Men

On Sunday, July 27th, 2014, while living vicariously thought the story of a friend’s latest love affair, I had a revelation. Here’s how the conversation went:

Friend: He parked by a mud puddle last night, so he picked my fat ass up and carried me over it.
Me: You’re like Cinderella
Friend: I have never had a guy treat me like that.
Me: I think I figured it out, dude. It’s because men are different than boys. And when we met our husbands they were boys. So they never learned to be men that sweep women off their feet. They didn’t have to.
Friend: Yes! Agreed!

How is it that we are just now figuring this out, you guys?

All these years we’d been experiencing boys. Now, finally, in our 30s, each with a marriage under the belt and each having been through breakups and breakdowns, we had each had the chance to experience what it is like to be in the company of a man. Apparently when you’ve experienced a man, boys become intolerable. Who knew. So that was the day that I realized I don’t hate men. I haven’t sworn men off. I love men. It’s boys that are the problem.

I’ve always hated those posts that are shared on Facebook about what it means to be a “real” man or a “real” woman. I don’t want to insinuate that anyone who identifies as a male is anything other than a male, but I do think there is a marked difference in the maturity levels of men and boys and, in particular, someone who I’d consider man enough for me.

Until very recently all I’ve ever experienced in the world of romance was boys. The Boy (my high school/college sweetheart who I’ve written about many times) was obviously a boy when we met. The Mr. was too. And I was a girl, of course, so there was nothing wrong with those boys when they were center stage in my love life. But I’ve just recently realized that I’m a woman now, so boys just won’t do anymore.

I can’t get over the fact that now, at nearly 32 years of age, I realize that there are MEN in the world. I’m not joking when I say that for the longest time, I had no idea.

There are men who open doors and place a hand on the small of your back. Men who know who they are and what they want out of life. Men who take you out because they want to see you have a good time, not because they want to get laid. Men who have careers and life insurance policies and cars in their name. Men who own things. Men who don’t play games with your emotions or waste your time. Men who are fathers and take care of their children. Men who want to have children and become fathers. Men who appreciate and understand the value of women. Men who make time for you and ask how your day was. Men who know when to give you time to yourself. Men who get to know you before expecting you to take your clothes off. Men who appreciate and admire your body without objectifying it. Men who know what to do with your body when you present it to them. Men who aren’t afraid to admit to their weaknesses, who know that there is strength in those weaknesses. Men who aren’t afraid to cry. Men.

As for boys, I’m swearing you all off for good. It’s men only from here on out because I love men. I think I’m finally opening up to the possibility of making room in my life for one someday.

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Mother may I?

Today’s post is a short one. Mostly because my cat is sitting on my shoulder and every time I touch the keyboard she wants to help out.

I have a lot of answers for the women who write to me in search of solutions to their relationships with Saudis. I can tell these women if they’re wasting their time, if their Saudi boyfriend is lying through his teeth, if they’re playing with fire and about to get burned, and if it’s time to let go and move on.

But there are some questions I can’t answer. I have questions too. This one in particular has been on my mind for the past decade or so. I’m hoping Saudi men will chime in here and help us all out.

Why is it ok to disobey God by having a girlfriend, maybe even a live-in girlfriend, but the idea of disobeying Mama by marrying said girlfriend is unthinkable?

Discuss!

A peek at my vacation

I had so much fun on vacation, you guys. Life changing fun. I wish I could tell you all the details, but highlights will have to suffice for now.

I’ve been feeling a little bit better for the past couple of days. As much as I don’t like to talk about the bad stuff, it helps when I do. So today, instead of being pissy about being back in the Kingdom, and in celebration of my two days of no tears, I’m going to share some pictures of what may well have been the best 3 weeks of my adult life.

I’m sharing because none of it would have happened if you didn’t make it happen. I can’t explain how grateful I am, but I can show you pictures, and maybe that will be enough.

For some reason the only time I took out my actual camera on this trip was to take my baby sister’s engagement pictures…because OMG my baby sister got ENGAGED, so most of them are crappy phone pics. Crappy and fantastic. Craptastic. For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you’ll see some repeats here, but also some new stuff too. Enjoy!

My trip home started with an 8 1/2 hour layover in freezing cold (to me) Paris. When the plane touched down and I noticed that it was a gloomy, rainy day, I began to cry tears of joy. Since I was too chicken to leave the airport and explore on my own, I spent $22 on a sort of crappy Parisian breakfast at the airport and enjoyed it while wrapped up in my daughter’s pink zebra striped One Direction blanket. This tea got cold really fast, but I was in PARIS.

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For the first few days of my trip I went to my Daddy’s house. That’s him manning the grill. He used to do all the cooking when we were growing up, but ever since my amazing step mom slash bff came into the picture 9 years ago, he’s happily passed the reins on over to her for everything except the actual grilling. She’s vegan but somehow makes the most amazing burgers and pot roast in the world. That’s her behind my dad…sorry Sonia. This picture was from the 4th of July.

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What kind of Americans would we be if we celebrated our independence without fire and explosives?

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When I go home the list of things I want to eat is usually longer than the list of people I want to see, but this year people won and I didn’t eat a lot. Except for Mexican food. I ate a LOT of Mexican food. Four times in three weeks, I believe. I have a problem.

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I combined my love of people and eating one afternoon with my friend and ex cubicle mate Connie at the famous DeBrand Fine Chocolates. I consumed this chai latte float without shame or regret.

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No shame or regret, because this is what I was faced with and I still only ordered a chai latte float.

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Many other things happened during that couple of days at my dad’s house, including things so scandalous I couldn’t photograph them. But onto the next leg of my trip…10 days in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

I’m usually bored to tears when I go to visit my mom’s place. She’s usually working and most of my old friends have either moved away or moved on with their lives, so I’m usually counting down the days until I can head back to Indiana. But these 10 days…I didn’t want them to end. Most of the awesome happened in those 10 days.

For starters I did lots of driving! No word on whether or not my reproductive system has survived the damage I surely subjected it to, but it was fantastic either way. Don’t worry, I was parked for this picture.

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Remember me telling you there were babies I had yet to meet? This is one of them. I finally got to meet this little dude, named Corbin, the newest member of my friend Chris’s family. You’ll hear more about Chris in a bit, but first things first…Corbin. Snot and drool and all.

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I love my mom’s house because it’s peaceful and surrounded by nature. I also don’t love it because my mom is always remodeling something. Currently it’s the 160 year old house that she bought mid reconstruction. But this year her projects are tolerable and even inspiring in some ways. This is the bedroom floor, midway through its refurbishment. There’s something magical about the layers of time being sanded away to reveal beautiful wood underneath.

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I got to spend a LOT of time with a special friend. You know those friends who, no matter how hard time and distance and circumstance try to tear you apart, you pick right back up where you left off? I mean, most of my friends back home fit into that definition because very few people have stuck this whole situation out with me. But this one is extra special. And while hanging out each day, I got to take in this view. We’re sitting in Ohio, and that tree covered hill in the distance is West Virginia.

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My mom and I spent a lot of time together during that 10 days too. She’s thankfully (is it ok to say thankfully here?) not working so every day we got up, got dressed, and went on an adventure.

The little town I grew up in is home of the best fish sandwich in the world. I know it’s the best because I don’t eat fish and I love this sandwich. I was fortunate enough to meet with one of my readers and her husband as they passed through Wheeling and I recommended they have a fish sandwich. You’re welcome, Coleman’s. Feast your eyes, folks. That’s a famous Coleman’s fish sandwich on a bun with mayo and a side of jojo fries. My mouth is watering.

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We also walked around Centre Market and checked out a few antique stores and passed by the coolest used bookstore I’ve ever seen. The sign reads as follows: “When the store is closed, please feel free to borrow them or keep them and pay me later. Anytime: if you don’t have money to buy books and need or want to read, help yourself.” The store was indeed closed, and books were hanging out on the porch, waiting for new homes.

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Mom and I took an impromptu trip up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as well. We visited the strip district, home of quirky stores galore, including a coffee shop slash cigar lounge called The Leaf and Bean where the cigar-smoking hipster barista reignited my love of small talk with strangers. We had lunch at the famous Primanti Bros. where we ate the most gigantic sandwiches I’ve ever seen. I can still taste that sandwich, you guys. It was amazing. Yes, that’s fries AND coleslaw on the sandwich.

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After lunch mom and I accidentally drove to the top of Mount Washington, saving ourselves 10 bucks on a ticket to ride the Incline. We snapped a few pictures…well, I did while my mom stood a few feet back so that she wouldn’t fall off the edge. Here’s a view of the city from the top of Mount Washington. My friends and I used to ride the train to Pittsburgh in high school and college, and I thought it was such a huge city. Compared to Riyadh, it’s teeny!

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I did make my mom join me for a picture as well. Despite the fence that prevents you from plummeting to your death, she was terrified. This was a bad hair day. I don’t care.

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In Wheeling I also got to hang out with the coolest 3 year old around, my niece Chloe. I’ll admit that until this summer Chloe and I did not click. But this year she and I became the best of friends and selfie takers. Here we are checking out the flowers at Oglebay Park.

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I also got to spend some time with my Grandma! She and I have always had a special bond. I was her first grandchild, after all, and she’s always offered her unconditional love, even when I was a mouthy teenager and when I grew up to make some downright crazy life decisions. She is priceless to me. My mom says this is where I get my nose. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank her for my booty. Junk in the trunk began right here, folks.

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The trip with my mom to Pittsburgh was only one of THREE times I went there. On an otherwise ordinary Thursday evening my high school best friend Chris and I went for dinner and dancing. We started out at station square, a part of the city’s waterfront.

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We had a delicious dinner at a place that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of because the rest of the night was that amazing. I discovered at that dinner that I apparently like asparagus. The only thing that prevented me from saying can I have fries instead of asparagus at that fancy-dancy restaurant was my pride. This was one time my fear of the judgement of others won, because asparagus is delish.

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After dinner we walked around for a bit and checked out a cool water fountain music show. Here we are looking like two mothers who haven’t had a night out since they can remember and are so excited they’re not pushing strollers or saying no to ice cream for the 57th time today. This is Chris. She calls me Moo. I accidentally laughed at her when she was in the throes of brain surgery recovery. She accidentally laughed at me when I was in labor. Thick as thieves.

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After dinner, Chris and I went in search of a place to dance at which point I was shocked to realize that things had changed quite a bit since my dancing days were in full swing. The first place we went had a pool on the roof. And a really cool garden on the walls. I don’t know those people and I’m sure they were wondering why I was taking their picture.

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A pool on the roof with barely enough room to scoot past the other club-goers, with women wearing dangerously high heels, and copious amounts of alcohol being consumed. I’m sure if we would have stuck around long enough, we would have seen the perfect accident. But we did stick around long enough for me to decide that I could totally walk across that wall down the middle of the pool and not have to fight the crowd to get a beverage. It’s a crap picture, but it’s proof of my feat. I’m so happy I didn’t fall in.

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The rest of my Pittsburgh experience will be committed to memory and/or a book someday. It was crazyawesome. And it ended with these.

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I headed back to Indiana to spend the last week of my trip at my dad’s place. I spent a lot of time with my brother who had just moved back to town and I can’t explain how thankful I was for that time with him. Addiction had sadly taken him far away and made him into a person that I no longer recognized, so the time that I had with him this summer was priceless. We ate lots, he proved himself to be the perfect shopping buddy, and we even spent a night parked at the shadiest hookah lounge you’ve seen since that guy’s basement your freshman year of college. There’s never been a cooler and more inspiring little brother.

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I also got to spend time with my friend Candi, who coincidentally, despite having no connection to Chris, also calls me Moo. We’ve been coworkers and have navigated affairs and surprise babies and breakups and the death of her husband together. At one point our friendship ended, but thankfully we’re back in business. We ate, went on drives, drank lots of Mountain Dew, went dancing, had a photo session, and too many other shenanigans to mention here. Please excuse my hoodie. I was cold for pretty much the entire trip.

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My trip came to an end much too quickly. I spent a lot of time those last few days enjoying the weather and cherishing my family. I can’t tell you how much I miss grass….the smell of it, the beautiful deep green, and the feeling of it beneath my toes. And dandelions. Don’t kill them off, you guys. They’re so pretty.

And that green dress I am wearing in the picture is my favorite dress. I had to leave that favorite dress behind when the lady working the Delta check-in counter decided 52 pounds of luggage was acceptable, but 55 pounds was not. I’ll see you again next year, green dress.

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Remember me mentioning that my baby sister got engaged?! Here’s a couple shots of her and her fiance. I hope to make it back for their wedding next year so I can show you all those pictures too.

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Of course leaving is the worst part about going home, but looking back at these pictures and taking the time to share them with all of you is a great way to remember the sweetness. Remembering is the only thing that keeps me going sometimes. I’m usually pretty quiet here when it comes to the parts of my life that happen outside of my head, but it feels good to open up and share a part of my life that so many people came together to make happen.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all so much for sending me home. I love you all.

The Bubble

B, Dania, and Amelie, this one’s for you.

There’s a lot of talk about what happens to Saudi men when they return to their homeland after extended periods abroad. In the West, your Saudi guy is just one of the guys. He might drink beer with his buddies, you might go dancing together, he gets along well with your gay best friend, and you’ve never heard him say astaghfirullah.  But if you’re a woman involved with a Saudi I’m sure you’ve heard (maybe even from me) the warning about how he’ll change once he takes you back home. (Despite the joking nature of this post, that’s a legit warning.)

But it goes deeper than Saudi men. This place changes people. All people. Something happens to you. You feel it as soon as your plane lands, I swear. You may not necessarily notice it the first time you ever arrive here, but if you’ve lived here for some time, and you leave for vacation, you can feel it when you get back. I call it The Bubble.

The Bubble is my idea of an invisible force field that surrounds this country. It causes a drastic change in personality and the complete loss of characteristics such as patience, logic, happiness, reasoning, open mindedness, and the ability to wait in a line. And the religious changes…I’m not even going to go there in this post. But wow.

No one is immune from the bubble, even those who are aware of it. Even my very normal friends and I, who are quite happy and carefree in our “regular” lives, become angry, bitter, raging bitches because of The Bubble.

You will think you’ve boarded a plane with seemingly normal people, both locals and expats, heading for Saudi Arabia. They’re polite, they wait their turn to board the aircraft, and they smile in your direction. They eat their meals on the plane without tossing their garbage into the airplane aisles. They address the flight crew with kindness…no finger snapping or shrieks of “EG-A-CUSE-ME”  to be heard. Women sit next to men and men sit next to women and adultery does not take place. Then you touch down in the Kingdom and the squeaky click-clacking of seat belts being prematurely unfastened against the warnings of the flight attendants is your first clue that The Bubble has begun to have an affect on your fellow passengers. A woman rolls her suitcase over your toes. A guy drops his backpack on your head. No big deal. Get used to it. We’re back in Saudi.

How does this happen? Why does it happen? Does this place break everyone’s give a damn?

While on vacation I watched a documentary about how other people around you, knowingly or not, can pick up on and be affected by your energy, or mood, if you will. Is this a thing? Could this place be so full of negative energy that it affects the basic personality and behavior of people who live here? I think it’s a thing. We’ve all gotten a “bad vibe” from someone at least once. We’ve all had a perfectly good mood ruined just by entering the same room as someone who’s not in such a good mood. It must explain The Bubble.

Whatever the explanation, it continues to baffle me that a nation of Muslims living in what they consider to be the holiest of holy grounds for Muslims can’t manage to remember basic manners. Suddenly people can’t find trash cans, recognize traffic lanes, their children don’t need carseats, and the faces of women become forbidden.

I know this sounds totally generalized and I know there are many, many exceptions to the rule , but there is no denying the effects of The Bubble. Please help me understand this, you guys. Especially those of you who live here. And most definitely my Saudi readers. What gives?

Grief…again?

I’ve just had a realization. Like, just now.

For the better part of the last three years I have been so focused on dealing with the clusterfuck that is my marital life that I haven’t taken the time to deal with the fact that I foolishly got myself into a serious bind by moving to Saudi Arabia.

I’ve been through all of the stages of grief for the marriage.

Denial: CHECK
Anger: CHECK
Bargaining: CHECK
Depression: CHECK
Acceptance: CHECK

I’ve experienced the ins and outs of all of them in no particular order and have had the joy of experiencing each one several times. I’m living with acceptance for the majority of the time now and it’s fabulous. So I should be fine, right? Wrong.

I am sure it sounds dramatic to insist that living in KSA is in fact a loss that I have to grieve. I did, after all, do it to myself in a way. I didn’t even realize it until just now when I began this post. I’m grieving the loss of my way of life, my freedom, my future, and of who I am at my core.

I’ve dealt with denial by hiding in my house and pretending to forget where I’m at. I’ve tried endless bargaining schemes with The Mr. and with God, most recently a week ago while I was still in the States. And you all know about my anger and depression issues.

Just like in the early days of grieving the loss of my legitimate marriage, I am having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Many days I find it hard to believe that I will ever be ok with living here and that I will ever gain acceptance of my situation.

In a way this grief has been more difficult to deal with than the marriage stuff. At least while grieving my marriage I could rely on me to get me through it. But in this process, I feel like I’m losing me and I don’t know how much of me will be left when it’s all said and done.

Knowing what I know from grieving my marriage, I know that I will eventually come through this, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, and most days I find it hard to keep breathing. I just hope it goes quickly. I just want to feel normal again.

Another sad post, I know. Sorry not sorry.

Culture Shock

I dragged my suitcase to the check in counter in preparation for my trip back home and noticed the young woman who was already standing there. She was frazzled and emotional and I felt instantly connected to her because my feelings on the inside matched her feelings that were spilling out for everyone in that tiny airport to see. She was upset that the airline wouldn’t take a cash payment for the cats she was traveling with and I was upset that I was once again heading back to my personal purgatory and that the lady at the check in desk would let 52 pounds of luggage go but not 55 pounds. I felt that girl’s pain and I knew she would understand mine as well, but we parted ways and I headed off to my gate where I cried for an hour unashamedly while sitting in the company of a dozen or so businessmen.

I was surprised when I saw her lining up to board my flight, and even more so when she ended up sitting right next to me on the plane. We chatted for the entire trip to Atlanta. She was moving to California to be with her military husband and hated flying, making me feel her sweaty palms as proof. She admitted she overheard my argument with the check in staff about my 3 pounds of extra baggage and asked me where I lived. We talked about Saudi Arabia and she said the same thing that I hear from everyone who finds out where I live: “I could never live there.” She asked me about culture shock and what it was like to experience it, but I couldn’t put it into words for her on the spot. I hope she somehow comes across my blog.

Culture Shock.

We think we know what it means and what it will feel like. I thought that it would mean I’d be in constant awe and amazement at my surroundings. I thought I would experience it once, when I first moved here, and then never again. I didn’t know I would also experience it going back to the States after a long stretch of time here. I certainly had no idea that my inability to become one with this culture would lead to me experiencing it every time I leave the house.

The culture shock happens for me as soon as I step off the jet bridge and into the airport in Riyadh. The smell of stale cigarette smoke is thick in the air and suddenly I’m being stared at again.

I move onto passport control where it’s mostly foreign workers herded up like cattle, waiting for their turn for their documents to be scrutinized, where no one smiles at you, and where the officer may not even speak to you, and if he does you find yourself thinking he could be marriage material.

Next onto collect my bags where the concepts of courtesy, personal space, and humanity are lost on most of my fellow passengers and where I have witnessed people being KNOCKED DOWN because some people don’t understand that their bags will come around again.

Customs is next. I’m convinced that customs is just a formality. There will either be one officer who is deeply engaged with his mobile or there will be a number of officers who are deeply engaged with each other. There’s a 99.9% chance no one will think to look at your bags. In the 6+ years I’ve been traveling in and out of this place, no one has EVER looked at one of my bags.

And then the exit…women, make sure you’re covered. Even if you don’t normally cover, this is the one place in the Kingdom I’d advise you to cover. Outside of the exit doors there will be droves of men waiting on people to arrive. You will feel like a walking vagina, because you are. On my mother’s first visit here, she came through this section of the airport sans abaya and wearing a knee length dress. I didn’t see her coming, but I saw hundreds of man-heads turn simultaneously in the same direction and I saw the color wash out of The Mr’s face. I’ve never seen him walk so quickly.

Now you’re free to leave the airport all together. Upon your exit you’ll feel the heat, smell the dust and exhaust, hear the incessant horn honking and the yelling of guards to waiting workers or taxi drivers. If you’re a woman, you’ll still feel eyes on you and that feeling will never stop as long as you live here. None of these feelings ever stop for me unless I leave the city or I stay in my house.

The culture shock for me here is so deep and all encompassing I am never really over it. And arriving at the airport is just the beginning. Every time I leave my house it all hits me as if for the first time. This place is an assault on the senses.

Once in a while I catch myself feeling “normal” here and then inevitably someone will run into me with a shopping cart, or cut me in line, or a taxi driver will ask me if I’m married, or a fully covered trip to the pharmacy for feminine hygiene products will make me feel like I’m standing scantily clad in a window in the shadiest part of the Red Light district of Amsterdam.

It’s hard for me to feel at home in a place so dramatically different from what I’m used to. I have adjusted to life here, no doubt, but the culture shock will always be the one thing punching me in the gut and reminding me that I definitely don’t belong here.

Six days left

This trip home has been hands down the best one I’ve ever taken. Most likely because this trip has not been overshadowed by feelings for The Mr. or a lack of closure on the marriage. Priceless is the word that comes to mind. I want to try to explain to you all how it feels to come here after being in Saudi for a stretch of time, but I’m afraid my words will never be adequate. I want to detail it all for myself so that when I return to the Kingdom and eventually have to deal once again with loneliness, isolation, and anger, I can come back here and dissect how I feel now and try to somehow get these feelings back again when I need them.

I don’t know what it’s like to go to prison, so maybe it’s not a good comparison, but that’s now I feel. Every time I come home, it’s like I’ve been in prison and I’m suddenly free. I catch up on new music, the latest movie trailers, and the increasingly ridiculous TV lineups. I hug old friends and family members I have grown too far apart from in my absence. I look at how their lives have moved along, how children have grown and developed.

Finally, outside the prison walls, I’m free to be myself. I wish I could explain to you how that feels. I’d choose that feeling over love, even.

Being here is like an affair with a previous lover. You remember all of the good times, and the good far outweighs the bad. He knows you, mind, body, and soul. There’s a familiarity about it that leads you to thinking that maybe if you never drifted apart, life together would have been grand. You know it’s just an affair and affairs always end, but oh, while it lasts.

The littlest things–things that most people probably don’t think twice about–send tears rolling down my cheeks. The feeling of comfortable sun and cool wind on my freed skin is intoxicating. Goosebumps form on my arms as the wind tosses and tangles my hair as I drive myself around town with the windows down and music up. The sound of wind blowing through the trees, of birds and crickets singing their songs, of thunder and lightning and raindrops. The smell of flowers and freshly cut grass and bonfires and weekend barbeques instead of exhaust and dust and body odor. It’s humbling and overwhelming and awe inspiring.

Being here is like coming up for air after being held under water. I am drowning in Saudi Arabia.  Most days I feel like giving up and letting it drag me further down. And I’m the one who tossed myself into the deep end, which is hard to deal with. I always think I’m fine with my self-imposed position on the back burner, but these trips home always remind me that maybe I’m not fine with it.

I know I’d have struggles no matter where I live. And my God, do I miss the struggles I had here. I can’t tell you how much I miss a 40 hour work week, arguing about politics, paying bills, that ring of salt that builds up at the bottom of your jeans from trudging through too much slushy snow in the winter, getting stuck at a railroad crossing when you’re late for work, trying to squeeze in doctor’s appointments, and complaining about gas prices. I’d take it all back if it mean no more being alone, being so far away from family, no more waking up angry and without direction, no more wasting away some of the best years of my life.

I’ve got 6 days left and I can feel my mind trying to reel my heart in. Don’t be too happy, don’t feel too much relief, don’t laugh too much, and definitely don’t think about love or freedom or happiness because those things don’t belong to you anymore. Don’t imagine what life you could be living because, remember, this isn’t your life anymore. This is just a break from your reality. Don’t get excited. Take it easy. Come back down to Earth and remember that this is nothing but a really expensive dream.