“It’s a love/hate thing” is what I’ve been replying to the “what’s Beirut like?” question. To the Lebanese transplants and Lebanese-Americans, all respond in varying levels of comprehension of that phrase. The younger the company, the higher the understanding. I’d chalk that up to the youth needing to be hopeful that there is something to go back to, that there is something worth saving, that we’re still too naive to realize how much our country won’t do for us as we age.
After moving into my own apartment in Beirut, I planted my roots deeper within the city. I chose to try Beirut in full capacity and it’s given me so much mental stability but I know that this is only relative to my current state as a single, unattached person working for the family. Providing kibbles for my cat on the daily does not sway me to change coasts but it may be different if I were thinking about my kid’s access to a backyard or my parents’ retirement. The love/hate thing may not have enough love to balance out in the long-run.
I’m 3 civilizations deep into my ageless city but will I ever stop asking this question?
Will Lebanon ever stop being followed by a question mark?
Beirut has given me my temperament. I am passive or aggressive but never both. It is either worth the confrontation or not worth the acknowledgment. In California, there are sources of calm. GMO-free sunshine that doesn’t make you sweat. The blooms from the heavy rainfall have wrapped the hills in green. It’s all rigged in a way. Less hassle, less pressure points, less weight on your chest. Fewer acupuncture needles poking at you in the form of a basic need not being met, one that you’ve paid for twice. Not just because of the Apple stores of weed or the proximity to waves but is anyone ever angry here? Could I create without the discomfort that Beirut provides? Is that a necessary ingredient for creation or am I just convincing myself that it is?
LA is this place that reminds me of my younger self when my worries were getting home before curfew or enduring another Thursday morning class about plants. Even the yearly catch-up sesh with airport security feels like a moment to review what’s changed since I last got randomly selected. Some know how to show what feels like genuine interest when essentially interrogating you. After talking to Rick,* the US customs agent from New York, for a half hour before boarding my LA-bound flight in Paris, he says, “you’re a strange bird.” That and his encouragement to open a doughnut shop in Beirut makes me think we could’ve been friends if we were talking in the terminal’s Starbucks line, if we weren’t meeting like this, if he wasn’t being paid to inspect my existence. He even tells me that he likes to just have a conversation with flagged passengers because you catch more flies with honey, right?
LA is this mirror that asks, “shu?” with a twist of the wrist, the same way my uncle does when he asks what kind of grilled meat I want. I’m removed enough from Beirut to take a look at the reflection. To realize I might’ve missed parts of LA but buried the memories that resurface with every uprooting. That darker, slimmer version of you with miles of highways and swaying trees. LA is that ex-boyfriend you thought you forgot. The one you thought you didn’t miss until you felt his heat under your fingertips. That one that felt familiar but existed only in simulation, only under perfect circumstances, only on the set of a Hollywood movie. That one that teases you with whole coffee beans and painted lady butterflies. It’s not real and it doesn’t know you anymore.
Or does it?
LA, as my home away from home, serves the purpose of reminding me what I should not be complacent about back in Beirut. From the most nuclear (eating habits, writing frequency, trading in road-trip curiosity for mornings with a laundry basket) to the most communal (recycling, inconsistent utilities, lack of green space, customers who’ve lived in America so they know better than you, expensive Brussel sprouts, the amount of gas left in my dull-first-dates tank). It’s not taunting me so much as it’s saying, “remember when you wanted this?”
It’s not about looking for it here but attaining it from where I am now, for now: my bubble in Beirut.