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May 9, 2003


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Trust (Part 3)

After many months and many letters from Khadija where she said she needed me and loved me, in a fit of recklessness I decided to go ahead and agree to marry her. I had heavy doubts but I figured, why not? What could go wrong? If she wanted to marry me (as she kept telling me), I should consider myself lucky to be chosen.

This was six months after we first met.

Several more months passed and in September I made a second trip to Morocco to see if Khadija was sincere and to arrange the details of our marriage. I had not seen her in person or talked with her in eleven months. I had only known her through letters, pictures, and the New Year's tape she mailed to me. I had no idea that many of these letters were cooked up by her father and his friends.

When I got to Fez and saw her, she seemed as radiant and wonderful as I remembered her. But I noticed almost immediately that she did not have the feelings for me that she had told me of so often in her letters.

One night as I left her house, I said goodnight to her in the dark downstairs doorway. We were alone. I leaned over to give her a kiss goodnight, a first kiss (although she had sent "kisses" in many of her letters). This kiss betrayed her. It was a cool, brief, "for appearances" kiss. There was no sweetness or affection. It was a plastic kiss, as brief as it could be without being rude.

Meanwhile Khadija' s father was very pleased with himself. One afternoon he took me on a long walk and showed me off to some men friends. He kept saying to me, "Scott, my house is your house!" Later he kept saying, "Scott is superman!" This was nearly the only English he knew.

Also, one afternoon while sitting in their living room I observed how letters were written. Khadija' s father told his daughter Fatimazahara to write to Victoria because they were close in age. Then Abdul himself dictated the whole letter to a neighbor who knew English while Fatimazhara sat bored and silent. She signed it.

I didn't know what to do. I would not participate in a marriage if it wasn't what Khadija herself wanted. I had said this over and over again in my letters to her. I decided it would be a mistake to get married, yet I didn't have the heart to back down from my word. Khadija kept telling me she wanted it. So the day before I was to leave, I decided to make the most of it and go through with the marriage. I gave Khadija enough cash to make all the arrangements and fly to San Francisco when her visa came thru. The money I gave her was two times what she earned for an entire year at her full-time copy store/telephone boutique job. She earned twenty-seven cents an hour. She had a big surprised smile and her father practically danced around the house saying, "Scott is good man! Scott ... SUPERMAN!! Scott ... is Superman."

In Spain on my way back to San Francisco, I changed my mind. I decided for the last time against the marriage. It just wasn't right. I completed the painful task of writing to Khadija and telling her that I did not believe the marriage was based on love. I feared it was based on money and on pressure from her family. It was not her free choice. I had seen the mistake of it in her mother's expression. I couldn't go through with it. I said I was sorry for any expectations I may have disappointed and I told her she could keep the money and the diamond engagement ring. I would not marry her.

It seemed rather cowardly to break off an engagement by letter, but to make it stick I said my decision was final and nothing she could say in any letter would make me change my mind.

Some time later in San Francisco I did get a letter from Khadija. An answer. She said she would send back the money and the engagement ring. She said those were never what she was after. Those were gifts of mine and never something she had asked for. She said I had hurt her in a big way and this bad letter of mine seemed like something from a whole different person, not the Scott that she knew and loved. She asked what had she done to me to deserve this?

I pictured her crying and telling all her friends and her family that I had dropped her. Telling them what a dirty dog I was and how my word to her was worth nothing. I had been a hero to her and her family and now, here I was, a muddy dog running away. There was no way for her to even come to me and ask me face to face, eye to eye, why I was backing out, why I was abandoning her. Her letter had a strong impact on me. I never wanted to hurt her or let her down. I was moved by the fact she said she would send my ring and my money back. I was moved by this promise when she was so destitute and after I told her she could keep them.

A friend of mine, Anna from Poland, advised me: "Scott, saying she will send your money back and actually doing it are two different things."

But I was already lost by that time. It seemed to me that Khadija must care for me a lot to send all the money back. I felt she had really cared about me all along and that, in the end, that was all I ever wanted. She had passed a painful test. Now I felt I could trust her.

So I wrote another letter. I told her I had thought a lot about it and I had decided to reconsider. I would marry her after all. I had lost all my confidence. I had just gotten frightened. I had gotten cold feet. I told Khadija that her mother's face had seemed to condemn me, and many of my own friends had strongly advised me to not trust her. An Arab man who worked at the coffee shop across from my bookstore had told me straight out, "They are trying to trap you." But I wouldn't listen to them. I had regained my confidence and would marry her after all. I knew that in her culture it was not customary for a man and wife to know each other very well before marriage. I just needed time to adjust. I would marry her. My only condition was that she really accept me as a non-Muslim.

Weeks passed. Then she wrote back a rather cool letter saying that now, since my last letter, she too had reconsidered and that to marry me I must become a Muslim. That was her one condition.

I wrote and asked if this was her final decision, because I would not agree to be something that I was not. She said yes, it was her final decision. I wrote her that that wasn't part of our agreement. If she was now canceling our engagement (and not me), I requested she send the money and engagement ring back as she said she would.

My friend Anna was right. No money was ever returned. I wrote a couple more times requesting it. Khadija didn't reply.

Almost a year went by and I began to look at the entire thing very differently. I no longer blamed Khadija for keeping the money. I knew her family was very poor and they needed it much more than I did. I wanted to be friends with her. I wanted her to know I cared more about her and her family than I did about the money. That was water under the bridge. I was curious if she had married. I felt forgiving. I started to think that she had merely gotten cold feet as I had. Her way to stop everything was to insist I become Muslim. My way had been to dispatch a letter from Spain. She was young and bound to make mistakes. I had made a boatload of them in my time. I had to forgive her.

We started corresponding again. This time she seemed genuinely happy that I had returned to her life. This time she had gotten a phone in her house (from money I sent) and I heard her own voice say she loved me. She said to marry me was her dream. She said to me that besides God, I was the only thing she had to make a future. No person had been good to her as I had. After several months, after an attempt to get her a visitor's visa failed, we once again agreed to marry. A real marriage. I made her promise me and tell me over the phone several times that it was her choice and not pressure from her family. I told her if she could accept me for who I was, a non-Muslim, then I felt we could succeed. She said she would. I sent a written agreement for her to sign and seal with her thumbprint, saying that she would accept me as a non-Muslim. She did.

I knew our first attempt to marry had ended badly but there was something so sweet, so warm and wholesome about her. If she would take the chance, so would I. Despite it all being so unconventional, it seemed I was a lonely guy beached in middle age with no promising prospects for marriage and family and she was locked into an economic dead-end. Most of the men she would hope to marry, she couldn't, because they had no money, so it wouldn't be allowed. Maybe we could rescue one another. In fact, it seemed to me very romantic.

To succeed in going through with the marriage, all I needed was to keep up my trust. I had to avoid panic this time around and keep my feet warm.

My Aunt Anna gave me some good advice. She said, "I've learned that when a decision is to be made, it is always possible to see the bad side and the good side. No matter what you do, things will sometimes go wrong. But what I believe is that if you think the best of people, if you trust people, if you think of the good and decide for it rather then making decisions on your fears, then over the long run it will work out better."

Whatever trust and confidence I needed to go through with this marriage, I knew Khadija would need much more. She came from a stringent culture where distrust, particularly of non-Muslims, is part of the bedrock. Many women cover in veils, escorted by male relatives. A woman like Khadija is not even allowed to date. I wanted to show her a culture more open, freer ,and more trusting. (Even though it had its own long list of weaknesses and faults). She would be leaving the family that she had spent her entire life with; she would be traveling with a near-stranger to an unfamiliar non-Muslim country. She might not see her family again for years. She had had only one direct Moroccan relative who had gone to America, a cousin, and he had died in a motorcycle accident in Florida. He had died as a stranger in a strange land. I kept thinking of the trust and courage Khadija and her family would need. I felt if she trusted me this much, then I must return her trust. When I decided to marry her, I wanted to be sure I would be worthy of the trust she and her family had given me. That was my vow to myself.


So she came. I had to travel one last time to assist her in getting her visa, but we succeeded. She flew to San Francisco on February 14th.

The person who arrived was a different person from the one I had known. Instantly, she changed. She no longer talked of needing me or of love. She was not a sweet friend and warm lover; she was a polite businesswoman ready to get to work. To work on setting herself up for citizenship and making money. She contributed no money to our marriage. She asked for money, pressured me for money, but would not take a job. Not if she couldn't send all of the money back to Morocco. She set herself up nicely in my apartment. She had her own room, which she didn't like me to go into. She had me give her many thousands of dollars to wire to her family. Her father bought a stockpile of things to sell. Her family went on a vacation to the coast. Two of her sisters got mobile phones. Her bother got a bicycle. She kept sending money and called them nearly every day. She got nice clothes, a nice computer, a new bike. I took her on trips to several places including Hawaii, New York, and Alaska. She never cooked for me. She had her own room. She refused to risk her virginity with me, her husband. She refused to sleep in the same bed with me even once in nineteen months of marriage. I often bought her gifts and she didn’t buy me a gift even once, not since stepping off the plane, although she was always asking me to pay for gifts she could send her friends and her family (which I did buy for her). I was held hostage. She kept telling me things were fine and the marriage was fine. She asked me what my problem was to be so untrusting and worried. When I got really discouraged and started thinking about divorce, she threatened me with kitchen knives and said if I gave her a problem, she would give me a problem.

"I love you, but I don't trust you," I told her once. She answered: "That is your sickness, that you are so suspicious."

Then, nineteen months after she arrived, just a couple weeks after meeting all the requirements for her conditional Green Card (this was her first chance to create an “incident” and leave the marriage without having to go back to Morocco), just after I caught up on all my taxes so my finances wouldn't cause her any complications, just after she completed her digital printing studies at City College and could get a good job, just as all these things were in alignment she smashed dishes in the kitchen, broke the window of the back door with her fist, called the police and said I had done it, and had me arrested. She told her friends I had offended Islam. She told the police I had pushed her. She was given two restraining orders against me. I couldn't return to my apartment for seven weeks (I lived in the flooded back storage room of my bookstore), the legal problems have cost me thousands of dollars, and she hasn't said one word to me in a year and a half. The courts had me send her monthly payments for over one year (sent to her lawyer).

I hear she is proud and confident about what she has done. She got everything she hoped for by marrying me.

I sometimes think I should go visit my aunt and ask her if she might refine her advice about trust for me.

But despite everything, despite this season in hell, I know my Aunt Anna is right.

When I can detach myself from all the frustration, the disbelief, and the pain, when I "peer over the fence" and think of how far Khadija has come, how happy she is, and how well she is doing, I catch myself feeling happy for her.