Lately, I think in the shape of maps. Cartography is a relevant metaphor as my boundaries are bending yet again. My tongue wags in the direction of due East. I am revisiting old languages while my writing hand rests.
The immigrants gather together in my coffee shop, no matter the country of their origin. They call personal grammars from the air. The Persians gesture with palms towards the heavens; the Arabs stretch arms out wide as if to catch a word before it leaves the sentence; Indians write postcolonial diatribes with cigarette smoke. Some drink to lost memories hidden in their tea or coffee cups. A few read their stories from beer foam. They all remember somewhere else and some time from before.
He tells me that he would be disappointed if he returned home after thirty years of absence. Nothing will be as I remember, he says. He wasn’t supposed to stay here after the degree, but a political revolution changed the map of his world. He shrugs his shoulders. Now, his American-born children can’t speak the language well enough to understand the stories of their grandparents.
Like you, I say to him, I often have to choose which parts of myself I reveal to whom. We are always in the process of censuring our stories, speaking in languages half-mastered, or retreating to cultural corners where our imagined identities are safe and comfortable. He nods his head in agreement.
If one seeks stories of loss and regret, then that is what one will find, I remind him.
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The text arrived while I sat at a coffee shop bent over a lazy notebook and a blank page. Happy Mother’s Day, the text read. Thank you for taking care of us. I can only imagine how stressful it was. I hope you’re doing well.
My head jerked back as I sucked in caffeinated air. I sat in my chair for approximately three seconds before I retreated to the bathroom to cry. I continued bawling on the way home. Later while in the shower, I moaned like an animal as the water attempted to wash away my grief and sadness.
I have found myself trying to avoid this aspect of my past during the two-and-a-half years since I left my marriage. There are many things that I freely share about my decision to leave Zalmay, my ex-husband. I have never discussed how much I fear that I failed as a mother.