Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

My brother and I used to play manhunt with the neighborhood kids: GJ, Manny and his older sister. We would hide in the factories, under the loading docks, in the alleyway that was paved with gravel and weeds down the middle. We would play sometimes till our parents came looking for us, to take us home. I remember going exploring in those parts, taking flashlights and climbing down the stairs of the underground sewer system. I don’t remember it smelling bad or being uncomfortable. It was like a cave that no one knew existed but us, and we were happy with just that.

One day I packed all my schoolbooks for the year, some clothes and my shoes into three plastic grocery bags for me to run away with. I waved goodbye to my mother, who didn’t notice in the mist of tending to my sister. I left with a sinking feeling; picked up my bags and made my way to the shed in the middle of the alleyway with its cracked window. It was winter and I remember the cold air that left frozen streaks on my face. I stood in the rubble of the abandoned shed for awhile before I set my bags down on the gravel. There was no place to sit so I took my notebook out and held it in my hand, too scared then to open it. I wouldn’t have a bed to share anymore, but at least I had all my books. I could still go to school every day and have lunch and it will be just the same but better, I thought. When it was starting to get dark my brother came and stood in my broken doorway, “you couldn’t find a better place to hide?” He snickered. With an evil grin on his stupid face, he picked up my bags and led the way back home, “why did you run away?” He coaxed.  “Why did you run away?”

“Nobody likes me,” I said.

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Fluffy

We had a cat in those days, named Fluffy. She was like a live stuffed animal colored grey, black with specks of white and eyeballs made of glass. Really she was just a stray. She would come to the window we’d give her bones and water and sometimes milk, but so rarely that it could go without mentioning. She was allowed to stay in the house some days when we were feeling friendly but as soon as darkness covered the sky, my mother would parade around till she found her and promptly put her out. One day, my ten year old brother who was a criminal in my eyes decided he wanted to see Fluffy’s tongue stick out of her mouth, like in the cartoons, so he wrapped his tiny villainous hands around her neck and squeezed till she was an inch away from death. Then he laughed and did it again, whilst hot tears streamed down my face.

When Fluffy got fat and lazy, we all thought she was dying. My mother kept her in the house so she wouldn’t get cold at night and die on a sidewalk alone, but one morning, to our surprise, we woke up and there were four little kittens sleeping under the bed with her. They were the tiniest creatures I’d ever seen and oh so soft, like the most expensive stuffed animals that would only be carried by FAO Schwarz. We gave Fluffy a bowl and kept it full of milk so she could feed her babies. One of them was all white. She was my favorite, but my mother soon thought it best to give them all away. She barely had enough money to feed her kids how was she going to feed five cats? Fluffy became our house cat for a while and probably never saw her four babies again.

After my mother got pregnant again she started talking about letting Fluffy go out into the wild where she belongs, just like her babies. My mother was worried Fluffy would eat my newborn sister when she arrived finally, from the hospital, and so my mother had Muna uncle get rid of her. I came home from school that dreadful day to see my mother breast-feeding her new baby and my beautiful stuffed animal gone forever. “I held this baby in my stomach for nine months, not to be eaten by some stupid cat” my mother said.

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My mother and I used to have tea parties. Sometimes they were casual, but other times she would dress me up in a pretty frock and I would invite my stuffed animals to join us. I would pour tea from my ceramic teapot with the flowers on it into the tiny little matching cups. I was very precise, waiting and tilting my head down for a second after each cup was filled. Then I’d put exactly three raisins on everyone’s plate. There was a bunny, a cat, a duck, my mother and me sitting on our red carpet.  And we would pretend to sip the tea making it last, until my father came home at which point we would drink the tea and pack up.

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958

Sometimes, when I find myself in the company of city friends I remember the Brooklyn house. It wasn’t a house really, but that’s what we used to call it, five people crammed into our tiny one bedroom apartment atop a flight of stairs. There was a luxury to it then because we weren’t yet accustomed to more. We had mice and cockroaches that co-habited our digs, but we made it work. I would hunt down the mice with my mother till they were trapped in a corner looking up at their deaths, with shoes and hammers I would smash them. This is what my mother and I did for the most part of the day. She would cook before my father came home and I would practice my letters. On laundry days she would dress me up and take me with her to the Laundromat, but sometimes I got lucky and she would give me a big pile of clothes to wash with me in the shower. I would throw them on the floor of the tub and stomp with my tiny little feet watching the colors mixing their way down the drain. She would always set aside an hour or two for later when she would pick a library book and make me follow the words till I understood what it meant. It was difficult to concentrate over the noise of the TV but I seem to have managed. We had thin red carpets spread across two rooms, tiles in the kitchen, a full sized mattress, a sofa bed, a dresser, a TV and a fridge. The bedroom had two closets, one right next to the other. I remember my father putting in a plank of wood above the clothing rack so we’d have a shelf to store our winter things when the weather picked up. I used to climb up there and hide amongst the tiny stacks of clothing my mother gathered thrift store hunting and rummaging through thrown out bins of garment factory clothing. This was before old, used clothing was in style.

The garment factories were around the back of my house, between second and third avenue on thirty-sixth street. My mom found a job in one when I was in elementary school. There’s a stereotype in the United States of Asian women working in garment factories, created by the capitalist first world and the convenience of sweatshops and secondary human beings in the third world, but my mother was far from just another statistic. Emigrating from Bangladesh to a country where the language was foreign and the skills needed were not ones she had known, she got a job at the only place she could, the first world sweatshop down the block. She would come home sometimes and say the Spanish women who go into the manager’s office get paid more than she does. I didn’t know then what she meant. I didn’t know of the world yet, or things.

Ms. Varotte

My brother used to walk me to school then, P.S 172, our very own beacon of excellence. I was his pet dog and he would wrap his fingers tightly around my neck, arm outstretched, squeezing harder if I wasn’t walking fast enough. Sometimes we would pass other kids from my class and I would find it difficult to smile so I would look down and pretend I didn’t see them, but they always saw me and they always knew better than to ask about the red marks on my neck between our intervals of work.

There was that one day when I was in the first grade and my brother had left without me so my mother reluctantly allowed me to walk myself. Determined at heart but I walked with caution and fear, always looking back to see if there was anyone around but making sure they were far enough from me that they couldn’t do me any harm. When I was about a block away from school, a police car on the street turned on its siren. I didn’t trust cops, not even then so I kept walking trying not to walk faster but definitely not slowing down. One of the officers stepped out and called to me, told me to get into their car. I froze. I was not going to get into a car with two strange men; it didn’t matter to me that they had badges and a uniform because underneath it all I knew they still had cocks and fingers. There was a mother on the sidewalk walking her daughter to school and she told the officers she would walk me the rest of the block to the school. They reluctantly agreed and followed closely in their vehicle. At the entrance I thanked the brown haired Hispanic woman, more with my eyes than my mouth, signed my name in the late book and raced up the stairs to my classroom.

By the time I got settled, put my backpack in the closet, my first grade teacher asked me to leave; “go wait for me in the auditorium,” she said. I went into the giant room full of empty seats, the sounds of my tiny feet tapping and echoing. I waited for what felt like a good half hour. When my teacher finally came she asked me in a soft voice if I knew why I was there. I shook my head. Her pupils dilated and the floor shook with the sound of her roaring voice, her plump face as red as a ripe cherry ready for picking and her crazy curls bobbed on top of her head. I didn’t understand the words spitting out of her gigantic mouth, I just saw the foam gathering by in the corners of her lips and her face as fat as a balloon getting so big and red I thought she’d explode.

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And I spent two days laying in your sheets, unable to breathe, unable to speak, unable to smile but you caressed me and fed me and lay with me till I was better again. My mouth foul with bacteria but still you kissed my lips, held me to your heart and in the end I don’t think it was the medication or the ice cream, or the food you made for me, but it was your love, your touch, your attention that rid my heart and lungs of disease and brought me back to prosper by your side. – Shammy 10/22/12 5:05am

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I’ve needed a break for a long time now, but how can I do that successfully without stifling my momentum? Time can’t be created and neither can a world where my thoughts aren’t clouded by darkness. – Shammy 10/15/12 6:11pm

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