“Devotion is the root of all good work. You do not achieve anything without effort.” — Ali Farka Toure (lyrics from The Source)
His name was Joctan.
He was to become a man on trial. He carried many identities: husband, father, Pakistani-American. Muslim. Her name was Feriyal. She had given up everything for him.
Everything had been just fine for years. But then Joctan and Feriyal moved to New Jersey.
There was a stiff tension in the car. He pulled the white Honda Accord into the driveway, having finished up a nearly three hour trip. As the doors flew open one might sense the feeling of discomfort oozing outward, or was it just in his mind?
They had just returned from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, dropping off Feriyal’s mother who had just finished up a two-month visit at their Cherry Hill home. Joctan followed Feriyal into the house as their teenage son tagged behind. It was a late summer afternoon, bright and sunny still.
Feriyal turned around and announced, “Let’s go for a walk.”
“Now? We just got back. What about Raza?”
Feriyal responded, “Let’s drop him off at Janet’s – he can hang out with Samuel.”
The couple often went for walks around the neighborhood, which was their earnest effort to spend additional time together, discussing the day, or the in-laws, or a multitude of other topics which has been a signature trait of their relationship.
They stepped back outside without spending any time in the house, and dropped off Raza at the next door neighbors.
As they began their walk and Feriyal spoke, a cool October breeze blew strands of her long auburn hair across her light olive face. Their usual walking pace was a swift calorie-burning affair, yet today it was very decidedly different. Their steps were slower, more deliberate and cautious as they began to listen to one another.
They had just argued in the car not an hour earlier. The reason for which neither could adequately remember.
After some awkward small talk, Feriyal gestured towards the dark green park bench in the neighborhood park, “Let’s sit down.”
The cool breeze had turned the hard bench into a frigid seat, and Joctan could not help but rocking to keep himself warm. As he crossed his arms to keep out the breeze, Feriyal began speaking about what she had been holding in for the past few minutes.
The October sky was a deep and endearing blue, yet grey clouds were approaching from the far west.
She began, “I have to tell you something, but you have to let me finish, and then you can have your turn. I know you have a tendency to interrupt or wander but please I need you to listen to me very carefully this time more than ever before. Joctan – you know that I love you. You’re a good person. You’re a good father. You have good intentions. And I do love you. But…”
“I can’t keep living the way we’ve been living these past few years, and I know that I finally need to put ME first. I need to know that you love me, but I’m just not convinced that you do.”
His raised eyebrows evolved into a smirk, of astonishment.
She continued, “…You see Joctan – what’s extremely important is that you support me, and all of my needs – be they emotional, financial, physical or spiritual. And… if you simply can’t believe that what I say to you is true without needing to check for yourself, or if you simply can not even validate me, then I just can’t…”
His rocking motion to keep out the cold had slowed and now his leg bobbed swiftly up and down with apprehension and nervousness, awaiting her next words. This was getting quite dramatic, yet he listened fastidiously to each of her sentences, but began to lose track as she began to speak more quickly.
As she spoke, her words now fell out rapidly at times like gun-fire, then at times with sincere compassion, as if her words were petals falling off a flower at the end of a hot summer. After several more minutes of her mostly hurried stacato talk, he continued in his mind to process each statement made, whether fact of belief, each insinuation or accusation and each expression of endearment.
Hers were indeed a heart-felt and emotional cascade of words – yet in his mind he was immediately attempting to place each bit of information into logical quadrants such that he would then be able to appropriately respond to each and every statement she made. He had assumed that logic should dictate a rational true/false response to each of her statements, along with an appropriate defense, if needed, and an offense where required. That is how he had conceived of how one should make an argument, or participate in one. He had assumed that is the way all others did so as well.
But is love logical? He failed to ask himself that.
As she continued to speak, Joctan found himself becoming distracted and uncomfortable. He wondered to himself, “What DID those relationship books say?” He had read quite a few of those texts by this time into their marriage. He then briefly recalled having purchased more than
five books on relationships after they’d gotten married, all within the first twelve months of their marriage. These were books with titles like, “The Seven Basic Quarrels of Marriage.” He had by now already understood that she was indeed from Venus while he hailed from the red planet, figuratively.
What he didn’t understand, nor perhaps convey, much to her chagrin, was empathy. Rather he chose to picture the events others described to him in visual terms in order to process and then reply with some comment or prescription, this as opposed to conveying sentiments to the like of “oh, that’s too bad” or “I know how you feel” or “I’m here for you” or best yet “I affirm you.” After all, such empathic statements are not really necessary are they? These are simply wasted words if they are simply stated rotely. His wife, above all individuals, must know that he cares for her and deeply loves her, most assuredly, without any need for such statements. Or does she…
Feriyal was still speaking. It had been nearly twenty minutes. By this time several tears had formed in her soft brown eyes, a few having fallen onto her pale blue argyle sweater. She sighed. She inhaled a deep breath as another salty tear dripped onto her dry lips. She exhaled.
“I want us to have a trial separation. I’m going to live here in town – you don’t need to since you have no ties her like I do. I want to keep Raza with me. I know that you can move on – you can meet someone else – get married again if you want to – have kids – but not me – I can’t. I just won’t have kids – I know it. Again I’m probably never going to get married again – so I need to have my son with me.”
Joctan had expressed absolutely no emotion until this moment. Only at this specific moment, after these few words expressed by Feriyal did his own tears begin to flow with the realization that the woman seated next to him had unilaterally decided that he would not be a crucial part of her life any longer – and more distressingly to him perhaps – was the recognition that his son would be given up by him with her suggestion of his ability to pursue another new family of his own. Logic had faded. Feelings were finally expressed – but not through words. Instead his heart pounded ever more swiftly as his eyes welled up with tears.
Six years earlier, Joctan had lost a well regarded and very well paid investment banking job at one of the world’s largest global banks. He had worked there for the previous twelve years, having been recruited on the campus of a prestigious global business school. The layoff came as a bit of a surprise, especially after having received several promotions and traveling extensively for his employer on the corporate dime, to London, Mexico, the Middle East and throughout the US for business deals. He had even managed to survive and thrive through several bank mergers, 9/11, the usual bouts of market turmoil, and multiple relocations for work or family.
After the corporate severance, a more polite way of referring to a layoff, life become progressively more difficult than it had ever been before for the family. Joctan had never before been ‘laid off’ nor ‘fired” ‘let go’ or anything of the sort.
Trial… By Separation was written by Adnan Shamsi.