I remember how excited I was about this wedding. I loved her so much; her kind face, her arms always open for a hug, and an ear to listen when I was hurting. It was she who compiled the mix-tape I listened to over and over as I lay in hospital after I’d tried to kill myself. It was she who offered me a place to live in London when the aftermath of escaping abuse proved too much for me to stay in Scotland where I’d grown up. She helped me believe in myself; told me I could be and do anything I wanted; that I was beautiful and that I deserved the world. I wanted to make her proud with everything I did.
Hers would be the first wedding that wasn’t forced, and we were all excited. I knew that after all she’d been through, I would be overwhelmed with happiness that she had found someone she loved, with whom she felt excited about building a life and family together. I knew I wouldn’t look at photographs of the bride this time around and feel a cold, hard knot of rage upon looking at her defeated expression full of sadness and fear. No. At this wedding, we would all be celebrating our freedom. A relative and I wanted to pay formal tribute as part of the celebrations, and the bride-to-be loved our proposal to perform a tasteful, elegant dance. So we worked with a friend who was a classically trained dancer and choreographer and put together an incredible routine. I practiced my spins until they were perfect; full of grace and seemingly effortless. I smiled with every undulation of the hips and twirl of the hands, daring to believe that at last I could perhaps be accepted as a woman who dreamed and swayed and yearned instead of a selfish, trouble-making rebel who shirked her duties. I thought about the man with the soft voice and secret smile who would be there too, and noticed a little jolt of electric heat in the pit of my stomach. Our eyes had caught a few times, and I wondered how he would feel about what he was looking at when he watched me dancing. I loved my outfit, which was a pure white lengha, the skirt full and weighted at the bottom with heavy transparent beaded embroidery, which flowed outwards beautifully around me when I span. I was so excited, and nervous too. By that point, a shy, fragile truce with an undercurrent of deep tension and discomfort had developed with my mother and father, who were invited to the wedding. But ten years had passed, and circumstance had surely taught them that they were no longer in any position to play judge or jury when it came to the choices I made in life. So I didn’t think about them as we stood up, our hearts beating as we walked to the front of the crowded room to perform our dance. We moved flawlessly and I felt so elevated in spirit as my body expressed the joy I felt. Afterwards, we were applauded by all, including the bride’s older in-laws, who said our performance was ‘beautiful and sweet’. My smile was almost as broad as the bride’s as I mingled with guests and drank in their praise.
But there was one group of faces that looked like thunder. When I saw those expressions as a child, fear dropped like a stone in my gut and I would turn into a jibbering, hyperventilating wreck even before I heard my name being called in the gravest of summons. I tried to tell myself that things were different now; that I had done nothing wrong and I had no one to answer to but the bride, who I knew was happy but exhausted at the day’s exertions. Apparently a friend of my father’s, upon watching the performance, had patted him on the back and said, “Well done. Looked what you’ve raised. You should be ashamed.” A family meeting ensued, much like those from childhood that were frequently intimidating, threatening and outright abusive. “How could you behave like that in front of everyone? How could you disrespect us like that? In our culture we don’t dance; it’s wrong. You have embarrassed us. We are ashamed.” Over and over the questions, accusations and dramatic incredulity.
It was the continuation of incidents like this, for years after I left, that eventually led me to cut off contact altogether. Their final blow was delivered with the words, “If you are wearing wrong things; if you are smoking; if you are drinking and going out with boys, you do not step into this house.” For a long time before my dad uttered his indictment I was doing all of those things, although nobody mentioned what they all knew when I visited, and I compromised by dressing in a way that didn’t offend them when I was there.
But I suppose that increasingly, I actually felt the same as my father. I was sick of pretending to be someone I wasn’t. And he was sick of pretending that he could be tolerant. I haven’t spoken to my parents in over six years.