I’m sleepless in Beirut, the sun setting behind me.
I’m excited about tonight. There will be the cool evening breeze, the smell of jasmine, the buzz of conversations and the promise of laughter, cheer and unknown faces.
My skin is still warm from the sun and slightly gluey with sunscreen. Earlier, as I was rubbing it on to the objections of Foux, my tanorexic friend, I breathed in the memory of Botticelli and I at the beach. It was one of the very few times we had left his apartment together. I can count them on one hand. Yet now, I’m about to run out of fingers to bend – over nine months have passed since we’ve last spoken.
He had called me up one day, maybe a week after our second meeting since my return from Paris, to tell me that he wanted to cut things off between us. Completely. Not even for the time being. And I knew he was stubborn, but I didn’t expect this. For over half a year I would feel uneasy at the slight thought of him. I feared bumping into him, and I thanked heavens he was a social recluse. It was only that one night in Hamra, as I was walking with friends on the main street, past Madinat Theatre, that I saw him standing on the curb, his heavy leather bag tugging on his shoulder, his face in musing contemplation as he watched the traffic and people go by. I felt a heavy blow to my chest and grabbed my friend by her elbow.
“Do not look to your right, just keep on walking, just keep on walking,” I said clenching my teeth.
She didn’t question me and only when we had reached the church I told her that I had just seen Botticelli. I wondered whether he had seen me and I wonder whether he had felt a similar blow. Secretly I wished the sight of me would melt his heart and I kept checking my phone…
There are days when I wish I could just call him up like I used to and share with him snippets of life and observations that I know he would appreciate. And if those months ago he had felt rejected, how I was I supposed to feel? I hadn’t but refused to indulge in what had made my relationship with him torturous (and I guess, for him, worthwhile?). He blamed me for being dishonest, for having changed and I just didn’t want to take things in a direction that didn’t feel right. When we had first met, all I wanted was to be with him, and he would just retreat like plastic from fire until I’d fall into the trap of accepting the unspoken terms, over and over again. We would meet every so and so, but the breaks in between were necessary for him, and then eventually for me, until I grew out of the idea that this was what I could handle. In simple terms, I couldn’t be present physically, if he wasn’t there for me continuously. And to think I rejected him…
And then to hear Red say, “I love your smell. You smell the same way you did all those years ago. Oh, and your freckles, I love them too.” And he was referring to the unsightly sunspots on my shoulders!
We were now sitting side by side on the 62nd floor, at the end of the U-shaped couch that held all our childhood friends.
“Don’t go,” I pleaded with him “Stay with me. You can always go on this trip another time, but who knows when I’ll be back!”
When I placed my hand on his inner arm to stroke his soft hairs, he smiled, “You know you have this power over me!”
I didn’t want to corner him, but I was dying to hear him say he chose me.
“Fine, I won’t go. But we’ll spend time together, yes?!”
I explained my situation, that I would have to see more of my family before traveling, and he understood and still, he didn’t go.
By the end of the night, we were five. Red, Flutterby, two boys and I – the original crew! Downstairs at the cabstand, we decided to head over to my place to keep the night going.
I was so touched to see these grown friends sit in the candlelight of my porch, flirting, conversing, but I was most happy to just have Red, sometimes in the kitchen, and sometimes by my side. By five in the morning, at the sound of the first adhan, the boys were getting ready to head home; the cab would arrive in minutes.
I signaled to Red that he could stay over, that I wanted him to stay over, but I didn’t want to insist to a crowd of candlelit faces.
As soon as he was out the door, I texted him, “I still don’t get why. What’s wrong with sleeping over? What’s wrong with a pajama party? Pillow fight? (note the innocent terms)”
“Nothing is wrong, but I can’t with your family there, plus Flutterby, doesn’t feel right.”
“You think too much. You think too far. It would’ve been nice to have a 5hr hug.”
“Ok I’m coming”
Power to my power, I wanted to do a victory dance! Within minutes, he was back at the door, still hesitant, still anxious and still over-thinking.
“What if your mom sees me?!”
My argument was that nothing was going to happen, that my mom was a fellow human being and that we weren’t kids anymore.
I felt slightly guilty that I had brought Red into Flutterby’s and my sleepover, but I just kept hoping she’d remember the previous night when she had proposed the same scenario herself. In the end, I knew she would understand that I needed this.
“You just slept?!”, she later asked “Why didn’t you just let it happen?!”
In my room, with the skies brightening, he sat on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes, his shirt, “Do you have a T-shirt?”, he asked, and I thought “There is no way you’re going to wear a T-shirt with this body!”, to take off of his jeans, “Do you have shorts?”, and I let him have his shorts, the same shorts we were obliged to wear to the gym in high school, the same shorts I once tipex-ed with obscenities (along with a covert egg in his gym shoes) and was punished with that same egg at high-speed to the back of my head.
“No kissing,” I said.
It was the best sleep I had in a very long time.