She ran her nails across her face the night he told her. Bent over at the middle, she was a flower with a broken stem. She held her stomach as though it were all she had left, as if it too, were about to betray her.
She had never felt such pain; such a tearing of self. She had never felt so naked, so rubbed raw. Her body felt hot and shameful, full of blood, ready to break out of itself. Her chest was an intense, tight thing, no longer beating, no longer fluid and constant, but frozen; frozen in the hottest way, for ice would make her numb.
"How . . . how . . ." stumbled from her mouth, tears spilling down between her lips, burning her tongue, "could someone . . . do this to another person?"
She would not wish this on her worst enemy. This was not a fate deserved of the most base of human beings. This was hell for the living. She could not breathe. Though she wished more than anything to be rid of it, she could not even tolerate the thought of giving it to another.
Betrayal was an overused word; it was empty of the emotion she needed to convey. All she felt was worthless - her being, her very body itself felt useless, devoid of purpose. Made unnecessary, extrinsic, superfluous. Before this moment, she never would have known so much of her was tied up in what this was, that one action - one word - could sweep it all away and leave her as this.
She could not bear it, the sight of his face; something that once invoked shelter now made so foreign. She did not hear his apologies. Her body pushed out air without taking any in. She felt her hair brush her knees as she sank onto them; her world was a searing blur.
He did not try to touch her as she clutched herself on the floor. She did not know if this was better or worse. He joined her on her knees and she could not look away.
"I . . . I . . ."
She was shocked by the flash of pain across her belly, something alive in a dull world. Electric pain across a slow burn. It woke her up, snatched her awake. She felt a seeping, an outpouring. A vital, vital loss.
Her hands made the slow travel down her swollen belly and between her thighs. They came back wet and red, shining bright against the diamond on her finger. In dull horror, she held them out to him. The ring slipped from her finger and fell, bloody, onto the carpet between him.
She stared at the open fear, frozen on his face. She felt her body open up and she knew it was too late. Once again she could not look away.
He moved to take her bloody hands and she pulled them away before they met.
"You did this," she whispered as her body let go. "You did this to us."
My father ran away from rallies, refusing to pump his fist for a tyrant. His father told him to beg in the streets before he spied on people. He said, "We aren't those people, who bow and spy and tell others' secrets."
My father was twelve years old on September 1st, 1969. He woke up and turned on the radio to hear military music. My father asked his own father what was wrong.
He doesn't say this when he tells the story, but I imagine my grandfather's spine straightening under the weight of heavy future. I imagine the room being thick with cigarette smoke and morning light, the remnants of breakfast, olive pits and scraps of bread, strewn at their feet. I imagine my father, younger than my brain can fathom, looking up to his own father for guidance, explanation. I imagine my grandfather's eyes as heavy, tired things.
This is the scene I set in my mind when my father tells the story. When he gets to the part where my grandfather says, "The government has been overthrown. Libya will never see the light again."
love to all the fathers. the ones living their lives to make their children's better. working in under florescent lights or dodging bullets under desert sun so the next generation won't suffer. for the ones bringing up the next generation of men and teaching little girls how to love.
this is for the fathers that the world forgot.
the ones who had to bury their children.
the ones dying so their children can live free.
the ones that the law forgets are parents too.
the ones who work and love and love and work.
the ones who kiss their babies and throw them in the air.
the ones who chase their kids through the house with a blanket on their head.
the ones who tell stories. and sing songs. and take pictures.
her aunt told her to marry a boy
with a soft mouth, hard men
hit women, sharpen their edges
on your curves, she told her
don’t marry a boy
who doesn’t smile right,
doesn’t laugh kindly,
don’t marry a liar,
don’t marry a fighter.
marry a man who sings,
she told her, who prays,
who talks to you and
doesn’t look away,
don’t marry a man
with something to hide
don’t marry a boy
to become a bride
she married a soldier
with a mouth hard from war,
that tasted like bullets,
had hands like dull edges,
that never cut,
who laughed like a lion
and re-learned how to love
who danced through the streets
the night their country was freed,
and married her in red and green.
tripoli, i cannot sleep, i have to be honest with you, tonight, i miss you like an ache
i miss the way your streets cradled me,
the way your wind whispered sweet-nothings
in my ear, the way your ancient ruins romanced me
i even miss your gutters
power lines criss-crossing between apartment buildings,
and the boys who lean against them, forgetting to lower their eyes
i miss the way you smell, like my aunt’s perfume, sea water, open air
and something i’ve never felt with anyone else
i dream about your voice,
soft and bustling, dispersed with
sounds of cars and calls to prayer
do you remember the weddings we went to?
the ride home was always my favorite part,
you’re so beautiful at night
scarf clutched to face, windows down
your radio would sing abdul-halim
to me, i can’t help it
my heart beats faster when i’m with you
i miss your old city,
and your gold shops,
and your parks
i miss your restaurants,
we’ve been apart too long,
i’m beginning to seriously rethink this separation
was i wrong?
for thinking i could leave you for longer than a year?
i can’t get work done,
i keep daydreaming
about your streetlights,
this isn’t healthy
i didn’t expect whirlwind
romances to take up so much
of my time
i hear you’re busy now,
you’ve changed a lot,
aren’t the same city
you were before
maybe you don’t have time
for old names and rekindling flames,
but i miss you
i don’t know how to put it more simply than that
i don’t know if you want me back
but i’m coming for your rooftops,
and your orange sands,
your bazeen, and your adhans
i’ll see you in the summer,
right when you start to become
unbearably hot, because like it or not,
you’re my first love,
and i just can’t let go that easy
but for tonight, i’ll settle
for dreaming of your shores,
your souqs and stores,
your sands and your skies,
and i’ll close my eyes
and pretend it’s your waves
rocking me to sleep tonight.
I have a lot of things I want to say about the power of boys with stones and girls in skirts with knees like anchors, but I don't know if I can find the words. They're there, on the tip of my tongue, flirting with my lips, but keeping coy.
I want to talk about the raw sores left by rubber bullets, and the broken vessels that the tear gas leaves in your eyes, making you look like the morning after your father's funeral. I want to talk about an emotion that makes lost voices and broken fingers worth cheering through: hope.
Someone once told me, "Hunger will put the people in the streets."
Hunger for food. Revolution. Change.
Hope is an odd thing. Fragile and tremendous, it spreads like wildfire, lighting breasts and pits of stomachs and undersides of tongues like California hillsides in July. It flickers until it spits, and spits until it roars; until it is an unstoppable tide roaring over villages and cities, towns and mountains. It is a quick-spreading thing, hope.
When Tunis fell, hope flickered through, quick as a thief in the night. Come and gone, so quick we almost missed it. Calls from person to person, spreading out like spider webs, spreading the word: "S'maati? S'maati shin sar fi Tunis? Did you hear? Did you hear what happened in Tunis?"
"They kicked the President out - out! He's gone! Al-shabab! The people! The people kicked him out - he's fled!"
"Who's next? Who do you think it will be? Algeria? Egypt? Allahu akbar! Alhamdullilah. Praise God. Praise God."
Tyranny is a terrible thing. And after awhile, people forget they are under it.
So for my brothers and sisters in Masr, Tunis - Jordan, Syria, Libya - Allah maak. God be with you. There is hope. Boys with rocks have been winning wars for centuries. Girls have been anchoring their knees to their homelands for millennium. There are some things worth rioting for.