Dear my past self by Rafeif Ismail


As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we commissioned 12 writers from Australia and the UK to write a letter to their past or future selves. In response to the question “Who are we now?”, these writers consider what conversations and stories need to be had and created for us to reimagine, rethink and rebuild the world around us.

Writer Rafeif Ismail writes to her past self (content warning: suicide) 

To You in the years Before: 


The security forces officers laughing outside your grandparents’ house fill you with a cold rage. You’re nearly four and wondering if you can somehow take their car and drive until you find your parents safe. It will not be the first time that you feel that afraid, but it is the only time you will ever pick up something with the intention of using it as a weapon.  

You survive. 


You learn how to run. Cairo will chase you for years to come but you get away. Physically. 


You try to make a bargain with the universe, willing to give anything for your mother to come back safe.

You begin to give up explaining your multiple worlds 


You stand at the edge of a platform at Flinders Street Station. It’s your first time out of Perth. You plan for an end, but see a child across the platform, you think of your earliest memories and can’t bring yourself to be the nightmare of another person. 


You stand on the edge of an empty train platform. A year to the day. Before you find your resolve, your mother calls. 


How can you think of an ending when your people are screaming/bleeding/breaking for their freedom? 




The litany of the names of the dead is a reminder 

the struggle is never over 




Maybe freedom? 

You begin to imagine going home again 


You make tally 

Of how many days you can go without someone you know dying

The longest is five weeks. 


Your suicide note reads ”Dear Future Self” 

You make a list of grief counsellors for your family and friends on Excel 

You drag yourself to see a psychologist 

And learn how to start living again 

Until – 


There will come a time when you look at this fragmented timeline and wish that you could hold the younger you close. Every one of your breaths is an act of resistance. You’re finding joy in the small moments of life. You’re playing music again (you write terrible songs, they’re great). 

Here is a list of lessons learnt in these last few years: 

  • Between your beliefs and being liked, stand by what you believe in

  • Between you and being liked, pick you 

  • Dreams many not come true, but at least you’re alive to dream them 

  • A good story can ward off all manner of things 

  • You can reread a book a hundred times and never be bored 

  • You are not Atlas to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders 

  • You are not Atlantis to sink underneath it all 

  • You write a show. It’s very Black, very queer and unapologetically you 

  • You write really terrible music. It’s great. 

  • Revolutions never end 

  • But Hope and Work also endure 

  • Breathe 

  • Start Again 

  • You’re still here, despite it all  

See you in another 10 years,


You, older but not yet wise 

Rafeif Ismail is an award-winning emerging multilingual storyteller and editor based in Boorloo, WA (colonially known as Perth). Rafeif’s work has been published in anthologies and literary magazines across so-called Australia and internationally, with a debut novel forthcoming. Deeply committed to creating diverse works, spaces and ethical storytelling, Rafeif is the current managing director of Djed Press, co-editor of Unlimited Futures: Speculative, Visionary Blak+Black Fiction (Fremantle Press & Djed Press, 2021), a participant in the 2020 AFTRS National Talent Camp and 2021 Equity Foundation Screen Diversity Showcase.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves is a partnership between Spread the Word, The Wheeler Centre and Melbourne, City of Literature. It is part of the UK/Australia Season; a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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