My entire life, I had grown up with two other females in the house; my mom and my sister. We were less of a family and more of a three friends, really, and that formula of existence shaped my stance on roommates and coexisting in the same space with other people.
And while I can imagine the kind of life I would like to lead in an apartment with someone else, I always fail at convincing myself that living with a male would be the same.
My father, since we were young, has spent his years away in the Gulf countries, from Emirates to Qatar, and thus we, in Syria, only got to see him for a month each year, so the experience of living with a male since childhood is lost on me.
I recall when my mom would ask me to hang the clothes to dry, and whenever I encountered a piece of conspicuous underwear that I knew belonged to my dad, I would hold it with my fingers like you would a greasy, dripping trash sack, and hang it on the robe with the wish to end all this soon.
Despite recognizing that the underwear was clean, I had an allergy to it, especially ones belonging to family members, as I would keep imagining the whole time that this black speedo, hours ago, contained male genitilia that I absolutely did not want to be close to.
As a little girl my father’s presence enthralled me. I was yet to enter the phase of female adolescence where men were not allowed and routinely shut out; where we locked ourselves in the bathroom for hours, shaving, plucking, feeling our bodies, our newly budding boobs, sensualizing the touch of skin on skin, and sometimes masturbating. Because of this, I would wonder why my sister, having preceded me into that world, lost touch with our dad.
When you are living with other women and girls, practicing the same rituals, walking in your panties when it’s hot, talking openly about matters that are not to be heard by menfolk, the presence of a male becomes unbearable, and thus the constant open view of his belongings, whether cologne or ties or nicely polished shoes or underwear, also becomes overwhelming. You do not know how to handle his things, how to act during his noon naps, what kind of jokes he deems appropriate and what behavior bothers him. You learn to tiptoe around his presence because -despite your happiness he’s here- you do not understand him; you do not understand how to inhabit the same space as him, you have not learned the immaculate vocabulary of male authority, or the complex guidelines of fatherhood. You are small and you are hanging your dad’s underwear outside to dry and you wonder if he feels the same way upon encountering your things. Does seeing your girly belongings make him nervous? Would he not mind hanging your bra and pink panties outside to dry? Why are you thinking about his private parts and then hating yourself for thinking about it and trying to forget the image ever crossed your mind?
The male becomes the curiosity, and this curiosity manifests itself in discreet instances; when he’s sleeping, you slip into the room, hold his personal comb, and run the tips of your fingers over the plastic teeth, greased by the oiliness from his hair. You hold his precious perfume bottle and spray a little at your wrest –because you saw your mother test the scent this way- and smell it, despite knowing what it smells like. In the bathroom, after a generous lunch, you dry your hands and mouth with his personal towel.
All this, the personal comb, the personal perfume, the personal towel, it makes him distant. You grew up sharing everything with girls, from hair brushes to clothes to accessories, and the individuality of the male figure bothers you.
You wonder why he’s so finicky about his things, and how he did not like it when you wrapped his tie around your head and played yourself as a tribe member on an adventure over sofas and tables. He sees you, and before he says anything, you unwrap the tie and hand it over.
“It’s wrinkled,” he comments, and the male figure becomes more detached.
You love him. You really, really do. He is an idol, but he is so because for you, he is far and unapproachable, unknown, and mysterious. You do not know him. You love him, but you do not know him, and this itself makes you wonder why you feel so strongly about him. Why you defend him when your mother cries in anger and frustration. Why you await his return, every year, eagerly, loving when he asks you what you want him to bring, and being embarrassed of asking for any gifts.
It’s not that you feel undeserving, but because the language of communication between the two of you is muddy, smudged and incomplete. Butchered, somewhere close to your heart. And because, deep down, you hope that he will bring you gifts without asking you if you want any. You hope time and again that he will know what to bring, because he knows what you love, but he doesn’t.
After years of the same scenario, you come to acknowledge that perhaps he does not know what you love. Has he not observed you as closely as you observed him? Because you certainly know what he loves. He loves expensive cologne and shiny shoes; that odorous, musty smell of cigars and old-fashioned wool vests; that tattered leather jacket and that particular James Brown album that he never tiers of listening to. He loves neatly arranged documents and arcade games, especially billiard, as well as drinking beer and telling the same joke every year.
Why has he not noticed the things you love? Are they not as important as his personal cologne, his personal comb, and his personal towel? Was he not fascinated by the little trinkets and antiques you collected and left scattered all over your room? Was he not curious about you as you were him?
But you are loyal to the distant patriarch, and that’s why you hang his underwear to dry, despite not very much liking the ordeal. You accept his gifts even when you don’t like them. You laugh at the joke even when it’s no longer funny, because you know he loves telling that joke, and you want to affirm your engagement in his happiness and pleasure. You remain loyal to him even when he’s no longer the center of your curiosity, as that curiosity, now, had moved to other males.
Entering the romantic sphere, the male has not ceased to be of interest to you, but now you can explore him in more intimate ways; first with your words, then hands, then mouth. You find yourself attracted to distant, detached boys that have their personal cologne, and their personal comb, and their personal towel. But just like with your father, you do not want any kind of interaction with their underwear, dirty or clean, because fuck, male underwear makes you embarrassed and alienated, it is foreign and dangerous, aloof yet obtrusive. Despite this, you do not hate it, but you would like to stay far away from it, in fear of being reminded of the small things. You don’t like the small things. Or perhaps you do.
I am beginning to think this is God’s punishment for women in Hell; he makes them wash and then dry the underwear of men who made them feel uncomfortable more times than not.
It’s grand, because God has daddy issues, too.