An excerpt from "Seven Years Behind the Veil"
“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the things we need most in all the world.” - Philip Pullman
My own story keeps running through my mind, piercing my everyday moments, until I finally put pen to paper. Hence, Seven Years Behind the Veil: A True Story is born. I write that in the year 1970 I land on Arabian sand with my Saudi husband and son. With a freshly printed university diploma and a suitcase packed with our worldly possessions, we enter the cloaked Kingdom.
Ordinary hours, weeks, months, rainy mornings, and hot blistering days pass by in all their mundane details. Meanwhile, every aspect of my life turns inside out. Such an absolute transformation is almost impossible to imagine. In order to survive, my journal becomes my life companion. This lifeline sustains the real me, the essence of my spirit, the core of myself.
Over time, the experiences recorded in my journal demand to be shared. Seven Years Behind the Veil: A True Story refuses to stuff itself into a drawer to be lost for all time. Instead, the words jump onto the pages of the following book. Enjoy the journey!!
Chapter 1 - The Journey
“The minute he started telling a story, his eyes would light up, as if he had just come back from black and white into full color.” - Doris Kearns Goodwin about Abraham Lincoln
My story begins in the spring of 1947. Life is good in our Ohio home, which overlooks the shores of Lake Erie. My two sisters, born right after me, become wonderful playmates. I spend my early years playing foursquare, hopscotch, jump rope, and a million other games on our dead-end street.
Each summer our family drives to our cottage in Canada, where we spend six weeks surrounded by relatives. The lake breezes blow off the Georgian Bay and my sisters and I romp on our beach.
As I grow, I slowly evolve into two beings. My physical appearance blends into my surroundings. Blond hair, blue eyes, and an attractive white face are sure entry cards. Emotionally, however, I paint life with bold strokes and rainbow colors. I am too different to fit easily into my world.
As I enter my teens, my conservative, middle-class surroundings begin to suffocate my free soul, and I turn to a fantasy life for survival. I dream of distant shores and far-off adventures. Little do I realize that I am creating my future reality.
The college years find me at a large Ohio university during the 60s. Coming from a sheltered environment, I find that it’s quite an adjustment. One out of every three freshmen flunk out and the competition is fierce. Unfortunately, the students who don’t make the grade often land in the rice paddies of Vietnam.
Semesters pass as I submerge myself under mounds of multi-topic books. While I study, I observe the transformation of university life. By my sophomore year, the war in Vietnam is in full swing and so are the anti-war demonstrations. Rebellion against any kind of established authority soon gains my attention. I join in my generation’s demands that our elders shatter their outdated institutions, and I watch in fascination as old ways fall apart around me. As I listen and watch, I learn that the youth of a society can indeed change a culture. During the second half of my junior year, I begin volunteering in a Mexican migrant camp off campus. Determined to make a difference, I join the team that is responsible for the migrant camp’s nursery school classes, English classes, and a coffeehouse for high school students.
Every weekend finds our team in the camp, establishing a rapport with the Mexican-Americans. Soon it becomes clear
that we need a larger staff. In search of quality help, I decide that sociology students could become the best source of new volunteers. So I ask Dr. Snyder, an upper level Minorities Course professor, if I can speak to his seminar.
The next week I walk into University Hall and make my way to the podium in Dr. Snyder’s classroom. As I scan the room, I notice many of my friends. Most of them wear curious expressions, wondering what I am doing there. Slowly, I pull myself together and put my energies into a persuasive speech.
As I continue, I can sense by the feedback that many students are interested. Toward the end of the talk, my eyes are drawn to a student sitting directly in front of me. There is something about his face. His deep-set eyes register on my preoccupied mind.
After the presentation I send a piece of paper around the room, asking anyone who is interested in the migrant camp to write down their name and telephone number. Meanwhile, several students ask questions, including the student in front of me. He says, “My American friends have a hard time understanding my Arabian accent. If I work in the migrant camp, how can the Mexicans understand me?” His comment brings laughter from the class. Watching him, I secretly hope he signs my sheet.
The following Saturday, I meet with the students on the interest list. It is a fun evening and after the session, I find my conversation directed toward the student with the accent. I discover that his name is Osane. I ask him where he is from and he tells me Saudi Arabia. Although our first communication is short, my initial assumption is correct. He promises to be an interesting person.
Throughout the rest of the semester, Osane and I see each other frequently at the migrant camp. Our friendship grows, but only to a point, for we are each dating someone else. Besides, I know that on the college campus of the 60s, anything and everything is permissible; I also realize that off campus, mixed couples are not only unheard of, they are strictly taboo! Even thinking of dating a Saudi is a rebellion I’m not brave enough to consider.
With my hours totally occupied, time passes quickly. A few days before Easter vacation, I walk through the dorm lobby to pick up my mail. I notice Osane sitting on a couch, so I sit down beside him. As we talk about nothing in particular, my eyes are drawn to his foreign-looking watch. The dial is square with a black background, while the watchband is made of large, flexible gold links. Curious, I ask him about it. Instantly his eyes revert inward, as he pictures his uncle giving him this prized graduation gift. He then refocuses into the present and begins his story.
“I finished at the top of my high school class and won a scholarship to America,” Osane states. “At that time I was living in Taif, a mountainous town far from Riyadh. The only way to drive through the desert to the capital city to accept my scholarship was on top of huge Mercedes trucks that followed old caravan routes. These convoys traveled through the sands with full loads, so the only place for passengers was on top of the truck cabs. With the sum of my possessions wrapped in one small scarf, I spent several days hanging onto various cabs as they bounced through the desert. Each night at sunset, the trucks circled and made camp. As I crawled under my truck to sleep, I prayed to Allah for protection against the desert bandits, who would most certainly steal my prized watch.”
As Osane finishes reminiscing, he looks up and unexpectedly our eyes lock. An instantaneous feeling of familiarity consumes me. Suddenly I feel firmly connected to his essence, as if I have spent several lifetimes by his side. Then, with no warning, a low hum begins to vibrate in my ears, my heart begins to throb, and my body breaks into a sweat. Shocked, I physically shake myself. Sensing by his ashen face that Osane has had a similar experience, I mumble something and excuse myself.
When I reach my dorm room, the world is still spinning. I sit on the bed and bury my head in my hands. “What was that?” I scream to myself. Mentally, I immediately back-peddle, trying to delete the experience from my existence. All I need is a relationship with a foreign student! My parents warned me to never bring home a Catholic. What will they say if I introduce them to a dark-skinned, Muslim Arab from some country called Saudi Arabia? The idea is simply too absurd. It is a loaded bomb with the capability of blowing my present life to shreds. Dismissing the whole incident, I pack for Easter.
My week at home is hardly fun. I break up with a boyfriend I had cared a great deal about. I also can’t get Osane out of my thoughts. His face keeps flashing through my mind. No matter how hard I try, it seems that my path is already beginning its curve toward strange new worlds. I return to campus feeling full of turmoil. On the third day back I receive a call from Osane asking me to dinner. I tighten my grip on the phone. My inner confusion breaks into bedlam, causing a long pause of indecision. Finally, to my surprise, I hear myself say, “Sure.”
As I dress for our first date, red flags explode, creating a mental minefield. Several times I sit down and hold my sick stomach. Indecision is making me nauseous and I marvel that my feet keep moving toward the door. “You are certainly mad,” I say to myself as I wait for the elevator. I meet Osane in the dorm lobby and he walks me to his car. As he opens the door for me, I push my apprehensions aside and smile at him. Soon we are driving through campus on our way to the other side of town. It doesn’t take long to arrive at the house he rents with his two roommates.
As we pull into his driveway I am much more at ease, for I am finding it difficult to be nervous around Osane. The minute I see his small house surrounded by empty lots, I like it. Upon entering, I am impressed by how tidy it is. The table in the dining room is already set and when Osane walks into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on his chicken dinner, I have an opportunity to talk with his roommates.
During the conversation, I glance around the living room. The one couch and two armchairs have brightly patterned cushions scattered around. The sun is shining in the front windows, giving the room a bright and airy feel. Thick textbooks are thrown on the coffee table, and backpacks hang on hooks by the door. Soon the meal is served, and the four of us sit around the table eating a delicious dinner. Somehow, I am totally at home in this little house, as if I belong here.
After dinner, Osane’s roommates clean up, allowing us alone time. We sit on the couch and as Osane lights his pipe, our eyes meet once again. Finding it impossible to look away, I feel as though electrical shocks are pulsing through me. I can feel my insides fluttering and a droning interference overwhelms my mind. Just before I slide into a puddle of nothingness, I look deeper into Osane’s eyes. I suddenly realize that he is also fighting his emotions.
With my brain in full reverse, I stand up. I attempt to leave the room, but irresistible magnetic forces pull our bodies together. In a daze, I watch Osane tenderly pick up my hand. As our flesh touches, our combined energy sizzles and sparks into a flame. This feverish blaze transforms into a seasoned fire as the weeks pass.
Soon Osane and I can’t see enough of each other. The hours between meetings are simply tolerated. We become obsessed with one another. Familiarity begins to dim the voices of prejudice I had ingested as a child. The more we talk, the more real Osane becomes, and I am finally able to truly see him.
What materializes before me is a handsome human being. Osane’s thin frame stands just a little shorter than mine. His
skin is a beautiful shade of tan, like a deerskin in midsummer. He has inherited the fine features of his desert brethren, and when his full, strong mouth breaks into a smile, his whole face becomes charismatic. The hint of a cleft in Osane’s chin provides a balance to his features. Osane’s hair is thick, curly, and beautiful, but the focal points of his face are his burnt-amber eyes. From the first moment I saw him, they have mesmerized me. Full of sensitivity, humor, depth, shadows, and dark clouds, his eyes enchant and captivate, pulling me into his personal space.
Being so absorbed in one another makes the weeks pass quickly. Osane and I desert our friends, drop outside activities, and skip classes. As we dig further into each other, what we uncover is that we are kindred spirits. Somehow, brought up in two different worlds, we have developed the same value systems, interests, goals, and a similar way of looking at life. Neither of us wants to be cornered into a suburb, nor do we want any country to consume us. Let the world be our home. Our spiritual beliefs also blend, for in our world God is not dead.
In our isolated college world, our relationship blossoms. After all, we are the New Age children of the 60s. We are embodying the emotions of our era. John Lennon sings, All You Need is Love, and we believe him. This mood carries us through the semester and into the summer.