Archive for the ‘New Jersey’ Tag

A Five Year Old Blog Post

Friday, June 10th, 2016

I am naturally timid, stubborn and observant. Because I was first-born my father wanted to change that and sought to teach me how to think like a businessman from the streets. He is a first generation immigrant. When he met my mother he was working at a Greek dinner as the lead fry cook on the grill. A position he had to work up to and, consequently, deadened the nerves in his hands. My father was my mother’s first and only love. She was from a small rural town in Minnesota. When she decided to convert to Islam, her immediate family cut her off completely which was easy to do since she had moved to NY to be with my father. Around that time, he started working wholesale on Broadway. What that means is that he sold fake designer clothing and items which they produced themselves. He took pride in his work by adding his own signature to the designs and doing the best job that he can on them. My uncle and him held down all of Broadway during their prime. Instead of being on the sidewalk hustling their shit, they owned rooms in discreet buildings where they produced and sold their stuff. They had employees and partners. They got betrayed by many and were chased by the police often.

This is how he learned to think like a hustler and he sought to meld me into that image since I can remember. By all rights, within the Egyptian and Islamic culture, this meant that he raised me like he would a boy. He taught me to have free will and to stand up to anyone who tried to cut me down. Be tough and the only people that matter are family. Fuck the world. Nobody will care about you like we do.

So I stood up to teachers in Egypt when they would beat us for minor infractions with wooden sticks and rulers. When they called us miserable pieces of shits and everything else in the Arabic language for misspellings, I knew that what they thought did not matter but I felt bad for the others. Some would sit weeping in their seats. Back in the US, I stood up to bullies until high school years where I became even more introverted than before.

Empathy and kindness was missing. I was abused by a babysitter physically and verbally when I was three years old. It ended with her trying to drown me. Some of my oldest memories are of my father beating my mother and verbally abusing her for small insignificant matters like spaghetti not cooked to his liking. It was new to me so I would sit scared unable to move through most of it or lock myself up into my room (only child then) while my mother would cry. The concept of being kind and tolerant to others was not taught through example. This would manifest itself in many ways through my behavior back then. I would mutilate my Barbie dolls in fits of rage. I used to abuse my pet rabbit, the only contact with an animal that I was allowed during our time in Queens. One time, the children of the basement tenants wanted to play a master/slave game. I was chosen to be the master and I whipped them mercilessly with cold emotional detachment. After getting banned from their home and my rabbit running away, I started to wonder if something was wrong with me. Neither of my parents sat down and talked to me about either event.

I think my saving grace during that time (from three to about six years old) was the smaller things that I remember fondly. My mother’s Native American side of the family still kept contact. I remember her getting a laminated letter once and a stuffed rabbit along with it. It was the last letter she was to get from her great aunt who died and her mother did not tell her until four months after the fact. That was the day that she told me about the Cree and her memories with them only after I prodded for answers since she looked so sad. She read me the letters from her great aunt. The rabbit and letters were the only things that I had gotten from extended family of any kind. Through her letters, my distant relative showed much kindness and beauty of character. She had a grace that came across in the letters which made me wish that I had the chance to meet her at least once. I still have the stuffed rabbit.

My mother sat me down and created a quilt with me that was made just for me which I still have as well. My father would buy a bunch of mangoes and we would devour them together after dinner with our hands. He would fall asleep on the floor and I would lay on-top of him resting while listening to his heartbeat. Sometimes he would buy a bunch of crabs from China Town and we would cook them together. Once he took me with him to buy them. These are the things that taught me that there are different facets to humanity. The softer side.

These are the roots. More at a later date.

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Part 36

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

The routine in our house was usually that after my father would come back from dawn prayer the mosque, he would be sitting in the kitchen reading the Quran. We would wake up and be asked to turn on a recitation tape or CD and then make wadooh, ritual washing of the body, before praying morning prayer. Only after we do these things are we allowed to sit down and eat breakfast. If my mother was not up, then he would wake her, but on rare occasions he would make and serve us breakfast. Any deviation from that routine usually resulted in a long lecture about our duty to our creator. How we don’t forget to eat or go to the bathroom, but forget about the one that created us. My mother would be cranky in the morning when he would push her to do her prayers and make breakfast a lot. She could not start a day right without a cup of coffee. Light and sweet with milk and never cream. She would have several cups during the course of the day too. It was a bit of an addiction for her.

During summer break before University started, my eye sight became really bad. I used to have perfect 20/20 vision, but I noticed it deteriorating during my late high school years. My father blamed it on me watching too much TV and being on the computer too much. So, I hated myself for a while for having to wear glasses just to see the board at school. That summer we also visited Egypt for the first time since we had lived there. Cousin A, Uncle M’s only son, was enrolled in the pharmacy program and his youngest sister was enrolled in the music program due to her grades being low. Cousin A always had an interest in me since the days that we were very young and used to dance on the roof top together. We were left sometimes to “get to know” each other and he basically showed off his collection of pirated Egyptian music on his computer. We would all watch censored American movies together and I brought over a Sailor Moon tape for us all to watch. Cousin AT, his younger sister, who I used to have a short sexual tryst with when we were younger, had gained almost as much weight as I had at one point. I did not understand her decline in self-esteem, but it finally dawned on me later on what happened. My mother told me many years later that she was circumcised at the age of thirteen because she was found flirting with boys from the balcony. Her father, Uncle M, had also tried to push my father to circumcise me when I was born, but my mother advised him against it. Her reasoning was that some studies showed that being circumcised usually made a girl more promiscuous instead of curbing the desire like initially thought. Their older sister, Cousin AM, was married and it looked like it was against her will sometimes. Her husband would be over and he would put on an air of being playful and try to get me to joke with him, but I would tell him off every chance I got. Most of the people in the household would take it as humor, but we both knew that I did not like him. At all. From what I saw of how he treated his wife and from what I have heard, I gathered that he was an abusive husband. Nobody did anything about it. Cousin AM was a math teacher like our grandmother was, but he ended up making her stay home and quit her job.

We also had visits from our two male cousins that lived with Uncle S’s divorced wife. He sent her money on a semi-normal basis, but the family all claimed that she was mentally ill. They also claimed that she abused them. Uncle M would sit the children down and whisper to them the stories of how their mother would not feed them and would force them to do grueling household chores. He would force them to recount them and reenact them with demonstrations. The children would look vacant and troubled and when he did that, which was an almost impossible combination to see displayed in a person at the same time. Aunt’s S’s family rarely came over anymore because of the hate and rumors that Uncle M’s family were still perpetuating since the last time that we lived there.

Uncle M’s family was well off at that time because they were reaping the benefits of the rented properties that my father owned. They were stealing some of the profits for themselves and not telling my father about it and were not found out until my mother did the math. Not only that, but my mother had to leave some family heirlooms behind and my Uncle had thrown them away without consulting with any of my parents about it. Despite all that, their collective hatred seemed to grow and spread to everyone and everything. We only stayed a week and decided to spend the rest of our vacation at our apartment in Alexandria which was where my baby brother took his first steps.

When I went out, despite being a bigger girl, I noticed a lot of the leers and suggestive behavior that I was willfully oblivious to when I was younger. Whether that was because it wasn’t as common as it was during the time that I visited or I become more experienced and aware with age, I can’t say. That wasn’t the only thing that changed over the years. Gone was the live animals being sold on the streets, you only found those at night in the big cities like Alexandria, Tanta, or Cairo. That, or in the smaller farm villages at any time of the day. Uncle M’s family, before we left to Alexandria, bought a bunch processed meat and other supplies from a small grocery store. No more killing the animals yourself. I instantly remembered the time that my father had tried to get me to kill a duck and, when I would not, he made me hold its wings so that he could do it. Or the times when I would be fascinated watching my mother kill chickens and the bemused feeling that I would get when she would try to kill a rabbit by herself and fail. There was also a lamb that was killed on our balcony in Cairo and it was flooded with blood by the time the affair was over.

Egypt had changed and it was continuing to change while I was not there to experience any of it. Just the aftermath whenever we were able to visit. Soon my first year at Rutgers University would begin whether I was ready or not.

Part 35

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

The fact that I did not care about what people thought confused my parents and it was the subject of many of our fights. They believed that appearances meant everything and it was odd how my mother became more that way over time. Their control over my every day routine got worse and one day I got scolded for being fifteen minutes late. Their excuse was, “who’s going to do the dishes if you’re late?” Most people had beepers, even in school, but we could not afford that and my parents saw no point in it. So, they were left without any mode of communication with me and it made them worry often. My seclusion got deeper and so did my obsession with the Kabuki comic book series. We had a graphic arts class that I opted for as an elective and I found my chance to create a custom made Kabuki notebook and notepads. My teacher brought me to the side one day to talk about my notepad watermark which said “for the fallen, who believe in miracles.” He said that only people going through a midlife crisis write about stuff like that and wanted to know what the deal was. I brushed it off at the time and told him that it was just something from a comic and, even then, he insisted that it wasn’t something that a normal person would be fascinated with. When he saw that he would get nothing out of me, he dismissed me. Our teacher/student relationship was as decent as they came, but it nosedived because of an incident with Melissa, a classmate that was also in Upward Bound with me. I had volunteered to work on the Upward Bound class year book with her and we made a date to meet together during lunch to create in the graphics arts classroom. I showed up at the appointed day to do it and she never showed up so I designed one myself and even bought special paper for it. Two days later, the teacher confronts me about not being around when Melissa was to work on the yearbook. She had came in the day before and he told me that she scrambled to get it done. I just looked at him and shrugged since nobody told me that wasn’t going to show up the first or that she was going to show up the next day.

It was also in that class that I learned about an old classmate from elementary school who had died from alcohol poisoning at a frat party. He was an odd one who liked to wear black nail polish and loss fitting pants, a self-proclaimed goth, which was rare in that area. He would go around collecting people’s hair for what he claimed to be voodoo spells. There were a string of notable deaths in school and one of the most notable was a car crash that killed 6 students. It was nearby and the students were all Indian and Pakistani, who made up a good part of the student body. The school excused students who went to the funeral service being held nearby and, one day, someone that I did not know decided to talk to me about their feelings regarding the event. I was on my way to class and we were alone in the morning since we both had special passes from teachers to be let in early. It was an invaluable thing to have since we had a new vice principle that had the school on lockdown. Students were not allowed entry without student IDs and everyone had the same schedule so the crowding was significantly larger. Doors and gates were locked when class was in session at all times and there was a countdown before each bell rang for class. Lateness was considering as being an amendment to the seven deadly sins.

The new world order related to the death of my Spanish 2 teacher who died only two days into the semester. We had a ridiculous amount of substitute teachers and the spot was never really filled full-time. We had a rash of bomb threats made to the school daily, a lot of them during my Spanish 2 class. The new management were on a witch hunt to find the culprits. Weekly, and even daily, locker checks became more frequent and things like beepers and CD players were confiscated indefinitely. They resorted to recruiting snitches in the student body by offering a reward and promising that all personal information would remain anonymous. Eventually, they caught the person doing and it turned out to be a guy in my Spanish 2 that flirted a lot with a Lebanese girl who seemed much more experienced in many things that I was. One of those things being gambling with cards. Several other students and teachers died during my time there, which was bound to happen given how large the school was. Years of alcohol abuse and cancer seemed to strike the teachers down. Gang violence and drug abuse is what usually killed the students.

The events of 9/11 created did not stop school from happening, but it did slow things down for a time that day. People were watching it happen from their classroom windows and one teacher was old enough to say, “I watched them being built and now I watch them being destroyed.” My father had picked back up with the wholesale business in New York despite it being only half as lucrative as it was in the eighties and early nineties. He was in New York during this time and I remember vaguely worrying about how we were going to survive if something happened to him. School was let out early because many students had family that lived and worked in New York. Some were standing distraught in the hallways and one girl told me about her brothers and father who were in the region. The months that followed had bad repercussions on the local Muslim community. Many families were broken up due to mass deportations, green card or not, and secret arrests with no explanations given to anyone about them. There were also families grieving for the loss of their loved ones from the incident. One day when I was walking home from school, I spotted two younger children being attacked by some boys from my school who were throwing stones at them. I recognized them because I knew their family from my days at the mosque and I helped them escape. It wasn’t hard to do since the boys ran away when I got to the scene. My mother got cornered one day at Journal Square by two boys who told her to go back to her country. She stood up to them and told them that this was her country and from them to go back to theirs. It was a public place and she looked like she was about to fight back, so they backed off. My father used the incident as another opportunity to spread his Jew hate and conspiracy theories. Clearly, the Jews had orchestrated the entire event and the proof was the supposed fact that none of their people were killed during the attacks. The entire Muslim community and Arabic TV channels were whispering about this. They claimed that all the footage of Osama Bin Laden was doctored up and was a product of Western propaganda. If you did not believe any of these things as a Muslim, you were considered a traitor of your brothers and sisters in Islam in a less fortunate position than you.

Out of the one thousands students that were in my freshman class, only four hundred and eighty of them graduated with me. Everyone was excited about the prom and the drama that came with, from the famous lesbian couple to the usually quiet South Asians, it was a big deal. Some could not go either due to being poor or being denied participation by their parents. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to participate in any of it since my mother disproved of the sex that she knew went on at those events. A date would also be necessary and that was out of the question. Brother A and I joked that he would be my date to our imaginary prom. Graduation day required an ironed gown I had told my father about it days beforehand. My parents were having one of their bad fights during this time and he went off on her when he saw her ironing my gown. He took it and threw it on the floor because she wasn’t doing what he had wanted her to do. I told him to stop and that it was for my graduation which was in a few hours, but he told me to shut up and stalked off. My mother and I decided leave for my graduation after he left the house. I didn’t get any special mentions or awards due to my lack of involvement in any extracurricular activities, but I was thankful that I did not have to wait for all the Patels to be called to get my diploma. We left as soon as I got my diploma and got something to eat as a way to stall our eventual return home. My mother seemed to be disappointed at how things happened, but I reassured her by saying that none of it mattered. I hadn’t even bothered dressing up for it. Neither of us did. It was all very last minute. My yearbook did not have my picture because I would not go take one for it. My name was listed, but there was no other mention of me in there. Despite that, I had some people that I thought mattered a little bit, due to past friendships and a brief shared history, sign the back of it when the books were handed out in the cafeteria.

High school seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. SATs were taken and I scored average, but good enough to get into Rutgers University of Newark. My father and I had an endless feud about the issue of majoring in pharmacy. It came down to him telling me that I could do research that would prove pharmacy was not as profitable as he thought and that something else of my choosing would be. The problem was that I did not know what I personally wanted to study. I wanted to go into liberal arts to discover what my strengths were, but he wasn’t having any of that. None of my research disproved his assertion that pharmacy was best, so that’s what I had to put down as my major. Somehow, I had gotten into the school’s special pharmacy program where students spent their first two years in Newark then were automatically transferred to the pharmacy department in New Brunswick.

But that fight was not over by a long shot.

Part 21

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

There was a small group of friends that I was part of at the mosque, but only because the girl that I considered to be my best friend was at the head of it. When I wasn’t hanging out with them, I would be listening to reggae on my tape player. Lessons were pretty boring when the Chinese boy left, so I would hide the headphones under my scarf while I listened to music in class. The dynamic of our little group was a bit odd. It was basically just us with a bunch of my friend’s groupies that would hang around. She was pretty and popular. I was the muscle whenever it was needed and the one that carried out secret operations that required sneaking into forbidden areas like the men’s section.  It turned out that my friend lived on the same block as me so excursions to the park happened more often.

Morning TV shows before school became an obsession for me at that time since my father got us cable for the Arabic channels. Captain Planet, my early childhood favorite, wasn’t around anymore so I had to make due with Toonami. Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon were necessary for me to start my day right as time went on. The moment I found out that those shows were adaptations of comics, I had to read them. Comics had always been one of my secret obsessions and the only book that we took with us to Egypt was the “Death of Superman” comic. By the time we returned the US, the poor comic was beaten from overuse and I needed new material badly. It eventually got to the point where I rejected the TV shows because I found the comics to be superior story-wise. Not to mention the artwork that was completely different from anything I had been exposed to before. Trips to Barnes and Noble would be begged for and, when I found out about Amazon, it was game over. We didn’t have a car so public transportation to Barnes and Noble in Hoboken became a bit tedious with the little ones. Sponsored time using dial-up internet through AOL was my portal to a more convenient way of getting my fix.

Chores also became a part of my daily routine and the one that I hated the most was cleaning dishes. It was like pulling teeth for my mother to get me to do them. Our domestic bliss had its had moments, as to be expected of any household. Once, I had gathered up my siblings to play computer games with me and my father stormed in yelling at us to get off. He accused us of doing nothing but goof around and I asked him what we did wrong. My line of questioning got him angrier and I my own anger rose with every accusation he shot our way. I ended up yelling at him, saying that we didn’t do anything to deserve that kind of treatment. He went and got the broom and started to hit my siblings with it so I grabbed the handle and refused to let go. We had a short tug of war while maintaining eye contact with each other. He eventually let go and walked away with a smirk on his face.

There was a night where he continued to hound me about my weight. He called me fat and mocked me about it while he laid in bed with my mother. She told him to stop at one point, but he told her to be quiet and continued. Trying to get her in on it. Looking back at it, it was his way of trying to push me to be lose some of it, but at the time it just made me more depressed. I cried myself to sleep that night while my anxieties about starting high school grew deeper.

High school scared me, but New Jersey started to feel more and more like home.