Weekly Writing Challenge: (Changes) In An Instagram
It was 2011 – the year of the Arab spring. Not a day passed without more news of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. A friend of mine was about to board a plane to Egypt. She was going to spend a year in the middle of all the chaos studying Arabic and trying to stay alive. Unlike people born, raised and suppressed in the Middle East, she had the luxury of choosing whether or not to face the turmoil. She was aware of this and it’s probably why she didn’t back out in the end. This isn’t about politics, though. Not about injustice. It’s simply about someone’s life changing.
We were standing in the kitchen, snacking on left-overs, a bag of chips and a small container of peanut butter with chocolate chips that we’d just bought at Whole Foods. College dinner.
“Do you think they’ll let you go?” I asked her.
We were both on spring break and I was visiting her for a couple of days.
“There’s so much going on right now.”
She shrugged. “I keep checking the news – so far, I don’t know. I really wanna go, though. It seems to be the place I should be right now…”
I reached for a chip and we were quiet for a while.
I was about to board a plane, too. I wasn’t headed for a conflict area (unless that’s a term you’d apply to the European Union; I guess, some people would). After studying abroad for a year, I was going home – whatever that means. I wasn’t sure then, I’m not sure now. I stood at the check-in, hoping several things: that I still had enough money in my account to pay for my extra suitcase, that my entire luggage wasn’t overweight (obesity is a serious problem among luggage of all sorts, people should be much more aware of it), and that they wouldn’t have me check in my guitar so it wouldn’t get smashed by potentially overweight suitcases somewhere along the way. Thankfully, all this hoping kept me too busy to fully realize that I was just handing over my life (that I’d managed to stuff into two large bags and a bag pack, god knows how) to the well-dressed lady behind the desk in front of me. So I stood there, smiling blankly, watching my life disappear behind her. I might have seen one of my friends cry from the corner of my eye but I successfully ignored it, even as I went to say my good-byes.
“Do you think you’ll come back?” she asked into the silence. We had quietly moved over to the sofa in the living room.
It was my turn to shrug. “I would really like to…I don’t know, either. Let’s hope so.”
People always talk of hope when there’s nothing else to hold on to. It’s usually about the time they rediscover belief and prayer.
She looked at me: “You should try.”
I looked at my hands: “We should try.”
And we sort of hoped together.
I was probably the only person on the plane that wasn’t relieved when we landed. I didn’t applaud the pilot. I usually don’t because it really makes me feel silly. That day I didn’t because it really made me feel all sorts of things. As I waited in line to have my passport checked I simply started crying. Someone asked me whether I was playing the Cello, pointing to the guitar on my back, entirely ignoring the fact I stood there sobbing as if someone had just abducted my child or my puppy or even worse: both, and that I was just two breaths per second short of hyperventilating. People never cease to amaze me, and not always in a good way. “It’s a guitar” I mumbled while cleaning my glasses and double-checking whether I could see things in full color to make sure I hadn’t just landed in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t. I stood, in fact, in the middle of plain, old reality: close to broke and about to move back in with my parents, at least for a while. A seven-hour flight can certainly change things.
My friend had to spend the summer waiting for news. News of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. News of the program that sponsored her studies.
Eventually, she e-mailed me “I’m going to Egypt in fall!”
I e-mailed her back: “Come visit then – I’m half-way home for you!”
Although I still felt uncomfortable with the term home.
I spent my summer waiting, too. Waiting to feel — real.
I subscribed to the New York Times newsletter to stay updated with the situation in the Middle East. To make sure my friend was studying Arabic and staying alive at the same time. And because I was looking for something — real.
I also got a side job: to occupy me until classes would start, and even more important, to earn some money. So I worked. I bought a ukulele. My grandmother passed away. I wrote a couple of songs. I went to my grandmother’s funeral and squeezed my mother’s elbow. I moved into a small apartment. Fall came and I still found myself cleaning my glasses from time to time, double-checking whether I could see things in full color. Just to make sure I wasn’t part of a movie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Only sometimes, it still felt like it. And I wondered what could possibly change that.
(in response to the weekly writing challenge)
William felt their tiny hands, warm and sticky, clutching his own – one on his left, the other one on his right (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward whispers into the sky). They were waiting for William’s sister to come and pick them up. She was never on time. They knew as much and they loved her (her big laugh, her exaggerated demeanor, the way she winked and squeezed one’s shoulder) so they usually didn’t mind. That day, however, when she finally arrived 15 minutes late, William snapped at her and no one said a word during the drive. His sister and her husband sat up front, he sat in the back of the car with the children. They were still squeezing his hands.
Emma, the younger one, had always been very attached to her father: when he left for work, she’d cling to his coat until he stepped out of the house and when he came home, she’d greet him with an impatient hug at the front door, no matter how late. She refused to go to bed unless he tucked her in, unless he stroked her hair until she fell asleep: eyes closed, breathing calmly, steadily – a metronome’s breath. She had gotten more and more difficult the last couple of months. Every night as he was about to get up from her bedside, she grasped his hand – much like she did now – and commanded him to stay. Just a couple more minutes. Or maybe until the grandfather clock struck again. Or maybe until it was bedtime for Mason too. Or even better yet: until the next morning. Often she woke up in the middle of the night, find him gone, and scream and cry until he came back into her room with the promise not to leave.
It was a bright and clear morning. The three of them had been up early: washing their faces, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, having breakfast (trying not to spill anything because they were wearing their good clothes). They seemed to be in an awful rush. They thought, maybe, if they went faster, the day would go by faster as well. Yet, of course, it didn’t. It turned out to be one of the longest days they’ve ever had (even longer than the day before your birthday, even longer than New Year’s). Emma and Mason were sure if they let go of their father’s hands, it would never end.
Mason’s hand felt strange – he was not like his sister at all. Not only because he was older, not even because he was a boy. In fact, he was much like his mother: collected and cool, too proud (or too timid) to show any sign of emotion (she’d even refused to call him Will instead of William – whimsical nonsense, she’d said, I’ll call you by the name your parents carefully picked out for you, by nothing else). Although he, too, craved his father’s attention. He was always looking for ways to impress him: bringing home good grades, showing interest in the same things he was interested in (politics, Dizzy Gillespie, car races, Russian novels, E.E. Cummings). Now, however, his small fingers (he was the older one of the two children, but in the end, he was only 11) were so tightly wrapped around his. His mouth was dry and he thought he could feel his son’s hand tremble. Then he realized that it must be his own. Actually, that it must be nothing but her trembling that’s slowly become his as he held her hand night after day after night after day – until there was no more hand to hold, just the blood-stained handkerchief with the small embroidery in the upper right corner: Sophie (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward mutters under his breath).
When they arrived at the cemetery, there was already a small gathering of people. Some of them had to make an effort not to look too upset. Others tried to make an effort to look somewhat saddened. Most of them nodded at the family pitifully. They shook their heads behind William’s back (how was he going to raise the children on his own? his sister, surely, can’t be of any help. the neighbors heard her cough so loudly, they knew it wasn’t going to be much longer) because they couldn’t shake his hand (because still, one was holding Emma’s, the other one was holding Mason’s).
The night Sophie died, he found himself in the living room all of a sudden. He couldn’t really remember how he’d gotten there or what he’d meant to do. The entire night was a blur: coughs, doctors, the smell of morphine, condolences (hushed: don’t wake the children), helplessness, darknesses (in all shades of night). He rubbed his eyes and sat down in the big, red wingback chair. He tried to think and quickly decided to try and not think instead (think of her). He reached for his pipe that lay on the end table to his right, filled and lit it. He sat there an hour or two, smoking, not thinking (or trying not to), gazing at the rocking chair on the other side of the room that still held the two balls of wool and the knitting needles she’d left there (socks for Emma and a hat for Mason). When it was 3am Emma woke up as usually and called for him. He’d left her bedroom door open so he would hear her: a voice, high and distant as a cloud, echoing in the hallway. As he was about to leave the room, he paused and leaned against the doorframe. He glanced at the unfinished hat and the one sock in the rocking chair another time and pictured her porcelain hands, knitting through the nights (when she couldn’t sleep). He’d fallen for her hands the first time he’d seen them (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward says in a woman’s voice, forever echoing in the hallway).
(Daily Prompt 7:) When was the last time you felt really, truly lonely?
I put down my collection of Anne Sexton poems, turn down the volume of my favorite The Smith’s album (the world won’t listen) and think: I can’t really remember – I only ever feel really, truly lonely between 5 and 11 pm on weekdays and between 11 am and 12 pm on weekends.
Alright, that was my first reaction to the prompt – a coping mechanism: when it’s too difficult to face reality (I feel really, truly lonely too often; I feel really truly lonely right now), resort to humor/sarcasm and laugh at it instead. I always hope it might get annoyed and just go away. Of course, it never does. It’s a true pain in the a**.
This isn’t a blog post I meant to write. Right now, though, I can’t write anything else. So I’m writing this, sometimes you have to surrender to the words that want out the most to move on.
I’m just not sure whether I’ll publish it.
Some bits and pieces – realities that won’t go away:
If anyone ever cared to look close enough, they would see the scars on my shoulders (not the ones on my hips, the ones in the crook of my arm – and the ones on the soles of my feet, they healed quickly). They’re the remains of other times, times when I felt really, truly lonely, when I looked for someone to blame, someone to take it out on. In the end, I only took it out on myself.
These are old scars. That’s why sometimes I trick myself into thinking: I’m different now. I have learned how to hurt without hurting myself. Yesterday wasn’t a good day, this isn’t a good morning. It’s still early and I’m about to smoke my third cigarette for the day. Yes, I’m different now. But I haven’t yet learned how to hurt without hurting myself.
It’s funny how some things are more socially acceptable than others, even though in the end, they mean the same. It’s funny how no one ever cares to look close enough.
It’s funny how some things never change.
Loss: a lack, an absence somewhere inside – something you can’t quite locate.
Or maybe not.
Loss: a weight, something growing inside. Something spreading out until you don’t know where it ends and you begin, where you end and it begins, until it begins where you begin and it ends where you end, until you feel so heavy you wish you could truly lose: this feeling.
It doesn’t leave room for anything else: no room to think, to feel, to breath.
Loss: it’s hard to let go, even though all you want is to feel light again.
What does it mean to really, truly feel lonely? What does it mean to really, truly struggle? I’m struggling: I’m trying to see things how they are. I’m trying not to look for problems where there aren’t any. No real ones, at least.
A hurricane that sweeps across a city and leaves behind nothing but damage: a real problem. Flooded streets, destroyed homes, no electricity, death even: real problems. Is a hurricane that sweeps across your soul a real problem? Is the metaphor weary? Should I simply pull my sh** together and be thankful for the roof over my head?
Something I’d say to a friend: If you’re hurting – it’s very real. I don’t know if I should believe myself. I don’t know, but: the struggle, at least, seems very real. It always has.
I’m spending so much time cleaning up wreckage. This is not the best way to look for perspective.
How to deal.
I’m not my scars and my history, she sings. For a second I believe her: I can be different. But the feeling quickly fades. I don’t really believe it. I’ve been trying to run away from the scars, all the pieces of my history (maybe I love traveling so much because I’m constantly looking for a place free of all the things that could remind me of them).
Yet, they’ve always come back to haunt me: there may have been different stories along the road, but in the end, hurt always sat in the same places. Like picking at wounds you thought healed long ago to find them bleeding all over again. I have patterns I can’t break: I find myself caught up time after time and all that breaks is something in my chest – a red mass splintering like glass or broken bones.
I’ve been wondering: maybe it’s not really about getting rid of them anyways. Maybe it’s more about accepting them and accepting that, despite of everything, there is still room for more. Room to heal. Second chances. I’ve been wondering.
Do I really believe all this?
Conclusion (sort of).
Do I feel really, truly lonely? Today, I know I do. Tomorrow might be different. There’s room for more.