He was known as Qari Sahib – a name usually given to a teacher of the Qur’an. I remember quite distinctly that he was a tall, lean Pakistani man with a beard highlighted with gray streaks.
He was the one who taught many of my family members how to read the Qur’an in Arabic. When my brother and I came to age, he started coming to our house as well. Monday through Friday from 3-5pm, we sat, my brother’s kufi and my hijab covering our heads as we vigilantly recited the part of the Qur’an we were assigned for the day.
Before I knew it, my best friend was added to the dinner table he frequently taught us at. We would giggle into our hands, sneaking glances at each other as Qari Sahib would tap our knuckles sharply with his pen, punishing us for our disobedience and lack of care over elongated vowels.
When we moved, he would come to our new house. My cousin and I had a friendly competition on who could pull ahead and get the Qur’an finished first. This, of course, was secondary to our passing of notes and looks to each other.
But then he insisted on us being separated. We exclaimed that we didn’t want to be divided and begged our parents for another chance.
His suggestion was taken over ours.
Looking back, it’s not hard to see why he wanted to separate us.
A few months later, my cousin, looking quite uneasy, asked me if Qari Sahib was acting strangely. When I told her that he wasn’t, she averted the discussion.
When I pressed her, she admitted that Qari Sahib had started “massaging and touching” her. I was only eight at the time, and she was only a year older. I didn’t know what to think, and I didn’t ask any more questions.
I was afraid.
She never brought it up on her accord ever again – probably because she was ashamed.
But then he started acting strange with me. It started with him massaging my arms and thighs as he pretended to listen to my Qur’an recitation.
As time went on, he got into the habit of finishing my brother’s lesson before mine, so we could be left alone at the table. That’s when he started pushing the boundaries bit by bit, day by day.
Before I knew it, his hands would slip under my shirt, pressing and kneading roughly as I tried to voice my discomfort and pull away.
I remember one particular day in which I stood in front of a mirror after a session. I had taken my top off to stare at the very breasts he had so roughly grabbed at for a prolonged period of time just minutes before.
The skin on my breasts was raw and red. I remember distinctly thinking that I hated my skin and early developed breasts because if it hadn’t been for them, he wouldn’t touch me this way.
It didn’t make sense. He was supposed to be a man of God.
The boundaries kept being pushed.
Before I knew it, his pedophile fingers started working their way into my underwear during particular sessions in which my mom was too busy upstairs or had left us alone with him. I remember one time I thought it felt really good – a feeling that still makes me feel ashamed to this day.
But it was that moment that got me thinking that perhaps, this wasn’t right.
I asked my cousin about it the next day.
In between our hushed whispering to each other (we didn’t want our mothers to overhear), she admitted that he had been doing the same to her – that it was exactly what she had been talking about months before.
She was always the more outspoken one of us, so I wasn’t surprised when she told me that he had actually bribed her with money each week to keep her mouth shut about his assault.
In between our tears, our children minds decided that we would tell our mothers.
But we were so afraid. He had relentlessly drilled it into our minds that we would be the ones that would get into trouble for everything that he did. He made us believe that we deserved it.
That it was our fault.
And we never told.
Shortly afterward, both of our families moved too far outside of the area for him to drive to us.
It was then when I took the memories of this traumatic sexual assault, folded them into a box, and tucked them so, so far in the back of mind – the box never to be opened again until I realized why I was so afraid of having sex.
Just like any other teenager and young adult, I dated on and off throughout my years. Almost every single one of my relationships ended partly due to one thing: the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to be intimate with my partners.
In my early twenties, when all of my friends were racking up the notches on their bedposts, I listened to their stories of their sexual escapades jealously, wishing that I was able to somehow open up to a partner so I could join in on the fun.
As they dubbed me Virgin Mary, they also joked about how I could give the best head out of all of us – only so I could avoid having to give up my virginity.
It’s ironic, really.
I clung to my virginity but did everything else in the book. But it’s because I was so attached to my virginity. To me, giving up the virginity would be giving up everything.
It meant giving up the control that I had given my assaulter when I was a child.
It meant giving up the one thing he didn’t take from me.
By refusing to give up my virginity, I ensured that I would never, ever let a man use me like that man had.
I trusted no man.
As time went by, I got accustomed to relationships ending, because my partners would cheat on me – eventually blaming me for not giving them everything. They told me they cheated on me because of me – that they went and hooked up with another woman because I didn’t fuck them.
Awkward situations would also ensue when I messed around with a guy only for it to end right before the big show.
I also became accustomed to everyone knowing I was a virgin. It became something I was proud to have a hold of. Everyone needed to know the control I had over my body and the things that would happen to it – and with it.
And more often than not, people showed their support and awe.
It only fueled my need for control more.
One night, as I drunkenly stood on a friend’s patio with one of my childhood friends.
She had no idea that I had been sexually assaulted. I had no idea that she had been too.
“I’m a virgin because I was sexually assaulted when I was a child,” I told her, letting her in on the secret that not many knew.
“That’s ironic,” she remarked. “I’m a slut because I was raped.”
I lost my virginity at the age of 25.
The relationship ended very bitterly and very soon afterward – it ended in cheating just like the others. But this time, he didn’t have an excuse. He cheated because he was a cheater.
And it dawned on me that there are many partners who will cheat no matter what you do – or do not – give them. That more often than not, cheaters cheat because of something wrong with them and not their partners.
When my friends found out, they expected me to fall apart over my heart being broken by the man that “took” my virginity.
But I didn’t.
Because to this day, I believe that I was the one that took my virginity. I was the one that decided to keep it for myself – even though I needed him to accomplish the task of “losing” it.
When I “lost” it, I was ready to finally open up a chapter of my life that would consist of me explicitly allowing someone else to enjoy my body for their pleasure.
I did it for myself. Not for him, but for myself.
I didn’t lose my virginity. I kept it all for myself – no matter what anybody says.
Months later, when my best friend and I realized that we were in love with one another, we waited two days before we took to the bed. It was, by far, the best sex I had ever had in my life up until that point.
Years later, we are married with a sex life that isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
And that’s because not once has he allowed me to ever feel that I have any less than 100% of control over my body.