on forgetting how to breathe

The night air is cool. I am slightly tipsy. I can hear the sounds of the ocean not far from where we’ve pitched our tent. My best friend is nestled beside me in her sleeping bag. I lie awake and upright, anxiety and panic eating away at me after checking my messages and seeing an abusive message from a girl I don’t recognise.

‘Why did you say those things, you could have killed him!’

I call my brother frantically, who reassures me that it’s nothing but gives me the number of the detention centre in Darwin all the same. Shaking, I call and ask for Amir. They ask for the extension number. I give it to them. They put me through. Amir’s smiling voice breaks through the speaker.

‘Sheree. My hero’.

‘Oh god. Are you okay?’

‘Yes I am fine, everything is fine, don’t worry’.

‘Your girlfriend sent me a message! I didn’t even know you HAD a girlfriend man’.

He laughs and tells me not to worry. She is just beside herself is all. She thought her boyfriend was dead. She must not have heard about this new Government of ours. They disappear people now. We talked for a while and my heart has clenched involuntarily.  It’s all too much. He tells me he is grateful that we are fighting for him but he is embarrassed that he is in this situation. He feels ashamed that people know what has happened to him. I try to reassure him that it’s fine, that people need to know so we can get their support. It feels so futile that the shame of being taken back to detention centre is the overwhelming feeling, trumping the reality of being taken back to detention.

We are both so close to the water now, both in small spaces, but I am free, and he is not. Despite the cheer in his voice, he details how they sent him from Villawood to Darwin.

‘One of the guys with me, he tried to run away. They get him, take us both back to detention and hide us in solitary room for the whole day, then next day they take us to airport with 12 security guards’ (your taxes pay their salary). Amir has done nothing wrong but he is punished all the same. And so it goes, his never ending saga continues on and on in this, our fair country.

***

I was sitting in my therapist’s office when I got the news. The session had just ended and she was booking in my next appointment. ‘Thursday next week?’ I nod absently, staring at the words on my phone. ‘Bad news guys. Amir was taken away to detention just now. His friend has his phone and I’m getting all the info they gave. I spoke to the lawyer, he’s pretty shocked. He didn’t think they would do it’. I look back and see my response.

‘I can’t breathe’. I don’t know how I got through that day. It was all a daze. Since that day my chest has constricted. I feel a weight there, a heaviness. I cannot focus on things. Every little thing I have to do in my life is a burden. Every criticism, every stress, every deadline, every person who I cross paths with, every person who tries to be in my life, anyone who needs things from me – all of it becomes a thing that weighs on my chest. I’ve forgotten how to breathe. I cannot sit still, I cannot be calm – there is a storm inside of me.

My father is sick and I cannot think about that either. He’s strong, I tell myself in a bid to feel better, less guilty. Everything has a way of unraveling. I can’t read the news, unless it is so predictable that is almost has an anaesthetising effect. I cannot relax, I cannot find peace from within. There is an unbridled turbulence. Pressure I used to handle so deftly becomes an overwhelming tidal wave. I feel afraid. I can’t sleep. I worry about everything.

These are things I’ve battled with all my life, only in small, barely noticeable doses. Common quirks, occasional stress, fear, worry, uncertainty. But now they are exploding across my universe. Prior to this, the worst was before I moved overseas. I was plagued with panic attacks from all the things people had said could happen to a girl living on her own in a foreign country. But this is different. I can’t explain what’s happening now, only that I am struggling to get past it. I am speaking to someone. She’s literally teaching me how to breathe again. She gave me the link to a website.

‘No drugs?’ I asked hopefully.

‘This is more effective’

‘But what will fix it right now?’

***

I think back to 2001. I am 13 and sitting in my English class. Everyone is talking about asylum seekers. Someone asks the teacher his opinion on the issue.

‘I don’t know what the answer is, but I know we should always try to take the most humanitarian path on this issue.’

Those words are burned into my soul, my mantra.

I didn’t intend to become friends with a young man who came here by boat. I didn’t pick someone who came here at the wrong time, who became victim to draconian laws, the criminalisation of innocents and fervent desire to break every humanitarian law in existence. I didn’t ask for it but the universe provided it for me. Maybe they thought I could handle it. Maybe they were wrong. Since the news of Amir’s capture by the Australian government three weeks ago (I had originally written two years ago, might as well), I have not been able to sleep or walk freely through the world without the heavy burden that someone’s life is in limbo, that someone good, kind and strong has been taken from us. I am constantly on the verge of a panic attack. I worry that I am not functioning properly at work, although my colleagues and managers go above and beyond to reassure me that they understand and want to help. But I am the most helpless I have ever been. I am a ghost of my former self. I am putting on a brave face of someone I used to be. The lawyer is currently working on a compassionate appeal to Scott Morrison. People are writing letters of support. I can’t bring myself to read the letters. I can’t bring myself to do anything.

I call Darwin again one night.

There’s no answer.

The phone rings and rings and rings.

Maybe he is sleeping.

they stole our friend from us

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 11.38.40 pm

With what little money he had (money he hadn’t already spent on lawyers trying to plead his case for asylum) Amir had decided he would buy me a present for my birthday this year. He gave me a small parcel which contained a bottle of perfume.

‘You really shouldn’t have’.

***

We met up another time in the city. I said I was going to a protest and he was happy to simply tag along. At first he seemed out of place but he soon got into it, shaking his head and getting upset at what our government was supporting in the Middle East and in Gaza. ‘How can they do this to the people?’ he said, shaking his head solemnly.

The same question terrifies me presently. Every single person I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks, appears to be in a catatonic state of shock at the actions of this government. It is no longer a joke, something to make a mockery of, something to awkwardly bemoan and bitch about. It has become the terrifying realisation that our lives – every single element of our lives – has been and will be affected by these heinous policies and actions. Worst of all, they’ve stopped trying to hide it or sugarcoat it for the public. There’s no one left to woo and win over. There’s no one left to battle. They act with sheer, sickening impunity.

After the protest, Amir and I had lunch in a Japanese restaurant. The concept of ordering from the table on a computer was a novelty for him. He didn’t want to talk about his case with the government. It upset him too much. Instead we spoke about love and how he wants to meet a nice girl. ‘A nice girl like you!’

I sighed and tried my best to explain the concept of a spinster who lives alone forever. He said ‘someone has hurt you’ and it was the truest thing anyone has ever said. ‘You have to let that go’, he said earnestly.

I am trying to, is what I didn’t say.

Amir also told me that day that my brother Matthew was the best guy had ever known and he wished he could be more like him.

I went to the bathroom and upon returning, I realised Amir had already paid for me. He refused my money. I told him I would pay next time and he laughed and said ‘yeah yeah I will pay then too!’

Amir loves this country and its people. But coming here to seek asylum was the single worst decision of his life because of what the government has put him through.

After the church ceremony at my brother’s wedding a few months ago, he came over to me. Still clutching my bouquet of roses, having just walked down the aisle for my new sister-in-law, he told me how his heart stopped when he saw me like that.

Today my heart stopped at the news that they have taken him back to detention. That the kind young man who welcomed us into his home, fed us and laughed with us, will sleep in a foreign place, with nothing to cradle him but uncertainty and fear.

‘Indefinite detention’ are the words I heard someone say today. I don’t understand what this is. How do you sentence an innocent person to life in prison for trying to seek refuge in our country?

The lawyer wrote to us in an email:

‘This is such an unexpected and distressing development.’

and later:

‘It sounds to me that the immigration officer had already decided to detain Amir before he even arrived. What cowards.’

What cowards indeed.

Amir had told me in this interview that if they try to send him back, he’d take his own life.

Any support you can lend to us during this time would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for the kind words to date. We are still trying to figure out what to do next. But so far we are deflated and desperately trying to keep that hope alive.

 

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lonely (alive)

On the first day of this year I broke up with my boyfriend and vowed to stay broken for the entire year.

Breathe in.

It’s almost October.

Breathe out.

It’s almost forever.

***

Why aspire to brokenness? Well because it is my own brokenness. Nobody decided it would be mine and nobody would own that part of me, or any part of me.

I would be mine and mine alone.

Something I have come to realise in the last year is that it’s very hard to exist in a world as an independent feminist and co-exist with someone. It takes a very particular, very confident, very smart kind of human to complement a powerful woman.

Most people are not that. This year has actually been quite easy for me in a lot of ways.

Retrospectively it’s very easy to look through my crowd of friends and see who was too much woman for whom. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful, strong, confident, daring, free women reduced to stripped back ghosts of their former selves, because to do so would mean keeping some douche happy enough to stay with her.

I really fucking hate that. We need to reframe the way we think about our private relationships. What is the power dynamic here? Do I have any power here, any control? Or have I reduced myself to a caricature just to stay in the game?

It’s easy to forget what you are. I mean really forget yourself. My identity – the person I feel I am today – was carved out of a kind of sadness, a kind of darkness. I had to persevere through a rough patch that lasted years. I had to be strong. I had no other choice.

But it follows you around, the fact that you had to trade something to become whole again, to be a fully formed human. You gave in to that urge, that calling. Here, take this fragment of my soul for peace of mind. Here, take this self-esteem and confidence so I could get through emotionally abusive and controlling relationships.

And so it is that I am here today. Still fragile like a porcelain doll, but as strong as though I had been put back together with steel. And no less determined to see it through to the end. I can’t afford to trade more of my soul for the highly inflated price of contentment. I want more, I want to grab it in my hands and hold it for a while.

I want to trade it all back.

In favour of wholeness.

***

“i love myself.’

the
quietest.
simplest.
most
powerful.
revolution.
ever.”
Nayyirah Waheed

“no’
might make them angry
but
it will make
you
free.”
Nayyirah Waheed

“I want to live so densely. lush. and slow in the next few years, that a year becomes ten years, and my past becomes only a page in the book of my life.”
Nayyirah Waheed

“go.
enjoy.
leave.
it was all about you, anyway.”
Nayyirah Waheed, salt.

“Just because someone desires you, it does not mean they value you.

Read it over.

Again

And let those words resonate in your mind.”
Nayyirah Waheed

“the truth is
you were born for you.
you were wanted by you.
you came for you.
you are here for you.
your existence is yours.
yes.”
Nayyirah Waheed, Nejma

“in our own ways we all break. it is okay to hold your heart outside of your body for days. months. years. at a time. – heal”
Nayyirah Waheed, salt.

“i am mine.
before i am ever anyone else’s.”
Nayyirah Waheed, Nejma

heal

This poet is my everything. I’ve been inhaling her words for the last week.

“Someone can be madly in love with you and still not be ready. They can love you in a way you have never been loved and still not join you on the bridge. And whatever their reasons you must leave. Because you never ever have to inspire anyone to meet you on the bridge. You never ever have to convince someone to do the work to be ready. There is more extraordinary love, more love that you have never seen, out here in this wide and wild universe. And there is the love that will be ready.”
Nayyirah Waheed

look at how they mock you

Civilisation as we know it will one day cease to exist.
Our entire climate will collapse.
Our grandchildren will not know the world we have known.
We are on the brink of complete annihilation.
There is some kind of deathly virus plague roaming the world’s poorest nation.
The most powerful nation on earth has announced another war in a region that has experienced catastrophic loss of life numbering in the millions, at our hand, and millions of refugees that we deny at our borders and dehumanise, with millions of deaths to follow in this the holocaust of our generation.
But you as a person are told to be afraid of some men in ninja suits who call themselves ISIS and who are funded by Saudi Arabia, the US’s greatest ally in the region.
Look at how they mock you.

‘…sit by an apple tree’

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

 

— Faye Travers (The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich)

Dreams, truths and the in-between: Saleh Bakri

tiny:

My interview with Saleh Bakri!

Originally posted on :

Sheree Joseph went behind the scenes at the Arab Film Festival Australia to meet the screen-stopping Palestinian actor who  captured the revolutionary spirits – and hearts – of every opening night attendee in Sydney.

saleh bakri

‘Where are you, Saleh?’

Festival Directors Fadia and Mouna call out to the audience where Saleh Bakri is embedded, one of the main actors from the opening night film When I Saw You.

‘Here!’ he calls out, jumping up and jostling down towards the stage microphone. He appears to be a man of few words and greets the crowd briefly before opting to dedicate his brief time to the people of Gaza, asking everyone to stand for a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the massacre taking place in Gaza, until recently.

I bowed my head and thought instantly of a poem from the great and inimitable Mahmoud Darwish..

‘What is beautiful…

View original 2,525 more words

Visits to the brain doctor

My mum keeps ringing me frantically after reading these, so I’m going to stipulate that sometimes they are part fiction with bits of truth. This is one of those times. Stop calling me ma, I’m fine.

***

‘Is this lift working?’ I ask the cafe guy.

‘Yes’

‘Are you sure?’

‘You’ve been waiting 10 seconds’

‘It could be broken. How do you know it’s not broken?’

‘It’s definitely working’

‘I don’t know about that, the light isn’t coming on’ 

The lift arrives. 

‘Yeah the light was broken’

‘Knew it’

 ‘Do you even lift, bro?’

‘What?’

‘I was talking to the lift’

Talking to inanimate objects, off to a flying start.

***

Inside the lift. It moves slowly and stops. The women behind me giggle and laugh,

‘Oh no we’re stuck! Haha! Oh dear, imagine if we were stuck and we just fell straight through the building to the floor!’


WHAT THE HELL? 
Are you fucking kidding me, who planted these women here, this must be a joke, I was being metaphorical about the lift but now I’m really worried about it.

I don’t like being stuck in tight spaces with humans. 

Breathe.

 The lift opens. A little girl bounds in, holding a balloon.

She’s in my way. 

I have no time for balloons.

 I have to fix my brain.

***

‘What? No reclining chair? What if I was just here for the reclining chair?

 ‘Tell me about yourself

‘Where to begin?’

She smiles and nods. Tough question. 

‘I’m a girl’

She nods. That obvious hey? 

‘I’m 26’ 

‘OK I can get all of this from the form you filled out’ 

I word vomit all over her carpet floor; all the things I haven’t said in 8 years come spilling out. I throw all the broken pieces of me onto the floor and nod to them, as though she’ll know how to put them back together. There you go, you won’t find that on the form.

 What is she writing? Is she writing that I came here 27 years too late?

Why didn’t she take me seriously when I told her my depression used to sit in my hand?

This is bullshit.

I didn’t mean to say ‘yes’ so emphatically to the question, ‘do I drink’

Lie about marijuana, she doesn’t need to know everything.

I take it back.

I take it all back.

My brain is fine.

Don’t ask me about that. Why did I tell her that? I hope she won’t ask me about that other thing.

I worry about each question.

 

‘Tell me about your family’

‘Have you got 5 million hours?’

 

I point to the broken parts of me on the floor.

‘Look at what I used to be’

 

‘Tell me about that recurring pain in your heart?’

‘Who told you about that?’

‘It’s all over your face’.

‘I can’t kill it’

‘You’re not supposed to kill it – you need your heart’

‘I didn’t even think of that! What if I killed the wrong part?’

‘How long does it last when it happens?’

‘Oh an hour before bed, but it usually fades into sleep, if I can sleep’

‘That’s another thing’

‘That’s another thing’

I don’t sleep.

And another thing. 

I say that a lot. 

There are so many things.

 

‘That’s all we have time for’

 

Take all my money. I’m not fixed yet.

What do you mean I have to come back regularly?

 

I bend down and collect myself, gathering and piling the pieces on top of one another in a heap; that time, this time, those times.

‘I don’t think you understand how broken I am’, I whisper.

‘Cheque, savings or credit?’

Is this the Greatest Love Quote of All Time?

Louie

Dr. Bigelow: So you took a chance on being happy, even though you knew that later on you would be sad.

Louie: Yeah.

B: And now… you’re sad.

L: Yeah.

B: So… what’s the problem?

L: I’m too sad…. Look, I liked the feeling of being in love with her. I liked it. But now she’s gone and I miss her and it sucks. And I didn’t think it was going to be this bad, and I feel like, why even be happy if it’s just going to lead to this, you know? It wasn’t worth it.

B: You know, misery is wasted on the miserable.

L: What?

B: You know, I’m not entirely sure what your name is, but you are a classic idiot. You think spending time with her, kissing her, having fun with her, you think that’s what it was all about? That was love?

L: Yeah.

B: THIS is love. Missing her, because she’s gone. Wanting to die…. You’re so lucky. You’re like a walking poem. Would you rather be some kind of a fantasy? Some kind of a Disney ride? Is that what you want? Don’t you see? This is the good part. This is what you’ve been digging for all this time. Now you finally have it in your hand, this sweet nugget of love, sweet, sad love, and you want to throw it away. You’ve got it all wrong.

L: I thought this was the bad part.

B: No! The bad part is when you forget her, when you don’t care about her, when you don’t care about anything. The bad part is coming, so enjoy the heartbreak while you can, for God’s sakes. Pick up the dog poop, would you please? Lucky sonofabitch. I haven’t had my heart broken since Marilyn walked out on me, since I was 35 years old. What I would give to have that feeling again…. You know, I’m not really sure what your name is, but you may be the single most boring person I have ever met. No offense. Give me my dog. Come here. You…. Don’t fall down.

meet cute nightmare

I get approached in the street quite often when walking alone, usually with my headphones in. Sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, always the attention is unwanted and I get flustered and try my best to get away, sometimes I can do this easily, sometimes I can’t. The worst of these stories was an elderly man with a disfigured face, who followed me to the train station and onto the train, tried to give me his number and mentioned that he knew where I lived. right after insinuating about how he had ‘taken care of’ his ex-wife and the man she cheated on him with.

The fear of leaving the house followed me for an entire year until I eventually moved away.

In Barcelona, it took me three days before I could leave the house, after a man physically attacked me in the street.

So forgive me if I am sensitive to my personal space when walking alone.

A few months ago while crossing the bridge, a guy appeared right in front of me, startling me, as they always do, and said; ‘I’m sorry I was just walking past you and I thought, I need to tell this girl that I really like her look – you’re so exotic – where are you from? Are you Spanish?’

I said no, I’m not and tried to keep walking but he kept following me. Eventually I got rid of him but I remembered him for his distinct accent which sounded South African but he had said was actually English.

Today, lo and behold, the exact same guy approached me and said the exact same thing.

‘hello I was walking past and I just wanted to tell you that I love your look – are you South American?’

‘I’ve seen you before. You’ve done this to me before.’

‘No that’s not right, it must have been someone else’

‘No, it was you. That accent’

‘It’s English but I get offended when people say it sounds Irish’

‘YOU SAID THAT LAST TIME TOO’

I ran away, perplexed. Am I being punked? What are the odds of that happening twice?

So many times, so many times I am walking and my space is invaded by these strangers, hoping something they say will penetrate through the barriers.

‘You look like you’re enjoying that song, what are you listening to?’

‘I just wanted to tell you how beautiful you are, I don’t want anything else!’

‘Okay thanks’

‘But do you want to go out with me sometime?’

‘Hey you should be smiling with that pretty face!’

Let me save you the effort.

No.

No.

No.

No.

No.

This is not a meet cute scene. I would like to not be standing here talking to you in the rain. This is my space. You have not earned the right to invade this space when I am unguarded and vulnerable.