Waking up to watching, in a dream, my only son go flying down from three stories up holding onto his favorite toy car, arms wide open, laughing out loud, is not how I wanted to start my Thankgiving morning. I could see it very clearly: blue faded second-hand jeans, new navy blue sweater from H&M that I had bought in the summer on sale, white GAP socks that used to be his sister's, red car in hand. He was about his current age. We were at my late grandmother's house in Hazmieh, and I was on the phone. The other adults, my mother and another woman were somewhere in the house supposedly minding the kids. I was on the balcony talking on the phone. It must have been winter as he had a sweater on, so why I was on the balcony I am not sure. I must have needed some quiet. He came after me to play. I was focusing on the conversation, maybe with a friend but it might also have been with a business. All of a sudden he was climbing the railings.
I know these railings well; I spent many an afternoon in these enclosures.
I visited with Teta Hajjeh and Jeddo Ramez, had meals with aunts and uncles and played with cousins. We had lemonade and coffee and tea, ate popcorn and deep-fried starch chips. With the TV hooked inside and the screen turned out, we watched a soap opera or followed the news. We listened to the radio, played catch and cards. We called for the maid in the kitchen, for others down below, for each other from inside. When by herself there, Teta would not hear us when we rang the bell, or the phone when we called, so we got her a long-corded phone then a wireless one. I remember the question, and its response very clearly: "wein 2a3deen? (where are you sitting)?" "3al balcon (on the balcony)."
She bought vegetables from the peddlers pushing their carts, and pulled the groceries up with a basket attached to a rope. She yelled at us for picking the flowers in the garden and at her son for using too much water to water the trees. She hollered to neighbors and caught up with their news. She monitored traffic and the car wash business.
During the days of the war it was our "outing" from the shelter. On days without power, we sat by candle light, and on some days with power, we sat by candle light, too; long, white tapered candles would burn the hours away. As long as we had enough vape to burn we were good to watch the stars.In the spring we would bring out the chairs and tables and invest a lazy afternoon watching the cars go by. The folding chairs would be moved from the east balcony to the west balcony with the sun and brought in with the moon. In the summer, grandma would make apricot jam with the apricots from her tree in the garden below.
Those railings are well engraved in my mind. The white, pink and grey tile floor leads up to a ledge that holds the sturdy metal rods in place. Narrow rectangular bottom and support rails run across north to south and hold the rectangular balusters together. At regular intervals there are support posts dividing the railing into sections. The railing extend out to hold white laundry lines. The design is concluded with a top rail, wide enough to rest a coffee or tea cup on; or a little foot.
The doors leading out to the balcony are not really child-proofed. Once tall enough to reach the handle, they easily turn open and you are out on the balcony. Sometimes Teta or the maid or whoever was there last would forget to close them and we would run out. Curiosity used to make us want to lean out as far as we could. Take a step on the first landing, put a foot on the bottom rail and you are taller than you were a few seconds ago. Reach up the top rail and lean out and your body is half-way into the sky. I do not remember what it was that we had wanted to see so bad. Some days it was my uncle down below, others it was a car that had just pulled in, and others still we were just monkeying around. We would be cautioned and called out to to "get down." Some days we headed quickly, others we had to be prodded on or even physically removed. Some days we tried to squeeze between the balusters and got an arm or a leg stuck.
On this day, though, the door was already open and I was out. Yousef must have snuck up behind me to be close. I saw him there with his car in his hand. Being the climber he is, his first thought must have been to try out this new experience. I watched him put one foot up, then the other. I called on to my mom to come take him down, "Yousef is climbing," I said, and I went on with my conversation. For some reason I did not bother taking him down myself. "Is someone watching the boy?" I asked again, still on the phone. This time he had both feet up and was proceeding upwards. Car still in hand, he reached the top railing and went flying. I was standing there, phone in hand. I saw it all. I could have dropped the phone. I could have yelled at him, stopped him, distracted him. I could held him back. I could have jumped after him. But I did not. I just let him be. I let him off the ground and into the air. I saw him soaring, then falling. I heard him laugh. I saw him smile. My last thought was "at least he went down happy." With that in my mind, I woke up. He was laying on my chest snoring away.
I am not sure what prompted this dream. Maybe it was a book I had read, or the joke Jeff and I keep, or the upcoming trip Jeff and I are taking without the kids. It might be my anxiety, or my attachment, or the Facebook status update I read before bed. Whatever it was caused me to see my only son, the one I labored and struggled and beat many odds to bring into this world, take flight. I didn't rush after him. I didn't lend him a hand. I didn't stop him. Maybe I wasn't meant to. Maybe I couldn't have. It was probably time to let him go. So I let him go. I should probably let him go.