Love. God. Sex.

The call to prayer comes in along with a warm breeze through the open balcony door into our bedroom. We are sweaty and hot and wrapped around each other in a perfectly comfortable embrace, the kind that comes after hundreds of other embraces and adjustments of knees, and arms and necks until finally you’ve memorized each other’s curves and bumps so that you don’t even have to think about it.

This always happened to us, the call to prayer coming in right after or during. I can’t remember it ever making me feel ashamed, this overlap of the physical and the divine. It felt like a reinforcement from the heavens of what I felt- that what happened here was miraculous and holy. We were not debasing our bodies, I thought, we were propping up each other’s souls. God likes that kind of stuff, I think.

What did make me uncomfortable, was what started happening when we started happening. After making love, I would become overwhelmed by a feeling of pure knowing and warmth that wasn’t mine. I couldn’t name it, I can’t even describe it. It would often leave me in tears and I think scared him the first time. A crying, naked girl in your bed is not a good way to end the night.  It was a presence that was neither him nor me. Were we having a threesome with God? My great-grandmother? Worse, my grandfather? Who would wants to reach out from eternity to nestle in with us as the biggest spoon?

There is an email in my Drafts folder that I didn’t have time to finish writing before my life shattered. It was to Anita Moorjani, a spiritual writer who had gone to the other side and come back with all the answers. I didn’t finish it because I couldn’t find the right way to ask a total stranger why a spirit or even The Spirit wanted in on my bedroom action. See? I still can’t find a way to ask that question. I’m glad I never sent it. What would be the response? And worse, what would be my follow-up email? “GOD IS DEAD AND SO IS LOVE. In peace and love, Masha.”

You can imagine that this weird phenomenon has been filed away in the evidence drawer marked “Denial” along with a million scraps of poetry, his laugh, Sufi skirts billowing, our cat’s purr when he is sandwiched between us, Nina Simone, and everything that has ever been beautiful or good.

It’s been so hard to start unpacking the drawer and dusting him off of the things that existed before him, without him, which like me, will continue to exist even if he is gone.

My relationship with the idea of God has been as complex and full of fear and mistrust as have my feelings about love and sex, especially the place where the last two intersect. Still, I can’t deny the buzzing of sparkly, knowing energy I feel in my life anymore than I can deny the butterfly flutterings of love. And since I met him, I can’t deny that I reached both through the intimate dance in our bed.

It’s been hard to reconcile these two truths – my union with this person was sacred and this person left me.

The definition of God that I am most comfortable with, is a surrender to love. The only way I can make sense out of what happened between us, is that it’s not so much about him. Though he inspired me to find the courage to do so, the miracle here is that finally, for the first time in my life  I was able to surrender to love completely.

Anxiety. Or rather, ANXIETY!!!!!!!!

Anxiety. I never claimed this word as my own. On the subway, when I’d look at the advertisements for churches, medication and hotlines, I’d  answer their question “ ARE YOU FEELING DEPRESSED?” with an honest “yes.” When the same question was asked about feeling anxious, well, I didn’t even bother reading the full question.

I’ve had a couple of panic attacks before, sure.  But that’s normal, right? There was that time my parents took me to the hospital because I thought I couldn’t breathe and my oxygen levels turned out to be better than average, but that happens to everyone, no doubt. That same week my parents took me to a hospital because I was having an allergic reaction to watermelon.  Once the doctor  administered steroids,  I screamed  “it’s making it worse!”  and almost jumped off the bed. That too, I’m sure is an embarrassing story everyone carries with them. More recently I began to suspect that I had spinal cancer and lung cancer and months before that, had my first mammogram because of an ill-fitting bra. Also, I can never sleep with my left breast directly against the mattress because I can hear my heart and I start thinking that it might explode. All normal things.

What I also thought was that there was something inherently wrong with me, obviously not because I had an anxiety disorder, but because everyone was feeling just like me but somehow still writing books, having healthy relationships, going back to work after a death and generally conducting their life as if they weren’t wading through honey all the time. If everyone felt threatened every second of every day but still managed to do stuff, why couldn’t I?

After a diagnosis of a Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I now know that not everyone thinks they are dying all of the time. Or that their boyfriend secretly wants to leave them. Oh wait. That was actually my intuition kicking in. Can I tell you something? That’s the worst thing about anxiety –  sometimes your fear voice speaks just as loudly as your inner guidance. It’s like they’re twins, except one of them starts screaming “FIRE!!!” whenever she sees a spark in a boy’s eye. And you never know which one is screaming, the one who’s always lying or the one who has never lied to you before. They both claim to be truthful, pointing a finger of blame at the other. They’re hard to tell apart and that’s so dangerous for someone like me, a person who lives by the rules and the pathways her heart whispers about. How can you even hear a whisper with all that crazy screeching?

A friend was telling me about a misunderstanding with her partner yesterday. “It’s like I put 1 and 1 together and got 43.” Add “???!!!!!” to the end of that 43 and you have the anxiety formula, at least my anxiety’s formula.

It’s just the worst. And it’s the worst when it’s piled up on top of grief. And it’s the worst when that grief feels like you’re a child whose parent just left, rather than an adult whose adult friend left because you have so much unresolved trauma.

But, (there is always a hopeful but in my world, no matter how dark it feels) I get giddy when I think about who I am underneath all of the trauma and grief and anxiety. Who is this girl when she’s not stuck in a pool of honey? As the healing begins, not just from the break up, but all of the other things, what will she do? What is she capable of? Time and lots of therapy will tell.

The Voices In My Head.

You’ll get him back.

You’ll never get him back.

He’s gone.

You can get him back if you try really hard.

Fuck it, you don’t want him back.

Yes, you do. You really, really do.

Why did you fuck this up? You KNEW how important this was.

I did the best I could, as a terrified mouse who feels like the entire world is one hungry cat, I did the very best I could.

Bullshit.

He’s right, you just don’t want to see the truth. You never would have made it.

I’m right, we were meant for each other, we have so much more to gain together. 

He’s your soulmate.

A soulmate wouldn’t leave you.

So that means he’s coming back. Because he’s my soulmate.

Soulmates is not a real thing.

Yes, it is. You know this. Tie him up in a chair with soft, satin ribbons and show him how wrong he is. Make charts, a slideshow, do whatever it takes but don’t let him leave until he believes you.

He’ll meet someone better.

No one is better for him than you.

I’ll meet someone better.

There’s no one better.

You’re missing the point- you have to learn to be alone.

I’m already alone.

I love him, I love him, I love him.

He loves you, he loves you, he loves you.

He’s never coming back.

Returning to Istanbul

I am back in Istanbul and it feels so right to be here, at the epicenter of my greatest joy and my greatest pain. Getting here was not easy. It took two panic attacks at the airport in Amsterdam, an excruciatingly lonely flight, two hours of holding back tears in an endless line at passport control and finally walking out after customs, his face missing from the crowd at arrivals. I knew he wouldn’t be there, why would he be there? Still, I hoped.

I think I’m almost done hoping. Almost. Today I went to therapy. I’ve been so mad at the universe for doing this, but I have finally given in. I asked for one thing only. “If you are insisting that I take this shitty road, at least clear out some of the thorny branches ahead. Make it easier for me to walk. You can start by sending me to a therapist that will actually help me.“ And I think I was heard.

I have figured out so much about myself these last three weeks and I have never worked this hard for anything. I needed to show a stranger who I am, or rather the things that I have done or have been done to me that I thought were who I am. I needed to have the courage to ask someone who isn’t my friend or my family to see me. I want to be seen so badly, but I have been so afraid of being unacceptable. Today my therapist saw a glimpse of the worst and the best of what I carry, and she looked back with compassion, not judgement. And somehow that brief exchange, felt like getting the next number of a code that opens the lock. I hadn’t mentioned any of my pilgrimages and my obsession with walking. I came into her office today and said I need you to help me learn to suffer. She listened and then she offered up this, “Maybe what you need is someone to walk beside you through the suffering so that you’re not alone anymore.”

I am home and I am safe.  This city, as my friend Katie said yesterday “requires a blood sacrifice,” but it gives back so much if you can stand the suffering just a little bit longer than you thought you could. If you surrender to it just a little bit more generously than you want to.

I feared that losing him meant losing everything that I love. And it finally doesn’t feel like that. I saw a friend the other night for the first time since this happened and I was scared of how he would be around me. What if he was uncomfortable and distant? They were friends first, they work together, and because they are Syrian they share a loss that I will never be able to feel, no matter how much I try. How could I not be edged out? But he held my hand and asked me why I had to go to Amsterdam to be with family, when my family is here too. “We need you. We’re Syrian, think of what we’ve lost already- we can’t lose you too.”  I am home and I am safe.

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