15 December 2014

A Eulogy of Sorts

Usually, you get just 40 days of mourning.  They tell you that 40 days is how much a widow should mourn her husband before she can move on.  They originally did it because it would be a way to determine paternity, the cynic in me feels the need to remind you, but there was also a way to go through the states and stages of grief, and process the death before moving on.  This time, however, I needed a year.  A year to remember Youssef, to talk about him, to miss him, to grieve his passing, to be angry at the world, and to move on.  Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t, but the hole he left isn’t so raw now, and I feel I can finally write about him. I want to write about the wonderful things I remember - though I would be the first person to tell you the faults I also saw in him - and keep him alive in the eulogy of sorts.

A long time ago, my pastor gave what became one of my favorite sermons.  What do you do when life hits you in the face with a metaphorical “two-by-four”?  How do you go on when faced with tragedy?  The sermon is too long to summarize here, but the point of it was to get people to think about how can you appreciate the wake-up call from God, and how can you appreciate what you still have?

During Ramadan of 2008, when we were learning to discover each others' religions, I asked Youssef about this, and he told me that he agreed, and that he felt that falling sick for him was a message from God.  When he was in the hospital in 2007, recovering from a very serious clot in his leg (a symptom of the disease I believe eventually killed him), he told me that he gained a new appreciation for life, especially for the love he felt when his parents visited him and stayed with him in the cold, bare Moroccan state-run hospital.  He told me that these kinds of “slaps in the face” bring out you out of your selfish state of mind and obsession with the small things like nothing else, and they make you appreciate all the other gifts from God you have in your life.

What I will most remember about Youssef goes so much deeper than the relationship we had.  I will remember how he was a man of respect.  How he went out of his way to respect his family:  letting them find out about us slowly, giving all his money to them when he could.  His respect the people of Tahannoute:  as a young man with his roots in Marrakech, he came to Tahannoute at 13 and learned Tashelheet, the language of the majority there.  And the respect he had for me and helping me protect my reputation, by keeping his distance at times – even when it infuriated me – and reminding me to be careful about our relationship because it wasn’t ALL about me.

But of course, just because I remember him fondly and respectfully, doesn’t mean that the relationship, which ended over 3 years before his death, won’t stick with me.  He said that he fell in love with me – or he realized how he felt, or something – when he saw me cry.  He couldn't have known what he was getting himself into, because I must have cried at least 6 days a week during our relationship (Peace Corps is hell for your emotions, especially if you’re a crier like me) but, I think he said that before he hadn’t realized how sensitive I was, and he liked it.  Not sensitive in the way we use it, to indicate weakness, but sensitive in the way of sensing and letting myself be affected by things, sensitive as in aware and vulnerable and…  Well, if he were here maybe he could explain it better. It took his death to make me realize that he was one of very few people that I’ve ever let see me in this kind of raw emotive state.  And I was okay with that, because of his maturity, my impulsiveness, my tears, my passion didn’t freak him out.  He was just there for me when I needed him.  The lack of drama in his life had a calming effect on me.  That, and his smile.

Youssef gave me his time.  Whenever I really needed him, he came.  I wasn’t aware enough to realize how much I was asking of him, or the cultural rules that made it hard for him to say no to me, but he gave me all of himself.  He came when I was drunk, when I was sad, when I was happy, when I was annoying, when I was boring.  He never liked saying no anyway, but I like to think that – most of the time at least – he wanted to come anyway, and was just trying to give me some control in the situation, especially because I would always feel so out of control of so many variables in my life.

Hugs.  He was tall, but not absurdly so.  He was muscular, but not built.  He was gaining weight, because he was employed and eating well, and so he had a little bit of a squish to him.  And that made him the perfect hugger.  His arms would envelop me, and I never felt overweight around him, because he was just big enough to make me feel like I FIT right under his arm.  I would have stayed there forever, embraced by this man.  He used to try to get out of the hugs and I wouldn’t let him, and then he’d try to get me to smell his “manly sweat” from his armpits, as a way to drive me away.

He believed in love.  He always told me that.  He wanted to love his wife, and that was really the only dream he had for his marriage or his love life.  He was one of few who really went after that dream – no arranged marriages for him.

Seeing the world with a sense of humor – at the time it was hard for me to accept that one should just laugh at the sexual harassment because it is the tactics of boys, but Youssef knew me and he knew Moroccan boys and he always told me that only little boys would harass some girl because they were afraid…  but a real man, so to speak, knew to treat a woman with respect and talk to her… It’s not in anyway an excuse, or the best way to deal with a problem, but when you’re walking down the street in Marrakech, and a old man grabs your crotch so hard it lifts you off the ground, Youssef taught me that I have nothing to do but laugh.  There were so many other pursuits that needed my time and my energy, and he taught me not to waste this valuable energy on men who didn’t deserve my time.

On my 24th birthday, we were walking to the Dar Chebab, on the dirt shoulder on the right side of the road.  He was singing something, I don’t remember, off-key, and I made a face, or swatted at him, or something, and told him to shut up.  His response, I’ll never forget it, deflated any annoyance I could possibly have with him:  “If you don’t like my singing, you can shut up your fucking ears!”  And then he giggled.


Mike Daley said...

Thanks for sharing. Love, Papa Aziz

Liz Fuller-Wright said...

What a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing this.