A Year Away From Syria

Screenshot from video on the "Art of Syrian Children on Nat Mall" gofundme page.

Screenshot from video on the “Art of Syrian Children on Nat Mall” gofundme page.

This post is part of a special series of articles by blogger and activist Marcell Shehwaro, describing the realities of life in Syria during the ongoing armed conflict between forces loyal to the current regime, and those seeking to oust it. 

“I should have cried.” This is the only thing that goes through my head over and over again when I remember the little girl that was torn into pieces.

I don't know anything about her, and from her remains I couldn’t guess her age, but I do remember how I stood there, distraught. I didn't wail as they were gathering the pieces of her. I didn't try to help, I didn’t do anything, not a thing. My “stupid” body was insisting on holding things together, on acting “rationally”. Who among us can define what “rational” means, standing before a dead girl's body? And I held it together. I didn't offer any dramatic reaction, of the kind I was famous for among my friends. In fact, someone crying in the background really annoyed me. Who dares to be sad in such a situation, I told myself? The only destiny of those who remain there is resilience.

I should have cried then, but maybe today I am more resilient. This is what I repeat to myself whenever the girl haunts me in my dreams, in my moments of joy, in my arguments about the future with the one I love. The future? What happened to her future?

It has been a year since I left Syria, maybe for good. A year of denial, guilt, grief and surrender. Nothing of the hero is left in me. Every part of me that my body was trying to retain in order to make it through the war and under the barrel bombs I left there, for those who might need it, and I totally crashed beneath what science would call “shock”.

I don't know how sick of me it is to say this, but I was genuinely better off there, closer to death. Joy was an act of heroism, a blunt challenge in the face of death, while here joy turns into loads of guilt and the unreal rumination of stories that used to matter with the same friends with whom we shared life on the edge of death.

Today we moved into living denial on the edge of our homeland, the denial that we are actually out. Moving on was the only life there on the “inside”. Our presence there was heroic, inspiring, important, and we each thought that the fate of the entire country depended on us. We departed and left our country with no support. Outside we acted as heroes, but this role was no longer suitable for us after we'd uprooted ourselves from there, from occupied Aleppo and the various houses. But we insisted we still looked like heroes. We were afraid of telling those who died that today, we are merely victims.

I didn't write anything of significance for an entire year. I watched tonnes of meaningless television—I binge-watched all the seasons of Glee. That was the beginning that didn't have the usual ending. The shadow of death accompanied me for too long.

I imagine my loved one dying in all the possible violent ways. I caress what is left of his body after being hit by a shell on New Year's eve, and I imagine if I had really lost him then. His presence right next to me is not enough to ease my deep sense of loss. It was enough for him simply to go to another place for me to imagine the worst and start obsessing. If I didn't hear him breathe while asleep I'd remember all those corpses that forgot how to breathe.

The shadow of death accompanied me, as well as obsessions with suicide and the desire to follow those friends who had left us. I look around me and I see so many heroes in my life slowly turning into ghosts burdened with worry. We have coexisted with all sorts of destructive behaviors, from workaholism to alcoholism and other addictions. As for me, I became addicted to the painful sense of guilt which frequently translated into wounds on my own hands, of which the scars are still visible on my left wrist. When asked about the scars, I lie. I lie because I don't admit that the hero is gone, maybe never to return, and was replaced by this new victim.

Imagine not believing in anything anymore. Not the good or the bad of the human being, not the universe or its justice. Freedom is a right that you wonder everyday if it was really worth all this blood. Did the world become civil? Can we really drive change? Is the democracy that we dream of less important than we initially thought?

Is it true that people really cannot make change if the dollar doesn’t want it to happen? None of the things you used to believe in are close to you; none of the people who used to know who you really are near you any more. Your family is gone and everything around you is strange and new and you have to adapt to it, even to your new self.

And my friend at Global Voices sends me messages asking: Why aren't you writing? And I'm ashamed to tell her that I quit writing. I left it there with everything else.

However, and since I decided to seek help, I confess today—and for the first time publicly—that I regularly take antidepressants these days. I chase away all thoughts of death, to the extent that a Syrian possibly can. I'm reconnecting with friends and I'm embracing the victim that is me. I pity her, love her, pray for her to gain strength and patience, and most importantly to gain forgiveness.

I try to sort the pieces of me back into place, hoping that in doing so I'll remember where my fingers were, so I can write again.


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