One of the most important decisions I ever made was to leave my husband of seven years. However, this story is not about him. It never was. It is about me. It is about my relationship with my community, family, culture, and religion. It is a story with origins as old as the village I come from.
Growing up, I was never aware of who I was or who I wanted to be. I wonder if I was as confused as most kids are at that age, or if I had become very passive at that point in my life. I had moved to Canada from Iraq with my parents and siblings in the early 90s. Being one of the first immigrant families from your community is both a source of pride and a source of discomfort. You can create connections, construct the community you left behind, and establish space in a new country. However, this euphoria takes time to build. Being one of the first immigrant families also means people are not ready for you. Your peers are not prepared to see you in a hijab. Teachers are inclined to ask you about 9/11. Young boys are likely to punch you on the way back from school. They are likely to dislike you for reasons you may not yet understand.
Maybe I was quiet because some part of me had internalized the prejudice, or maybe I was just a quiet kid - I am not sure. All I know is that I became a silent observer in my own life. That may be why I agreed to visit Iraq and get married there. I didn't know much about the family I was marrying into, but I knew this custom of arranged marriage was old. Younger me found comfort in those traditions.
Two months into my marriage, he hit me for the first time. The man I married turned into something I no longer recognized - a contorted figure that was neither monster nor human but a concoction of confusion. It took me seven years to acknowledge that transformation. That was seven years of quiet. 2,555 days of violence. Some of me wanted it to work for my future and my kids. However, a bigger part of me wanted it to work for my community. I couldn't conceptualize a future without him because I knew they wouldn't approve of it.
In those last years with him, I was in the eye of the hurricane, being pulled by my kids' futures and the wishes of my community. When I finally chose to leave him, it was because of my children. The divorce was messy, like all divorces, but the community made it worse. People would come to our house, advising me to rethink and reorder my life. They suggested that I could wait and that he could get better with time.
I don't tell this story with malice or contempt. My life took sharp turns, but it led me to a home I can call my own. When we first moved to Canada, this was not the future I had hoped for. It was not the future my parents had expected. It was not the future my community wanted. However, it was something I could call my own. I earned it not through the passivity of my childhood, but through the voice I found in my adulthood.
Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity This story is a collaborative effort between Vipasna Nangal and Samara Shadid