An addendum by the most compassionate thinkers/doctors on trauma recovery.
I’m standing in a middle of room with many humans walking around. Someone is talking to me about something. I don’t know what. I smile to indicate I know what. I pretend, mostly to listening. I nod my head, eyes trying to feign interest.
Oh shit they want me to respond. How do I get out of this.
“Sorry, umm. It’s late. I got to go. I need to catch t *insert fake person* before they disappear”. I exit, stage left. that was too damn close. I manage to escape that convo before they got to the point. Can they still see me? Do they know I was just trying to get away.
How did I get here? Who are these people?
Here I was at a networking event in parts unknown, Germany. An event most people in my line of work/education would take pride in attending. But, I felt sick. I want the nearest exit, and a breath of new air. I don’t belong here. I walk all the way home, forgetting to breathe sometimes.
Autopilot was my life. I remember many nights, long shift, evening classes, fast-food meals in strip mall parking lots, finally home in time to for a few hours of shut-eyes. I enter my driveway, my vehicle parked in front of of my house. Is it my house? All the houses look the same. It is my house. Dammit. I don’t remember how I got here. I knew how I technically got there, I drove the car.
And I remember leaving the store, but I can’t recall what happened during the minutes between the store and my parking lot. Minutes lost, my consciousness dangling in someplace I don’t recall. Where do I go when I’m on autopilot? Same place we go when the world becomes too much. Same place our childhood spirits went when those things we can’t talk about, happened.
Has this happened to you? Have you left your house, locked the door behind, keys ready, ignition igniting, making the car move. five minutes passes, and a thought is born…,
“when did I enter this car? Where am I going? Who am i? Did I lock my apartment door?.
That feeling, smarter folks call it disassociation, spiritual folks call it disconnect, but I call it the Zombie Autopilot state.
This happens when you aren’t present, conscious, mindful, or witness to the happenings in your life. Shut-down and shout-out every experience, and only come back to your body to react. Some of us naturally experience this once in awhile, others are forever in this state. And that’s what we will discuss on Monday’s podcast. Auto-piloting through life. heavy stuff for me.
We get really good at pretending we’re conscious or present, but the body, mind, the soul, if you believe in a soul, all of it disconnected, disassociated, and the rest of us, powered by the autopilot. Imagine living like this for decades? Some make it to their senior years, and can’t even recall any of it. You know stuff happened, but your mind, in its early makings, learned long ago and too well, how to check out and run from the present and your body. You can’t remember what you’re doing in the moment, why, and how it began.
I’ve been living my life in autopilot. Many of us do. I never once stopped to contemplate my story, the parts of my being. Who am I? What have I endured? What have I learned? What do I want from this world, this lifetime? Have I paid attention to the feeing/privilege of hot water running over my body as I shower. The aroma of morning tea, the sun grazing your fist. Was I ever present for any of it? Or am I just a machine mimicking learned human behaviours, and replicating them in my daily life. Well that was me. Now I don’t drive, I walk slowly, taking in everything. I allow myself to feel every moment in its entirety, and only show up to the places I planned for.
Lynn Ramsey is one of my favourite film directors. In some of her memorable films, there’s usually a shot of one of her main characters with their faces wrapped in a material of sorts, usually a curtain or a plastic bag, like they’re suffocating themselves. In my favourite film of hers, the 2017, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ starting the genius that is Joaquin Phoenix, there’s a similar scene. a scene that consistently pats me on the back, grazes my skin, and transports me to Joe’s pain.
The protagonist, Joe, haunted by both childhood and adult traumas, in a devastating scene, tries to suffocate himself with a plastic bag, the ones they use at the dry cleaners. What on earth is that called?.
Anyway, Joe doesn’t do this to die, but I would argue, to feel; To replicate in the physical form, the full weight of the pain inside his mind and spirit. He suffocates himself until he reaches that point where you gotta choose whether to take another breath, or surrender to the release of death. I think about that scene a lot, about how oddly pain can be one of the most potent indicators of life: pain is the certainty that one is still breathing and feeling. The dead don’t feel. Or do they?
I feel like Joe sometimes, actually, most times, I’ve been Joe. Although, I present to the external world, a very different face, one of continuous contentment and relatively pain-free. I think we all do. Anyway this post isn’t about anything that deep. Or maybe it is that deep. I bring all this up, and precisely pain up, because it is one way to know I was here.
How do you know you were here? For me, it’s pain, the scent of all the cities I’ve smelled, my loved ones, my memories, both the good and ugly. But very little physical evidence I was here exists in this world. My partner and I lead a very minimalist life, and hate the accumulation of stuff, clutter, and attachments to the physical. My closest friends have little attachment to stuff as well. Ikram sleeps on a futon, and works from a carpet while in a meditative sitting position. I don’t know many collectors of stuff.
I’m actually working on a essay on the type of people that live a minimalist life, and what that reveals about some of their deeper, more sensitive layers.
My homeland, Somalia, is forever moving through a state of constant impermanence. Buildings come down, people go under, new bodies are born. Lives lost, memoirs burn to the ground, we re-build, we move on. we switch cities, we carry a million documents, we lose them. we’re on the move. again and again.
All I own in this world is here. A durable suitcase, and inside it, lives my capsule wardrobe, one single invitation from our wedding, a folder of important documents, few of my favourite books, two journals (one for my writing, the other for processing the hours). A camera, a microphone, my favourite pen from Japan, a see through makeup bag, and my bag of essential oils which fuels my body. And that’s it. This is the only physical evidence I was here. and there. When I do doubt if I was ever here, I remember I live in the heart of loved ones, and if that doesn’t work, there’s always the pain.
So Idilay insists that I also contribute and write for baretown. and I’m annoyed. I’m so annoyed! I’m going to be completely transparent…... I ABSOLUTELY detest writing, yet I insist on getting myself in creative ventures/situations where writing is a necessity. And I really feel like a masochist sometimes.
But I suppose I could use this post to talk about what baretown means to me.
It’s a vision we’ve had for a decade, but never really actualized until now. baretown has meant more than an online digital space. It’s the culmination of a lifelong commitment to integrating my past into both my present and future selves. Incorporating all the timelines in my life.
And what do I mean by that word salad?
Well, I have this track record of getting so caught up with planning for the future that I neglect my past. I think we all do. The past become something we overcome, transcend, and in my case, run from. It’s much easier to avoid, delete, rewrite those bad moments, hours, days and even years in our lives. But by forgetting or neglecting the past, I/we inadvertently also forget, those sublime, life-altering, body-shifting, and inspiring moments. You can never truly appreciate the light without the dark, the two are ying-yang.
So this year. I want to spend time looking back and taking the time to examine/re-examine my past. And allow myself the space and time to truly appreciate all the lessons, trauma, and gifts I’ve received/conquered/carry along the way. My journey this year is about integrating my past into my present.
What does your journey look like in 2019?
At approximately 16:00, The first car bomb will detonate in the front parking lot of
Hotel X. The driver, not a day over twenty, will drive the truck through ten checkpoints,
arriving at Mogadishu’s gate 13:00, the day of.
This will give him three hours to let his tension settle and calm his palpitations before the deed is done. There won’t be any remorse or second thoughts left in him, just heavy breathing and the sweat from the journey before. The heroin swimming in his arms will leave little room for pausing on what he is to do. He’ll sit parked in one of Mogadishu’s back-alleys. There he will buckle his seatbelt, windows rolled up, eyes glazed over, headphones in. Three hours till he changes my life. His hands tightly on the wheel, eyes shut. Three hours left on earth. Months of preparation, infiltration, and smuggled bomb parts all will actualize in three hours. It will be the end of me.
At 16:10, a young journalist, we’ll call him Abdi, will log onto all of his social media accounts, and plaster this for his followers to consume.
“BREAKING NEWS: EXPLOSION HEARD IN KM4 JUNCTION. POSSIBLE SITE OF ATTACK: HOTEL X, UNKNOWN CASUALITIES”
He’ll be right about the hotel location, and the casualties will be 43.
16:15. That tweet will orbit the world, waking up CNN and Al-Jazeera, while shaking all of my kin and countryfolk out of their daily grind and sleep; Majority of them half living somewhere abroad. Some will feign apathy, and return to the milestones of their day, unmoved by any of this. They’ll leave Mogadishu to mourn in solitude, and I will not blame them one bit.
This city took belonging and home from them. They now wander in global cities, unwanted everywhere. Hijab pulled off in parked trains. Mogadishu made them that; Un-welcomed refugees to be tallied amongst the empathic states. Of course they won’t weep for Mogadishu and I. They’ve had enough of this place, and my kind left behind.
But there will be others, the empaths, who will try to break through the computer screen, pull out that tweet, swallow it whole, and make the breaking news, the bad news vanish. They will try to move and re-arrange the whole of earth, shake it upside down, tilt it from left to right, anything to make time return to a hour before the first boom hit.
I worry for this group. They feel too much for this place. There’s no grief big enough that can sever their attachment to this city. They celebrate every time Mogadishu breathes, and break into little splinters when she bleeds, like it’s for the very first time. They forgive her for all the decades of slaughter, slate renewed, forgiven, if only, Xamar would stand still long enough for them to fix her. They’ll weep in parked taxi cabs, while shaking hands dial all of us back here. Their heads buried into the desks at lecture halls, work bathrooms locked, tears weighing heavy on synthetic pillows, all throughout the diaspora, they’ll weep for us. Another attack in Mogadishu. Again. Some will kneel in prayer. Others will bury it in balwad.
16:30. Second one detonates, a giant of a roar, signalling hell is to come. I’ve seen this on the news before, I know very well, what comes next, and it won’t be swift or covered in mercy. Not in the least. The second one means there’s more of them. They’ve sent more, many more than the parked boy not a day over 20, who waited in stillness for three hours to maim.
16:45. It’s been an almost an hour, and they’ve made their way inside. I’m on the floor above the main one, where Nasra sits. Sweet Nasra, so courteous and kind. I’m in room 202: right above the restaurant where my boys and I have our morning hit of hilib suqaar and malawax.
16:50. When this moment hits, the moment of absolute clarity of what is to come, you learn to become really good at calculations. Calculating how many metres separates them from you. The time left in your days. 31 has to be too young to die somewhere. Not in Mogadishu, but somewhere. How much time do i have left? Maybe an hour, hopefully two. How many hours till she stops waiting for me.
17:15. They're still occupied with terrorizing the main floor. So many people, it was so full when I came. I can’t make out all the noise, decibels aren’t clear, as the first hit took out most of my left ear. or is it the right? Don't know which remains. I’m really in it this time. I’ve escaped Mogadishu’s grip many times, but this one is calling me home.
This one was sent for me. Won’t be long now.
17:30 I can tell it'll happen soon because I’m starting to see them. A graceful old man, little girl holding his grip are floating by my window. So they exist. The ones this building took many years ago. A young woman, petite, with plaits in her hair, enters my room. I don’t know where from.
“Does it hurt? “ she’s sits above the dresser, inspecting what remains of my legs.
“Not really, can’t feel anything to be honest.” Is it weird that I don’t feel anything anymore.
"Am i dead?” It's too soon to be one of them now.
“Not yet. ” She doesn’t convince me.
“Are you scared walaal?” she asks; Silly question to ask someone who hasn’t kneeled before God in years, with legs melting into the floor.
“A little. What time is it, you’re blocking the clock” I point to the analogue above the dressing table, next to her head.
“Impossible. I just checked moments ago. It said 17:30. You’re reading it wrong. It hasn’t been an hour” Has it been a hour? Fast losing grip on the hours.
“That’s what happens before it’s time” she glances at the door like she’s expecting them. “It won’t be long now”. She is expecting them.I need more time. It’s 18:30. I’ve got 30 minutes to walk away from this, or I’ll be late for her. I promised Asha. 'Not even the road checks', I pleaded this morning. Cursed road checks. The men who should've failed them are inside now, so there's that. Searched me a good hour too.
She’s looking at the door again. “Are they coming?” I ask. We both know the answer. I heard something close to screams on the stairs earlier. I can't tell anymore, hearings gone. Of course they’re coming. You begin asking stupid questions like a child searching for things that make sense.
“Your family knows you're here. She also knows. You haven’t answered your phone in hours. Your friend Awale shared his condolences with everyone you know. She knows too by now”
“How do you know all of this?”. More stupid questions. How did she know all of this.
Why wasn’t any of this taught to us in dugsi, about all-knowing spirits. I should be terrified of all this, but her presence is comforting.
“Because you mustn’t worry about the dead walaal, that’s why it wasn’t taught to you.
You only know when its time”.
“How bad does it look. My legs. You keep staring at them". She's disgusted, I can tell.
It's a mess.
"There’s only half of you left”. Her gaze not breaking.
“I was suppose to be meeting her parent’s tonight. Asha’s parents. Her father flew in from Nairobi to meet me. Three years I loved her in secret. Not the right kind of clan for her. She said she would have me in spite. Her father is a force of a man, who i was suppose to be with tonight. She promised to cross him for me, should he judge me unfit. As long as I wasn’t late for dinner. 19:00 she said. Hotel Saafi, restaurant area. 19:00. I came here to borrow a suit from a friend. this was his hotel room you know. “ I don’t know why I’m telling an apparition any of this. “My god. It just occurred to me that this was Liban’s room, and he gave me the key to pick up a suit because he was held up at work. If you think about it, I’m his replacement for his death”. How absurd. I can’t stop laughing. Asha would forgive me for being late, if only I could just tell her this remarkable tale.
"Hey Asha, you wouldn't believe what happened. I died in Liban's hotel room because I went there to borrow a suit for you and your dad, and I'm dead now, and Liban lives. That lucky son of a bitch. He lives.”, I'll say. She'll laugh too, we laugh about dark things like that in private.
“Hassan, you need to listen to me carefully.” she now sits on the edge of the bed, hands digging into her knees. She knows my name. She continues. “There’s two of them in the hallway, they’ve made their way upstairs. and they will come in here. I’ve revealed myself to you because I’ve watch all the people who come in and out of this place, and I can tell you’re a good man” she looks at the door again.
“I’m not understanding. What time is it please?”
I wish I hadn’t asked her that. i’m three minutes late now. I can’t be late. Her father is here. I would crawl to them if I could. But they’re in the hallway now. Bastards. I wasn’t suppose to be here. I’m in it now. I can’t see anything anymore. Asha’s face is disappearing fast. I think I hear guns. You think one would learn to tell guns from pleas and screams, but it's all just buzzing noise to me now.
The woman moves from the bed, and sits next to me. Her eyes betray her news, it's the end now. She tells me not to be scared. Silly thing to ask someone. She says she was here before, same place I am now, many decades ago. A mortar shell split her open in 1994. Her family fled Mogadishu. She waits in this room for them. I told her about Asha’s frizzy hair, maroon eyes, and inappropriate jokes. The woman smiles. She likes hearing about my beloved Asha.
19:07. 1 minute left.
They’re in my room now. I can taste the blood pumping from the bullets they've drawn in my chest. I'm not to survive this, yet they continue to ripe me apart. Luckily the blast that hit at 16:00 became my anesthesia. I feel nothing except the agony Asha will endure when all of this is confirmed. One of them called me a gaal, an infidel, and spits on what remains of me. I was just picking up a suit young man, no need for any of this. I was going to forgive him too, for all this. I really was. I use to advocate for his kind. When moments like this hit you,
you remember the insignificant events of your life. I’m to end soon, and yet all I can think of was that argument with Asha. She called the foot soldiers of Al-Shabab, sociopaths and miscreants. I disagreed. I called them the remains of civil war, and the offspring of Somali poverty. Man I was naive. He spits on me, and I defended him once. It’s okay I suppose, there’s really no time left to be angry. I’m not afraid anymore. The woman is gone now. It's just me. It’s all dark, and no sound left here. It's time to go. I haven’t prayed in years. Asha will understand, her father too. 31 good years I had. That's gotta mean something. It's the end soon. I lied earlier, I'm still afraid. I wish I could feel it, the pain of it. I can’t feel anything, other than that thing leaving my body.
19:08 May Allah (swt) have mercy on me, and this place. Time to sleep now.