December evenings, his wife and daughter would linger at the kitchen window to watch the deer come down their switchbacks. There was a stand of chinkapins. The deer would prize the nuts from the urchin-shaped husks. He can see his wife leaning over the sink. His daughter on a stool beside her.
He once cherished this time of year. Days of red sumac and rime, days when the rock walls along the mountain parkway bared swags of gray ice. The rhododendron would curl up like tubes, near blue. Everything on the hillsides would be exposed, including the deer. He sees them standing there still, two images of each other across time, their red aprons on, matching bows at the back of their waists, watching the deer. Such a small, true pleasure, to watch something wild and vulnerable. He rides along the parkway, heading home, knowing his wife and daughter will not be there. He watches the roadbed for ice, for rocks that broke free in the first hard frost. It’s an old habit, the way a parent drives, wary of any threat.
The village had many corners, of which the far western side, leading to the bus terminal, was the bleakest. Om Saber sat on the clean plastic bench installed by the village’s youth committee and waited for the first microbus to take her to the city. With an anxious movement, she reached into her bra to check on the piece of paper she had placed there. Abu Hosny, the old taxi driver, had written down for her all the instructions that she needed to get to her destination: Shatta Prison, where the sweetest part of her now resided, which made distance and time nothing but an illusion. A large cat rubbed its dewy fur on the hem of her black dress. Om Saber smiled and tried to stay still so as not to disturb the cat. She smiled again when she found the paper in its fold.
Farah was struggling to keep her balance in the heaving crowd near the locked gate. Despite how long she would have to wait to get into the hall at Amman University—where she’d already been standing for more than an hour—she remained both calm and cheerful. She was even humming a song—the last one she’d listened to on the way from the border crossing to a modest hotel in the Jordanian capital where she was sharing a room with the university friend joining her for the Fairouz concert.
Even as a child, I could see no way of staying in my hometown. The edges of the broken and breaking city never quite held themselves in place, and my own family life mirrored those fractures. There was just so much loss all around me. Everywhere I turned seemed stabbed right through, constantly punctured by the outside world. The past, present and future all seemed to blend into one, and every single part of the story held sorrow that I couldn’t get rid of, no matter how deep I tried to bury it. So many different things—situations, times of year, people—made the bad things rise up from inside to bite me again. Triggers, I know that now. It left me feeling scared, hollowed out and with no control over any of it, not really knowing how to make it—any of it—stop.
The Bridge of Sorrows: An Excerpt From Thin Places