“My only good friend” – The perks of being a recent immigrant


After having had a rather rough night due to flu symptoms: dry mouth and throat, upset stomach, and headache, I was awoken today at six-thirty in the morning by our dearly senile cat, meowing relentlessly for his first breakfast (he eats every 2 hours, vomits all over the place, and then meowingly demands more food). I have to admit that, along with the effect of the hardships of the previous night, the cat’s M.O. really got to my last nerve. Not to mention the fact that I did NOT want to wake up this early. But oh well, he’s got an excuse: old age – he is 19 going on 20… multiply that by 7 and you’ll understand how old he is.

Anyway, I was up and my morning coffee was my sole aim.

As is the case every morning, I take a look at the notifications on my smartphone. Having recently moved to LA from Beirut, and due to the time difference, I usually find Facebook notifications or Whatsapp texts from friends and loved ones who are still in Lebanon (and I say “still” because, at the moment, everyone I know is looking for a way out. Not that I blame them, but this falls under a separate topic which I have no desire to delve into right now).

Back to our topic.

Upon going through my morning routine of making coffee and checking my smartphone for notifications, I find not one, but three missed calls on Viber, and a few text messages on Whatsapp from a certain “friend” in Lebanon. Now before I go into the details, I’d like to define my “friendship” with this guy: someone I used to see in Dunkin Donuts every time I was there, who would join my crowd (however small) and just dive right into all sorts of conversations – just like all us Lebanese. We are, after all, known for being friendly and hospitable… Anyway, this is the exact definition of our friendship.

Moving on.

I decided to ignore the missed calls, but foolishly responded to his Whatsapp text by saying (literally): “hi; no worries; I just woke up; we will talk later “. I was really looking forward to a calm morning with my water, coffee and cigarettes. Especially that I am the type of person whose Aunty Acid’s “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my second cup of coffee” rule applies  to. But the dude was adamant, and obviously did not comprehend my straight-to-the-point response. He called. Now, having committed the ultimate mistake of responding to his texts, I felt I had to take the call (since I could not think of a suitable reason to blow him off, especially that he did not get my written hint).

Of course, in the beginning, the call quality was completely rotten due to the state-of-the-art connection in Lebanon. And honestly, I secretly prayed that the connection would get worse. To my luck, it improved!

The call started with the usual hellos and how are yous, but in a blink of an eye turned to nagging. Guess who did the nagging. Not me, that’s for sure. But, I’ve always been a “good listener”, so I listened to all he had to say… And trust me, I’ve been in his shoes and lived the frustrations, so I sympathized.

To summarize the call, since I have no intention of reliving each and every word,  he told me he had an accident and is undergoing physical therapy; that work is so bad he had to close down one of the branches and sell a house he owns; and that the living situation in Lebanon is so screwed up (excuse the French). All of which I am well aware of, since I lived there for 36 years, and also since I follow up through family and friends. I am not oblivious to all that, but I could have done without it… at least in the very early morning.

Anyway, the interesting part came towards the end of the 37-minute call, when all of a sudden his conversation takes a different turn. And by “his” I mean it literally, as my part throughout the the whole call was limited to “uh huh”, “yes”, and “I totally understand”.. not a big part, but seemingly very efficient as I became his “only good friend” whom he “always trusted and counted on”, and to whom “he looks up to and respects”. I was flattered for almost 0.1 seconds, after which the words that followed were a very strong slap to my face that brought me back to reality faster than the speed of light.. don’t forget: I had just been awoken by the most annoying meow on the face of the planet, and have not had enough coffee to boot my brain… Thank God those were the last words spoken during that call.

…and I quote:

1. “What do you think of so-and-so? Cute, right? She’s going to the U.S. soon, so I was thinking you can help her get her papers in order.” (Huge exclamation mark on my face. I don’t recall having been elected as president… or have I? Do I really hold all this power and authority here in the U.S. to actually be able to get someone’s papers “in order”? I wonder)

2. “I’m seriously contemplating leaving this country (Lebanon, that is). Now all you have to do is get settled properly, and through your network of friends and acquaintances find me a girl I can marry. She and I can talk on Viber and Whatsapp, I don’t mind. I just want to leave… Now I count on you.” (Another huge exclamation mark on my face, accompanied by a profound existential confusion. When did I get into the business of matchmaking? Yeah, I might be able to give good relationship advice – which I do not necessarily follow; but matchmaking? Overseas? Please!)

“So tell me, how are you? Good? I’ll end now; but don’t forget what we talked about. Take care. Bye.”

End of call.

A moment of silence falls on me. Was it a dream? Or am I fully awake? What just happened? I felt like the stupidest, most idiotic person in the entire universe. I just simply did not grasp what had just happened. But, thankfully, my brain has the ability to bounce back, and go into “analysis” mode in a fraction of a second (of course, having gulped a rather large amount of caffeine also helped).

So what’s wrong with this picture – or in this case, this call? You might be thinking: “so what? Just another one of those calls; you’ll just simply forget it when your day kicks in”.

True and not true.

True that I shall move on with my life and completely forget about this call. After all, I do have a life and better things to think of.

Not true because this isn’t the first time that this has happened. Not necessarily in the form of an early morning call, but nevertheless it has happened. And what is “it” that has happened? Allow me to explain.

One of the many perks of being a recent immigrant is the sudden appearance of “good friends” in your life. Just like a heart attack that crawls on you without warning, the swarm of “good friends” befalls you and you become everyone’s “only good friend”. You even become the “only good friend” to a person you have never ever met, or even heard of, in your entire life.

Prior to moving to the U.S., I was active on Facebook; just like everyone else, I had my profile on which, naturally, I posted pictures from my Instagram and status updates. I remember well that those posts used to receive a limited number of likes and comments, mainly from the few real good friends I have. The inbox messages I received on Facebook were numbered; quite frankly, most were between my best friend and I, who enjoyed this form of communication, despite the fact that we always met and talked face to face. I also carried around a mobile phone that almost never rang, or vibrated for that matter. (Unless it was some bank demanding that I make a payment)

After I moved to the U.S., miraculously, the number of likes and comments and inbox messages drastically increased, as though they were injected with steroids, and to a point where I’d wake up to find 50 notifications every morning. At first, it was nice knowing that you’ve got friends back home who have not forgotten about you. But then I noticed something weird: people on my friend list, whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to in more than a year, were now following my every move, my every status, my every picture; making it a point to hit the like button to every post I make, no matter how silly it might be.

Don’t get me wrong, or mistake my words as a way of asking you to buzz off. Not at all; I am human and I love receiving likes – it does make me feel good. I love knowing that I was not forgotten (although I admit, I’m horrible at keeping in touch). But there’s a question that dazzles me, and to which I found no answer (or maybe I did and I’m just still in denial to it): “Why have I become so popular now, even to those who wouldn’t ever bother picking up their smartphones and texting me a hello when I was only a few kilometers away?

I have received many Facebook messages since I moved a year ago; many of which were from ex-colleagues and Facebook friends who expressed their happiness for me and wished me luck in my new endeavors. Some even offered to put me in contact with their contacts here so I wouldn’t be alone. However, sadly, I also received messages from those who expressed their envy and demanded I helped, explaining to me how I’m the “only good friend” they’ve ever had, and how they have “always trusted me”.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that while I was in Lebanon still, my overall situation was.. how shall I put it?.. screwed up. Jobless, broke, in debt, and utterly unhappy and frustrated. And I do understand my friend’s nagging this early morning, because I have been in his shoes. But it is also no secret that many of those who contact me now, including that early morning friend, demanding help and giving me the false sense of being all-powerful and all-important, are the same people who either didn’t return my calls, were too busy for a get together, or always blamed me for the situation I was in, claiming that everything is fine and that I am just being a pessimist… I guess the tables are turned now.

I like to consider myself a good person and friend, and I would do all I can to help. I’m not a monster, nor am I selfishly absorbed in myself. I have gone through horrible times, and I can feel people’s agony – especially those who are barely surviving back in Lebanon. But it hurts deeply that those who clearly avoided me back home now claim that I’m their “only good friend”. You know, had they been less of a hypocrite and opted for a more direct approach, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much… Oh well, I guess immigrating – to the U.S, nonetheless – has its perks.

The cat is old and senile… what’s their excuse?

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