28 years ago, my mom was 16 and she had a brother, actually she had many brothers and he was one of them, he was 17 and a half.
The war was at its peak, at that time there were no Hezbollah, there were no Shiite issue.
There were just my mother, and for her there were a brother. She often told me about him, for as far as I can remember there were always Khalo Michel who died. She often told me about him, and I always cared to know. Most of the times she told me about how he used to beg her to take his school bag with her home from school, because he wanted to go to the town; how he tought her not to be scared of the dark; why her parents wouldn’t let her go to the parties (people get drunk and do bad things). She told me about the happy days, happy days? Well, she also told me about him standing for her when her dad wanted to beat her and getting all the terrible beating himself, I don’t exactly classify those as happy days.
And when I grew up she told me about that day 28 years ago. He was 17. He was recruited by the Kata’eb as all the Christian youth in town, but he wasn’t part of the troops trained to fight on the front, he was just too young. He was just trained to load a gun and shoot at the enemy when the enemy would arrive to town.
Those were difficult days, the Syrians had broken the northern borders of the Christian areas, and the region was defensless. One by one, towns fell, my mom’s town was next. They gathered the soldiers, the most experienced were put in front, my mom’s family already had two sons fighting on distant fronts (one of them had been reported missing for a few days now). There fore the family only had 3 sons left, the eldest was married with two kids, the second was only 17 and the last was only 8! Who would the local direction possibly choose to sacrifice? Well the eldest of course.
But Khalo Michel had another word about it, he went himself, and his youngest brother and sisters was there, they were silent but they knew what everything was meant to happen, the Syrian Monsters were there, and they were given the right to save only one of there brothers. They just watched silently the two brothers argue about who would go (die).
- You’re just a kid you can’t go.
- You’re a Father, YOU can’t go.
- You can’t help them, you don’t know much about these things.
So Michel takes his dagger and ruins his brother’s belt.
- There you are! Now YOU are useless to them, go home, I can take care of this.
And so he left. And his brother went home to his family to prepare for the worse. And everyone waited, there were distant sounds of fire, nothing new about that. But they all knew this was more critical than ever.
In the evening, her brother came home, he asked my mom to give him some underwear to change his own, so she did. She asked nothing, he said nothing. He went after that. She cried, her younger sister cried, her youngest brother cried. They just sat listenning to another session of fire.
Then something happened, the sounds were closer, my grandparents came home (they had been trying all day to get some news about there missing son). There were no news about the missing son, there were just one news, we have to go, no we have to RUN. Sounds were very close now, so they all ran, like terrified animals, they just ran, cutting through valleys and mountains, roads were way too risky. So they kept running. And Michel? Well he was still defending his village, they were outnumbered and they knew it, but they wanted to win time for their families to run. And their families ran. No one was crying, they were just walking almost as if they are going for a picnic. And my mom asked nothing, she just left her Michel were he was, who knows maybe he’ll follow them.
He never followed them. He just never left his post, of course he died, what did you expect? That’s what you pay to buy your family some time to run away.
People of my mom’s town tell a story reporting it from the Syrian army in town, they tell about a Lebanese soldier defending the town, he was shining with a weird light, they shot him repeatidly but he remained standing so they shot him with some heavy artillary until he died… And the guardian angel of the town fell, and the town fell.
The families of all of that day’s Martyrs, whisper that maybe the angel was their son. My family’s no exception. Another family myth talks about a beautiful, rare flower growing only at the exact spot where my uncle died. You see, the bodies of all the soldiers were never recovered, they just stayed there, in that valley that no one really goes to visit, no parents were allowed to recover their child’s body. One of my mom’s aunts begged the Syrians to get the authorisation to just check the bodies in order to recognise the body of her husband. She also checked all the bodies that she was able to recognise. My mom was asked about what was Michel wearing that day, the bodies had been decaying for many days, identifying the faces was difficult, she told them about the beige shirt, the dark green socks and the necklace with the face of Virgin Mary on it.
He was one of the bodies getting cooked under the notorious Lebanese Sun! Between dozens of other lucky men simply lying there. She removed his necklace and took it back to his family, as proof, as “trophy”…
And so the story of Khalo Michel ends, he was a good man, or at least a good teenager. Were he to be alive now he would have been 45 by now, he would have married some nice woman, had some kids. But he didn’t, he just died. Plain and simple. Call him martyr, victim or anything else he just died, and my mom had no one left to defend her against her dad.
I wonder if he worries about her now?
Would he care to know the hell she went through after his death?
Would he care to know she grew up to be the best mom she could be?
Would he care to know his youngest brother lost his hair from the stress, and yet never complained?
Would he care to know how much did his death change his father and softened his heart?
Would he cared to know that the compensation for his death paid the expenses of his mother’s operation 20 years after his death?
Would he care to know that his mom’s slowly dying now?
Would he care to know his sister still cries for his death today?
Would he care to know that Lebanon’s still here, breading more martyrs?
Would he care to know that he now has 18 nephews and nieces (and still counting)?
Would he care to know that 2 of them carry his name?
Would he care to know that this miserable niece lost belief in Lebanon because Lebanon killed you?
I just wonder. But you know, he probably thinks of nothing now. Didn’t Jesus tell us that in heaven people think of nothing that’s from this world? I guess he is comfortable now, just swimming in heaven.
I just wish I could have met him. As I see his pictures I wonder who he really was, I wonder if I would have loved him then as much as I do now. From his pictures he seems to be a serious person, probably shy. The stories I hear about him portray him as both rebelious and responsible, almost perfect, right? Was he like that? I will never know, he died, this is the most tragic thing about life, when we die we just die, no second chance, no reset button. Just tears and pain. My mom tells me about the first time she met her other brother in hospital, who was missing the time when Michel died, he said:
“Michel had a pure soul, that’s how he died so fast. God still hasn’t forgiven me for what I have done in my life, that’s why I almost died three times already and yet survived. God wants me to pay back before he lets me die.”
Needless to say that tears were shed that day, but what are tears in war, daily bread? The best cure? Our only power.
It’s ironic how people die so easily and forgetting them turns out to be so difficult.
What hurts the most is the lack of closer, his body was never recovered of course (the people only went back to the town long after the Ta’ef agreement), now my grandparents are fully aware of their son’s death, they saw the necklace! But still, a couple of months ago, when the issue of the Lebanese prisoners in Syria was being discussed, my grandmother said:
“Who knows, maybe they have Michel with them…”
My grandfather nodded. They still want to hope and we couldn’t say anything, what can you say to a mother in her final years, after all this pain. Why do things have to be so difficult?