Picture this: my parents left the buzz of two cities- one in Egypt, the other in New York- just to end up in quiet rural suburb in Texas.
Picture this: my mama in her long traditional dress cheering my brother on at his high school playoffs.
And this: my two sisters and I preparing a thanksgiving meal and serve pumpkin pie alongside baklava for desert.
I grew up between two cultures, a 1.5 generation, immigrant kid in the late 90s in a city called Brooklyn, a city that smelled like bakeries and old newspapers. Smelled like sweet hope traveling in the wind, moving street performers and jazz musicians. I grew up outside of Manhattan when the world trade center fell and I remember the smoke. I remember the brisk walk home that day, asking my dad why mama didn’t pick me up from school, why she was told it was safer for her to stay home for a few days, why the entire city looked at children differently, like we were to be more careful, more distrusting.
But I didn’t want to be more careful. I wanted to learn how to ride a skateboard like my big brother and all his friends. It was my dream to grow big enough to see the city from the bridges. To see all the graffiti from the rooftops with the birds.
And then years later we moved to a rural suburb in Texas and I learned that kids in Texas cared about things other than vandalism, like racism.
It’s true that I denounced my family’s religion and traditions because I was looking for revolution. Had a mission to dismantle the patriarchy since age 12. Fueled my teenage angst by my mama telling me misogyny doesn’t exist as she breaks her back, cleaning and cooking, conforming to the gender norms that have me expected to marry by 25, have 3 kids by 30. I’m 23 and I’m not sure I want kids of my own at all. I mean I want to raise kids one day, but there are enough kids with no families, and maybe I’ll have a wife. I mean the truth is, I feel so boxed in, most days, so told what to do and how to live.
The truth is I feel so cold and it has nothing to do with the weather. So tired of being guilt tripped by my parents to prescribe to a religion I don’t, and to fear the American culture I grew up in. So tired of my American culture telling me to fear my parents and to demonize a religion I grew up in.
Do you feel responsible for 9/11? Are you related to Osama bin Laden? Why do you always have to bring up race? Oh, she’s a feminist.
It’s true. I was anti-men before it was cool.
Before I fell in love with a man. And man was he smooth. The way he gripped my neck and sat me on his lap, pulling the strings of my heart like a puppet.
They don’t tell you puppets come alive at night. Pack all their things and leave and never look back. Find an empty cliff and watch all the cars crawl up the roads like ants. Sing to the wind and howl like a wild lioness.
Picture this: an empowered woman.
Hungry. Ravaging for depth. For meaning, for connection. But how can I even introduce myself when they can never pronounce my name right?
You learn your name was never yours to begin with. You learn tribal nations have naming ceremonies for that reason. You feel that same closeness when a friend yells across the campfire, “Hey B, pass the marshmallows.”
You forgive. Your ex-boyfriend. Your parents. Society. Your ancestors who kept their secrets hidden. You stop comparing yourself to the greats, to your peers, to your older sister. You stop looking around and you look ahead.
You engage in a series of ego-diminishing experiences. You feel your ego die as you engage in an abstract painting or follow the logic of an intellectually stimulating conversation. You let the hot water peel your skin off in the shower. You stand in the wilderness and let the sun kiss you until your face melts off. Until you’re left with just your beating heart in your hands and you realize it’s the same heart in the hands of men. Realize we are only just animals. Blindly pulling on the strings of other people’s hearts. Wondering if power is the same as purpose.
So don’t tell her her smiles looks like the sunset.
Her teeth are as jagged as mountains.
Her thighs, as wide as rivers,
where a bush stays unkept upstream.
When you tell her the arch of her slender back reminds you of valleys,
she’ll remind you that she was born under a rock,
the sun never showed her any love.
When she sings she is loud and raspy,
so when you tell her that her voice sounds like bluebirds,
she’ll growl at you,
cause there is nothing singsong about her,
when she is hungry.
And mama always told me not to listen to anyone but god,
So I’ve broken crosses and burned holy books in the name of god.
I’m listening really closely mama,
and I think my name is god.
And I think I’ll call you god too,
if that’s okay with you.
You see, I might be-
I don’t like talking about this but sometimes-
Sometimes I’ll experience something like a psychotic break. You know when the ticking finally stops and voices and sounds are a little less muffled and a little more clear. Like the chatter of thoughts are finally interrupted by peace and it feels like the closest thing to psychopathy.
I know it sounds a little paradoxical but Carl Jung said, “in all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order” and I like to exist in the dance between the two. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this “flow,” but some days I am exclusively chaos.
I keep dying and that isn’t the problem. I keep dying and I wake up the same person. I mean when the fuck do I get reborn again? I stood in a cold shower for ten minutes this morning but my reflection still looks the same. My poetry still sounds like the same. My excuses are the same.
I’m sorry I’m just bad at love.
I’m sorry I’m a terrible texter.
I’m sorry but can someone call me on my bullshit? Please stop all the fake smiling at me, I know I’m ugly. Don’t look at me for answers. I’m just as insecure.
I’m a bad mentor, a bad older sister, a bad human who contributes to climate change and plastic pollution. I stopped eating meat but I’ll still have eggs on occasion.
The truth is the irony is overwhelming. The existence of blackholes: a big QUESTION MARK?!
A few years ago, my younger sister told me, “I think life is just a series of coping mechanism” and that’s when my ego died. I mean if it’s true, that we live to evolve because evolution is just a force of inertia, and we just need to find something to do with all of this energy, then don’t you think that’s a bit melodramatic?
A sudden realization that we are all within a complete separate bubble. That no matter how hard we try to connect, we’re all frustratingly confined to different intersections of space and time. We can’t help all the triangles that appear when our fingers touch. All that math floating around us. How we all look like puppets making a mockery of life and it’s a little bit strange, like a disturbing play, where the performers hide behind white masks and lose their voices to the silence and then suddenly the eyes behind a white mask find yours and you watch the forth wall crumble as they bow to the audience.