If it were only possible for thunder to rumble on a hot day in August, maybe I could have been able to pretend like it wasn’t real. But the weather in Lebanon did not help, and neither did the sound of slamming doors and shattered glass that followed. Living 40 kms away from Beirut did not help either. More than a year later and fires still erupt in my sleep. Grey and black clouds of smoke still crawl into my room and twirl and make all kinds of shapes, always winding up with the same mushroom cloud.
I’ll tell whoever would ask that I can live with those nightmares. The sedated Lebanese spirit within me would tell you, “Elhamdella, at least I can always wake up after.” But you can never wake up from constant reminders that conquer your wakefulness: the sound of a door slamming, the flicker of a light, the sound of a rumbling aircraft…
Those aircrafts had passed over Saida in the afternoon of that day.
“What do they want now?” I had mumbled nonchalantly, seemingly unbothered by something that I had grown used to. I was six years old when I first heard an Israeli war aircraft, and at 20, they seemed as normal as the birdsongs outside our kitchen window.
Our survival instinct can no longer afford such a low level of vigilance. A few months after the explosion, my vigilance led me to flee an ice-cream shop after a car caught fire across the street. It all happened in split seconds. Over-alert nostrils caught the scent of fire, watchful eyes scanned the area for a flicker of light, and primed legs raced to the car. Our PTSD sent messages over to our family groups on WhatsApp telling them to avoid passing through that street. I closed my eyes as my sister drove us home, and I waited, but the only sound of an explosion that I could hear was a familiar one in my head, followed by slamming doors and shattered glass.
As a child, I would play a game with my neighbor where we’d both open our houses’ doors on windy days and sit in the small corridor between them. The open doors would face each other, and we’d wait expectantly; the person whose door would slam shut first would win, and the sound of slamming doors always mingled with our excited voices and laughs. Mama would always scold us for the loud noise we’d make. She’d shake her head and tell us to stop lest the neighbors get annoyed. On one particular windy day, we learned to never play this game when Teta was staying at our house. Ever the quiet and collected person, I could not understand the reason for her anger at the sound of the door shutting. Looking at it in retrospect, Teta lived through the civil war and several other Lebanese-Israeli wars, when many doors must have been heard shutting.
A few days after the explosion, my dad bought tens of door holders to prevent the doors from shutting because of the wind, and I can’t imagine a house without them now.
The problem is, I can’t imagine a life where every slamming door, every flicker of light, and every passing aircraft is not a specific date and time…a potential August 4th.