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

September 23, 2012

MIND THE GAP


[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.

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 (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 mind....is 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".  

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          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 know.....it'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 transcript.....in 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.


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       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?



            

Friendship (1)



               A stroke of luck makes the empty space shine brighter.  


             This was my last facebook status update, after finishing the novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (just saw on IMBD that the movie came out last year), a story about a the life-long friendship between two women in an ancient Chinese province.  I was surprised by how many people liked my update, since it seemed like a very obscure statement to make.  


[an aside:] One chic, who I barely knew a million years ago, stole my line and put it as her status update (instead of sharing mine so I get credit).  I was a bit perturbed by how many more likes she got, but decided against de-friending her for it.  In the interest of friendship (see huge fascinating post below).


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              The friendship in the book carries out mostly through Nu Shu, a women's secret writing written on fans or embroidered on handkerchiefs, shoes for bound feet, etc.
       
               It left my me thinking about the power of a single stroke of paint, which led me to remember the modern dance class exercises where you play with negative and positive space; the stroke of paint would be a persons body, say a hand curved down like an elephants nose.  In dance you are encouraged to put just as much value on the negative space, the space around the body, the air within the curve; you are encouraged to see the shapes being communicated within the negative space, within the absence.  


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               It is funny my first thought was of dance, because this play between negative and positive space is most concretely and recognizably demonstrated by those illusion art pieces we've all seen a million times (all? ha!). 


               But the reason why dance would come to mind lies within the story. Though Nu Shu is a tangible art form, the communication that it represented was very much a constantly flowing, secret and unique relationship between the two women. The women became friends as girls in a contract that established a life-long bond between them before they had even known each other.  This was a normal cultural practice at the time.  They were old sames, matched through astrology and chance; committed for life.  Their friendship was a dance that could never be replicated. 


               My facebook status was referring to my anxiety over recent, positive events in my life.  I have landed a job that is beyond anything I've ever had or could have hoped for and will relieve all pressures for me to pay for school for my daughter.  The play went amazingly well and I was truly shocked by the sincere compliments I received by strangers and others in the cast on my acting ability (hahaha!) We have found a place which is within spitting distance of my new job and will make our lives wonderfully easy as far as convenience.  All of this happened within a few days and all I could think about was what was missing.  A stroke of luck makes the empty space shine brighter.


              My acute and chronic sense of worthlessness did not enjoy the positive attention the universe was giving me.  I wanted to feel bad about myself again; I wanted to feel safe. So my mind strove to think of all the things I still wanted or all the things that could still go wrong.  


              It does not surprise me that a week after all this happened, last weekend to be exact, I went out with some cast members for a big night of fun and got too drunk and threw up, and kind of alienated them as I was very much that girl.  I wouldn't give a shit if any of them acted that way, because whatever, shit happens, but these are fairly judgmental people- which is good in this case; I wanted to be judged.  


              On Friday night, I read that Jennifer Love Hewitt's mother had passed away and that they were very, very close and still living together.  I had a very emotional reaction to this as I thought about how I would handle the sudden passing of my mother. What if? What if? What if?  (it isn't that I am pessimistic normally, it is just that all this positive space, all these new strokes in my face have me scrambling) What if? What if? What if?  


              The next morning I received a short email about one of my closest friends in the states.  I had no idea that anything untoward was going on in her life, as facebook had not told me so.  Her mother had cancer, it was fast and hard, chemotherapy hadn't worked, she had a few days to a week left.  What would it be like to have to write that in a message to someone? How do you do that? Since the day I met her I've known my friend as a cool glass of pink lemonade.  She lives a wonderfully, happy, carefree life in which she is a happy, little dancer, dancing to a beat of her own and giving you no choice but to join in.  Her family is so ideal it is remarkable; as in, they are not remarkable or heroic or astounding anymore than anyone else, but they have lived an ideal, functional, happy life, and raised wonderfully happy children, and that is fucking remarkable.  And now her mother is gone and she is not even 26 yet.  I knew her mom, not well, but well enough to think highly of her.  I was very shaken by the news.  


                The last time a friend lost a loved one, it was two days before Christmas when we found out.  We met in Grand Central Station, in the late afternoon.  I had just come from my first one-night stand (only?), and we were meeting to do some last minute shopping.  It was she and I, and another friend who had originally introduced us but then turned into a super-bitch.  We sat on the floor of Grand Central while crowds rushed by us in winter coats and holiday frenzy.  Grand Central has this very cool light show and orchestra and such during the Christmas time that is actually quite magical and sincerely festive.  I was a little spaced out from my oddly enjoyable, unexpected night and the fact that I was rushing home in the evening to expect my mother who was arriving from Uganda.  


                A.C's father had had a misdiagnosed cancer that had taken some six months to wear him down.  A.C said that her mother had tried to call her several times but had not gotten through; she admitted she was avoiding the call just in case it was bad news, but even as she said it seemed like an impossible idea.


                 Then she got a text message and said, "my dad is dead."  We spent the next twenty minutes curled over our bags, bawling our eyes out in the middle of rush hour in Grand Central Station.  The swarms of people passing by must have wondered, three 25 year old women: a Mexican, a Croatian, an a Ugandan huddled in a pile crying unabashedly (actually super-bitch was pretty dry-eyed and looked embarrassed, I remember that distinctly) but no one bothered us, no one stared; I felt protected by a shield of dignity.  I had no idea that I would cry so hard, since I had never met the man.  But to this day I cannot think of him without feeling the loss.  He was my father, because this friend, Ms. A.C was-until recently-my old same.  


                  In the novel, the friendship ends tragically, as the protagonist of the book, the one who is telling the story as an old woman, tells of her biggest shame in discontinuing the friendship and rejecting Snow Flower over a misunderstanding.  She read the fan wrong and misconstrued the meaning of her friends message and she never finds out until she comes to her deathbed and cares for until her passing.  But of course it is too late, and the guilt haunts her.  The friendship had suffered because as the protagonist's life developed with luck and fortune over the years, her friend, Snow Flower, suffered horribly through tragic circumstance after tragic circumstance.  


                  Two days ago, I wrote A.C a message I've been trying to write for weeks, to ask her why she has completely abandoned our friendship suddenly and without explanation.  I know how hard her life is now (actually I don't, as she has been so silent).  After her father died, she continued with school and eventually moved back to Croatia.  Her family life was incredibly difficult due to his passing.  She came to visit me in Uganda and stayed for two months.  I spent the next twelve months risking everything in my relationship with my mother to get her to help A.C get a job in Uganda and move in with us.  She did and spent one year living with us.  


               We have always been like twins, though you would never know it to meet us.  Only two days separate our births, and she has always gotten on with my mother, maybe more than I.  She was forced out of Uganda on an immigration issue. Back in Croatia,  her life was just as bad as it had been and the last time we spoke, I really agonized of her health.  No one can take that much pain and bad luck without being affected by it. I prayed and hoped that she would find her way back, but this time I could not do much as my life was also in total shambles.


                   I moved here and have continued my struggle to find peace and happiness, so far succeeding far better than I ever did in Uganda, and with the blessing of a wonderful daughter to keep me searching for the Truth of Love on her behalf (as well as mine).  The main purpose of the message was to tell of death of our mutual friend's mother (though I am much closer to her) but as it had been so long and weighing on me so much I had to speak of my broken heart.  This is what she wrote back:


The truth is that our friendship has been unhealthy and damaging for me for quite a long time now. I believe that a friendship needs to make people feel happier for the time they interact with each other and are in each other's lives. This is not the case for me within our friendship. I believe that we are on different paths and have non-complementing energies, and staying in our friendship is hurting me.


                   I am surprised by how I can read this without feeling so bad now.  Like I said, the last time we spoke she was begging me and my mother to find a way to help her come back so of course I didn't see this coming.  She was going to be my bridesmaid eventually and I hers; we were going to raise our babies together; and grow old together if we never found husbands.  She was my old same.


                   So I got my wish didn't I? Nothing like total abandonment to make a girl feel like she's not worth shit, right?  Yeah, well.....maybe for a second.  

June 9, 2012

So Much To Say, So Little Time



         No excuses.  The world is spinning and twirling and I'm flying high.  Last performance of the play tonight.  It has been such an incredible ride.  This play has seen me crawl from depths of an unexpected despair; shed some drama, some weight, some bitter scars.  My heart is new and full and as courageous as fuck.  Everyone loves me, and I love me too....like WHAT! 


        This week and next all the jobs are finally coming through.  Spent a few days shadowing at a daycare.  It's kinda unsettling how easily little babies will accept you as an authority figure and will immediately seek your approval and love.  They are SO impressionable!! It would be a wondrous responsibility to have them in my guard, and actually I did just that.  I could do it; I could handle it. Still waiting for the final word, but as far as I'm concerned I've proved myself to myself, to God (who already knew), to the world. Funny, I suspect the world may be just as impressionable as those little babies.  It will believe anything about you, that you believe. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU BELIEVE.  


         My daughter had another little breakdown after too much upheaval from her normal routine of waking up to find me there.  She admitted she does not yet believe we Love her; she still thinks we may toss her aside someday. Ha! Like God smiling down on his children, inside I smile even while I soothe her pain, because I know how false it is.  She will never lose me, and I will never let her go.  In my arms, she will ALWAYS fit.  But of course, I pray she will realize this Truth, just as I pray to realize the Truth of God's Love for me.  Nurturing and Patience are the seeds of Possibility.  


calshakes.wordpress.com

             I am the only African in the play.  All along, this fact has been a non-issue, because of the wonderful and welcoming way the cast has treated me.  But on stage, feeling the audiences' confusion at my presence-hell at my perfection in the role, I feeling my skin is on fire with their projected marvel.  I feel isolated in my blackness-a feeling I have not had to experience in many years.  But the secondary result of this is even more startling.  My mother herself, who knew I was the only black person in the play, said it was not until she saw the performance that she realized that I am an anomaly in singular racial casting.  I am not the token; I am the Lead.  She could not believe the pride she felt, and those sentiments have been explicitly echoed by other Africans; they have stayed behind to thank me in reverent and sincere tones.  Shall I write my Oscar speech now? No, of course not; but the ironic reality of living this Expat African life can be so apparent in moments such as these, you feel as if you have slipped back to a time that is usually reserved for the stage. 




    xroads.virginia.edu
              An aside: you would not believe how many servant women come to collect the little babies at the school dressed in full "Mammy" uniform, complete with apron and white head scarf. It is what it is. And if I am to represent a moment of pride in my racial community, then so be it; and what joy that it should be in something I truly enjoy doing well! 


             
                  I am also full of pride.  My Love that Got Away (what a lovely term, yeah? I've never known what to call him until I saw this on someone else's blog.) has embarked on a month long road trip with his daughter. This is something he has been wanting to do for so long, and its occurrence represents so many grand achievements within him.  Though I only know all this from stalking, as I am not currently accepted into his life, I cannot help but to feel so damn proud.  You go daddy! I am there with you.  The last time he threw himself out over the ledge like this, he fell right into my arms, then I fell in Love.  God knows what He's doing with this one and that is all I can say about that.




                        Dear God, You're so cool!......
                


                

      May 24, 2012

      MAKE MISTEAKS

                    I have a new therapist, because my mother is a good person, but a terrible role model and I need somewhere to go to vent my fury over her behavior and seek guidance so as not to repeat such mistakes in my own journey in motherhood.  But I digress.  


                    My new therapist asked me to come up with an empowering mantra, probably to combat my chronic acute worthlessness syndrome (don't look it up), and also because she is under a lot of pressure to match the momentum my old therapist had going, which threatens to cease during her temporary absence (nice of her to feel obligated to earn that ca$hmoney). The mantra is something that is supposed to be unique (fuck "everything happens for a reason" cliches) and have to do with me, myself (e.g not spiritual or externally directed).  I have actually been having a hard time coming up with something.  I just wasn't feeling inspired by any words of wisdom that I would find uplifting.  Then the other morning, I received this email ("received" was a new vocab word for Ms. V yesterday and the previous sentence is how she showed she understood the word; I said yes, but also you can receive normal mail, like from a post office; she had no idea what I was talking about-granted there are no personal mailboxes in Uganda or Tz, but it still made me shudder and a scene from Terminators came to mind) but I digress:




      Dear Jill, [except he used a very intimate tribal name that NOBODY calls me except in traditional greeting and that he was specifically asked NOT use, even while we were dating that stuff happened]


                       How are u doing dear? its been ages [yes, yes it has, specifically because I begged and pleaded for him to dis-exist from my life.  I wrote a long email detailing exactly why we would never "have dinner as friends" and promised to not HATE him if he promised to leave me alone.....2 years ago, but emotionally it was never, as in it never happened. THIS NEVER HAPPENED!] I pray and hope you are fine and doing well [what is a good analogy for the creep factor in having someone you are so vehemently disgusted by "praying for you"?  Like a pedophile apologizing while molesting his victim, Prayer has never felt so corrupted to me] I have been thinking about you so much of late and i am wondering whether u can squeeze a little time and we have another cup of tea like we did last time [Eww, "squeeze".  Ha! This is funny.  The last time I did see him was after he sent a text that he had moved to Kampala from his village home and had been passing my house every morning for five months on his way to work, hoping to see me. Though he had betrayed me in a way that almost cost me my entire brand, my existential guilt won out and I thought God may be tricking me and I should reach out to this fellow Being with only Love and Mercy in my heart to prove I was better.  I had a terrible flu and he spent five minutes discussing the benefits of vitamin C: "as found in citrus fruits.....orange, lemons, uhmmmm, there are others". I tried really hard to vomit on him, but unfortunately I wasn't that sick].   


      Today morning, i have gone thru all the emails you sent me and was glad to see the two btful photos u once sent me.... [Grrosss, GROSS, GROSS, GROSS. What pics? I totally forgot about this.]


      Also, i was happy to see an email which had our old, special  names... (Turtle and Trekker.)[For fuck sakes!] My whole morning has been great... and with old, sweet memories [Anyone who is PATHETIC enough to admit this is NOT in God's Favor-no existential guilt needed]


      ...i cant 4get the day we climbed the mountain and visited that family at the top..and gave them some money.. then the river, and stone throwing. [I remember how miserable and worthless I felt that day. I thought I had malaria, but in retrospect, I think I kept closing my eyes and doubling over in shame not illness.]


      i lost my other fone, with your contact, i wld have called u.[I NEVER answer you're fucking calls ya DOUCHE] please call me on (0782--- --- or 0704 --- --)if u are within Uganda[ Someone must have tipped him off that I left.....ahhhhh! He went back to the old house. Ugandans are MAGNIFICENT stalkers....I should know] i will be glad to hear from u.


      Best regards, "Ed"




                    After dealing with the waves of nausea and fury that hit me after reading this (alleviated only by the idea of what a great post it would make), I had sudden clarity as to my own "remember me" shout-outs to past lovers.  I shuddered with shame.  I had just been musing about the sentimental logic of perhaps shooting a once-upon-a-BRIEF-time guy an email, just, you know, to see how he was doing (like it is to HIS benefit; like without my email enquiry he may suffer tremendously).  And now, with the roles reversed and my potential behavior reflected back at me, I have no choice but to acknowledge how WRONG, how painfully, humiliatingly, sacrilegiously WRONG it is to EVER send such an email when you know, by silence or direct communication, that your sentimental affections are UNRECIPROCATED.  


                      As I contemplated this conclusion, my mantra came floating down to me like a whisper from an angel:


                                 I AM BETTER THAN THIS.







      May 13, 2012

      Racial Profiling

      http://www.webweaver.nu


                This weekend we went to a barbecue hosted by a colleague of my mothers.  It was a far better experience than I had expected.  I had expected a bunch of development people throwing acronyms about project plans involving players, all of which in no way clarify what it is they actually do.  Since this was a family dinner, I also expected children playing and significant partners chatting about.....partnering, or parenting, or some such things, which are subjects that, though I find much more interesting,  I have not much credibility in and therefore nothing to contribute.  Instead, I imagined I would have no choice but to awkwardly answer uncomfortable questions which would expose me as a fraudulent grown-up deserving judgment, condescension, and dismissal (it may be I have a skewed perception, but I have found myself in such scenarios enough to know that I am an annoying anomaly in the networking landscape).  

                 It is true the small gathering did consist of five couples; my mother and I were the only singles, but as she is older than everyone, she rocks that whole token African grandmother shtick pretty well.  Almost everyone worked in the same field, and all, but I, had direct and mostly current experience parenting small children; I was an anomaly.  But none of my prophesied humiliations came to pass; instead I was fully and wholeheartedly accepted as: 1.) My mother's daughter 2.) My daughter's mother 3.) A grown up.  Huzzah! Individuals felt free to share intimate anecdotes about their lives as if we were......equals.     Having understood that I was jobless, everyone assumed this was a temporary and expected glitch in my transition, showed curiosity in my interests, and gave sincere advice to push me forward.  Similar things have happened while doing the play, but with the much more familiar tinge of judgment or at least.....wariness and disconnection (they are all British).

                  It was only when we were leaving that my mother commented on the common thread amongst all those present, which I had overlooked: all the foreigners (except us) were Canadian, the host was Tanzanian but has been working with Canadians for many years (and has family there).   

                  Canadians (even the French ones.....in small doses) are so very nice, it can leave one confused.  I was confused: "wow! I had.....fun!!"  They possess quiet amiability, humble pride, sincere curiosity, and a genuine receptivity to others.  Canadians are unabashedly unaffected.

                  It is a pity they are generally lumped in with American and European whites (who make it a point to distinguish themselves from each other).  They are actually very unique in the white population; I don't think they know how nice they are; I don't think it's ever occurred to them.... (Oops, did my own ignorance just show? I guess this whole time I was referring to White Canadians-though one of the women at the party was Mexican Canadian-anyhow, the disclaimer is in the title, so pffft.)  



      community.artofmanliness.com
                  It has come to my attention that there are certain organizations in Africa that are owned and operated by Black Americans who use their race as a badge of expertise and empathetic fraternity when bidding for money for humanitarian projects in Africa.  This is a load of shit.  Black Americans are invariably explicitly derogatory and condescending towards Africans (even worse than Jamaicans).   

                  My sister always said, she never knew she was black until we moved to America. Guess who told her?  I was only five when we moved.  School, for me, was simply about survival, about adaptation.  I was willing to be accepted by anyone who would take me.  It was white people who accepted me (well at the time I thought they were white, it wasn't until I got to college that I realized was taught New Yorkers make a firm distinction between Jewish New Yorkers, and White New Yorkers; it was the Jewish children who were always the kindest).  It was almost as if they, the Jewish whites, already expected my "otherness", while the blacks took offence to it. They readily shamed me for not having personal awareness of their history and the intimacies of slavery.  Even what I did know was not enough, because I wasn't angry enough, I wasn't.....wounded; I acted like that history was not mine (which it wasn't).  


                 The American slavery system and decades of systematic racism were known to me in the same way I came to know of the Holocaust, the Apartheid System, Australia's history of native decimation, and so forth.  This was very confusing and unacceptable to them (right through to university this caused a lot of tension with my black classmates; despite the fact that we otherwise had similar socioeconomic and education backgrounds, the absence of a chip on my shoulder meant I was a sell out-an Oreo. Sorry dears, I'm just AFRICAN). Perhaps they had been taught to think of themselves as related to Africans-a historical fact, but a cultural misnomer.


                  When Black Americans talk about Africa, or visit the developing world (including the West Indies), they are far more disgusted by the inconveniences of daily life than any other visitors: the heat, the lack of certain modern appliances, the animals, all the dark-skinned people.....and so forth.  No, really! They make a very big point of these things and do so loudly, almost as if (psychobabble in 4, 3, 2......) they are instinctively trying to distinguish themselves for that which they've been conditioned to hate......in themselves.  Growing up in America, for sure the cruelest most disgusting jokes about dark skin came to me from the black children.  I would go so far as to argue that most middle class white youths (at least in New York) who become prejudice or racist as young adults, learn their hate-filled humor from their black classmates.


                I've been feeling romantic 
      again lately.  This is a very romantic time of year for me, that's for sure.  And it helps that I am becoming more social in Dar, though everyone here seems to come in couples only form-minus that douche from awhile back.  Due to the supposed "threat" I pose as a single mother in her thirties, I have decided to create a boyfriend I've left back in Uganda.  Since we began dating before I moved or decided to become a mother, the relationship is fragile enough to leave room should something better turn up, but hopefully reassuring to the women I meet that I do not want to steal their husbands (the feminist adage of my generation still sticks: chicks before dicks, simple and catchy).


                   There is something wonderfully fantastical about thinking about romance when you are in no position to have any of the real thing.  It really stimulates the imagination, brings one back to the "when I grow up" days of promise and unyielding faith;  It keeps one from going insane and/or humping the gatekeeper.  

                    As it is finally clear to me that I will never be satisfied with dating someone who looks just like me (apparently I have been this way since I was child), I have been musing on what race I would like my fantasy guy to be, like in the Sims, or some other such online world (I am such a nerd I don't even need the Internet to live an alternate life). 

      http://images.cafepress.com/
                   Last week I apparently missed a Dutch throw down that had everyone but everyone there (thanks for telling me cast members).  I came home and lamented, "Damn! I missed my chance to make out with a Dutchie and find a husband!!"  My mother and Ms V were both sympathetic.  But I did the Dutch thing back in Uganda, and two years later I still can't get that man out of my system.  Dutch men are so casually complex and tiresomely enigmatic.  I don't think I'm up for it.


                    American, British, (Canadians are too nice?) men would make sense, except, unless they are 60 plus, I would bet any man from those areas who relocates here would come with wife in hand.  Those men would be way too afraid to begin alone here.  Dar is a place to import a family; coming alone would be......uncivilized.


                    The question then becomes, who would be likely to show up untethered and within an appealing age range?  Indians, for sure; South Africans, for similar managerial networking positions.  Both groups can be utterly racist, derogatory and oversexed, and hedonistically fun-I am interested in none of those situations.


                     Then it hit me:  I want a man who is not bothered, nor even aware of societal conscripts about age and lifestyle; a man who easily immerses in other cultures without feeling an ounce of threat towards his own; a man who does much, thinks less, and knows everything worth knowing; a man who would find the intensity that I present an amusing challenge, and thus challenged by me, would feel committed by his own sense of loyalty; a man who believes in character not circumstance because that is how his mother raised him; a man who believes everything his mother ever told him.  He sounds deliciously fantastical, yes?  Well, it IS my fantasy! But the truth is, I have caught a glimpse of a more realistic version of this man a few times in my life, and he was always Irish.  


               I have never dated an Irish guy, these glimpses always happened at inopportune times when the subject could not be pursued, but this cowboy image has lingered in my memory.  I know little about Ireland, and obviously I don't want someone straight off the boat (though Irish men tend to get around anyhow).  Yeah, in my ideal fantasy world, I'd have to say, I want me an Irish bloke.  

                It's not like I'm losing my mind per se (my therapist is on holiday, but I'm sure she'd agree) but transitions, like grief, go in stages:  First there is the overwhelming physical stimulus of a new place-the way the light falls, the night sounds, the air smells, etc.  Then there is the nesting, the withdrawal into yourself, your home, your sanctuary, to clean, prepare, and make pretty.  And now I find myself in the level of emergence; I am not yet a part of this new world, I have not yet found my niche, but I have rested and rearranged myself for my big debut; the necessary step in finding where my prepared Self shall fit in-my niche-is to categorize this new environment in schemas based on past experience; it is with these schemas as my weapons tools that I shall brave this foreign jungle and conquer it as men women Expat Warriors have done time and again.  Thus Canadians: may seem bland, very nourishing, easy to find and cultivate; Pretentious NGOS: predatory, toxic, to be avoided at all costs.  Irish Single Men: potent, deliciously satisfying, though elusive, would be worth the hunt.

      The question is, what is in season?

      backstage.blogs.com
               

      May 2, 2012

      The Expat Bourgeoisie

                  
      Main Entry:
      expatriate [v. eks-pey-tree-eyt or, especially Brit.-pa-tree-; adj., n. eks-pey-tree-it, -eyt or, especially Brit.-pa-tree-]  Show IPA
      Part of Speech:noun
      Definition:person thrown out of a country
      Synonyms:departer, deportee, displaced person, emigrant,evacuee, exileexpellee, migrant, outcast,refugee, √©migr√©

      (courtesy of thesaurus.com)
                  
                    
                    I am stuck, uninvited, in someones home as the rain pours down in lightweight sheets and I wait for my mother to make her way to us, already 20 minutes late.  I have been in close quarters with this woman over the last six weeks, during rehearsals, but that is not the same as being "welcomed" in her home. Uganda has taught me to be weary of such boundaries of intimacy, so tricky to navigate since they are never mentioned, but so very apparent when you feel you've crossed one.


                  This is one of the few expat homes I've been in, and my eyes paw through the things trying to asses if we measure up, making note of where we fall short.  Well, of course there is the location-it is always about location, but we know this is a temporary miscue on our part; we will fix that.  


                  The forested garden outside must be almost an acre; the grill on the deck alongside cushioned, hand crafted lounge chairs, mock our isolated existence (a remnant of Ugandan life that we must lose if we mean to survive here). The children play on the computer, the parents sort through old photo albums, a task they have "been meaning to get to for ages".  


                   Out of the corner of my eye, a woman rushes by the window, ducking the rain, clinging to clothes picked off the line.  My mother was right to hire a housekeeper; I breath a sigh of relief; we are not so badly off; we belong.


                   Being in the play has given me a taste of the Dar Expat community.  Anyone who doesn't understand the homogenized nature of expatriate communities in third world countries, should just wait for the reality t.v series (they call 'em documentaries in the U.K innit); I'm sure there'll be one along shortly.  It is a fascinating community: people whose lives would look very different were they in their "home" countries (some expats live abroad for 20 years or more so this term gets.....tricky) all adopt the same laissez faire, privileged/humble, sheltered/exposed, paradoxical lifestyle that comes with the expatriate position.  It is a class that is at once peripheral to and the apex of mainstream society; the former being in regards to responsibility (and vulnerability), the latter in regards to privilege (and security).  Sort of like celebrities (this analogy can also help describe the difference between immigrant or Diaspora populations and expats; there are actors and then there are celebrities).


                     It isn't really about the help:  the drivers, cooks, baby-raisers, always in the background, always an assumed aspect of life, even in speech: I get offered rides from rehearsal only to find they have to call up the driver and wait for him to come (though they live, "just around the corner").  During the tsunami scare my mother's colleague was also out of town at the conference; her husband was in town in a meeting, and didn't not make it home until 10 p.m.  The children were with their caretakers, the oldest is five.


                    Though western (white) expats do it on a grander scale, having help is ironically common in developing countries.  Much of the population, across income levels, relies on some form of hired hands (even if it is more of an exchange for room and board, a barter, as opposed to a direct salary) to assist in daily living.  To me, the irony is the casual, easy way that those who were raised in societies were this is a privilege for the absurdly rich, adapt to this type of lifestyle.  Expats are experts when it comes to living the good life.


                   In Uganda, I was trying so hard to claim my identity that I was willing to part with large part of my Self for the chance to be accepted as a Ugandan.  I spent three years proclaiming I was, for the first time in my life, a local.  I lived my life ignoring all that exists in Kampala in terms of expatriate life-and it, in turn, ignored me. But in many ways, so did the locals; they rejected my application to the fraternity. In my attempts to assimilate,  I failed wholeheartedly. At times I have thought I was ruthlessly punished for my false claim, but maybe it was more of tough love; maybe it was meant as an encouragement to really embrace who I am.  I was not born in Uganda; I was not raised in Uganda; why did I feel I should be a local? I am, born and raised, an outsider; I am an Expat.  I used to say I was a retired expat, well, I've come out of retirement.  I am me again.  It's funny how quickly you revert to those forgotten habits of comfortable disconnection, luxury, ease, and humble exclusivity:


                   The door bell rings; I wrap my exposed legs and run to let Ana in.  She comes here three times a week, just enough for me to not feel invaded.  She can barely speak English.  I know where she lives, not far.  My mother tells me she has a child; I have not asked her its name; and I will not make a point of it.   I don't know her mother-tongue, or where her village is.  I have never met her parents; I do not know if she has siblings, how many, what they are doing.  She knows nothing about me except that I like to eat chocolate and stuff the wrappers under my bed.  She cannot claim a part of my history; she cannot claim to know my grandparents and their home better than I do. I am a stranger to her and she to me; both of us like it this way; it makes more sense this way.