Sunday, August 24, 2008

Picture Perfect

We are away for the weekend, the boyfriend and I. We are at a camp in Sinai, in the blistering heat, because i have missed Sinai to no end, and do not want to go to Sahel again, because i have spent the past two months dealing with my mothers devastating illness and simply because i nagged and nagged and nagged till he agreed to drive south in August and take me to a place where there is nothing but mountains, bamboo and silence.

Scene 1:
The boyfriend is sitting in the common area, reading. I am standing in the joint kitchen, cutting up vegetables and cooking. The boyfriend comes over to the stove and washes up whatever i have dirtied while cooking and goes back to his book. I serve the food, we eat and talk in soft voices, he gets up to get me a drink, washes the aftermath of dinner, comes back to his book, kisses my hand and continues reading. Periodically he will look up from his book and ask me something, or tell me something, i will either laugh or smile, and eventually my eyes start to get heavy and i put my head on his shoulder hinting that it is time to call it a night. All the while a girl aged twenty something sitting at the end of the table watches us in shy silence.

Scene 2:
The next morning i wake up craving coffee, the boyfriend tells me to follow him to the common area and he will make me coffee while i change out of my pj's into people friendly clothes. I follow him and find my cup of coffee on the table covered by a little plate as protection from the flies and placed in front of him. He is reading "awlad 7aretna", a book i read ages ago and remember nothing from, he tells me the latest of what he's read while i sip my coffee, and then i slip into my book and we both read on in silence. Periodically he will put a hand on my back, or bring my hand to his lips, all the while reading. I am so used to this i barely look up from my book. I see that same girl looking our way, wistful, sad.
She looks at me with the far away eyes of a girl who is watching an unattainable miracle.

I want to walk over to that girl, i have so much to say to that girl, i want to tell her about the amount of times i got the look she is giving me now over the years.

The first time i got that look was in December 2004, my ex, THE EX, was visiting me in France, i had just moved there, we were at Cannes train station, it was days before Christmas and we were booking train tickets across Europe. We were at the counter, he had an arm around my waist and the other draped around my shoulder, he held me so closely like he could not bear the thought of wind blowing between us, he nuzzled my neck with his nose as we giggled over the destinations we would hit for Christmas not giving a damn about the outrageous cost of it. Then a girl standing alone across the counter looked at us, in her eyes i saw the reflection of two young people in love, two people swooning over each other without a care in the world.
I remember looking her in the eye thinking; if only you knew. What she was witnessing were the last ten days i ever spent with my ex, ever talked to my ex, and we both knew it at the time.

I got used to getting those looks all the time when i was with T. Every time he took me out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and leaned over and held both my hands over the table. Every time we were at a bar and one of our songs came on and he grabbed and swung me all around the place. At the end of every night with friends when the night slowed down and it was a bit cold and he snuggled up to me for warmth as we talked away on our hosts couch. Every time he introduced me to one of his friends as his Egyptian Princess. I got the look all the time.

The look is a mixture of many things, hope that love does actually exist, jealousy that some people have it all, envy that they are alone while i am not, desperation in wondering what i am doing right that they are doing wrong, admiration that i have it so together and look so confident, aspiration to the picture perfect life, as part of a picture perfect couple.
Little did they know that almost every time i got that look, my heart was on a free fall towards the ground on its way to being shattered into a million little pieces, and then stomped on.

I so wanted to go talk to that girl, i wanted to tell her that looks are deceitful, i wanted to tell her that i can look that way when i know i am with a man who will soon leave me, i wanted to tell her that she should not waste her energy being deluded by what she sees.
I wanted to tell her that this time it was real. I wanted to tell her that what she saw really was as good as it looked, and the most thing i wanted to tell her was that it didn't matter.
Having this didn't add or subtract a thing to who she was, that it was out there for every single person, the second they stop thinking that it is all that matters.

I smiled at her, she smiled back, i think that made me more human to her. I didn't say anything of course, it wasn't my place, and i sunk back into my gratitude, and hoped that through that smile she knew i understood, and was far from gloating.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

En Fin

Sometimes stories need to wait a while before they can be told.

I was very much in love with T. I was so in love with T that when I saw him smile the rest of the world melted into oblivion. I was in love with him in a way that when I saw him sleeping I wanted to protect him from his dreams. One day while I was driving and he was sitting next to me on our way to Italy he fell asleep holding my hand, I remember wanting to freeze time and stay in that moment forever. I was very much in love with T, and he was leaving me. He was leaving me and France and this side of the Atlantic, he had run out his time in the cote d’azur and we were parting ways in a few weeks.

It was no one’s fault, he was a Dutch sailor with weak belief in religion and even a weaker belief in marriage, I was an Egyptian Muslim girl who would need at least a promise of a possibility of a marriage and intrinsically a conversion of faith – if only on paper- before I threw my life as I knew it away and went gallivanting around the world taking beach jobs and disappointing my mother in every way imaginable.

It was no one’s fault, we were both clear from the start, he told me he would never marry, I told him I was 24 and wanted to enjoy my time in France, we struggled to stay apart and finally accepted that we would make the most of our time together till our time was up.
And our time was up, and somewhere between the beginning and the end we fell in love, knowing we would have to fall out it of it one day. And that day was here.

I packed his bags with him, made him a box of gifts for him to open one by one all the way from here to the Caribbean where he chose to make a new home, I drove him to the sailing boat taking him away from me and the life we made with each other, we hugged, we cried, I walked away and drove back to my empty apartment. I woke up the next day dreading every day ahead till I as well left France, I sobbed and endlessly watched TV, I turned on my computer and wrote a post on this blog. And that is how it all began.

He left me a comment, a silly witty comment with a reply-to email address. I emailed him, he emailed back, we started playing twenty questions, and daily marathon emails turned to msn turned to sms’s. Before I knew it I was talking to him all day every day in some form or another and he was hanging on my every word, before I knew it I was smiling at messages or emails that came my way, before I knew it I was choosing between flying out to meet my Dutch love one last time, and meeting this man that fit himself into my day. Before I knew it he was guiding me through the streets of Rome through sms’s, asking me to see him for coffee, telling me that he wanted to be with me. Before I knew it we had in jokes, and a world of our own.

I had never met him, but I liked the idea. He was half Egyptian half European, he was well traveled, successful, older, attentive, clever, witty, and he was a message away, all the time. I agreed to meet him for coffee before I flew out to meet T. He flew over the weekend before I left France, he spent 48 hours in my vicinity and waited while I packed and said my goodbyes and fit him into my schedule. Coffee turned into a midnight walk, turned into an over night talk, turned into stretches of hours of putting a face to the month of every day talking. He fascinated me with his attentiveness, he fascinated me with his chivalry, he did everything right, and it blew me away.

I liked this scenario much more, instead of going back home to Cairo broken hearted and alone, I would go back to Cairo having ended a hopeless relationship with an agnostic sailor and started dating a man that I could actually have a future with. He lived in the UAE so it would be long distance, which would give me time to get over my sailor, and if all went well I would leave Cairo soon enough again. Instead of going back to a dating scene full of hypocritical holders of double standards oriental men, I go back dating a witty thoughtful man who is quickly falling for me. Yes, I liked this scenario much better.

I got him to let me fall back in the arms of T for three weeks, knowing that when I was done he would be there, the only agreement was that I had to break it off with T before I came back. And break it off I did.

Those three weeks with T were so emotionally violent, I was in love with this man to no end, and I could no longer keep this love from taking over my life, I had to get out, and I needed the cushioning because it was going to be hard, leaving T was going to be very hard. Somehow after swimming in the most beautiful waters with him, dancing to reggae music in the street with him, flying back to his home with him and meeting his family, somehow after being the closest I ever was to him, I broke both our hearts over dinner a few nights before I left. I fought off his feeble attempts at keeping us together and told him I wanted a clean break, I could no longer live only for today, and he could never promise me a tomorrow, we agreed to break up the day I left, got drunk and went to a casino where we laughed it off instead of crying over a year and a half’s worth of memories. I packed my bags and what was left of my beaten up heart and took the plane out of the Caribbean back to the real world.

And there he was, waiting for me in Cairo, waiting as promised to hold me while I cried over another man. And our story began, he had all the symptoms of a man in love. He flew in to see me three times that first month, he was patient, doting, borderline obsessive, he asked me if I was ok/comfortable/any better every hour, he pushed for intimacy too soon and too hard. I was cold, I was distant, I was brutally hurtful, I was still in love with another man and all I wanted to do was sleep. And then one day a month later T told me that he met another woman, was in love with another woman, and as the trained girl that I was, I’d be damned if I was going to stop living while he moved on. And I started to let go. I let myself be adored, I let myself be swept off my feet, I let myself let my guards down, I believed it when he said he wanted to share a life with the woman he loved, I believed him when he said if he had to he would move back to Egypt for me, I believed him when he told me he had never loved a woman the way he loved me. I looked up to him in a way I never knew with any man, his opinions mattered, his advice mattered, his take on things always mattered.

He called me every morning for our morning talk, we laughed, we flirted, we had fun. We counted the hours backwards every time he was scheduled to fly in to meet me. And when he came we spent every second together, traveling, driving, swimming, wining, dining, talking. He met all my friends and they all loved him; at last a man that treated me the way I deserved to be treated.

Four months into the relationship I started letting go, and that is when I started noticing the little things, the little fibs. He attended the final of the world cup, then two months later he said he watched it in a bar, I called him on it he said I was confused, he had never said that. His stories were always too exaggerated, he canoed across a lake in Africa to get across a border. His roommate/ ex girlfriend who talked to me on msn for hours when I was with T as we had decided not to talk for those three weeks, disappeared from his life after I returned to Cairo, she left the UAE the second we got together….

He would only call me by day, and was out of reach all night as he was living on a boat and sailed off every night were there was no network. Six months into the relationship he had met all my friends, visited my workplace, traveled with me and my best friend, knew everything about my life, and hadn't introduced me to a single person in his life. His mother lived in Egypt and he never once called or visited her when he was in Cairo. His fibs were more frequent and all his plans for renting a flat in Cairo so he could come more often disappeared. He started coming less and I started getting confused.

I asked to meet his friends, he said sure, come over and I will introduce you. I flew over, we stayed in a hotel because he had no home as he was living on a boat, and his friends were all out of town. Whenever I asked what was up he reassured me that nothing was up, that our time together was just too precious for him to share it with his friends. My gut was telling me that something was wrong and every time I mustered up the courage to ask, he would solidly confirm that all was well and fine.

Then one day when he was visiting he made the fatal mistake of giving me the password to his computer. On a sleepless night full of unanswered questions where he was once again out of reach and weeks away from coming to see me, I tried that password on his email account, and voila, I suddenly had access to more information than just his word of mouth.

My first discovery was that when he told me he was in France with his roommate/ex girlfriend he was actually in his office chatting with other female bloggers, when he was smsing me through the streets of Rome he was actually at his desk, not at that funeral with his ex in France where her parents died simultaneously and he punched her uncle at the funeral when she was cut out of their will. My second discovery was that he was his ex, he was the girl talking to me on msn and emailing me, I logged into her email account with that same password and found emails to and from only me. Shaken by this discovery, I asked him if he had been pretending to be her, I even gave him an outlet that it could've been an innocent prank at the time. He denied it fiercely and ended the conversation. For some reason I decided to let it go. So he was a bit of a fibber, so what? Surely there are worse things and it was all harmless.

But I would not rest, could not rest. I grew suspicious and he grew impatient. He started talking about how refreshing our long distance relationship was that kept us always missing each other, and how marriage killed the relationship. I hit the roof.
I phoned him one day asking him straight out if this was as good as this relationship would get, I pointed out that we were not on the same page, and that I wanted to know that he would one day want us to share a life or I would leave.
He confirmed that I was mistaken, that he loved me dearly, that we were just taking our time, that ultimately our vision was the same; a shared life in the same place.

He felt the strain on the relationship and flew in to Cairo to make things better. He started mentioning meeting my mom to show her who her daughter was dating, my friends fell in love with him even more from how good he was to me when he was here, how he made up for all the time he was away when he was with me.
It worked, I was calmer, happier, we had been together eleven months and I loved him, we spent great days together as always, and after a week together he flew back home. While he was on the plane I found myself compulsively checking his email again. I was happy with him but something was not right, I could not put my finger on it but I was constantly at disease.

And I finally found what I was looking for all along.

An email from a woman carrying his family name. My heart pounded, and throbbed in my ears, she’s just a cousin I told myself, she must be a cousin.

She called him baby. She told him that the house was empty without him. She told him that she and the baby missed him and that she can’t wait till he comes back home.

He called her amour. He told her he was coming back as soon as he could and that he missed her more than words could say.

She signed off by saying that she missed her husband.

Her husband.

My body went numb. Surely that word must mean something else. My mind traced back to an email I had stumbled across before that he had sent a blogger telling her he was married to a girl of a different faith that I had discarded as another fib.

Married, my boyfriend of eleven months was married.

I went through his entire inbox, discovering lie after lie after lie. This man had a completely different life than the one I knew. This man that had consumed my time and thoughts was a stranger to me.

He texted me when he landed, I texted back asking if he was married, he called me laughing and wondering where I heard such nonsense.

And the disaster really began. He denied, he admitted, he was separated, he was sorry, it was too difficult to tell me, he didn't love her, she watched his dog, he went there very little, he would do anything to make it right, he would tell her everything, he needed time, he needed a break, she meant too much to him to hurt her, he could not divorce her, he had a child, a three year old son, he would step aside, he would let me go on with my life, he was sorry, it was better this way.

I was hit by a bus.

I cried, I yelled, I sobbed. I went insane. I went from being the girlfriend of a man who insisted he adored me and shared every part of my life, to the mistress in the dark on the side, over night.

I could not believe that this was the same man who called me every day and flew in to see me every month. And after a week when I finally realized that this was indeed the same man, that this ending would not go my way, that there was nothing to do but to accept that I must leave, I mustered up the worst words a girl could tell a man, and let him leave.

Everything was black. I drafted up an email telling his wife the whole story, then read it to myself out loud before hitting the send button, and all I could see through the email was a pathetic girl who was taken for a ride and had no significant importance in this man’s life. I was a fool, and I was in the weakest position a woman could find herself.
I was so helpless all I could do was cry at the injustice of where I had found myself with no choice of my own.
I resigned myself to licking my wounds and having to accept that all I could do was walk away and hope that time would even the score.

I was angry, so very angry.

I booked a flight to NYC with money I didn't have, I maxed out my credit card on two weeks in NYC to get away from it all. It cost me 5000$ but I came home better, and less bitter. In NY I met a blogger he had claimed to meet, she assured me they had never met, and that is when it dawned on me, this man lied to fill the gaps, he lied as he went along, there was no logic, there was no explaining it, there was no comprehension of why I was where I was today.

I had wasted a year of my life taking seriously what was taken lightly by him.

I was livid.

All I wanted to know, was why?

Why would he seek me out to do this to me?

I was consumed by the need to tell the lies from the truth.

Was he really in Dallas when he flew in to see me? Where they really separated? Was he in love with her? Was there ever a boat? Was his ex character completely fictitious? Did he really have a company? Did he really have work when he said he couldn't talk? Did he really do anything that he ever said he was doing?

I was so very livid, I was spiteful and unforgiving, and I didn't see a day coming where I would trust another human being again. No matter what answers he gave me I could not believe him, and soon I began to understand that I would never know what really happened in his life while I was a part of it.

The hardest part was that I loved him. He was my friend, he was close to me, and I believed that in his way he truly loved me. I would remember how soft he was with me, how he mentored me through work, how he talked to me about my life, and my heart would ache. I missed him, or the part of him that wasn't about the facts of his life.
I understood that the lying was not malicious, it was not explicable, it was not controllable, it was not called for on my part. I understood that for some reason he found it in his heart to do this, and I didn't believe he understood the magnitude of the pain it caused me. I loved him and missed him and hated him for the pain. There were no answers to my whys, there were no reasons for why this happened.

I lost him and I lost heart, and those were very very bad days for me.

But alas nothing stays the same, slowly I moved on, I thought about him less, and less.
I started enjoying myself again, and enjoying life again, my nature won the better of me and I couldn't help wanting to enjoy my life. I reached that place where I was happy being alone, and that is when my best friend pursued me till I caved, and I find myself today where I am. Trustful again, relaxed again, secure again, confident again.

For the longest time even though I was over him I was not over what happened, I could not let it go. I post this story today because I finally have moved on, because finally I don’t need these answers anymore to make my peace. I post this today because nine months later, I forgive him. I don’t forgive what he has done, no one can, but I harbor no ill feelings towards him, when I remember him I wonder at the enigma of it all for a few seconds and then I let it be. I am not angry, I am not resentful, it is a bloody miracle.

I would still love to watch a video tape of his life when I was with him and compare it to the life I thought we had… but I don’t need to anymore, I am free.

Some stories take a while before they can be told, they are too fresh to be told sometimes, too hurtful, too unresolved, too ugly, and it’s worth celebrating when we can finally put our ugly stories behind us.