We arrived in a beautiful resort town in the early afternoon. I hadn’t seen any place like this in the country so far. It felt exotic and was bustling with tourists. There were a lot of shops, smiling people and a beautiful beach. I didn’t know what sea this was but it looked stunning. It felt strange to be surrounded by so many vacationing people. How could they be so happy and carefree? My brain couldn’t compute how oblivious people were. The incongruity helped me relax enough to take in the sounds and sights. Arik said we would sleep on the beach that night. That didn’t worry me because I assumed it would be full of kids like us, who couldn’t afford a hotel and didn’t want to sleep at a hostel.
Feeling carefree, we walked around the city for a while. It never occurred to me to ask why we were there. It was easier to pretend that we were on vacation. I relaxed a bit as we walked. It felt really good to move, even though my body was exhausted and I was in pain. I had a skull-splitting headache, my shoulder hurt, and I suspected I was developing a urinary tract infection, but there was something about keeping my feet moving that helped me stay in the present. My weariness ebbed a little. As we walked past one of the souvenir shops, we heard a popular disco song playing inside. I was ecstatic to hear a song in English. I grabbed Arik’s arm and we started singing the song together. He sang with the thickest, silliest accent I had ever heard. I could feel myself smiling from ear to ear listening to him sing, my head filling with sweet memories as I sang that song from home.
We had spent some of my $50 on bus rides and food, but Arik decided we had enough to go to a real restaurant for dinner. We sneaked into a youth hostel by the beach and took a shower. I couldn’t believe how free I felt being in the shower alone, not being watched. Even though we hadn’t paid, that small infraction didn’t keep me from enjoying these little moments of freedom. This one didn’t last long. As I was brushing my hair, Arik walked in. He didn’t care that he was on the girls’ side of the hostel. He told me to hurry up because we would be in trouble if we got caught. That seemed reasonable, so I let the anger I felt when he walked in on me subside.
We walked into the tourist center of town, to a restaurant that had white linen tablecloths and a full menu. This was the first restaurant I had been to in the Middle East. A part of me was in shock that there were actual sit-down restaurants in the country. Our mood was light. We ate an expensive meal and relaxed on the restaurant patio.
As it started to get dark, Arik’s mood began to change. By now, I could easily pick up his non-verbal communication. I could tell when something was coming, giving me enough time to tighten my stomach, pull my shoulders forward, and steel myself before he said a word. He told me we were going to go to the beach to find a good spot before it filled up. He was extremely tense and his mood had changed quickly. My intuition told me that I had just eaten my last meal with him.
On the way to the beach, we passed some phone booths. I knew Arik kept some tokens in his pocket, and I asked him if I could call my mother. He got a nasty snarl on his face and said, “Sure.” We walked to a booth, I took my mother’s number out of my purse and Arik dialed the number for me. When she answered the phone, I told her where I was and said that I wanted to go home. I asked her, “Will you please help me get home?” Her one word answer before she hung up on me was, “No.”
I was both crushed by her answer and furious with myself for calling her in the first place. I’m not sure why I called her; except for my foreboding at dinner with Arik. Maybe I wanted someone to know where I was, maybe I wanted to be rescued, or maybe I wanted to give her one last chance to prove she cared about me. Intellectually, I knew she would never help me, but my emotions had won out and pushed me to call. What upset me was that even though I knew she wouldn’t help me, I still felt the sting of her rejection. I had been abandoned again. After everything she had done to me in my past and in that country, my stomach still turned over and sank. When I hung up the phone, Arik told me, “Come” and we walked silently to the beach.
It was surprisingly crowded with people our age. There was a lot of laughter and partying, and couples making love in their sleeping bags. We found a spot and laid out our bags. As we settled on the beach Arik pointed across the water and told me what country we were looking at. He told me that as we were looking at them, they were looking back at us. As we crawled into our sleeping bags, he told me to make sure that I keep my feet tucked up because thieves were known to come in the middle of the night and slice open bags to steal anything people stored at the bottom. He turned over and went to sleep. I barely slept that night. Not only was I afraid of getting my feet cut, but the beach was rocky and I still had a queasy feeling in my stomach that something awful was going to happen.
We woke up early the next morning and washed up at one of the beach restrooms. I had a terrible stomach ache and my body was sore and very stiff. I was hungry and crabby. I could feel my irritability building with each passing moment. I had reached the end of my rope and didn’t want to hear anything Arik had to say to me that morning. It had been a long time since I had been insolent. I had forgotten my fear and was operating on weak adrenaline.
Arik came out of the bathroom wearing his military fatigues and I let out a sigh. I was right. This was going to be another day of unknown terror. The memory of our easy day of vacation fun dropped into the shadows as he walked up and told me to, “Come.”
He led me to the market square and we sat on the steps. We were both hungry. We had spent all of the money I had in my purse the night before at the restaurant. We had no money for food or for a bus ticket back north. I felt helpless but angry too, as we sat on those steps. The square was filling up with noisy tourists. The buzz of their excitement, my growing hunger, and the exhaustion of the last nine days were quickly taking their toll. I could feel my anger boiling to the surface.
Arik got up, told me he would be right back and left me alone. With each passing minute, the heat seemed more intense and the crowd seemed noisier. He was only gone a short time, but when he came back and said, “Come,” it was the last straw. I swung around, stood up, and starting yelling, “Stop treating me like a dog. I don’t come to commands like a dog. I hate you and I hate this country. What’s wrong with you people?” I ranted and stamped my feet, feeling completely out of control, exploding with pent-up frustration and fear.
I was enraged, but my body and senses were still on high alert. I felt someone coming up behind me. Before I could turn around, I was being firmly escorted out of the square by two soldiers. I watched as Arik simply turned around and walked away. All I could focus on was him walking away from me. He was leaving me! I was so hurt and angry that I didn’t register that I was being put into a car.
excerpt from Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph