The first secret came in pieces—blood gushing from my mother’s nose, my father leaving in the morning to buy cigarettes and returning six months later, the never-ending line of police officers, the eviction notices. “Don’t tell your teachers the power is out.” “Don’t tell your friends your father is gone.” “Don’t tell anyone that we’re on welfare.” My stomach shrieking for food during lunchtime, my limbs growing out of last year’s clothes, the holes in my shoes, all of it felt like betrayal—everyone around me could smell my father’s love for the slots and horse races on my skin. I started to curve the letters of my name as they slipped off my tongue, so they sounded more English than Arabic, a lifelong attempt to cleanse myself of my father’s DNA; as if all of Lebanon was to blame for my misfortune and maybe, just maybe, if I destroyed the roots, I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps. The second secret was not meant for me, but I heard it whispered in the dark. My mother’s voice breaking as she relived the adoption of her firstborn whose name I would one day hear my father spit in her face like venom. I wonder about the exact moment she snapped inside; when everything shifted, and she became nothing more than a trail of cigarette ashes and unfilled lithium prescriptions. This is how the women in my family have lived for centuries—backs arched, palms raised to the sky, lips stitched together, hearts full of unrequited love. I learned from a young age to allow my body to be beaten and shaped by the cement fists of men. The third secret I hid behind locks. A nine-year-old scribbling down her desire to die in a pink diary with a feather pen. My hands shaking as I pressed a kitchen knife to my chest, my body daring itself to end. The entire bottle of Tylenol I swallowed as a final attempt, only to unconsciously vomit my escape up in the middle of the night. The cuts that broke my skin but were never deep enough to scar, unlike my sister’s soft body—a visible war zone, dissected at the arms and legs with pink, fleshy ridges.
The fourth secret was lost between the fifth and the eighth and the twelfth. The tattoos, the drugs, the envelopes of money my brothers pried from my hands, the girlfriend who turned into just a friend when my father walked into the room, my sister’s stash of razor blades, the way my feet edged toward the tracks when the train snaked around the corner, my mother’s hospital trips, the blood in her urine, the day she found her own mother unconscious on the bathroom floor. These words.