“We will make you recite, [O Muhammad], and you will not forget”
I got in the car and started driving back home. I had spent the weekend with someone close to my heart, and I suddenly felt the urge to think through everything that I had done and felt over the past year. I am detail-oriented, and the most random, and perhaps odd, things are the ones that stick to my memory.
One of my earliest memories is when I started journaling. I was about six years old, and my step-mother had bought me this pink and purple diary that had flowers in the cover and pink preprinting in each page. I still remember the smell of the new paper and the cute little pen that came with it. It did not have a lock, which did not matter much when I was seven, but became a prerequisite when I was a teenager.
I have been always very particular about my journals. At the end of the day they are the places where my most sacred memories and thoughts are kept. If the lining, the colour, the scent and the preprinting do not feel right, I cannot write. I have also gone through different journaling styles. When I was younger I was obsessed with titles, so every entry had one. When I was a teenager I started colour-coding my entries according to my mood: pink for love, black for anger, blue for peacefulness…
For the past 20 years I have been journaling but, beyond that, I have been writing. I started writing stories when I was about six years old. By 13 I had written a short novel and several collections of poems. Whereas at some point I thought about making a career out of it, writing has always been therapeutic for me. I do not talk things through… I usually write about them. That may also explain my love for texting and my aversion to phone calls.
Further, writing is the place that allows me to freeze time, to frame memories and people in particular settings. Every important person in my life has been in my journals, from boyfriends to family and friends. I am one of those people who can probably tell you why we fought when we were ten years old (only my side of the story, of course).
When he died I was left with little snippets of his presence everywhere. After hearing the news, I made my way to my apartment. I still had my engagement ring on and a number of things around me had his presence all over. My recipe box was a gift from him and has his writing inside… my baking dictionary was another present, and it has a letter from him in the first page… my black tea box was his… the stuffed bunny that sits on my bookshelf was the first gift he ever gave me before discovering I hate stuffed animals…
When I arrived to my parent’s home, his presence was even more obvious. He left behind a number of things under the assumption that he would be back to Canada in a year and a half. Upon opening the boxes I found, among other things, picture albums, notebooks where we had planned our cross-Canada trip and all my letters. Our letters, sadly, are the only written record I have of our relationship. I stopped journaling when I moved to Canada.
It was not intentional… it just happened. After the move I was trying to sort my feelings out. I did not know how I felt about living in the West and about been an immigrant woman of colour. My brain was still confused between Spanish and English, and my writing in both languages started to suffer because of the linguistic confusion.
After meeting him, I also hesitated… things were so new, so different… I was not sure how or what to write about them. I did not want my journals to read like a Jean Sasson novel just because I was not sure what being in a relationship with a Saudi would be like. So I dropped the writing… No more journaling and no more stories or poems… not until I felt I could do justice to all these processes.
“I am afraid that one day I will do something, and you will end up hating Islam because of me…”
“Promise me that we will always be together…”
“It does not matter where I am, I never forget you…”
“Remember me in the difficult times as much as you love me and remember me in the easy ones…”
I sat in my parent’s balcony frustrated and tired. I had just realized that eight years of memories were gone. It is difficult to explain… Even now, I only have access to small flashbacks of my life with him. Nothing coherent enough to tell the story of a relationship.
The day he passed away was the day I started journaling again. I needed to record the blurriness of the experience. It is a very short and disjointed entry explaining that he died and that I was with my parents feeling disoriented. I spent the next few days trying to reconstruct the timeline of the relationship. I went through our letters, our messages (the ones that had survived after several moves and phone changes) and our emails in an attempt to hold on to the few figments of him that I have in writing. The process is still ongoing.
But when I close my eyes, I cannot replay the memory. It is blocked. I close my eyes and, aside from a few evocations, everything is dark.
Muslims praise good memory. It is a gift. Good memory is what allows people to become huffaz, and it is pretty much the source of ahadith. Prophet Muhammad is also admired for his memory and, in fact, the Qur’an speaks to how he was commanded to memorize that which Allah made available to him… memory is, thus, the source of the revelation.
Then, I wonder, what does it mean for me to have a memory gap of eight years?
Does it mean that I also have a breach of such years with the divine? Does it mean I have failed to hold on to that which Allah made available to me? Does it mean that the few flashbacks I can evoke will slowly continue to disappear?
I want to desperately hold on to the very few things I can visualize about him… but the scents, the touch, the images and the words continue to get hazy…
I kept driving through the sunset. It is fall so days are shorter. I replayed the weekend in my head over and over again. I wanted to make sure every detail was ingrained in my memory… the recipe testing for the cake I baked, the gift hunting, the research, the planning, the guessing, the excitement, the anticipation, the fulfillment of seeing each other, the conversations…
I am not willing to let more memories go… it is like losing a part of myself…
Ironically enough, it is those moments of new experiences and fresh feelings that trigger recollections and more writing… possibly that is the key to my old memories, the healing and the moving on… Perhaps they are stored safely where they can only be accessed from a happy place rather than the havoc that drives my craze for flashbacks…
I certainly hope so.