I dream that Mahmoud falls on the ground in a seizure. I am the only one there to save him. I yell at someone to call my father, which is the instant reaction in my family when this happens in real life. I shake him.
I remember that he needs to be lying on his right side so, with great effort, I turn him. I keep shaking him and calling his name but to no avail. Is he gone? Is my beautiful brother gone? Then, his sea-green eyes open, so bright and gentle. Are they olive green or sea green? He smiles at me. He’s here. Still here.
One of the many dreams that I have about him in some kind of peril.
My father finally finds another report. He sends it to me by WhatsApp.
Dr. Jack ******.
Now I know his name. Stalker mode: on.
A PORTRAIT: AT THE SINK
Los Angeles. The bedroom is dark. My mother and our nanny, Momina, sitting across from each other, each on the edge of a bed. Both of them weeping, possibly for different reasons. One of them was blamed. Or that’s what I understood back then at least.
The only light comes through the bathroom, like a spotlight on a pitch-black stage. My father standing over Mahmoud, pounding him on the back, yelling at him. What has Mahmoud done?
Do feelings and realizations take a part in theater? Are they ever actors on stage? In this portrait the realization is this: Someone has made a mistake with Mahmoud’s daily medication. He has taken too much. Mahmoud is very fragile. He must throw up now or else he will have سيجر.
Also, my father is not angry. He’s terrified.
A part of me wants to go back to console the little one that was me who witnessed all his pain and trauma. I want to go back and console the little one that was him who never had the chance to heal. Little Mahmoud exists very vividly for me now and I just want to apologize to him for everything, everything we never understood, or any hurt we couldn’t kiss enough.
I’m sorry you had many seizures. I’m sure it must have been so scary for you, to disappear like that and then wake up to people wailing around you and strange faces calling you back. I’m sorry you had to be “handled” by doctors and paramedics when you didn’t understand why. I’m sorry if your reality was shaky for you, because you didn’t know when you would disappear next. I’m sorry if in our own fear and desperation to help you, we were harsh or firm or angry. I just want to seize the little you in the jeans and the red shirt and the glossy black curls and hold you and hold you and squeeze you real hard.
Mahmoud was older than me but somehow, I was always older than him. And today, it’s something about the emotional agency that I learned to have. Is it me I’m healing or him? Or us both? It all trickled and – at times – cascaded darkly upon us both, back then. We were children, just flotsam and jetsam in the flow of life. It hurts my heart. Just reading a snippet of the report from the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute that my dad sent to me via WhatsApp. It’s almost like I want to send a phantom of myself back there just to hold space for the emotion of that time, to walk through it with them, with those two children – him and I - and with that family.
TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER
Dr. Jack smiles at us as we sit in a row on our sofa at home. Mahmoud is on my right and my parents on my left. Yuyu, the new addition to our family that Dr. Jack never met, hovers in the background.
Dr. Jack is sunny and deeply sensitive. I never realized how wonderful he was – is – until I met him again as an adult. It turns out, twenty-three years later, that Dr. Jack still thought of us and Mahmoud.
“Mahmoud!” he says with a bright grin and perfect pronunciation, “How are you? Do you remember me? Dr. Jack!”
Mahmoud takes a moment to process. He does remember. He’s only moving around some furniture in his mind. How is it possible that Jack is here talking to him on the computer? Maybe he’s overcome with shyness or disbelief, but it takes Mahmoud some time before he chimes in.
Dr. Jack helps us as a family to move forward with helping Mahmoud communicate better. He gives us tips and ideas and promises to work more with us. And Mahmoud watches.
We show Dr. Jack Mahmoud’s artwork. We engage Mahmoud in the conversation. He’s open now, curious, a little bit confused. And then he does something, that he probably hasn’t done in years. With his left hand, he stretches out his lame right hand to exercise it.
Just like Jack taught him to do years ago.