Whenever I feel upset—in any number of ways—I make shitty tea. I may have mentioned this. It is nearly undrinkable, but I drink it because I know if I pitch it and begin again, the next round will be equally horrible. Usually it is black and boiled, which is fine. It’s just I seem to want it to turn into coffee.
Today it suddenly crossed my mind that I do want to turn it into coffee.
I no longer feel sure if Aisha’s name was really Aisha. I think maybe the person I am remembering was actually Aisha’s friend. Aisha cleaned the hotel and some other places, and she was Annousha’s mom, but this other woman was Aisha’s friend and she did not live at the hotel. She lived nearby.
I think maybe her name was Aliya. Anyway, we can call her that to make things less confusing. It seems to me she was Maghrebi—from Algeria or Morocco or Tunisia.
Coffee was important, and I think part of the comfort of coffee for me is that her house smelled like it. Or, it did much of the time, because I was there and she was brewing up a fresh pot of coffee for a guest whose company she was enjoying. The thing is Arabs boil coffee. The other thing is that the more bitter the occasion, the more bitter the coffee. I read this today online, and I think it is true. I think when Annoushka died, and there might have been others, the coffee was seriously like drinking oil. I suppose I was seven when Annousha died, but you just drink a sip.
So I’m comforting myself, boiling up something I’m confused about but is supposed to be Aliya’s coffee, and I am also remembering the bitterness of those occasions when we marked losses.
The other thing is the Russian girls just kind of died, but these other deaths were marked. They were noted and ritualized and grieved.
I don’t know if the Afghan girls I seem to remember were part of this social circle, but I think they were. I think Aliya knew Aisha, who cleaned, and she also knew the Afghan girls who were being trafficked by Yuri. I think she knew Farzana who was beaten to death by Yuri and Laila whom my dad murdered. I am not confident about this, but I think so. They did not share a common language, but I think they knew each other anyway.
And maybe Aliya was doubly significant because she connected to my trafficked life, but she was not part of it. She was just a person. She was just a neighbour lady, and she was safe. I felt incredibly safe in her apartment. It smelled nice and people didn’t scream, and it was different because people weren’t scared all of the time. The Russian girls loved me, but they were constantly trying to cope with danger. They were scared. I was scared. They were trying to stay safe and trying to keep me safe. Aliya was just living. She was making coffee for her friends, and cooking up homemade pita bread, and complaining to her husband.
She smelled like cloves and oranges and coffee and flour and she was safe. When I was in her house, that was probably the safest I ever felt.
One idea I had today was that I could not cope with her loss because I could not remember it. I mean, remembering her and expressing grief for her loss would have been unacceptable in my parents’ home. She was part of a life that happened, but no one acknowledged. I was not supposed to be attached to her, let alone express sadness about the loss of that attachment.
What has stood in the way of healing after that was the strategy for coping that I was forced to adopt: amnesia. I can’t miss her, so I can’t remember her. But that really makes it more painful. It also makes it really uncertain what is real and what isn’t. It makes the tea cup under the chair uncertain. Is it still there? Does it still exist? I am attached to Aliya—I was—but I could not then later remember how she smelled, what it was like to be in her arms, her voice, what Arabic sounded like. Remembering would have prompted grief—that wasn’t allowed—but it also would have allowed me to understand she once existed, she still existed, she was going to continue to exist. And for the years when she lived there and I saw her regularly, it may have meant I could never let go of the anxiety that she might not really exist. Later, it meant I never had any closure: how do you grieve someone you cannot properly remember?
I have been thinking with C that my own disrupted attachments are a problem. Unless she hates me and never wants to see me again (possibly, she does), they are going to keep being a problem unless I get them a little bit more worked out. The answer isn’t to create distance, but to create more closeness in my own mind. In other words, to remember she exists. I am middle-aged. I ought to know she does, but maybe I don’t. When I feel anxious about her, the answer might be to try to remember her more clearly. How does she smell? How did she feel the last time I touched her? How did she feel at other times? Attachment is sensory. Maybe I need the sensory memory o her, not merely an intellectual one. Maybe the problem isn’t the intensity of my attachment to her, but my anxiety about her continuity.
I was thinking about this last night and today, and it seemed to lead to something else, which has to do with my feelings about my own body. It came to me abruptly yesterday that it is my body. I mean, not my body in the sense of something I have rights to and no one else does, but my body in the sense of being something that can belong to anyone at all. It is not like air, or like a coffee cup in the school kitchen that anybody can use when needed.
I think this is significant. If you are like me, I think there is no sense that the body and mind are in ongoing, intimate communication. There is a sense of disruption. It is my body right now. It is not my body later. Because some sensory experiences are blocked out entirely and others are too overwhelming to integrate, there is a general sense that maybe it is not my body. Or maybe it is not my body all the time. Maybe it is my body only sometimes. The feeling of having a body is ambiguous.
It is possible for the body to feel constant, but like an object: it’s possible just to lack empathy for oneself, because your body is the one telling you about your emotions and you are blocking out those sensations. But it’s also possible just to never develop that sense of continuity and to never feel certain that one’s body is still one’s body or that oneself is still oneself.
I think that’s the other bit of the anxiety: Am I still me? When do I stop being me? Attachments make you aware the other person is constant, but also that you are constant. They know you existed when they did not see you. They are constant. You are constant.
I think sometimes I miss C because I miss me.