Mirene Arsanios


Nineteen Ninety One

From 1991 to 1993, we lived in a house perched on the top of a hilly pinewood region called Monte Verde. From the terrace, we could see Beirut cloaked under a thick layer of smog. We pointed our fingers at it, as if to distance ourselves from its disorder and war. Up here, things were different: we lived among gigantic pine trees. There were very few traces of bullets or bombs on the architecture or in the way people spoke.

My room had a wall-mounted phone that may have been baby-pink or another pastel color. As I write this, I can see the house, experience it from the inside: a present without memories, a continuous stream of bodily experience free of recollection or narrative. In the language of sentences though, the house was spacious enough to contain birthday parties, a large fridge, a Ping-Pong table, and three bathrooms. An olive-colored carpet with cigarette burn holes covered the bedroom floors and a tick-ridden poodle, Tiny, came with the house at no extra cost.

My mother had settled on the house after a long search; real estate was her first and most steady love. My father was rarely around. He travelled a lot to help Lebanon become an international country with a real government and potential investors. My mother was beautiful but alone. She cooked sugar-free cakes only she would eat. She barely spoke Arabic yet refused not to speak it. People admired her efforts. She was always making an effort. In her sleep, she struggled not to wake up. Every evening, she smeared a thick layer of anti-aging cream on her face and kissed us goodnight. In those years, my younger brother wasn’t part of my world. When I walk from the living room to the kitchen, I see nothing of who he was or what he might have wanted.

Most of my time outside of school was spent on the phone, trying to call friends. The lines had been damaged during the war, but sometimes, a call would miraculously get through and reach Mireille Abu Araj, a neighbor with blue eyes and blond hair who ate pizza over bread. She was older and used expensive shampoo, kiwi or coconut scented. I could learn from her, something about making the body shine. Back then and even today, I wanted people to admire me in separate parts: my hair, my eyes, and my fingernails, which I grew and tended to like plants. Every other morning, I had a new body I showed Mireille, Yara, and Samar. We would compare notes, spread our legs before a large mirror and silently observe the curly wetness of our vaginas. I had the hairiest bush, the largest ambitions.