And did I mention that I didn't convert? That I am not so much a Catholic as I once was but definitely NOT Muslim? But it pains me, some. That I am not really either, that I have the confirmation of my Catholicism, the christening of my girlhood, the blood of Christ and his body still lodged in the folds of my throat, but that has been so long ago now that I even forget the ritual of the Mass.
No one really asks me about that, except my dad and even he's given up that ghost, it seems. Of course, one is never Not Catholic, one is always an ex-Catholic. It stays in the blood stream. Especially mine, having been quite literally born in a convent, played with saints' teeth sewn on little green velvet pillows, and entered puberty so, so harshly in the halls of an Opus Dei school. There are so many stories there, but they will have to wait. No one asks me about them any way.
It is the other religion in my life that gets the most queries.
So, how does that work, that he can be Muslim and you haven't converted? she asks. Well, a Muslim man can marry a Christian or Jewish woman. She doesn't have to convert. But the kids have to be raised Muslim.
But somehow, the question not directly stated is, how can your lives mesh to one? How can he pray five times a day and follow the rhythm of Islam and yet you are not.
This song on the radio today. Traffic on the LIE, the trucks' crawling through the cloudy morning and this girl is singing she misses how they breathed together, how they dreamed together. She wants that again.
In my marriage we have our breath together but also our breath apart. Even if I were Muslim I wouldn't go with him to the Mosque, like my parents went to Sunday Mass at St. Edmunds. Not in Algeria, any way, where the women for the most part don't go to the Mosque, but pray privately, at home. Not here in Astoria to the Mosque Larbi goes each Friday. For most Algerians, the Mosque is men's space. It's different in other Arab countries, and of course there are women who go the Mosque in Algeria but this is about me and my experience, so maybe I should stay away from those phrases "Most Algerians." It too much reminds me of people saying, "Most Arabs" and then always something nasty follows.
But it hurts me a little. To be excluded from that part of his life and now that my son is getting older he's going to the mosque, too, to learn Quran, to learn formal Arabic. He's entering that space and I'm getting left behind. More left behind.
It isn't like I haven't considered conversion. There is so much about Islam that draws me in, starting with the language of the Quran. The poetry is achingly beautiful. The rhythms capture me and the rhyme! The creation story is WAY better than the Christian one. But there is more to a religion than it's sacred text, no?
Early in our marriage I had a dream I was under blue calm water and Larbi was just above me praying. It soothed me and I awoke so refreshed and calm. The prayer and the water, always my element of peace, were telling me something.
But I didn't convert.
Look, I don't want to go into all the issues that I hear over and over and over that may or may not play a role in why I am not Muslim. Of course, there's the ever popular debate over how Muslim women should clothe or not clothe themselves. This debate is SO fucking old now and still it rages on, being held on behalf of Muslim women but, on my radio and on the TV and in the papers anyway, not BY THE WOMEN THEMSELVES. Was that too loud? It's just that this whole, "We have to save the Muslim women from the sick Muslim men trying to control them" thing has been around for a long time, way before any of this 9/11 Terror Wars on. And I am sick of it. To totally inappropriately quote Amy Winehouse: "My stomach drops and my guts churn." So to hell with it. I am not going to discuss it here. Right.
There is also the part of me that likes to be a bit removed, to keep a bit of myself as I have always known myself intact. So much change come with marriage and babies. I have always loved to reinvent myself. I break me apart so I can start all over again. When I was 16, I'd dramaticly say: Because my whole world shattered, my poems showed that. They were choppy and made only some kind of filthy picture but blurry and crawling. Because that was what woke me sweating in those early Denver dawns. But, I would say, I am slowly putting myself back together and my poems reflect that. I've even written a poem, 'A House Called Beauty.' I'm coming together again.
And no matter how many times I shifted my shape over the years, I've always used the same pieces to put myself back together again. I make myself whole again into a face I come to recognize as my own again. And if I were Muslim, I am sure where I would put that piece of my puzzle and if all the other parts of me that I know to be true about myself, would they all click into place again?