The Boy Who Cried “I’m Going to Syria”

She laughed to herself, thinking about it now. How obvious it was that he was blatantly using the excuse of wanting to make his way toward the Turkish-Syrian border from Iskenderun. They had been having far too much of a good time there as the summer began to wind down. And with it, his once flaring passions. It was as if, with the changing weather, he, too, felt that he ought to alter his own course as well. Away from Magdalena, who tended to go by Lena as she did not enjoy the whorish connotations of the complete name. Connotations that were compounded by Halston’s weirdnesses about how a woman should “be.” To put it more concretely, sure, he liked that Lena was willing to go down on him more than other girls he had been with, but he also not so secretly took it as a sign that she was, in turn, sluttier than other girls he had been with as well. Even so, good head is good head, and will keep a man around longer than he might otherwise stay. Lena was starting to see that as she experimented with rationing her usual generosity, not giving him head when he was in a bad mood and giving it to him when he was. She wanted to mind fuck him as much as he had been doing to her of late, one day saying he wished to stay on in Iskenderun, the next saying he wanted to start dropping down to Samandağ so that he could finally get to Latakia in Syria. The very mention of the country sent a chill down her spine. Halston was also well-aware of her daintiness–
“delicate sensibilities” in this case referring to a somewhat reasonable desire to not want to chill next to ISIS’ playground.

She ruminated on this awareness of his, this surely careful calculation in mentioning it as a means to fear monger, instill within her a level of anxiety that would ultimately convince her to flee. Which, of course, she did. Years later, she fully realized why. It was when Halston started making flagrant displays of looking into the bus schedule for Latakia within the next week so that they–or he–could depart that the terror within her rose to a crescendo. Her panic was at an all-time flare-up for several reasons. Not only for her safety, but at the prospect of losing Halston, not just metaphorically but literally. Who knows what might happen to him in Syria? Especially with his overt disregard for amending his arrogant white male behavior based on his surroundings in any way. To Lena, it spelled imminent disaster for his mortality. Or was that just the paranoia her mother had imbued within her during her adolescence? Granted, growing up amid the daily war zone that was Mexico City had perhaps given Luz a justifiable enough reason to be so perpetually paranoid, and inflict said paranoia upon her only daughter. Lena’s three brothers, she had to note, lived their lives with a much more overt amount of devil-may-careness. Case in point being that they all opted to stay in Mexico, whereas Lena could not leave fast enough to get to New York, where, of course, misfortune (she could see that’s what it was with hindsight) led her into the arms of Halston, who awaited her at a contemporary literature class she was auditing. While she had finagled a scholarship to Columbia, Halston was coasting on the familial dime and name, a legacy acceptance, as others whispered about him when he walked past, perhaps jealous that they themselves had to waste so much of their youth taking all the necessary precautions to get in.

Lena wasn’t one to adopt an air of superiority in general, and certainly not one aimed at Halston. For she herself couldn’t deny that her ethnicity and personal struggle narrative had helped her get in the door. In this way, one had to wonder what was worse, for the only way to make an impression in the realm of higher education in the U.S. was to be from an extreme side of the spectrum of poverty or wealth. It was now, more than ever, not enough to just be “average” (president of the French club, captain of the swim team and 4.0 GPA or not). Lena’s lack of resentful judgment toward Halston, paired with his natural gravitation to yin and yang love stories, meant the two were inevitably destined to become a romantic item. Or as romantic as someone of Halston’s Anglican descent could be.

As their rapport grew deeper, Halston felt comfortable enough to introduce her to his family the Thanksgiving a year after they had become “one.” It wasn’t the first time Lena would feel betrayed by Halston in terms of being made to believe he wouldn’t lead her down the path to some kind of lamb’s slaughter. But it was one of her most memorable slaughterings–that is, until Turkey. The psychological warfare inflicted by Halston’s mother would be nothing compared to Halston’s own brand, which, clearly, saw fit to manufacture this entire post-college graduation trip as a means to “gingerly” and very slowly break off their three-year relationship. While Lena had plans to return to New York, Halston was conniving to remain behind in London so that he could “start adulthood” in a different setting, one that wouldn’t tempt him to revert to ne’er do well behavior so easily as a result of pervasive sentimental memories of being fucked up that bombarded him on any given street corner of NYC. He would not inform Lena of this, preferring to let her know down the road (should they manage to remain friends) that an “opportunity arose” and he had to take it.

Alas, Lena would only hear of his move to London in the aftermath of the burn, seeing his updated personal information status on Facebook before blocking him for her own self-preservation. Self-preservation was also the reason she had told herself things had to end between them. His erratic and irrational decision-making was, to her, manifested in this one final act of absurdity: going to Syria by bus. When he asked her the night before, just one last time, if she was absolutely sure she didn’t want to come with him, she nodded solemnly, confessing that she had already booked her flight to go back to New York for the following day, so that she could swiftly rip the Band-Aid and let the sting pervade her so that the pain could sooner dull (or so she prayed). To her surprise, Halston actually showed signs of emotion as he furrowed his brow at her and puckered his lips as though to briefly hold in all the sentiment that might come out. “So then I suppose your decision has been incontrovertibly made,” he finally uttered meekly. He was clever that way, positioning it as though it really had been her choice all along. Before she could come up with an adequate response, he delivered a death blow of tenderness by pulling aside a tendril of her freshly washed hair, still damp and therefore somewhat darker than usual.

She could think of nothing fitting to express what she want to say, letting him, once more, take the reins. He stared deeply into her eyes with what she imagined now to be an Oscar-worthy performance and assured, “I want you to know I’ve really treasured our time together.” She could still hear that consolation ringing in her ears even now. She had, after all these years, decided to return to Iskenderun–in the fall, around the same season their coda had occurred there. Though she had established some semblance of a life in New York–low-paying editing job, a handful of still single friends that didn’t judge her for herself being single–she felt a constant lack inside of her. All tracing back to this pivotal closing scene in Iskenderun.

Back in that moment seemingly always, she can recall landing in New York after bidding her last adieu to Halston. As they waited on the tarmac to taxi to the gate, she checked her various social media accounts to unearth that he had very much departed from their joint city of temporary origin. It was not, as much talked about, Latakia that he had chosen to post up in, but Tbilisi. In Georgia, a perfectly safe distance from the country that had driven Lena away. She took a deep breath as she absorbed the photos of him gleefully drinking wine with people–mainly other girls–in his hostel. It assaulted her like Death with a scythe. But what had changed? she asked herself. She likely would have continued traveling with him had she not been strategically conditioned to expect he was going to Syria and nothing could talk him out of it. It was all that buildup, all that mental preparation in believing they could not be together due to a fundamental difference of opinion on geographical location that suddenly made for an even worse about-face of effrontery prior to when the slight didn’t feel so premeditated.

She composed herself long enough to collect her luggage from the overhead bin, waiting to let the tears flow until she made it to a bathroom stall in JFK. A miasma of thoughts floated into her brain. Should she contact him, or wait for him to do it so that he could explain himself? Surely there had to be a logical explanation. Something that came up at the last second that he could not have anticipated. Maybe there was even an email from him she hadn’t seen yet, asking her to come back, telling her that things had changed and they didn’t need to bother with trying to be apart any longer. But no such message appeared in her inbox. She took deep breaths to avoid full-fledged hyperventilation so that she could get it together long enough to go to the baggage claim. She would not reach out to him, she decided. He was the one who owed her an explanation, and if he wanted to give it, she reasoned, then he would. He never did.

After the London intel, there was no way for Lena to find out what might have happened to Halston. If he was still there or had moved on once more. In Iskenderun five years on, the owner of the by the week apartment still remembered her, asked where her “special boy” was. “I don’t know any special boy these days,” she explained, though she was fairly certain he had no idea what she was saying and that it was dripping with sarcasm.

She had to stay here, she reckoned, for the rest of her life. It would be the only way for her to reconcile what had happened. She would never know, not truly, why Halston had to get rid of her. Why he couldn’t have at least given her the chance to argue her case, to attempt to change for him. But then again, maybe in this regard he did love her. Had done her the ultimate favor in deciding to “release” her so that she would not have to compromise who she was. By the same token, compromisation of the self in some way was what technically served as the very foundation of lasting love.

Spending her days looking out at the Mediterranean Sea from her balcony, she was shocked to find her daily routine disrupted one morning when she noticed a piece of paper sticking out from underneath the bottom panel of the middle drawer she was placing some odds and ends in. She recognized the script of Halston’s serial killer handwriting immediately–he was quite the romantic in frequently leaving her little love notes when they first started dating.

While she was somewhat jarred by its presence, she also found it completely expected, diving right in to read, “Dearest Lena, I know you are the type of person who will always wonder, who will never move on from a perceived affront. So in the case that you do end up back here, as I believe you will, I wanted to leave this note for you to find. Whatever you may think of me now, I did love you. And still do in some way that will probably linger until my final days. But we had reached the end in our period of growth with one another, had gleaned all we could in order to progress to the next phases in our lives. To have continued on in the relationship would have meant stagnation. And I am not one for that. I must change and metamorphose like a caterpillar.” Here she paused to think about how many caterpillars do not manage to transform into butterflies. “I just want you to know that I hope you are happy in some way now. And that I did what I had to for us both to separate and move on. Maybe this letter can help you finally do that. Love, Halston.”

She crumpled the letter into her chest for a second, walked out of the apartment, marched straight to the shoreline and tossed it out into the sea. What a fucking dickhead, she thought.

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