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. I met him during my stay in Palestine and he changed my life forever. I am posting them now to mark the 5th anniversary of his death.

                                                                                                            

19.06.2017

Dear Numan,

This is it then. I’m finally gathering the courage to start writing to you. You know, there’s so much I would like to tell you, and it’s going to take more than one letter to do so. Therefore, I don’t know where or when it’s going to end, but it has to start somewhere, and it’s now, it’s here. Honestly, this is a bit scary and I don’t really know how to do it, so please excuse me if my words get a bit messy.

The place I chose to do this is quite ironic, quite symbolic; you know me, I tend to bring drama into my stories. I’m in the Père Lachaise cemetery, in Paris. Surrounded by dead people, so many dead people, I realise how unimportant each death is in the grand scheme of things. Even though yours means the world to me. I was walking, earlier, in the middle of all these skeletons buried underground and suddenly, it hit me: your skeleton is somewhere underground too. The flesh surrounding it slowly being eaten away by small creatures, down there, with you… I know, it’s a very grim image, but it helps me. It helps me realise you’re actually gone.

I saw a picture of your grave, so I know it’s real, although most of the time I still have a hard time believing it. Just an hour ago, I was watching a video of you, and it felt like you were so very much alive. I like watching you. It reassures me that I won’t forget the sound of your laugh, the shape of your smile. It makes me feel like you’re still around.

You are not though, and there’s a grave with your name on it somewhere. I think I need to see it with my own eyes. It’s been three months but today, for the first time, I realised that there was your skeleton, somewhere, underground. I know, I know, I’m repeating myself; it has just been so hard to accept, you know. I keep reliving the shock of your death because my mind just can’t seem to internalise the fact that you’re gone. They say it’s normal, they say it’s one of the stages of grief. Denial, they say.

I guess I’m a walking stereotype, talking to my dead ex-boyfriend surrounded by tombs, dealing with stages of grief. I can’t help it. Paris is symbolic, you know. Of course you know. You were supposed to come here, to dance on a stage for the show you auditioned for, a year ago. I made you go and you got in, and the future seemed so bright. I always imagined coming here and surprising you by my presence in the audience. That thought breaks my heart, because I know how much you would have liked this city. I look at it and I’m hoping you can see it through my eyes. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s old and historical and magnificent and romantic. We could have walked along the Seine together and maybe we could have held hands, or maybe you would be holding hands with a pretty and sophisticated French girl you would have met here, who knows. The point is, you could have done it, because we couldn’t hold hands much where we were and I wish you could have known the feeling of not having to care about what people think of you. I wish you could have truly tasted that kind of freedom. Freedom wasn’t something very present in your short life.

I convinced myself that you get to travel through me. I have the sweater you wore all the time and it makes me feel like you’re here with me. It’s just a consolation prize and it’ll never make up for all the pain, but it helps. I’ve been hanging on to everything that helps, because it’s the only way for me not to go insane. I’m starting to feel a bit better, but it’s been a tough year you know, even though you’ve had it much, much worse. I’ll never be able to express how sorry I am to not have been there with you, in the end. I would need an entire other letter just for that, and there will be one, but for now, I’ll just say it: I’m sorry. I was lost and I wish I handled everything better, but no one gave me any instruction manual for this kind of situation. I made pretty bad mistakes. I’m sure you’re not mad at me, but I still am mad at myself, and maybe that’s why I’ve waited so long to write to you.

I know you want me to move on, Numan, and I promise you I will eventually. But first, I want to remember you, remember us, from that first day in the park to the last one, when I watched you walk away from the window of our room in Amman. Our story needs to exist somewhere else than in my heart, and that’s why I’m going to do what I know what to do: I’m going to write about it. I will keep writing you letters, or should I say, writing them to myself. I have only known you a short time, in the grand scheme of things, but that time mattered. More than that, it meant the world to me and I can’t let you go until I’ve put words to our story. To our love. You might learn a few things about me in the process; I didn’t always tell you everything. We’re from very different worlds, and there’s a darkness in me that I didn’t want to burden you with; you had enough on your plate, with your own darkness. But true love can overcome all of that, can’t it?

It can and it did, and it was beautiful and tragic but it was our story and I’m going to tell it, to me, to you, to the world. I can’t wait to meet you again through it. I’m going to leave for now; I’ve got a cemetery to visit. See you soon, habibi…

Yours faithfully,

Sophie

20.06.2017

Dear Numan,

I’m thinking about writing a letter a day to you, although knowing myself, I’d probably skip many days. I’m not a very consistant person. It may seem very weird and almost creepy to write letters to a dead person. Dead, that word always gives me a shock. Anyway, it’s weird but I like being able to talk to you, even though you can’t reply. I miss you. Even when you were still alive, in the end, I couldn’t really talk to you. Well, I kept sending you messages, but you didn’t answer any more. At the time, I didn’t realise that you simply couldn’t. It wasn’t really you inhabiting that body anymore, was it? Your dad told me, he said that there was a point when you couldn’t even recognise your own parents. And yet, you kept calling my name. Habibi, you called my name… That thought needs a moment to sink in. You called my name and I don’t know what to do, what to think about it.

Every time I slackline or see people slacklining, I can’t help but think about you. Truth be told, I can’t help but think about you most of my waking time, but this particular activity has a special meaning: that’s how we met. It was an instant crush, just like in a movie; I was slacklining in a park with my brand new soon-to-be best friend Liz, and you arrived with your friend Mohannad. You said what I was doing was art, that you liked art and that’s what attracted you to come talk to us and try the slackline out. You smiled and I liked you immediately. Later that day, you danced in the park and showed us your own art. You were so talented. I remember feeling that I had a local friend and that was amazing, since I had just arrived in Palestine a few days earlier. I already felt so welcome.

You texted me the next day and I was supposed to meet you again in the park, and I didn’t come. I lied and said I had fallen asleep. I don’t think you knew I lied. See, I must have felt that we were going to become something special, because I got really scared that day that if I saw you, you’d want to see me all the other days too. I liked you and I was protecting my fragile heart that got hurt so many times. I’m sorry I lied to you. It didn’t change anything though, because a couple of weeks later, we were already seeing each other almost every single day, and did so until the end of my stay. But at the time, I was protecting myself so I let a few days go by, a week maybe, before I agreed to see you again. I was also really busy getting used to my new life, spending time with the other volunteers, exploring the city and working with the children.

I met many other people, but none of them had the effect you had on me. After the second time we hung out together, I went home and all the girls noticed the huge smile on my face and the giggles I had when talking about you. It was written on my forehead that I had a massive crush, but I still was trying to deny it. You took videos of these first encounters and looking back at them, it is indeed very obvious; I couldn’t stop giggling. I think your laughter is what I miss the most. You had such a wonderful laugh… and it made mine come out. We used to laugh everyday. Now it seems like I’ve only rarely laughed, in the past few months…

You didn’t only laugh, you cried too. You were extra sensitive, just like me, and it was a burden for you in a society where you had to present such strong appearances all the time. I think you liked that about me, that you didn’t need to pretend any more. You told me about your ex, and how it broke your heart when she hurt you. You told me about how much you hated the rules of your society and about all the images of the occupation during your childhood that never stopped haunting you. You came from such a harsh world, and it was so unfair it made me sick. I had my demons, too, but they were from an easier world and I always carried the guilt of my privilege. Maybe that’s why I never completely opened up to you about my heartaches – I didn’t think you could have understood where they came from. You knew nothing about my world. So I tried to tell you about it, and you listened attentively, and there was this monster in the room: injustice. We both knew that at the end of this, I would go back to my world, the whole world, and you would stay stuck in your limited, occupied world.

I’m writing this from a train taking me back to Switzerland, crossing France. I am so free. I’m looking at miles and miles of freedom. Can you see it? It’s peaceful and colourful. You would have loved it.

I’m going to put down my notebook and have a little cry about you. I think I need it.

Goodbye habibi, for now.

Sophie

Zina – Babylone


Read the next letters here.

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