“Did you know him long?”
“Me? Not really. I don’t know. I guess nobody wants to be the one saying it then, now. You? How long did you know each other?”
“We were together, some time.”
“Together? You mean, like, you were fucking?”
“Yeah, we were.”
“Now that I think about it, I never saw him with anyone. Where did you guys meet?”
“He started living with us, actually.”
Later, she’s wearing a vanilla sweater and brown hoody scarf, the colors of which are transparent, the color as well of her shoes, tanned flip flops exposing her feet, the only bare feet at the funeral. Her hair is tossed back to the side, a loud broth of blacking stocks, like the skin of her color, a stately, debonairing brown.
She appeared under the tent. A waiter opened her the small wooden gate, so she wouldn’t be forced to step over it. The rain had left a few patches of mud in the otherwise tended grass. The waiters wore red flapping stocks, and like old platoon guards wore silver berets, their party emblems on their shoulder.
“Do you know her,” Rebecca asked, cowering over Victoria’s shoulder.
“No,” Victoria said, largely ignoring her, her focus on her only other friend, Thomas, from the family canon. “You have a beautiful necklace,” she said, holding onto the amulet.
“It’s a silicone tusk of Taro, the elephant.”
“The man of hydes.”
“The man of many colors,” Rebecca added. “Did you manage to turn it in, by the way? The letter I sent you?”
She picked rolling tobacco out of her tongue.
“And? What did they say?”
“I’m not sure yet if they’ll take it. You know.”
“Are they honestly scared? Didn’t they talk to Hakim?”
“Who’s Hakim,” Victoria asked?
“He’s our fixer.”
“He’s your fixer,” Victoria asked?”
“No, he’s theirs actually, but I know him. We did work with him during the war. He was one of the few who stayed. Where did he take you guys, when you went up to see Mansour?”
“We stayed at Pound Cottage.”
“Did you see the snow?”
“It wasn’t snowing.”
“Was it cold?”
“I don’t know.”
I remember the first night he met Jules. He was staying at our place. There were six of us. Sometimes all of us were there. I kept my eye on him. He was good at first, then he struggled, then he settled, then he was fine. He was writing a lot of poetry, on napkins, in pocket books he scattered across the house. He always wore the same jeans, mending the holes with different fabrics. We were happy in the old world.
I was writing. I shared some of my poems. He said they were okay.
We cooked a lot of dinner. One night we were having angel hair pasta with shrimps, a root beet avocado salad, Argentinian wine. One of the girls learned how to make it, and it kind of became a thing. We were sitting on the floor, listening to some records. I was the only one he took out with him, when he finally left the house. He needed an accomplice, everyone does. Sometimes he saw old friends who were passing through town, some of them from Beirut, some of them from around.
I was lonely, and I wanted something steady. It wasn’t about the fuck, I had places to get it, but something more. I missed the feeling I was used to having.
You want to be taken seriously. You want what you want when you want it. You want what you deserve. You want to know what you deserve. How long had it been since he had been with anybody? He never brought anyone home. It made me curious. Girls, are expected to be curious. To be constantly in awe with life. Thankful.
There are times for reforming. Times for chaos and change. I showed him my work. He sat there, not moving, not saying anything, pretending like he was thinking really hard about the words. I could tell he hated it. The only thing he ended up saying was something like he didn’t know how to receive gifts, and reading my poetry was like a gift, and so it made him awkward, and he couldn’t say anything. He also said, he always wondered if he would enjoy my writing, and it frightened him, and was starting to give him a bad feeling, but that he was finally relieved.
I wanted us to love each other. He ignored me.
You are already there, where we are all going.
Song of Meera
I read you my poems. You enjoy them. You fill my heart with gratitude. Together we share the ones I like, the ones I want to make better. Together we can our drifting love, and we make it by chance, surviving by a hairpin.
I grew up across the street from you. You never noticed me. I was too young. Finally, years later, we’re in New York, and I walk around the house in my underwear to see if you notice. I bet you do. It’s summer, and its hot, and the heat makes me go crazy, and I lie in bed thinking of you in the next room, wondering if you want to fuck me. I have nice legs, dark, smooth. I shave for you, and I have to do it all the time. You follow my legs across the room, peeking out of the corner of your eye while playing the guitar, or drinking from a bottle of wine. So much wine, so so much wine. I never say no to wine, even in the heat, especially in the heat, especially at night. I never say no to wine when we’re lying on the floor, when I know my lips will turn red and chapped with grapes and you’ll smoke your hungry cigarettes and tickle my feet with the ends of your smoke. Malbec wine, Malbec wine. One bottle, two poems. Cigarettes, joints. Records from Nigeria in the 1960s, Jamaicans at Studio One, Afro-beat and Afro-jazz. Traveling the world with our records. You want to run, you want to get a pair of wings, trade in the soles of your feet and fly outward, over the paramount sea and into the darkness. I want to see you fly, I want to see you go. Take me with you.
I find a job, you don’t. I work for a publisher during the day, and for a filmmaker at night, and I take my microphone out onto the street when its time for me to play and I record all the voices that want to be heard on their own, everyone who admits they have something to say, or who has nothing to say and doesn’t care. You don’t. You wake up and you feel lost. You wake up and run for some coffee, and then you spend the last of your money on records and weed. But you write. You write so much you forget to eat and when I find you all you want is a plate of steamed rice and you’ve forgotten the taste of meat.
How much are you writing? Who are you writing for?
You find a studio and rent the space. You share the space with nineteen other painters and you’re the only one, the only one writing, the only person scared without a motive, who doesn’t have something on their hands, who doesn’t use their hands, who spends their time staring at the wall, at the ceiling, lost for measures and for words, lost for expression, desperate for those memories that only come shooting forth when you’re head is on the ground and you’re closing your eyes to drift away to sleep, and you see that first shining star at breakfast, the room you spent your first few tears, the stairwell in the countryside, the classroom and the afternoon naps. You find yourself there and you feel safe. You find your father’s moustache and you touch it, you hold onto the ends and he tells you stories. He tells you he’s safe, and that he misses you. You remember how much he believed in you and it hurts. You remember to close your eyes but it’s too late, your eyes are swelling and now you’re weak.
Why didn’t you let me find you?
You are a night keeper, a watchman, keeping guard to the other souls, canvases wrapped in felt blankets. You watch the paint thicken over night, you smell the oil dry onto the canvas. You put your fingers on the crease. You put your lips against the edge of your desk and you tear your mouth open with a jolt. You cut yourself, so many times. Nobody hears and I’m watching.
You hide in your painter’s cave and I miss you. I miss going with you on the road, running with the records in our mouths, playing against the earth with our teeth. Censorship plays against the evening score. You found the soul, you tasted it. And when you tasted it once you couldn’t let loose again, dreaming away your days like the sad button souls the rest of us are. You can’t play the game, you’ll lose. It’s empty, you say. It’s empty and it’s gone.
You want me to leave. To center myself elsewhere, for my work, for my words. For my poetry to touch and strike to the bone. For my music to trickle on a forest fiddler’s song. I bounce with you, I bounce and fall into a poet’s lap. Fine on the body, fine on the mind.
You disappear. A few nights, gone, without the records, without the contour at the window, overlooking the city scars. The heat wave falls and passes into crumbs, eating away the nights with our relentless tossing and turning, hanging our tongues from the windowsill, beginning for sight of an oasis. I’m worried. Ten days, you’re gone. Where are you? I know you and your people, and I’m afraid. I want to seek you out, to find you, to pick you from the little sludge hole on the street and bring you home. Why are you afraid? Why do you keep running? I can feed you, we can love. I can order you breakfast in the morning, bring your coffee to the bed. You can read me from the book of wishes, the book of lies, the book of dreams. Take me to the water. Take me.
My writing takes another turn. I play the empty records. I play the ones you remember well. It’s not the same, you can’t go back to what you’ve done. It’s finding fresh records off the shelf. It’s bringing the record into the day. It’s not turning back and doing it all over again, unless it’s your day off and the first signs of a winter coming to close. A space we can all crawl into and hide. My poetry grows. In longing that’s what poetry does, framing the invisible into words. Speaking on behalf of loss.
When you show up at the door it’s like we’ve been to war. It’s like I’ve been waiting and I’ve been dying. You walk in, wearing boots with steel horseshoes on the soles, pins cut into the steel. I hear you on the stairs. I see you at the door. We watch you come in, somberly, walking like you’re carrying a stick, like you’re leaning on another four. Someone chooses to read the news out loud. The others are gossiping about their ingenious lives. We turn our heads, to give you the floor, to feed you our attention. You sit quietly, smile, as though we’d agreed to do it like this. As though everything had been a distraction. A means to forget your disappearance. How do I mend your absence?
You take off your hat. You sit next to me. Someone asks, faintly, where you’ve been. A smile grows on your face, I’m no longer afraid, now I’m curious. You’ve been out searching, digging, praying, begging. You’ve been fucking your face into the dirt and running your lips over the country crumbs. You found that thing, and it looks brilliant in your eyes.
You look handsome. I tell you. You look excited. You tell me we need to talk. I finally smile, and I remember how long its been, and how short a time can feel so long, and how long a time can feel. We go outside, to walk. We walk towards the water. You don’t say much, I listen, to the quiet, to your intention. Finally you say you met some people, and it took off from there, and you don’t know, but you had to keep going. What kind of people? The sorry kind, you say, good at living, bad at life. You smile. I take your hand. We talk about home, about traveling back if we ever could, if its still possible, if we can say the names. If things quiet down, you say, if the war drums were quieter. If the theaters weren’t shut down. If the enemy wasn’t out for revenge. If the hills weren’t overrun with mines, and the shore at loss with all our waste. Would you ever go back? Do you remember the names?
You stare over the water, searching for your father’s gun. You talk about his life, his losing. You talk about your plans. You ask me if we share a home. I tell you I won’t go back. I tell you I’m here to feel the sinking. I want to see America fall. I want to stretch my arms over her grave. I want to reach for the surface with my tiny hand, begging for the light of liberty.
I have a home here. Even though I’m shattered, scattered like leaves blowing in the wind. I feel my heart when I walk around. I feel the pulse of the city nerves, and the city people going softly to their deaths. I don’t discover what you found. I don’t hear from you and you won’t tell me. But I know.
You found the voice you’ve been searching for your entire life, and it calms and it haunts you, and it takes you away like a ship sailing out to sea, bearing straight into the unknown. You throw away your book, the one that brought you over the waters. The one you said forced you to escape, because you needed to escape to know if it existed. You needed to escape to know if it would end. If it could end. And so you begin another journey. Saying what you can with the will of a nightingale.
You meet the prophet Jules. Everything takes the power of an industry. We lose sight of time, losing account of the damages. I find a clue to what you found. I find your little clues and I know what you were hunting. Crossing the ancient seas. Digging ditches over night, riding the bus over Anatolia.
I find your notebook on the couch, cleaning around, banal and trite in my common domestic life. I sit with you under the cosmic order, we reorder the stars and align them to their freshly gotten names. We sit, perched on the apex of opportunity. I find a word I don’t understand. I say it and it means nothing but it slides off the tip of my tongue with authority and lightness, gleaming in some shroud of linguistic harmony, I feel my body ache to the sound of the seven chords, I feel the room implanted with the tremors of our songs.
I say the word a thousand times. I walk the streets of Manhattan, dying a different color, shining in the filtered screens of the sacred. Bowing to the invisible. Longing urged for the absolute. I float over the concrete jungle, tattooing your flower to my lips, pausing at every window. I give you my scent. I give you my other life. We call something born. The custom of an auspicious love. The prophecy of a lunatic. Suddenly my poems fall, deeper into the cracks of sanctuary. I sit under the naked trees, and rest in the temple you gifted me.
I yell with my many mouths closed.
I can see
You’re here because you think it’s interesting, because you think somehow a writer coming out of Beirut with a story that goes the way he did is important, and interesting, and it’ll sell and you’ll go home happy. You’re confused and delusional. Beirut is not the place you think it is, and we both knew it, and that’s why all of us left. Sure, sometimes I think of it, like it was my home and like I was supposed to rot there like everyone else, but something I knew the entire time I was there and the entire time he was there is that I’m bigger than the place, and it’s a shithole.
He’s sweet, indelibly sweet, and I know he says if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, that I saved his ass and put the pages together in the beginning and gave him something to work with, even though at the time I thought it was done and he did as well, but I know he was just lazy and didn’t want to do the real work because I could see it in his eyes after our sessions, when we’d put the papers down and I could finally drag him outside for a joint and not smoking on the pages like some mad scientist who couldn’t leave the body for a second. He was insane, especially by the end of the day, and I understand, because you get into this place and it makes you crazy, fumbling through the words, all day, maze after maze, cutting and pasting, remembering this verse to go there and realizing for the first time why the professor comes at the beginning. I’d never edited a book before. It was fun. But it was crazy, and he was crazy. He worked his ass off but he was really trying to get through the pages and trying to make it work, trying to make it seem like a finished book but he knew deep down it wasn’t and he kept saying it ot me, every now and again, when we’d sit outside on his balcony, and his eyes would be fixated on one place, deep in immeasurable space, and he wouldn’t have said a word for thirty or so minutes, and I’m staring at him waiting for him to say something all the while talking, nonsense, telling him about my day, about my stupid work and my employees who have no business being alive, and then he would just turn to me, finally making eye contact, a beautiful grin on his face, forms just slow enough for me to feel it coming, slow enough to measure the moment before its come, measure up to it, be ready, and then he says, really fucking cool, I’m going to have to write the whole thing over again, aren’t I, Tangiers, which is what he called me, Tangiers, I can’t remember where it came from, and I would smile and look over at him like he was my brother, my son, a kindred spirit whose destiny fell suddenly in my hands, and I’d say, Oh darling, you’ll write something else, and it will be beautiful, but he was never convinced.
That’s how you know something about someone. It’s how you know someone is going to make it, do something special, out of our usual way. I’m not an artist, I’m not creative, at all. I helped him because he showed up at my house with a bag full of pages, a beautiful bag, something I wouldn’t have expected him to carry until I realized it was exactly the type of bag he would carry. Long, adorned with flowers, patterned like the lower steps of a rainforest, and he must have had three hundred pages in there, and he was confused and desperate and hurt. It was funny. A few days earlier I asked him about the same bag, but it was empty, and it was on his balcony and he just looked at the bag, empty, lying on the ground like it had been tossed to the side in the middle of a desperate search for something else, possibly for the contents now in the bag, and he looked at me and said, with a beautiful smile, The bag holds this place together, if I take it out, the whole place disappears. He said thins like that, I found it cute. Most everyone in Beirut is an idiot. They spend their time trying to fane like their lives have meaning, like if there was anyone on this earth who should be spared the apocalypse it’s them. He was cute. I didn’t think so at first, I thought he was strange, kind of creepy, kind of like a real creep. We had met a few months before, on Halloween, on those autumn nights where the last few leaves left in the dump are ploughing their way through and the air feels finally like it doesn’t stick to your skin in desperation, you can breathe the Mediterranean right into your room, smoke in the afternoon without getting a headache, take to the streets after work and find that everywhere is quiet, that people are drinking wine and the last few remains of summer parties, explosions that burn the whole seaside through are gone, done, the summer is finally over. Fafa, my good friend, was living in Istanbul at the time, and I guess they were friends, and when she told me she was coming she didn’t say she was coming with him, but the first night we were at her man’s place, and we were sitting outside in his garden, two tall sycamores that hover over you like careful grandmothers afraid to let go, afraid to let you in to the world, and the floor divided between mud and shrub and grassy patches that fill the ground with some sort of natural life, and a large slab of concrete that sits between the grass and the opening to the apartment, where a white plastic table sits and every so often a cockroach the size of an avocado races out from under the grass and circles the table before hiding in some reckless collection of used and shattered bricks. There are a few rabbits that live among the weeds, and some neighborhood cats that hide in the little holes of the trees or in pockets of grass mounds that corner on the backyard wall, overlooking the street and the parking lot of a neighbor. It was the four of us girls, at the time always together, whenever Fafa was in town, and this was before Carolyne and I got into our trouble, and before Rania left to tend the dreams of my ex-husband in Tunis. We were all on coke, doing a lot of it in those days, I can’t really say why, it’s not like I needed it, not like Rania, not like Fafa for sure, but it was just something we always had around, and in Beirut that’s pretty normal, because we have money, and we have the time, and I don’t really enjoy drinking, and everyone around me is pretty lame, so it gives me a little booster, and it’s good. Fafa was arguing with Otto, her hubby, and in comes Dani. He wasn’t anything memorable, not at first sight, and I could tell he was much younger than us and a little shy. He started drinking, having shots of whiskey and slowly easing his way in to a conversation with Carolyne, and then Rania got excited like she always does, wanting to know who’s more talkative than she is, wanting to settle the scores, so she jumped in like a bat out of hell, and suddenly I noticed it was Fafa and Otto arguing and Carolyne, Rania and Dani on the side talking about something and this thing or that, and I was sitting by myself, and so I started to make conversation, sitting between Dani and Otto, and Fafa now on her lap, and a cockroach runs from under one of the bricks, and Fafa jumps so fast she nearly strikes me in the face, and Dani’s already at the garden door, pleading, begging like a girl for Otto to do something. Otto was confused, and pretty grossed out, though he said its normal and there’s nothing he can do about it, and so Rania finally slams on the thing with her boots and all I hear is a crack and then she lifts her foot and the cockroach is smudged all over the place and I hear Carolyne, Dani and Fafa moan and I just thought the whole scene was disgusting and at that point I’m thinking, it’s time to leave, or to do more coke, or something, to make it interesting. At some point we ended up doing more blow, and Dani did some as well, and then the conversation went on for a few more hours, and Fafa sitting on Otto’s lap, and the four of us talking about love, and loss, and innocence, and sex, and I remember thinking Dani may have had something interesting to say, I didn’t know him at the time, had never met him before, though he says he met me once outside on the street, in front of his house, years back, when my hair was still curly and long, and I was trying things out with my then ex-husband, who just happened to move back to Beirut the same year I did, and just happened to move into an apartment down the road from me, and as it turns out, across the street from Dani. The night ended, I realized we hadn’t shut our mouths for six or seven hours, it was four or five in the morning, Otto was the only sober one, which was always the case, because ever since he almost died in an opium den in Paris he pretends to be above it all, the drugs, and especially blow, always teasing Fafa and giving her a hard time, though if anyone deserves a hard time it’s her, because honestly, she’ll do blow after an abortion, and that’s a fact. By the time I saw Dani next, it was April, the first few signs of a summer of drastic change peering over the horizon, secrets, secrets, secrets, I can tell all of them, Dani!, I yelled, I yelled breaking down the door, listen, it’s a dump, it’s a shithole, and it’s full of thieves and killers and roaches up to the knees, but when spring hits, and the dread of winter is over, and everyone comes out of their homes, not like it was cold, not like it was ever too cold to go outside, but maybe because of the rain, maybe because food goes better with wine when its stormy outside, and the bars play rock and roll, but everyone listens to techno, I think, really, when the first signs of spring set over the horizon, and the killers march down to Martyr’s Square, commemorating the day that ruined it all, and the lisp on Beirut’s voice grows and grows, and the sun stands like a father opening his wings, everything goes, and I mean it, everything is alright. And that’s when I first realized, without a doubt, when he came back that spring and Fafa was with him, and Fafa staying at his place, and the first week when everyone was over at The Reservation, which is what they called his house, and the parties were going ‘till eight, nine, ten in the morning, and he always seemed quiet, content, with a smile on his face, never losing his cool, no longer on the drugs, just smoking his little joint like it was his little gift, his gift to himself and sitting there quietly with a pretty smile on his face, I could tell something had changed, something drastic, he felt better, he looked better, and so when Fafa finally left, got her drunk ass to Amman, to see her family and pay her sad respects, and it was the first long day of spring, and I was sitting in my living room, just off work, walking distance, just walked home, took of my shoes, cleaned the house, took my baby dog for a walk, and I get a message, like a superstition from the stars, falls right into my lap, kisses me on the shoulder, he says, It’s that time in the afternoon, where the angle of the sun sits right at the cusp, it’s far too beautiful a day not to share it with you, or something like that, something sweeter and more himself, and I laughed, hysterically, like he said, Come on, let’s smoke a joint before it rains, because the sun’s looking fucking good, and I find you beautiful. I went over, and that was the day I saw the bag, and that was the day we became friends, and I realized he would be my sidekick for the time that he was there.
April was a dream. I remember the conversations, talking about the twenty minutes it takes to have an orgasm or to call it quits, to do something else. I remember that we must have baked brownies with a load of hash at least two or three times a week. I would invite over friends and he would host and the whole place would turn into a dance, sinister at times, dark, like the city, ruined in the heart, ruined in the cold, and at times it was like we were floating, above the place, above the darkness. Sitting on his balcony, my back to the lemon trees and the gardenias, always, him sitting under the two windows and the large wooden deck, the lampposts that look like they sneaked in from 1929, the straw bench and the white pillows, where he would lie down facing me, his eyes in the sun, squinting, tilting his head back and forth, hiding his eyes until he had something to say, lowering his neck to shade his view to the cold. On some days the wind would blow through and carry the ashes of our joints along the terrace floor, and I would watch in amazement the little angels from our smokes dust and dust away, burying themselves in the plants, along the marble, against the wall. He’d talk about the olive trees he planted, the tallest one sitting just behind a pillar, behind a porch swing, and the shortest one a few feet away from me, cautious to punch above its class, growing to the custom of what it could afford. I remember his songs, and the first and really only song, where everything else was really a variation, a song that came out of something else. He played it for me one afternoon, we were sitting outside, I was rolling us a joint, in my little mosaic bowl I bought off the street in Istanbul, when I visited, before I knew him, and he told me he wrote something the night before, a slow and dreary song, that he wrote it after we all left, we’d had another tray of brownies, and after everyone was cross-eyed and we finished at least ten bottles of wine, everyone just disappeared, and he sat there in front of his amplifier, a busted old piece of shit he borrowed from a friend who wanted to throw it out, and he plugged in his guitar, a tired piece of shit with moss growing on the board, that he also took off a friend, who wanted to throw it out, so he said that he would take it, and he said he just sat there and he was really stoned, and he couldn’t see anything, he couldn’t read his fingers or see in the room, everything pitch dark, and the whole apartment quiet, and suddenly he started playing, and at this time he never played the guitar, but I guess he felt like saying something, and he was too tired to write, too tired then and too tired because of everything that came with it, and he sang me the song right there under the sun, in his shorts and yellow socks, his baseball hat turned on his head, and his shoulders slouched over like he was drunk, leaning on the guitar for balance, for love. The lyrics are simple, and the notes even simpler. He repeats the same two notes over and over again, repeating in varying degrees of expression and loudness and monotone and melancholy the same three lines.
you were my girl
with your face
and your lips
you were mine then
you were mine then
I called it Sad Song, and for the rest of the time we knew each other whenever I needed to feel something or to be lifted I would ask him to play, or I would just have to look at him and say, Remember the time you wrote Sad Song, remember when you sang it to me, remember how we felt? He would smile. He was really changed. It was so obvious. I don’t know who he wrote it for. I’m sure the lyrics to the song and the fact that he was there, the fact that he showed up in Beirut April 1st and was ready for spring and when I’d ask about Istanbul he’d just shrug, I’m sure the whole thing makes sense if you study it. I didn’t know anything in particular. I didn’t know the details. I still don’t. I know what I knew then, what I was given. That slow and somber day, that quiet and helpless boy, sitting on the floor of my sweaty and dark apartment, my dog huffing over the buzz of the air conditioner, me in my pajamas, lazy, indifferent to the beating day outside, the theater of rapid newsreels barging into the room, radiating from the screen of my television set, calling for a mind to embrace the numbness, and that poor, sad, somber little boy, on the ground, at the door, sitting there with pages and pages in his hands, and a deprived look on his face, like he could either cry or head to the roof and be done with it, and he looks at the ground, and he looks at me, and the sad, somber song in his eyes, his beautiful little almond eyes, his beautiful little peacock stare, and he says to me, I don’t know what to do with it all, I really don’t know what to do, trying his hardest not to say, I’m done. Show me something, I said to him, show me something so I know what you mean. I told him to pick anything from the bunch, to take anything out of the stack without thinking or praying just give me a stack of pages to read, give me something I can put my hands on so I know, so I know what to say, so I know how to help, so when you look at me with your beautiful little painful eyes I can console you, or to be honest, so I can tell you, You’re right, none of it is worth anything.
In all honesty, I was expecting it. I was expecting it to be mediocre and for me to have to come up with a way to tell him flat out, without beating around the bush too much, that’s not my usual way, I’m pretty serious and honest. But then, I don’t know, I took the first pages into my hands and, I just couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t the voice I expected, and it wasn’t even the sort of voice that draws you in, begs you to cancel everything you have and spend the next day in bed just reading, picturing yourself a bystander in the story, watching the world prepare for destruction.
But right away, I felt the hook. It was surreal, and tranquil, in the way that I was sitting there, like I said, in my pajamas, a joint in my hand, feeling the valley hash burn right through my throat, and the curtains were shading us from the incredible sun, and I felt all day like I needed a pick-me-up, something to brighten the mood and to bring me to my feet, and he was lying there on the ground like a wounded dog, like a puppy who knows he’s wronged his master, and it seemed like the weight of the world sat on this boy’s shoulders, and it wasn’t even the weight at all that made him shudder or cringe, or ask for help, or cry, but the fact that nobody understood a word he was saying, that if he had to do the fight alone he would, he had to, but he was begging for someone to join the fight.
Those first pages were a revelation. I saw the beginning of something. He didn’t pick them from the pile without knowing what he wanted to do, he picked them because he knew they would be there first. A walk. His walk in New York, the last walk he made before he returned again and the whole thing blew itself to pieces. When I heard from him again that summer, and he had sent me an email, and I was shifting through the pages like when I was a little girl and a pen pal from school had finally sent me a letter, I felt it again, this twitch inside my stomach, like I was beginning a journey again, our journey. Reading those pages again, the second time around, not for Eldorado, the beautiful book we put together, the book that sits on my bedside table next to Tessellations, that I read every now and again just to remember. No, reading those pages again, from Manhattan, when he was so far away, and I had felt his absence, when I was expecting him to be back after a week, when he left to spend some time in the south of Turkey with his family, and then a wedding in the south of France, and I was waiting for him to be back, any minute, and all I got was a message saying he wasn’t coming back, that he felt like he grew a pair of wings, and was flying to New York, I was sitting there, with my heart open, my entire body clenched to the bone, and I was reading those pages, the new pages, and halfway through, I put them down, I had to put them down, and I realized I was reading his pages again, I realized I was watching the character go about his life, I was hearing his words, I was listening to his voice, his pretty little voice, his beautiful little voice, and I started to cry. I don’t cry, ever. I really, really don’t. Not when my friend died last summer. Not when I got my divorce. But dammit when I read those pages of Manhattan, and my poor Dani was so, so far away, and I could feel the desperation in his voice, I could feel the dryness of his tongue, that he was bleeding for love, for food, for home, I cried, like a little baby, I hugged my little dog and I cried.
He knew what he was doing the entire time. From the moment I picked up the pieces and started juggling his manuscript in my hands, I knew that he knew what he was doing, he was just consumed by an insufferable doubt that he couldn’t shed, and I understand, I’m not an artist, not even close, but I know he had a genuine fear for the work, that he wasn’t doing it right. He didn’t care if it was going to sell. Let’s face it, money isn’t an issue, and he’s not going to starve. But the book is a lifeline, it became his life. It consumed him. Is aw it with my own eyes. The flesh of the pages was his flesh. If I tore a page apart he would bleed form the inside out. But he let me do it. He let me crush the thing when I needed to. But in all proud honesty, I didn’t do much crushing. He was determined to do the job right, to do justice to the story, to tell it like it should be told, and once I went through everything once, once I knew what he was all about, and he kept handing me page after page, in a specific order, ordering them for me on a whim, I realized he had already put the whole thing together, he just needed a loving touch. I crossed out some paragraphs, usually the last few lines of every scene, where its obvious he falls right off track, just when everything is perfectly ended, and he tries, in some Dickensian way, to tie everything together again, to bring us back to the plot. I told him, Babe, honestly, there just isn’t a plot, not like that. I think just the fact that someone was reading it was enough. He trusted me. He knew that I wouldn’t spit him out to dry on the dirt. He trusted me, and I gave him all my time.
Those three weeks were insane. We went through his walks, through his memory. I felt everything the way he did. I could see into his eyes, past all the bullshit that sits on the surface of every written page, I could see right into his soul. I felt Her. I still didn’t know who it was, and I still don’t really know, though I guess, based on what everyone always says, I guess I have an idea, but still, I know a different Her, a character that can’t ever be present, there’s no way she’s that real. He just doesn’t play the games, and it kills him, and I saw him struggle to put two and two together, to admit that there’s such a thing as right and wrong, to admit that there could ever be a story, an intention. This is Beirut right before the summer, so basically, this is Beirut before everything turned completely on its head. It had been bad, it had been worse, it had even been destroyed, but the spring is the spring Hezballah joined the war. Everything changed. I was reading his pages and outside the world was changing, and things were moving to an even darker state. I was reading about the character’s journey into Africa, about the character and his muse, about him meeting Her. I read the finale and I wanted to hug him for the entire night. I wanted us to drive to the remotest island and build a pyramid, stand on the mantel and play with the world like she was our toy. I met Writer and Self, I met the Professor, met Lady and the Witch. I didn’t know where they came from, I didn’t know their real names, or who they were meant to portray. I didn’t know why they even played in the story, but everything, when put together, fits, like a glove, it fits, it sits in its place and its like the scenes just figure themselves out. He was so desperate to finish, and by the end of every day, finishing work, walking home, feeding the dog, taking a shower, I would walk over to his place and he’d have his head in his hands, again, ready to cry, and I would sit on the ground next to him, and he would hand me two, three more scenes, and I would read them, cross a few things out, put little red hearts where they needed to be, armory and support, warding off the haters, the critics, the devils, and I would roll us a joint and we would walk outside, to the other end of the house, to the balcony, his sacred spot, and sit beside each other like we were huddled at a fire, and he would tell me how he needed to finish so he could start something else, and I’d ask him, honestly, why the rush, and he would laugh and say, it’s not his choice but that everything is rushing, And look outside at the shit, man, everything is destroyed.
By the time he left, without me realizing, or even he realizing, he wouldn’t be back for another five months, when he’d show up with another face, another set of eyes, another voice, and a whole long list of Sad Songs, a new typewriter, hours and hours of recorded voices he gathered on the streets of that bare, crater like city, and a bag of pages, new pages, he burned into a book and called Manhattan, and I saw that he moved from the third person trickster to a first person dream, everything, and I say it with the faintest memory of a time I knew what clarity meant, what idling away to the breeze of the Mediterranean over seaside brunches and day after day of joint after joint, by the time he left, not knowing that he wouldn’t be right back, everything in our world began to change, everything in our world just ran her hands into a jar of rotten, molested coffins, and shit, I mean shit, really, really hit the fan.
The older you get the faster the summer goes, the quieter the winter, the more you feel like you’re dying waiting for the spring. It all went up, and then it went down. I didn’t hear from Dani for a while, and when I did, I’ve said it before, it was magic, and he gave me these beautiful little pageants of his story, two hundred pages of a long, drawn out sigh. And then he disappeared, and I wasn’t thinking of the spring we just had, we were burning through the summer like it was our last.
Carolyne realized she had to leave for good, to raise her kid somewhere else. Four years old, spoiled by her parents, raised in a home with two maids, two grandparents and a sensitive mom. His dad couldn’t put his finger on his nose if he was pushed against the wall and told to. An all together useless man. Carolyne found a place in Atlanta, a decent job, and decided she would go there, try it out, put her kid in school. Her sister had just moved there, set everything up. I was already planning my escape. Burn the ship before it blows. I needed to get out. It was alright at first, but the moment we started to hear the fires, two bombs in Tripoli, two in Beirut, not like we weren’t ready for it, not like it didn’t happen all the time, but it was different. Suicide bombers. In Beirut. It wasn’t usually like that. And it felt different, because of Syria. Where do you go? The southern border is closed, attempting a pass is like walking up to the gates of hell and pulling down your pants, closing your eyes. Syria, fucked. Where do you go? The first thing the Zionists do, as we like to call them in frank humor, is shut down the airport with a parade of bombs. The port? Shut down before the afternoon, before the first full day of fighting closes. It’s true, the sun is there and you feel light, you get in the car, roll down the windows, and when the traffics at a pass, the wind flows through the vines, you feel that feeling of home, that passage he always spoke about in his poems, the place he says he discovered, every night, in his dreams. But before you know it, you’re trapped. And then what? Curfews. Shelters. Funerals. Goodbyes.
Before he left I told him I wanted to make a break for California. It made sense. My parents live in Arizona. They made a fortune out there, buying shit property, selling it to their friends, starting a community, selling when the market opens, moving to finer pastures, doing it all over again. My father has a strange knack for putting people together on a plot of land and calling it a home. something that comes with being a permanent refugee. I was born in one of the camps, just south of Beirut. He drives a Porsche and wears a beret now, and owns several homes, and a long plot of land he says will be our ticket. The gift that will take care of his daughters, he always says.
I have a sister in California and another in Arizona. Family made it out. I came back, don’t know why. Beirut. The same story, over and over again. We were born in an asylum, and we left. One day I had an American passport in my hands, and my mother’s face says it all. I was no longer a refugee. I’m an American. What does it mean? It means I can go wherever I want whenever I want, and if anyone tries to stop me, I just nod and make my way. But still, when you’re in Beirut, and it all goes off, like it tends to, every four or five years, sometime after spring, in the middle of summer, usually after a world cup or a miss universe pageant, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have in your pockets. If you don’t make it out in time, you’re trapped, and you find yourself eating rubber bullets for breakfast.
Carolyne made it a point to celebrate and mourn her imminent departure. We had beautiful nights, and then more beautiful nights, and then the nights dragged into the mornings, and the mornings dragged into the day, and suddenly we were in Tyre on the beach pushing turtles into the sea and taking mdma through the night. Everyone had their hubby and their dates all figured out. Carolyne rekindled the romance of something lost, a girl I came to realize at some point that I knew. It’s an old story, and I thought I’d never have to think of it again. Basically, I saved her life.
Before my ex-husband became my ex-husband, he was the love of my life, the man who, in university, I decided I would marry, if only to see his smile form on his face. That man has a genuine smile. And a beautiful laugh. Pretty much all he has.
Like everyone else in Beirut, we were doing a lot of drugs. One of the older guys Eve, my ex-husband, knew, and bought a lot of drugs from, invited us to stay in his chalet in the mountains, stay the weekend if we liked, he was going to be up there and host some friends. We thought it would be fun, so we joined. All night, the vibe was weird. It was pretty easy for me to realize that we weren’t on the same page as everyone else. Everyone was on blow, smoking a lot of weed, drinking a lot of wine, a lot of vodka, a lot of rum, and there were enough pills for everyone to enjoy. It’s not like it is in other places. In Beirut, everyone buys, everyone chips in, and everyone shares. Unless someone has a habit they can’t kick, people are generally kind with their goods. But I thought it was shady, every now and again a few of the older guys would go up to another room, and when they came back they were wobbly, a deep, distant glaze in their eyes, and they seemed to be losing focus. At some point, there were these two girls I didn’t know, who I never got to know, sitting beside me. They went up as well. Everything else was right there on the table, for all of us to do, so it was obvious they were smoking, or snorting, or shooting dope, up there in the room, looking to be private. When they came back down the girls didn’t look well. They didn’t look themselves. Even though I didn’t know them, I could tell, anyone could tell. One of them sat next to me, and for a while I kept feeling her rubbing up against me, pushing into me, like she was digging her shoulders into my ribs, as though she was trying to push me, to see if I would act. I was turning around to finally be like, What the fuck, but when I turned around she just bombed right onto the floor, smack, hit her face, fell to the side of the couch and landed with her face planted on the wood. Everything stopped, everyone went silent, and before I knew it, before I could put my hands up and ask for help, the older boys, the mature guys who lured us into their secret fucking cave, were starting to lose their shit, yelling things like, Leave that bitch on the street, and they were plotting how to pick her up, get her into a car, secretly, and dropping her off, in the snow, on the side of some curb. It was disturbing, I was disturbed. Eve had to get involved, and I literally put myself between the girl’s poor body, losing life on the ground, saying if they were going to take her to the side of some curb, they’d have to take me, and none of them would get away with it. Finally, it figured itself out, Eve getting into someone’s face, me pushing them away from the body. Our friend, he finally gave in, said he would call someone to meet him at the hospital, said he knew someone who could take care of it. He said it in a way I could trust, because that’s really the only way anything gets done, is by knowing someone. I told him I would go with him, he didn’t budge, he said he would drive himself, and he made the call. Before I knew it, we were carrying the poor girl’s body, lifeless, limp, in my hands, into the backseat of his car, patting her face with water, putting a stab of lavender in her hands. I don’t know why, or for what. The man took hold of the wheel and he was gone. And that’s the last I ever saw of her, but I heard from him later that night, after we’d all parted, separated and gone our ways, and agreed not to talk unless it was absolutely necessary, I heard from him that night, and a week or so later, and then a couple months later, that she was alright, that she overdosed but that she’d be fine, and that he was grateful and thankful I did what I did, and I told him to shut the fuck up, if anyone was going to die on my hands, it wasn’t go to be my choice, it would have to be something none of us could change. Something like the pale root of destiny, the dumps, Beirut.
I never went back to that place, never met again with that guy, and somehow Eve and I forgot about it, and never really spoke about that night. I never really thought about her, maybe once or twice, in twelve years. And then one night, stepping off the wooden stairs, stepping into the wild expanse of sand, dipping my feet in the water, warm in a summer night, warm enough to touch with my hands, to my chest, feeling my nipples harden, I looked back onto shore, and I knew, I knew right away, I recognized Carolyne’s girlfriend, like I had met her before, and not just met her, but I had really known her, like we had shared something, something surreal.
I spent the night wondering, every so often looking over, looking her in the eyes, making sure she wouldn’t catch my stare but wondering, watching, observing, tripping on md, slowly coming into a world of our own. I watched her, through the night and into the day, and it wasn’t until I had my own feelings of discomfort, I was being tailed by a guy I knew, right away, I shouldn’t have invited. A guy whose story I’ll let tell itself. But not right now, I’m saying, I watched her, and I was slowly coming into a daze, the sun ascending in from the east, the first howls of a morning crow, the laughs and jeers of our friends, our troupe, forming a complexion of their own, the voices, the noiseless sound, etched into the space, like it was played from afar, the echoes of a passing dream, feeling like I was waking up, like I was coming to, rising from somewhere I didn’t know I had been. I watched her, and finally, when I saw her clench her fists and rub her face in Carolyne’s neck, when the dew of my eyes formed little crystals, magnets I had to shy away with my fingers, I found the memory, sutured, painted, drawn onto a forgotten wall. I realized it was her, the girl whose life we debated in our hands. It made sense, that they would find each other, that I would be there, to see it all, and that they would disappear, both of them, twelve years apart, disappear from my life, drifting away to the paralysis of a worn, summer night.
The prophet jewels
We were living on East 3rd street between A and B. Alphabet City, just a few blocks from Tompkins Square Park, from the East River Park entrance on 6th street, where he liked to go, and from all the record stores and bookstores around the corner; like, Mast Books on A between 3rd and 4th, across from the tenement homes and a little garden, a lower east side emblem of gentrification; or East Village Books on 99 St. Marks Place, where old books go to dry out their pages, smoothen their covers and learn the ropes of patience, waiting for a buyer to stumble down the steps into the dim bookshop to rummage through the covers; or even a few blocks walk towards Bluestockings, the radical bookstore on Lower East Side, if you believe there can be such a thing as radicalism in contemporary, 21st century America, in the heart of the Lower East Side, in the heart of New York City, structures unfolding their dilapidated history to usher in the common era; and a kind summer’s walk towards Nolita, towards McNally Jackson, where they give you bookmarks for every book you buy, and probably the most internationally diverse and easily maneuvered bookstore in that part of town, with sections for most European canons, feeding your eyes their distinct selection and taste, classics next to the unknown, at least to most of us, who haven’t spent the last decade of our life simmering in the pages of a literary novel, choosing to do so with balanced respect; and Housing Works, where most of the money is donated to Aids relief, and most of the staff DO NOT have AIDs, and the selection there is also beautiful, and diverse, and two floors and sections on spirituality and psychology, politics and myth, and the readings are hosted in an inviting way, but I’ve never been to one, just a thought, that I usually leave before the people arrive, probably because readings remind me of America’s wastefulness, and America reminds me of the war.
Those are the bookstores I know, the ones I remember. I left New York for a while, but now I’m back. I spent some months in the Dominican, trying to get away. I went home, to the mad oasis in the desert, the bright lights of the Empty Quarter. I don’t want to spoil the fun, of getting to know me, so I won’t mention the name, but it borders Oman to the east and the great and honorable kingdom to the south. Across the gulf is Iran, a brother and a neighbor. As a woman I never wanted to go back, but I spent a few months there recently to be with my family. My father married twice, and though he’s the hero of my world, he’s also a traitor. I can’t forgive him for what he’s done to my mom.
Dani moved into the apartment with us in the summer of 2013. He had just left Istanbul, on a whim, probably because he realized, after being there for a year, that he didn’t speak the language, that he never would. He called me when he arrived, I was at Annie’s place, on the roof, when she still lived on 12th and 2nd, smoking some really good weed and reading Robert Benefiel’s Easy Battles for Lazy Armies, reading passages we liked, passages we wanted to discover, passages that sounded sweet and warm in Annie’s voice, in mine, in Toddler’s – the name I gave to my only Arab friend, a self declared fag searching for his daddy. Annie’s uncle gave it to her, or something like that, he gave her the book, and we found it inspiring for us idling and burning in New York, clueless to the cause of destiny, to our fortunate lives. I’ve always been fortunate, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.
I remember one of the poems, “Farming a Sidewalk Flower”, is kind of like our ode, it became our anthem, our last will and testament we would read before dawning the day or cursing the night. I was good, working two pretty cool jobs, as an intern of course, not getting paid, working too hard, but I was good. Annie was depressed, and by the end of the summer she was on the verge of death, not actually, but physically, on the verge of dying somewhere inside, or something inside of her dying, and so by the end of summer she’d have to leave, but I didn’t know that yet. I guess the poem is self explanatory, in the way that titles reveal the subject without forgiving the words. The poem begins like this:
has broken through
in front of where
just this struggle
between the pavement
and the elements.
I remember reading that poem a few times and Annie always saying, in her sweet and raspy voice, the way most of us do when we’re searching for our environment, “that’s us, isn’t it, this is so New York.” I remember thinking, Am I the flower or the pavement, What do I want to be?
Dani called me and I picked up. He said, “Meera, I heard you have a room free. It’s Dani. How are you?” I said, “Dani? Oh my god.” And a few hours later he joined us on the roof, and after a while of introducing him to everyone, to Annie and to Toddler, and to Toddler’s boyfriend, NOT his daddy, I realized he had this book in his hand, the entire time, he was fiddling with it, and it seemed important, special, because he didn’t share it with anyone, or show it to us, or leave it on the floor to brave the elements. He also had a camera, and he took a picture of my feet, and Annie’s feet, and he laughed to himself, saying how if my mom saw me she would freak, seeing my feet the color of darkness, the remains of Manhattan soot pledged to my soles. We were stoned, and at some point I guess we made rum punch, but nothing fancy, just the taste of rum and some artificial juice, without ice, in two plastic cups that we passed around, and one of us managing to drink from the bowl, a thermos with really long legs. Finally, the sun went down, the day slowly receding to the shadows, and for fear of roaches and crawlers, for the awareness of rats and mice, we decided to ditch the roof, abandon ship, go downstairs and wash our feet, and go out to a bar, for dinner, for drinks, and then I would show him our apartment, and if he waned to live with us, he could, because I never really hung out with him before but he always made me smile, for some reason, I felt like he understood where I was coming from, because he came from there as well, even though I never shared a moment’s secret with him, but I remember when his sister graduated from school, the year my brother did, and our parents threw a party in their honor, the spectacle of the year, he was filming everything with a beautiful grin on his face, filming everything even when his cute, embarrassed sister told him to stop, he kept filming, and for once he didn’t seem like the arrogant dickhead he was in school, but I saw for once the sensitive child others spoke about, who wrote poetry, they said, who wrote well.
At dinner he wasn’t sitting next to me, and we were joined by Roro, my best friend from home and summer roommate, she was subletting the room next to mine, the only room with no sunlight and one of two rooms, other than mine, with exposed brick wall. After dinner we walked towards our place, Roro stopping at the Joe Strummer mural on the corner of 7th and A, across from the park, sending her regards. I finally had a moment alone with him and I wanted to ask him about the book, because he was still holding it in his hand, and he was pretty quiet at this point, and I wanted to know what he was carrying, you know, like it was obvious, he wasn’t just carrying a book, it was a book.
We got back to our place and Sammi was there. She had a friend visiting, Alex, and both of them were from London. I thought she was nice, really sweet, but some of the things she said were stupid, and in the end I was happy to leave for a month of her stay, to go home for a while, see the family, and during that time Dani and Roro really had enough of her, Dani locking himself in his room trying to write, always banging on the typewriter like it was the devil, like he was fishing for his soul in the glass keytops, begging for something to come out. I know the sound, I spent enough time with him in the room, hiding behind the door, doing whatever he needed to do to get the words out. Sometimes I could smell weed form under the door, but usually when he smoked he liked to pass it on and come outside and find someone to smoke with him. Sometimes I guess he needed to find the inspiration elsewhere, and when he got into the habit of buying his records from around the neighborhood, after spending a week or so developing the impression of a studio, buying a nice set of speakers, some sort of blue box that he used to wire the record player into the speakers, and into the computer, and the record player itself, something not that expensive, he would go out in the morning, before showering, in his teeny weeny shorts, showing off his legs, which I liked, and I’m sure a lot of the guys around the neighborhood liked as well, in those hot summer days, when it’s real hot, and I feel like the sight of sweat on freshly shaved legs or the tight fitted collection of a cute butt in something short sends the unemployed witnesses into a frenzy, and so he went out every morning looking comfortable and pretty and he’d buy himself coffee on the go, with lots of ice, and wind up in a record store searching for something special, and then he’d come right back home, sometimes picking up a turkey sandwich at Gracefully around the corner, full on bacon, double cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and pickles, with a bag of chips, and some beer, and he would play the record, listen to it once, and then play it again and start typing, and I think it got to the point while I was gone that he didn’t feel comfortable coming back into the house because Sammi was sitting there, in what he calls her fat shorts, with her not so tight butt popping out the sides, watching a stupid TV show on really loud, something loud and obnoxious like Prison Break or Lost, and from his room he could hear the incessant explosions and the gunshots, and I understand, I mean, how do you explain the explosions and the sorry dialogue to someone trying to write a book?
Sammi and Alex left for the night to go out drinking in Meatpacking and we rolled some more smokes, I showed him the room, he seemed confused and impressed, but also indifferent, like it didn’t really matter to him as long as he had a bed, and preferably a window, I think he mentioned that, and then I explained the bathroom situation, that the shower always floods to the knees, something he solved his first day by applying a whole bottle of Drano to the drain, and that the toilet can’t handle tissue or anything but human waste, and he understood, which was pretty disgusting over the summer, the smell of shit escaping the garbage, especially when someone left the tap cover open, like it was burning, solidifying and spreading against the pungent power of a New York City heat wave.
He played us songs that night, the first night, from a variety of sources. Songs he said he liked to hear because they took him to different places. That was something I liked about the records. Every day when I’d come home and I’d find the door open to his room and him sprawled out on the bed with his hands behind his head and him staring up at the ceiling and I’d wonder where he’s drifted off to next, and he’d show me the record he bought that day and it was always like that, if he felt like going to Africa he’d show up with a record of some Malian blues band, or an Afro-beat compilation from the seventies, or he’d feel like traveling and going on the road somewhere and he’d realize his loneliness and his strange relationship to home, and he’d listen to Woody Guthrie, and I caught him one day staring out the window onto the little mosquito pond the neighbor set up downstairs, and Woody Guthrie was playing in the background, “I Ain’t Got No Home,” and I realized he felt so lost and far, and I told him with as big a smile on my face as I could manage, “You do have a home Dani, you do.” And we laughed, but I could see the look in his eyes that day, and it came again and again, and when he left, at the end of that summer, it was one of the sadder days of my young adult life, which is a polite way of saying I was fucking upset, and hurt, but I knew why he was doing it, why he couldn’t stay, because those last three weeks every time I looked in his eyes he had that same look again, that same look of something lonely and afraid, sad and tired, begging for the comfort of home.
At first I didn’t see much of him. I would go to work, I was interning for a filmmaker who was putting together a festival, and assisting a professor at my school. Looking ahead at my last season at NYU. I realized early on everything was coming to an end. Marcella, one of my roommates, fell in love, and it was the most beautiful thing. She’d never really had a boyfriend, and seeing her fall right into place with Joey, like they had known each other centuries, it was a good feeling, something good for all of us to see. She also starting interning at NBC and I could see her future clearing up, the last few hectic years of her life suddenly making sense, to her, to us, to her parents. She was working like an animal, like everyone in New York, working until her nails started to bleed and she grew horns instead of hair, it was manic. and I guess Joey was kind of like a meditative support for her. It was nice.
My other roommate, Isabelle, Argentinian, she had been dating a guy for three or four years now, and they were basically engaged. I remember one night, I called Dani in Berlin. He was stoned, standing outside a kiosk, watching one of the games of the world cup. He seemed happy, proud, like I could feel the pride in his voice. I told him I was going to come find him in Paris, that if I went to Paris he had to meet me there, and I was coming with a friend, a Rastafarian professor who remains the single most inspiring model in my life. I also remember telling him how frustrating it was to come home to the usual scene of Isabelle and Christian lying on the couch, scissoring. He asked me, What’s that, scissoring? I laughed, You’re outrageous, you know, when two lovers lie together and their legs are like scissors? Something about it he found funny, and was dying on the other end of the phone, laughing hysterically. I told him I was seeing Pharell, a guy he introduced me to. Actually, come to think of it, he introduced me to a few guys I fell in love with. There’s Cyrus, the sweetest most beautiful man on the face of the earth. There’s Zayed, the sweetest most generous man whose heart and soul connected to the land, our land, my home. I was falling for guys left and right, guys who made me want to dance, who made me want to write, sing, copulate. guys who fucked me the way I wanted to be fucked, and loved me the way I wanted to be loved, and could always tell the difference, on any given day, between fucking and loving, and how much of a difference it makes, and what security means, real security, fucking and loving, and doing it in a different place, seas and leagues and miles from home, and how I felt when we would finish, and if I felt safe it was alright.
So everyone around me was in love. I was preparing for the end, and the beginning of something new. It took a while to digest and I guess that’s why I went home that summer, for a month, to come back and recalibrate and prepare myself, one last year, one last juke into the dungeon, and then I’m out, and it’s all on me, and everyone back home was asking what I was going to do, and of course the parents expected I’d be on the first flight back the day after graduation, and how do I explain the scene, my jaw dropping, my shoulders perched, my teeth sticking out like I was ready to bite something. I’m not coming home, I told them, not now, not ever.
So I didn’t see much of him, in the beginning of that summer. My sister was doing a prepatory training north of the city, and she’d come home for the weekends, and then she moved in with us for a couple weeks. And the whole time I didn’t see much of him. He was always coming through at six or seven in the morning, and while we all out working during the day, he would be in his room, I’m guessing, writing, and then when we’d all come back, he’d be gone, drinking, recording people’s voices, doing. But before he started writing in the room, he rented a desk in a shared space studio in Chinatown. I remember him telling me about that. He tried working there and by the time I left, he was spending most of his time at the place, watching sixteen other painters shuffle in and out, each in four, five hour periods. He marveled at the fact, the way they came in quiet and calm, collected their things, set up the easel and stool, prepared their brushes, the palette, and started working. It amazed him, the difference in style, between painters and writers. For camaraderie, we read O’Hara’s “Why I am not a painter”. Writers, especially those that write from the fugue paralysis of a poet, are fragile, disheveled, and destroyed. They write in a state of chaos and anarchy, melancholy and depression. He shifted between these states, shifting so compulsively it was like he was always one step behind, always catching up with the emotive sequence of his writing. I noticed that about him from the beginning, noticing the way he walked and spoke, the music he listened to on his breaks, the amount of cigarettes, the pacing, the look in his eyes, the color of his hands, the color of his teeth, the bottle in his hands, it all came from one paramount place, the book. If anything in his life took on religious meaning, it was this mysterious collection of writing, and the bound copy he had in his hands that first afternoon. By the time I came back, he had quit the studio, moved his work into his tiny room, turned the pink cabinet into a desk, the corner of the bed into a chair, and the window into an ashtray. He was surrounded by books, used and new, and records, used and new. It was a beautiful sight, walking into the apartment, seeing him there, seeing them all sitting there waiting for me like they were my children. Annie, Rori, Marcella, and D. That was really when it took off for us, and in a little way, when it started to take off for him.
When I got back, things were different. Sammi moved out, was back in London. She had stayed the last few nights in my room, while one of her many visitors was staying in hers. Marcella was back, I hadn’t seen her in a while. And Rori was wrapping up her internships, working two days a week with one studio and another two days with Ba Da Bing records. Dani was well into the first stages of Manhattan, which at the time was just new 1st person, as he would call it. He started opening up more. We started going for walks. I had a lot of free time, and I had a lot less work to do, prepping for the semester ahead, doing some reading, writing a few poems, scratch paper poems. I guess I became his drinking buddy. I started to see a different side to him, and I realized I was beginning to see his side to it. His view of things, the way he maneuvered around town, the story of his days. I hadn’t thought about it much, but I realized I had always thought of him in a vague way, going about his day writing, buying coffee to go from different hipster baristas, buying his beers during breaks, eating a small sandwich to keep him going, every now and then stopping at the Bowery Hotel for a stiff drink with his favorite bartender, Jose, from the Dominican, who lived in the Bronx and had just had a baby boy, and the other guys, Nick, the Manchester United fan, his ally in town, and Josh, the nice, white guy with a sweet smile and a firm handshake. I knew he had certain spots, certain places he always went because it made him feel comfortable and he could focus on his plans, on the writing, on other things, like he had this plan for a publication, and it consumed him for a few days, until he realized, like with everything else in his life, he had finish the book first before he had any legitimacy to attract any sort of fellowship. So then like everything he dropped it until further notice.
We went on long walks. He would come home, from wherever, with a smile on his face, and by this time Rori had already left town, gone back to London, and Isabelle and Marcella were both back, forging their careers and their lives. He would walk in and grab me by the hand and ask if I wanted to join in. Or he would storm out of his room, in his charming red shirt, the one his dad gave him, the one he gave me before he left, and the only pair of jeans he owned, torn in several places, always dropping them off at the Chinese lady’s place across the street, who stitched them for free because he took his laundry there as well. Nothing comes free in New York, but somehow he always managed to get some deals. At Snack Dragon across the street he never paid, spending Monday nights, Thursday nights and the occasional Saturday night with John or Pharell, whosever turn it was, drinking forty ounce beer all night, though he usually bought a Red Stripe while the others drank the forties, and smoking blunts in the basement of the restaurant, a steel winding stairwell leading you into a sort of bomb shelter like steel encampment. If it wasn’t a busy night they would shut early and smoke their joints in the store itself. Snack Dragon on 3rd street, not the one on Orchard Street. Pharell’s older brother worked there but Pharell worked on our block, so that’s the one they spent their nights at. A few other regulars, basically artists and low time weed dealers, would hang around there as well, usually on Pharell’s shift, and they’d all sit around drinking beer calling out to some drunk, stumbling white girls passing through, fighting emaciation with a two order of Johnny Boy or Nacharito. And during the day if ever ran out of cash or forgot his wallet at home, he’d have coffee and breakfast waiting for him from the two Ibrahims, the Touareg from Niger and the beautiful, most handsome man to ever propose to me, young ambitious Ibrahim from Mali, the ball player who got rejected from Nursing school more than times than I can count. It was really sweet to see how fast someone can set up. He hadn’t been there two months before it looked like he had been there years. Which made it all the more surprising when he decided he would go.
On some of the walks we would bump into friends of his from some of the divier bars, quiet bars with old neighborhood regulars, like Morgan and Cassie who worked at the reforming punk spot on 5th and B, or Brian at Dorian Gray’s on 4th between A and B. But my favorite place of all was the KGB, on 4th between 2nd and 3rd. The strangest things happen in that place, even though its now just a standard late night dive bar with old timers and people who survived the radical nineties and lived to tell the story. He was the youngest person there, except for a couple aspiring drag queens who I guess felt safe to be in the company of the crowd. They thought we were married. He told me when he went in without me they always asked why he didn’t bring his wife. I really liked the KGB, Agee serving behind the bar, doubling with Dan, whose theories on American conspiracies and tragedies always entertained us, who probably was the only person in the bar who knew where we were from and understood what was happening there. The days leading up to Congress’ vote on airstrikes in Syria, the most flagrant days of that summer, we spent the nights with Dan, mainly for his humor, and Dani really enjoyed that he could smoke weed and cigarettes after they locked the doors, and whenever he wanted to catch up with a friend he would bring them there. It’s quiet, and there isn’t a line to get in.
One night I told Dani, without thinking, that I couldn’t remember the last time we hung out together sober. I don’t know why but I think it hurt him. So we started going for afternoon walks, in the sun, away from the maniacal food and beverage industry, towards the water. He liked sitting by the sea, it calmed him. When I first heard from him after he left, a few weeks or so after he arrived in Beirut, it was really strange at first, and I felt like I was talking into the past, to someone who wasn’t really there, like the world he left behind had disappeared, and he went looking for it. He told me he spent his first week in a haze, sleeping at four or five in the afternoon, the exhaustion coming so suddenly he would wake up a couple hours later, at nine or ten, on the porch swing on the balcony, or on the couch with a joint in his hand. He was staying in his family’s place, living with his brother and a maid, who cooked and cleaned, took care of him. Things were difficult with his brother. He felt misunderstood. He had written to him that he was thinking of coming back, and his brother rallied against it, blaming him for bringing a shadow of darkness over his life. But he seemed okay, and he told me in that first week, in the haze, he had nothing to do, had only a couple joints he had saved from the last time he was there, and he hadn’t spoken to anyone yet that he was back, so he just roamed the streets at night, into the morning, and quietly into the day, walking aimlessly, through Ras Beirut, onto the Corniche, onto the rocks, sitting there for hours in the morning, when the sun’s eyes could finally be felt, the cool Mediterranean air putting a blanket of ease for the sun’s scorching rays. He told me he would sit there hours, writing in his notebook, reading a book of poems I gave him, Rilke’s Duino Elegies, watching, observing, These people, he said, who stepped into my heart and dismantled every little vein, these people, he said, who I’ve come to love. I remember him saying it made him proud to see so many people, Syrians especially, who had fled the war, numbering well over a million, he was overjoyed to see them fishing on the waterside, spending their afternoons eating seeds and fruits, drinking juice and cartons of cola, harassing their friends, teasing the coffee sellers and the musicians playing the oud, the little boys who beg to polish your shoes, the feeling he had, he said it in a really beautiful way, was that he lost his vision, he lost his sight, he lost his compass in New York, and sitting there, in the company of all these strangers, he felt like he had emerged from a long, desperate dream. He told me he spent most of the nights walking silently, without music, wandering into neighborhoods he’d never walked through but only drove, neighborhoods near Cola, Tariq el Jdeideh, Barbir, walking all the way East towards Mar Mikhael, Dora, Bourj Hammoud. He told me he sat on the concrete slabs that separated the two egregious lanes outside his dead grandparent’s home, looking through at the alleyway that led upwards from beside the front gate, to the abandoned kiosk from where he used to buy rapidly expiring chocolates and dates as a kid. In a romantic way, I remember as well, in the days before delivery service, where you’d ease a basket on a string off the balcony, with money inside, and they’d put the candy in the basket and you’d row it up. I hadn’t been to Beirut in four or five years. My father didn’t allow it. He said it was dangerous, that we could find ourselves in the middle of something without knowing and then we’d be fucked. He may have had a point, but I always felt if four million others were doing it why couldn’t I? Was my life that much more valuable? I know the answer. They don’t have the privilege to leave. Some of them do, and they choose to stay, for work, for love, for hope. Some of them stay because they’re attached at the hip, addicted to the feeling you have, or the feeling you don’t have, when you’re home. Most of them I would say are nostalgic, and if they ever leave it draws them back, just like it did him so many times, because at some point they felt something they had never felt, and it burned with so much strength it almost consumed them, and they could never forget or turn it away, always chasing that first, unpredictable high. Like an angel that comes out of the corner of your eye, the moment you decide to end it, sparing a few words and a gesture of love, knowingly or not, saving your life.
We went on long, incredible walks. We would start outside a bookstore on St. Marks Place and after a few hours I’d find myself on the waterside in Brooklyn, looking back over the water, having walked over the Williamsburg Bridge, smoking a joint, singing some songs, stopping every now and then to write down a few words or a thought, to draw a picture of a bird that didn’t look diseased, to take down the name of a poet someone mentioned on the fly. By the end of the night we’d be sitting in an Americana bar in Coney Island, somewhere he said he came once with a couple friends while he was helping them with a film, and we’d eat Toto’s pizza and look over the amusement park struggling to breathe. I think the longest we walked was probably thirteen hours, and for a whole week I felt a stiff pain in my thighs, I couldn’t lift my arms over my neck, and my lower back felt like I had been hit by a car. But we walked at the speed of our thoughts, and sometimes it was slow, dormant, melancholic, grey, and other times it was rapid, decisive, raging, a fierce crimson red, cautionary proverbs under an elm or an oak.
I never read his book. I don’t know what he wrote about or where he got his ideas. But I’m sure those hours drenched in the immeasurable sweat of a summer day played some sort of role in the process, painting a picture he kept loose in his mind. Something he could revert to. I always do. When I write I start by singing, and I let my voice trickle and trail like I’m hearing myself for the first time, like I’m focusing on the emptiness that pervades the space between the words, filling, gesturing it with love, affection, prayer. I sing until I can’t hear my voice or recognize the space, and then I find myself lying against a wall, grass, under the covers, in a public bathroom with my clothes on, scribbling on a pad, with a deep sense of, I don’t know, fear, or like I have to finish what I’m doing otherwise. Somehow I feel like I never read the book because if I did, I would know, I would know once and for all what it was all about. I don’t think I wanted to know, I don’t know if I want to. I’m still dealing. In many ways, I’m really just still dealing.
A story lived twice never ends the same.
Patience bites into a winter cabin.
I am (not) in that city.
is where the plenty make their living
is where they survive
The story is in the soil.
“We’re nearly there.”
“Have you never seen the port of ports?”
“I’ve sniffed her glue.”
I see the hunchback listen
the caged bird sing
I am an endless thing
I told him he would get over it. And then, he would move on. Wrap it up, he would wrap the whole thing up. Maybe he was too scared to admit I still had his heart when he fell from that branch, suffering for my own admission to his will, not to love him, to scorn the little boy, because the prince never meets the princess, not in these novels.
I wish we had more time. Time for watching, for moving, for listening to the seagulls and the crows from my step-father’s terrace. Time for selling rum punch on the street, taking walks with our cameras and getting lost in a gypsy quarter, finding our way back with blood on our wrists.
I was there when he met the first batch of characters, and it was like they took control of him. In so many ways, it was like I lost him, and he knew it, and he was apologizing, by falling in love or something. Like I held him back. I remember when he visited the witch in midtown, on the Westside, he told me about it. He had just left me in Chicago. We’d gone to New Orleans, and we rented a car and drove to Biloxi, Mississippi, to see Jamey Johnson play. The look on his face. A look of surprise. In New York, his first two nights there, he met James Murphy, my idol, my king. For the next week, he was backstage at three Cut Copy shows. In one of them he was the only guy with any cocaine and he had a key around his neck, so he was the one everyone wanted to meet. In the south, he was nobody. We found it funny. When we told the security we came all the way from Beirut to hear Jamey Johson play, if we could just see him backstage, the guy just turned and walked away. In New York, he bowed.
I was there when the jester sprung from his chest, like he was hearing his own voice for the first time, like he was looking into the mirror and seeing himself, finally, after searching for his reflection for years. To remind myself, I don’t know, of the good things, I think of the ukulele he played me by the fountain, the one in all his films. Or was it my brother? I have the images mixed up. So much lost in so little time. I remember asking him for a secret. He wrote it down for me, and when I let go of all this things, I put it in there, with a lock of his hair, his rattail, the one I kept in a jar for four or five years, I put them in a straw basket, with all of his letters, and sent them out to sea. It’s not fair. He has this book, he has his words, his pages, to get over it, to get past us. I don’t. I have pictures. Albums. My obsession. It’s not fair.
Before he left, he gave me all his pages, the first few hundred of the manuscript. But since he edited the book in Beirut, it’s really a little more than half of everything he wrote until that day. The first moments with the jester, stories of the one boy, of suicide, of bringing down the parliament, the republic. Pictures, self portraits, negatives, written like poems. I put them in a huge wooden chest, an antique I kept near my bed. He left me his books, the fairytales of Anatolia, I watched him put it down, wondering if he even cared, if he even remembered, but I didn’t say anything. His Eliot, his Gide, his Bataille.
I have his letters. The important ones, the soft ones, the tragic ones. He left me his poems, and I kept his letters.
I never wanted to hurt his feelings. Even when it was hard for me, and it was, it wasn’t fair on me, none of it was fair. It’s not just his story and then his way of dealing with it. I lost my best friend for a long time. I lost him for a long time.
We took a trip together. We took a few, but we took a trip together near the end. I always accepted them. Actually he turned me onto the idea. I was confused as well. A trip, we took a trip together. We took a few. We took one in the end. It was good, lasting. I felt fresh. He wasn’t acting strange. He was very normal. I guess around me he was normal. But he looked a little nervous near the end. We spent just a week on the road. We wanted to cross the border but my papers were not set. I didn’t know so it caused a short problem. On the road we just listening to music and played some games. I gave him all my money so he could join ours together. Things would be easier that way. And then we got lost. Actually we got lost every night for the first few nights. We had a friend working intelligence in the city for us. He found us places to stay for cheap. I think we stayed in the back of a convenient store one night. And another night we slept in the backroom of a waterpark. He was fine with it. So was I. I know he liked the idea of spending the night in obscure places. But I’m sure if we found a decent place we would’ve stayed there. We stayed at a fancy hotel one night. He drank a bottle of gin at the pool and read to me Anatolian folktales. Folktales are all the same. I just liked his reading, didn’t matter what. They were cool though. But they’re all the same. The use birds a lot. Birds in love, with powers, lost love. His kind of stories. He was romantic. I guess it was my fault, I never let him get in too far, even though he was the closest person to me, outside of the family, he knew me better than anyone, but never too close, never close enough, and for someone like him, he lived all his life in his head, he kept dancing in his head, he was practically never there unless he had some interest. I was an interest. I told him once. I told him he would wrap the whole thing up. That we would be finished. That he would regret loving me. I didn’t say love. I was ashamed of it. Ashamed he loved me like that because I was pretending that he didn’t. It was easier to pretend he was just that good. He was that good, he was. But I made him want more. I regret it but it’s hard to regret it as well, because it was so good for both of us, I know he grew a lot in that time, and part of me would not be the same without having been there with him. Not on the road, in general, those few years we were inseparable.
When we got lost one of the nights we found out a friend was staying closer to the city that we were at. I called him and he told us to meet in the morning so we drove towards him. When we got there he broke the news that we’d been going the entirely wrong way and we’d take four days to get to the border if we kept going like we going. He said he could get there in less than seven hours. He would drive.
We continued on the trip and that’s when the borders got confusing and I had some trouble with my papers. We ended up crossing for half a day just to try some olives and shitty wine.
I don’t know what went wrong but as soon as we got back to the city it was like a blanket had been lifted, like nothing could be as smooth ever again. I know I’m the type, I sweep everything under the rug, I let everything sit, and then I wait for it to solve itself. I know this about myself but still, I tried.
He got back to his place and noticed there were baby flies everywhere, like all over the place, just sitting, flying around, or just resting on any wet surface, like the kitchen sink, the bath, the bathroom sink, the windows, they were pretty moist, still the end of summer, summer just ending. He spent the next couple nights working on something and I barely saw him except when we developed our films and saw some of the work. He had his films still on him and he couldn’t develop them, it would take a while, so he left them in a cool container box and I think they’re probably still there where he left them. But the nights just sort of passed and it sucked going back to work but I had to and I was figuring out my way out, trying to snap out of the blues. And then I went over to his place to watch something. I think to see how everything would look projected onto a big white wall and with some music we could get a feel for what we’d done.
After we played the photographs on the wall he sat me down and everything became really strange. First he was going to say something and he decided not to, and then he started looking for flies to kill and then he decided he should tell me, and then I asked if I should really hear what I’m about to hear and he said he had to say it because it had been so long, and then I asked if he was really sure and then I just went quiet and then everything was quiet, and then there was a loud sound but it wasn’t anything, it was just me noticing the sound of someone flushing a toilet upstairs, and then it was quiet again, and I don’t think he had heard the sound, I don’t think he heard any sounds because he was very quiet, and he was standing against the windowsill like in the movies and I was sitting crosslegged on the floor, and I was wearing a tank top, and I started playing with the seam, and I don’t know how long it was, it was probably very short, but it felt forever, and he was really quiet, and then he got really nervous, because I’ve never really seen him nervous, except that time, and he was smoking his cigarettes really heavily, and like he was planning something, or he knew he would regret something, or he just had to say what he had come out to say that day, and then I noticed that everything around me felt strange, and I wasn’t really there, even though of course I was, I was there more than anywhere else, and there’s nowhere else I could have been, but at that moment I felt alien, and he felt like a serious stranger, because I could feel him breaking some sort of deal we made, and everything looked a shade of grey and blue, and the colors of that summer were gone and I felt nothing at that moment, I felt like he was staring at me really seriously and so I turned to look at him and he was sitting there staring at me with big fawn eyes.
And then he put out his cigarette and he gave me a few strange looks like in the movies they would make when something serious was about to happen or be said and I know he spent so much time in his head so he probably felt like he was living out a story and it wasn’t just a story and I told him that, once, before all of it happened I told him not to make me a story, and then I realized he started walking over to me and I realized for the first time we were sitting in the dark and my eyes were making plans to see better and I saw him coming over to me and he sat right in front of my face and he held my hands and then he dropped them. I don’t think anything serious happened on my part like shaking or being nervous or looking scared or away from his stare but he was more afraid than I was and I can understand it must have been heavy on his heart, he let everything be heavy as long as it felt like something so I’m sure he enjoyed it a little, in some way, everything being heavy on his heart. And then he held my hands again and then he dropped them and then I realized that he was finally going to say it and I didn’t want to be the girl who breaks his heart or breaks his dreams and tells him not to say it before saying it but it would have been so much better if I did, or if he never said it, and then he finally said it and I felt like we were cursed and I bit my lips and I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing, and for saying nothing I must have looked sad or hurt because he started saying sorry, and I believe him he was sorry, and then I think he walked away and it wasn’t like he had wanted because you say these things and then they sit in the air and its not a movie where the scenes change or the shot cuts and suddenly we’re somewhere else and I’m telling it to someone and we’re thinking what it means, because we were there and he was at the window again and smoking another cigarette and breathing really loudly and suddenly I got mad, I think I said some things, and I was hurt, and upset, because why would he? How could I? What did he think would happen?
“This isn’t a movie.”
“What did you think would happen?”
He wanted me to run into his arms and say everything would be perfect and finally it would work and we would try it and that I’d been waiting for him to say it for half a decade but it wasn’t true because it wasn’t like that, he was closer than everyone but he wasn’t that, he wasn’t just a friend but he was, he was just a friend, but a friend that was like family and so I didn’t want to hurt him but I was upset.
And then I grabbed my things and I left.
I was in a state of shock even though I was expecting it but when the time comes and things are finally said everything changes and its not always easy to understand why but it changes and I didn’t know how to feel or what to say so I had to leave, and I left. The strangest things were coming to my mind and I realized that the entire time we were sitting there after he said it and before and immediately after all I could think of was how quiet everything felt and I could hear my own breathing and his and I felt like we were in a kind of dance together, but it was quiet, so it was like a forest, but without the wind, without the night owls or the moon light and nothing romantic because it was all dead, it wasn’t bland it was lifeless, and heavy being lifeless and everything felt struggling and limp, and I felt that and then when he said it I realized all I could hear was quiet and the quiet was so loud I almost could smell the feeling and that’s what I feel when I remember it, I remember smelling my hearing his words and his walking and hearing each footstep on the greywood floor and the passing wind once or twice and then quiet, dead quiet, never ending quiet and then it was all just there sitting in the sky and it felt like I feel after I realize I’ve smoked too much or we’ve had a night and the dust is settled and I poured some in my drink and then everything goes quiet and the trip is over and the sun is out and its quiet everywhere you look, and everyone is quiet in their hearts and in their head and the feeling of walking back in the morning after the night was kicking every decibel in the face and then quiet, and I can hear people’s dreaming and their thoughts and their worries and being afraid or being happy or just content. And then when I left I felt like I did something wrong but it was him who did something wrong even though it was beautiful what he tried to do but he didn’t do it right because he did it with expectation and with expectation you’re always acting selfish. So I was the one who wrote a letter that night and it was strange for me to do it, I wasn’t used to it, I wasn’t used to putting my thoughts about him or to him or anything down on paper and treating our exchange like something or like we were an item and we had this secret place to talk about things but suddenly I felt good about it, so I wrote it and I sent him a message saying that I left a letter for him in the plant in front of my house where I usually leave my keys for my friends.
I guess he came looking for it but never found it because I left to work the next morning and it was still there under some mud. But then he got in touch and he said he found it and read it and that he wanted to see me so I told him to come by the office and we decided to go for a walk.
We went across the boardwalk and walked for a while until we found some trucks to sit behind and somewhere not so quiet but quiet enough and it was a beautiful day, I remember, the sun was really out, and the wind was nice, and I felt beautiful too because I guess I hadn’t felt good in a while, and then we sat down.
“Do you think I don’t love you?”
“Not like that.”
I had to tell him that it wasn’t right but when the sun was hitting my face and he was sitting next to me I felt safe again and so I didn’t know what to say even though I planned on saying everything. It happens, so I waited, and he spoke and said things like he wished he could be better and he just started pitying himself so I wanted to get him to stop and he did, without me saying anything, I think he noticed that I wasn’t interested in his self pity or his feeling like shit about it because it happened and he went and said it and now we live the consequences.
And then, you know when everything is getting really heavy, and dark, and then suddenly out of nowhere you start laughing, and that’s what I did, for no reason, and he started laughing, and then I realized that even though everything changed it didn’t really change, and we were still the same and only we were going through something different we hadn’t done before, and I realized that he was doing it to himself, working himself up because he did that sort of thing, and I realized it must have been something to do with his pills, and his taking so many of them, and his using them for inspiration but they just made his head chaotic, and his thoughts swerving all over the place, and so instead of saying anything I listened, and he had nothing to say, so we sat there, and then my lunch break was over and I went back to work, and he continued walking under the sun, and probably felt better about things but I didn’t end up seeing him for a couple of days.
For me it was very normal but I was thinking about him. I was worried and I was just wondering what he would do but he didn’t seem upset or so strange it was just a feeling I had that he was going to begin losing it a little, and I was right, because the next time I saw him he wasn’t so good.
So yeah, where were we? Right, seeing him next.
“You can break if you want to.”
“No, I’m alright.”
I know that, she looks outside the window and finds nothing there. I know that she does this often. I know she has a hand in my remembering things. I want her to remember what it was like for me but I’m against forcing the issue.
The next time I saw him.
“Was it after dark?”
No, it was early. It was about the time I expected him to call. It had been a few days, and we hadn’t spoken. It wasn’t like us. I knew he was afraid but I also know he has pride, and if he’s still around he has a lot of it and it’s probably got him to where he is, if he wants to be a part of anything, he can find a way to make it, if he wants to, and anyway, he didn’t lose you know, I hadn’t given him a hard time, I hadn’t said anything except why do it, why now? And he never answered me he just shrugged, or pitied himself. But I don’t think he had so much pity on himself when he was alone. Alone he could think about things and be curious. He could imagine himself winning over a princess and so it would make him feel better. I was too confusing to be around, so it took a couple days. But he came to me.
It was early morning. I skipped work that day. Someone told him I hadn’t gone out to work. Someone told him I was sick or something. He was probably worried. I heard a knock at the door. You know how it is. You come to know everyone’s knock. His was rapid but also casual, also shy. Even if he was expected. He wouldn’t barge in with his knock. Not like a forceful knock. But not a stranger’s knock either. His knock would say a lot about him that day. I heard his knock and I opened.
He looked good.
When I see him I smile. When I see him everything goes away. How can I not love him? I want to, it’s harder than he thinks, it’s harder than a boy can imagine. I’m overpriced, for his heart. He can’t make use of this.
I let him in. It’s always beautiful to see him after a few days because he always looks so excited to see me. I need that too. I need the affirmation. I don’t mind being loved. Nobody minds it. I just wish I didn’t have to hurt him. And anyway I don’t think he was hurt yet. I think he was still convinced of something. Like all he had to do was prove something to me. But he was crazy at this point, I could see it, just then when I let him in I noticed it, because he wasn’t like before, something new had happened, a door had been cracked.
“What’s going on with you?”
And then he said something about voices. I realize we’re all a little bit crazy, but he isn’t at all. He was too grounded for it at the time but he was also too lost, he had taken flight, somewhere majestic but nobody else could join. I saw it in his face, staring with an emptiness I suddenly wanted to discover, but I couldn’t, unless I let him in to my world, and I couldn’t lie, I wouldn’t.
The morning before a breadmaker in our neighborhood committed suicide. It reminded me of mortality. It didn’t scare me. I wanted it to be the way it was. People leave, people disappear, people die. I told him, it made him wonder. He said he heard these voices and he wanted them to leave him alone. I told him to stop what he was doing and to look at me straight. He was clean for the morning, I could tell. He hadn’t taken anything that day. But his eyes weren’t easy, he was restless, but he could be at calm. I told him he was lucky. Because he has the voices in his head to hear him. Nobody knew why the breadmaker took his life. But yeah, he had the voices to hear him. He didn’t listen. He sat down.
“I made this for you.”
He handed me a disc.
“What is it?”
“It’s everything, explained.”
I wanted to open it and listen but he told me not to. Then he said he was hungry. He looked around in the kitchen. It was like I was there but I wasn’t, I was hovering over him and watching. He was awake but he was not there, he was dancing in the clouds somewhere, like a ball of dust.
“Are you okay?”
He shrugs and pouts his lips when he knows someone is watching. He does this because he knows a moment carries the enormity of a memory.
He had this idea, that if we were to be loved then we had to be remembered, and to be remembered was to be remembered in the way that someone acted in very specific moments. He saw the world through a film reel. The moments we notice with intensity, or the ones we pass over but think of again, those form the crux of what we feel towards someone, or something, or somewhere. So he savored those moments when he could look a certain way, defiant or vulnerable or mysterious, anything he could do to keep himself etched in someone else’s memory.
He left without saying much. I didn’t want him to go so quickly but I had no food and I think eh didn’t really want to stay, he wanted to drop off the reading and he would leave after that and sit somewhere and have a few sips and maybe take something else and think of me reading it and if I was laughing or crying.
I did him one better. I filmed myself listening to the reading.
It took over an hour, or just about that, right at the hour mark the reading cut. I couldn’t find my senses right away. I was lost. I had recorded myself listening to the entire thing. It was magical. I didn’t deserve the beauty, but I did, because if someone does it for you then they mean it, and then it was made for you and with honesty and so yeah, I deserved it. I wanted it to stay with me. I could tell it wasn’t going to be normal and that things would forever change. I didn’t anticipate how they would at all but I knew, so yeah, I wanted to keep it with me, and I wanted the memory to be mine, and so he wrote that for me, and I think that was the first thing he wrote and read, and heard himself reading, and probably it took a lot out of him, because it gave so much to me, it was cool, I still remember it, but there was something else.
He ended it with the Jester. He said something familiar in it like speaking of the one boy, and the stories he had told but wasn’t able to finish, and trying to imagine an occult of laughter, and trying for freedom in our rides, past the stone of independence, past everything we left behind only because we wanted to, and let’s face it, we had everything we wanted.
When it ended it felt ominous. There wasn’t the cool air it began with and it wasn’t the longing or nostalgia that he pushed through with near the middle. It ended with the Jester and it made me wonder things, made me wonder if we lost him because he would never say it he was too good an actor so if it felt like it then that meant something was wrong. And that was the beginning of the Jester. And that was when he left the nest, I think. He made claims to his misfortune, to hearing voices he could never share, and those that he shared he could never finish. What does a voice want? An ending, and he never knew endings. I didn’t know what to say. Did I tell you? I dreamt of the Acrobat myself. And I was crying the entire time. I cried throughout the entire reading and I was being filmed the entire time. It would be for him to have and to savor and I wanted him to know what it meant. Look I’m not good at saying what it is I’m thinking. He knew it. So I recorded it. And then I sent it to him. I guess he watched it. He didn’t say anything.
But that night we went to a party on the other side of town. We could see the bridge from his roof deck. We spent the night up there and another friend joined. The party was pretty shit. But the host was kind. I think he was also in love with me. He wanted a job and he thought I could help him. He got drunk fast. We left.
Before we went to the party I gave him a letter. Before that we watched a film. We drank a pint of bourbon during the movie. He drank most of it. He read the letter I gave him while I was in the shower. I told him everything I felt while he was reading to me. I told him I didn’t feel I deserved it, that I heard the voice of a poet for the first time, and when I knew for certain that it was me he was speaking about and it couldn’t have been anyone else, I told him it was too beautiful, and that I could never again be so loved. I felt superstitious, I felt relieved. I told him all these things because he wanted to know and I wanted to say them. And he had to know how I felt, even though he had the video of me crying, he had to know it meant something and it wasn’t just my face, or my tears, it was real somewhere else. And then I heard the horns.
I’m not sure exactly. He had a dream. I think that was it. We were staying where the cold fish fry, you know, by warmer waters. There’s been a trouble with salmon in low lying waters so we help them catch adrift.
It hasn’t been the same. The past few days, since you got in touch, asking about him, I’ve been out of sync. I don’t know what you’re looking for. He didn’t leave much behind in the form of anything understandable. Do you know why you’re doing this?
He said he served in the seventh fleet. His records proved him wrong. We wanted to ensure we had an isolated scenario on our hands, so we begged him to stop, to come ashore and talk about what needed to be discussed. But you know how is it with revolutionary mania, it knocks them off their feet. I don’t think it was his idea. And not to be presumptuous, but if I had to say, and testify this in court, the assassination was not his doing, it was a result, a reaction to his doing something else, namely, springboarding a production.
“Were they armed?”
That wasn’t the last time I saw him. The night after we last spoke, and after the part, and after I gave him the letter and everything like that, things got a bit strange. I wasn’t supposed to say anything to anyone and I didn’t, but it burdened me. He was looking at me differently. I couldn’t look at him the same way. Every time I looked at him he had this defeated look in his eyes. It was kind of cruel of him to do it to me. I didn’t ask for it. I couldn’t tell what he wanted, or expected. It was like he was pouting, like he was suffering. I was making him suffer. And he took every chance just to touch me, or be near my body. I hated those days. It was too much. And there was this other guy, and I know he didn’t like him. I guess you could say his family were pretty Zionist in their ways. He had a thing for me. We all went out one night. It was supposed to be a good night. And it was in the beginning. We were drunk, fooling around. We went to a club near my house. He bought me some drinks. I thanked him. Then he disappeared, and the other guy was around me. He lived far away so sometimes he crashed around our part of town. He asked if he could stay with me but I figured it wasn’t something that was just staying because he said it in that way and looked at me, but he wasn’t the most confident and I don’t think he had too much to say about himself when it came down to it because what he really wanted was to fuck me, but he could never come out and say it, he didn’t know anything about me, I was different than the others and he just wanted to fuck me.
I went looking for him. Where’s my friend, I kept thinking, where’s my fucking friend. He wouldn’t be acting this way. Companions don’t do this to each other, is what I was thinking, and I think I said it to him once, that day after he told me, and we were sitting behind some trucks, talking. Finally I found him. He was around the corner, eating mussels. Actually he wasn’t eating anything. He was just staring at them and smoking.
I approached him. I went up to him and he saw me coming. He sat down before I got near him and then I sat down next to him. IT was loud and there were kids around so we turned the corner and sat down again. Then he said he was hungry so we crossed the street and split a sandwich. He was always stressing what to eat because he hated eating off the street, so we went across the street and got a chicken sandwich. We ate the sandwich and then we went back and sat where we were sitting. It wasn’t very late. A friend of ours was leaving town for good. Actually he didn’t live in our city he lived over the waters. He had been there for the summer. It was that kind of summer. And it was that kind of night. The end of summer. We were leading up to it from the day he told me to just now.
“He wants to stay over.”
He ashed his cigarette.
He ashed it again, without looking at me.
We sat there in the quiet.
“If you want to go with him, then go, I’m not holding you back.”
He said it in a way that means he is lying but it also cries for pity. I didn’t accept it. I told him I didn’t want to go. He started saying things like, I’m not a kid, and, you don’t have to worry about me, I knew what I was doing, I knew what I could expect. I suddenly realized we were at the complete other end of the spectrum, him and I, we weren’t seeing it for what it was in the same way. He saw everything differently and it was partially my fault but it was partially his as well. And then the others turned the corner and saw us and knew what was going on by the looks of things because we both had this dead look in our eyes and this feeling of dread and so they understood something strange was going on, but nobody would have expected it, or that’s just what I thought, thinking it was normal for them to see us all summer long like that real close, but maybe it wasn’t, and I was stringing my feelings along, hoping the day would never come when we’d have to talk about things like we had a reason to. And so then the boy interested in me said bye and he left. Our friend left and said goodbye. He said it was a beautiful summer and he’s overjoyed to have met us, and to keep in touch, and we said the same.
But then things felt a little lighter, that the others had left and we could go home and the drinking could ease and we could just talk about things, and I know that’s what he wanted. I should say that he had jut finished something he had been working on for a while and it broke him to pieces because he’d never done it before, and also because he took too many pills to get it done. And I think he was on the edge and I wasn’t helping, and probably all he wanted was someone to hold, but I didn’t budge because I couldn’t. I wouldn’t let him on like that.
We made our way to my house. I went inside to change, he sat outside on the steps, looking down the hill. I brought him out a beer. He rolled a soft joint, but we didn’t smoke it, or we did, I can’t remember, it’s not the point, none of that was the point.
I came back outside and we talked. Mostly we talked about how strange its been and how much we miss each other. Only a few days gone but it felt like a tidal wave and it was too much. Too much for me and too much for him. I told him to go easier on himself, that he always put himself under too much pressure and he understood what I meant. He was putting me under too much pressure. But he was wondering why I wrote him those two letters if nothing came of it and It old him nothing comes of it anytime, and then Is aid something I probably shouldn’t have said, I told him that he knows me well enough to know I need to be pushed, and that he never once touched me like that or came up from behind me and gave me that feeling, or looked at me in that way until suddenly very recently, and so how could I know or suddenly turn it on. But of course I knew. I always knew.
And then he did something pretty romantic and he got a few feet below me because we were on a hill, and he sort of jumped up like a clown and suddenly I saw life spring back into him. And then he read something he had memorized or he came up with something on the spot, but it was funny and cute, and not overdone, and he said something like grant this jester one last kiss, and I understood, but I fought him on it, because why should we kiss, what good would it do, but he said he needed to know, and I told him he wouldn’t know anything and he was living in the movies, and he said he always lived there and it’s safer, and I told him he couldn’t live there if he wanted to live here with the rest of us, and he said something about the jester again, and then he asked me to stand against the wall, or I stood against the wall myself, lay my back against the wall to rest, and I was wearing a red hoodie that I had changed into, a thin one, that he ended up borrowing a few months later for a while, until he left the place for good. And so I put the hoodie over my head, like this, and I looked down at the ground, and I was staring at the ground and I told him he was making me feel good, that he was making me feel special and I appreciated it. And then he said be quiet and we laughed. And I asked what will happen if you kiss me. And he said he couldn’t ever no, he couldn’t anticipate what would happen, expect nothing he said, because he’d been waiting so long but he also tempered the feeling so long, so he didn’t know, and I shouldn’t. And then I asked what would happen to us if he knew he felt something, and he said, and probably just so I wouldn’t change my mind, he said he would leave and walk down the hill and turn away from me and continue walking and sprint if he had to and he would take a couple days off and come back to me like nothing happened, like it was all normal, it was all good again. I didn’t believe it would be like that, so easy, but whatever. He made me feel special in a way.
I had my back against the wall and my head down, covered under my hood. He put his right hand on my chin. I felt him come closer. I could hear him breathing and stopping and thinking. And then when he got closer he put his right hand on my chin and lifted my face to his. I don’t remember if my eyes were closed. I would be surprised if he closed his eyes. I told him he had one kiss to make it worth it. Then he kissed me.
I don’t know if it was worth it. It was an alright kiss but I wasn’t in it. I could have been more in it. I wasn’t involved in the kiss, I let him have it. I could have done more for it.
He turned away from me and stumbled a few steps. I ran into the house and closed the door. I don’t know if I was dreaming or if it really happened, but a few minutes later when everything quieted down and I couldn’t hear my heart beat anymore I thought I heard something rattle outside, and then I realized, I heard him wail. Like a coyote in the wild. And maybe he was really saying something.
“We spent that summer in a haze.”
He puts out his cigarette.
“She detained me.”
I thought I wouldn’t see him for a few days but without further ado he showed up at my door in the morning. It wasn’t exactly morning it was early afternoon, like around one or something. But he looked like real shit. I wasn’t surprised, and I thought he must have been up drinking. He walked inside without saying anything, the n he turned around and he had a smirk on his face, and he started laughing hysterically, and I realized he was still high off something. And then I looked into his face and realized he might not actually be high he might actually have gone crazy.
“My house is infested with leeches and flies.”
And I guess that’s when we discovered what all those flies buzzing around were about, and he said he was drinking and up real late and it was after dawn and he went to put a cork on his second or third bottle of wine and when he did he noticed some flies jumping around and then he looked under the cabinet and it was dark and then it was darker underneath the cabinet next to it, and then he realized it was thick and muggy darkness all over the wall and he opened a cabinet and it was like staring into a museum of larvae. He almost puked saying it and I wasn’t surprised because it sounded disgusting. He said he vomited on the spot and fell backwards and almost fainted, so he grabbed his things and left, but he didn’t take his money so he had nothing to eat or go to sleep anywhere because he forgot his passport and he didn’t want to come see me but he’d been sleeping on a bench outside a mosque and he couldn’t get the picture out of his eyes and it was such a terrible scene so he figured he’d come here.
He took a small pillow and put it on the floor and said he needed a place to sleep for an hour or just a few minutes before going back to the place to clean the mess up. And he said he was moving his things out.
When he left my place I told him not to go on drinking, and to take a couple days for himself. He’d put a lot of darkness into the air. It was beginning to hurt me and take a toll. I didn’t feel right and he made me feel cruel as well. He said alright and wished me well. Then he left.
What happens when it all disappears. I’ve been trying to get back there for four or five years now, ever since I left. I know its different. I’m sure everything is different. You can’t walk into the past. You walk into something new, something you’ve never seen.
After Beirut I moved to Washington, D.C, for a coupe of years. I have a sister over there. She’s good to me, watched out for me over the years. Before Beirut I spent some time there trying to figure things out. It ended in me hiding out from the law for a week, after being hunted by federal law enforcement agencies for beating the shit out of some guys. Three of them came after me outside a bar, and I knocked one of them out. I’m pretty well trained in boxing. It helped.
Beirut was mayhem when I got there. A year after the last Israeli war. You can’t just say war, there’s many, different ones, involving different people. I got my first taste a year later. I moved into a two bedroom flat in Hamra, after a friend of mine left, I took his room. Was living with a good English guy who had become a good friend. We were a good community. We stayed close. The street in front of my house turned into a small, elite warzone. Snipers on the rooftops. Gunmen on the ground. It ended after a week, and it wasn’t that bad, there weren’t mortar shells or anything, no tanks, no airplanes, just thugs with assault rifles and machineguns, snipers taking their hits. I collected about a hundred bullets, walking behind some of the guys while they fired off their rounds, taking cover when they did. I never wanted to be a journalist, I don’t have the nature for the craft, I was just interested in the whole thing. Surprised too. Surprised to see how fast things spiral out of control. It’d been a tough year, school closures, a thirteen month strike in the downtown area that ripped the already fragile economy to shreds. Some assassinations, the norm. And then it took off, and it seemed like on the verge of collapse, people remembering the wounds of ’75. And then it ended, and we were back where we started, smoking joints instead of working, drinking at the Captain’s Cabin, going to rugby practice, trying to win our war. We made it to the semi finals that year and got duped. The problem with the Lebanese rugby league of which I was an admirer is that the administration is involved in all aspects of the game. The referee was none other than an Armenian by the name of Danny, a gross talking trickster with an English accent, eyes that recede into his face, big bushy eyebrows that hide the snickering bastard’s thoughts. Impossible to read, impossible to surrender, the little, wily dick controlled everything. What steroids the boys could take, what meds the games had on hand. He even took a coaching role with one of the teams, when they lost their coach, probably because the whole thing seemed rigged, but then he backed off, went back to coaching the nationals, playing the president of the league like it was his little game of chess, propping up a coach here and there, destroying him when he got tired of the guy running his mouth. Not like he had actual power, and any one of those guys could’ve given him a lick in the face and he’d be long gone, but the fucker proved himself intelligent, and when a coach started acting up, he started to referee some games, to manage the situation. He’d give a few bad calls, the guy would run his mouth on the sidelines, freaking out, and he’d suspend him for a couple games. The players would react, one or two might even charge at him in centerfield, threatening him with violence, provocative measures you know. He’d suspend their asses too. Some of the younger guys would quit, citing their grades or their injuries as the reason, but deep down everyone always knew, it’s the look in a guy’s eyes, thinking he’s not going to go down this road, he knows what this is all about. It’s dirty. You could smell the dirt from a mile away.
But it was also a great gift to our lives. Waking up at seven, eight on a Saturday morning, hungover, still drunk, head blasted, grabbing a pear or an apple on the way to the bus, hoping you’d have time to take a shit before the game starts, always late, always running, some of the boys packing whole organic lunches, the younger guys, most of them treated well by their families, still living with their parents, showing up with sandwiches, fruits, smoothies. The most important commodity on a team bus is the toilet paper. We always had a couple guys who brought it in, who carried it on hand at every game, no matter what. Waking up those mornings, I never had time to shit, but I took a shit nonetheless, you have to. During one of our more terrible seasons, we were down on players and our coach played with us, a middle aged man with too kind a heart, lived most of his life in Australia, repatriated to touch down on his roots. He joined the squad for a game, played pretty well, halfback, took minimal hits, until one play, we were near the try line, and we snapped the ball quick out of his hands, I was playing hooker at the time, and I admit to being pretty slow, I got it to him and he snapped it out to one of the forwards to power in for a try, and when he got hit he took to the ground real fast, and at halftime I remember hearing from some of the guys he’d shat his pants.
That season was tough. It was always a blessing to show up on Saturday or Sunday morning, even when our spirits were low and we knew we would get crushed. But twenty minutes before kick-off, stretching with the team on our side of the field, jerseys on, mouth guards on the ears, looking over some of the guys around you, everyone coming in off their own highs and lows, their own troubles, their own success, Friday night, love, sex, drugs, whatever you want to have as long as you make it to the bus, and I remember just staring over at the guys, all of them seemingly in a state of peace, a quiet peace, nobody nervous, none of them scared, and we’re sitting one thousand one hundred meters above sea level, a clear blue sky and a middle of the range sun gliding with the autumn winds against our faces, and everyone breathes in a sigh of relief, a sigh of suspense, a sigh of something they now want to do. Real grass, none of the turf bullshit that’s ruining the way the ball touches the ground, the way your knees take off, the way you slide. Wet grass surface, decent maintenance, patches of mud, patches of dirt, patches with holes so big your cleats get lost and you can sprain an ankle. No matter what happened to us during the week, we made it out to the pitch, all seventeen, sometimes thirteen, sometimes only the nine required to play. We had guys blown unconscious, with one big hit, their eyes rolling to the back of their head, their hands contorting in mid air, in the midst of a seizure, and the next play I snap the ball to a forward and he runs into the crowd of predators eyeing their prey. Guys dislocate and crack the same bone on the leg. Guys get two teeth jammed into their gums, and two others beaten out. Guys with a ruptured artery and a broken leg, in a cast for over a year, with an infection that nearly kills him, and he’s at every game once he’s back on his feet, watching, cheering us on. Real fucking men, and most of them were boys. I was older, supposed to be writing my masters thesis and growing up. Fuck that. It was beautiful.
We were never the biggest, sometimes the fastest. Never the strongest, sometimes the bravest. The only team that disallowed more than one graduate on the team. The only team whose average age was less than thirty, probably the age was around twenty one. We got creamed, we got beat. But we also won, and we made it to the semi finals one year, and after a terrible year the next, we made it to the finals again.
The first year I played was that beautiful season. The year that determined a lot of the next couple years. I had just moved, and like I said, Beirut was mayhem. By the time spring came around and I had my feet on the ground, feeling like I was building a home, the little scuffle took off, and everything seemed to bite at the nails, people expecting the worst. They wanted the worst, they like the drama. Beirut is a mix of potholes and fancy shoes. I never felt foreign, never felt like an American in some overcrowded, strange land. I moved there the years after the Israeli war, which is what they call it, a lot of them, who don’t see the different races as being different from one another, deserving different lives. The kids I spent most of my time with called it the Israeli war, the Israeli aggression, the failed Israeli invasion. It’s always strange coming back to the states and people asking about it. Asking about being in Beirut, like I was out in the jungle. How do I tell them I ate so damn well? How do I explain how many friends I made? How do I relate to the women I left behind, in a dispatched feeling of unknown, all of them wanting to get out, dying in the fracas when the doors are shut? Everyone always asked me how I could live in a place so dangerous. I always want to ask how they live in a place so fucking cold. How do you live so far from the swimmable sea? Our field at school, at the university, was no more than fifty meters from the shore. Fifty meters from the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes when one of our guys would kick the ball on fifth down, high in the sky, and all the eyes and bodies that aren’t gunning for the ball are motionless, eyeing the little rotating egg, two eighty millimeters, four hundred and something grams, lit up and disappearing by the stadium lights, the scattered clouds dispersing the evening rays of the moon, watching it descend like a fireball of white, turning in its historic dimensions, passing cloud to cloud, figment to figment, and if you’re standing the one way, your back to the lowlying gate and the street courts, you see the ball descend and in the distance the hills of Beirut, and far back from the perimeter of the school, the four or five staircases that carry you up the hill, from lower campus to upper campus, the presidential house, the rise of buildings, and un your imagination you know past the historic, mismanaged skyline is the first row of mountains you see from the sea, and from your other side, dazed in your dizzying collection of bursts and sounds, gravitating toward the little egg falling from the sky, you stop and smell the wet leaves on the sacred trees, lining the campus for decades, and you stop in wonder, in amazement, a hundred meter sprint, ten, eleven, twelve seconds from where you stand, the great and glorious Mediterranean, in all her darkness and glory, in all her ruptured limbs and illusion, the mask that crowns the little slice of land rivals call home, and far, far away you imagine, the absent horizon, the crescent moon, the navigating wayward sea vessels edging closer and closer to shore. This is where it started, a hundred meters from my feet. Where these pious and peasant souls lost the fruit of their labor. Figments, gigantic figments, drawing closer and closer to shore.
It was a gift. Since then I’ve lived in Iowa, I’ve lived in D.C., and moved around stateside looking for work, looking for an opportunity, in all honesty, just trying to pay my way back, figure something out, do what I can to live there. My grandfather lived right across the street from where I used to live. He was famous for his kindness and his wrestling and boxing skills. He set up a dump gym on the roof of his home. I remember standing on the roof my building, joint in my hand, after an hour or two of reps with some of the guys, peering down over the steel and wiring, over the chaos we escaped down below, imagining him and his bench press set up under the almighty sun. He got me into boxing, taught me to move my feet. And if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have found my home. This is where he met his wife. As soon I was there, loading my bags into a poor old man’s car, smoking like he needed it to breathe, ripping me off in his disfigured smile, like the cigarette was attached to his mouth, like his muscles couldn’t ease into a solemn stare, or something without his lips creasing, his cheeks digging into his jaw. I don’t know if too many people knew where Iowa lies in America, and I forgot about it pretty fast. Beirut man, it was a dream.
“Everyone always asks how you can live in a place so dangerous. I always want to ask how they can live in a place so fucking cold. When you see the variations of the food chain, it’s hard to come back to that quiet, blissful ignorance we call America. The dream is about closing your eyes and sticking your dick in a someone’s mouth. The real coldblooded Americans who get what they want are the ones who do it eyes open.”
The little things I remember doing differently. Experiencing it in a different way. Some days it was like a circus. I could go three, four days without doing anything but feeling like I was standing on my head, running backwards through the woods, drowning, deep, deep sleep.
We drank at Captain’s Cabin. An old timer named Andre ran the place he inherited from his father. Forty years its been there, an establishment in the neighborhood, gone through it all, through everything. He hasn’t changed a thing in the place, which accounts for the roaches each the size of a tomato. Sometimes on Sundays I’d go over there with some of the guys, different times they were different people, and Andre would do a grill out in the garden if the weather was nice. We’d probably each have eight or ten beers before the sun was down. I drank a lot in those days, and we got pushy, but I kept myself under control. The local kids liked to get in fights, to prove themselves. I stayed away from that. It’s unpredictable. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. One minute you’re throwing a punch to a couple guys, the next minute a truck rolls up with six dudes in the back carrying AKs. Not that it happened but you hear stories, and you know it happens in certain circles. But I never got into real trouble. Not like that.
We smoked a lot, burned a lot of joints. Its easy to get but sometimes the kids you know go dry, and when it gets real dry people get possessive. I always got my hands on some and if I didn’t I headed over to a friend’s place and he’d likely have some. But it was difficult to get some of the local guys to let you buy a piece. They preferred to give you something for free, as a gesture, generous friends they are. They also knew if you buy off them once you’ll probably expect to buy again. I would buy for ten, twenty bucks at a time. They bought for a hundred, two hundred. Stocking up on the goods, a syndrome that’s developed over the years.
I never did get my thesis done. Not in Beirut. I was supposed to be writing but I never got around. I tried. I tried working in different spaces. Tried working sober, tried working stoned. I had a punching bag in my living room set up. That usually kept me pretty occupied. By the time the sun rolls down, in winter that’s five o’clock, the boys start calling, the girls are sending you messages. I didn’t have too many girls lined up, ever. It was pretty hard actually, being an American, being that most of the girls really like to flirt but it takes a while to get into bed. I guess like some of the guys I focused more on drinking, on the conversations, on the pick up fights, joking around. I did see a girl for a while though. Crazy fucking bitch. I’m sure now she is insane. I was sure at the time. But hell, she took me in, treated me like her family. I love her for that. Her kindness. She had this enormous nose, beautiful, like a long, drawn out walk down a mountain, and these big, oval eyes. She was tall, thin, could do pretty decent reps in the gym. A laugh you hear over a valley. She could drink pretty well too. I don’t really know if we ended on a good note. She moved to the states at some point and we saw each other for a while, I’d go up North, sometimes Boston, sometimes New York, stay with her, we’d have a good time. But nothing really goes like it does over there. It’s lighter there, lighter under the sun. There’s less expectation. You know where to go. you know what you’re getting yourself into. The best times we had, we’d find ourselves up and awake and already rolling into the day pretty early, Saturday, Sunday mornings, the weekends without a game day, summer weekends, early fall, we’d pack as many of us as we could into some cars and roll up to Batroun, to Amchit, to the beach, to the cliffs, diving into the sea, smoking joints overlooking the horizon, drinking beer and anise, eating everything well prepared, fresh, like it was picked off a tree just for us.
You never know when you’re around, in a good thing, you never know when its gonna end, but it does. I wasn’t thinking about my leaving, I didn’t let it bother me, but at some point I started to realize it was inevitable. It broke my heart. Leaving the boys, leaving the squad. Leaving the memory of my closest friend, a good man. Daniel Eagen broke into Beirut like a phoenix crashing into a volcano.
Most of the pack split up over the years. Some of the boys got married, like old Mike, the king of the wolves. A very good man himself, but a troublemaker with the ladies. I think we were all pleasantly surprised when he disappeared into the good life. Harvard graduate all of a sudden. Married, kids on the way. How did this man, who used to talk about ripping a girl’s ass open while she was too drunk to notice, who once fucked a girl so hard in the ass she shat all over the bed, all over the floor, shit everywhere, and he just rolled her over to a little spot on the bed where he could rest and curled into it, and in the morning she woke up so embarrassed, so disgusted, couldn’t remember a thing, she threw out the sheets and left. This man, who used to hand out wolf pills, a term used for Chinese over the counter sex pills, one for stamina and one for an erection, hand them out like they were cigarettes. He fucked every girl in the country, some of them twice. But the best part is, the thing that made old Mikey a legend, is the fact that with Mikey around, he didn’t just get himself laid, he got everybody laid.
And he got everybody drunk. I don’t remember where he’d been before he came back to Beirut a man on a mission. To rejuvenate rugby league. To tear open every girl’s pussy and leave his blessing for the eventual bride to be. To initiate a pack among the boys.
We were known as the Wolves. That’s the team name. The American University of Beirut Rugby League Team, the Wolves. Before it fell apart, before the AUB team became the Redbacks, and the Wolves a pathetic, embarrassing franchise squad that couldn’t host more than nine players a game, there was the Wolves, and there were the boys with the beautiful faces, Darren the Australian, Mikey the savage, and Pikey the Irish. I played with Darren and Pikey and it was my honor to do so. Mikey brought us all together, he coached the team after a fallout with the players left the team without a manager. Nobody wanted the job. Troublemakers, they called us. Our vice captain, craziest guy on our team, who used got stomped on the face by a Judo Olympian protecting one of our boys, he had a lot to do with people’s hesitation. Probably the best thing to happen to us. The year the streets turned violent. The year Lebanon finally got a President. The year we made it to the semi finals and got duped.
After practice, it wasn’t just drills and go home. After practice, if the mood was high, we’d all head down, twenty, twenty five of us, across the gateway and into East Beirut, to Cloud 9, the bar that brought out the very envy of our being. A classy joint that was inevitably trashed the moment we stepped in, but Mikey knew the owners and soon they were our friends. It was a good place to get things started, to start a revolution. To build from the ground up. Pikey still hadn’t gotten a job, and in one of the last games of the season, before the playoffs, when we were wiping teams out by forty, fifty points, breaking through the line like they were our children, he hurt his arm pretty bad, but the guy was shit broke and the school makes you sign an insurance waiver at the start of every year, go figure, for the footballers get the highest medical treatment, and rugby players get nothing. He hurt his arm and soon enough it grew, his thumb was broken and the whole thing looked like it had swallowed a squirrel or something. He played on, the genius, broke through the line ten or twelve times a game. The best passer of the ball. A union player who comes into playing league and realizes how much fun it is. How easy it is to push the ball around. We called him Pikey on account of his dark skin tone. Plus, he didn’t really look like a Daniel.
Love comes to those who wait. We all waited. That was the year everyone was shacking up. Shacking up for a night was easy, finding something different, something bigger, that was tough. Especially when you’re surrounded by thirty yelling, screaming, smelly boys trying to look like men. Some of the older guys, like George, a surgeon in his thirties, who to this day I am impressed dared to risk his surgeon hands for six or seven seasons of rugby league, who was one of the fittest guys on the squad but who spoke as slow as he ran, and he was by far the slowest guy on the squad when it came to breaking a sprint, he was one of the guys who enjoyed the growing camaraderie, who had been there for years when it was just a bunch of drunks and fat losers trying to get in shape. But before I could pull my head out of the toilet, before I could pull two words from my mouth, Pikey found his maiden, Rita, one of the staff at Cloud 9, the darling, darling waitress, the angel of our blessed lives. It happened so fast, before he knew it, jobless, armless, he was leading us into the semi finals with a lot of lady luck on his side. I took big hits, real big hits, and I dropped my shoulder too many times and sometimes had to pay for it, but I put in my hits as well, but no man matches the intensity of that Irishman. No man I have seen since.
Spring arrived with the promise of what she leaves open. Sometimes you get what you imagined. Two weeks before the game we beat Jounieh by forty something points. Demolished them. Put their heads in the ground. Something happened. The wily douchebag took control. Darren, a man well into his forties, whose kids were at the game, leaped into the air thinking we had won, thinking we had scored. It wasn’t to be man. It wasn’t to be. We ended the year on a damaging low, but something had started, something enormous. We knew if we held the squad together we could be crowned kings the next year, without anyone having a say in it. We supported the other guys and they won the cup, beating the undefeated Immortals in their sleep. I guess you could say it was a good end to things, a good change was coming. Mikey had left the squad. Pikey left the country, not without a fight, but he had to go, promising he’d be back. And soon enough, Darren was gone too. Then it was us, with the memory of what he started. And the elder statesman, Karim, Mounir, Ramsey, guys that had been there since the beginning, they were forced out too. Graduates don’t play. Good thing I never wrote my thesis. I still had another year.