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Two Definitions of Love

June 12, 2014

Even a broken plate is right two times a day….

When I was 14, my mother threw a porcelain dinner plate at my head.  She missed on purpose, of course.  That is love.  It shattered on the wall instead.

Her boyfriend, the failed wedding singer, the failed man, was making homemade chicken nuggets, (it was the one thing he did well) trying to ignore the latest iteration of domestic drama at Harwick Drive. He followed me out onto the street as I fled the room, the house. It was hard for him to keep up; I was fueled by righteous anger and teenaged-tinged despair, and he was chubby.  His belly wobbled under his stained tee each time his Birkenstocked feet hit the pavement. His meaty hands were white with flour.

He was so painfully pathetic that even I, with a dim unspoken certainty, knew I should reward his effort.  I slowed down, and he caught up to me, his cheeks blowing in and out, his leathery face red.  He was so earnest, he always tried so hard, he was trying now, he was so fucking trying.  Mr. Mom’s Boyfriend, good for nothing. 

So I let him bribe me into returning to my mother’s house.  We walked side by side down the street. He held the front door open for me. The house was quiet, the plate was still on the floor. My mother had retreated to the bedroom, my brothers to their video games.

He squeezed my hand once, and then I flung myself onto the couch. I watched as he bent down, and cleaned up the plate. He then headed upstairs to deal with my mother. He came back down the stairs and quietly washed his hands. I watched his watery blue eyes reflect a quiet pride. He put the chicken nuggets in the oven. And this too, is love.


The Girl Who Couldn’t Say Yes

November 25, 2013
In a random north side neighborhood Spencer is NOT moving to.

The sign reads: “A motivational sign in a grassy field is nice and all… But it is not going to do the work for you. That’s up to you.”

Even as a child, she practiced at proclaiming no.  When her father tried to buy her a present, or her mother bought her clothes, she would accept them with a child’s disregard- unless she really loved it.  Then, she’d say ‘no.’ Her parents vacillated between thinking it a charming anti-capitalistic gesture and being worried at the girl’s asceticism.  Sarah would feel a burst of intense giddiness at her strength, her goodness.

Later on, she would push herself farther by giving away her favorite possessions to friends, curious and seeking the rush of disappointment and loss mingled with feelings of purity and joy.

When she was ten, she discovered fasting as a means of proving to herself that she could say ‘no.’  She would pick random days, days when she woke up particularly hungry, to not eat.  She would pretend to feel slightly ill to avoid concern, and lightheaded but triumphant she would wait out the hours.  At the stroke of midnight, she would descend the stair to make a bowl of cereal.

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What It Was Like to Skydive for the First Time

October 7, 2013

It says something about a human being’s ability to place super-ego over instinct that we can throw ourselves out of planes at all.  I mean, c’mon, tossing your meatsack out of a plane 10,500 feet in the air into a cloud strewn sky with nothing holding onto you is counter to thousands of years of evolutionary common sense.  Grog the primordial caveman knew not to do that.

But there I was willingly about to jettison myself into midair, and I was even paying for the privilege.

“Ready?” my tandem jump instructor asked me, mouth grinning with straight white teeth, his eyes gleaming behind his dive goggles.

I was ready, sort of.  I had actively listened when Angelo had told my friend and me how to curl like a banana around him during free fall.  We were supposed to rest our heads on his shoulder, kick our legs between his and smack his butt with our shoes.  I had watched him intently as he completed the safety checks once in the air.  I had asked most of the questions that apparently everyone and their mother asks him (do I have goggles?)  I was ready.

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I Was Shot in the Head, But I Refused to Die- Aalia’s Story

September 27, 2013
Good thing our hostel was in the middle of nowhere.  It meant we were away from the touristic part of Amsterdam.  April 2013

The Amsterdam park in which I met Aalia.

I met Aalia when we chased the same cat in a park in Amsterdam.  My friend V was rolling a joint on a park bench, but she wasn’t very good at it.  She muttered under her breath. A beautiful calico crossed my path, and I decided to try to make friends.  It trotted around a bush, and so did I.  That’s when I collided with Aalia.

She was a short little thing, wearing an all black dress, and had wispy nut brown hair that looked inexpertly dyed under a floppy black hat. Her eyes were shiny and bright brown, like an inquisitive squirrel’s, and her face was lined with wrinkles.  She had a white scar on the right side of her face, just under her cheekbone.  She was smiling like a child when I nearly ran her over.  The cat darted under a large bush with an angry meow to show us she wasn’t pleased at being hassled.

“Couta awlad goed, bis bis baby, sa’ah?  Inti tchoofee?” I stared.  It didn’t sound like Dutch, or English, and I thought I understood… but I heard bastardized Arabic in the wind those days, because when you study a language everything reminds you of it.  “Bitacki Arabi?” I asked cautiously, not wanting to scare the nice little Dutch lady.  She let out a gasp of happiness.

I didn’t understand everything, but in rapid, pleased Arabic she announced she was from Iraq, she lived in Amsterdam now and had for many years with her only son.  She was chasing the cat because she wanted to see if it had babies hidden under the bush so she could steal a kitten and take it home and care for it.  My friend came over, seeing that I had been accosted.  Aalia asked us then if we wanted to come over to her house for tea.  And my friend and I, after sharing a barely perceptible shrug of ‘why not?’ agreed to follow her.

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Why I Travel and Why I Stop

September 22, 2013

“A song for /someone who needs somewhere/ to long for. Homesick/ Cause I no longer know where home is.” – Kings of Convenience, Homesick

Near Tower Bridge Road, 2013.

My favorite fountain in London, near where I lived. I loved taking photos of the bathing women in different lights.

I have snuck into an Ottoman mosque with a professional Egyptian masseuse and danced on the roof under the stars. I have been told that I talk a lot of shite by an old drunk Scottish man in a pub in Edinburgh. I have hitchhiked my way from Jerash to Amman, getting in debates about Mohammed in Arabic with four devout men who I just met.  I have climbed to the top of Table Mountain, and then descended down the other side into the verdant gardens of Kirstenbosch.  I have night dived around Saba island, the golden bioluminescence trailing my fingers as I descended into the inky water with my flashlight. I have weaseled my way into an African UN prison facility by pretending to be someone else’s secretary and looking demure and non-threatening. I have skinny dipped with my best friend on a cool night at a beach outside of Barcelona, after a five course meal served by a kind old man who we communicated with quite well, despite him having no English and us no Spanish.  I have woken up on a train and had to ask what Eastern European country I was in, honestly unsure of the answer I would receive (It was still Serbia, luckily). I have wandered, and lingered, and missed flights and made connections.  I know at least a few words in over a dozen languages.  I have friends on six continents.

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In Defense of Alcohol: How Alcohol Brought Humankind Civilization and Other Good Stuff

August 9, 2013
Drinking red wine in Hyde Park, Chicago, a graduation party for the class of 2006!

Okay, so I did drink on occasion in uni.

At University of Chicago, I wasn’t much of a drinker. I didn’t identify with or feel comfortable with the ‘get drunk culture’ that existed there (and pretty much every American university, apparently).  I remember my first week of class, my first year: one night, a boy named Greg ran down the hallway, excited that he got the part in a play he auditioned for.  He had drunk copiously to celebrate.  As he ran down the hall in our dorm, he shouted excitedly and banged his hands on the walls.  “You… are kinda an ass!” he proclaimed, pointing his finger at his best friend, who was stepping out of his room to take a shower.  “You… are gorgeous!” he pointed another finger at an Indian girl who didn’t even live there, and who was eyeing him with disgust. Greg turned to me.  “You… are…” I braced myself. “Help me get to my room?”  He leaned his head on my shoulder, heavy and flushed.  He didn’t leave his room except to throw up for two days afterwards.

I remember feeling a quiet sort of pride in my not drinking.  I wasn’t inflexible, I wasn’t a total teetotaler; those people made others feel uncomfortable.  I just was responsible, that’s all.  I still remember the first time I got tipsy; it was off of mimosas at a Mock Trial breakfast-for-dinner team bonding night. I biked home, exhilarated with my speed and fuzzy mind and the blurred night streetscape.  I went to see the boyfriend of about a year, wanting to kiss him goodnight. He refused to kiss me, saying that as I was drunk I couldn’t give consent.  I told him he was an idiot and went off to my room to sulk.

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Kagame, the Benevolent Authoritarian?

July 29, 2013
Paul Kagame

The great man’s face.

To the unknowledgeable lay person, Paul Kagame’s face more readily lends itself to belonging to a nervous librarian than to being the visage of the president of an African state.  If the Nigerian physical modality of leader is usually a man with thick set eyes, a powerful wide frame and sensual lips, Kagame represents the opposite vision of what an African visionary should be: an empirically-based intellectual, discursive yet pragmatic.  But does the package that Rwandan leadership is wrapped in actually indicate that Rwanda has a Western style, democratically elected and respected president?

Kagame has certainly been a successful leader by many measures.  He inherited (okay, won by force while with the RPF) a nation that was essentially dead, with over a million of its population killed by mid-1994.  Since then, whether officially the vice president of president, he has led Rwanda, enacting austere social and economic measures that have not only prevented Rwanda from becoming a failed state, but also led to it becoming a developed powerhouse in the region.

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