The air was dry, hot, and filled with dust as the wind picked up the closer we walked to the shores of the Nile.
“Hold my hand.” I said firmly to Matteo who was trying to grab at all the souvenirs that lined the busy dock we were walking down. “Hand!” I repeated until he finally listened and took hold of it. I shook my head and mouthed “La shukran” (no thank you) to all the men holding out trinkets that they eagerly wanted me to buy.
We were traveling, just the two of us, with our tour guide to see the temple Philae which was located (and relocated) on an island in the middle of the Nile river. Our guide was ahead of us haggling with the boat operator to arrange our ride. We climbed into an old, rickety, transport boat that took the driver a few tries until the engine turned over. The wind felt amazing, a welcome relief from the hot morning sun.
“Is that it?” I asked my tour guide, pointing to what looked like a large stone monument in the distance.
“Yes, that’s it. Originally it was located over there,” He pointed to what looked like the last remains of an almost sunken island. “But they had to relocate it piece by piece to this island because it was at risk of being destroyed due to the flooding from the new dam.”
As we approached the temple, you would have never known that it had been torn down and then rebuilt in the exact way it was originally by just looking at it. Our boat landed at a crowded docking station and we jumped off onto the dock and walked up to the winding path, passing by tall bushes of red and white bouganvillas, until we reached the entrance of the temple.
“I don’t know which I’m impressed with more, the fact that they piece by piece moved this giant structure or that it’s still so well preserved after thousands of years!” I said in awe as I stared at the temple walls, admiring the artwork etched onto it’s stone.
Matteo was playing with his trains and collecting small stones from all over the ground as I moved through the different sections, each room covered from floor to ceiling in artwork that told a tale from long ago.
“I want to share with you the story of this Temple,” Our tour guide said.
“If you look here,” he said while pointing to a wall filled with carvings. “You can see all the god’s lined up. This is the god Seth and his brother Osiris, and over here it tells the story of how Seth became jealous of Osiris and decided to kill him.” He went on to tell the rest of the violent myth which is a story of a very dysfunctional family.
“And over there in that mountain,” He continued. “Is where they say the head of the god Osiris is buried.”
Medellin, Colombia, September 2016
“I don’t want to live anymore.” He said, sitting across from me on the couch outside his bedroom.
“Stop, don’t say that.” I pleaded.
“I’m serious, I’m done. I already told my dad this morning. That’s what we were talking about when he was up here. There’s no hope for my family, we are all too dysfunctional.”
“What were you talking about with him?” I probed.
“I was telling him all the things that are wrong with this family.” He answered.
“And what did he say?”
“He said I was sick, that I needed help. I needed to see a doctor.” He said defeated.
“What were you trying to tell him?” I continued digging.
“Look, whenever I bring up anything from the past, anything about the situation with my mom and brother and how they lost everything we own while he was gone all that time, he tells me he doesn’t want to hear it. There’s nothing he can do about it now.”
“What do you want him to do?” I asked curiously and cautiously.
“I want him to make them tell the truth. To realize what they did, and what they did to me.” He said.
He continued, “But it doesn’t matter, no body wants to face it. This family is too messed up. So i’m done. I’m going to kill myself.”
“Andres, no you’re not.” I pleaded with tears in my eyes. “Why do you need them? Why can’t you just leave and start over again –like you did in North Dakota.”
“I don’t want to start over. I want to die. The only reason I’m telling you all this now is because I don’t want it to be a surprise to you when I do it.” He said calmly and casually.
“Stop it, you’re not going to do it.” I demanded.
“I’m going to, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“What about Matteo, he needs you. He needs a father.” I pointed to Matteo who was standing up in his playpen near to us.
“Matteo doesn’t need me. Besides, it’s better that I do it now while he’s still young.”
“You’re not going to kill yourself, I won’t let you.”
He laughed, and then said. “Probably going to do it this week. Maybe even today. I’m going to lock myself in my room and you can’t stop me.” He rose from the couch and went downstairs.
My hands were shaking and I was blinking back tears. This week had been awful. He was the worst I had ever seen him. He hadn’t showered in at least 6 days, which wasn’t normal. He normally showered everyday after Matteo and I would come to wake him up between 2-4pm. But not this week. He was sleeping longer, waking up at 7pm every night, growling and slamming the door in my face if I tried to wake him up earlier. He didn’t talk to me and when he did he snapped and said something mean like, “When are you leaving?” “I want you to leave.”
Every night when I went to sleep I lived in fear that when I awoke he would have done it. I rarely slept deeply all those months, and would tip-toe out to the living room in the wee hours of the night to see if I could hear him on his iPad upstairs. When I heard him watching a show, I felt a little relief and could go back to sleep. I waited anxiously all day for him to come downstairs, and when it got later and later and he still hadn’t come down I would peek into his room to see if he was still breathing.
When he went downstairs I was at a loss for what to do. How could I stop him? I prayed and I prayed in those minutes, desperate for God to do something. Then I saw the door handle and had an idea. Maybe not the best one, but I grabbed a screw driver from his bedside table and unscrewed the door handle from the door, thinking that I could stop him if he tried to lock himself in his room to kill himself.
In the process of me doing that he came back upstairs. “What are you doing?” He demanded. His face growing darker and darker.
“I don’t want you to kill yourself.” Was all I could say before he grabbed my arm and threw me on the bed. He put both his hands around my neck, strangling me, but not cutting off my air supply.
“You think you can stop me, bitch? I hate you, you fucking bitch. I’m going to throw you off this balcony. How do you like that???” I stared at him directly in his eyes, not afraid even as grip grew stronger.
“You’re the reason I’m like this. I’m going to kill myself and it’s going to be your fault. You can tell that to Matteo. It’s because of you that I’m like this. I hate you, you fucking bitch.” With one last jerk he let go and instantly I sprung up from the bed, grabbed Matteo from the playpen and went downstairs. His mom and dad were sitting at the kitchen table going over receipts, when they both looked up at me.
“What happened?” His mom asked concerned.
“Can you just take Matteo.” I whispered as I held Matteo out to her. She took him and I went to my room and shut the door. I sat on the edge of my bed, unable to cry, unable to fully process what had just happened. He had said horrible things to me before, but never once had he ever laid his hands on me. I looked in the mirror at the red blotches around my neck, hoping they wouldn’t bruise.
A few minutes later I heard the door swing open and crash against the wall, I turned to find him standing there in my doorway. He had a serious look on his face and I was unsure of what his motive was. Was he angry? Was he going to try to choke me again?
“I didn’t tell anyone.” I said. “I didn’t tell your mom and dad.” Thinking maybe he was angry because he thought I ran downstairs and told everyone.
His face softened, “Let me see your neck.” He came closer and softly touched the place where minutes ago his hands had roughly been. “It looks like it’s going to bruise.” He said with shame in his voice.
He pulled me into his arms, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just got so angry, I snapped.”
“It’s okay.” I whispered. “It didn’t even hurt.” I tried to make him feel better. I squeezed him a little tighter and we stood there for a few more moments in an embrace. Minutes ago these arms tried to strangle me, but now they felt like the safest place in the world.