The Syrians have shelled our neighborhood for three days.
After the fighting we return to our apartment to find the windows shattered as usual. I want to sweep up the glass so I go to the kitchen to get my apron and broom. The apron, a long fuchsia one coated with plastic, hangs on its hook behind the kitchen door. As I reach for it I notice a hole in the middle. I put my finger through the hole and into the splintered wood of the oak door. On the floor nearby, mangled and hardly looking like a bullet at all, lies a three-inch machine gun slug. Across the room I find a round hole in the left hand corner of the window. The bullet ricocheted off the white tile in front of the sink and passed through my apron and the door before falling alongside our daughter’s Barbie kitchen set. Nayla often plays there with her pans and utensils spread around her, imitating me as I cook. Our son Naim pushes past me and picks up the bullet, saying, “For my collection!”
I walk to the window and poke my index finger through the hole. In my imagination I can see the bullet entering my back as I stand at the sink. I can feel myself lying on the kitchen floor unable to move, gasping for air, and I can hear the screams of my family gradually fading around me.
My husband slips his hand around my waist to steady me. He does not need to say a word. I know he is thinking the same thing: once again, we were lucky.
And still there is no talk of leaving Beirut.
I now live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where aprons hang safely on hooks and bullets rarely shatter kitchen doors. I returned to American in 1984, eight years into Beirut’s civil war. While I have come to appreciate the tranquil country living of Wisconsin, after thirty years I still anticipate my bi-annual trips to Beirut with the eagerness of a woman about to visit her charming old lover. And I am never disappointed. I delight in the city’s warm embrace. I delight in walking the streets, looking at sights and listening to the sounds of a community rebuilding itself. I love the dinner parties, the elegant lunches with friends at a newly renovated Phoenicia Hotel and catching up on the local gossip over great food and local wines. I always intended to move back to Beirut and grow old alongside these same friends. But after all the years in Eau Claire it is hard to imagine going back to a city which has been stalled in its development by fifteen years of civil war.
The Beirut I carry in my heart is the prosperous city of the late sixties-early seventies with its mansions, city parks, ancient souks, its bougainvillea, wisteria, its eucalyptus-lined boulevards—a place that no longer exists.
It was devastating to leave Beirut. The city had worked its way into my soul as great lovers do. Of course what I mean by the city is the people, the culture, the history, and the gracious Lebanese way of doing things. After all this time my heart still beats to the daily rhythms of vibrant, chaotic Beirut. I tell people I cannot help myself but the truth is I do not want to let it go.
This book is available for purchase here.