By Shannon Rodgers
Many of the ladies here in the BB&W community, have expressed concerns about dating men of certain cultural, and ethnic back grounds; and with good reason. A lot of us feel that men of certain cultures would never take a relationship with a black woman, an American woman, a Christian woman, or a combination of all three, seriously. We harbor fears that these men only view us as whores and jezebels, unworthy of making us their wives and showing us off to their mothers. We harbor fears that the children we have with these men will ask us one day: “Why do I look different from other kids and where is my dad?” And that we will have no answer for them. There are many stories of women who gave their hearts and the better half of their years to relationships like these only to be left with fatherless children (or children stolen from them), broken hearts, and bitter spirits; so I understand the hesitation many women feel in pursuing romance with these men. My intentions with this story is not to persuade any ladies to change their stance on pursuing intercultural relationships nor am I here to put down ethnic men. I only want to tell my story; the story of how my first love just happened to be a Yemeni, Muslim man.
It seems like forever ago that I met (we’ll call him Ali for the sake of privacy) but in reality, it’s only been a little over 2 years. Two springs ago, at nineteen, I moved out of my grandmother’s place in to my own apartment, it was there, at our community pool, that I met Ali.
I never believed in love at first sight until I saw Ali. Call it lust or infatuation if you’d like, but the first thing that popped into my head when he looked in my eyes and smiled at me was: I’m going to fall in love with this boy. He’s going to be my boyfriend.
“Hey,” he smiled, “How old are you?”
“Nineteen!” he laughed. “You look fifteen.”
“You look fifteen,” I shot back, “shoot you’re the same size as me.”
That was our first exchange.
“I can’t reach it babe I’m a shorty like you!” He used to exclaim, laughingly. He was short, just a bit taller than me at about 5”3 with a small build, big long lashed hazel eyes and the prettiest curly black hair pulled in to a pony tail. He had a laughing smile with an over bite and an easy going personality. He was twenty-three. Everybody knew him as “the little cute guy that worked in the tobacco store,” or, “the tobacco store guy,” and he seemed to be friends with everyone. Having always been shy, Ali’s easy going personality and sense of humor helped me to relax and let my guard down. He had a silly sense of humor and could smile and talk to people as if he’d never known a stranger.
We started talking immediately after meeting each other. He brought me lunch one day and I returned the favor by bringing him a slice of pizza at work. Later that week we went party hopping out in the complex just looking for a good time. Eventually we started dating and barely spent a minute apart. If he wasn’t at my place I was at his, if he wasn’t picking me up after work I was picking him up. If we couldn’t physically be together we were on the phone or on video chat. After he would get off work we would go get something to eat and just sit around watching movies, laughing, and munching on subs and milk shakes from Sheetz (the only place open after third shift!) When his work hours started to pick up and he couldn’t make it over as often, he would call me or video chat with me for hours. If he had time before his second and third shifts he would come by and just cuddle and watch tv with me until it was time for him to go.
We shared a lot of laughs. We did henna tattoos on each other, talked about our goals, talked about his family back home, about college, about his religion, about drama in the complex. We had our share of arguments and drama as well, but we always ended on a good note.
Eventually he moved two hours away, just one of three stops he would make before going back to Yemen. I went to visit him. Even when I came to visit, he still had to work, but he kissed me before he left for workeach morning, set up his ipad (which was rigged to the security cams at his job) and told me I could keep an eye on him while he was at work. When he got off we went out to eat, went shopping at the mall, played with his new puppy, and went to a little lake to just sit and be together. I’ll never forget when he hugged me for the last time. We held each other for what felt like forever. I never realized you could physically feel someone saying goodbye until that moment.
We lost steady contact almost immediately after that. Here and there he would steal a moment to call me or message me, but I could always here someone in an angry, Arabic accent telling him to hang up the damn phone. Other times I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it didn’t sound nice.
One of our conversations went something like this:
“I have to go back home baby.”
“Home to Yemen?”
“I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
All of a sudden, I began to build up a resentment towards him that I couldn’t understand. I think what it really was, however, was a resentment towards our situation. I already knew that this would never last. Ali was young, probably married with children back in his home country, he was Muslim, he was from a culture that looked down on anything that deviated from their norm. Why did I do this to myself? Why did I fall for a guy I knew I couldn’t have? And why couldn’t I have him? Why couldn’t our relationship have had a fair chance?
Before he left I wanted to severe all ties with him. I deleted the apps we used to video chat on and said nasty things to him that still make me cringe to think about. So nasty that eventually he deleted me from a few social media networks too. I regretted it immediately and am still sorry for the way I reacted. I was hurt and angry and lashing out. I sent him one last message apologizing for the way I acted and letting him know that that wasn’t the way I wanted to leave things between us. I told him I would always love him and I would miss him when he was gone. He never replied.
Or atleast that was what I thought. About a month later I re-installed the app we used to chat on. My old contacts were saved along with my old chats. In them I saw where he had tried to contact me several times before and after I blowed up at him. A picture he had taken of us video chatting, a video, several messages. I saved the picture for a long time. Then a while later his cousin, whom I had met before, got in touch with me: You know Ali still loves you.
Tell him to tell me that. I replied. And that was the end of that.
Ali will always have a special place in my heart. He was my first love. I keep up with him occasionally via Facebook. He’s doing well with his family, a son, a wife, and I assume more kids, and that makes me happy. He deserves happiness. A small part of me will always wish that me and Ali’s circumstances had been different, but I do believe people come in to your life for a reason. Ali came in to mine to show me how beautiful love can feel and maybe that was just the part he was meant to play. I’ll always cherish the memory of him and I hope he does the same, but we’ve long since moved on with our lives and are now pursuing happiness in different ways.
And who knows? Maybe we’ll see each other next life time…