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.