How to Love and Lose a Palestinian Expat


MEET him on Third and Market at the smoke shop where he works. Barter a handful of sweaty quarters and a shy predatory smile for a pack of wintermint gum. Wish it was the kind you could blow sexy bubbles with. Refuse to sacrifice flavor for flirtation. Wonder if he’s Mexican or maybe part Indian. Open your ears to an accent like the last sip of red wine before the room starts spinning. Decide to listen to it for the rest of your life. Don’t realize the rest of your life is unfathomable when you’re eighteen. Write your number on a wrapper, let your retreating back, shoulders raised like angel bones, do the talking. Wait for the call. Pretend you weren’t expecting it. Spend time with him being tourists on the pier, hipsters in the Mission. Let him show you the city you were born in but never felt a part of until now. Lay on his lap in the back seat of the taxi and watch the lights stride by like emissaries.

Ask him about home. Then write him a poem about how you wish home to be wherever your fingertips are fastening his collar. Love the little things, the singing in the shower, the puddle of his light wash foreigner jeans on the floor. Repeat in whispers the words he teaches you, the dirty ones, the sweet: f**k me, I love you, please stay. Hebne, dallak hon, bahebak.  Worry that your prince Ali desert fantasies are fetishizing, racist. Meet his mouth and forget your worries. Wake up in the middle of the night to welcome them when they return.

Come to bed wearing nothing but a keffiyeh. Wear it to class and the peace in the Middle East student groups you join. Read everything you can. Listen to stories of struggle and bulldozed homesteads and the raw tears of the displaced. Feel guilty and blonde and infinitesimal. Wonder why you thought wearing a checkerboard accessory would mean a thing. Feel like a toddler wobbling in high heels. Feel shrapnel under your fingernails when you watch the news and taste his angry olive slick lips. Learn about Rachel Corrie. Wonder if she was in love with one of them. Realize of course she was. Daydream about brown babies and a world where their history and existence isn’t called into question. Picture them with his hair and your eyes.

Throw stones of your own at family parties, where your uncle says, “Palestinian? Like the terrorists?” and you reply, “Like Jesus.” Resent Thanksgiving like you never have before. Nod and smile and hide your cleavage when you meet his family on Skype. When he visits, send a note to his mother. Spend seven hundred and thirty-four nights in his arms. Memorize his maps. Feel his heart beat against yours. Spell out with your tongue the things you can’t say. Light his cigarettes and lay claim to his skin. Lose yourself in coffee strong as sin, hookah smoke, nights spent spinning in the kitchen to Fairouz.

Marvel at the depth of his eyes, your feelings. Know that you can’t win out over his homeland. Cede to his soul. Resign yourself to second place. Race the clock. Curse the calendar. Prepare to be abandoned. Help him pack his suitcases. Parcel out your promises. Watch your knuckles pale and crack. Go with him to the airport. Ruin your mascara and your dignity in one soggy swoop. Believe him when he tells you he’ll cry too. Don’t believe him when he says he’ll come back. Tell yourself it’s for the best. Hear habibi habibi habibi in your dreams. And f**k me, I love you, please stay.

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