The cake I waited six years to taste

If you’ve been reading me regularly, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised that this post is a little shorter than usual. It’s about cake, after all. How much can you really say about a slice of cake.

The story goes like this:

In 2009, in between classes, I walk into a Starbucks near my college campus to grab a green tea. ‘No sugar please,’ I tell the cashier as I placed my order. I walk over to wait for my tea, and I felt the need to tell the barista one more time ‘sorry, can you please make sure you don’t add any sugar?’ You know, just in case. It was almost summer, which means almost time to go to Lebanon, which means looking like a fat foreign kid who can’t resist American junk food was just not an option.

As I waited, a slice of scrumptious chocolate cake grabbed my attention. It wasn’t like any other chocolate cake. This was heavenly chocolate cake. It looked so good. So sinful. My mouth was watering and stomach making all sorts of sounds just thinking about it. I couldn’t just leave it there.

Little did I care that what I was about to say was gonna make me sound like someone who’d lost their mind (you know, asking for a green tea with no sugar. Twice. Then ordering (what looked like) a 2000-calorie slice of cake): ‘can I also have a slice of your Chocolate Decadence Cake, please.’

I couldn’t wait to get out of there and go somewhere quiet, so I can peacefully devour my cake. A slice that had my name written all over it. I sat in a perfect spot, under a tree, all excited that I was about to have my first cheatcheat in a month. I opened the bag.

Wrong cake. I can’t believe he gave me the wrong cake. I debated going back to claim what’s mine, but it was time for class. (I found out later that the food-deprived me gave him the wrong name. Chocolate Decadence Cake was the name of another slice right next to my beloved).

In 2012, I walk into a Starbucks near my office in Abu Dhabi to grab a green tea, with no sugar. As I waited in line for my drink, I saw it again. Beautiful as ever. The same cake. The other side of the planet. Three years later. It’s fate. I wasn’t gonna get the name wrong this time. So I looked real carefully at the tag, and placed my order with confidence. ‘May I also add a slice of your Dark Belgian Chocolate Cake, please?’

‘Sorry, ma’am. The gentleman there has already ordered the last slice.’

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. I debated fighting for my cake, but I had already made a scene by confirming twice that my tea has no sugar.

In 2015, I walk into a Starbucks in Kaslik, Lebanon. As I stood with a friend in line, I saw the cake again, and smiled. I told him the quickest version of my cake story. ‘Tonight is the night,’ he said.

I knew the name by heart. They have more than one slice. No one is ahead of me in line. Nothing can go wrong. ‘Okay,’ I (happily) surrendered.

We walked over to our seats, and as he placed the tray on the coffee table, my greenteawithnosugar spilled all over the tray. I should have known. My cake is ruined. I’m sure it’s ruined.

It wasn’t.

I sighed with relief. Tonight is the night, I reassured myself.

I sat down. My eyes widened with anticipation. My friend pulled out his phone to document the moment. I took my very first bite, of the very cake I fantasized about for so long.

It was gourmet-less, taste-less, disappointing.

We laughed and joked about it. He thought the story was so funny, I should write a post about it. I smiled diplomatically and thought to myself, what the hell am I gonna say about cake.

I got home that night, and realized that this is not just about my cake. It’s about every single thing I’ve ever put a ‘my’ in front of, when it actually wasn’t mine. Be it a job, a boy, a trip, a dress, a cake. Every single time I put them on a pedestal and made them out to be the next big thing. My next big thing. When in reality, they were neither meant to be mine, nor a big thing.

Often times, we try to make things happen, against all odds, against all laws of nature. We ignore everything and everyone telling us to stay away. Because in our minds, it’s ours. And we want it.

Well maybe it isn’t. And maybe we shouldn’t.


Some 48 hours I had

(initially drafted on July 3, 2015)

I hadn’t been home for my birthday in a few years. So I decided that this year, my 25th, is an ideal time to go. I kept hoping I’d get excited about the trip, but I didn’t. “Maybe I will when I get closer to the day,” I thought. But I still didn’t.

I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps the fact that I’m a Gerascophobic turning 25? Or maybe because I had put on a few pounds since my last visit, and no one notices weight gain like Lebanese girls? Or the fact that my sister’s future in-laws (i.e. her fiancé’s parents) invited us out to a post-engagement lunch on my very birthday, and my parents didn’t decline, so I felt like my birthday was being hijacked from me? Or because I’m going through a helovesmehelovesmenot period? Or the fact that I was questioning the questions that you’re meant to question yourself at 25. You know, the who am I, what am I doing with my life, what have I done, who should I be?

Perhaps all the above? I have no idea. All I knew is that right then and there I was down. And nothing was gonna change that. Or so I thought.

I landed in Beirut, and standing in the middle of the airport, at 3:30AM, were my parents and sister carrying balloons and colored signs with “Happy 25th Birthday” written on them.

We got home, and awaiting my arrival were more balloons.

Despite all the balloons and love, I was still down.

The next day, I went to grab a coffee with one of my closest friends, who got diagnosed with the unmentionable last year. For the purposes of this post, let’s call her Nour. Those of you who know Nour, would understand why the news of her illness was devastating. She’s what you would call full-of-life. Her energy is contagious. Her laugh is capable of turning anyone’s day right side up.

But those of you who know her also know that if anyone was gonna kick cancer’s ass, it would be her. And she did.

I got to the café and there she was. That familiar smile. That short hair that she rocked like no one else could. And there it was. That thing about her. Arrogance, perhaps. Towards the illness that thought it could steal her life and her laugh away from her, but couldn’t.

We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, so she immediately started asking about me. My life. My plans. And I didn’t have the courage to ask her about hers. Then I did.

How are you? I asked.

There was her smile again. Then she said amusingly “I had cancer and now it’s gone.” And laughed hysterically. The I-did-it laugh. The who-does-cancer-think-it-is laugh.

Then she said. “It was a good experience.” I couldn’t help the “yea, okay Nour. Keep telling yourself that” look on my face. And she saw it. So she explained.

I hit rock bottom, Rita. And now I can live. None of the little things phase me anymore because I’ve been through the worst.

And there it was. She gave me the first lesson of the trip, on a silver platter, without me having to go where she went.

The next day, we had the in-laws lunch that hijacked my birthday. My sister looked so beautiful and so happy, so I was happy. We partied and danced till we dropped. But I couldn’t help but think that I’m here celebrating her engagement, again, instead of my birthday, which I came home to celebrate.

And then it happened. The second lesson.

The waiters at the restaurant where we were came carrying a massive cake, with 25 candles. Then I heard an all too familiar voice singing my favorite birthday song – my dad. Who has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard.

I looked at my sister. She was singing and clapping and smiling. The I-gotcha smile. The you-think-no-one-can-ever-surprise-you-but-I-just-did smile. The I-love-you-so-much-I-would-turn-any-engagement-party-of-mine-into-your-birthday smile. So I teared up. At the hate I had towards this lunch that turned out being my surprise birthday party. At the selfless woman that my sister grew up to be.

That evening, I had plans to go visit a friend of mine whose father passed away a few weeks ago. She and I weren’t very close, but we talked sporadically. And when her dad fell ill, I’d check on her every once in a while and let her know that my family and I were praying for them.

My mom came along, one because I was home for a total of three days and she wanted to spend every waking minute with me, two because she knew her family well, and three, because I don’t know how to act in these situations. Do I talk about it? Do I not talk about it?

So my mom, who’s brilliant at everything, started the conversation. And it got my friend, whom we’re gonna call Nayla, talking.

Nayla: It kills me every day. I’m a believer, yes. He’s in a better place, yes. But he’s not here. I lost my father, and I’ll never get to see him in this life again. I am blessed, though, you know? I have no “ifs.” I spent every minute I could with him. When he got sick, I was always either with him or taking care of his diner, the second closest place I could be to him. And now that he’s gone, the diner is my priority. This place put food on our table. My dad spent his life building it and growing it to ensure that we didn’t need anyone and I can’t leave it now. Everything else can wait.

She then told us countless stories and memories of her and him. His best days. His worst days. She didn’t shed a tear. But the sadness I saw in her eyes and the anguish I heard in her voice were more powerful that all the weeping I’ve seen in funerals.

Nayla: In the days before he left, things were lining up like a puzzle. I believed more than ever that everything happens for a reason, you know? I’m so sorry, I talked too much.

Little did she know that I wanted her to. That I believed that too. That me going there on my birthday had clearly happened for a reason. Yes, she needed to talk, but I also needed to listen. Here’s this girl who just found a purpose in the midst of the biggest loss of her life. 

Nour and Nayla had every right to be bitter. I was healthy and the former wasn’t. My dad is here and the latter’s isn’t. But they weren’t. They graciously offered me the lessons they learned by going to hell and back, without even realizing that they did.

And then I saw it. The lesson of all lessons. Perspective.

When the control freak faces the uncontrollable

(initially drafted on August 10, 2013)

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a couple weeks now but I couldn’t. For one, I haven’t been able to articulate what I want to say and two, the circumstances that triggered me to write it in the first place have taken up most of my time since. And I couldn’t be happier. But more on that later.

See, I’m what you would call a control freak. I’ve been self-diagnosed recently and am so glad I have as up until that point, I had no idea what that uneasy feeling I got when I was unable to control a situation was.

Depending on your beliefs, spirituality or religion, you may or may not think that you ever have control over a situation, whatever it may be.

I believe that God has given me freedom of will which allows me to have control over what goes on in my life, but not all of it. It’s the “not all of it” part that I have a problem with. It’s the unpreventable, unfixable, undoable, irreversible that freak me out; hence, the “disorder.” I want to be in control to the point that I couldn’t go on a slide at the water park a few weeks back because I felt like I was throwing myself into the unknown and that was too much for me.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve faced numerous uncontrollable situations and they range anywhere from not getting into Harvard to falling for the wrong guy. How did I deal with them? Okay I think. I mean the first and only time I’ve been really drunk my whole life was the day I got the rejection letter. And I’m still dealing with the latter given that it’s happened more than once and suspect it will happen a couple more times before I learn. But I’ve done okay.

Until the uncontrollable hit home. My very own. My téta.

You always hear of the “hal marad” (that disease) and the “Alla yeb3do” (may God keep it away from us and our loves ones) and for some reason you think that you and your family members are invincible. That it will never happen to you. Well it could and it did to the woman who practically raised me. The amazing woman who hasn’t and is incapable of ever hurting anyone.

That, I didn’t take so well.

Téta is in Lebanon and I’m in Abu Dhabi and when I first found out, I held it in and kept it together for my mom’s sake. Until I called téta one day and she couldn’t talk. That destroyed me. Only five days earlier I called her and we laughed and laughed on the phone but that day, she couldn’t. That’s when I knew that I needed to be there. That I needed to leave everything behind and be there.

A few years ago, back when I was living in the States, my other téta passed away and I couldn’t make it back in time and I still regret it everyday to this very day. I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen this time.

When I look back, I see téta in every big moment in my life. When I first walked, talked, my first day of school, my First Communion, my exams, my grades, every airport pick up and drop off. All of it. And I wasn’t about to let her go through this on her own. So I packed up and left.

I was there for 2 weeks and I think I spent more time with her than I had over the last 9 years (since I left Lebanon). And it wasn’t the sitting with her while checking what’s app, updating my Facebook status or plucking my eyebrows kinda time. It was actual quality time. She had to make an effort to talk but she did despite my pleading for her to rest and not worry. She wanted to tell me so much and I was eager to listen. She told me everything from when she fed me my own méghlé when I was a week old to when I talked at 10 months to her prayers to God that He keeps me safe every step of the way. And He has.

One night, four people were in the room with her trying to get her settled in bed as she couldn’t move much. After they left, she signalled for me to sleep next to her. She was too close to the edge for me to fit so she moved herself with all her might until I could. She put her hands on my hair and we just sat there, in silence. I knew right then and there that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Téta’s heart is still beating in Lebanon (heavily but it’s beating) and I’m back in Abu Dhabi. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see her again but I do know that I did what I should have done and told her everything that I wanted to tell her especially how very much I love her.

I can’t begin to explain how hard it was to watch someone you love as much as I love téta suffer. Not eat, not talk or walk when she was the one who taught me all of it. I had to sit there and watch her shut down little by little and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. This would probably be hard for anyone, let alone someone who wants to be in control of it all.

See you can’t and I know that now. But there is a whole lot you can do to make the ride easier to swallow.