Indeed, this is our seventeenth day in Washington DC and exile couldn’t smell or taste any sweeter. But this is only “me” talking – I who logs my exile around like a cross, a simultaneously cherished and reviled possession.
For Khawla, too, exile is a cross. To her, I am a cross, it seems. Years ago, when we first met, I doubt she knew that one day she would have to pay this price for our love. I hope it was worth it. I hope I was worth it. I know I have to spend the rest of my life showing her that it/I was worth it. But that is not too much of a cross really. It feels more like the natural commitment that comes with marriage, especially one between fellow heretics who happen to be crazy about one other.
For Mouhanad, the exile is a welcome change from the daily routine of alienation that he felt in the Syrian schools and streets. He is happy, then, and his happiness far outweighs his anxiousness about his impending experience with the Montgomery County Public School System.
Ola, on the other and, being the one the one who had to suffer the most by the relocation, having left a boyfriend behind and all that, is not a happy camper. But her anguish is making her behave more like a child than a rebel at this stage, like all pampered twenty- year-old cutie-pies she can still afford to behave as though she were twelve. Good. There is simply plenty of time for that other form of rebelliousness that takes kids out of their parent’s warm laps and shoves them into the real world.
So, exile in DC. Well, in Silver Spring, Maryland, really. What can I say? This does indeed feel like a dream, albeit one mired with angst. In our search to settle down as rapidly as we can, and in our attempt to soften the shock of exile and separation from our mothers, brothers, and friends (for the fathers are safely dead, or, in Khawla’s case, presumed to be), we have managed to spend exactly 82.3% of our life-savings so far. But, we ended up having a rather nice apartment. Just knock neighbors.
No, there is no Van Gogh in the living anymore, but, there is still a sense of a rather befitting luxury in the air. Indeed, we might have to shop at the Giants, Safeways and Targets of the world, but, damn it, we will never comprise our lifestyle.
Ah, who am I kidding? We never had a Van Gogh, though yes, being the son of so-and-so, the famous actress, meant (more by necessity than by choice really), that we did have occasional excursions into the brand-name stores, restaurants, hotels and resorts of the world. But, believe me, I and the rest of the family, my Mom included, would rather push a shopping cart at a Giant than commiserate with the decrepit aristocracy of the fucked-up police-state that Syria has become at the hands of the Baathniks
(Too bad the mothers couldn’t come with us though. Like all 60-somethings I guess, uprootment is not an acceptable option, if it can be helped. For them, it can.)
Albeit, one has to admit, and seeing that some of our best friends happen to be members of this “decrepit” aristocracy, and that we have had taken ample advantage in our lives of this “connection” and “belonging,” a certain nostalgia will forever color our memories of life in Syria, and will, in addition to the magnet presence of family and friends, periodically drag us back there for a few weeks of refreshing flirtation, provided the country holds together of course, a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely at this stage.
Indeed, we might just have left in the nick of time. But for what? To live in safety while our friends and loved-ones perish? Oh damn, too weeks into exile and here I am already falling victim to the kind of guilt that survivors of impending mayhem have to go through. It’s too early for that. The country is still there. And so is the damn regime. Let me enjoy for a little while longer this calm before the storm.
We still have 17.7% of our life-savings left, so I am going shopping. Marshmallows anyone?