Trauma introduces therapy in the day to day.
The long walk
Train rides and buses to them
Memories turned short stories
And therapy introduces trauma to the same.
The paralyzing song
The suffocating scent
Worst case scenario daydreams
And what’s strange is that though I see Palestine everywhere, around every corner, the sounds don’t match. I hear Tennessee and a woman named Delilah, up at the altar of my favorite black church, singing “Walkin’ in Memphis,” pickin’ and flickin’ the salt out of my wounds.
The chorus comes again, and she asks me “But do I really feel the way I feel?”
And when around the corners, I see just Chocolate City streets, with Palestine nowhere to be found, Delilah is silent, and I hear dabke beats with every step on the sidewalk. I’m suddenly Walkin in Ramallah all through my new/old city– pounding Dal’ona and Jafra and Zareef il-Tool on my long walk of therapy.
But under the water, there is no noise; no one sings to me. There is pure submersion, only exhales, no intake of air, complete protection from memory. And I want to put off coming up for air for as long as possible. I want to hold my breath until I can feel my lungs beg. Pound. And beg. Hurry for life to the surface. Feel a drop of water fall off my eyelashes and hit my cheek. Hear a stray noise from the above-water crowd. Hurry back underwater for quiet as quickly as I came up for oxygen to satisfy silly organs that don’t know what they really need.
And in motion, on buses and trains and planes leaving the city, it’s the comfort of transition and hope of a healing arrival that momentarily expunges the trauma. It’s the moment before stagnant presence reminds you nothing has been solved.
And I never sleep in motion. I savor transportation of bodies, of worries, of love, of inexplicable fear running from itself, looking for new space to occupy, to colonize, secretly hoping the new space does the same to it.
But for a second, the therapies backfire. The sunshine when I come up for air from my swim reminds me of a Mediterranean beach, and the scent of my lotion suffocates me as I breathe in Haifa. For a second, I lean my head on the window of the bus or play an old game on my phone on the train and I remember passing time at the border at Jericho, a servees ride to Nablus, or an uncomfortable transition from Akka to Yaffa on the train, my parents looking for seats next to Arabic sounds, trying to be lost in the view and not the soldier across the aisle.
And I told a friend once, I tried to explain how terrifying it is to leave Palestine. I tried to tell her that we always know it could be the final departure. That we in the shatat know risk in different ways. And she smiled and hugged me and told me “see you after graduation.”
And I did, I saw her again. After graduation. After writing about all of it, and studying hard, I defied the fear of the final departure. I had five more months on my clock. Five. It took that long for me to unlearn, to forget 25 years of what we knew. I wanted to unlearn and believe, imagine new possibilities and erase terrifying knowledge.
But you can’t unlearn what will reteach itself to you through truth.
The truth is, when they put me back on the bus across the border, my heart was humming “Walkin in Memphis.” And when I called you in Ramallah, in tears gasping for air my lungs begging like after a long underwater swim, I couldn’t hear Zareef il-Tool.
I heard Delilah’s voice coming through the desert air in the cab-ride back to Amman, asking me if I really felt the way I felt. “Shock, really?” I could hear her ask me with sass.
And at the detention center months later, there she was again with her soulful musings – “You should have known better.”
But when I landed back in America, Delilah was still back in Palestine and Jafra was what was buzzing in my ears.
The mijwiz full blast.“O dakhlek ya habeeb il-roh, la tohjor ya asmar” drowned out the customs officer’s “Welcome home.”
There it is. Of course. Home. The narrative seems old. Tired.
Months later, during a day to day therapy ride down the coast, I say to a friend in exasperated tone, “I miss home.” And a glance from her asks me without words, “which one?” And so I respond “all of them.”
And in the moment I want to write off the borders and nations and settled senses of familiarity of any place, I remember how distasteful I find the privileged who can do so with such ease. With their theory and liberal above it all indignance, with their ignorance of the violence of insecurity of home.
And so I respond “all of them.”