Today’s flashback—I was worth nothing in those days

Today was an incredibly strange day. It was one of those days in which my past reaches up into my present, and tries to grab hold of me, taking me by surprise. I did not see this coming.

A conservative Muslim group that I had had some indirect dealings with years ago contacted me, asking me to do some work for them. This really weirded me out. Because I have done my best to completely forget about those dealings.

Back in those days, my ex had just embarked on his first venture into polygamy—and it wasn’t working at all the way that it is supposed to in theory. He didn’t have the wherewithal to support even the family he had (me, and several kids), much less another wife. Since we didn’t live in the same place either, he was trying to divide his time between us—or so he said, but in reality, he was much more eager to spend time with her. She was quickly getting fed up about the way things were working (or rather, not working).

But it was all going to work out just fine, according to my ex, because this conservative Muslim group wanted him to work for them. At least, once they got that particular project he was to work on up and running, which would be in a couple of months at most. And then we were all going to move there, and he’d have the money to support two families, and he’d be able to spend equal time with both of his wives.

In order to make himself an even more attractive hiring prospect, I was also thrown into the mix—I would work for them for free. So, they’d be getting two workers for the price of one.

I felt uneasy about the whole thing, though I couldn’t explain why even to myself. At the same time, I did feel that it was my religious duty to go along with it. Otherwise, what sort of life would my kids have? My ex would mostly be off with his new wife, and I’d be left to be a de facto single mother with no income for a lot of the time. I had no clue how I’d manage. I was terrified. So (I thought) this must be God opening a door for us, and I had better get with the program. I prayed hard that the group would indeed hire him, and that the move and everything would all work out for the best.

But the group was dragging their feet. They hemmed and hawed, they kept assuring him verbally that they wanted to hire him, but they weren’t moving forward with it. They kept putting him off, and finally he got the message that they weren’t going to hire him, and gave up on them.

And I was left with the realization that even the offer of my working for free hadn’t been enough to sway them. How little worth my labor-power had in the eyes of my (then-) husband… and it had been worth less than nothing to them.

And that God hadn’t answered my prayers, either.

It wasn’t long after that that I decided to go back to school. Somehow, I had to be able to support myself and my kids.

My ex wasn’t going to shoulder that responsibility, regardless of what Islamic law requires. He kept making excuses—he had had the promise of a job, and he’d married the second wife on the assumption that it would work out, but then they hadn’t hired him. It wasn’t his fault. He could never, never have foreseen that this would happen. I needed to be patient. (In other words, it was me who was acting unreasonably by wanting to know where next month’s rent was coming from.) Meanwhile, my co-wife was becoming antsy because she wanted him to be with her, and not unreasonably, wanted financial support from him as well. This was going to be a lifetime of being put in the demeaning position of having to play tug-of-war with another woman over the needs of my children for basic necessities as well as their father’s time and attention. I was in despair.

As a result of returning to school, I was able to get a decent job, and then finally, to leave that awful marriage behind.

If my ex had gotten that job with the group, however, I suppose I would still be married to him. It would certainly have been extremely difficult to leave. I’d have been living in a fairly isolated place, and I wouldn’t have had any money of my own, nor would I even have gained any transferable job experience (nothing that you could mention on a resume, anyway). And nobody in that group would likely have supporting my leaving the marriage, either. So, it’s just as well that those prayers of mine weren’t answered—at least, not in the way that I had envisioned.

When that group contacted me today, it was as though someone had thrown freezing cold water over me. I was in shock. I couldn’t feel anything at first. And then the memories came back—the fear, the despair of those days. And most of all, the pervasive sense of worthlessness that I had had then. I had been worth nothing. Less than nothing, in fact.

I wondered if these bits of the past will ever cease haunting me. If they will ever finally stay dead and buried. What does it mean when they keep coming back??

But then I belatedly realized something. Things are different today. If I want, I can say no to them. I actually have a choice in how I will respond to their request.  Whatever I do or don’t do, they have no power to affect whether I have a roof over my head or food to feed my kids.

I am so lucky that I now have the dignity of a choice.

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  1. #1 by ki sarita on January 16, 2013 - 9:44 am

    I am so happy you are free now.

  2. #2 by shepardmary57 on January 16, 2013 - 10:36 am

    Polygamy is humiliating and the wives always pay the price for the husband’s selfishness. I know because I was in a brief polygamous marriage. Polygamy is the worst crime of Islam. Not only is it humiliating but the wives are expected to get by with less than what they would have if they were the only one. I am sorry to read that you felt you had to support your husband’s decision to have a second wife by aiding and abetting him through taking a job with no pay. You were being exploited and used so that he could have his new love. That is so degrading.

    • #3 by xcwn on January 21, 2013 - 2:38 am

      Shepardmary—Yes, well, they always used to say that polygamy is so much more dignified than being a girlfriend or a mistress. 😦 I guess the sub-text of that is that women should expect to be humiliated.

      Greeting to another polygamy survivor. I wonder how many there are of us.

      • #4 by charmedshiva on January 24, 2013 - 9:32 pm

        I love that you see the underlining assumptions in people’s apologetic arguments!

    • #5 by shepardmary57 on January 25, 2013 - 9:36 am

      It’s so much more dignified for the men, since they don’t have to sneak around but can call themselves honorable for marrying the woman or women. I had a conversation with a man last night wherein he repeated the old refrain about how women are “honored and respected” in Islam. This is the most heavily entrenched delusion and it is embraced by both men and women. This somehow dignifies the humiliation, but being an outsider and being a participant are two very different things.

      • #6 by xcwn on January 25, 2013 - 2:18 pm

        Mary–Yes, totally. That’s a really spot-on observation. It’s dignified for men, primarily.

        As for women, the “dignity” involved seems to be mainly the idea that at least they have the title of “married woman” (as opposed to spinster, divorcee, “loose woman” or girlfriend). Even if that title is in reality little more than words, and they hardly see their husband, and he doesn’t support them financially.

  3. #7 by Anonymous// on January 16, 2013 - 1:00 pm

    Alhamdulillah.

  4. #8 by Quills & Bones on January 16, 2013 - 8:30 pm

    They probably still expect you to work for them for free. Charge them the amount of money you would need to support two husbands. 😉

    • #9 by xcwn on January 21, 2013 - 2:34 am

      Quills and bones—lol, can’t stop laughing over that one.

  5. #10 by ki sarita on January 17, 2013 - 3:27 pm

    the irony is that it seems it was you they wanted all along. it was your husband they didnt want.

  6. #11 by shepardmary57 on January 18, 2013 - 9:22 am

    What made me feel so sad was the lack of choices you really had back then, and that the humiliation of being tasked to help support your husband’s second wife didn’t even fully “hit” you then either. I think I would have strangled him had I been in that situation. You were being used by a very selfish person.

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