I may be a mystery to myself, but I am not a mystery to anyone else. My face is the most transparent face on any human’s head, out there. Fortunately, my skin doesn’t show the gore underneath, but it does show every single thought I have, in real time, as I have it. I spin over issues with my friends, so they don’t only find out my ultimate decision, but they know every single part of the process. I respond to emails too quickly, usually with a stream of consciousness that most people would rather not take over from me (besides James Casey, who treasures my every note). I repeat things, I analyze things out loud to anyone silly enough to indulge me, and I ask for advice even though I may ignore it. So, most of my friends and family can probably understand why and how I do things when I do them, but my decisions are often a (welcomed) surprise for me. How did I get this cupcake? Why did I get in my car just now? Why did I sabotage this relationship? Have I read this book before? Sometime around when I turned 20, I decided to monitor my actions with a little more consideration than I had been previously. In an attempt to live a little more proactively (I had just come off of a three-year reactivity bender, and a bender like that combined with being a teenager is pretty extreme), I decided to keep a journal. For the first five years, the entries were fragmentary, tiny hints of what had happened, but usually just enough to remind me of days that would otherwise fade into feelings and moods, much like the entirety of the first twenty years of my life.
Five years ago today, 3 November 2006, I was living in Cairo. It was the first time I lived with a roommate, the first time I moved fairly autonomously within a life I had designed for myself, and the first time I had ever gone somewhere without really knowing anyone. I add “really” as a qualification, because I sort of knew one person, Dana, who was a classmate. She was in the MA program when I was an undergrad, and I thought she was really, really cool. She was in Cairo for CASA and I was so totally intimidated by her. I saw her a few times during my first couple months in Cairo. She taught me the word saada though that is in no way an appropriate word to describe her.
So, five years ago today, I had an invitation to her Halloween party and a bit of a crush on my friend Jeremy. He had a bit of a crush on all the men of the world, but I’ve never really been capable of choosing straight men for myself. Whatever. I had just gotten back from my trip to Paris, where I had purchased the black coat that is still my favorite. Also, I went to the Louvre. And Versailles. And ate falafel. Jeremy and I dressed up as, if I can recall from the picture, nerds.
I saw, at this party on an upper floor of a Dokki high-rise, one of the best costumes ever (someone dressed up as the Zionist Conspiracy, carrying around the protocols, a hand-made belt of remotes labeled ‘world economy,’ ‘natural disasters,’ etc. across his waist). After the party, Jeremy and I went to Latex with Peter and Edward. This was the only time I ever went to Latex. I don’t think it even exists anymore. It was in the basement of the Nile Hilton, which is the Future Nile Ritz-Carlton now. It was red and claustrophobic, with oily-haired young men lurking in the shadows, probably troubled that I, a lone female, had come into the place with three men, though that didn’t stop them from creeping. We left not long after. I don’t remember what happened to Peter and Edward, but Jeremy and I decided to walk home, across the lion bridge, and we were stopped by a wedding party. November the third that year ended with an impromptu photo shoot, Jeremy and I standing in as the requisite crackers in a two-A.M. editorial with a white, sparkly marshmallow dress (be still my heart) and a motorbike.
Four years ago today, my life had spiraled back to Tucson, Arizona, for my senior year of college. Intent on collecting the three majors I had started, it was a blur of classes (six that fall and an audit), job, thesis, and my reunion with my dear cats. I lived with Nurcin, a charming Turkish engineer who loved the cats as much as I did, and for that, I loved her. She would pray in her room, the prayer rug angled properly, and Neesha the fat tabby would plop herself directly in front of Nurcin, facing qibla, either invalidating Nurcin’s prayer, enhancing it, or getting her own feline Muslima points. Or some of all.
That particular November the third, it was a weekend. I had lunch at La Salsa, a second-rate Mexican chain, and I say second-rate only because why would you go to La Salsa when you can go to Chipotle? We also went to Bookman’s, though my aunt and I go to Bookman’s with enough frequency that I don’t even remember what books I got (though I acquired a book on Ottoman history around this time, and it could be that it came from this visit. Aren’t you glad I told you that?). I can’t believe it, but I went to Blockbuster with my mother and step-father.
Then I drove my mother’s car (mine had exploded into a ruthless, hungry fireball a year ago) and took myself to see the Polyphonic Spree. I had seen them once before, on my brother’s birthday at the 9:30 club in DC with my ex-boyfriend. I knew they were the greatest live act in the world. I didn’t mind going by myself. They played the Rialto and skipped Phoenix. I cried with happiness at that stupid show. I’ve never seen a better musical performance than theirs. I hugged a number of strangers after the show, most of their eyes wet too, maybe not everyone sober like I was, but whatever, samesame.
Three years ago, I was 22. I lived in Doha, now. November the third was a day of drama, the kind that brings to mind “what happens in Doha stays in Doha.” Erin (my soulmate) and I went to school together. Issues. Scenes. Trouble. We had gotten tied up in a mess with a sociopath (like, an actual one, not like how I call most other drivers on the roads sociopaths). Our roommate sided with the sociopath. Erin and I were thrown out by that enemy-siding sociopath. Erin and I were innocent in the whole deal. November the third of this year is fairly representative of the year: wondering what came next, wondering how to deal with the crazy people surrounding us, feeling like Erin and I were the only normal people on the peninsula.
A year later, 2009, I was 23 (my favorite number, but probably only because I read the Illuminatus! Trilogy in 2002). I lived in Cairo again, like when I was 20. I had grown up a little bit. I woke up before 8. Campus was in the desert, not Tahrir. I finished a paper. I had lunch with John and Amanda in her office. I “worked” with John. We had this job where we had to implementize technological interfaces and do our damnedest to avoid using phrases that make any sense. I met with my Arabic tutor, a 45-minute walk from my house in midan Fahmy. From my AAAAAMARA, excuse me.
That apartment holds both good and bad memories for me. Bad: a troublesome roommate, a tiny kitchen, a crack in the exterior wall that let in the cold and dust. Good: a charming bowab who brought me two wooden necklaces from his home in Aswan (one was to be for my roommate, but he decided at the last minute that he didn’t like her, he told me as we sat on his couch in the lobby watching black and white television). Also good: the corner store where I could buy all the tuna and yogurt I wanted to eat (but nothing else, besides juice, which wasn’t ever for me…). Also good: the proximity to Hurreyya, where John and I would sit with a rotating cast of characters as bottles and bottles multiplied on the table. Some days, when I decided I didn’t want to deal with the outside world, I would wake up, walk to Costa through Bab al-Louk, buy a coffee, talk to the old men on the way back, buy some fruit, and do Arabic homework up in my room, watching the sweet potato guy from my window. I like being single enough, but remembering this lifestyle-memory kind of makes me want to share time periods like these with someone.
A short year ago, I was still living in Cairo. Back to living in Cairo. I don’t know. I left for the summer. I moved back to Rehab, the satellite city mentioned here. On November the third of last year, I woke up past one in the afternoon. Sometimes, I remember that semester being a treasure, a moment to breathe in a fast five years, and others I remember being depressed. I walked to Quick 24 to get diet soda, a crutch I used too often in those days. I watched the new Biggest Loser episode. I worked on my thesis proposal, a document which is awfully short for the amount of time, effort, and heart put into it. At least it got all the signatures it needed (one from every faculty member). I sent it off. I watched the Big Bang Theory which Paul had given me. I did a workout video, a scene so embarrassing that I hesitate to even write this sentence. I slept. This was the worst November the third of the bunch.
And today, here I am in Tucson. I ate Chipotle today, not La Salsa. I’m at my dad’s house, waiting for the party rental people to drop off some more glasses for the party tonight. I went to my dad’s party for his new office last night; downtown Tucson came as well. I was so proud I could have cried. I am lying. I did cry. I was tasked with an errand out at Saguaro National Park East yesterday morning. At 9:00a, I drove out the place where my dad had his first office, a tiny closet stuck on the edge of the visitor center of what was then a National Monument. He helped it become a Park, his office moved to the floor above TableTalk, it moved again to Broadway, and then downtown, where they are now, 20 years later.
I don’t have any clever wrap up for this. I could think about it some more. I wonder what I’ll be doing in a year. I think I’ll be living on the east coast for the first time. It’ll be a Saturday, again. Maybe the Polyphonic Spree will be playing.