November 20th, 2009 - Rima Rantisi
I sat in the hallway outside my apartment on the fifth floor where I could catch the internet signal from my third-floor neighbors. They had given me the password, because they treated me like family, and having just started my third year in Beirut, I still did not know how to do official things like get a phone line.
I told Kathryn, who was in Chicago, in a feverish all-small-caps message that I couldn’t Skype her because I was in the hallway and if my crazy neighbor heard my echoey voice slide under her door, past her shrine to all the Christian saints I’d get a voice-whipping, and I was scared of her. The first day I had moved into that apartment, she had stood at her doorway as I worked on my computer, peering at me from across the hallway, her face slick with botox, her cigarette smoke swirling around her like a scream.
“Where are you getting the internet from?” she asked.
Without hesitation, I smiled cheekily and said, “You!” even though I had just told myself, don’t tell her! The next day, of course, the net was cut.
Mona’s kids were in the US, one of whom, according to her, was a big-shot Physics professor who never called. Like many people living in Beirut, who survived the war, whose kids had immigrated, who lived precariously in an old-rent building, her nerves were shot. She rarely left her house, but when she did, she would change out of her pajama, blow-dry her hair, put on full make-up and a miniskirt and would head, usually, to the grocery store. If she heard the click of my door opening in the morning, she would open hers and invite me in to read dream interpretations and coffee cups. She’d light a Marlboro red, offer me one, and pull the dream book out from under her chair cushion. I would read her coffee cup; she would read me the dream book.
What Mona didn’t know was that on my own time, I was regularly reading Astrologyzone.com and asking the goddesses of the tarot for answers. Like her, tapping into my future meant something to look forward to. I had just started a new decade, thirty. The specter of a future was upon me, real life could begin at any time. It was the last decade I would be young, and it was when, so I was told, I would know more about myself than ever. I was intent on, as they say, making something of myself. As if myself wasn’t a thing yet.
As if always sitting in a dim hallway, waiting for a connection.
At forty, life suddenly rolled in from my thirties, which started with running a marathon because I wanted to feel powerful and that I could survive my most recent breakup. I started a blog and a journal and later got another writing degree because I wanted to be a writer. I took a guy seriously and married him and had a baby and started a family because it felt right. I put concerted efforts into my friendships because some were far and some were new, and I needed them. I sent my nephews books over the years because I wanted them to love reading. I traveled to more and more countries because it’s what I always wanted to do. I spent long summers with my family because I wanted to remain close to them and be home. I became politically active because I was desperate for a change in the country. I learned to count to three before speaking because I didn’t want to give myself away all the time.
At forty, I am in the future. I write from my office at home, where I live with my family and always have internet connection from the comfort of my couch. My body is beat. I am taking a break from the outside world, where Lebanon has been in the midst of a revolution for exactly a month. It’s been more than forty years of the same warlords in power and the rot festering in its deep cracks has been splayed out. The most repeated phrase of the past month has been “There is no turning back.” There is a people’s power on the street that has been building itself for years. The change seems sudden, but it was all those years that mattered. And what about the future of the revolution? Who knows, but it feels like it’s now.
Rima Rantisi is an Instructor of Academic and Creative Writing for the Department of English at the American University of Beirut. She is editor of the Rusted Radishes: Beirut Literary and Art Journal. She earned her MFA in Writing, Vermont College of Fine Arts.