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Coming Home - /r/WritingPrompts Response


Prompt: After studying abroad for a few years, you never thought you'd miss seeing your siblings. When you get home, you find that all their stuff is gone, and your parents are telling you that twenty years is more than enough time to cope with the miscarriages.

Dear Rachel,

Oh man, Egypt. When I first got here, I didn't think I'd be able to fall in love with it the way I did. Cairo is so foreign, so confusing--I felt like a cat in a rodeo. Navigating the transportation system alone was enough to bring me to tears a few times.

Not to mention my struggles with Arabic. Remember right before I went, when I told you that I felt like I could call myself fluent? HA. I was so incredibly, stupidly wrong. I was lucky if I could understand a single word people were saying to me. Usually I just nodded and said "Al-hamdulillah!" That can get you out of most awkward situations, turns out.

But then things changed, probably around the 6-month mark. I found myself actually understanding what was going on around me. I didn't cringe whenever I had to talk to my taxi driver or a shopkeeper. The people here really are so open and welcoming. They lose their minds when they realize this white girl is speaking colloquial Egyptian. And EVERYBODY wants to invite you over for dinner. Wish you could come and meet the friends I've made. I'm sure they'd love you.

Can't wait to see you in a few weeks. Maybe you can introduce me to that handsome prom date you mentioned in your last letter.

Love you!

Chelsea

Dear Rachel,

Only eight more days till I get on that plane and leave Cairo! Man, I am feeling such mixed emotions right now. Our cultural guide, Roudy (short for Mourad), is seriously the nicest guy. He's kind of like my old English teacher Mr. Burnside - you know him, right? He does AP English.

I know you took regular because you think you're a bad writer, but seriously, you would have loved his class. He is just incapable of taking anything too seriously. Say hi to him for me if you pass him in the hallway!

Sorry you broke up with Andy. He seemed like a nice kid, but what do I know? I'm just your big sister off in the Middle East, completely ignorant of the outside world. Hope Mom bought you some ice cream and let you watch all the Project Runway you want. :)

Love you so much!

Chelsea

Dear Rachel,

ONE MORE DAY UNTIL I LEAVE! You'll probably get this after I get home, but it didn't feel right to leave without sending you one last letter.

I've basically been a wreck all day thinking about leaving Egypt. I've made so many friends here - expats, students at the university, our doorman, the families who live in our apartment building.... I know I'll get to see you and Logan and Sariah and Mom and Dad soon, but these people are my family too, you know? Two years is a long time. Sometimes I feel more Egyptian than I feel American.

And man, the food. I'm going to have to make you koshari. It's like rice and noodles and garbanzo beans and fried onions and sauce all in a heaping, delicious pile. And you can get a huge plate of it for like 50 cents. Someday I'll bring you here and stuff you full of Egyptian food. You will looove it.

I'm packing up my stuff and thinking of you and the rest of the family. I got you some gorgeous scarves, just like you wanted. I got Sariah some beautiful oil paints. And don't tell Logan, but I bought him a hand-inscribed Quran. He can add it to his foreign language book collection.

I can't believe I'll be seeing you all in a day and half. I won't shut up about it to my roommate. She thinks I'm crazy.

You better be there at the airport with a sign!

Lovvve,

Chelsea

Dear Rachel,

.....I don't know what to say. My counselor told me to write this as a way to say goodbye to this fictional person I've created, but I don't know if I can.

Deep breaths.

When I got home from Egypt, you weren't there at the airport with a sign. Neither were Logan and Sariah. There was just Mom and Dad, looking a little apprehensive instead of overjoyed to see me.

On the way home, they took out the stack of letters I'd written you. Mom drove while Dad explained to me that it was time for this to stop. They'd played along when I was younger, hoping that I'd grow out of it, but then I went to college and was still asking about you guys. When I said I wanted to go to Egypt on a study abroad, they thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to break my routine and re-sync me with reality.

But then I kept writing you letters, and even imagining that you wrote letters back. The moment I got home, they told me they'd found a psychologist who worked with cases like this, and that she was willing to take me on even though her client list was full.

I was angry at first. I cried, screamed, searched through the house for your clothes, Sariah's art, Logan's books. There was nothing. No trace of you, no trace of them. I collapsed on the floor in the middle of the room that I thought was yours--it was actually Dad's office--and just lay there for hours. After a while Mom came in and sat with me.

I'm remembering, now. It was easier to stay in touch with reality when I was home and could see that you weren't there, but once I went to Egypt the delusions got out of control. I could see your faces in my mind, imagine the dress you wore to prom, hear your voice rapping stupid Ke$ha songs with me. It all felt so real.

But it's not. It's not real. It's not real it's not real it's not real it's not real it's not real you're not real.

Or, you almost were. Mom and Dad tried for so long to give me younger siblings, but after three miscarriages in a row, it was too much for her. The doctors said there was nothing observably wrong with her--it was just bad luck. But they couldn't take the heartbreak anymore.

They named you each: Rachel, Sariah, and Logan. You were all far enough along that an organization that donated memorial services for late miscarriages gave you each a small burial plot in the local cemetery. Mom took me there a few days after I came home. I wouldn't look at the gravestones. They had your names on them, the dates of your deaths. How could I stomach that?

It hurts so much, Rachel. I know you're not there, that this letter will just go into a pile in my psychologist's desk drawer, but it hurts so much. I wish you could hug me.

I have to let go now. Mom says I can take a break from school and just get my bearings for a few months, maybe get a job. I'll see my counselor twice a week, and hopefully I'll get better with time. But this is the last time I'll write you a letter.

Even though I never met you, I love you, Rachel. If there's any sort of afterlife, maybe we'll finally get to meet. But for the time being, goodbye.

I love you.

Chelsea


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© 2016 by Natasha Watts

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