I’ve made it just in time today. I get out of the car and stand in the parking lot as it begins. If I’m on time, and I’m usually not, there are three mosques within earshot of this parking lot. Each one is timed a little differently, so when it comes time for prayer, they aren’t so much a coordinated symphony so much as a trio of squabbling siblings, each trying harder than the last to get Dad’s attention. Like if they can just be a little louder than the others, they will have earned His favor. It sounds like a competition, even though today is such an incredibly nice day. It feels like standing on a rickety tin bleacher above a muddy football field, the whole crowd shouting for joy. I grab my cellphone and try to capture the magic just as the eagerest sibling finishes his song. Probably the oldest, I decide. The remaining two call-and-respond a little longer, each vying for the attention of the universal divine.
My inner child is gleeful today, as I pocket my phone and head inside. Lately, I’ve felt happy, peaceful, content, sated, even joyful and excited. . . but delighted? Gleeful? When was the last time I felt gleeful? This is in no small part due to the profound silliness I’ve engaged in over the last 24 hours. A birthday party, just for me, complete with banners and a pile of presents and little plastic thingies on the tables and a cake shaped like a rocket ship with a tiny plastic astronaut planting a flag atop a pile of candy-coated moon rocks. This is not the party your parents invited every kid in the class to, even the one who eats his boogers. This was good, clean fun. Considering the amount of alcohol, it may not have all been good & clean, but it was incredibly fun, my liver reminds me. As with any party, the best part was the people — a group who see my abilities as limitless and my dream to go to adult space camp as perfectly reasonable, thankyouverymuch. So that’s what I’m doing here, in this coffeeshop, on these pages — I’m planting a flag. Because I’m standing on an unfamiliar lunar surface, and the view is incredible.
Like everybody else who washes up on Abu Dhabi’s shores, I was adrift when I landed. Untethered. Grateful for the freedom but unsure what to do with it. It all felt so vast and expansive, and every point of light felt so far, far away. How do you even begin to make your way, from inside a quarantined vacuum? And then, when my battery was low and it was getting dark, there were all of these people. Slowly, we learned to light the way for one another. Little by little, we all dusted off our potential and started showing up for our own lives and got serious about the craft. And that artistic support became bone-deep, rock-steady Platonic-ideal friend-love I couldn’t have imagined for myself. I’d give any of these people a kidney if they asked — not today, though, it’s still filtering out the last of last night’s gin. That part isn’t so surprising: I have always been fiercely loyal and protective of my friends. The difference this time is that they’d do the same for me.
I had only intended to be here for a year or two, to get my head on straight and my feet underneath me. This city was only ever supposed to be a launchpad; I wasn’t supposed to get attached. Instead, there’s now a little colony out here in the Delta Quadrant. I’ve accidentally terraformed my one-year transition period, and I’ve got an incredible crew making it so. We’re not out here peeing on potatoes or anything, but I imagine our meetings must look about as alien to outsiders, a bunch of scoundrels from every corner of the galaxy all bumping knees and putting our heads together, trying to make sense of life, the universe, and everything.
That’s what makes this so hard, knowing that this is the kind of place people leave. Knowing that next year, hell, next week, it won’t be the same as it is today. Knowing that someday, it’ll be my turn to rocket off to somewhere else is about the only thing that could break my heart on such a gorgeous day.
The sun’s in my eyes, probably for the best. My latte is a whisper of cold foam at the bottom of the paper cup. It’s been a banner year. What a glorious thing, to have a life so beautiful that the idea of leaving it produces a gnawing ache. To have a group of friends who see you so clearly that your self-doubt doesn’t seem to matter so much. They see you as so kind, and so generous, and so talented, that because you think so highly of them it wouldn’t do to tell them that they are probably exaggerating. Instead, you have to internalize that, even if it makes you feel like floating in a most peculiar way. You are never too much or not enough for them.
It’s a heady thing, being just enough just as you are. Being shown, in a million ways, that despite past evidence to the contrary, I am easy to love, actually. It means I’ve had the space, physically and emotionally, to take risks, creatively and otherwise. I’ve had to learn to take a compliment. To receive love instead of always giving it out and letting it fizzle into the ether. It also means that no matter where in the universe I go, I will never be able to accept anything less than love and friendship that makes me feel this good. It was never a thing I had to earn.
Any minute now, the three brothers will start singing again. It will be time for me to pack up and move along. But for right now, in this city with these people on this gorgeous day, I want for nothing. I’m trying to soak up as much of it as I can, since it cannot possibly last. I’m planting a flag here, on this moment, because if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.