Pieces of You in the Pages


Ambata Kazi-Nance

Late one night as I was drifting off to sleep my phone chirped, alerting me I had a text message. The message was from my older brother, a perpetual bachelor, and it said, “I think I just fell back in love.” I blinked a few times and squinted at the text to make sure I was reading it right then decided it was too late at night to launch into that madness. Early the next morning I got another text message that said, “With reading.” It turned out he sent the text before completing it, or so he claims (I’m side-eyeing you, bro). We had a good laugh about it but it got me thinking about my life with books.

My dad taught me how to read using The Berenstein Bears books. We sat in my bed with me literally sweating over the words until I could read them on my own without help. There was one line from The Berenstein Bears Learn About Manners, (thirty years later and I still remember the exact title!) that was particularly troublesome that I kept stumbling over and rushing through. My dad would retell this story using my five-year-old voice well into my adult years. “And she reached across the table…”

That moment though was The Moment for me. Learning to read was like the single shot from the starter pistol; I took off running and never looked back. I was fascinated with words. I read everything: cereal boxes, signs, billboards, if it had words on it, I wanted to know what they said. I remember once at a hardware store with my dad, there was one word on a sign I kept twisting around in my head, trying to decipher it. When I figured it out I tugged on my dad’s arm and pointed to it, triumphant. “Baba, auto. That sign says auto.”

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No se niega, I am my mother’s daughter

I’ve been so afraid of being like her, terrified really, that I’ve tried to ignore, deny the many ways that I am like my mother. From my hands, small and stubby, heavy, with a thick palm that can do (and have done) much damage to those who dared to challenge me…like my mother did to me with her hands.

To how I eat, my right leg tucked under me, the left propped up so my knee is under my chin.

How for so long any emotion that shook me I changed to anger, because anger I could deal with, anger I could process. Pain? No. Confusion? No. Sadness? No. Isolation? Please, no.

When I told my mother I was a writer, she shared a stack of papers where she’d started recounting the stories of her life. I’d heard many of them when I was growing up. The ones she told when she was calling us ungrateful. The one about her one pair of shoes. The story of her choking while she was in the latrine: When she pushed the splintered door open with her scrawny leg, my great-grandmother, Tinita, ran over and pulled a two-foot tape worm out of her mouth. Imaginate eso!

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