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Indefinite Hiatus

Illustrated by Lee El Sayed

I’m not sure how or when I started to feel like I was suffocating, and why this feeling kept at tightening its grip on my throat.
I open my eyes and I lie in bed a little longer. I don’t need an alarm to wake me up. Sometimes I oversleep, but it doesn’t matter. I sit up and can’t but see the pile of clothes that I started throwing on my desk chair on Monday, or maybe Tuesday, I don’t remember. Finding that matching pair of socks is like a treasure hunt, but not the fun kind. I like the slow mornings; I make my breakfast and turn on the coffee maker. I hold my laptop like a waiter would carry his tray with the empty glasses and drag my feet towards the firm brick-colored couch with one too many cushions. Laptop on, I lean back and cross my legs on the coffee table, and Lord knows if I’ll ever be able to get up and go to my work desk, that old round dining table sitting in what now seems like a storage room. I start working, but just for five minutes before my hand stretches out of its own accord and reaches my phone. There must be something amusing about the woefulness of the news that keeps me coming back, scrolling endlessly, and scavenging for the next big apocalypse casually strewn between memes and ads. I muster the strength to focus again, but then my neighbor’s toddler decides to throw a tantrum. Just perfect. Sometimes, I feel like I’m living with a 2-year-old whose hidden talent is to cry through the walls. I’m fidgeting, I can’t sit still, so I roam the empty apartment to and fro. I gaze at the same old nooks and crannies, the paint peelings, the lopsided frame on the wall with some random sunflower meadow. They’re all out of focus, even when I strain my eyes to make them out.
It’s quiet. Not too quiet, though; Beirut’s hustle and bustle is one balcony door away. I revel in solitude; it liberates me. I would stare at the ceiling for half an hour like it’s nobody’s business. It’s my safe haven. Yet, this doesn’t mean I never hit stumbling blocks. At times, the bright colors would start to fade. I would feel crippled by my desk chair, as if someone had yanked out the wheels and I vehemently hit the hard solid ground with nothing to cushion my fall. It wasn’t supposed to feel this way. My haven, this apartment where I’ve lived all my life and which I fought to keep despite weeks of grumbling and arguing, has now turned into another prison.
I decided to quit my job and work from home a few months before everyone started doing it. They all caught up with me eventually, but what I did was an unsung step, even uncared for, until I became the trailblazer, and everyone started jumping onboard. I groped my way out of the dark but not without a few hard bruises. It’s all water under the bridge now, but those first two months were disorienting, like trying to sidestep your way around this enormous puddle of quicksand, when you know damn well that there’s no escaping it. Come what may, you will wind up ruining those spotless white shoes of yours. I don’t regret my decision, it was hands down the best decision I ever made, but I had to pay my dues. For a whole year, I wasn’t feeling like myself, and I knew no one would notice. I hide it so well. I played the part so brilliantly, even the mirrors had trouble recognizing me. It was like someone had messed with the back support of my life, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I knew I had to do something before I push myself into that delicious abyss of sweet comfort and lose my voice in a bottomless pit of Yes Man.
I admit, not having to worry about rent or running short on cash sometime before next week seems like a fortunate little life story. And I never allow myself to take it for granted. Yet, it feels like the same vinyl record has been playing for ten years straight. The song sounds like a screech, but it’s been on repeat for so long that by now you know it inside out, it’s like you even wrote the damn thing. Just when I thought I was finally grabbing hold of my own life and calling the shots, a compelling force backed with conspiracies of bat soup and figments of shimmery reforms dealt me a hard blow. I was time-locked in my shell again, only this time, there was a little more room to breathe.
And so, I crawled back into the rabbit hole, half-expecting to find Wonderland, but there was no “Drink me” potion, no mystical creatures, nothing but dingy doors and windows. Weeks passed then turned into months; everything remained stubbornly the same. I tried to label my new-found freedom as my own and move some things around the house, but I soon realized that nothing felt like mine to move; it wasn’t my kitchen, it wasn’t even my living room, the bedroom felt only mine in part. It was split in half by a thick invisible separator and the extra bed, closet and desk on the other side were all off limits, yet always in the way. Here nothing could possibly budge an inch. The only solace I found was in a couple of potted plants I had brought in to my bedroom balcony. These small green things were clearly a misfit amid their dull concrete surrounding. I made it a point to tend to them every morning, bidding them hellos and good nights, pushing the pots in and out of the shade, but oddly enough they hardly seemed to grow. Stunted, the tiny leaves were mocking me and laughing at my hopeless attempts. So, I reclaimed my seat under Godot’s tree, and I wasn’t sure what or who to wait for. But I kept on waiting and casting metaphors to make sense of who I am: a bird in a cage with the door ajar, a small green-leafed plant that wouldn’t grow and my mud doesn’t seem to dry.
It’s not like everyone else was having a bubbly life at the moment. But I couldn’t help thinking I was singled out and held back, while the rest went about their day. Beirut surely did not make it any easier. It was wild and thundering, a full-on storm before the machine beeping stops. Somehow, it was getting smaller, and I was shrinking with it. I couldn’t tell if what I felt was sympathy pain for my beloved Beirut, or whether the city was wickedly conspiring against me.
The days went by in languid motion. All my aspirations started dwindling rapidly into tiny ever-distant stars, only ripped of their twinkling. The most terrifying thing about monotony is that you become so comfortable in it you’re reluctant to break loose. I don’t know how I convinced myself that my hands were tied, that I had to wait idly for the plot to change. So, I roamed the apartment still, gazed at the walls, and rued the day my neighbors decided to move in next door. But when I went on to water my plants, I was caught off guard by what was there in one of the pots. One tiny pup was growing off the base, hiding behind one of the bigger leaves. I knew from the size of it that it had been there for a while but loved to play hide and seek. In no more than a few seconds, the whole punchline changed, and I suddenly couldn’t remember what’s been making me so miserable all along.