” I can see the tears forming in her eyes.
“You know Amir, my mom said my family wouldn’t understand us. What we are doing, our marriage, our religious views,” Mya starts to walk away from the mosque and like a puppy, I follow her. We end up sitting in the park close to our house as she continues pouring her heart to me.
“My grandmother is dying, and my family in Miami doesn’t want you there. Or me. They said I turned my back on them and Jesus. Our marriage isn’t an experiment or a novelty. I don’t want to lose you or my family.” I wipe the tears from my eyes and gaze up into the night sky. For the first time in a long time, I had no answers. Then it dawned on me.
“Go to Miami and tell them we are divorced,” I say.
“Amir, a divorce? After all we have overcame?!” She pushed away from me and stood up from the bench.
“Tell them we are divorced. Tell them whatever you have to in order to calm things down for now.”
“You want me to lie to my family? Is that what we have become? Lying to our loved ones?”
“I have done everything you wanted me to do Mya. Easter dinner? I’m there. A baptism? I’m there. Christmas breakfast. I’m there!”
My voice is rising.
“Where did we sit today? In a balcony seat at the National Cathedral. Go to Miami, Mya. Be with your family and Jesus.”
There was a certain hiss in my voice. I felt my words leave splinters in her heart.
I spent the next few days at my friend’s house. When I went back home, I found Mya’s closet empty. Her laptop was gone. I looked around for a note and checked my phone for an email I may have missed. Nothing. I told her to leave. Not in a million years did I think she would. This is the first night I spent in the house alone. I enjoyed the quiet but it also terrified me. One night turned into a week and one week turned into a month. An entire month.
The Qur’an describes spouses as garments and for an entire month, I have been naked and cold. Was I being stubborn? Was she being stubborn? Was this the end? All of these questions went through my mind day after day. After a month and a half it was becoming unbearable. I texted her:
Me: I’m coming to Miami.
Mya: My family won’t be to happy about that.
Me: Do you want me to come?
Mya: It’s up to you, Amir.
Me: I’ll book a flight for tomorrow afternoon.
Me: (after thirty seconds) I love you.