Written by Cecile Sarruf
لَا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ لِأَخِيهِ أَوْ قَالَ لِجَارِهِ مَا يُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِهِ
“None of you has faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 13
The self-loathing Orlando killer abandoned his family, his brothers and in the end, his truth.
I stood outside my apartment on my upstairs porch on a cold Los Angeles night. I had done it again. Locked myself out. Above the stairs, leading to my front door, was a rather small bathroom window. I was too short to reach up from the stair well. Thank God I had a brother in town, Akram. “What are you up to? I need help.” I asked him. He came over in less than fifteen minutes. Standing all of 6’3″, he got up and squeezed himself through and landed in my bathtub, one long leg at a time; a difficult feat, but hey, what are brothers for?
Years ago, after Mom had died, I was a mess and not thinking straight. I got into a six car accident in Orange County. My mother’s car, I’d inherited, was a total wreck! I was a wreck. So, I called Akram. He pulled up, surveyed the damage and told me not to worry. Through my tears and lack of car insurance, I asked what the hell I was supposed to do without a car?! I junked it for $600.00 bucks. Next thing I knew, he bought me a used KIA Sportage. “Pay me back when you can.” He said. And I did. I was really having a terrible time dealing with Mom’s death. She had left a hole in my heart. I lost my apartment due to unemployment and grief over her being gone forever. Akram offered me an upstairs room in his beautiful two story house in Yorba Linda. “When you get a job, pay me five hundred in rent.” He told me. He threw lavish parties, wiped my tears away and gave me a sense of renewed hope.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
I had lost complete hearing to my right ear and basically, I was blindsided by this nasty bit of news. Always an athletic girl, I freaked out when I learned I would have to have major cranial surgery. My three sisters lived out of town; one in New Mexico, one in Vegas and one in Northern California, but no worries. Rafic, our other brother, lived in Los Angeles and worked at Kaiser Permanente. The day of my much feared and anticipated surgery, he came to USC and sat for eight long hours in a waiting room for the removal of the damn thing. He was the first smiling face I’d see when I opened my eyes in ICU. Both my brothers Akram and Rafic brought me bouquets of flowers and finally took me home. They nursed me back to health. They reassured me that my palsy was not as bad as I made it out to be (it was) and that I’d recover in no time (it’s taken nearly a year with more to go). But despite my funny face, due to paralyzation, they assured me of my beauty inside and out. Together, we counted my blessings as I remained in recovery. Thank goodness Rafic was a nurse in the medical field. He made sure I took my medication and got my much needed “guilt –free” rest.
“Khallas (enough), be grateful you didn’t lose your life under the knife!” They told me.
My brothers fight for my attention; who am I heading out to the beach with? Who is joining me for a movie, and when I make a pan of baklava, they fight over each piece, claiming the other got the larger portion. Through the years, it was our third brother, Khaled, and his spouse who would fly me up to Seattle to get away from the rat race in Los Angeles. Akram and Rafic would fly up too. We’d all spend Thanksgiving together, recounting our numerous escapades over the years. I had to squeeze myself into the kitchen because Khaled and Rafic would fuss over who had first dibs. After all, Rafic claimed to be the best chef ever. Well, he once owned and ran a Mediterranean restaurant in Silver Lake, so I suppose he had a point. But Khaled won out since it was his house we were in. Rafic, Akram and I would sit back and goad Khaled with our sharp tongues as he cooked. Through the laughter, tears and silliness; through our broken romances and attempts at finding the “right one,” we all managed to enjoy life to the fullest.
“Pack your bags, you’re going to Lebanon.” Khaled once told me back in 2004.
“How am I going to do that on a teacher’s salary?” I asked him.
“Akram already bought your ticket. Pay him back when you can,” he said. It was a warm July when I embarked on a journey overseas for the best time of my life. Khaled was waiting in Beirut. We were inseparable, as brothers and sisters ought to be. We took in the sights and journeyed through Tripoli, Baaleck, and Jounieh; hit the beaches in Byblos, attended a wedding on the Corniche, danced and clubbed into the wee hours practically every night! We created indelible memories to last a life time. And now, we look back fondly in phone conversations, “Remember when….”
By the way, my three beautiful (inside & out) brothers are all gay Muslim Lebanese men and unrelated by blood to me. They may struggle with religion, but who doesn’t? Is this not part of the spiritual journey? To question, to dialogue and live out our lives best we can? My blood relation of a brother is a no-show in my life. He lives a stone’s throw away from me and shits money. Long story short, he married a wealthy Armenian woman, built a house ground up in Newport Coast in SOCAL and for the most part, cut me and my sisters out of his life. Funny how superficial and apathetic real family members can sometimes get, leaving in their wake terrible scars. No worries though. I have learned a life lesson. They say blood is thicker than water. True, however, it can also coagulate and scar over into an ugly, unsightly, stubborn wound. I pick at my wounds when anxious and feeling abandoned. But then, I realize that water is symbolic of cleansing, freedom and the removal of such obstacles. Water is a healing thing and afforded to all who wish to partake.
My three “chosen” brothers have baptized me into their tribe.
I only hope I can live up to their standards of the unconditional love and generosity they have shown me through-out the years. Thanks to their friendship and presence in my life, I will strive to be the most worthwhile sister they could ever have.