I am infested with memories. They hang from my face like an oily unwashed beard. They refuse to speak. Instead, they dance to the muffled sounds of creaky tables overloaded with the weight of dying dreams.
Trying to arrange my recollections into neatly marked cubbyholes has never worked. There are no childhood memories that can be contained separately from the awkward recollections of adolescence. There is no separation between last year and the one before. Despite their natural state of interconnectedness, the incalculable size of experiences gives me the impression that I have lived thousands of distinctly separate lifetimes.
The earliest memories I have are of my older sister's room in Abu Dhabi, decorated with the excitement of an emerging pop culture in the Eighties that was shaping the mindsets of people around the world. Although later I would learn that many of these images and attached meanings would become an effective weapon in shifting power to societies obsessed with merciless capitalism, at the time, they were glossy windows into a world of colourful imagination and limitless beauty. Exiled, we carry hybrid, sometimes fragmented, identity cards around our necks.
Memories are carried in vessels, charting the seas of subconsciousness, occasionally stopping at islands of recollection, only to set sail again. Sometimes, they are forced ashore by powerful storms fueled by sudden shifts in destiny filled skies. These powerful boats which are entrusted with carrying the substance of lifetimes are the carriers of existence itself. Smell, taste, colour, sound, location, are just some of the ways in which they navigate themselves from one port to the other.
To this day, there are songs loaded with memory that break me into a thousand pieces like a windshield smashed by the impact of a drunk driver. The smell of homes cooked by the searing heat of a family's tales picks me up from my tired hair and drags me to a specific time and place where recollection rolls over me like an angry airplane tearing up the tarmac.
A refugee's suitcase is never big enough. Images that are too large to capture digitally, pixelated by a violent flash of the lights, are just too heavy to be lugged around. Instead, they are quietly buried along the way, near the scene of the crime, with the hopes that the oncoming flock of vultures would find them irrelevant to their endless appetite for death.
Sometimes, music can be stuffed into hungry pockets, and snuck across heartless borders. Once there, on the most foreign of days, the smallest of utterances will shift the ground beneath one's feet, bringing the heat of a playful street to replace the cold concrete. It is only from the memories of stolen lands and destroyed destinies that a radical consciousness will arise to bring back what can never be forever lost.
Although the memory shared in this story is of a little boy sitting on the carpeted floor of a poster plastered playground of a teenage girl; me and my older sister, it speaks to the strength of memories in building analytic tools to take hold of the world around us. The life my parents fought hard to give me emerges from a set of mostly comfortable memories to become a perfect study of how their escape from Iraq narrates the story of a destroyed people.
A journey through the mechanisms that form and kill memories doesn't have to be a painfully selfish and existential exercise where someone masturbates in a cesspool of their own personal plasma. It can be a celebration of the ability of memories to hold together communities, peoples, and their struggles.
From Abu Dhabi to Toronto to Doha, and forever Baghdad, the trail of memories left behind will always embody the ability of the mind to replace the fatal effects of exile with a journey towards justice.
I yearn for a day when I can sit on that same floor, and layout every single story, like a child with his or her favourite toys, and build a world that contains all of my memories into one coherent and durable structure. But when the most fundamental meanings of life change to the tune of fighting for survival, chronology and logic fizzle under the acidic feet of diaspora.
We are always buried with the fear that memories are not our own, but in fact are the sum of other people's lives. Ultimately, nobody owns the creative means to their own story, and in many ways, that is a good thing.