The Broken Half: Chapter One
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said
“The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength,
but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”
(Bukhari :: Book 8 :: Volume 73 :: Hadith 135)
SHE WAS RUNNING LATE AGAIN, thanks to the nonexistent, illustrious mass transit system of sprawling suburbia. It was the third time this month, and Zahra was pretty darn sure her less-than-empathetic boss wouldn’t be at all happy about it: she was always on the defensive, and took any hiccup to her set routine as some kind of personal affront. The last time Zahra had come in behind schedule, a not-so-subtle hint from management was spread around the office that those who felt they could just stroll in late must not be in need of staying employed.
Okay, fine, Boss: message received loud and crystal clear, Zahra thought. But alas, the bus line didn’t seem to get the memo.
Zahra subconsciously rubbed her forearm as gently as she could bear. The upper meaty part still throbbed badly from last night’s free-for-all. Her hairline was another story. While tender to the touch from where he’d snatched and pulled, the four ibuprofens she swallowed before leaving home seemed to have taken some of the edge off. Adjusting her sweater sleeve, she was grateful her “designer wardrobe,” which consisted of a wide array of long-sleeved blouses and long skirts, cleverly hid the mounting evidence of how her life was anything but ideal.
Forced to take a bus to work instead of driving her own car was her “punishment”—Jamal’s method of constantly reminding her that nothing she owned or had been given truly belonged to her without his say-so. This included the car she’d purchased for herself, using her own money, at his unrelenting insistence. Had it been solely her decision, she would have been happy to buy a less expensive, yet reliable car, but Jamal wouldn’t hear of it. He chose instead to price them out of their budget with an expensive ride and expensive fixes.
Everything with Jamal was for show—including her. It didn’t make one bit of a difference to him if ownership meant being trapped by those alluring possessions under a mountain of debt, keeping them teetering on the edge of monetary collapse.
Lately her car had been having some issues, starting easily one minute and then stalling out the next. Start-stall, start-stall…until, she miserably assumed, her car’s fancy computer system would shut down altogether. In many ways, Zahra’s car issues mimicked her life. Perhaps, had she mentally been in a better place with the ability to think more clearly, she might have made the connection that every action and detail of life contained signs from her Lord. But instead, the allegories of life she chose to ignore kept repeating themselves, over and over again: stop-stall, stop-stall.
Jamal enjoyed playing push and pull, giveth or taketh away any time he felt threatened. Last time his issue was over Zahra not wanting to turn over her entire paycheck to him. She tried to explain how she just wanted to keep something for herself: a little pocket change she wouldn’t have to account for, but Jamal wouldn’t listen. In many ways, this form of financial powerlessness left Zahra feeling the most vulnerable. Jamal controlled the credit cards and checkbook. If she dared spend a single dime without his prior approval, he would berate her, or worse. Conversely, he had no problem racking up considerable amounts of debt in her name.
Jamal was adept at using money to manipulate and threaten her, and even his so-called gifts were just another way for him to expect something in return. Zahra hated how Jamal used his absolute control over the money to mock and threaten her into submission, doggedly reminding her that only through his sheer benevolence could she survive. One wrong move and she could find her butt on the street—or better yet, replaced by a more obedient wife in the blink of an eye.
Jamal was also deftly skilled at not leaving bruises where they could be easily detected by onlookers outside the home. In a perverse way, Zahra was glad he did his pounding this way. The last thing she needed was everyone in her business, feeling comfortable enough to dole out so-called advice or worse: making her feel even stupider than she already did for not having enough sense to leave. Zahra knew she needed to get out of this dysfunctional marriage; she wasn’t a complete fool. But so far, the timing and finances weren’t in her favor, and it was all she could do just to muster enough energy to survive another day.
After a while, the name-calling and manipulation began to wreak havoc on her psyche, causing her to question her own self-worth. Judging herself to be massively flawed and unworthy, negative self-actualization became semi-permanently ingrained in every fiber of her being. The part of her still fighting would sometimes believe she could do better on her own, but then just as quickly, the harsh reality of her existence would bubble back up to the surface. Once again, she’d toe Jamal’s controlling line, even to the extent of risking her own demise.
To add insult to injury as far as Jamal was concerned, Zahra’s income was beginning to match his own, which for him was an intolerable state of affairs. Money equaled control, and Jamal’s unbridled sexism couldn’t stomach having a wife who had the potential to earn more than him. His resentment grew as he bounced from one job to the next, while Zahra was starting to become recognized and rewarded for her abilities. That alone warranted a powerful wave of Jamal’s bitterness towards her. With his fragile ego uncontrolled, he lashed out in ways she could not have anticipated.
The queasiness increased as Zahra continued to wait for the bus to arrive. Pain pills on an empty stomach were a bad combo, but she hadn’t had a chance to eat. Of course she should have compensated for the extra time needed to take a bus versus driving herself to work, but sheer exhaustion was taking its toll. After last night’s brawl, she struggled just to get moving. The relentless emotional drainage and fatigue from those episodes left her feeling as though she were sleepwalking through life.
Zahra stretched her neck to see if anything resembling a bus was coming her way. Nothing yet. Sticking her hand into her sweater pocket, she deliberately poked at the ripped lining of her jacket, groping for the worn, folded card she successfully kept hidden so far. Momentarily comforted by realizing it was still there, she let herself breathe.
About time! Off in the distance, Zahra spotted the lumbering local bus. Frantically, she took a quick peek at her cell phone to check the time. There was still a slight chance in hell that, without too much more of a delay, she could almost make it to the work on time—if the bus would just cooperate for once.
Once on the bus, Zahra on the verge of weeping, tried to choke back the onslaught of tears. The constant pain throbbing behind her eyes caused her head to pound. Unsuccessfully trying to squint away the sun’s penetrating rays through the bus window, she shifted her face away, mindful not to make accidental eye contact with other early commuters. Zahra wished she could become invisible and disappear, but for now, escaping wasn’t a viable option.
In her other pocket, Zahra felt the familiar vibration of her cell phone. Jamal used the cell to keep track of her whereabouts, making clear the unmistakable authority he held over her. Like clockwork he’d phone or text, curtly demanding to know what she was up to. Jamal’s excessive jealousy and possessiveness were suffocating.
The county bus continued plodding forward while Zahra remained lost in her thoughts, not emotionally ready to run away from her dysfunctional and dangerous marriage.
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Sahar Abdulaziz, originally from New York, moved to the Poconos in 1993 with her growing family. In 1988 she earned her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from The College of New Rochelle. In 1995, she received a Certificate in Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Crisis Intervention Counseling and shortly after, in 1996 as a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Counselor/Advocate. In 1997 she received a certificate from PCADV and volunteered for many years as a hotline worker and counselor/advocate. In 2003, she co-facilitated a domestic violence/sexual assault group, Un Lugar Seguro. There she provided direct client contact, and counseled within individual and group settings with victims culturally or geographically isolated. In 2003, she returned to college earning a Master’s of Science degree in Health and Wellness Promotion and Administration, as well as a certification in Community Health Administration and Wellness Promotion. As an Outreach and Community speaker her speaking engagements have included: East Stroudsburg University, Women’s Resources, The Kiwanis Luncheon, Peacemakers at Kirkridge Fellowship Reconciliation, The Unitarian Universalists Fellowship of the Poconos, Radiant Hands in Tampa Florida, SUNY Empire College in Manhattan, and most recently, co-hosting for Sistah Chat Radio, WESS 90.3 FM and Gynesis Radio. She has recently been nominated for Community Written Expression at the Second Annual Monroe County Image Awards.
Among her many interests, Sahar is the author of five books, –But You LOOK Just Fine, As One Door Closes, The Broken Half, Secrets That Find Us, and her children’s book, The Dino Flu. Abdulaziz covers a wide-range of hard-hitting topics using her writing, and voice to advocate for the underrepresented, the disenfranchised and maligned. Her multidimensional characters have been described as having “substance and soul”, while demonstrating that those who have suffered abuse are not victims, but survivors. She and her husband presently reside in Pocono Township, –the proud parents of six grown children and the mega-proud grandparents of six beautiful grandchildren.