I lean back into my seat in the university library’s 24-hour room, wince at the unrelenting hardness of my wooden chair, and ruefully wonder what possessed me to study here. I think longingly of the small, private, third-floor room where I usually study: broad tables with polished black surfaces, muted voices, chairs with cushioned seats. But the main library itself is closed for the night, and this is my last resort in studying for midterms I’ve given no thought to ’til now. The 24-hour room is long and narrow, harshly lit and crowded, filled with a cacophony of voices. Seats are scarce, stress levels are at their peak, and my innate need for personal space is regarded as inconsequential.
The lovey-dovey couple across from me can’t keep their damn hands off each other. I raise an eyebrow. They glance over, then look away, momentarily abashed. Less than two minutes later, they’re at it again. The girl next to me shifts in her seat, stretches, and tries to surreptitiously move my pile of books over with her elbow. I raise an eyebrow and shove them back into place as obviously as I can. She shrugs without looking at me. I sneer at her turned back and try to concentrate on the notes in front of me, but all the people at the next table reek of cigarette smoke, and this, now, I just can’t handle. I stand up, gather my stuff together, throw one last, collective glare at all offending parties, and wander out to my car.
Nothing beats driving home at nearly one a.m. on dark, empty freeways. Setting my cruise control, gulping down copious amounts of strawberry-raspberry juice, pressing the button to slide open the moon roof. Listening to the wind whistle through the inside of my car, marveling at the stars visible through my windshield. Comforted by Arabic nasheeds, words I don’t understand but which I’ve been playing over and over for the last week — because.
Because, these days, I feel guilty for switching on the radio. Because there are just some things that Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind can’t help with, and my mother’s pain is one of those. Because I can speak of silly things and laugh at the mundane, yet tears have never come easily to me and neither has the ability to comfort those who cry, and so there eventually come moments when I find myself at a loss for words. Because just yesterday morning, rushing out the front door, not knowing where she was within the house, I called back easily, “Fi amanâ€™Allah, Ummy; I love you!” but something made me turn back, and there she was, sitting there all along, weeping silently. “Oh, no,” I said, very quietly, in that initial moment of shock, then put down my books and bag and sank down beside her, holding her tightly, awkwardly smoothing back her hair, trying to murmur soothing things that probably made no sense, but what the hell anyway. And these days, when I come home and ask, “So how did your day go, Ummy?” she doesn’t smile and relate for me all the routine household news, but instead answers softly, resignedly, “It went.” And I lack the words to ease her pain and bewilderment, because I can’t even come close to understanding the magnitude of what she must feel.
And so, because of all these things, I drive home on dark roads, late at night, listening to Arabic nasheeds to calm my own heart instead. There’s just the star-studded sky, the hills I love — and me, contemplating the people I take for granted and the things I never expect.