Monday, October 27, 2014

the reckoner~

The last few months I went through another terrible bout of writer's block. I had a very small piece published in The Sun literary magazine and the fact they even accepted it surprised me. I think also, putting such a personal part of myself out there really knocked the wind out of me. For a time.
So I'll come clean and tell you the rest. You'll have to excuse my lack of eloquence in my writing here. I feel raw and winded, and a bit gutted.

Moving back to the city of my childhood was not without complication. I've had to revisit certain physical locations repeatedly in order to desensitize myself to the pain. I go into churches to reframe my past. I know I can't change it, but we can reframe it. Oh yes, we can. So I've been working on this art project where I take photos of myself in very particular places doing very particular things I once had to do, juxtaposed with images of myself doing things I want to be and do. And wanted to be and do. It's working. I guess I'm big on self healing. And moving on.

So why did I move back here? The only thing that comes to mind is catharsis. And roots. The only way out is through. 

This summer we made our second baby. Everything was going fine until it wasn't. It was a 'normal' first trimester miscarriage but our loss nonetheless. I wanted a natural miscarriage but it took a long time for it to happen---weeks of waiting after finding out there was no heartbeat. During that time, I went through all five stages of grief, one of which I'm not comfortable with and became so: anger. Fuck, I had a lot of letting go to do. Of mostly fear. And that baby took it with her. All of it. Something lifted, a fog of some sort. Funny how death brings life and vice versa.

I'm supposed to meet my birth father for the first time later this week. He's always gotten cold feet (I think) before. Maybe I did, too. Or maybe I just have a toddler who needs to come first now. The day of reckoning has finally arrived, though. I think I've done a lot of forced reckoning throughout my life---my very existence placing others in awkward positions they eventually need to turn around and face. I'm included in that; it was never one-sided, to be sure. Meeting my birthmother nearly 3 years ago was, of course, life changing. But there was something about it that I always knew. Expected. My birthfather has been a complete and utter surprise every step of the way and I'm not sure what to make of him even now. I think the feeling's mutual. Two intelligent people, maneuvering around each other, carefully reading each other's eyes and minute expressions; it's become a bit of a dance. I want to trust him, I really do. But I'm wary of people like him. Whatever that means now.

You are not to blame
for bittersweet distractors
Dare not speak its name
                              -Reckoner, Radiohead

Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead celebration) is this weekend; where we honor those who've gone before us. And all that we've put behind us--with vibrance and viv--facing the complicated nature of the term "death" and even life. I'll place marigolds with my memories on my ofrenda, marking the circle of the past meeting the present. The present, in my case, will be a meeting with the past.

My childhood best friend is in labor as I type; she is nervous, stalling; a woman with her own hard-fought and won demons. My cycle started earlier than usual and so I bleed alongside her. Catharsis. The only way out is through. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I'm walking up
the hill to my friend's house and a peacock is
displaying its feathers in the backyard.
We sit on the porch for a long time, talking
over coffee while chickens roam
about our seated mugs.

She takes me into the back yard,
the place people pine for
and peer at from afar.
People share their snippets behind
the fronts of their houses, behind the walls
I look up and a small herd of sheep is coming toward us.
My three year old, born without fear
of anything new simply stands by as they push past him.
He bends down to pick something
up, suddenly hidden
beneath them.

I start to wonder, is this what my dying will be like? Tiny snippets, big-eyed memories that flood me with their endearments, not the ones I tried so hard to make. Our brains process in fascinating ways when we're dying of natural causes. Time, so often painfully slow, is a gift in most ways on the deathbed. Our feet turn blue and point to the floor, as if readying us for our exit. Our last sense to go is our hearing. We tell stories. We can see people from our past as clear as our mind's eye; we call and reach out for them in the middle of the night; our flashbacks surprising us and those around us with whom we miss, whom we missed, what tininess brought us joy, what wounds never healed. We make our peace, we breathe out one last time as big and as large as we lived, and then we leave.

Elizabeth is making
funny noises, talking to her herd,
laughing as she turns
the sun catches in her graying
hair; a glint
of something passes
over her, through her.
She raises
her eyebrows, her arms
at her followers, "Haha! I tricked ya, didn't I?"

We keep following her to the barn.

Monday, April 28, 2014

on youth~

Is youth really wasted on the young? I've been spending more time with teenagers of late due to my Current Life Circumstances being a [homeschooling] mom and noticed something about myself. A tinge of...something setting in? I don't know what to call it. I've been working to stave it off. Something can happen to us as we get older, wrought with and burdened by the heavy problems of the world, of our neighborhoods, our home. We start to think that maybe, just a little bit...that none of it's really worth it. All that work, that dreaming, that focus...where did it get us? The same place we were before? The same place everyone was before? Master escape artists we all are. Only to find we've circled back again. Even the cycles of pictures look the same: birth, gardens planted, more babies, school pictures, tricycle gangs, holiday dinners, the same injuries, new old books, hearts aflame for the same crushes, the same kids get picked on, the same kids do not...we take pictures of ourselves at the beach...listen to the same birds upon waking in the morning. There's a comfort to these generational promises. And at times, the sinking feeling that we're living in the film Groundhog Day.
But am I in the same place as before---seeking an escape? I was once so young and hopeful and my work ethic toward my dreams so powerful. Now I'm lucky if I have enough ingredients to make dinner. Or even care. Am I more different now than I was, or simply a fuller, but more hidden, dimension of myself? Mother.

I was looking around at all these kids--- their brightness, their boisterousness, their Bigness. Their raw hunger. Frankly, I was intimidated by it. It was a power; I wanted some of it back. The Not Knowing and the Need To Know. It seems all the intelligent adult people I know these days are too busy getting their ego fixes, acting like they know everything there is to know and spreading it like saucy doctrines on the landscape of other graying attention-seekers. No joke. Whenever I say I don't know something, never heard of something, haven't learned about something, it seems almost met with a mocking fury of excitement to correct, criticize, and direct. Wherever did the phrase "I can relate" go? There's a deep approachability inherent to curiosity and humility; so many of us have lost that. No wonder teenagers hate most adults.

This idea, this hope, this hard-won belief and deep longing that it'll be different is a truth. It really is. For every generation. Don't settle for any less.  Yes, the journeys may be eerily circular and all too similar and familiar. But this is only in hindsight. And each time around, something changes just a little bit, often for the better. Let us make it never for the worse. No, never, never.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

the question~

I've worked with and lived around a lot of really broken people. Myself included. But one of the oddest, most awkward questions I get and still do is How did you turn out so normal? 
No, really. I'm not joking. I get that question all the time---in "real" life and in emails and comments on this blog. In fact, I'm writing this blog post because I just got another email from an anonymous, curious follower of this silly little blog asking me, You've had basically a whole lot of fucked-up people around you and somehow still came out normal. How?
Dear reader, you bother me. (I'm laughing) For obvious reasons. The high schooler in me wants to say, "hey! what's normal anyway?!" but I do understand the question. Despite what we all like to say, there is a margin of normal that keeps us healthy and connected to other people. And, if we choose or are made to step out of those norms a little bit, we're ok. If we choose or are made to step out of those norms in an extreme way, we feel extremely isolated, depressed, disconnected, misunderstood, and disliked. This is what ultimately leads us to self-harm. Because self-harm is not based on a desire to self-harm. It's based on needs that are not being met and so we attempt to feel connected---to ourselves, to others, to The Great Big Something. Funny how that desire is so primal and so healthy but gets so skewed by our pain.
I wish I had the supermagical answer, but I don't.

The only thing I can say is my typical story-within-a-story:
I had terrible boundaries growing up but there was a crack in all the drama and trauma and displacement and it let the light in. It was also the crack in The Story I was being told---the lies, the myths-made-realities. Inside that crack I peered and pulled and could see very little, but if I focused my eyes hard enough I could see there was a whole world out there. And I was just inside this teenytiny one that had been made for me. And I believed in it. So I hid that little part of me that believed in me but strangely, constantly looked at my hands as a child all the way into my late teens finding myself saying, I want so much more than this. Eventually, we're all handed a chisel. We can cut out a life for ourselves or we can cut into ourselves. I took it to that crack. I scraped and scratched and stabbed and gouged, realizing it was inside a boulder. A big rock was slamming me up against a wall and there I was, crouched around it, holding on for dear life. So what do you do? You carve a life out of that rock. You make windows you can see out of and doors you can walk out of. Then one day, you'll look back at that big boulder and there you are, bruised and beaten but whole-- and you finally see that it was never going to move for you. Never. Do you understand? The boulder is never going to move. 

So that's all I have to offer you for advice. When your boulder slams you up against the wall (and come hell or high water, one eventually will) you find the crack. It's there, keep looking.
Then carve the life out of it that you know is on the other side. That tiny chisel is bigger than the boulder.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

money can't buy my love~

He never did come.
After a lot of confusion and misleading conversations, I realized he never wanted to come. Not here at least.
Everything has to be on his terms. Most would jump at the terms:
I'll fly you and your family here. You can stay in the same hotel. I'll take you all over the place. 
I'm uncomfortable and need some semblance of control. If you let me pay for everything and determine our entire schedule, I can more easily steer the conversational topics. I can tell you I have plans I have to attend to. You won't have any plans because you'll be on my clock.

You might think I'm overreacting. Sounds like a nice offer, right?
I hardly know this man. He abandoned me as a baby. I have never met him. Simply put, I don't believe it's too much to ask that he meet me in a place that does not involve a logistical nightmare to bring my entire family with 3 days notice. He is one man. Who also has a personal assistant and a driver. I am technically an undetachable 2 member party. And I can't meet my birthfather for the first time alone with my toddler. I need some help. So that makes me a 3 member party.
We live very, very different lives, needless to say.

From the get-go of finding him, he has thrown money at me. Lavish gifts, the offering of cash I have continued to refuse, asking me to visit him in cities any person would like to visit. But I cannot accept any of it. Somehow getting to any city I live in is impossible for him, though. I hardly know this man. He abandoned me as a baby. I have never met him. I'm not asking too much. Or am I? He's still running from me, 33 years later.

My life is comfortable. We're not rich, but have never wanted to be. Frankly, I don't really like rich people and if ever I was a wealthy woman, you can be sure I'd be putting my money where my mouth has been all these years. And it wouldn't be on mansions or fancy cars or vacations in the Maldives.
You can hold me to that, trust me.

He told me that he still sensed sensitivity about...our situation... and that the time had come to let it go.
Wait, what?
I hardly know this man. He abandoned me as a baby. I have never met him. I'm not asking too much.

But you can be fucking sure if I asked him for money, he'd hand it over to his bastard in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

terms of endearment~

Sometimes when my birthdad, M, and I speak, the thing I am floored by the most is the similar way in which we tell stories---long winded, a bit too drawn out, somewhat convoluted. Ok, I know this might be most people who try to tell a story, but the thing about us is we've always got a punch coming for you right at the end. It makes it worth the wait. To be sure, the people who know and love us patiently stand by, having learned to hold their breath (sometimes for astonishing lengths of time) while others give up and just ask What Happened. Don't you know the art of the tale? Just when you start boring people is when you rope them into the end.

He called me from D.C; he was visiting, doing his think tank work; which, by the way, always causes me to crack uncomfortable jokes like, I hope you enjoyed your lunch with Chuck Hagel because I would've just started arguing with him if I was there. Aren't you glad I didn't come now?
Ah, the visit. We've been trying to meet since, well, I found him. Strangely enough, for such a suave and well-traveled man, he has yet to find his way to any city I live in. His terms or mine, we are both clearly stubborn and inflexible at times. I think I have a good reason, I'm not always so sure about his.

He begins to tell me about his mother. Her name means "star" in Arabic. She was stunning, he says. Stunning. The Star. The Star divorced his father when she was pregnant with M. Quite scandalous for a Saudi woman. Left the man and broke his heart, apparently. Not too broken though, because he went on to have multiple wives, but hey. Some people like variety. (Ok, I'll stop with the snarky jokes). His father was quite detached and he was raised by his grandmother who beat the shit out of me and everyone around her (his words, not mine.)
M met his mother when he was 5. Then again when he was 16. They became very close after that. His parents never reconciled and died within a year of each other. This is when he tells me, So you see, Reem, we are much more alike than you realize. Aren't we all much more alike than we realize?

He has an uncanny understanding of my birthmom, MW. It's as if he plucks the very thoughts from my head as I sit there awkwardly trying to avoid talking about her (or him to her, for that matter.) But then it hit me like an embarrassingly slow-moving mack truck that of course he would understand her. They always speak of the same guilt. As much as they don't like each other---nay, what they remember of each other---they speak the language older than words. They made a person together.

He says he's begun the application process for getting his eldest son a visa to study in the U.S. He hasn't told his three other children about me yet. Before you, dear reader, begin to have a conniption fit, I must share that my feelings also pendulum. It's either incredibly wise or terribly foolish. I guess I'll have to wait and find out. Young minds can get overly defensive and scared when things like Dad had a baby with another woman 33 years ago come out. And hell, I'm scared, too. They're all so young, barely into and out of their teens. They barely know what 33 years really means yet. Do you remember the first moment you realized you could recall things from your childhood at the same time another person was just being born? People need to be out of this phase to develop that thing called Perspective. All in due time, though. All in due time.
He goes on and on. They're all going to love you! (Really?) They'll love having an older sibling they can look up to! (I'm seriously nothing like these people) Especially your sister! (Oh my god, I always forget I have a little sister now!)

Then he sheepishly shares of how he was walking out of Georgetown and a palm reader hassled him into reading his palm. He was appalled at himself for finally giving in but did (hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.) She told him he came from far away to do a business venture because his family business was full of strife (true) and that he was also on a journey to try and reconnect with someone.
You have 4 children and there is one you haven't met yet.  You've waited far too long to meet her.