Epilogue


Our secrets are helium balloons. And I sit here below them. They, tall with heads like darning eggs, look back at me, in that disquieting silence.

The silence which I broke by popping them, with needles the shape of a crippled mask. I talked to torsos and faces obscured by the same comrades I had run away from. We talked and I spilled whatever secrets I had, whatever stories I would never tell. And they retaliated. But time wiped the faces, and they became the Grindr boys whose names I could not remember. However they carried a part of me, so exclusive to them.

When brazen indecency just wouldn’t do it for me, I sought Dani. I cannot say I regret anything I had done with Dani. He was decent, and at times bore through the panic which I over-dramatically stirred. But I wonder if I was too quick to give into him; that I had fell too deep too fast. I wonder wether that dive into his world had significantly altered my perception, much so  that I had lost sight of my boundaries. I wonder if a slow gentle submergence would have taken me to a better place upstream. I wonder the same for Maria, Dani, and Karim even. It would have given me more time to discover and adjust myself; to adapt in my own skin. Dani did touch on this when he warned me about my thirst for an experience. But he made most of the moves in our short-lived relationship; he had the wheel. And is a passenger ever fully accountable?

I do not mean to blame, for that would create a cycle circling back to me, and if there’s anything I want to let go of with my balloons, it’s my self-reproach. The bitterness to which I gave a voice.

The bitter voice that I’ve grown accustomed to. The bitter voice that drove Karim insane. I can blame Karim, and I mean to. I do not blame him for his sensitivity. Karim was weak, quickly overcome by his own doubts, and too easily burned by his desires. He didn’t just cry it out, he didn’t just let it scab. He attacked his pain, and his pain like a brick wall, stood steady blow after blow. He attacked his pain, and when he heard his friends talk about our friendship, he attacked me.  Karim told the school I had thrown myself at him, that he was too surprised and disgusted he had to use force. Nevertheless he got suspended. My family had my back but they were humiliated. When I got home that day I told them everything. They believed it and wether they were happy with it or not was not the case back then. My mom did repeat “You’ve ruined us. You’ve ruined us.” She composed herself in meeting after meeting until it was resolved. Dad was outraged but in denial. My sister was understanding, she stood by, and tried to stop any rumors that were going around.

Things were not very well after that, and I did have to change schools. My parents and I decided jointly. It would be a fresh start for me, a chance to build upon what I’ve learned to lead a better life, and make amends with my family. Or so I hope.

Our secrets are helium balloons, but there is no reason they should be a burden. Leave them in a room, and leave the door unlocked. Walk with your chin up and your grip loose. You can let some people in sometimes, but plastic and gas never cement anything.

And with this last heavy balloon, I am released.

Youssef. xx

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Helium Balloon’s Last Christmas (Chapters 27 and 28)


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Hello everyone. I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas. I will reserve everything I want to say for my final post next Wednesday (Dec 30th). As for now, enjoy. xxxxxxxxxxx

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I could not say I slept that night. I don’t believe my mother did either. I imagine she, like me, had lain virtually comatose; insensate, but practically awake in her bed, fearing the morning. She too could not cry anymore. And at 6 AM, she woke and dragged foot after foot, and we met in the kitchen. She had prepared breakfast as usual, with no change. I said nothing, I nodded a “bonjour” and sat across from her. She did not seem to mind. She did not seem to break out. Her skin, bedraggled a little more than any other morning was red around the eyes.

“Good morning,” she said with a breaking voice. She cleared her throat.

“How are you?” I asked. I felt as though she’d bellow at me because I may be a reason why she won’t ever be fine. I saw her pout and look away from me.

But no. “I’m well.”

The faint crackle of the cereal faded out as it turned soggy, and its crunch muted, soon there was nothing but the ringing in our own ears to break the difficult silence. So she inhaled and said, “I’m just disappointed.”

“Wether it is right or wrong- and I’m not saying that’s negotiable- I’m disappointed. Why did you have to leave us, your family, in the dark?”

 

“Why?” I exclaimed. What a stupid question, after a calamity and a sleepless night.

“Yes. Why?” she closed her eyes. “You went out an told everyone. People you don’t know. You told them something like this, so private and delicate. But you never came to us. You never mentioned it to us?”

 

“I was scared. It’s not something you’d rush to tell your parents. Didn’t you think last night was horrible?”

 

“I think all of this is horrible. All of it. But it feels particularly painful that all this time you were going around behind our backs, slipping away. I did not raise you to hide from me.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me. You have done this to yourself. God knows what reputation you’ve earned. What has and will be said.”

“I promise you I have done nothing wrong!”

“I cannot be sure anymore, Youssef. I cannot be sure.”

“I Promise..”

“You have to tell me, now because you’re so smart, and you’ve read about it as you’ve said, what is to be done? How do we go on?”

I didn’t really understand what she meant. If it were up to me, I would tell her to move on as I went about doing what I please, without restraint. However, I realized it wasn’t fair. I would have to forgo some of my desires, if she were willing to step back and accept. That seemed to be the only way. That seemed to be what she wanted.

“What? A therapist? I’ll talk to your dad and we’ll see what we can do,” she said.

“No!” I exclaimed.

“Then what do you want to do? Stay like this? I will not have it.”

“No, no therapist. No dad. Why make this a bigger problem than it is?”

“If you’re not going to let us help you, you’re going to have to find a way to fix it yourself.”

“I will.”

“How will you? Tell me how.”

“I, I will.”

“I’ll tell you what to do. You’ll stop all this nonsense. People can change. I know many who have. You will never – you will never be intimate with anyone, or you’ll get married to a girl. Those are the only solutions. That’s all you can do anyway. Listen Youssef, we love you. All we want is the best for you. We want to help you get through this. Trust me, you’ll feel better.”

“Okay.”

I felt better just ending the conversation. I went quietly back to my room, trying not to wake my sister who was staying home that day. It was a reading day but I knew she would hardly get anytime to study, not with mom above her head. I imagined she’d have a lot more to say too, because she simply knew more.  I didn’t really know if she’d tell all. It would suck if she did, for mom at least. Even coming from her own daughter, it’ll be rough to hear it. I wouldn’t accept that myself and I couldn’t accept that for mom. Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what has happened before, not then at least. I could, however, start over.

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A cloud hung above the school that Monday morning, and the blue and green of the gates and tents seemed bleak  in what little light had punctured through. Even more bleak they had already turned. Everything seemed to be stranger that morning. The air was thinner, yet it flowed like a wave and I was walking against the current.  As if tired of resisting, the crowd had given up and sat down to rest, quite unusually. I need for my friends what I had left, and found them sitting on the bench of the corner, very quiet, very dull, very uninviting in my mood anyway. I saw Karim and he looked through me, or not at all.  He looked at nothing in particular. Karim stood, chest out, outside a ring of tall hefty guys. Karim stared at backs and shoulders as they did not seem to let him in that morning. Having stood there with the faint air pushing and shoving, I decided that heading straight to class would be a better option, away from the lame and desperate.

Although my weekend had been hard to stomach and an unpleasant Monday breakfast did not put me at ease, I did feel an overcoming lightness walking into an empty class, ten minutes later than I usually was. The guilt which I despondently carried all year had been lifted. I had left it in my room, and at the kitchen table, after taking it out and thrashing the house. I felt a tingling relief. A relief that I was not home, and that I’d go about my day whilst mom tidied up at home. And I believed it.

I believed I’d return home at the end of the day, to find my mother and sister all talked out, and it would all come to cease. I’d do my homework as usual, and be down by bedtime. We would never speak about it. What I am, what I had done, will not be addressed again. Tacitly we had agreed to sweep it under mom’s favorite Persian rug. But even that seemed discomfiting. Class had started and time had started discontinuing. A minute in space geometry and ten in my own space. And I scribbled angry sketches of mom in bedraggled hair, with forlorn eyes.  And faces glaring at the stick figure of me. A thousand eyes. And soon a prism became a bulge, a bulge in a rug; the swept noises and faces and skin. Atop I wrote a bit of Whitman, “O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and look at where I cast them.” Had I really believed I could detach myself from all that I’d done and all that I’d seen? Could I leave behind Dani, and Karim, and Maria and the several others whose names never stuck?  I’d be Youssef without the sense of loss that had led me here. I’d be Youssef without the sense of emptiness that had driven me to do stupid things. I outlined Dani’s body. I would be Youssef that never experienced heartbreak, or learned from the heartbreak of others. “ I learned, I learned from muses unhired by you, dear mother” I quoted Plath, and wondered why I had become so literary under the circumstances. Maybe I didn’t need to forget, I needed to remember and move on, forward, ever forward with a new sense of self.

The same off-tune ring of the morning pulled me out of my absentmindedness at break time, and the students had all gone, except for Karim. He came up and dug into the hood of my jacket. “We’ve been throwing these in here for the past hour,” he said aridly, holding a handful of small torn papers. “You really that daft?”

“Are you?” I said back in a jerk. “What’s your problem?”

“Right now nothing, I’m fine right now. Just don’t ruin it.”

“Listen, Karim whatever you’re going through now is just a backlash, I get it. I don’t need to become a target. You should not allow it.”

“Maybe the backlash is against you.”

“I’ve done nothing wrong.”

He said nothing, but stood there still. He would have left if he were angry.

“I came out to my mom,” I said.

He stared blankly, his face off-white contrasted by chafed pink nostrils, flaring. Karim did not seem as predictable as I had always felt he was. His motions were unusually fast, and I could not read his face. He shoved me and walked away, but not too far.

“That’s stupid,” he ejaculated, and it echoed in the empty classroom.

“It was for the better,”  I sighed. “She took it well, I guess. It’s a chance for me to be more honest.”

“Took it well,” he grunted. “Hah, that’s what you think? It may seem like it. You may believe it in your little happy gay world, but in reality it’s all going to get worse.”

“Soon you’ll be hearing about appointments with therapists, and you’ll dad will hear about it and will go mad. Nothing’s gonna go well after that. You have no chance, Youssef.”

“We came to an understanding, my mother and I. No dad, no therapist, no nonsense. I feel confident that with a little discretion from my side and a bit of control from hers, my life will shape up well. And I will have them on my side when I need them.”

“But you’ll stay a faggot, to them and to everyone,” he raised his voice.

“Oh well, at least I’ll stay an honest one, a happier one. Unlike you Karim, I’d rather not go about drunk in my own denial. I’m not going to destroy every relationship that I’ve built because I feel threatened. Because I feel the need to attest to something I’m not. Do you believe you can keep this act up? Karim, it is eating you up, I can see it. I am trying. I was  trying to help you.”

“You were not trying to help me. You were trying to get laid. Seriously Youssef what do you want from me?”

“I could not make myself any clearer, Karim. And that is so far from the truth. Yes, I do admit that I may have-”

“Stop. Just stop, Youssef,”  he said as he came closer. “We will not talk about this anymore, not here or anywhere. Things between us have never occurred. You will never speak of them. You will never think of them. I have put that all behind me now and that means it is all a past secret now.”

“You know what that means, Youssef? A secret.”

“Oh I-”

“You don’t. A secret is something which is not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others. A secret is sacred, you don’t go out and flash it, or put on display with such disregard. You don’t go and tell some fourteen-year-old girl who might later go out with someone with a knack for beating up everyone with such a secret.”

“Wait, what?”

“Your fucking friend. Your honest, by-your-side, friend. Reina or Rana or whatever the fuck her name is.”

“No, she wouldn’t.”

“You can’t be sure. You are never sure of anything Youssef, that’s why you’re always making everything bad.”

“Listen,” he continued, “You’ve caused me enough trouble as it is. I’m not going to handle anymore of your crap.”

Karim was more distraught than I had ever seen him. Even when I read his letter he had not been quivering as he was. His fists were tightened and his arms crossed, elbows to waist. They formed a barricade around him. I grabbed his forearms and he withdrew with a heaving grunt. His eyes on the door, back and forth.

“Karim, I promise you I will not let anything bad happen. But I don’t understand where all this is coming from. I-“

And then a hoarse cry “Hey! Merheb!” turned him inside out.

His fist flung slowly my way. And though it seemed escapable, I froze and took it. A forceful blow. I felt it. A calm and a shudder. A jab to my heart. And all that was left of me was the ringing in my ears. Blood. His knuckles. My nose. I was thrown out of balance and my vision was blurred. I remembered his arms that wrapped around my shoulders, but only to hold me still as he heaved his knee into my abdomen. And I turned and turned and stayed put. I waved. I bolted, but stayed still under a man whom I could not see anymore. I could feel the air sifting between us. Had he gone? Had he given me a way to run? So I ran and I ran into doors and door knobs and held on to the walls. I ran to the bathroom, to the stalls. I ran my fingers over the lock and I ran my fingers over my wet face. He followed me and they, his crowd had followed him in to see him unwrap me. I leaned on the door and hoped that the weight would hold it. But the locks and weights that barred me in were as weak as I was. They laughed and yelled obscenities. I was only flesh and bone. He came in and tugged me by the shirt. You shouldn’t do this. You can’t do this. You won’t. My cries fluttered into the tiles and hid there.  But he did and did again. But they seemed to hurt less and less, or maybe I was feeling less and less. Maybe I would not feel at all soon.

But I got up and shoved him off of me, onto my audience. I got up with whatever power or pride I still had in me. I fought back. I can fight back. My hands shook but his were worn out. His eyes were brighter in the dim toilet, and they were bloodshot. He had divulged his most intimate self as he trying to beat it out of me. He was afraid. I was afraid. They were laughing and he stopped.

 

But I got up.  He wanted to prove something and he did. I let him have it. But it was my turn to prove something to him. Even though I got dragged out like a dog from under the rubble, I got up.  He got suspended, and I went on. And even though my bruises stayed long after he returned, I went on. My family was alerted. My dad was furious, but stayed in the dark. My mom was furious, and tried to prevent it from happening again. My sister was frightened, and by my side.

I might not have hit Karim, but I had opened up a wound. He didn’t want to heal it. He decided to punch it, to pick it. Karim decided to swallow him up, he disappeared and didn’t let anyone know where he’d gone.

And that is why, “I cannot tell you.”

Two Years of Helium Balloons ( A Young [Gay] Man Over Two Years)


I started this blog when I was 15. Of course, back then I was telling people I was 16. For quite a long time, I stayed 16. But apparently, not many questioned it. I am now 17, and going to be 18 in a couple of months. (This sounds like an SAT question, doesn’t it?) The point is, it has been two years. I do wish to thank all of you who still take time to read my blog for your unwavering support. I’m immensely grateful that you’ve stuck with it.

This year I did want to write an additional chapter like I did last year (First Anniversary Special). I figured I’ll focus on getting you a well crafted and rounded ending. But no, not today. I’m going to keep you waiting a bit longer for it. This year I wanted to reflect on the stages and phases I’ve gone through whilst writing this book/blog, mostly because I think about it a lot and it directly affects what I write and the enthusiasm with which I write.

Like I said, I was 15 when I started. Even though, back then, I’d bitterly spite anyone who would dare say I was young and foolish,  I now admit it. While I may not have been foolish in the sense of presumptuousness and irrational hasty decisions, I was to some extent innocently unaware. I was unaware that any attempt by my sister to help was an act of immense love. Considering her asking about my day or my friends as galling intrusions really put a stopper on the great bond we had before. I remember the day when I decided to get very rebellious was after my sister made sure I’d stop talking to other guys online and warned me about giving away my number. It was appalling. But when I came out, I found out that my family had seen the message and were pressing my mother to do something about it. So my sister was just helping me out. And I was just getting worse.

One of the things that my sister really emphasized was to “stop branding myself”, not to “go around flashing everyone with it”.( It took me two years to understand what that means, mostly because she had failed to express it well enough for 15 year old me to comprehend).  After I started Helium Balloons and took on being Adam here and on Twitter (and Grindr after that), gay was all that I became. I don’t mean that to have a negative connotation, not at all. But I started identifying myself as first and foremost gay, and then as a person with different interests and ideas, and that limited me. I had always thought of myself to be worldly and widely knowledgable in an array of areas. However in that period, I was giving my attention exclusively to gay culture. I remember I wrote something in one of the early chapters, which I always think of going back and changing. It went something like this : I was gay and that determined my whole life; my friends, my interests, my views…etc. (I don’t have the time and patience to search for that one sentence.)  NO! Believing that really narrows your scope and it has cost me interesting people to befriend and unconstrained ideas to be explored.

 

Up until the late months of 2014, I stayed a quiet observer or an online friend. I was terrified of meeting up with anyone, having read a lot about dangerous encounters and STDs. I was also too afraid to lie to my parents, and ignorant of the godly gift of public transportation. Anyway, around August 2014, I started dating and something broke. This was at the peak of the gap between my parents and me. I was coming up with horrendous lies and loops to go see the guys I was seeing, and slowly drifting away. I was so uncomfortable with it, but when I met the guys to actually experience homosexuality the discomfort came to cease. It was a hell of the drive and I just felt on top of the world. Only to return home and stress about how I’m going to hide the next date. I was then aware that I became foolish, as aforementioned. I cannot say I’ve made the right moves all the times. Often I’d find myself facing in really serious pits that no one of my family or friends could help me out of. I was lucky enough to stay safe and stumble upon fairly nice guys – even though each relationship ended more bitterly than the last.

I always seemed to leave about fourth month at most between one guy and another. It was not good planning , it was rather just the time needed for the slight guilt I’d feel after each one to fade. However, during my last relationship, when I was finally dating someone my own age, I decided the lies should not be very circuitous. That was last summer, when I decided to head back down to earth and become closer and more transparent with my family. So I introduced them to my boyfriend at the time (of course to them he was a friend of a friend whom I’ve become close with). Even though I was still lying to my parents about what I was doing, or where in Beirut exactly, my conscience was at ease. Of course then came that time I came home later than expected, and my mom started a fit. And when she asked me if I were gay. “Yes, and I don’t want to lie to you.”

I guess a part of why I came out to my mom is that I wanted her to know me very well. All throughout 2015, I was considerably closer to my mom, but I always sensed an elephant in the room. She knew there was something going on. She had picked up my Twitter once, and I saw the photos she took of my notifications. I wanted to come clean and move past the suspicion. I didn’t want her to draw her own conclusions, dwell on them, and then make me out to be some kind of gay monster.  She cried a lot and I cried a lot, but I’m sure whatever she had in her head would have made her cry harder. I wanted to reassure her that I was gay, but I’m still me. I am me, and I’m gay. That night I thought about this paradox, and it was then that I decided that my sexuality does not define me and I stopped branding myself.

Not long after that I broke up with my boyfriend,  in light of that realization. He was the epitome of “gay branding” among other social media trends. (He’s not really arsed to read this blog so I can say whatever shit I want to say about him.) After the break up, I developed an mild antagonism towards a big part of the community who where like him, which I still reasonably carry to this day.

 

At many points in these two years, I stopped to think if Helium Balloons was a failed venture. While it doesn’t meet all standards, I think my main issue with this story is perhaps it’s most important aspect. Change. Inconsistency. Contradiction, even. Despite my efforts to make him separate from myself, Youssef’s recount of his story shifts under the my convictions’ control. This is where the first person account is so beautiful.

 

I thank you all so much for reading. And I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for listening.

Adam, xx.

Chapter Twenty-Seven Part One and #NationalComingOutDay


 

 

This chapter has been half done since September really, but I seriously haven’t found the time to finish it (with senior year and all). I realized, an hour ago actually, that it’s about coming out and was like Hey! it’s national coming out day 🙂 so I laid aside the math homework I was (not so deeply) engrossed in, to whip this up and present it to you. This part of the chapter is the most closely connected to my personal life out of anything I’ve written before, so it feels nice to share it. I have a strong belief that once we all feel safe to come out, we’ll be able to dispel the shame and taboo around sexuality. As I said to my mom, before a taking a blow to the head, “there’s a [LGBT] person in every single household, maybe even two. You only feel shame because you have a son confident enough to confront his sexuality rather than lead an unhappy life.” That may have been it, I don’t remember very clearly. (also check the bottom for something I wrote as a preamble ( and excuse) for chapter 27 as a whole. Happy Coming Out.
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It seemed as though the night had won. There can only be one thing she wanted to talk about. I sensed it in her tone, in the affection of her tongue, in the faint twinkle of her droopily slanted eyed and heavy brown brows. “Don’t sleep,”  she said. I didn’t think I’d be able to at that point. At any point then, I had to come out, not that I wanted to, not because things are going so well for me, but because I had to. There was no way out, it seemed. This late, and after what I’ve been through it Karim’s house just a quarter hour earlier, left me with an incapacity to conjure up a convincing lie, or any lie at that.

She stood at the door, arms crossed; her eyes aimlessly seeking. I straightened up, put my phone aside, took a steady posture and said finally, “You want to talk?” I faked a smile.

“Don’t be so happy you’re not going to like this.” She said it promptly. She knew where this was heading,  but she insisted on making it hard on her and me both, as if it wasn’t unpleasant enough to shed your disguise. And so my bare skin was censured before it was seen, and I had fallen before the climb.

“I’m sure whatever it is we won’t be upset, because that’s the last thing I want for us,” I said feigning composure.

Mom sat down at the edge of the bed. Her confused smile shivering as her eyelids infinitesimally quivered. I was thrown of by the languidness if her countenance, and realized that henceforth I would have to tread ever so lightly as to not see it break. Unceasingly ambivalent and uneasily strong, I said, “Is something wrong?”

“You tell me.” She flinched slightly.

“No, mom, I think you should tell me, and whatever it is, I’ll have a response.”

“A year, or more,ago,” she said without pause, ” I saw somethings, heard somethings; some signs in your behavior. In your internet activity. But I chose to ignore them. But also a year, or maybe more, ago your sister saw these signs too. She insisted they were nothing and that I should lay off. But I worried. As a mother, you worry whether your children are doing well. You worry if they’re making the right choices.”

“You know when I decided that enough was enough? When you started making the worst decisions when you started hurting yourself and your image. And our image too. You know what I’m talking about? I will tell you, because you probably didn’t realize it. When you let that Dani mess with your head.”

I should have said something, anything in my defense, in Dani’s. I couldn’t. The floor was not mine yet, and the ground was shaky.

“I can’t blame only him of course. He encouraged you but he did not introduce you. I know that for sure. All this filthy internet and the filthy TV you watch. You must understand is that is ‘modern’ ” she irritatingly emphasized on the word modern, leaned back and gestured air quotes. “This modern mindset is not our mindset. It is not acceptable here. You know where you are? You are not in America not Canada nor Europe. These aren’t our beliefs and these aren’t acceptable life choices. It’s not us!”

“I understand.” I said loud and clear, with an obtrusive confidence that may not have favored my argument that time. “I have heard that argument time and time again, even from those you say accept it.”

“Oh! You heard! Really?” She said being again, irritatingly sarcastic. All of this was irritating. “What did you hear?”

I continued, ignoring her last intervention, “It’s not a matter of life choices, and it’s not a matter restricted to specific societies. It’s not a choice. It’s something all people feel. People of all regions, all races, all religious or even political inclination. Not just people, primates too and other species.”

“Now, you’re telling me you believe that? That you’re born with it?” she shrugged. “Don’t believe everything they say on TV. It’s something ugly they market.”

“It’s not something I just heard. There are countless publications on it. Psychologists and all attested it’s not… even the Lebanese Psychiatry Association demoted it’s disease status.”

“Ah! You seem to know too much about this.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time reading, trying to understand…”

“Why?” she asked bitterly. “Are you one of them? A homo?”

And I found myself unable to speak yet again. With every breath and every blink of an eye, I was only getting closer to the finish line. But what awaited me beyond that was too far out of sight. Could it be a rocky path with a good heartwarming end? Or will I just hit a wall? Was I going to be stripped of my fear, or stripped of my freedom? The former would require exhausting effort to be fully diaphanous, while also didactic to help my mother understand me, and everyone else like me, better. The latter, would be a dark abstinent path, quiet and subservient, and acutely more biting than any exerted effort. So I was wisest to garner up the courage to help my mother help me.

“Yes.” I said finally, and what had been left of my mother lay in pieces on the floor. A morbid sight, and as I tried to pick up the shards, I bled until I too crashed.

“Don’t say it.”

“Don’t say it,” and she stormed out.


On Quiet and Chaos: For the greater part of August, I wasn’t feeling particularly well. It started out very specific but it speedily grew to eat at me whole. And I think the eating metaphor is quite accurate in this context because I gradually felt myself get depleted to the point that nothing was really there; hollow. Sylvia Plath, whom I’ve been reading a lot these past weeks, put it as being the eye of a tornado, empty and moving dully around surrounding commotion. I had these hurling swirling thoughts and emotions and images going about me, but I felt incapable of moving, of changing, of fixing. Somehow in the process, what really hurt initially got lost (and is yet to be found) and replaced by general havoc. It was terrifying to not be able to do what I usually did well. I couldn’t reason, couldn’t write, couldn’t study, and some mornings couldn’t even wake up. To put it dully would be to put it quite precisely; I was “depressed”. Depressed is a word that has been thrown around too loosely, and all of us have been depressed at one time or another. However, this time it was exclusively painful. And now my senior year is not in any way alleviating that feeling. I almost broke down during a seemingly simple 10 minute chemistry quiz last week.

I hope by writing and posting this chapter that I can return to the better place I was at before this happened.

Thank you for hearing me out, and here’s Chapter Twenty-Seven (Part One), six weeks late.


Chapter Twenty-six


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There was a silence; a certain pause that had caught up with the atmosphere as well. In a moment, the leaves on the decorative plants, blowing in the breeze, were still. The feet of the bystanders, busily treading around, were still. She, ever graceful in her gestures; she was still. But there was an unseen motion insider of her, swelling and swelling, like the tears filling her wide slanted eyes. At a moments notice, the motion had lunged out, flushed her face, and sent her straight voluminous hair over her covered face.

I had not often seen Rita cry. In fact, I could hardly recall a time when she had been this somber, when I could not easily console her. Even then, she had not done so as publicly as at a mall’s food court, where more eyes than I could ever hope to draw ogled and glared at the wheezing mess. “Shh, Rita calm down. Calm down. Shh.” I got up from my chair, that fell onto the floor, and hugged her awkwardly, trying to fend off the growing number of stares. “Let’s go. Let’s go talk somewhere else.”

I guided her through the mall, whilst she still had her face buried in my chest. As we walked into a Starbucks, packed except for a small booth in the back, her fidgeting had subsided and she was back to her senses, as much as she was able to. “What’s wrong, Rita?”

“About a month or so ago, I started seeing this guy,” she started, and stopped.

“Did he hurt you? What happened?” I said with an ironic urgency, as if I would have stormed out and tracked him down to give him a good beating. Nevertheless I was concerned.

“No. No. Well, not directly. We hit it off. Jean, his name, was sweet so I gave him a chance you know. I had always went out with bastards and jerks, I thought it was a big change for me.”

“I know, I’m sorry I didn’t say anything about it back then,” she said with a quieter tone, “but you weren’t really yourself back then, like it felt as if you were dealing with bigger stuff so you know.”

I was. And had Dani not slip into my thoughts as she started to cry, he would have been summoned by “bigger stuff”. I couldn’t help but feel Rita’s issues were close to mine. Could she have had a Dani in her life? – I realized that I had been relating all people’s issues to Dani and me; the stress, the release, good relationships, bad relationships. It was the only one I’d had anyway; besides Karim, who should have been there with Rita and me-But what did I know? “No,” I said finally,” You can talk to me about anything, anytime whatever mood I’m in. I’m your best friend, I’m here to help. So what happened.”

“Yeah, well apparently, before he came for me, he was with some skank in section A. Nasty little person, feeds off the emotionally weak and the scarred.”

“Anyway, when it was obvious we were a ‘thing’, she came up to me once when I was in the ladies’ room. And she was like ‘what are you doing with Jean?’ And I was like ‘Umm we’re going out is that a problem?’ and she just gave me like a straight up cringe and left, and never talked to me again.”

“I see where this is headed,” I said with a sigh.

“No, you don’t.”

“After that, it seemed all fine. But then, what do I find on the school blog?”

“Oh, no.” I grunted and fell back into my chair, and sank back into a night when I sat crying in bed as my sister told me what cruel pranks and rumors people can spread about me if I were gay. And I wasn’t really sure of it back then, it didn’t seem like it would happen to me or to anyone I knew. My friends and I were nice, I thought, we didn’t bring out that vindictiveness in others. Well, I had been wrong once again. And I always thought it would be me to take the fall first.

“No, you still don’t know the half of it yet. They posted an old photo of me sitting on Roy’s lap. Remember Roy, right? The guy I ‘went out’ with at 13,” she grunted. “And they said that I had lost my virginity to him,” her eyes swelled and she continued with a suffocated nasal tone,” Gosh! Like what the fuck? Lost her virginity at 13, they ate it up. Everyone. Everyone saw it. They all talked about it. I got sent to the principle’s office. I had to have a talk with the father. I was so close to being suspended and it got to my parents.”

I was petrified. I stared at Rita as she swayed with her chest’s convulsions, her hair going with the motions. “Is it true?” I said finally.

“No!” she ejaculated, drawing her hair back to reveal a furrowed brow. “Of course not! No! Are you kidding me?”

“I know. I know, I’m sorry,” I said calmly and slowly, having nothing else to say. “Okay then, those who know you, your friends, know it isn’t true…”

“Ha!” she grinned sarcastically and ever so ephemerally, only to return to her sullen countenance (not that I could blame her). “The thing is, Youssef,” she went on to say, “People follow the crowd. They follow the powerful, not the lame and the petty. No one is on my side. It isn’t ‘good for their image’. Some friends, eh?”

“What did your parents say?”

“Well, they believed me; nothing like family. They stood by me, went to the principle and made a complaint. Well, more like a threat, you know pap,” she let out a short relieved giggle. “Still waiting for the verdict for that bitch, and her accomplices.”

Who would I go to in a time of need? If one day, a bully thought it would be fun to announce I was “a faggot”, where would I go? And I froze, shivers not seeming to faze me any longer. Who? Rita? No. Ahmad? No. Rana? No. Dani? Pfft, what use is long-distance support? Karim? Where was he anyway? My family? I don’t know. I took a deep breath and felt my heart murmur.

“Youssef?” sounded Rita’s shaky voice.

“Um, yeah,” I fumbled. “Yeah, sorry, was just thinking how much this sucks. I mean, what I could do for you. I, I don’t know.”

“Relax. I’m dealing with it, my parents and I. I just wanted to talk to you. You know, blow off some steam. You’re a good listener, and my best friend.”

“I’m always here too, next to you. I’m on your side no matter what happens,” I said.

“Thank you,” she whispered as she leaned back into her coach, unwinding her shoulders. “You know what, excuse me, I got to go freshen up in the ladies’ room. It’ll only be a bit, okay?.” She stood up and strode, but then stopped to ask, “Where is Karim?”

“Where is Karim?” I repeated.

❁❁❁

I knocked at the door twice. It was 7:15, about time for me to get home. I texted my mom that I might run a bit late, to which she didn’t reply. I thought I’d spend the rest of the evening with Karim, seeing as I am already outside his door. After a third knock, the door was opened. Behind it stood a short stout bald man in a worn out wife-beater, out of which curly grey chest hair jut. And in between the bush, a heavy gold cross hung obtrusively, and glistened quite menacingly in the doorway light.  An awfully unwelcoming sight, Karim’s father welcomed me in. “Come, come, Karim is in his room” he said, his voice gruff and cold. He stared back at me until I reached the room. I walked with a shiver, imagining his fat hands thrashing every bit of verve George had for life. He had lain there-I faced the bathroom door to the left side of Karim’s room. George had lain there once and never returned, and will never return. My stomach turned, and kept turning until I was overcome with fright when that same croaky voice yelled out, “What’s wrong with you?” I froze and looked at Karim’s father at the end of the hallway. “Knock, he’s in there.” I did, and went in fast, shutting the door tight behind me.

“What are you doing here?” snarked Karim, springing from his bed.

“No,” I said, “What are you doing here?”

He looked at me very bewildered. “You were supposed to be at the mall three hours ago, with me and Rita.”

“Oh, well. I didn’t really feel like going,” he said nonchalantly.

“What?” my voice broke. “I called you. I texted you. You couldn’t even text back?”

“I haven’t been on WhatsApp all day.”

“I used SMS.”

“Who uses SMS these days?”

“Cut the crap, Karim! I haven’t heard from you all day.”

He came closer, “Well, I’ve been hearing a lot about you these days.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, my brows crossed and my temples throbbing.

“Nothing.”

“No! You want to say something, say it,” my voice began to rise.

“I have nothing to say to you. Stop acting like a little bitch. I’m sorry for not texting you or whatever. Okay?”

“You know what? Fuck you, Karim! Fuck you! You come to me when you’re miserable and weak. But when everything is fine and dandy for you, you piss on me.”

“No one asked you to comfort me, I never asked you for anything.”

“I was helping you!”

“That’s what every bastard that takes advantage of others says.”

“What?” I yelled. “How did I take advantage of you?”

He lunged towards me. “Raise your voice again, and I’ll fucking cut you.”

My teeth clenched, and my lips trembled. My hands opened and closed spasmodically at my either side. He stood close enough for me to feel his short breaths on my neck; blow after blow of warm shaky, unprecedentedly repellent, breath. I started back at his eyes, bloodshot but milky, as if he had stopped crying minutes before my unexpected ingression. And for a moment, I felt bad for him. I let my guard down, inhaled and began to say, “Sor…”

“I don’t want to do anything wrong,” he spoke under his breath, “and you are making me worse.”

For a moment, I didn’t flinch. My jaw unclasped and the tremble died off. My palms hung languidly from my dangled arms. I had caught my breath, that had no longer been audible at that point. I said nothing, expecting to hear nothing else. I stared at him. I felt nothing. I guess this is what is called – and I had never quite understood it before then- the calm before the storm. And when that storm hit, nothing could hold it back. I exhaled. And my face turned and with a fast unruly thrust, Karim took an unusual blow to the face, his nose cracking under my palm. His body swayed, almost falling to the ground. Quick as he was, Karim regained balance, only to try to grapple me. I, subdued by an unholy force, grabbed him and kicked his shin as hard and as fast as the rage swept through me. I held him by the forearms, which he used to cover his face, and shoved him away from me, and he luckily fell onto the bed. My blood was boiling and I could still do worse, but I stopped myself. The sight of him huddled on this bed evoked some pity on my part – possibly a change from the usual self-pity he was more used to.

“You are a coward, Karim,” I pointed my finger at him firmly. “God help you not end up like George!” I turned around, violently grabbed something off the desk, and threw the door wide. “But you won’t be a martyr this time.”

I ran down the hall, and before I got to the door, I heard, “Everything okay?”. Karim’s mother came to the door.

“Yeah. I was just um,” I held up what I had taken, a book, ”Getting this book. Sorry to bother you. Good night.” I stormed out. My mother asked the same thing when I came home, agitated as I was, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, it’s all good. How are you?” I replied quickly.

“Why are you late?”

“I texted you.”

“I know. Why did you need to?”

“Karim didn’t, um, show up, so, um.”

“So?” she said coldly.

“I went over to check on him. He, um, was sick.”

She didn’t look too happy about it.

“Don’t sleep,” she said, “We need to talk.”

 

Son of a bitch.

 

Note


[UPDATE]: We’ve extended our vacation, won’t be active for another week. Updated the dates. See you soon 🙂

Hey, I’m on an unexpected vacation, so I don’t think I’d be able to write this week. Here are new dates.Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.05.45 AM

Meanwhile, you can enjoy this…

Chapter Twenty-five


Sorry, I didn’t have time to pick out an appropriate picture for this chapter because I am being dragged to a straight wedding party.

 

He sunk into himself, and he crumbled. I was there to pick up the pieces, but if the previous night had been any indication, I was quite crumbled down myself. So I lay there, eyes wide open, slow-breathed, unfastening the clasps that bound my empathy. For all I thought of doing was to caress- which isn’t too bizarre under the circumstances- but there was some sort of peculiarity in Karim’s skin, bare as he was. A certain peculiarity that rendered whatever the mood of the room was, peripheral. That rendered any restraint I had peripheral. So I lay there, but not there at all.

“Why’d you read it?”

“Why’d you write it?”

He burst again. “You were not supposed to read it!”

“You told me to.”

“Have some respect.”

“Why’d you write it?”

Karim was still.

I put my hand on his neck, and ran a finger down his protruding vertebrae. He clenched and relaxed. I drew him closer. His back was static under my fingers. All the rest of him was shaking.

In the tumultuous glow, my body unclasped, and I thought of nothing else to do, but to silence the whimpers with sweet nothings and another kiss. His arms gave in, releasing his chest and unto my waist, but without force, neither pulling me closer nor pushing me away. And so a sternum emerged, as he looked up.

    I will no longer be at fault.

“This is not a fault,” I whispered.

With a heavy thump, he collapsed onto my bent knee, crying harder than before. I stroked his hair till he settled down, and straightened again. He said, “I wrote it so it won’t turn ugly, you know.” His voice cracked.

My tongue was tied.

“I wanted to forget about it, I wanted it to just disappear, totally blocked. But I knew. I knew I wouldn’t forget. I wrote it down so I would remember it just as it was.”

“If I hadn’t I would have torn it down, deformed it. Would have made myself a victim. Would have made out everyone to be a monster.”

“Aren’t you scared someone will read it?” I asked after a long pause. “Like I did,” which I could not bring myself to say.

“I’m not you. I can keep a secret.”

“But that’s a rather obvious…” I started to say, but why would I say that? I had only managed to calm him down and I had to tread lightly. I had many questions, but he was too fragile now.

The strain had subsided, and the air leaned slowly vapid. Ephemerally. As I stared out the window, I felt Karim’s hand sluggishly turn my head to face him. He ran his thumb down my cheek, rubbing my light stubble, and then down to my lips. His eyes were closed, so I closed mine. His thumb lingered against my lips, stroking left and right. “But it’s okay now,” he said as he removed his thumb. I opened my eyes and he was closer. “It’s okay that you read it.”

“Thank you.”

“Why are you thanking me?” he smiled.

“My faculties are elsewhere now, sorry,” I let out a faint laugh.

I stayed in bed till noon with a whole new Karim in a whole new light. He had asked me to stay another night, but I met him halfway and stayed till six in the afternoon, and he’d come to my house and we’d spend some time there. We ended up spending more time together than I had expected.

❁❁

“He sure has changed,” said Ahmad, as Karim left the table to get me a snack from the school canteen.

“He hasn’t really changed, he grew,” I said proudly.

“He grew a pair that’s what he grew.”

“It is strange how quickly we let ourselves be free when we unchain our hearts and minds from the shackles of our own self-denial and secrecy.”

“That’s awfully poetic of you,” he sighed.

“I have been working on liberation acts for my essay. You come across a lot of those. All the saviors have something to say.”

“Do you consider yourself a savior?” Ahmad asked, adjusting his seat to face me. “Is that why you’re so fucking proud?”

“I do not consider myself a savior. I’m more of a mediator,” I said. “He has always had it in him, I was there to show him.”

“His friends won’t be pleased by his awakening.”

“They don’t care about him. They don’t like it , they’d beat him up. He is not their friend anymore, and they were never really his.”

“You’re right,” said Ahmad. ”They’re not friends. It’s more like a cult. And that’s what I’m afraid of. He’s afraid of them. Been sucking their cocks for more than a year now. I’m just worried they’d…”

“So what am I missing?” Karim said, as he sat down with a thump. He handed me a brownie.

“Oh, nothing. Just discussing Youssef’s essay,” said Ahmad, grinning at  Karim.

“Forget about that. Eleventh graders are throwing a party this Saturday. We should go,” Karim said, stuffing a brownie into his mouth.

“Since when are you excited about parties?” I asked. “And why would you think I want to go to an eleventh grade party?”

“No! You don’t get it. We go for like ten minutes and then we ditch.”

“Why exactly?” Ahmad asked.

“Well,” Karim spoke to me, ”Maria is having a party, you know, the usual. And I feel we can tell our folks we are going to the other party, then go to Maria’s from there.”

❁❁

His plan actually worked. Before we knew it, it was Saturday night, and we were in a taxi heading to Maria’s house. There, in the same dark house with the sullen statutes, where Karim and I had met, we stood waiting at the door. The music was louder this time and the house less gloomy. It wasn’t cold. Maria gave me a warm welcome at the door. “Oh my god! How long has it been? Too long, Youssef, too long? Why’d you shut me out like that? Oh! Come here, I’ve missed you.”

All to which I replied, “Likewise,” in my confused awkward manner.

But when she turned to Karim she was not as joyful. As if one look at him had dilapidated her, and put off her flare. She gave him a long hug, with her hands tightly around his waste and her head buried in his chest. Karim closed his eyes, held his head up, and sighed.

“Are you guys here together?” said Maria, after she had wiped tears from her eyes.

“Yeah,” said Karim, recollected. He swung my hand lightly and then grabbed it.

“Oh thats so fun,” she squeaked. “Come, come. I was afraid they’d be more straight couples here.”

“Are there any straight couples here in the first place?” I asked.

“Well, of course!”

“How many?”

“One,” she said, “My sister and her boyfriend are here.”

“That doesn’t really deserve an of course.”

“Come meet them,” she said, grabbing us by our sleeves.

I met Karim at that house. “Stephanie! These are my friends, Youssef and Karim. Aren’t they cute together.” I met Stephanie. I met a lot of people at that house. A lot of people meet a lot of people at that house. I met Stephanie’s boyfriend, but he, a tall dark haired eleventh grader, did not just meet me. Apparently, Karim and I were not the only ones who preferred a different party.

“Hey,” said Stephanie, but he said nothing.

Karim, out of the ordinary, did not overreact. He didn’t even react at all. I stood there like a plank, even after they had gone away.

“Do you know who that was?” I asked Karim.

“Yeah,” he said calmly.

“Well, then…”

“You’re the one who told me not to be scared. Now come on,” he kissed me on the cheek, “Let’s mingle.”

Chapter Twenty-four


For the best experience, I would recommend you read this chapter in PDF format through here: Chapter Twenty-four

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 8.44.17 PMI woke up next to Karim, disgruntled. He lay shirtless and sweaty, and so was I. He had taken the pillows to his side and I rested my head directly on the mattress. I got up and stretched my neck and massaged it a bit. It was very sore, so were my legs. I still had my jeans on, which was a good sign. I hadn’t completely lost control the night before.

I reached for the phone in my pocket. It was 5.30 am. I had a lot of notifications, too many to take in at that hour at least. So I put my phone on the nightstand next to me. But something dropped. It was the clump of papers Karim had taken out of his coat pocket last night. Once again, I opened to the first page and read the first sentence. It seemed to more serious than to be read in bed next to him shirtless. So I got up and put it on the desk, made myself a cup of tea and began to read it.
karim's letter karim's letter 2 karim's letter 3 karim's letter 4 karim's letter 5 karim's letter 6 karim's letter 7
karim's letter 8
karim's letter 9

I read, and it seemed to go through me like a derailed train. All what Karim had told me before, everything which I thought had no tangible background, was there. He had told me his conclusions, but the rest of the story, like him, was darker. I didn’t know what to feel. I felt ashamed because I had misjudged him. I felt sorry for him, at the same time glad that he stayed safe. I came to know him, but also came to a loss of words. What would I say to him after he wakes up? And after that? Should we resolve this?

I had read that whole time and didn’t have a single sip of my tea, that had gone cold. I held it up and shuffled through the text, soaking it in.

“What are you doing?” Karim said from behind, sounding particularly mad.

“I’m just reading what you gave…”

“Who said you could read that? Give it here!”

He leaped at me and forcefully snatched the papers out of my hand, spilling the tea all over in the process. The last page, however, fell to the floor. Two lines were written on the back in darker ink, which I had not read before. I was quicker than he was. I grabbed it and read.

karim's letter 10

Chapter Twenty-three


I know I said 6th of July. But 7th is like 6th so it’s okay 🙂

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 8.40.17 PM

Spring came and so sprung the angst. So far, fifteen had been a particularly unusual year, chaotic even (if I’m allowed the drama). But as I passed into sixteen in late March, it did not seem to quiet down. Sixteen was supposed to feel different. It would be moreexciting more liberating. Being sixteen and doing whatever it is sixteen-year-olds do is a rite of passage into an all more thrilling, but of course, harder adult life. However, all it felt like I was doing is paying bills for everything I had broken as I hastily rushed through fifteen.

I kept going back to what Dani had told me – possibly my most fond memory of him ironically. I, after all, was not cut out to chase the American TV teen lifestyle, mostly because it was not for me. I was not in a position to overcome my circumstances and neither had the necessity arisen to do as such. I have plenty of time after high school to do what I please. That is why I made a promise to myself to be more sound as a sixteen-year-old. You can call it a birthday resolution, but less offhand than the analogous New Year’s resolutions that I have since forgotten about. It all came down to two things: keeping secrets and staying out of trouble. I let a lot spill last year and ended up with a slipping hazard. I’m taking the chance to get back on my feet again.

My birthday was on a Friday. My friends had planned to take me out for dinner and bowling after school which I didn’t find to be much of a celebration. However, on that day in particular it felt like a punishment. I had woken up on the wrong side of bed that morning, and felt lousy -to say the least- all day. There was an insistent pecking that had been beating away at my head all day. My temples throbbed and my skull felt heavy. But from the neck down I felt drained, as if it were a cruel joke played by gravity. With my insides thrashed around in my head, and my heart beat through my eyes, and the daze of the cloudy early spring day, I had drifted into bitterness, far beyond threshold.

Maybe it had to do with poor management of expectations. I had never really cared for birthday wishes, let alone those that came insincerely through Facebook. They were nice to read through, but it was not as if I waited all day for people I barely knew to post two words on my wall. Even at school, I hated when my friends would all sing to me. I would rather a tap on the back or a straightforward “happy birthday”. And I also was not the type to hold a grudge on some forgetful old soul. However, a part of me wanted to wake up to a birthday message from Dani. That would have been nice. I waited eagerly for his post, but it never came.  Dani and I had not completely lost touch. Just the day before he talked to me to tell me about a new type of chicken he tasted, and he wanted me to try it. Facebook had done a great job with the activity status, I could see he was active several times that day too, and yet he didn’t care to write a simple ‘Happy Birthday’ on my timeline.

 

But why would I care? What difference would it make? It would not have changed anything. It was not like I wanted it to change. But maybe it would have eased the pain of driving into that wall.

❁❁

After school, I caught a ride with Karim. Ahmad had made the plan and invited Rita, Karim, and a couple of friends, Tony and Joelle. When Rana found out, she came along. But frankly, I didn’t want her or Rita- nor Ahmad and Karim for that matter- to come. I didn’t want to talk about anything gay because that would come around to talking about Dani. Tony and Nour, who were a couple, did not have a clue (I hoped) about me being gay, so that made things less tense, unprecedentedly.

To spare the details of that afternoon, it was nothing other than seemingly hysterical pop culture jokes, lousy bowling, and snapchat selfies. It didn’t really feel like anyone was celebrating ‘me’, starting with myself. Karim noticed my absentmindedness and my thinly veiled irritation. He called my mom afterwards, and convinced her to let me sleep over, which she agreed to. I did not ask him to call, neither did I show interest in spending time with him. But he was the only one among them who made an effort that day, and I appreciated that.

We went back to his place my taxi. His parents went out of town for the weekend. I had been at his place enough times to have become comfortable, so walked in and headed for his room. However, he called me from behind. He had taken an opposite path into the dining room.

“Come here, I want to show you something.”

Heavy-footed, I followed him. When I got there and switched on the lights, Karim was crouched in the corner reaching for something in the cabinet. He took out a large square bottle of clear liquid. The smell of rubbing alcohol burned down my throat as he pulled the cap off.

“My dad drinks this in a dark room when he’s sad,” Karim said with unusual enthusiasm.

He took out two wide brimmed, fat whiskey glasses and filled them up halfway. “C’mon.”

“I don’t think we should drink that.”

“Seriously, come here, drink up you’ll feel better.”

“You’re sixteen now, big boy” he said as he handed me the glass. “Cheers.”

Karim raised the glass to his lips and hastily gulped a large sip. I followed less hesitantly. Then, for the first time that day, I felt a pain other than my self-induced stinging. The alcohol ran through me like a wildfire, as my insides cringed.

“Strong,” Karim said when I pulled the glass away. It was strong and searing, but in a good way. A good way in which I could not fathom. I felt better, slightly.

“So now, tell me,” he said back in his room.

“Tell you what?”

“Why you have been blue.”

“Blue’s hardly the word for it,” I said.

“Alright Oxford, why have you been,” he paused, “morose.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Just get to it. Is it about Dani?”

“Partly. He hasn’t talked to me today yet.”

“Ah,” he said, “But what does it matter?”

“It matters. Dani was a big part of my,” I paused, “of my awakening.” Karim laughed. “I just feel so stupid. And I feel like I’ve been played, you know? And now because of it I don’t have anything to show for.”

“I’m at an age at which I had expected to have achieved something, and my massive downfalls these couple of months, have made me feel even more of an underachiever. I have this deteriorating sense of unfulfillment. Sad, alone, and  not wanting to plague the others with my ‘sensitivity’.”

“But yet, here you are. Talking about it,” Karim said calmly.

“You’re saying I’m plaguing you?”

“No, no! That isn’t what I meant. Youssef, I meant, that you’re not alone. You’re not alone in this. You also aren’t the only one going through this,” he paused.

“Maybe regarding yourself as an underachiever is kinda off. You just turned sixteen. What had you hoped to achieve by now? Barely had time.”

“A lot of things, Karim. But this isn’t the life I had hoped to lead…”

“You sound forty and broke. Youssef, you haven’t lived long enough to really decide what you want. You haven’t lived long enough to have regrets.”

“So you’re saying I should just stop what I am trying to do and just go where life takes me?”

“It seems like you are begging for a ‘yes’.”

“It would make it easier.”

“Yes,” Karim whistled. He turned away towards his closet and ruffled between shirts. He seemed to be searching for something in one of the pockets.

“Youssef. You kinda skipped over a big thing I just told you,” he said from inside the curtain of hung button-ups.

“Did I? Oh, I’m sorry I have just been so focused on my…”

“I said you’re not the only one going through this.” He articulated.

“I know you have your troubles too, I…” I got cut off again.

“Here,” he handed me a thick chunk of folded papers, that must have been folded more than four times over. “That there is something to be sad about.”

I unfolded the papers. They were three pages filled with a stacked handwritten text. The handwriting was messy and small, and the ink blurry as if it had been wet. At the very top of the first page, it read:

I would rather carry around my rage, then tell this to ANYBODY else.

I stared at the sentence. It seemed to be marked much bolder than any of the other writing, as if rewritten over and over. I pulled away to look for Karim who had gone out of the room. Seconds later, he came back with two new glasses of the same clear alcohol. We clinked and drank, and I asked, “What is this?”

He stared at it, teary-eyed. But he didn’t reply. And then he did, with a whimper, and the tears streamed down his cheeks. I put down the papers, sat him upright. I hugged him and he cried. And before I could tell what was happening, we kissed.