Nothing good comes easy, but why must it be this hard?
Anxiety can be a blessing, and so can all the quirks I never knew were going to come into play at that moment in my life.
I switched on the autopilot, I let my mind take the wheel.
I memorized all my credit cards, this was way before autofill on Chrome was a thing, and I somehow looked at booking tickets to two places, the first the Netherlands, and then the second, the US.
The earliest ticket I found was to New York, and it was flying in under 2hrs.
I Booked it.
With the blood rushing through me I ran to my room, put on anything I could find in the short amount of time I had.
I assumed it was cold, so I put on boots, a cardigan and grabbed a coat.
It was easier to put a dress on plus leggings due to my cut wrist, so I did that.
I looked like Annie with the dress and cardigan I had on, an Annie ready for a snow day, and ready for tomorrow.
I needn’t be too prepared for Choice #2, my autopilot chose arrival with the least amount of suspicion.
My autopilot failed at one thing, though, and that was the anticipation of how I was going to react to the sight of my niece.
Even though she was nonverbal autistic, she communicated well and she showed tremendous love.
My sister and niece stayed in a room right opposite of where I parked my car.
As I started my car and backed out of the driveway, there she was, looking outside the window.
My niece always lifted the blinds, and look outside the window to either greet me or say goodbye.
The look on her face this time was different… she knew… that child somehow knew that it’ll be the last time she sees me. She stared on, our eyes locked, and my autopilot shut off.
I cried all the way to the airport, her look instilled in my mind. I have abandoned her and let her down.
What have I done.
The drive was a blur, and I had to stop crying to reduce any suspicion and avoid any undesired attention.
I turned my autopilot on, and tried to keep cool.
As I did not print my ticket I had to go collect it at the counter.
Simple exchange most days, but today was different. He took a moment checking something on his screen and tells me he’ll take a moment.
My façade breaks and my anxiety kicks in. I remember thinking that they found out I left and called the police, that I’m soon found out and will return to that little hell of a home.
“Ma’am, you do realize you should arrive at least 2.5hrs before departure? We wouldn’t be able to check in your baggage on time. Do you have any baggage to check?”
“Not at all, and really sorry about that, I had to change my flight last minute. I’m going to go shopping in New York and just get stuff there. I already have a list of stuff to get my family, too!”
“Yeah there’s a lot of stuff there for sure! Let me print your ticket and get you ready.”
I grabbed my ticket. Challenge 1 was done, it was time for immigration.
I hate this step, I hate the questions and the judgements and always try to choose someone who looks easy going.
As I awaited my turn anxiously, I needed up with a lady in her mid 20s with one hell of an attitude.
She looks at me and grins momentarily. This isn’t the friendly grin, this is the grin you see on the side of a person’s mouth, exuding judgement, and a need to feel superior.
I gave her mine and smiled, not too widely, not too happily, not too suspiciously, just enough to pass as uncaring and hence unnerved. All I could think about was how much I hated the scrutiny I always received at immigration, the unnecessary questions:
“where’s your guardian?”
“why are you travelling alone”
“does your family know you’re out and travelling”.
“Do you have a no obligation letter from the police signed by your brother”
“Why are you not wearing your headscarf”
… Why won’t you just leave me alone and let me be.
She looks at my passport, flips it, astonished as it’s maroon and looks at me, stares again at my passport, gives me a look, opens it, flips to my page, stares at it and looks at me and repeats the process as if to assure herself she’s doing something right.
My façade breaks some more at this stage.
Of course! I thought, it wasn’t the agent at the ticket counter they’d tell, the police probably filed a travel block and it shows in the system
A man is called and he comes towards us, she grabs him and speaks to him, though in front of my eyes, everything seemed secretive. They exchange a few words, they look down at my passport, they then look at me, and it felt as if my organs failed, my breath was gone and so was my future
“where’s your Abaya?”
“I take it off before I travel”
The officer nods, they look at my hair and smirk. Curly hair isn’t a thing to be proud of in the Middle East.
He leaves, she looks at me a smirks again as if she was the decider of my fate. And she was but didn’t know it.
“you’re good to go”
My heart restarts again like w failed engine, I catch my breath and hold my tears back.
I rush through the security checks and to the free duty area and buy the first cheap phone I find. There was a lot I needed to do and my laptop wasn’t going to do the job.
I set up my phone and connect to the wifi and let my autopilot do the rest
I changed my passwords
I deleted all my social media accounts
I logged in to Google’s Where’s My Phone service and wiped both phones.
They’ll never find me. They’ll never find anything “haram” .
I’ll disappear, and so will the burden and shame they made me carry on my shoulder my whole life.
“that whom never belonged, never was, and never shall be. ”
I needed to think
Oh! Address! I need a place to stay in New York. But for how long… where…
I just booked the first Hostel I found.
Hostelling international, it was one of the few with last minute rooms and it was the first to pop up on my search.
The day’s work was far from done, though.
I like to think I’m alone in this world, but that’s far from the truth. In the days I was gone, my friends worried, and I confined in a few and told them what was going on.
One-way tickets to the US, I learned, were suspicious.
I needed to devise a good story that’ll convince the US security at the gate that I’m not going to stay.
I had all the indicative marks they looked for:
Battered, and female, distressed.
No luggage, Or a lot of luggage.
One way ticket.
I emailed my ex at the time who was in Denver:
Title: I am running away
Body: I made it into the airport and now waiting to board. Please send me your address in the states
I wasn’t going to let this slip. I’ve made it this far, it is time.
Choice #2 is my only, it’s now or never.
I’ve been wanting to leave this country since I was 8. I never felt that I fit or that I belonged. I was relentlessly bullied by family members, teachers (even they were assholes), classmates and even colleagues.
I was always looked down upon and even more so they made sure I felt like an outsider.
I was so alone… I felt so alone…
Will this change for me now, will the world take me on or will it reject me as well.
I could never tell if it would, but it’s time to find out
As I pass through security, they check my bags, they check my Passport for the visa and my ticket, and clearly the questioning ensues.
“you booked this ticket last minute. This is also a one-way ticket, why are you flying to the United States?”
“well I haven’t seen my boyfriend since 2013, I met him in Denver when I was studying (I did not). We usually meet up in Europe which is mid way and he just told me his leave of absence has been approved. I just really miss him and wanna stay with him for a bit and I haven’t yet decided how long I’d like to stay. I’ve got over a month of leave from my company, too! So I’ll just go shopping and probably see more of the US”
Nothing like a good sob story about a “good” Muslim girl in a secret relationship with a heathen boyfriend to make the hearts of freedom lovers throb.
And their hearts did, as they smiled and I smiled and blushed, they let me go through
You’d notice by now shopping is a theme. I just wanted to sound as Qatari as possible, as spoiled as possible, as clueless as possible. This was the only way. I needed to utilize my reality to for theirs. I learned this style of masking as a form of safety, and due to my neurodivergence.
If you’re reading this, too, you’d wonder why they haven’t asked anything about how I could “afford” the trip.
Well… for once, the stereotype of the rich girl from the Gulf came in handy. Money wasn’t seen as a problem and hence that isn’t even part of the screening.
Who knew… that being abused for ages, Learning how to make people happy, masking, negative stereotypes and anxiety, could be my saviors that dreadful day?
I pass through my gate and sit on my assigned seat in coach. In the back of my mind I always thought that, until that planes in the air, I shouldn’t celebrate.
And so, as I sat there, thinking they’d make the plane turn back somehow, as soon as the wheels left the tarmac, all systems and defenses were dropped. I felt my shoulder drop with the pressure on the plane, as if an armor fell off and onto that tarmac, an armor of years of masking, shame, and fear, we’re left on that tarmac, and I did it.
I recall hugging the airline’s blanket close to my chest and breathing deeply. There were no tears left in me, I suppressed them beyond their short lived existence.
And as i looked down at my wrist, oh, how insignificant life can be. As my family did not care, so did no one at that airport. If any significance came from that incidence, it’s the breaking of my imaginary shackles and binds. I set myself free.
Exhausted, I didn’t have time to lament what I’ve left behind.
I did not, after all, have much to leave. With not many friend, no real family, no real “traditional” life, I had nothing but material things attached to that location.
I couldn’t lament on what was not there, or all that could’ve been.