I recently spent some time in my childhood home of Brisbane. As we drove around the soft bend leading up to my family’s double brick house, I couldn’t help but reminisce. I’d travelled on this road many a time on almost all forms of transport: driving in my new Alfa Romeo at 3am in the morning, sneaking back into the house from a late-night session (and by session I mean study session, OK? I was an actual certified nerd), walking to the bus stop when that Alfa Romeo lived up to its reputation by inevitably breaking down, and running 2km loops around the block when I was in that short-lived “maybe-one-day-I’ll-do-a-marathon” phase.
Sitting in the passenger seat of the family car, my younger brother grown and behind the wheel, watching the familiar houses and trees glide by, I grew nostalgic.
How was 15-year-old Yassmina, running around this block, to know that a decade later, these streets would hold more than simple, happy memories of early morning jogging sessions accompanied by the soundtrack of feet lightly padding along the pavement, neatly wrapped in the still silence of suburbia?
How was 20-year-old Yassmina to know that five years later, her hard-won engineering degree would be the last thing that people knew about her, not the first? That six years later, she would have walked away from her dream of working on a Formula One team, ushered out of her job on an oil rig, squeezed out of her newfound role as a TV broadcaster, her mental health spiralling, reputation in shambles, and with a Wikipedia page that mostly talked about “controversies”?
How was 26-year-old Yassmina to know that a year later she would be returning to the country of her citizenship to eulogise a career she didn’t even know was coming to an end?
As my brother parked the black Honda Civic, I was overcome with a tidal wave of heaviness, a blanket made of lead that seemed to smother my soul. There was a strange metallic taste in my mouth that I couldn’t quite name, and it wasn’t until I lay in my bed that evening, the single bed I had lain in every night for over a decade, that it hit me. Moonlight was shining through the blinds, glinting on tears that threatened to spill. The weight was more than just jet lag – I was in mourning. What a strange feeling indeed.
I could feel my face furrowing as I tried to make sense of my emotions. I swallowed, allowing my tears to run down my cheeks and turn the pale pillow cover a darker shade of blue, and I attempted to reckon with reality. What was this deep, cavernous sense of loss that had opened up in my chest? What was this ache in my lungs, making every breath feel like I was drowning, trying to take in air through a snorkel that was rapidly filling up with water? Why did this whole house, this whole street, this whole city now feel foreign to me, like it was only a place I’d visited in my dreams?
This was grief, but it was not just my career I was grieving. I was grieving my past self. It was the baby Yassmina I had lost, a resolutely positive and perhaps blindly optimistic young person, a soul unburdened by the knowledge of what the world does to people who don’t quite fit the mould and who want us all to be a little better. I had lost an innocence I didn’t even know I had.
Is it better to have been innocent and lost it, than to not have been innocent at all? In all honesty, I don’t know.
I wanted this eulogy to be funny. I wanted to bid farewell to a Formula One career that waited for all the lights to turn on but never quite got off the starting mark. I wanted to say goodbye to a professional engineering pathway that many don’t know the details of, but that makes me very proud. I wanted to commemorate a broadcasting job that took us all by surprise, as it turned out that I was halfway decent at it. I wanted to talk about the highs and the lows, the bits that make me laugh, the times that gave it all meaning. And there are lots of those moments. But when I sat down to write this eulogy, all that came out was grief.
‘How was 20-year-old Yassmina to know that five years later, her hard-won engineering degree would be the last thing that people knew about her, not the first?’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
It poured out of my fingers and soaked these pages, like rainwater in a drought-stricken desert. It’s actually annoying, really. I’m quite tired of this grief business. I thought I had bid farewell to this traveller. But grief is a visitor that overstays its welcome, and no matter how much subtle hinting at the time, it’s still splayed out on your couch, eating nachos and getting guacamole on your carpet. Turns out grief does what it wants, and pays no attention to schedules or social niceties.
Grief will turn up when you least expect it – you’re on your way out to a dinner date, and ding-dong, there it is, at your door, walking in uninvited. You’re having lunch with friends, and then poof! It apparates next to you and dominates the conversation for the next hour, paying no attention whatsoever to what you were talking about before. Hell, you could be watching Happy Feet 2 on a plane, and grief will pop out of the oxygen compartment above, wave its hands in your face and make you miss the rest of the damn film. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
Part of me also doesn’t want this eulogy to be about anything at all, because that would be admitting that those past versions of myself are gone. Done, dusted, finito. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Are we ever really ready to let go? That’s the thing about death. It’s kinda like grief. A terrible houseguest. It just turns up, and you’re expected to have the kettle on and the right kind of biscuits on hand. I mean, c’mon man. Cut a sister a break! Send me a calendar invite or something at least, so I can make sure I’m presentable. But no. Death, pain, grief: the bloody three musketeers that they are, they give zero fucks about your plans. It’s brutal, but I guess it’s the only way to ever really level up in this life. If you don’t know, now you know, sister.
My past lives might be dead but I am not. I’m very much still alive, and that is a gift that I cannot bear to waste
In Islam, when someone dies, we say “Ina lilahi, wa ina lani rajiun”. It roughly translates to: We are for Allah, and to him we shall return. I wondered if I could apply this to my past self, or my various iterations of careers, and then I mentally slapped myself for my indulgence. Girl, get a hold of yourself! You ain’t dead yet! This is eulogy for your career, you indecisive millennial, not you. You’re still here, alive and kicking Alhamdulilah, no matter how much some may wish otherwise. So act like it.
I got an Instagram direct message on Friday, just before I got the plane from London to Australia. It read as follows: “My Name Is Nelson, and I’m a big fan. Do you mind if I ask just one favour? Please Reply, I love You.”
Then: “Go to Flinders St Station, Cut Your Wrists and Let them bleed out so we can all watch you die. Lest We Forget. Hopefully I’ll be able to distinguish you from all the other Sudanese Niggers, but I know you’ll be the only ape wearing a ridiculous towel over your head.”
Nelson, I’m sorry to inform you that this specific favour will not be granted, darling boy, though I may be wearing a ridiculous towel on my head, because well, that’s very on-brand. My past lives might be thoroughly dead, cooked, roasted, their remains served on a platter for all to feast on, but in this moment, I am not. I’m very much still alive, and that is a gift that I cannot bear to waste, and in the words of the great Hannah Gadsby, there’s nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.
I now think of the death of baby Yassmina as a controlled burn, in the tradition of the First Nations people who are the custodians of this land. They understood that sometimes for change and regeneration, you have to raze the existing growth to the ground and let the new take root. And oh, yes, those flames are searing and yes, sometimes, I still hear the crackle and pop of burning flesh.
But I’m starting to get used to it, as my careers have a habit of going up in flames. So why do I keep playing with fire? Well, perhaps my previous analogy was slightly off. This is no controlled burn, no regenerative wildfire. It appears that I live in a burning house. Death lives down the road, pain is my roommate and grief is always turning up uninvited. But we’re friends now. We bicker, we fight, we make each other laugh. And I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.
So bye-bye baby Yassmina. Bye bye, straighty-180 engineer, toothy-smiled TV presenter, giggling Good Muslim Girl who thought that her trio posse of innocence, positivity and optimism were all she needed. I’ve got new friends now. But your old friends are welcome to visit, of course. Maybe, maybe they can even stay. Maybe, we can get to know each other. Come through, I’ll put the kettle on.