November 15, 2016
It started with the hugs after you died.
I stood at the centre of the room with people milling about around me, like a time lapse sequence in a commercial.
Then they came to hug me, one by one. People I knew. People I didn’t know. People I cared nothing about.
One of them cried as she held me, wetting the neck of my brown and white scarf. She wanted to be comforted, so I did the right thing and patted her on her back saying, it’s going to be okay. Then she picked up her gaudy Egyptian purse and left, feeling better about herself because she came.
People came and went, I didn’t know their names. They wanted to see the widow. So I let them see me, as though I were an animal crying behind steel bars at the dusty Alexandria zoo.
How sad they must’ve thought as they texted their husbands to come pick them up.
That’s how it started – with the hug from the woman with the gaudy Egyptian bag, dumping her sorrows into my scarf, leaving it sweaty and heavy. I told her be brave.
I thought it was the right thing to do to tell everyone: be brave so I could hide behind phony bravery and assemble a home out of selflessness. I stood outside in the street at night, giving my story and love to whoever would have it, showing them how brave I was.
How sad they must’ve thought, as they counted their change to decide if it was enough to buy a pack of chiclets.
I peddled all my sad stories away, knocking on the hearts of anyone willing to shed a tear for me. I put myself in a cage, like an animal who has never known the hunger of the wild.
I wrote myself into a corner, I can’t get out. And even if I could, where would I go? There is no more journey when all the paths have been gifted to others.
October 20, 2016
Keep something I tell myself.
You’ve given too much away.
Keep something for after the sun sets and the children are asleep,
for the long drives in the beat up van that smells slightly of old candy wrappers,
for quiet moments of concentration beneath the flickering kitchen lights.
Keep some poetry to dance with your heart as you look out a foggy window,
as you wipe away the starting spots of mould in the corner of the tub,
as you pull on a plain grey pair of tights, frayed at every edge.
Keep some of your words to yourself, to line the edges of your fingertips as you mince the garlic and smell of it all day,
to swim in oceans of thought processes for all the minute decisions you make,
to chuckle at secretly in the midst of people you just don’t like.
Keep some of your heart to yourself, to scrape at the overused and torn edges of every paperback in your possession,
to claw away at the anger that inhabits the space between your shoulder blades and gut,
to counteract the poison you drink every evening when you have a spare minute.
Not everyone needs to know everything.
Not everyone needs to taste your medicines when they don’t have the same illness as you.
Keep something for yourself. Just one thing, just one thing.
Everything you give, you’re losing out of your own body. There’s a leak in your heart, and its sorrows and remedies are making their way out of your fingers and toes.
Until you are nothing. Until everyone has taken everything from you.
And you are violently rung out to dry, lifted from the ground in a gust and subject to the whims of whatever storm brews today.
You were never that rag of a body you’ve become. I do not recognize you anymore. No one wants the shell and the peel after the insides are eaten.
No one wants you like this.
You don’t even want yourself.
So keep something. Please.
September 13, 2016
There are only so many times a flower can grow from the ground without thorns – only so many times she can lay herself in full splendor at the mercy of every predator and heavy boot until she is crushed beyond recognition.
She grows again, from nothing, hoping this time will be different. Hoping the elements will not kill her, will not grind her into nothingness. But they do. She hopes the heavy boots will decide to take another road and spare her life. But they do not.
So she grows again. From nothing again. Except this time she is not defenseless. She has thorns. Beautiful, wounding thorns that pierce the hands that touch her, that draw blood from every malicious wanderer.
She may yet be destroyed. In spite of her thorns, she is still weak. Still made from softness and merciful kisses from the sun. Still beautiful, despite her best attempts to appear otherwise.
But even so, even as she lay on the ground dying, plucked from her very core and strewn aside by careless hands, she laughs. Because as she is absorbed by the earth to be reborn, someone walks away with bloodied palms.
August 6, 2016
I am sort-of woman.
The kind of woman who is woman, biologically – I mean, physically weak with bones that bend and ligaments that tear because she lifted something too heavy. Weak woman. Biologically woman with monthly mood swings and ear piercing holes that won’t disappear despite her not wearing earrings for years now.
Sort-of woman is biologically all-woman. But emotionally, not.
Not really anyways.
Full-woman is loved. Not by fans, not by children, not by friends. Full-woman is loved by man. It doesn’t have to be a popular thing to say, but it’s true.
Full-woman is someone whose curves are appreciated, whose cooking is looked forward to, who makes her home warm and inviting despite every flick of pain and ink of disaster writing itself just beyond the front door.
Sort-of-woman is less known. Less known as the warmth-giver, less known as the person from which everyone derives strength to get up another day, less known as beautiful. Less known.
Sort-of woman defies death by becoming it. She wants nothing, and thus she is not wanted. Not really, I mean. Not essentially. Not desperately. Not in your home or in your heart.
She hangs in the balance of existence, not truly loved, not truly loving. Just there – weak like a woman in every way, but without the one who looks at her weaknesses through the male lens and sees them as strengths.
I often wonder, what is woman when no one loves her? Who is she if she can’t speak, I mean really speak to someone she loves with impunity?
She becomes sort-of woman. There, despite not being needed. Don’t mince my words. I mean really needed.
Sort-of woman. I know her and she knows me. Always admired, but never quite wanted.
Fatigue has taken hold of my bones,
laid waste to the energy I felt as a child–
(that’s what I was until I understood I wasn’t).
I’ve never known fatigue like this,
it’s the accumulation of:
sadnesses I hold onto and that hold onto me,
the fear of dreams I hate coming true,
the hoarse throat that seats my unresolved rage,
the anger of too many physical things littering where I walk,
the guilt over feeling fatigued.
There are piles of things lain on my back. Piles of things that have fallen there, or that I’ve put there. Piles of things that I’ve chosen not to rifle through and discard like people do in furtive pockets of spring cleaning.
And the heaviest of all the items in the pile are words.
Do you know the power of words? To uplift, to destroy, to fatigue? They are the wrenches and hammers and bulldozers of the mind. And yet they’re used with a kind of flippancy that can only be described as madness.
The fatigue that has taken hold of my bones is made permanent with your words.
“You look better now,” she said to me, “Better than before. Before you looked…so broken.”
The thing about loss is that it breaks you. Depending on the impact, it might be a clean break, easily bandaged and healed in a few weeks. Or it could shatter you, sending shards of your essence in directions they were never meant to naturally go in. When you shatter, a simple cast that your friends sign with bubbly get well soons won’t be enough.
You’ll need surgeries. Multiple surgeries. You’ll need someone to open you up and physically push and pull the pieces back together.
And the thing is, even after the operations, the pain, the months and years of recovery, your brokenness will still show. There will still be a part of you that is misshapen – too large, too small, too bent out of shape.
The bones and muscles and nerves of your brokenness contort themselves as though they are living, breathing beings. They are phantom limbs that knock on the door of your consciousness begging to be let back in.
But your face will look less broken. And your heart will feel less broken. And you’ll run your errands with a CD playing in the car and smile because the traffic is light. And you’ll be glad at the prospect of a homemade meal. And you’ll sleep better at night without fearing what you’ll see in the darkness.
But the brokenness is still there, menacing, dangling your scars and stitches in front of you, asking you to keep it by your side and close within your chest. And you will, no matter the cost, because it’s the only way you remember that you were once whole.
Then when a pain touches you once more, the brokenness is lit up like a match on a starless desert night. It burns your fingertips, it makes your eyes water. It leaps onto everything you’ve held dear and turns it to ash.
And yet beyond the ash there’s something that other people don’t yet have: the strength to start again. Because while you were in pain, while the pieces of you were being pushed and pulled back together, while the stitches from your wounds were burning and oozing, your brokenness was holding on to you and urgently whispering in your ear:
Get up, your work isn’t done.
May 13, 2016
I have hardened. Tough as nails and all of that. I didn’t feel it coming on at first. I didn’t understand that the soft layers of skin and clothes were slowly crusting and curling and drying up in the sunlight. Like salt-water-drenched clothes hanging in the midday sun.
I didn’t notice I had become so stiff until the sun had already gone down, until it was too late to wash off the salt. The salt-stench is permanent now.
And yet beneath the hardened sleeves and shoulders, there is still life. There is a pain and grief so soft, so malleable, that a single breeze of memory could topple me where I stand. That a single word of anger could inflame every suppressed moment of patience within me.
I didn’t notice I had become so vulnerable until the words of people tore through me, until the seeds of buried memories grew and pushed themselves from the surface of my heart.
Grief makes enigmas out of us. We stand tall, hardening our shells, drying up our skin and clothes so we can bear it. But everything shriveled in the sun will eventually crack, and the holes left behind reveal a sadness so palpable that it breathes the same air as our lungs.
Hard but soft.
May 2, 2016
He was strewn on the bed, curled up in a ball, his back to us. The sound of his cries were the most painful thing I had ever heard – more painful than my own even. I touched his back to comfort him, and was surprised at how sunken his shoulders were, how uneven his back muscles were formed. Like hills and valleys, as though he lived a life of hard labour.
And he did. I mean, he lived a life of hard labour, but not the physical kind. Not really. Until now. Because there are griefs that become boulders resting on your back, carving your flesh and reshaping your bones. When the grief is lifted, you can no longer stand upright. Not really. And the things you use to smile are trivial things that you have to find, you have to muster out of nothing.
He took an injection for severe back pain that day. Even though he was never a physical laborer. The grief was very much real. It hunched his back and made him unable to stand up. Even if he wanted to stand up, why would he? Who would his arms reach toward? His dead son’s tombstone? Where would his eyes rest? His dead son’s untouched bedspread?
So he didn’t. He just lay there as we swam under the boulders of pain. He just lay there as we walked in and out of empty rooms looking for memories, looking for things to do, plates to wash, conversations to end. And all the while, he lay there in his sunken bed with his sunken shoulders waiting, waiting, for his own sunken grave.
March 15, 2016
On the 926th day, Kauthar sat on the mattress in her room, pulled the laundry basket between her knees and started folding the clean laundry that had been abandoned for 3 weeks. Her mattress was plopped right over the hardwood parquet flooring – very 90s. Her rusty metal bed frame was thrown out nearly two years ago but the mattress was still good. Even though it did have some lumpy bits beneath the surface, and the middle sort of sunk into itself, creating a breeding ground for crumbs to gather, and other lost items.
She spoke to herself as she folded her daughter’s clothes. Underwears and undershirts go here. White uniform shirts need to be hung up. Why isn’t this shirt white anymore? I washed it with that blue towel. Great. Okay socks. Where’s the other sock in this pair? I am not going to buy her more socks. She can wear mismatched socks to school, I swear to God I don’t even care.
The sock always turned up.
Kauthar forced the door of the closet open, it screeched in pained defiance, unhinged from its tracks. It was meant to be fixed. She grabbed a bunch of mismatched clothes hangers and noticed her wardrobe was all greys and blues. Some brown, some black, and the odd pop of a dark purple. It wasn’t that she hated colours, she loved them. She enjoyed the artistry of wardrobes in theory. The wild patterns that changed from season to season. But it was too much effort to keep up. And she didn’t have the will to try.
Her daughter’s side of the closet was brighter. Everything was patterned. Every shirt stamped with flowers. Every sweater with its cute buttons and detailed seams. It was easier to dress a girl than to dress a sort-of woman.
She still had Omar’s shirts hanging adjacent to her own. They weren’t there to remind her or to hurt her, they were just there. The navy blue Tommy Hilfiger shirt she bought him years ago, before they were married. It was perfectly his size.
His shirts took a while to let go of his smell. They teemed with the sorrow of sweat and perfume wrapped into the armpits of well-worn clothes. They had him in their cross-stitching, between every thread that held the shirts together. He was there, waiting. But time and dust and the dank, too-small closet space had stripped him from here. The only smell left was the quiet stench of peaceful surrender. It was okay. She wasn’t sad anymore about the smell that had gone.
She slid his navy blue shirt from its hanger, held it at chest level and placed it on her body. She took each sleeve, the right then the left, and wrapped them around herself and stood.
When Kauther sat behind the wheel of her massive hand-me-down minivan, she sometimes looked longingly at the passenger seat. Omar would be there if it hadn’t been for fate, his seatbelt begrudgingly fastened across his chest, and his knees grazing the glove compartment in those faded blue jeans he loved. (There were two things about clothes he loved – comfortable blue jeans and striped shirts. That’s all.) His head would be cocked towards Kauthar, making some comment about how she was driving, or saying that she had to learn to do this or that, even if she didn’t want to. What if something happens to me? He’d say, as the collar from his black spring jacket nestled the base of his beard.
She missed him in his familiar, worn clothes. Nothing about him was fancy or shiny. And now, nothing about her was either.
She stood hugging his sweater, his sweater hugging her, and the laundry still strewn about the floor in a mess. It was the happiest she’d been in a long time.
The bodies that litter the street are collateral damage, nameless victims, forgotten corpses buried someplace in the ground. Their existence vaguely lines history books and the emotionless consciousness of researchers.
But the bodies have names – names that their mothers gave them. Names that had meaning. Names they were called when they were needed. They were needed.
There is mourning somewhere over the conversations that will never be had, the grey hairs that will never be grown, the reassuring touches that will never be felt. There is mourning that you cannot record on paper.
Nor can Earth’s history books record the deaths of those who are still alive – those whose hearts pump blood but whose souls are already someplace faraway.
So do not search for those made of flesh who will empathize with the rattlings of your insides. Do not seek a historian to capture everything within you. Their ears are from flesh like yours – made from earth and returned to earth.
Search for the One whose pen has already recorded it all. Every moment of pained recollection, every ounce of gratitude, every word of reflection.
And every name of every child who was ever called upon affectionately, whether he lived or died.