We usually forget months and even entire years of our lives, but there are some moments, some nights, that can never fade away from our memories.
I always say I have a very bad memory. Could it be my brain’s way of defending itself against grief?
On the other hand, I had a very close friend who was with me during everything, or so I thought. He was supposed to be the closest friend of all. The story of this friend is the strangest of them all. It resembles a story of a person who lives with his grandmother and goes to her room every day to say good morning while she sits in her chair, face to the fireplace, and back to the door, only to discover one day that she had been dead for years and he never knew. This is the story of the friend who I thought was with me during all tough times, and supported me when no one else did. I thought he listened to my every suppressed cry of misery and knew more than anyone what I was going through. Sometimes I thought he was the only person in the world who loved me and accepted me. Only to find out one day that he was never there –no one was ever there- and I was all alone and yet managed to survive somehow.
This was my story with the religion. I’m not going to explain here how and why I woke up from the darkness of religion for good, and became a non-believer , but what I want to mention is how that transition affected me, and how it relates to my feeling of loneliness. To me the realization that I was living a lie and that I had been deceived for my whole life was bitter on its own. But that realization was accompanied by another more personal one: I am alone, and I always have been. I was depressed for weeks, and was in real shock. Maybe if Diana wasn’t in my life back then, I wouldn’t have made it. I didn’t tell her about it, until after months, when she sort of suspected it on her own, but definitely having a close friend in my life played a great role in mitigating the effect, even if I wasn’t entirely open to her.
I still feel the emptiness in me that has never been filled for it was only filled by illusions and lies. At that time I had succeeded in getting a new job, the first job in my life. And although it was one of the most important points in my career, I almost lost everything because of my depression.
As if all that wasn’t enough, another feeling that accompanied that grief was the increasing feeling of insecurity. On one hand, being an atheist in a very religious country means instant social death. And on the other hand, it’s illegal and people get sent to prison or even killed for it. If you’ve been following most of what I have written so far, by now you’d probably know that I had never felt accepted or safe in that country anyways , but this was different, this was really terrifying. For one reason the stories in the news about what happened to Egyptians/Arabs who were open about their disbelieve were really scary, and for another, you feel that you’re on your own, for you don’t believe any gods are watching over you, for the first time, nor do you believe there will be any reward or eternal happiness if you get killed for your beliefs –or lack thereof. I did my best to hide my disbelief and pretend I haven’t changed. Between practicing self-control and providing evasive answers, I lived in constant fear of being exposed and meeting an unknown horrible destiny.
This constant fear made me realize, that if I there was a chance for me to live a normal life, it could never be in that country. And so my planning to flee Egypt began.
My friendship with Diana started to get affected by a few new factors. First, not sharing the same religion meant we have less in common now, even though she had always supported me and never loved me less, unlike countless close ones who gave me hell for it. Second, my countdown to leave Egypt was synonymous with a countdown to leave her too. And finally, the painful thing (to me) that I wanted for her from the bottom of my heart, which would also mean an eventual end for our friendship: she got engaged.
The amount of effort I was exerting to get out of Egypt, in the best way possible, took a very significant space in my life. I know Diana was happy for me because I would be happier and safer, but all of that somehow made me forget about leaving her behind until it was almost too late.
Since she got engaged, we were struggling to find time to spend together, especially in person. Going out together had become so awkward, because here fiancé had to be with us. I remembered how she used to beg me to go out with her before she got engagement, and how I used to be a total asshole and refuse –for one reason or another. If I had only realized how precious that time was, I wouldn’t have wasted a second of it. I wish she would forgive me for being a very bad friend to her while she was always the best. The good side of it, though, was that I knew I wasn’t leaving her alone in that awful place, rather with someone she loves and who loves here.
A few days before leaving Egypt to Ireland for good, I got mugged for the first time and was very traumatized by the incident, because I was extremely close to losing all of my travel documents and with it the hard work of several months. I couldn’t leave home on my own, as I was still in trauma. I had only partially recovered on the last night before travelling to realize that I hadn’t told her a proper goodbye, despite the fact that I might never see her again in my life. That night I literally sobbed like a baby at the thought that it was too late to meet her for one last time and kiss her goodbye. I really felt what it meant to cry so hard that your eyes and throat burned as hell. I felt I was in a nightmare where I’m being denied the single thing I wanted in the world that night. I just wanted to die, but in a less painful way because I felt the heartache was already killing me … very painfully and very slowly. How could I ever be able to live with myself if I left the closest person to me without saying goodbye?!
Luckily, I was saved by my good friend Remon, who unknowingly did me a favor that night that I will never forget. Out of nowhere he called me and asked to meet to say goodbye. I asked him to drop me at Diana’s office, where she was working a night shift. I was extremely happy to see her for the last time. We laughed, hugged, kissed, and stole a final proper goodbye from the world that never wanted us to be.
Yeah, I felt a great sense of relief afterwards, but I think the amount of excruciating pain I felt that night has left a unrecoverable scar inside of me.
This is a rough translation of the message I sent to Remon the next day on Facebook to thank him:
Remon my dear friend,
I’m really very happy that I met you yesterday. I sometimes pretend to look cold or strong, but inside of me there’s a lot going on, because life among the animals taught me than being human among the beasts is weakness. For example, before you called me I was in my room crying alone, but you met me and managed to change my mood. I sincerely felt that you cherish our friendship more than I do. I mean, if it was you who were travelling, I wouldn’t have done half of what you did for me. I always want to hear the best about you.
We live in the age of high tech and Internet, and travelling no longer means you can never see or speak with your loved ones. Yet, the primitiveness of backward societies is capable of breaking those connections with no repair. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, even though I can’t see how that’s possible, but I believe the true end of my friendship with Diana will be when she gets married.
In order to understand why her marriage would essentially mean the death of our friendship, you need to go back to the twisted view of Egyptians towards sex . Despite her denial, there’s no way her future husband would simply allow for our relationship to continue. I’m not saying he’s a bad person, I’m just saying that even if he’s ok with it, his society will pressure him into rejecting it, for he won’t be seen as a real man if he doesn’t. And even if he doesn’t, she’ll no longer have enough time for us, and it will just fade away slowly over time, and we’ll never be as we used to be. But that’s just life. And it would be easier if I also had someone in my life, but every day I come closer to the conclusion that that may never happen. I’m losing my best friend and I have no one else to fill the gap … and so my loneliness multiplies …
1- A little bit about how it started here