It’s a Tuesday morning, and with nothing else on my agenda I’m going through every file in an old hard drive’s folder labelled “Old iPhone” when I find a video that’s 15:24 minutes long.
The preview icon is a blur; I don’t know what it is, and what needed to be recorded for 15 minutes. I play it and Lila’s face comes up, upside down, her double chin pronounced in an exaggerated, comical angle. Clearly, she had found my phone and tapped at the screen, bringing up the video function. I check the date and time stamp of the file as the video plays: this was recorded in Saudi Arabia, 2010. She is one year old. It’s the evening, I can tell as she waves the phone around one last time and I see the lights of our living room, a sliver of the window and the darkness outside, before she drops the phone, camera down, and the screen goes black but keeps recording.
It’s a strange feeling to hear a recording of yourself; even more so when you’ve been ignorant of its very existence and stumble upon it twelve years later. I hear a clatter of dishes, feet shuffling. A series of footsteps running, obviously Lila; a small thud followed by a piercing cry. “Hey, what’s up? Get off from there,” I hear myself say. Crying starts in earnest. It’s a cry embedded in my memory, part of my DNA, something I thought I’d never hear again. I remember, I remember it all: it’s the sound of a tantrum that’s gathering like a storm, an emotional wave her toddler self can’t control. That long wail before her voice trembles at the end of her breath, that pause just before she sucks in more air and starts over again. How I hate that sound. I wince just hearing it.
Nevertheless, I press my headset closer to my ears and lean towards my computer, rapt. The screen is still black. Sounds of a past life continue to play from my headset, an aural time-machine. I am cajoling her into a better mood as I do something else. The crying continues. The sounds ebb and flow as we move around the space of that pre-fabricated house, that house I loved and then hated, our voices receding like three dots at the end of a sentence. I probably changed her diaper. Then I’m back in the kitchen, rustling something out of a plastic bag. The cry gets louder again; she is now where I am, tantrum still in full swing for what seems like an eternity until I suddenly hear my 2010 self shout, “STOP IT! Motherfucking STOP IT!”
I’ve never heard myself lose it before. When we’re angry we hear it in our minds, don’t we? It’s an involuntary thing that just comes out, more emotion than speech or sense. My voice continues in a controlled, calm version of hysteria. “Goddam it, what do you want, what the fuck do you want from me? What the fuck!” I’m seething in the recording; it terrifies me. Footsteps; I must have left the room, and after several minutes the crying peters out and blends into silence.
I remember this period. I had been waking up for weeks feeling off. Taking my temperature at random times of the day, convinced I was running a fever. Those weeks when I was still up at 2am, feeling like my skin didn’t fit, a dull headache a permanent guest between my eyes, the bone-tiredness seeping in through my pores, so much so that I felt it had stitched itself to the outline of my entire body and had morphed into a second person I had to carry around at all times. I didn’t know it then, but this was me crossing some invisible line in slow-motion, a line between health and sickness. I didn’t know it then, but something was starting to agitate deep inside my body, chemistry and biology at work (it was only a matter of time; it was in me all along.) Somewhere in the very near future, still unknown to me, I would be crawling along the very same floor where I was currently shouting at my daughter, too tired to lift my body to a standing or sitting position, my limbs searing with pain; fumbling with the phone to dial my husband’s number and repeat, “I’m tired, I’m tired, something’s wrong, I can’t stand up; you have to come home now.”
Taking the brunt of it all is my daughter, with her lopsided bangs touching her eyes and a diaper in need of a change. Just hungry and wet but not understanding that my joints, swollen to a grotesque, cartoonish state, couldn’t even manage to twist the cap off a water bottle to prepare her milk.
The video keeps playing. In Saudi in 2010 – another universe – the door opens. I hear him enter noisily, saying hello to Lila who, in her bad mood, rejects him angrily in toddler babble as he tickles her and entertains her and finally says “Boo-hoo, you’re no fun; I’m taking my shower alors!” Then, murmurations of conversation: he has come to where I am, wherever that is. Then the sound moves purposefully, closer and closer, until the darkness lifts and a view of the blue carpet fills my laptop’s screen, and I hear him say It’s here, why th— before the video cuts.
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