I knew to regard Mama and Zena with a certain degree of skepticism when it came to matters of the heart. Arabs were always turning nothing in something. Aunt Zena was the one who’d told me about a friend’s husband who’d proposed to her after getting a glimpse of her ankle, and I’d heard countless other stories about the strand of hair that escaped from a scarf and sparked many a love affair and marriage. Mama and Aunt Zena lived in a world where marriage proposals followed a quick glance or a brief conversation.
What they didn’t understand was that Hadi had been born in America, and people in America didn’t feel that strongly about ankles, hair, or any body part, for that matter. In America, people looked at the opposite sex and said things like, “cute butt,” even when they weren’t in love with the butt’s owner. What an Arab mother labeled as love could just as easily have been the limited admiration of a particular appendage.
American love was something people fell into after a number of dates. It was a feeling Americans discovered along the way, and when they finally uttered the word love, it was a grand moment, a surprise even to themselves. Maybe it was a frustrated, “Because I love you, alright,” cried out in the midst of an argument. Or a tearful, “Now that I lost you, I know I love you.” American love was complicated and uncertain while Arab love was something a person could make happen. A guy saw a girl he liked. He married her. Then he loved her.