I left my marriage the end of 2011. The details are complicated. I spent 12 years raising an assortment of my ex-husband’s five children. The son I had with him made six. Our marriage failed for the same reason many marriages do: we grew apart.
In the year after I left, I grew to love a friend whom I call the Prof. I loved him in ways honest and good. The relationship remained platonic, and I suspect this friend had some honest and good feelings towards me. But I also felt that he was conflicted: he told me that all he could offer was friendship because his life journey was to be alone. He never said that there were no mutual feelings. He never indicated that he had someone in his life. All his said was that his life journey was to be alone. He never told me why.
We communicated almost daily.
In that first year post-marriage, I was a flimsy mess. I had to rebuild after twelve years out of the workforce. And all that I did, I did alone.
I single-parented so many children (six!) without a large support system. I had no time to develop an extensive local social network. My mother moved away before I made my big life jump. When I left my ex-husband, I left without any legal guarantee of alimony, no job, no recent work experience, and no one to help me out. On top of that, I remained the only adult in the local area able to manage my stepchildren, one who was not yet out of high school, and the other, barely 18 years old.
Somehow, through Allah’s benevolence and a few kind friends, I got a job. Not the greatest paying gig, but something that allowed me to drop off and pick up my son from school. Somehow, I moved into my first apartment and started to rebuild a life without a real support system in place. I had good friends, of course, but at this stage in life, friends have their own professional obligations and families to manage. My son’s father is overseas, and it is a clear reminder to me how alone I am when I don’t really have anyone to list as an emergency contact.
This is part of the journey, this aloneness. I spent that first year out trying not to be alone. As soon as 2013 arrived, I settled into this vacant inner space and started to reassess my identity. This space is indeed vacant. My friend, the Prof, no longer speaks to me. I cannot say that I blame him, except that I do.
This man is the first person I’ve ever met who “got” me. It seemed like we vibrated on the same frequency – something so rare to find even in friendship. He challenged me intellectually, yet I also felt that he was proud of my accomplishments. I never had such a life witness, and I craved mere conversation as one might desire physical intimacy.
He was the only one of my friends who listened live to my appearance on a Statewide radio show. It was a day before an exam, so he locked his office door and turned the lights to distract desperate students.
That is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
Right now, I am alone and I am glad of it. But I am also angry at his statement that his life journey is to be alone. I wish he had just told me that he didn’t see me as a romantic partner, or provided some other tangible explanation. I’ve experience rejection before, and I survived.
“My life journey is to be alone” is not something you say to a single mother with no support system, to one who is living paycheck to paycheck. This is not a statement that sits right with someone who left a marriage with no financial assets and without a network to help her out. This is not something a childless man articulates to a mother who has no one to send her child to every other weekend.
You don’t say that shit to a woman who is scared to death to have an emergency because there aren’t people in place who can take care of things. Single mothers don’t want to hear whiney men who think of themselves as cowboys (yes, he said that he was like one). The single mothers doing it all alone are the real cowgirls.
There are sad moments, of course, because I am human. I message a friend of mine, a wonderful Muslim singer/musician in the Netherlands who, like me, is building her empire alone. Rajae el Mouhandiz, may Allah bless her, gives me clarity.
In the absence of family support, Rajae is creating her own world, song by song. She isn’t just any Muslim woman: she is an emerging cultural creator. I am not just a single mother, I am a single Muslim mother, an emerging writer, and there aren’t many people who really get what it means to be a strong, single Muslim woman (kids or not). She reminds me that we just do what we need to do. Wanting a life witness – waiting for one – isn’t going to happen. She is right. Cowgirls don’t need to beg for someone to applaud them.
Muslim cowgirls – all cowgirls everywhere – make our way, applause or not. We build our mountains one little pebble at a time. And when we get to the top of that mountain, we praise God for it and no one else can claim to be our heroes.
Let me tell you something. I love like a madness, and I still love this Prof guy, even if he doesn’t love in return, even if he no longer speaks to me. I don’t expect anything from him – I am excited about who is waiting to greet me next, for I know my road is wide open. Yet, I want his life to be good and wonderful. I know him well enough to know that that he is kind, even if an unreliable narrator. I am sad that he didn’t want to know me better. But I make du’a for him every day that he will have a blessed life because that is what I do when I love someone. I am alone, powerful, and gracious, and that takes a great deal of bravery.
It takes a real cowgirl to be in the world like that.