I have a difficult relationship with summer. While for most people it is a time associated with fun, relaxation and smooth living in the hot summer breeze, for me it has been a time of loss, oppression, and grief. How, you may ask. I will tell you a story, not a chronological one, but an emotional one.
On June the 10th of 2005 my mother died. Suddenly, without warning. I was 16 at the time. I left home for a few days to go on a school trip, and when I came back home, my mother was in a coma. They had just performed an emergency surgery due to a brain aneurism and the following ten days after the event would be critical, they said. So we remained by her side, talked to her, which she could hear and recognise. One of her friends joked with her and asked if she wanted some Burek, a Bosnian dish, to which she surprisingly shook her head. She reacted to our touch and our voices, she was still present, just in a different way. Maybe because this woman, just like myself, had a temperament dominated by the element of fire, corresponding to the season of summer. Ironic, I know, since her flame was extinguished in that very season.
On day 8 of her coma, while I was in school, my family received a phone call. Not knowing that this was happening, I felt as if death was approaching. During chemistry class I kept looking outside the window, keeping myself from having a breakdown. I remember my teacher asking me if I were lovesick. “No”, I said coldly to mask the pain. If only it had been as mundane as being lovesick. When the bell rang I hurried to lock myself in the bathroom and cried my heart out, feeling that something was happening. The moment I stepped out to wash my face, my brother called. He told me to come outside, he and my father were on their way to pick me up and drive to the hospital. So, I knew, after all.
My mother died that day, June the 10th, at quarter to five in the afternoon. On a Friday. Alhamdulillah. We buried her seven days later, on a Friday, in the Bosnian heat. The first janaza I ever attended. She had finally returned to her home, after having been forced to leave, since the madness had erupted in our land.
The madness I speak of is what the rest of the world gets to see glimpses of during the month of July every year. The climax of the Bosnian war and the genocide of its Muslim people is remembered on July the 11th, which on that day in 1995 was the beginning of a horrific nightmare that has in one sense seen no endpoint. Seeing the pictures, the videos, the death of the men, the widows left behind, brings back to each and every one of us who carry both the burden and honour to call themselves Bosnian, the immeasurable pain of the madness that had erupted in our land.
This year, this July, something that James Baldwin had said particularly hit home. When reflecting on the assassinations of the Black American leaders of his time, which included Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, specifically while he was at Martin Luther King’s funeral, he said he kept himself from weeping. He feared that if he started to cry, he would not be able to ever stop crying. July feels like that to me, though I can never keep myself from crying. My heart won’t allow it, and it feels there is no end to the tears. They might dry up for the moment, but we all know they will come back with the next reminder of the madness that had erupted in our land. And Baldwin knew this pain in a different setting, a different heat, a different time, however it is the same madness. This is what English means to me. It has given me a deep connection to those who have put into words what I have experienced, by telling their own stories that feel just as much mine as they are theirs.
1992 was the beginning of estrangement for me. It was August. We had sat on a train, no documents, just uncertainty, and hoped we would not be stopped or returned to where we escaped from. We arrived in Germany as refugees. Went through several refugee facilities, one being a crowded gym, another being a one room arrangement for eight of our family members, the next one being a place in which a man threatened four year old me and my friend so we jumped out the window and I landed in the hospital.
This is the only childhood I knew. I did love it. It was wild, and I didn’t know what was supposed to be a normal upbringing. I only knew reality, my reality. Ours. Even after getting our first apartment, nothing was ever certain. We were deported once and had to fight for the right to remain in this country. And we did remain. What also remained, no matter how far away, was the madness that had erupted in our land. Whenever I would hear sirens I hid under a chair, or a table, because I thought “they” were coming for us, to take us back to the war zone. They, the men in the uniforms. Until my late teens I felt utterly uneasy around soldiers and policemen, their uniforms and faces only meant that my heart would start racing and I would be nervous. As children we were always told to leave wherever the police was present. Because if we got ourselves into trouble, we feared we could get deported, and be sent back to much more trouble.
You see, each year when the sun begins to become a hot threat, when its rays are not only life giving, but might also burn my all too sensitive skin, I know the season of madness has erupted. Only this year I have been given moments, feelings and experiences that somehow make me understand what people see in summer. How it can be beautiful and sweet and joyous. 15 years after June. 25 years after July. 28 years after August. I am only 31. This is the first summer that feels like my temperament which aligns with the element of fire and the season of summer, seems to be at peace with who I am, and with what was, and with what might be. I needed to be surrounded by cool, calming and majestic water, in order to understand that with balance, even the heat of summer is not so frightening anymore.
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