Written by Asha
Growing up as the second daughter was always hard. I was always second-best. I always came in second to my sister’s accomplishments. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get out of her shadow. When I wanted to be proud of being placed in an accelerated math class in fourth grade, it was overshadowed by my sister being inducted into the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) in eighth grade. When I wanted to feel good about also being inducted into NJHS when I was in eighth grade, it was old news to my parents since my sister had already done it, so my dad didn’t even bother to take off work to attend the ceremony. Everything she did was perfect and nothing I did was good enough — even if I actually bested her in grades, honors classes, or awards in school.
The other thing being held in high regard by everyone for her, was allow her to walk on water. No one ever believed she did a thing wrong. Everyone thought she was the perfect daughter and even spoke of how they wished their daughters would turn out like her. We’ve always had a close relationship so none of that stuff caused a rift between her and me. I always knew that people were going to form their own opinions based on what they see and hear, but the bond between us was stronger than that. I always looked up to my sister and wanted to be like her. Think, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.” I was even more Jan than Jan. I was loud and obnoxious and too outspoken for our conservative family, so I was the one people always shook their heads at and constantly accused of doing things wrong like lying, speaking out of turn, making unnecessary jokes at the expense of extended family members — the kind of things you say about them after they leave, apparently (I didn’t get that memo).
Everything she did was perfect and nothing I did was good enough…
So, while I was always getting the brunt of the “3aib” lectures for the “bad behaviors” people did see, my sister was getting away with everything people didn’t see. She had a secret boyfriend during high school that my parents never found out about (maybe even more than one), she snuck out on more than one occasion (and I covered for her), and she talked an immense amount of shit about everyone we knew, but smiled in their faces, so they always thought she was the kind and polite sister who had manners. Again, I didn’t really care about any of that. I figured I’d be following in her footsteps in a few years anyway and get away with my own fair share of nonsense.
I remember this one night, my parents had plans to attend an engagement party for a distant relative, so they didn’t plan on taking us kids along. This was decades ago, mind you, so outings like this didn’t happen as often as they do now (anyone else have to attend multiple weddings each week?). The plan was for us to just hang out at home, free of the drama and expectations my parents always imposed on us since living with them meant always walking on eggshells with every single thing we said or did. But my sister had other plans. Shortly after my parents left, a car showed up at the house and my sister walked out the door saying she’d for sure be back before our parents return and to just take care of ourselves for a while. There were two guys in the car waiting for her. She got in and they drove off. She returned from her joy ride before my parents got home and no one was ever the wiser. She boasted with our friends and cousins about the evening as they’d often do about their trysts with boys and everyone kept her secret like they always did for one another. When she went away to college, she got away with stuff that would mortify my parents, if not send them straight to the grave. They are uber conservative so any of this stuff would send shock waves through their hearts.
I didn’t resent her for any of that at the time, though, because I was so much younger than her and, again, I assumed I would follow in all of their footsteps soon enough, anyway. Fast forward to my own teenage years when I realized that things would not be so similar to my sister’s life in my case. Because of my friendly and social nature, my behavior was often mistaken for flirtation and my parents were significantly more watchful of me than they ever were for my sister. They wouldn’t let me use the car on my own as much as they did for my sister. I always had to take a sibling with me wherever I went and sometimes they would flat out decline my requests to go places, even for actual school-related things. When I started college, I wasn’t allowed to go away like my sister did. I attended a university that was an hour commute from home, so I went back and forth every day. It took a year to get my parents to let me get a job because they thought a girl getting job meant she would stray and break rules, especially with the temptation of male coworkers lingering.
I finally convinced them to let me get a job on campus and told them the only people that worked in that setting were women. That was definitely a lie, but they had no way to verify it since they weren’t realistically going to drive an hour to my campus to check on me–I hoped! I worked at that job for a couple of years without any of my parents’ worst nightmares coming true. I was always home when they expected me to be. I didn’t become too independent of them because I was financially responsible for myself. And I upheld familial expectations like attending gatherings and dinners at aunt’s or uncle’s houses. I was starting to develop the “walk on water” aura that my sister had and I truly wasn’t even planning to take advantage of it like my sister did. I really only lied to my parents when I exaggerated the length of my shifts to spend time with friends in their campus dorms and all we did was eat junk food and try to replicate makeup tutorials we saw on YouTube.
It took a year to get my parents to let me get a job because they thought a girl getting job meant she would stray and break rules…
Two years into that job was when temptation finally made its way into my life. This really cute guy started working in the same department as me, albeit we rarely had shifts together. But apparently, in the sparse and limited times we did share the same shift or they overlapped each other, he developed a major crush on me. I was stuck between a rock and a very hard place. I was not raised very religious. My parents never encouraged me to pray five times a day or wear hijab, but dating boys was definitely known as haram in a major way. For as long as I can remember, I watched girls get sent overseas to be married off after they were caught dating someone. I was working too hard towards building my own future as an independent woman to throw it away for a boy or a fling.
But this boy was so sweet. He was unlike any Arab boys I knew. He was kind to me – ALWAYS. He never disrespected me or spoke to me in a degrading way. He didn’t put up a front about his feelings for me nor did he try to make me feel like I had to work hard to get his attention. He was captivated by me just being myself. When he knew I was on shift, he would always approach my cubicle to greet me. And how did I respond? I treated him terribly. I needed him to stop liking me. I needed him to stop being everything a girl could ask for or want in a guy because he was making it that much harder for me to resist his pursuit of me with every passing day. So, I was mean to him because I thought that would make him go away. He didn’t go away. He continued to be charming and thoughtful no matter what I did to change his mind about his interest in me.
So, when I was going through a rough patch with my family, constantly being told I wasn’t doing enough to be a good daughter, good sister, good student, good employee, good friend, you can guess who was generously there as a shoulder to lean on. And I couldn’t carry myself on my own at that time. I felt worthless and he believed the sun rose and set on me. He would send me heartfelt text messages and listen to me when I spent a shift venting about my stress instead of actually working.
One night in particular, I had a huge falling out with my parents. They berated me for not upholding a million unrealistic expectations they had of me and for turning down a suitor that they “didn’t see anything wrong with” and I was fed up. I didn’t know why I had to sit there and take it, especially when I could be spending that very time with someone whose only hope day-in and day-out was for me to accept his offer to spend my time with him. So, I gave up and I gave in. A few days later, when I was believed to be at work, I asked him to meet me near campus. I was nervous as can be and wondered how my sister could’ve been so nonchalant about these things when she did them. I thought about turning around and leaving the place I asked him to meet me. And when he took long to arrive, I assumed he changed his mind, too. Maybe I had too much baggage. Maybe it was more fun for him when there was a chase. But then he appeared and the nerves kicked into high gear.
I felt worthless and he believed the sun rose and set on me.
We spent a very short time together. It was much less of a romantic rendezvous than I imagined. We were both awkward the whole time and the silences just made me wonder if I made a big mistake. I finally got the moment I “wanted,” but it wasn’t the moment I wanted after all. It was uncomfortable and all I could think about was how I shouldn’t be leading this boy on this way. He thinks this is going somewhere and I know this is headed straight for a dead end. I told him I had to leave because I had a long drive home. He was confused, but I just left. I went back to my car and he drove away. I thought I was going to throw up. I couldn’t breathe. There were too many thoughts going through my head and it felt like the world was spinning around me. None of this was anything I expected. My sister and cousins always made this sound more exhilarating and exciting than it was for me. They said there was a thrill they would get from doing these things in secret and getting away with it. I just felt bad. And nothing like a Lana Del Rey song.
Soon after, I let him down in the only way I could at the time — via text message. He accepted it graciously and continued to be kind to me when I saw him afterward, which I didn’t deserve because I was terrible to him. I pretended he didn’t exist, that our friendship didn’t exist, and that night didn’t happen. He deserved better than me, which is exactly why I let him go. I’ve reconciled with my poor judgment and decision-making at that time and know not to be so reckless with the heart of another ever again. And I’ve endured the karmic backlash that I probably deserved by experiencing the carelessness of others when I’ve put my own heart on the line. A big life lesson slapped me across the face when I realized I can learn from the mistakes of others without actually having to make them myself. And I also learned that God’s tests will always push us to what we believe to be our breaking point, but these tests are to push us to expand our limits and increase our capacity for understanding and accepting His methods of building us into the best people we can be. As someone who doesn’t believe in regrets, I can only take this experience as something to grow from through repentance and the sincere intention to be better than the person I was when I made those poor choices. The “thrill” and the “high” are not always all they’re cracked up to be anyway.