The following texts are the last 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 didn’t exactly finish my series of letters in the best of ways, did I? I probably didn’t think it would be the last one, and I thus never wrote a conclusion that would thread all the pieces together. I think that last one hurt so much that it pushed me to stop this exercise altogether. But I couldn’t leave things like that, so I’m picking up where we left off to give our one-sided conversations the ending they deserve.
This is it, then. I’m writing to you once again, 5 years after that first letter I wrote to you in Paris. I was going to wait until the 14th, but I couldn’t keep it in any longer. Today, I felt a crushing wave of heaviness and anxiety, and a pressing need to write to you. I hadn’t felt this in years, which I think is a good sign that I’ve done my fair bit of healing. But the last few days, I’ve plunged deep again into all the memories, and I’ve opened some old wounds. That’s fine though, because I never really want to be totally okay with what happened. It was a tragedy, after all.
I sometimes struggle to realise it’s been 5 years. You’d almost be turning 26. I am 28 now, which I know is still young, but I’m having a little trouble accepting that I’m getting older. I discovered a couple of grey hairs a few weeks ago, it didn’t feel too good. I wonder when you would have had your first grey hairs… I was with you for your 20th birthday. We threw you a surprise party, and it’s one of my best memories from Nablus. You were so happy that you cried. I never want to forget how that felt.
I’ve tried so hard to turn my life into something meaningful, just like I promised you. I’m becoming who I want to be, slowly, and it’s terribly exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s still not easy every day, I’m not going to lie, but I keep trying. Have you been watching me, for the past 5 years? I hope you have, and I hope you’re proud of me. I know I didn’t always do everything right, but I’ve been learning to be kinder to myself. I can be so hard on myself, you know. Losing you set me on a journey towards self-love, though. There’s still a long way to go, but I think I’ve done a fair bit of progress. These letters are a good example of it ; they are far from being perfect, but I didn’t let that keep me from publishing them.
The people I meet still give all the meaning to my life. They all know about you. Last year, I’ve become friends with a young Syrian, and he reminds me so much of you. He’s the age you were when I met you, and he’s soon going to start teaching me Arabic. I’ve never seen him face-to-face, because he lives in Aleppo and things are still very hard in his country. Yeah, that shit still isn’t over, unfortunately. The world has seen a lot of crazy things since you left, actually. Oh Numan, sometimes I envy you for not having to witness all of that anymore. The pandemic has been so hard on all of us, though for some it was much, much worse than others. We still live in a deeply unfair world. A war has also just started in Ukraine, and it’s been really scary and tragic to see. I’m worried about the future.
I’ve recently reconnected with Hayley. I visited her for the first time since everything happened. We spent hours reminiscing on our time in Palestine, and it was so good to keep you alive through our memories. It was heartbreaking, too. I’ve also seen a few other people from that time, over the years, and I’m so grateful for their friendship. They all matter so much to me, even the ones I’ve lost touch with. They’re all doing great things out there, I’m so proud of them. I know you would be too.I still have your sweater. I’ve worn it so much over the years that it is completely falling apart, but I don’t care.
It’s getting cold out here, I think I’m going to take a break for now. It’s been nice talking to you again. I can feel you with me.
Thank you for everything you’ve given me, Numan.
I love you, always.
We’re the 14th of March. Five years ago, you took your final breath on this big, beautiful planet.
I was in Cambodia back then, and the company wasn’t great. I was in Sihanoukville when I received a Facebook message announcing your death. Not the best way to get the news, but then again, there was no way that would have made anything better anyway. Everything is a little blurry, but I remember feeling so alone. I remember walking to the pier at some point in the following hours, and sitting there, watching the sea, wishing you could see it too. And for a brief instant, I felt your presence near me, just like I had felt you when I was watching the sea in Dahab, right after I left Palestine. For a second, everything was okay again.
Ever since that day, the 14th of March has been my Numan day, and it will be for the rest of my existence. It’s a day when I allow myself to be sad, but it’s also a day when I remind myself of how beautiful life is, how lucky I was to experience a love like yours. I reflect on where I was that day in Cambodia, and I promise myself that I will never let myself be in that place again.
I’ve come a long way since the 14th of March 2017. A year later, I was about to walk the Camino. And I did it, habibi. After being paralysed by life for so long, I stood up and I walked 900 km. It was hard and wonderful at the same time, and it made me believe in magic again. I think it saved my life, honestly. It helped me forgive myself. I wrote your name next to mine, on the certificate I received when I arrived in Finisterra. I still haven’t seen your family yet, but when I do, I will give it to them.
A few months later, I published my first book, just like I promised you. I did it habibi, I became a writer. And one day, people will be reading the book that tells our story.
The years after that one had their ups and downs, but overall it’s been getting a lot better. It was never going to be easy, because I didn’t really choose an easy life path. I’ve been lost a lot, and I’ve often felt guilty for not having it all figured out earlier. Once I started feeling like I had fully grieved your loss, I had trouble accepting when things were still not okay. But I try to be kind to myself and remember that darkness is part of life, too. Sometimes I wish there was a little less of it in mine, but I also know I can’t complain too much. There are so many beautiful things, place and people around me, and I am so privileged to be able to experience it all. Being alive is such a gift.
Do you remember, that interview we made with two of your friends in Nablus? I had that silly idea of making a documentary back then, that I never finished of course, because I had no clue what I was doing. Well, it’s becoming my career. I love being able to say that.
I’ve fallen in love again a few times since I’ve known you, some more intensely than others. I’ve become much wiser on that level, I think. You taught me the real meaning of unconditional love, and quite frankly, I am okay as long as the people I love are happy and healthy. I’m still quite insecure and I have my moments of doubt, but I don’t have so many expectations anymore. I know I also hurt a few people, because my heart is a little fragile and I’ve built a lot of walls around it, to protect it. Getting close to someone makes me feel incredibly vulnerable, and it often made me shut people out. But a few beautiful and patient souls have managed to find their way to me anyway, and it’s been incredibly healing to be accepted and loved for who I am.
I would not be who I am if it wasn’t for you. I’m often a little worried that I talk about you too much, but I’m also glad, because you get to live through me. I never want to forget you, and I want people to know how important you are. It’s what I’ve been doing the last few days, posting these letters. I’ve received so many positive reactions, you know. I feel so blessed.
I couldn’t sleep last night, and I ended up having a chat with your sister. I see so much of you in her, it’s amazing. She’s a brave and free soul, just like you. But she’s also facing many of the challenges imposed by the conditions of your country, your society. I think that might be why all of this affected me so much, Numan. It wasn’t only about the cancer. There were so many unfair circumstances around your death. Maybe that’s part of the reason why it’s so important for me to keep talking about you and about Palestine.
The world is a scary place right now, but we need people who think differently, people who believe in peace. You were one of those, and I know you keep inspiring people who haven’t even ever met you. It’s beautiful.
I’m ready to say goodbye for now, and look ahead. There are so many colours around me… can you see them too?