Diary of an Arab Millennial—Part I: Promises
If I didn't have my earphones shoved into my ears, blasting a 90s French hip-hop playlist, I would certainly be bothered by the whistles and cat-calls pursuing me on my way to the bus stop. If I wasn’t in a hurry to go to the drugstore, I would certainly raise my middle finger to all the boys and men staring at my behind. After a couple of years of eyeballs stalking one’s derriere, you develop a sort of sixth sense when it comes to these things: I can predict when someone is going to shout or whisper something utterly inappropriate before it happens, and I can sense when someone behind me is staring without necessarily catching them in the act, so to speak. But I promised myself not to pay attention to any of them.
I can't be bothered. I have got places to go, money to make, money to spend, pills to take, and people to meet. I spend the entire walk down the road ruminating over whether I should buy a laxative or an opiate, get skinny or get high, look good or feel good. I promised myself I wouldn’t stay sober today, but I also promised my best friend we wouldn’t relapse into our shared bulimia. Unfortunately—or fortunately if we consider the long-term consequences—the pharmacy is closed and the ice cream place next door is not, so I end up buying an oversized ice cream cone that I intentionally throw up 30 minutes later.
I walk by a park on my way to the university. I walk by it every morning. There is an old man clinging onto his prayer beads, a hungover prostitute well past her prime with several teeth too few, a junkie, and three children selling roses, huddled next to an almost ironically beautiful mosque. I promised myself I’d sit there someday, stare, roll a joint, read a page or two, take a picture, escape my hurry, my constant hyperactivity, escape my desire to forever escape. I never did; wouldn’t want anyone mistaking me for a girl who prays.
My ex picks me up in his car, we go for a drive, and end up making out in the backseat.
I promised myself that, in the eyes of my parents, I'd be whoever they want me to be.
I squirm through the most boring class, asking myself if I am the only one in the room who can't bare a moment of emptiness, a minute free of thrills, a second absent of adrenaline. Alas, cowards, satisfied with a dull reality, not bored by their disgustingly boring day-to-day lives—at least not enough to want to escape it. Faking smiles, faking laughs, faking feelings, faking work until it gets better. My classmate spends half the class talking about how he wants to marry a pretty white lady who will save him from our third-world misery. I promised myself I wouldn’t get angry at different lifestyles than mine, but I’m finding it rather difficult to keep a lot of these promises.
My ex-boyfriend picks me up in his car, we go for a drive, and end up making out in the backseat. I promised myself I would keep it strictly platonic with him after we broke up. I tear him away from me a few seconds in: “I’d like a different sensation now.” We score some hash and smoke it by the beach. He goes for a swim in his cheap boxers; I enjoy the sight of his curly hair struggling to float between the waves more than our short tongue fighting. He really is uselessly handsome. I sit in his car enjoying a depressing song. I promised myself I would fall out of love with sad songs that tickle my tears and smother my breath. I will. I promised.
He drops me off a block away from my house to avoid the prying eyes of the neighbors; in these small neighborhoods of big cities, neighbors tend to make everyone's business their own. He doesn’t exactly enjoy the most pleasant reputation in our town, with his tattooed arm and pierced ear—a look judged inappropriate for a brown boy but sexy as hell on a white tourist. Unlike me, the brilliant 21-year-old with bylines in well-known magazines, always seen helping around the house and who is the subject of widespread belief that she will eventually end up marrying a nice Muslim boy—though at no point had anyone bothered questioning me about this predestined fate. I promised myself that, in the eyes of my parents, I'd be whoever they want me to be. I think that’s one promise I kept. I lock myself in the bathroom, look for a cough medicine I can take before masturbating, satisfying the urges of a few hours before. I then escape to the roof to smoke my day’s last cigarette. I promised I would stop smoking near the house. I will. I promised.
I promised I would grow out of this self-destructive pattern typical of a teenager. I promised I would be content with being average and stop seeking overachievements I’m incapable of. I promised I would stop expecting myself to be excellent. I promised I wouldn’t be such a bad caricature of my generation, giving '90s kids a bad name. I will. I promised.