how death brought us together / by Dahlia Dandashi

it was the first and only time i've ever seen my father cry.

a group of my cousins got in a car crash a few years ago. everyone survived initially, just some broken bones, bruises and sprained necks. 

the driver was my cousin amr. he was hospitalized and they said he was going to be fine. his father, my dad's brother, is a doctor, but refused to operate on him and amr was sent to another hospital. he was alive and things seemed hopeful. i remember amr kept saying he was going to thank god more and pray more and sort of slow down. 

he passed away soon after. we were visiting texas at the time for summer break. we left early and flew to lebanon to unite with our family after his passing.

i walked into my uncle's house to be greeted by one of my cousin's, amr's sister. she gave me one look, walked up to me and hugged me harder than i've ever been hugged before. we just stood there and cried. i wanted to hold her forever. i remember thinking that.

amr made my family whole again. a framed photo was put up of him on the wall and we all gathered to take a photo in front of it. my family reconnected over the next five days, eating burger king at obscene hours of the night and going back and forth between houses since we all couldn’t fit in one at the same time. 

that happened when i was in high school. ali's passing was more recent. 

two summers ago, i was in dubai for summer vacation. i was with my cousins shopping when my best friend aiyah messaged me on whatsapp. she kept saying sorry, sorry i'm so sorry. i had no idea what she was talking about.

i opened her message to read "i'm so sorry ali died, i saw it on facebook..."

ali? i was so confused.

it took me a moment to process what was happening. i sat down on a chair nearby. my ears were completely blocked and i was sinking. i kept eating and digesting the words, then throwing them back up, and then eating and digesting them again.

my cousins came out of the store and gave me one look before i broke out into frantic tears and heaving. i didn't speak in the car and locked myself in the bathroom the moment i got home. i sat limp on the toilet seat, my ears ringing and my gut churning. i couldn't muster the words to speak. 

ali was someone i grew up with in dubai. he was a huge part of my life for a few years, along with his sister aya and some other friends. our mothers were friends. we all went to different schools, so we lived together on the weekends through weekend sleepovers and all day trips to the park. we were a like a family of kids who went to skatepark shows and that played video games in the garage. all we did was laugh. aya and ali were like my other siblings and their parents nibal and mohammed were like my second parents. they really were the loves of my life at the time. 

i remember aya posted that her family was holding a gathering in their home for ali, but everyone had to wear white or bright colors— they did not want black. 

it was almost ironic that there were so many people gathering for something so somber. it felt like pre-prom, with all of us stepping out of cars all dressed up. 

there were so many people. 

it was deja vu. i walked into the house and i saw aya. she gave me a look without moving, and then walked over to me and threw her arms around me. she began to sob, and i began to sob with her. we stood there for a long time. 

soon after, i saw sami, another old friend, and he did the same. much of the start of the night continued like this, where i saw old friends and we cried together. we didn't speak much-- we didn't have to. 

there were pictures of ali taped everywhere on the walls, leading up to his bedroom like a sort of whimsical trail. i felt like he was playing a game with us. it felt like he was there. 

we were encouraged by aya to go into his room and take whatever we wanted to remember him. at first, i couldn't go inside. my body was plastered to the floor beneath me. i stood inches from the door, peeking inside every moment or when the door flung open. i didn't want to walk in and not see him there.  

there were some clothes cluttered on the floor. a small suitcase, its mouth open wide. there were books. his bedsheets were undone. it was like he had just gone to run an errand and was coming back or something. 

i tried to find a video game we used to always play, but i couldn't. so i opened his closet to look for a shirt he always wore: his black dahlia murder band t-shirt. it wasn't hard to find in the piles of neatly stacked clothes. 

when i went back downstairs, we all sort of oscillated. we paced around, but all it felt very cohesive and not scattered. for the first time in years, we were all there again in each other's company. we all sort of smiled at each other or held hands momentarily. 

my mother was the disaster, the tornado. she was sitting on a chair alone, crying to herself. anyone who spoke to her was sucked in  and began to cry too. i didn't stand next to her the whole time-- i just observed her from afar. 

like the passing of amr, the passing of ali brought us all together again. we were all in one space, living off of his memory and energy. it was powerful and beautiful seeing everyone in bright colors. i know he wouldn't have wanted any of us to be upset because he was a source of positivity and love. a man too kind for words. 

by my junior year of high school, our group had drifted apart. i know we all loved each other, it was just that we were moving in different directions as we matured. but that's the whole part of growing up-- you grow into new trees and stretch your branches. you grow taller, you grow greener and you stand stronger than you did before. 

both ali and amr brought people together. my whole family was brought together for a week in lebanon, something that hadn't happened in a long time. ali brought me and old friends together, reminding me that it's important not to forget people or things that once made you happy. appreciating things has become very important to me because my memory is so shit. i want to make sure i remember everything. i've been paranoid about forgetting, so i keep all the train stubs, metro cards, maps, letters, polaroids, museum tickets-- anything tangible that i can feel in my hands so i do not forget.

i loved both of these people very dearly and in very different ways. i am lucky to have known these men, both known for bringing color into the lives of their loved ones. the fact is that their souls were eminent lights and this is exactly how i remember them. 

though the gatherings in their honor were brief, those moments made me feel alive. they brought sadness, happiness, tears, frustration, talks of god, talks of death— they made us connect in ways we never had before. for the first time, i am able to write about them with my whole heart and smiling because i know they’re now glowing in another place. one day, i'll meet them again at the top of treetops, floating somewhere in the sky, taller than i ever was.