32 years after the Civil War, mundane moments trigger horrific memories

“Maps were my childhood, how can I hate that? Raoul recently said. “And I was the best.”

One night, while Raoul was sleeping – his bedroom window had the dining table nailed to it, to protect against snipers – the shelling began. His mother cried out for him, watching frantically until they found Raoul, then 5, crying while hugging a framed picture of the Virgin Mary that had fallen from the wall, praying for his life. He developed a stutter after that.

“When I left Lebanon, I left. I only took my stutter with me,” said Raoul, who has lived in the United Arab Emirates and Poland since leaving Lebanon. “That’s it. That’s the baggage I took with me.

I was lucky. I didn’t grow up in Lebanon, at least not full time, because my father was working abroad, waiting for the end of the war and the possibility of returning.

Yet every summer, no matter what happened – an Israeli invasion, the suicide bombing that killed hundreds of US Marines – we went back there, to be with our families, to hold their hands and say: we have not abandoned you. It was the twisted part of survivor’s guilt, a role I played every summer until we moved back to Lebanon in the early 1990s when I was 10.

We had our close calls on these summer visits. In 1985, my mother took us for an errand with my siblings and she left the highway to take another road. Seconds later, a giant explosion erupted from where our car had been idling, killing at least 50 people. We saw the wounded fleeing, blood running down their faces.

Many wonder how their adult life would have been better if their childhood had been different.

For Abed Bibi, a 58-year-old man married to a friend of mine, he can’t stand black.

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