I drive two hours to grieve a person I have never met, and my grief is a country without borders.
Editors’ Note: The following essay by AMA is part of the notebook I Want Sky, a collection of essays, poems, fiction, and hybrid work honoring Sarah Hegazy’s one irreplaceable life, and the lives of all LGBTQ+ Arabs and people of the SWANA region and its diaspora, and, too often, the risk inherent in their visibility. Edited by Mariam Bazeed and published as a part of a partnership with Mizna, the notebook will also be available as a print issue, released this summer. Continue reading work published in this series here.
I learn/learned/am learning about Sarah Hegazi’s death—her murder guised as suicide—as I walk/walked/am walking the neighborhoods of my small town in northern California. I begin to grieve/grieved/am grieving alongside olive trees, alongside anything that will root me, the loneliness of distance crippling.
I attempt to read articles and comments in Arabic and I mispronounce/mispronounced/am mispronouncing everything, including my name. My name shares its root with rawaa and I am quenched, am body of water; my body shares a root vegetable at the table and I am beat; the restaurant shares halloumi and I dream in Arabic of salt, drink gallons of water, but the ocean stays the ocean and once again I wake/am a wake in English.
I am past tense—over it. 2020’s instruction is rinse and repeat; same song on shuffle; time molds/molded/is molding into mere suggestion, tense becomes a state of being. I am six and sixteen, twenty-two and ten, thirty-two and counting. I am all the ways I have said no. I sink into a bean bag, and, sandwiched by the edges, they become my mother’s frown lines. I am deep in the troughs of her skin.
I get into my car and drive into the city—the N-95 hugging my face as I arrive/arrived/am arriving at Sarah’s vigil. I mourn/mourned/am mourning every morning of this pandemic every morning. I drive two hours to grieve a person I have never met, and my grief is a country without borders. Mama calls me and I tell her/told her/will tell her about the vigil, about Sarah, and mama invents/invented/is inventing a border, herself the agent; she leafs through my passport, debating whether to admit
before either of us hangs up.
I smoke my first cigarette on the rooftop of a parking structure in Ann Arbor. I am seventeen and “independent.” Five years later, a girl I love kisses me and the denial lodges itself in my throat, blocks/blocked/is blocking every word I utter for the next ten years. At twenty-four, I propose to her, the two of us laying and lying in bed; I have fashioned a ring out of crumpled/crumpling paper. It is biodegradable.
I come out to mama and she states I have ruined her life
I come to mama ruin her
I, to mama have life
I come to mama
I live the life I imagine for myself
I live life, imagine!
I for myself
I imagine myself living
Erasure // Eraser // Erase her
This is an experimental piece: I experiment in diction, in kitchen, in bedroom, with drugs. I experiment with scenarios, with time, and again in the kitchen, this time with thyme:
Even za3tar is political.
Exhibit a: in my “liberal” new town, I am on a date. The local Mediterranean restaurant receives rave reviews. The menu notes laban, za3tar, notes halloumi, notes israeli appetizer; OOPS—one of these things is experiment // eraser // occupying state on plate—OOPS, I am no longer my date’s preferred dining partner. Who wants to think about death when you can just dipdipdip
In 2021, I begin to ask myself whether the coming out narrative has colonized me; whether the imperialist west has plopped into my synaptic clefts, whether it really needs to be this difficult; what if we integrated our queerness like we did our numerals, every 3 becoming a 3ayn? Or is this closet a comfortable coffin, burying us next to our mothers?
I think/thought/am thinking of Sarah often. Of her joy in that photo and the trauma that followed. I think of the police states of our homes, ancestral and present; cells inside prisons, cells in our bodies—those housing mitochondria, those housing the incarcerated. I think of the prison industrial complex, of the cruelty of solitary confinement, of the amount of learning and unlearning that lay before us, massive. I think of Sarah’s generosity—how willing she is/was to forgive, despite the cruel world, despite all of it.
and so, I read Muñoz and begin to imagine/have imagined/am imagining a queer utopia:
I befriend a group of Arab Queers and we channel Sarah, begin to unite/united/are uniting in her memory and honor. There is no explaining here. We begin to queer time: we have just met and I have known them since childhood. Baghdad was never bombed. Beirut never exploded. Our children run / or maybe we run / away from nothing / only towards joy. There are no viral particles looming in the air, only shisha smoke wafting out from the café. There are no/were no/will be no masks, literal and otherwise. and we are productive in the only way that matters: we build love. we built love. we are building love.
we are/we have been/we will always be here.
we are we
we are will
we are always