Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

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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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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When I was eight we took a bus,
My classmates and I
Screaming in joy every time we hit a bump
Across the bridge, through the next town, and then the next
Past green and yellow lanterns lit in the sky

Against silver clouds clouded with grey
Till we reached the home of the blue heron.

“If we are lucky we will see one today,” said Ms. Strapoli.

Trampling and trespassing through the trees with our tiny feet
We inspected,
Past the tall stalks of emerald green grass
that lost their blades in the rain,
Muddy darkness clumped on the ground,
the sky


grew heavier still with anticipation,
All the while we searched for that curious creature
My equal in height but not in mind
Painted blue for us to find.

– Shammy 12/8/12

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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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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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Shruti was born and raised in New York. She had never traveled outside of the states, let alone the tri-state area. She was feminine and pretty. Shruti was quite popular in school although she was only close friends with a few people. She usually just spent all her time at home with her family, or at school accomplishing things, or with Lily. Lily was one of her best friends.

Lily never really had any other friends. She was the shy quiet type. She wasn’t the type to pass notes while the teacher was talking, instead she’d sit in the front of the classroom raising her hand at frequent intervals. At school she mostly kept to herself, except when she was with Shruti and her friends.

She met Lily one day on the walk home from elementary school. Lily was standing on the sidewalk looking around frantically. There was an old drunk man that was awfully close to her. He wore a winter coat, in 70 degree weather and his dirty brown hair looked as if he hadn’t brushed it in months. Shruti sensed something was not right and ran over to Lily. “Hey is everything ok?”
“Get out of here little girl. This is none of your business,” the drunken man yelled at Shruti.

She looked at Lily and nodded. She didn’t know if Lily understood what she had meant but she had to do something.
“Hey you little bitch; me and miss fancy pants are just fine. Aren’t we baby? You can run along now,” he yelled angrily. His breath reeked of the disgusting smell of alcohol and his big hands were black and filthy with dirt. He reached out to grab Lily and Shruti shoved him with all her might so that he would topple over. He strode back and his left foot landed on an empty can of coke. He tried to balance himself but it was too late. Lily just stood there terrified as he hit the ground with a thud. Shruti grabbed Lily’s hand and the two of them ran down the block and around the corner like they never had before.
“I’m Lily, thank you so much for helping me out there. That guy was such a creep.”
“Don’t even mention it,” Shruti said. “I’m sure you would’ve done the same thing for me. Are you okay though? Did he hurt you?”
“No. Thank god you came when you did.” Lily said shivering.
For two girls who were from completely different worlds, they clicked like they had known each other forever. After that they were inseparable. Where ever one of them was, the other was sure to be on her way. They soon went off to middle school together and that’s where everything changed.

Shruti remembered the day when everyone got picked up from middle school and Lily waited outside for her to get out, so they could be safe together. At first, there were only a few kids who left because they were called to the main office. Then more kids were called away, they took their bags and their sweaters. Shruti realized they were all leaving. She waited for her mom to come too, but she didn’t. There were only four other kids, left in her class who hadn’t been picked up. It was only twelve in the afternoon when Shruti’s teacher told them to gather their things. She wondered what was so special about today that her principal decided to let everyone out early. She went outside and there Lily was waiting for her. “I’m so excited! They should make everyday a half-day like this one,” Shruti exclaimed as they walked toward the bus stop. Lily didn’t respond, instead she grabbed on to Shruti’s hand tightly as they crossed the street.

“Hey what’s wrong?” Shruti asked.

“I’m really glad you’re here. I would be scared to go without you.” Lily said.
“Umm, yea me too. I don’t even know what happened. Do you?” Shruti asked.
“My ELA teacher said the world trade center was attacked. There might be terrorists around,” she said grabbing onto Shruti’s hand.
“Really? Oh man no wonder everyone was getting picked up from school? I hope we get home safe!” Shruti exclaimed. She was so scared to be outside. She had no idea what she would do in case they were in any sort of immediate danger. There was a small minivan that pulled up to the bus stop they were standing at. The driver opened the door and everyone that was waiting for the bus, got in. Shruti and Lily looked at each other in confusion. Weren’t all these people waiting for the bus just like they were? Why did they get into a stranger’s mini-van? A man gestured for them to come inside as well. Lily edged forward.
“Lily, can we not go with them? I just want to wait for the bus. I don’t think it’s safe for us to get a ride from a fake taxi driver.” Shruti said.
“You’re right Shruti. Terrorists’ could be anywhere.”
Chills ran down Shruti’s spine. How would they know if they saw a terrorist? I don’t even know what that is exactly, Shruti thought. The bus never came that day and the two of them ended up walking hand in hand, the mile and a half to get home. This was all before that faithful day at the handball courts.

Shruti was in her senior year in middle school. In those days, she used to come in early to play suicide with Lily before classes started. The whole game of suicide was like handball. The objective was to catch the ball on a fly. Whoever catches a ball on a fly gets to peg the person who originally threw it. It was their routine game before school. They always used to team up together and go up against everyone else. If Shruti threw the handball and someone was going to catch it, Lily would run and try to catch it instead so that Shruti wouldn’t get pegged with the ball. If Lily caught it, she would never peg Shruti, if one of the guys caught it, they wouldn’t hesitate. One day, when they were both preoccupied with the game, their friend Ivan came up to Lily and whispered something in her ear. Lily looked back at Shruti and quickly turned away when Shruti looked back at her.
Ivan was the other best friend, the newer addition to their group. Shruti met Ivan in the 7th grade. They were in the same class. They didn’t click immediately. Actually, Shruti very much hated his guts when they first met. Ivan used to tease her and make fun of the comments she made in class. And of course, Shruti retaliated with harsh comments and curses of her own. The teasing eventually let up and the two of them decided they were more productive when making fun of others, together. He knew Lily through Shruti. The three of them would talk on the phone for hours and hours in those days.
The ball flew in the air and like always Lily ran to catch the ball before anyone else could. She thrust her arm into the air on top of her head and fell back.
“Oh my god. Lily, are you okay?” Shruti screamed.
In her hand she squeezed the tiny little blue handball. Tobe and Jonathon, two of the guys that were relatively close to her rushed up and asked if she was okay. Jonathon lent her a hand and lifted her back to her feet. Lily turned and looked at Shruti and in one swift motion pegged the ball as hard as she could. Ivan ran forward and caught the ball and threw it towards the wall starting a new game. Shruti stood still in amazement. Why did Lily peg her? Did she do something wrong or did Lily suddenly decide she wanted to play fair? After the game they walked back to school together. “Hey what’s up? Did I do something wrong?” Shruti asked.
“No, of course not. Why would you think that?” Lily said smiling. “Hey guys wait up”, she called and hurried forward to walk with Jonathon. “I’ll catch up with you later Shruti.”
After school that day, Lily didn’t come out with her class. Shruti waited but Lily never showed up. “Let’s just go. Lily probably got picked up or something,” Ivan said to Shruti.
“Hmmm I don’t know. Let’s just wait a couple of more minutes.” Shruti felt even more confused than she had in the morning. She couldn’t figure out why Lily would’ve tried to peg her so hard. Had Lily been mad at her for some reason? Lily never showed up that day so Shruti and Ivan made the walk to the train station alone.
“You know we are graduating soon and you and I are going to different high schools but you have to promise me you won’t ever forget about me or what we have.”
“Ha ha, Ivan. Why are you getting all sentimental on me? You know we’re always gonna be friends,” Shruti said putting her arm around his.
Ivan’s face lit up with all different hues of red. “Good,” he smiled. “You have no idea how much that’s means to me. How much you mean to me,” he said taking her arm away from his and grabbing onto her hand. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” Ivan said as he squeezed her hand. “Ok, I have to tell you something; promise u won’t see me any different and be weird about it?”

“What is it Ivan?”

“Promise you won’t get mad and stop talking to me.”

“Ok I promise.”

“I think, I don’t know, but I think I’m in love with you.”

Shruti stopped walking and looked at him. She meant to say something but she couldn’t find the words. Her hand felt hot and sweaty as she let go of Ivan’s hand.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do so I told Lily today, when we were playing suicide. Please don’t get weird around me now. Your friendship means everything to me,” he said.

“Ivan, I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything. Just leave it. Shruti, this doesn’t have to change anything. Just pretend I didn’t tell you, ok? I just needed you to know and now you know, and we can both just forget about it ok?” Ivan spurted out. “Come on let’s just pretend this didn’t happen. Please,” he said desperately.

“Ivan, I think I’m gonna walk home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Ivan nodded quickly and sped up towards the train station. Shruti watched him go. She waited for him to turn around but he didn’t, so she slowly turned to leave.

Shruti wanted to tell Ivan all the things she had in her heart, but she couldn’t bring herself to. Graduation was weeks away and she would probably never see him again. He would change when he went to high school, he would see another pretty girl and everything between them will be broken. She couldn’t risk their friendship, it meant too much to her. She knew she’d always love Ivan and if it was really meant to be, it would happen one day. It just wasn’t the right time now. It would be too risky and the consequences were something she wouldn’t be able to bear. She didn’t know then, that things would never be the same.

Summer vacation was finally coming to an end. It was the longest summer she’d ever experienced. Shruti walked down the empty street alone, straying further and further from her home with each step. The sun had already started its journey down and ripples of pink and purple filled the sky. There was no one to be seen on their porches and all the kids seemed to have already gone to sleep. The quiet was consuming. Ever since Lily decided she didn’t want to be friends anymore with her, everything was different. That day changed everything. Shruti and Ivan weren’t best friends anymore and Shruti and Lily weren’t even friends anymore. How could one little secret have torn them all apart that way? She thought their friendships were stronger than that. Lily was like the sister she never had, and all of a sudden they were strangers. She always had the feeling Lily liked Ivan as more than just a friend, but she didn’t know. There could be no other explanation for it. What else could Lily have been upset about?

“Criinnggggg!” Shruti slammed her hand on the snooze button and tried unsuccessfully to doze off back to sleep. Today was the first day of high school; she was bound to run into Lily again. What would she say she wondered? The whole summer had passed and Lily hadn’t said a word to her. She took her time getting dressed, changing at least three times. What if she just didn’t go? Then she could delay seeing Lily again. She didn’t know what to expect and that scared her. It was first day of high school and instead of worrying about fitting in or not making any friends; all she could think of was what her ex-best friend would say. Shruti sat down to have breakfast, but found she was too nervous to eat. I should just get it over with, she thought to herself. She took one last look in the mirror and left her house before she could change her mind.

Shruti walked into her choir class that day and sat down next to two girls she didn’t know. Lily walked in and sat down on the other side of the room. She didn’t look at Shruti or anyone else. Shruti waited for Lily to look her way but it seemed Lily’s head was fixated towards their choir instructor Mr. Peters. After what felt like an hour of his lecturing he called up groups with girls to come and audition. They had to sing do re me fa so la ti do so Mr. Peters could assign them to a voice group. He called up Shruti, Lily and three other girls together. Shruti’s heart beat louder than she could think. Would Lily just keep ignoring her? When it was Shruti’s turn to sing she felt her checks turning red, she had never auditioned before in her life.
“Don’t worry, I’ll hum with you.” Lily said, smiling. It was the first words she had said to Shruti since middle school had ended. Although it wasn’t an explanation, Shruti’s heart felt light and she sung at the top of her lungs, “do re me fa so la ti doo.”

– Shammy 4/5/11

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I was in the first grade.

My older brother would grab me by the neck and walk me like a dog on a leash to school every morning, that particular day he didn’t. I got out of our tiny bathroom and stepped into the kitchen to find he’d already left. I wasn’t late, he was just impatient. My mom told me I didn’t have to go to school that day, or if I wanted to I’d have to wait for her and my baby sister to get ready. She didn’t want to leave her alone with my uncle, not after what he had done to me. My mom hadn’t even brushed her teeth yet and Monisha, my baby sister, was still sleeping. “Ami ajkay eka eka jabo₁,” I told my mom. She was hesitant at first, but in the end she caved, and let me go to school alone. I was super ready that day, more ready than I’ve ever been. She told me not to walk through the park, “go straight to 4th avenue first then walk to school from there,” she said.

So I walked to school by myself for the first time that day. I locked the front door of my tiny house in Sunset Park and walked to the left, past the little quarter machines where I would buy little rubber balls for my collection, past the deli and grocery on the corner where my friend Iftu claims he once bought me an orange bag of chips, past the pizzeria where they had the biggest cookies I’ve ever seen for only 1 dollar, and I crossed the street. I walked under the Brooklyn Expressway over-bridge on 3rd avenue and then crossed the street again when I got to the corner of 34th and 3rd. The basketball courts were empty. I felt like I was the only person awake at this early hour. I walked from one corner to the next, diagonally to cut the distance. I remember thinking, if I blinked all the events of the world would change and no one would know because no one knows the future, and so I blinked, again and again and every time I would be in a different world.

I walked up to 4th avenue and started towards 30th street where my school was located. There was a cop car. I noticed it as soon as I got to the avenue. The car moved slowly. I knew they were following me, or least I thought they were. Half a block from P.S. 172 they turned on their sirens; I pretended I didn’t hear it and kept walking. One of the cops opened the car door and called me over. I was so scared, I thought they were going to take me to jail for walking to school alone. At that moment I was so angry with my brother for leaving me that morning, if he hadn’t been so impatient I wouldn’t have to feel this way right now, I wouldn’t be a criminal. I didn’t walk over to the car because I never trusted cops, till this day I don’t. They asked me where I was going, how old I was, and why I was walking alone. It’s not like they didn’t know where I was headed; my school was only a couple of feet away. Stupid cops, I thought, they just wanted to make an issue about it because I’m a little kid and I’m easy to pick on. My whole body was trembling when I told them I was only 6, they asked me to step inside the car. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to be in the same car as two male cops, I didn’t trust men, and my parents always told me not to get into a car with anyone. I just stood there like a deer in headlights. There was a woman walking ahead of me who was taking her child to school, he was probably in kindergarten. She was Hispanic, her hair was dark brown and her skin fair. I remember I thought she was beautiful, like an angel. She offered to walk me to school since she was going there anyway, and I was walking alone. I didn’t wait for the cops to agree I just ran up to her and thanked her. She had saved me from going to jail. I was so relieved; I felt like I could breathe again.

I walked up the stairs to my class only to be pulled out again by my first grade teacher, Ms. Varote. She took me to the auditorium and sat me down. First she started pacing then with great difficulty she sat down, and turned her face towards me. As soon as I saw it I was terrified again, more so than I was of the cops earlier. Her face was as red as a cherry, she looked liked the Pillsbury doughboy blown up to ten times his size. Her curly blond messy hair looked as if it was dripping wet with sweat. She yelled at me till no end, I thought she might hit me; with one hit I was sure I would be dead looking at the size of her. Her hand was double the size of my head! Her cheeks got redder and redder by the second, and her head shook violently as she blurted out words I didn’t understand. I don’t know if she was yelling at me in Italian or I was just too scared to understand the actual words. Her mouth opened so wide when she yelled, my whole head could probably be the size of her bite. I cried and wiped my tears with the sleeve of my worn-out-navy-blue sweater that used to be my brother’s. After awhile I couldn’t even bare to look at her anymore, I just shut my eyes and cried. I don’t know how much time past, but after she stopped yelling at me, she told me to stay there and wait for her. She came back within a minute, took me back to class, and hated me for the rest of the year.

1. I will go alone today

– Shammy 9/29/09

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