Memory, Evade Me.

By Raya Hage

My brain had to block several years of my life. Some people say “oh, because you have been through a lot,” Okay. It’s fine, I get it. My brain is looking out for me. I get it. But it took a lot more than just “bad memories”. My brain washed away most of my early memories. I didn’t sign up for this! I don’t know if I should feel sorry for myself, or be thankful.

I catch myself staring at the white bubbles fizzing in my EmergenC glass and all I can hear is my mom’s voice: “Drink it fast before all the vitamins ‘fly away’!” She said that about orange juice, too. She told me to count to ten before I say anything.

I hate that I love to listen to that song Fairuz sings “عيوننا إليك ترحل كلّ يوم وإنّني أصلّي” [My eyes travel to you every day while I pray]. I close my eyes and imagine myself crying. Crying for those who have been displaced. Crying for children without homes, for those who defended the entrances. For the stolen peace in the homeland of peace. The decline of love and in the hearts of the world which settled for war. And I am still praying. We will not close the door of our city, I am going to pray. We will rebuild, and rebuild its glory.

Peace is coming, Fairuz sings, I want to believe it. I can’t believe. Yet, I have to.

My Jiddo had a farm with half of it sprouting figs and the other half growing olives. The best figs look green and shiny like they’re looking at me, waiting for me to pick them. Soft and fleshy. Sweet-smelling. I gobbled as I picked while making sure I took some home to Teta, and half of the ones I saved would be gone. I couldn’t help myself; I had to eat them. Most of the olive-picking work went to my dad and my uncle because I hated picking olives. I just wanted to have fun, and you can’t eat olives while you pick them. They’re too bitter. They’re small, and the trees are bushy, and it’s a hassle to pick olives. The sweetest and the bitterest fruits in the universe grew next to each other, in Maaloula. My parents picked the hard-bitter olives ones for us, and we buried our hands and faces in the ones bursting with nectar.

My neighbor had weird skin. His face was a gradient from very tan to very pale. He once told me that it was because he drank too much Coca-Cola and only half of his skin absorbed the color.

I had a crush on him.

I looked out from the balcony in our home and I could see all of Damascus. We lived on top of a mountain, at the top of a tall building. I got to look down upon all of the reckless drivers, upon the narrow non-linear streets, upon the yelling and the smell of shawarma and the people.

I reveal myself in my art. Sometimes, I hide behind it.

Maybe this experience is meant to be. Maybe it’s meant to help me. Or maybe I’m thinking about everything too much. On top of it all, I have a new struggle: remembering. I don’t even know if I want to remember. Would I be a different person if I could remember? Well, that is very soap-opera-y. All these questions, I don’t have the answers for. But I don’t remember. This is stupid now. I am being stupid and dramatic. I have been watching too much Desperate Housewives.

It’s easier to forget than to remember. If I don’t remember, then I don’t have to deal with the anguish. If I do remember, I remember the problems, then I see more problems, and miss out on opportunities. When I focus on problems, i’ll have more problems. I come to understand when you focus on possibilities, i’ll have more opportunities. I repeat this to myself every night.

Faces and people I haven’t seen in forever visit me in my dreams. Random people. I know their names but they’re completely insignificant. And I don’t know why they haunt my sleep.

Should I be prepared? Should I be scared? Should I ask my brain to block them out again, to save myself? I complain all the time that I don’t remember. Deep down, I don’t think I care enough to remember. If I lived a life in which I didn’t have to work and I could just enjoy myself here in America, would I have enough brain space to care or remember or both?

“Give everything more time and space. Pause for a sec. Explain. Tell me”, my roommate says.

April 2013, we arrived in the United States. It’s with difficulty that I try to explain what war has done to my home, Syria. It has caused us to flee our homeland, even leaving my father behind to protect what is left. Where there was beauty and tolerance there is now rubble, chaos, and hatred. People ask “if I want to go back”? Do I want to go back? Go back to what? There is nothing to turn to. I would rather keep the half-distorted image in my head than see what my home is right now. My mother, sister and I didn’t flee to save our lives, we fled to pursue our lives; there is a difference.

I can’t reveal myself through words. They don’t contain any part of me because I don’t let them. I reveal myself through facial expressions, hand gestures, a look I throw at someone to let them know they’re being stupid or wonderful or both. I reveal myself in my art. Sometimes, I hide behind it.

We are all made of pieces of things, and in Syrian culture, and specifically in me, many of those pieces are community, family, friends, and neighbors.

In stories, sometimes there is the untellable things you don’t have words for. I don’t know if my memories are actually untellable or if I want them to be. After your land is torn apart by war, and you having to leave it, there is no ground left for you to form memory. All of my ground has soaked up too much and I have to squeeze all of the hardships out before I reabsorb.

We are all made of pieces of things, and in Syrian culture, and specifically in me, many of those pieces are community, family, friends, and neighbors.

I was never grateful back home. Every time my mom asks me how am I doing, “Awesome” I reply while changing clothes to go to my other job.

I used to sit in my grandparent’s backyard eating watermelon, spitting seeds in the soil, and watching the people in the streets. Store owners would grab chairs and sit outside on their stoops too. Everyone had a place to sit. Outside. Together.

The yard in our apartment is nothing. It’s an AC unit making noise. We tried to make it something, we put a table and some chairs and I even bought an umbrella with lights on it.

We just have to make it into something.

We learned to be grateful.