I could tell he wanted to talk about it. But the thought made my stomach turn; I didn’t want to explore the awfulness of what had happened or my guilt for having survived. I was in denial, and part of my denial was denying him. I just wanted my private moments of gratitude, feeling the sun on my arms and my muscles moving when I jogged after work.
“why r u avoiding me?” he texted.
I didn’t respond.
Some time later I met an American man I had been introduced to by a mutual friend back home. He was more like my aid-worker friends, a cerebral and shy academic who impressed me with his schemes to improve rural maternity care, and there was comfort in that, in his familiarity and seeming goodness. Falling into an immediate and urgent romance with him felt like reinforcement that I was alive.
Given the magnitude of what had happened, the trivial was all I could focus on.
Our short-lived relationship hadn’t been a romance; we had barely touched. Yet we had shared something so intimate, it was unspeakable and ultimately unbearable. A few feet away from us, 27 people had died, and we had lived.