A Summer on its Head

This is “Episode IV”  in the memoir I’m writing for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Previous installments are herehere and here. This one is about the Lebanese “July War” in the summer of 2006.

I slumped down slightly in the van, fiddling with my shirt and looking out the window. I was in the middle of paradise, or so it seemed, and yet I was surrounded by tragedy. My mother sat next to me, praying softly while my little sister stretched her legs out in the third row. Whether she was sleeping or also staring ahead, I don’t remember. What remained was the silence and uncertainty—so thick you could reach out and touch it, but you knew it was safer to keep your distance.

What I felt on the airplane a mere two weeks ago had been so different than what I was experiencing now that it could have occurred in a parallel universe. I was so giddy I could have out happy-danced a kid with an all-expenses paid trip to Disney World. Instead of a strange and rickety van, I was in First Class, courtesy of my father who traded tickets with me as a treat. Though I’d have preferred the company of my family in Economy for three hours, I couldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy the edible food, VIP service and a window seat that didn’t have an airplane wing blocking half the view. As my iPod blasted everything from Joe Cocker to Marilyn Manson, my brain waltzed and headbanged to the thoughts of seeing my cousins, aunts and uncles for the first time since I’d moved to Canada five years ago.

“About ten minutes left until landing.” The usually incomprehensible and oft-ignored speaker blared.

I leaned my head against the window and inhaled the wave of awe that washed over me as I took in Lebanon. Its familiar buildings and beautiful beaches were surrounded by winding roads that splayed out like a psychotic spider web. My heart swelled. I didn’t think I would miss it this much.

From the minute we got off the plane to the minute I hugged all my teary-eyed relatives, to the second I came home and dropped my suitcase in my room, I hadn’t stopped smiling.

Now, a fortnight later, no one was smiling. As the van trudged along, I quietly absorbed the lush green mountain view. It could have been on a postcard. “Ironic I had to see it like this.” I thought almost blandly as my restless fingers twisted the edge of my shirt for the umpteenth time.

The thunder-like bombs that rattled my windows and had us all sleeping in one room had been dropping for a week now. We could no longer pretend that “they would end it tomorrow”, so my mom took action. My father was in Qatar at the time, so she found us a reputable cab driver who would take us to Syria. So here we were. As the long minutes ticked by, I had nothing to do but toy with the anger, disappointment and sadness bubbling inside of me. I had wanted so badly to connect again, to feel like I belonged back in the country I’d only spent three years of my life in. We had so many plans, and yet we had to run away, and leave behind loved ones in a pit of uncertainty, tragedy and death.

Powerlessness wasn’t a feeling I was particularly used to.

All I knew, as we finally reached the border, was that we were not afraid. I could see the fear in the air, could converse with it if it had a voice, but we wouldn’t let it touch us. The war may have been the first thing to shake my budding reconnection with my roots, but I would be damned if I was going to let it terrify me.

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