Losing yourself: a blessing or a curse?

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For six months, war has confronted me, surprised by the weird shape I have become and asking me about my identity. I stand still and don’t know what to answer.

I told a friend of mine that for six months my identity has been floating in a space of uncertainty. They told me to start from the second I felt my consciousness flying away and to follow that thread, because it will guide me to myself. This is the moment I decided to go back inside the storm to look for my lost self.

Smoke in the sky of Gaza City and in the foreground where the days of war are recorded with hatchmarks on the balcony wall.
View of Gaza City from the writer’s balcony just before her family’s first evacuation; the sky is dark from the smoke of air raids. The family had been counting the days of the war, with hopes that it would not last long. Photo: Eva Abu Mariam

While diving into my memories, I looked for my face among the faces of the 24 relatives with whom I sought refuge in a two-story building, the faces of the friends who welcomed my family into their homes, and the faces of my siblings and parents who had enough time to get out of our home with a healthy body but didn’t have enough time to take their hearts with them, so they left them there to protect the destroyed walls from the cold of winter.

I dived into my memories, looking for my face among the faces of all the people who had experienced with me the feelings of instability, feelings of not belonging and disappointments, back when hopes were either getting higher or crashing to the ground. But even when our hopes rose, they tended to fall in the end, and the higher our hopes got, the more intense their fall became.

It took me a while but finally I found my face in my memories, and slowly I started experiencing again all the feelings I had gone through, as if time were a lie and the days hadn’t really passed. Moreover, I started regaining my vocabulary which came out trembling from my throat.

On Oct. 10, our house was destroyed in an air raid. That took only five seconds of time and enough indifference to turn our “home” into rubble. All its memories live on now only in our minds. Would a man be afraid of madness for no other reason than that he is afraid of losing his memories?

On Oct.14, we heard that the occupation forces had decided to make a new border cutting the city into two halves and forcing Palestinians who live in the northern part of the Gaza valley to leave their homes and move into the southern part. As a result, you don’t need to leave your city to feel like an expatriate. Now, you are considered to be an expatriate in your own home city.

We were on our way to cross the valley to reach the southern side protected by nothing but prayers, when we heard the terrifying noise of drones and air strikes. We felt as if the lungs of the world had consumed all the oxygen and drained it from our lungs. All of a sudden, the bodies of young children turned into the bodies of old people. As we crossed the valley to reach the southern side, my parents were, with trembling hands, handing our lives over from one unknown fate to another. There was no coming back.

The writer’s current “home,” which they share with their pet cat, Sol. Photo: Eva Abu Mariam

On Oct. 22, I received news of the martyrdom of a friend. My aunt tried to comfort me by telling me that they are alive now with God. “Imagine them looking down at you from above and smiling at you,” she said.

One day, I stood on the balcony, looking up at the sky, and I remembered how I had hugged that martyred friend in their moments of grief. “After all this time, they still remember that hug!” I thought. On that balcony, my friend who is alive now with God had returned that hug to me.

On Jan. 4, in frosty weather, we were forcibly displaced from the south of the Gaza valley to the southernmost part of Gaza, without any clear destination. And, for the third time, we found ourselves again without walls to lean on. We were exhausted from the enormity of the fatigue that had settled in our frozen limbs and fragile bones.

Later, tears permeated our days. Tears from the depth of our subconscious, foggy crying, whose causes we couldn’t explain. Neither could we specifically characterize the feeling that was overwhelming us. Fatigue crept into our minds, dyeing all feeling with a mysterious, dull, and depressing grey.

In war, your individuality dissipates into the group, since war is enough of a reason for you to call your old friends, checking up in their safety, and to comfort your annoying little cousin who is afraid of bombs. Fear brings people together in order to create a sense of safety.

Going through all that all over again, I realized that not being able to find myself was not my real fear. Not being able to recognize the new version of myself with the scarred body and the aura of doubt that surrounds me, was.

After all that I have gone through, I just ask myself: As a Gazan, does losing yourself count as a blessing or a curse?

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