The following texts are part of a series of letters I wrote while I was grieving my first true love, Numan, who passed away from cancer in 2017. You can find the previous ones here.
I’m back at home, today, and it’s a weird feeling. I had only been gone for a week, this time, but I guess being back in my big, cold and messy room again brings up a lot of feelings and memories. I don’t like it. I don’t mind being in my house, but this room… it reminds me of the feeling of emptiness I had growing up, the one that invaded me again whenever I came home from a long trip.
There are a few things that remind me of you too, in here. There’s always your sweater, of course, but also your necklace and the hat you gave me, the one that looks like Wally’s. There’s the bracelet your amazing sister Mariam gave me, with a note. I hope she’s doing okay, all of this must have been so hard for her… There are my Arabic notebooks filled with little messages from you. I learned so much from you; I think you were my main motivation for learning the language. I want to learn more, but I haven’t been a good student at all lately. Actually I haven’t been really good at anything lately, to be honest.
I also have the box full of souvenirs and random stuff I sent myself from Nablus, my very last day there. You were with me in the post office, and you and the lady who worked there laughed so hard when you saw I was also trying to send used bullets I had found on the floor in Balata camp. I admit, that was stupid of me and I’m not sure the Israeli authorities would have appreciated it. I have a fond memory of that moment, because it was a sad day but you still laughed and I loved your laugh. You also went out to buy a cover for my package and it’s a small detail, but it showed how considerate you were til the end. You were gone for a long time, as you were looking everywhere for one. It made me feel a bit anxious because I wanted to enjoy every last single second with you.
A few minutes later, I was telling you goodbye in a hurry. My bus to Ramallah had appeared on the street where we were, and it was all so horrible and sudden. Then the driver, who saw my tears, told you to come in and that he’d drop you off near your house. That way, I had three more minutes to watch you from my back seat and discretely put my hand on your shoulder. You were in the front and you were so strong, and I don’t know how you did it because I felt like dying inside. But at least I got three more minutes to get used to the idea that I wasn’t going to be with you after that. I made the decision to leave and yet, you were the strongest that day. You didn’t show me your tears even though I know they were falling, inside. I did. I cried my eyes out all the way down to Eilat.
I had my reasons to leave and I couldn’t know what was going to happen to you, but I have to admit it: I regret it. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time but now there’s nothing I regret more. I can still see your expression the day I told you I was leaving, the way you stood up and went to put water on your face and buried it in your hands, the way you had trouble breathing. You said that you couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t spend every day I can with the person I loved, since our days were counted anyway. And you were right, habibi. It was my biggest mistake. I thought staying another couple of months would make it harder and most of all, the occupation was eating me from inside, the way it had been eating you your whole life. It was only four months for me but I wasn’t as strong as you, as all of you. I couldn’t take it anymore. And so I left and I left you with the pain I couldn’t bear. I wish your last healthy days hadn’t been filled with that pain.
I am grateful I still got to see you one last time after that and make you smile. I could write more but this is too painful for now habibi. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
No, you know what, that’s just running away and I’m tired of running. It seems like that’s the only thing I know how to do. Just like back then, I ran away and it didn’t bring me anything good. It’s too easy. I need to face the guilt I’m feeling because it won’t just go away on its own.
Numan, I was a coward and I was selfish and I am sorry. I am sorry for leaving then and I’m sorry for not being by your side in the end. I know you have already forgiven me and I know you would want me to forgive myself, too. It’s going to be long but I will, one day. I’ll turn my life into something meaningful and that is how I will make it up to you. It seems so hard but I won’t give up until I make it, I promise you.
Someone told me you were the key to my recovery and I really believe she was right. I like to think you were sending me a message, because she didn’t know what we both do, what the symbol of the key means to us… it’s on my skin. As a reminder, always, that you were, you are some kind of key in my life. It’s a symbol of the fight for your country, but it means so much more to me. So much more…
You remember, the night before I left? We talked about what we would tell our respective children about each other one day. I still don’t understand what happened and why you’ll never get to have children but now I know what I will tell mine, if I ever have any. I will them you were a key.
Now I can finish this letter. I hope that if people ever read these they’ll understand something in the weird chronology I chose to recall you but for now, it doesn’t matter. You know. I will continue tomorrow, habibi.
I just finished watching the movie ‘500 days of Summer’ with my mum in the comfort of my living room. It’s a really big house, I don’t think you’ve ever seen so much luxury in a home. Anyway, the movie talked about themes like love and fate and getting over someone and meeting ‘the one’. I caught myself wondering if you were ‘the one’ for me. Honestly, I think if anything, you were one of the ones. At least I hope so; I’d like to find what I had with you again, with someone else. I thought I had actually, I have to admit. But it was too soon after you, and I think I really was just fooling myself. It didn’t end very well. I’m sorry, I’m sure you hate hearing that. I was a real mess; combine that with being in love with love and you get the mindfuck I was in for the last few months.
But our story was a particular kind of special, wasn’t it? I believe it was meant to happen. I was meant to be in that park that day. It’s tragic and beautiful that of all the Nabulsis I could have fallen in love with, it had to be the one who was going to die from cancer less than a year later. I like to think that I was one of the last gifts of life to you before you left.
You remember, when we were eating that kunafa and you were telling me about how your ex had hurt you and you would only want to fall in love again if you knew it was the woman you’d marry? It was only about the third time we hung out together, but I was already so into you and I didn’t want to hear that. Therefore, I told you stories about some relationships of mine that I knew wouldn’t last but that somehow made them even more beautiful. The love was real. We are from very different cultures, and I know this might outrage many people who knew you. I mean no disrespect. I am just being honest. You can never go wrong with love itself; it’s feelings associated with love, like jealousy or nostalgia, that hurt. Maybe it was a bit manipulative of me, but I wanted you to let me love you, even if we both knew it couldn’t last. And it worked. That same day, you took me to your house and I met your wonderful family, who have treated me like their own daughter ever since. We became inseparable. I am so happy you let me convince you.
That day influenced the whole rest of my stay in Palestine (and my life, incidentally). I got to discover your country from your perspective, someone who had lived there all his life, and not just the tourist perspective I would have been limited too otherwise. I met so many people thanks to you, and been inside many homes and ate many meals and learned many words and traditions. You made me feel at home in a country at the opposite of mine. I am so grateful to you, Numan. Maybe that’s why I wanted to write to you so badly: to say thank you. You never expected anything from me. You never judged me. Heck, I don’t know if I deserved you. Or is it only me idealising our story after hand, because you’re gone? I don’t know. Sure, you did have your bad sides, we all do. Sometimes I felt you were a bit immature, for example. After all, you were younger than me! But no one ever loved me in the same, pure way you did.
Someone older told me one day, when it was really becoming obvious that we were together and we were hiding it less and less, that not everything that shines is gold. I don’t think he had bad intentions, but he obviously didn’t know you and it made me so angry. You were gold! 🙂 A shiny, beautiful golden treasure.
Read the next letters here.