If I don’t begin here, I will only remain consumed. This is where I start.
What I know now is that the war is not one, but fifteen. Fifteen years of many different wars, with many different players, for many different reasons. Growing up, it always existed as a singular presence, a specter of sorts. There were little things. Perhaps a complaint on my part, followed by an admonition from elsewhere. At least you don’t have bombs dropping beside your head. How lucky you are to live without war at your door. An explosion so near, the shock prematurely greyed me. Through accumulation, a holding of events not lived.
Like so many narratives, the origin is unclear. Perhaps a strike, a bus, a sniper, a fisherman, a mayor, a Christian, a Muslim. Perhaps a battle for control over history or a bubbling up of sectarian tensions, still unresolved. This western fantasy of the Paris of the Middle East suddenly perverted with bursts of violence. And then more. Days into weeks into months into years. An end in sight, in the beginning, the dream slowly dissipating.
This is mere speculation. The more I read, the less I know.
I knew you were a social worker during the wars, but that’s all I knew. I learned of your work at a convent in the east, primarily serving those of another faith. And as fighting commenced, suddenly to do what you did meant to be mistrusted by both sides: a traitor to some for your faith and sect, a traitor to others for your compassion towards a perceived enemy. Lines becoming further defined, further seared.
I learned of the separation of east and west with a color, green, named for the vegetation that grew in between. And of the checkpoints to inspect identifications, documents that by default listed sect, thus determining fate. You said even a name would give it away. My own, many years later, chosen as neither here nor there.
I learned of the many dead, injured, displaced, and still missing. Of the endless numbers, still not officially accounted for. And I learned of the eventual pardoning of all crimes committed during the wars—a turning of the page to some, a sanctioned amnesia to others.
I also learned that war has life: that life doesn’t pause for fifteen years. I suppose I imagined it did: an entire country stopped in time, stuck in limbo. A naïve relationship to experiences never lived.
As a child, I couldn’t account for your psychic space, of the specificities of the events you held. Nor could I imagine your own inheritance: from war, childhood, your parents, and their parents before. I’ve read of trauma passing through generations: molecular shifts for future kin. I can feel it in me, but I’m sure it’s in you too.
I asked about the bombs dropping nearby, and graying your hair, a tale I remember from childhood. You told me: yes, that happened. It’s as if I remember this image almost as a photograph seen. I know this was only planted within me, though, created through words spoken in passing, further mixed up with television and fiction. A white flash imagined but not viewed—a physical trace left on the body, your body.
What sort of a witness does this make me? Not the one who experiences, nor the one who observes. Yet perhaps also somehow both. Inheriting something akin to a memory, and a looking back with a distanced eye, many years later. A lifelong questioning of how the wars have shaped me. A continual frustration in attempts at naming it.
I see now we are both at least partially formed through violence. No postwar only pauses. No prewar, only moments of ignorance. Forever holding these events, the both of us, in differing ways.
And here: a question of representation, a form unknown. No more images of war, something else. I asked for footage from friends and strangers. I asked for the sun, the sky, the sea. I asked for a voice, immediately familiar, borrowed but not my own. A collaboration of sorts. A stand-in. A shared narrative, still ongoing.
This is not an answer. Nor is it a precise reflection of experience. Rather it’s an attempt at grasping the elusive. A meditation on the after, a sitting in the ripples. As far as I can yet go.