Almost A Life
YOU PICK A WAY TO SURVIVE in your country-one that surrounds and displaces you. Dede hangs onto a promise made to her by Victor, her fiancé. When he left for the US, he said, I will send for you.
That takes four years.
Four years during which Dede, her two sisters and her mother endure the siege of Beirut and are forced to flee their home. Not once, but three times. With death right outside their windows, they pantomime a normal life, attending school when it is open, making tea, listening to music, doing embroidery. The charade is short-lived. A missile crashes into the window, indelibly scarring Dede and her mother. Now disfigured, Dede’s hope turns into despair. She clings onto the occasional letter from Victor who reports on the perfect life in Connecticut he is creating for her. She writes back, not knowing if her letters will ever reach him.
In this first half of Almost a Life, the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), is experienced through the disappearance of Dede’s cousins, the explosion of a bus her sister is riding from school, the tenuousness of checkpoints, the brutality of occupation, and a scarcity of food and services. Women alone, Dede and her family manage in creative ways, just hanging on, until they are forced to leave the city.
The duration of the story, 1980-1984, is the most brutal time in the war in Beirut, marked with blockades of the port, the 1982 invasion that killed thousands, the assassination of the president-elect, the constant shuttering of the airport and the disappearance of one person after the other. For Dede, the maneuvering around these realities is magnified by her longing for Victor, her fear that she may never leave, that Victor won’t be able to find her. The reality of the siege hits her in the face when her sister is beaten by soldiers and her best friend is slaughter by a platoon on a revenge mission.
After Dede escapes, landing in Connecticut and reuniting with her beloved in Part II should be a hopeful turn of events. Life is idyllic in an apartment complex in Stamford: No bomb blasts, no checkpoints. No sisters, no mother, no best friend. Dede is alone with a man she hasn’t seen or touched in four years.
With the support of Victor’s cousin, Rachida, Dede lands a job in New York, and becomes one of the many women on the train platform, going to work every morning. Life falls into a routine, on the surface. Beneath the façade of acceptance and success is the understanding that life in the US also threatens violence and misunderstanding when a friend from work, Ashraf, a Pakistani, is brutally beaten because he is mistaken as Arab. What does that mean for Victor and Dede and the family they hope to raise?
Mysteriously, the scar that Dede had sustained from the missile blast starts to bleed again. Things are happening in her country without her: Her sister is getting married, her mother is moving again. Because she has left, however, the war has not stopped. In Beirut, Victor’s mother is shot and killed by a sniper as she is waiting in line for bread. Victor must return to Lebanon to bury her. Dede is left alone once more.
Victor’s trip takes an unexpected turn. He arrives in Beirut in the company of a US journalist and then the journalist is kidnapped and Victor vanishes. Dede launches an investigation from the US, trying to find him. Communicating through a cousin who works for a telecom company in Saudi Arabia, she desperately tries to piece together an answer. Months of searching yield nothing. Every trail goes cold. Travel has been cut off to her country. She is stuck in Connecticut, paralyzed and isolated.