The Little One in the form of an Owl...(but don't tell her I said that!)

September 23, 2012


[Disclaimer: wrote this over a month ago; hard time letting it out; too intimate, you know?  Had to wait along time with this stuff deep inside me.  But balls are moving; time is healing; the drama is dated; the issues are not; updates to follow.] 

         I walked into the house this Friday afternoon from work and my daughter greeted me at the door unusually subdued.  I had been so paranoid about her behavior lately, but this Friday afternoon I was feeling so good I had not predicated anything untoward.  Immediately I was tense, “damn, just when I let my guard down”.

  “I’m sorry.” She began. Then ushered me to my room.  The door was closed. 

“It’s my fucking computer, I’m gonna open this door and see it lying in pieces. God help me.  I even hesitated: “What Vannesa?! And why are we even in this area?”

She took me in, and the room looked fine:
“Sorry that I cooked today.” She looked up at me with big sheepish eyes. 

          She is not allowed to use the stove.  My relief was so great I had to bite my tongue to hold it in and positively reinforce my daughter’s confession…by being stern and questioning.  Apparently Anna, the housekeeper, had refused to cook early enough for her tastes, so Ms V took it upon herself to warm her lunch.  “When she was finished with her work.”

          That was the part that got me; how is she finished with her at-home school work before lunch, when it is supposed to keep her occupied till I get home at 4?

“What do you mean you were ‘finished’? How could you be ‘finished’?!

“I meant my morning work!”

“What ‘morning work’?? Since when do you have ‘morning work’??

           So far I was only feigning sternness and was more playing logic games with her responses (something you will often find yourself doing with a precocious nine year old, whether you want to or not). Apparently, my hand gestures had given me away:

“Could you stop doing this ‘’? She asked with desperate bewilderment written all over her open wide face.

 (this sarcastic gesture is something she has often questioned me about; as a once-upon-a-New Yorker, I do it often, and she finds it tiresomely abstract and thus useless-with good point)

           We broke through our cultural bridge and fell into a pool of laughter.  The innocent absurdity of such a moment was lost on neither of us.....

           Much later she sat at the dinner table writing sentences as punishment for being caught cheating during our card game.  In that car-crash-slow-motion-breakdown that has become all too familiar in our house, I brought dinner to the table to find she had been writing in teeny, tiny illegible letters and was pouting and angry.  A discussion ensued about what exactly had caused this punishment and where her anger should appropriately lie.  Somewhere there the car flipped and my little one was in my arms, keening and fighting me, and I just kept holding her and saying, in a quiet steady voice:

“Stop it; you have to stop it; just speak to me; you have to stop fighting; this isn’t you; just speak to me…: and so forth. 

         I could not believe how quickly I had lost control of the situation; control of my child, and I think I just held on to the body as if that might help me hold on to the girl.  But she was gone; way gone; and the keening and mewling with no words wouldn’t stop; and she started to look around in desperation-“Is she really frightened of me right now? Am I being frightening?” But there was no one to ask, not even her.  And then within the sounds came, “maaaaammmmmmmy”

And that’s when I let go. Whatever point I was trying to make, what ever objective I was trying to reach, I had failed and things were crossing a threshold I could not allow.

She stumbled off to her bedroom a few steps away, and fell to her bed still mewling, and mewling, and mewling-

[aside: as I write this I strangely think back to when my one year old puppy gave birth to a still born pup in the back room of our compound, with only me to watch over her.  I laid some newspapers down and tried to make her comfortable while I bore witness to something I had never been exposed to and had no idea how to handle.  When the stillborn was out, my puppy just kept licking it, trying to bring it to life, looking desperately up at me and mewling, mewling, mewling.]

         I sat there, my body literally shaking with the force of my little girl and wondered if I had overreacted, if I was in the wrong, if this all could have been prevented.  But there was a calmness in me that appeased those questions; I had not been angry, I had been scared; something was off, terribly off, and everything in me knew it. 

          I could see into the room, and I could see the edge of her bed, so I just stared at where the ends of her legs, and her insanely long feet (she’s gonna be six foot, that one) were. I wanted to call out to her, but my mother’s voice in my mind, “just let her be”, stopped me.  For once, I agreed.  In the case that I had somehow misguidedly caused a trauma to my child, and she was, in fact, lying there terrified by me, the only thing I could do was let her be, she would be feeling trapped as it was.

         Shortly thereafter, the cries stopped. A strange thing happened:  She sat up in bed and leaned past the door, her finger thrust deep inside her mouth, and looked at me….as if she was very confused.  She lay back down; I kept eating; I could see her playing with her legs; a doll; rolling about in her bed quietly. She got up and looked out her window, sat on her bed and started playing with a pair of doll scissors, trying to cut her towel.  I stared: 'was this about to start up all over again? Would I have to think about sharp objects and pills laying around for my nine year old child?' 

           She felt me looking at her, looked up….and smiled with her eyes in that shy way when she thinks I might still be upset with her from the day before, but she really hopes I’m not.  Her eyes were all puffy from crying.

“You’re dinner is very cold.”

          She jumped up and came and settled down to her meal of now congealed pasta and fried fish.  I was already full and felt I had some phone calls to make. I was feeling un-tethered; I needed to connect to something sane.  No one picked up.

          I went back to the living room to give my quiet presence, in case absence signified anger.  I was still not angry, and I was beyond scared.  There was no panic in me, but perhaps a slight premonition.  As I sat there listening to her eat behind me, the radio on in the background, I thought of the moment when I would have to explain to her teachers that my child may have behavioral issues we had not previously been aware of.  I tried to think of how to describe it in a nutshell: “It is as if she has three different brains, a sixteen year old, a nine year old, and a three year old. No, I know,” I reassured my invisible audience, “that might be the way to describe any nine year old girl; in fact, anything I would try to describe would sound normal.”  I thought back to how many hours of discussion it took my mother to understand I was not just snapping at Vannesa without reason, I had reached a threshold of desperation very few others would have been able to reach without doing a lot worse.  “With Vannesa, you have to see it to understand….she just snaps.”

         Dinner was over, and Ms V carried her plates to the kitchen with-seriously?-a bounce to her step; she was miming the lyrics to the song on the radio (“Summer, summer, summertiiiime…”) as she emptied her food into the garbage, put away her leftovers and washed her dishes.  The only thing to remind me that I had not lost my mind and it was perhaps now about an hour since she laying in her bed in the throes of an emotional fit, were her still puffy, squinty eyes.   Otherwise, I was watching a well behaved, happily satiated nine year old. 

She came back to the living room and hesitated, looking around at the windows and doors, and me. “was she still scared? Wanting someone to come rescue her?” but she didn’t seem scared, she seemed lost, and looking to me for rescue.

“Yes? Do you have something to say?” She shook her head. “Do you need something?” She tugged at her shirt and kept looking around trying to pinpoint something.  And I thought, “she’s just come back; she has no idea where she’s been”.  But of course I thought I was being dramatic.  I turned off the radio, told her she looked like she needed me for something but that I could not read her mind so she would have to communicate.  She came closer to me (with Ms V that speaks volumes) and said she didn’t know what her mind said.

“I just feel dizzy, and I don’t know, like my body hurts.”

“Vannesa come here.” She came and stood over me.  “Who am ?”

“My Mama.”

“Do you feel safe with me?” she nodded.
“Would your mama ever hurt you?” She shook her head.
“Do you remember what happened over there?” I gestured to the dining room table.  She looked…

            I couldn’t tell if she was grinning in sheepish shame, but as the conversation continued and her denials continued, I swear she looked like I must look when meeting up with someone who has recently seen me after too much to drink.  Like, I want to act like I do remember, but I also really don’t and I’m curious to get the details.  That’s how she looked-curious.

          And so it goes.  The last thing she remembered, and vaguely at that, was writing sentences after cheating at cards.  And then she found herself in her bed.  I remembered the look of surprise or confusion when she sat up and peered at me.  Something in me clicked.  No panic, no fear, just a click of a steel lock as it unlocks into a vault of knowing: the yawning, the mental withdrawal, the never remembering what she had just done, the once upon a times that only verged on the unthinkable…The door was unlocked.

I told her what had happened and explained why her body hurt. She was so….she said,

“Wow! That must have been hard, sorry mama for your suffering.” And I almost lost it, and I wanted to lose it because, Lord FUCKING knows I reveal my trauma in delayed response and I am damn scared of when this will hit me. 

         She admitted there were times when she was somewhere and didn’t know how she got there. (Fuckfuckfuck. I am really hearing this. This is what I’m hearing)  I honestly explained the complexities of the mind-sometimes after being very scared at some point-and how it  protects the person, but reassured her this was not necessarily the case with her, only that the mind was complicated. 

         She went to bathe and found me afterwards, curled up on my bed, clutching a silent phone.  No one picked up.  She looked…sympathetic, more so than I’ve ever seen her before.

“So….how are you?” She asked, her freshly scrubbed body wrapped tightly in my Indian print house robe.

“I’m okayyyy.”

She glanced around then fell into the scoop of my body I didn’t even know was there; I curled reflexively around her until I felt her fit perfectly and knew, it would always be there waiting, whenever she would need to fall.....

August 7, 2012

Mother May I?

        Do you know how many posts I've dictated to myself in my head that went absolutely nowhere because I didn't have computer/internet access? Now my very own, brand spankin new laptop has arrived, I have access to internet 24hrs a day (if you include work) and my a blank.  

        To be honest, I think I've just gotten used to not having anyone to talk to (about anything that's really important) so the thoughts have just dried up.  

        I'm dried up.  There's such a thing as too sober, as my dear Papa has wisely stated.  The last time I saw him, a few weeks ago, he was in a desperate state, worse than I've ever seen him; I'm scared to call him now because I know my mother left him hanging and I don't want to hear the suffering in his voice.  Just when I finally got him to admit he needed her and to be willing to give her an official position at the university (instead of just milking her); it's what she proclaims she's always wanted and I finally make it happen and she abandons him like he was her own child (ha!)

        She finally arrived literally at the stroke of midnight on the eve of my daughter's ninth birthday (her first with me and without her mummy).  Earlier that night, I lay with Ms V on our empty balcony to watch the full moon traverse the trees while an outdoor concert filtered through the night air towards us.  And she said, 

        "Maybe I could just kill myself. Life is so DIFFICULT!"  and she was disturbingly calm and flippant.  It was a rough night.  Never count on my mother for anything, except that she will show up too late whenever you need her the most.  I was so broken after this shitty month in Uganda and yet by the time she showed up, I'd already pulled my shit together and moved my baby and I from the old place to our new home.  By the time she showed up, all my vulnerabilities had been tucked away behind my warrior spirit, so much so that it didn't even phase me to put my arms around my little girl's articulated ribs and hear her threaten to take away everything I have committed myself to living for.  Can you imagine? Five years; ten; fifteen years down the way, after so much loving and bonding, and FUCKING committing she may decide to let her demons win after all, and poof, it will all be gone.  I should be able to imagine since I know exactly what it feels like to have the heavy love of my mother's arms around me, but still feel empty and insubstantial enough to think it no big deal to wish myself away.  

          Besides that rather dramatic moment (in the end I dredged through the psyche that is Ms V only to find she was "afraid to fail"-we had been discussing her upcoming entrance into school-and so it goes), the most amazing part of that night was that Ms V didn't know the date so she wasn't sure when her (happy) birthday was.  I convinced her the date was August 5th and we'd missed it by 3 days-it was surprisingly easy to convince her, but in true Pollyanna fashion she said "well, never-mind anyway, but at least we have to celebrate my Happy Birthday sometime".
          In the meantime, I've become a working woman.  We live exactly nine minutes brisk walk away from my job. We also live two large blocks away from the ocean, but the last block is a series of ultra-exclusive mansions that hide the view unless you walk about 10 minutes down the road to our favorite pier.  

           At night, just about now, I hear the Islamic prayers observing Ramadan, the sounds of night insects have replaced the crows and exotic day bird sounds; and then, out of the blue-the deep, deep blue, in fact-comes the bloated groan of a cargo ship at sea; it sounds to me like a plaintive yearning; a reminder of obligation and duty in it's most lonesome form. But there is something else: it sounds to me like a miracle begging to be born, magic begging to be remembered, the chance of a lifetime waiting for the perfect moment.  When I hear that sound I feel renewed in my own commitments; I've come this far, but my journey goes on; beware-the journey goes on.  I hope that sound will always affect me like that.  I want to always remember that this-right here-this is what I started.  And I am committed to carrying it on (and therein lies the miracle, right?!).

          Perhaps it is time to air out those hidden vulnerabilities.  My daughter has chosen to flirt with alienation from me.  My mother is here for a time, but it was I who had to sit her down and break all her Ego barriers apart so that she could do a decent job standing in for me as primary caretaker.  So now they are enjoying each other generously; following my orders in partnered conspiracy.  It is a painful thing to go through.  I needed her, my mother, to take some of the load off while I get into this new job, but that need has come at the price of being excluded, of losing respect.  I don't understand why, when it was my mother who was working, my daughter revered her for it and looked down on me for staying at home, and now I go to work, but it seems this too has earned my daughter's disregard (if not disdain). Frankly, I think it is the ironic fact that my mother really doesn't give a shit (and I do) that makes her the favorite.  

          In any case, plugging along warrior style just makes me a poor facsimile of my mother; I am not so cold and practical; I am not so ruthless and flippant. Both my daughter and I are flirting with separation, testing our need for each other, testing our Love for each other, hoping perhaps it is not so strong, hoping we can reverse the bond; denying our mutual commitment. Perhaps she is scared I will slip away from her, as my mother so often slipped away from me. I know I fear the indications that the journey ahead may not be as straightforward as I naively believed. I know I fear there is a burden in her heart that was there long before I came along and may be there for a long time yet.  I think we are both suspicious of the other, suspicious of the other's potential to break our hearts.  My mother is just a distraction.  This right here, this is a Transition and we are fully in the throes of it; we are suspect that what we go through in the next several weeks will determine forever; little do we's all already happened.

          I held her in the moonlight but only after letting her slip into a pit of fear and leaving her to flounder; at first I lay there alone and felt....betrayed; then it hit me: the future cannot betray you, but your present fears can; if she was not ready to fight her fears, then I would fight them for her. So I pulled her down to me, into the nest of my Love, and begged the moonlight to fill her with the heaviness of its beauty.....of its existence. I whispered,

 "Life is not difficult; Life is just Life. Who ever told you it was supposed to be different? Who ever told you it was supposed to be so simple?  I think Life is beautiful and so do you; you sing about the Joy of Life all the time baby, all the time; you don't even hear yourself; but I do. In every moment it is up to each of us to decide how we see Life-beautiful or difficult. But either way, Life is just Life.....and baby, we are ALL afraid to fail....
          Her tense body relaxed into me and she began to yawn,

          "Hey......guess what happens at midnight."......



July 10, 2012

Gone Screaming

       My daughter has decided I will be the new servant for her new family when the current one goes to give birth, and I'm about to lose the job I just got, because they want my fucking fucking AMERICA. Ha!

Did I mention I tend to realize my circumstantial/emotional/FUCKING LIFE wounds in delayed release?  

       Last week a very obese, bronze, colourfully attired American consulate officer asked me less than five questions, typed straight-faced for five minutes then informed me that I was a filthy dirty nigger liar and my application was denied (and thus access to a large part of my identity).  She didn't actually use those words (though I wish she had) in fact the only time she showed the slightest emotion was when she told me I had misused my visa in the past, I said I had not, and she let out a sharp, deep, groaning "WRONG!" that was filled with a viscous disdain equal to every bit of her large mass.  And I felt like a filthy dirty nigger beggar, but had no choice but to walk out with my head held high, wander down the road with a dignified stride, look both ways, cross the street and make my way to a bourgeois coffee shop, in an Expat shopping area named Le Petit Village, where I sipped a cappuccino while a German man watched me with a wounded confusion as I had denied his open, warm smile, and an older, stately black woman at a business meeting stared at me with fascination; what could be so fascinating about a filthy dirty nigger failure blinking away her tears while dunking her complimentary pastry? 

       That was a monday; my male friends were out of town, and my female friends are bitches so I held my breath (and my tears) till Wednesday.  Instead, I wandered through the hectic city in a silent haze. I made it to the mall, bought a movie ticket, had a beer at sunset, ate chocolate.  

       By Wednesday my breath (and tears) were long forgotten.  Instead I joined the boyz and we partied hard with a town that was busting with all the fresh meat in for the summer.  Old and new pretty faces beamed with happiness to hear I was here for a month and I beamed back and screamed "FUCK America!".  I fell sick before the weekend and stayed in, ignored my relatives, shut myself in my bed, allowed my child to get lost in the feeling of family and not needing me so much. It was only yesterday that I remembered I've been choking on a scream that holds so much lust and hunger in it and there is not a single thing to say because everyone has moved on and who would I say it to anyhow?  My lungs and dreams are fucking bursting with images and tears and filthy dirty nigger rage.

       Do you know how many times this has happened before? To so many thousands of people over the decades of global civilization as we know it? How many times a person has been told, fuck what you know, you are nothing? Often it is in ways just as simple as mine; a letter; a word; a "no"; but just as often, of course, are the more graphic ways we all know from history class. Is it easier when it is just a letter?

Mississippi Masala was a great movie-well actually it was okay and I don't believe it is even considered a stand out in Denzel Washington's career, but it was great to me because I remember seeing it for the first time when I was but a young, naive girl.  We gathered in my uncle's stifling hot apartment (the very same uncle whose home we now occupy, but long before he built the current mansion and even before his wife had to be watched over for fear she would kill her babies).  Back then the crowded apartment was filled with relatives whose faces are a blur, but who exuded warmth and safety, all sitting in eager anticipation to see this long awaited film.  I barely could understand it, save for the fact that it had to do with Uganda....and Denzel Washington; thus, of course, I felt only pride.
       I've watched the film again only in the last 10 years and at the time I think I was hungry for my home and those memories of exotic, safe, adventures with blurred faces and rituals.  I commiserated with the father in the film, an Indian motel owner, as he read the last rejection of his appeal to the Ugandan government, then gazed at an old, faded photograph of a large compound, much like one I currently am hiding out in, similarly filled with bougainvillea bushes the likes of which I have only ever seen in Uganda. The scene is touching: such romance; such poignancy; such bullshit.

       Who gives a shit about a fucking old house and a bush that is long overgrown?!  When that man looks at the photograph he is quietly feeling like a filthy dirty nothing and beginning to hate the people who have made him feel this way (at least if you believe the claims that current racism from returnee Indian generations is a simmering response to how their parents and grandparents were treated).  Maybe yes, maybe no, but for sure he is fucking screaming; I am fucking screaming, because actually it really is about an old house, a scent of flowers, a place I once stood and the deep hunger to stand there again and say "this was me". It is that fucking simple and being refused that is poignantly brutal indeed.

        And it is about all the people I hoped to look in the eye again, who would see me in a way that just can't happen here; whose ears might hear my voice in a way that just can't happen here

        But now my lungs are choking with screams of lust and hunger, and they are too far away to listen....

        Photographs don't look back; fuck what you know; to them, you are nothing....

June 20, 2012

Friendship (2)

A stroke of luck makes the empty space shine brighter. 

                   I remember how when I wrote this I purposefully did not say good or bad, though at the time I was referring to good luck.  The whole point of it was that in any case, the movement, the presence of positive energy will reveal hidden secrets in the empty space around it-if you know how to look.  

                    I can't imagine what must be going through miss A.C's heart for her to hurt someone she has loved and trusted and been loved by for so many years.  After the news about her father, she felt she had to spend Christmas with the family she stayed with, but the next day she came out to my house and lay in my bed while my mother an I cooked quietly in the kitchen.  When she came out to eat, she knew she didn't have to put on a good face, or say much of anything at all; she knew she was safe.  

                   And now, with her absence in my life, there is a pain in my heart made of wondering if anyone I ever get close to will eventually run away from me.  She is not the only one, this is true.  

                   It's funny how, in order to be a better, healthier person, so much of my adult life has been dedicated to healing old wounds, some are apparent, but many are like this pain, just raw tragic questioning.  What am I worth?  On the one hand I have an organization that is willing to put thousands of dollars behind my predicted contribution as an employee, on the other I have a friend who has been longing to be rid of me.  One stroke of good luck and one stroke of bad; Where should I look? Which part has the message of value that I should hold on to?  It is possible it is somehow the same message?  

                   The empty space shines brighter.....but what does it say? Am I safe?