pity

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the man of the house
at twice my age plus sixteen
he dabbles in stock investments
in the expanse of his early retirement
but mostly i see him news scrolling.
when middle-aged and struggling
he said life’s a rigged game
he gave up then, settled on the couch
with his excuse to raise me
my mother the sole breadwinner
the newly appointed matriarch
rightfully so, she dealt with patients
came home cooked and cleaned and
criticized him with her newfound voice
that he loathed – he raised me to be
financially independent but decreed
i not move out until i marry.
an antiquated being
he kept me close i burned him too
even his spit could not subdue my fire.
insular he rigged his own fate
alone and waiting
the man of the house.

home run

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it’s our weekend so we go to the batting cages
i try not to think about next weekend
dad’s supposed to take me to six flags
but right now we’re here, the batting cages
it’s our time but the last session ballers hover
dad’s polite reminding then asking
they’re kids my age but they have each other
when they feign listening i have my dad’s back
he rattles the cage  warning jumping in
average height but his ego looms
verbal thrashing at the tip of his tongue
the boys hurry along and then
it’s just me and dad at the batting cages

the big sick

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Image result for the big sick

The Big Sick is raw, humorous, and bittersweet in capturing the frustration of an identity affected by polar cultures. Born first generation or moved to America at an impressionable age, fitting in is the solution to mental stability while appeasing to parents who moved countries for a better life is the solution for emotional stability. But compromising has to have a limit, right?

I recommend this movie to all adults who are in or have flirted with interracial relationships. Old folk with their conservative opinions will not like this movie. But that’s exactly why they have to watch it. Choosing to dismiss facts or feelings because it does not personally align with their beliefs simply hinders learning.

Growing up, I loved the term American melting pot. I felt as though it connected me to all the citizens of the states, a motley crew that made up the soul of the country because of the freedom we had to be whoever we wanted. But the inbred upturned noses silent in public are virulently verbose in the confines of their home in degrading anything – anyone – different. I hear it, the (un)intentional racist joke and I cringe.

The actors in the film gave a stellar performance, the dialogue rich in realism and awkwardness that moves it way past just a movie about cross-culture lovers. Rather it’s the struggle within that affects relationships around the main character Kumail. In this story, grappling between the choice between love and family, Kumail hides behind the expected choice further stowing away his own pride. In a turn of events of dire circumstance, he finds himself in a face-off with his parents who badger him for his selfishness to drop the ball on all that they wanted – nay, expected – of him. He fires back, “why did you bring me to America at all? How can you think it wouldn’t affect me?” (paraphrased of course).

That’s the line that floored me. There were so many poignant and comically relatable scenes, but it’s the words that I have asked and wondered myself up there on screen – I felt exposed. Vulnerable. And when those feelings are dismissed, that’s selfish of those choosers.

Want to laugh? Want romance? Want to tear up with empathy? This movie has it all. The Urdu and the nods to Pakistani garb, food and views is an added bonus of insight to another vibrant culture.
Bottomline: if you have ever met someone who lacked the comprehension of love is love and thwarted your relationship from advancing by insinuating the loss of your family in the pursuit of love, you need to watch this movie. It will reinforce the belief within – you are the one capable of making the right choice for yourself.

The Power of Three

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PowerofThree

When we argue, our curses are open blisters on tongues

livid we spout, hearts shriveling up a little more.

It’s easy to turn against with expectations,

but my parents and I are direct blood

not like cousins and uncles and aunts –

relatives visit, friends come and go,

we are a tied knot unable to relax.

Sometimes they forget I am not their baby anymore

then I pretend they’re my haggard prisoners –

they scorn my decisions and I plot my escape.

Rarely we sit down together for dinner but when we do,

I see their self-worry if they raised me right

and I have to shoulder the confidence for all three of us

as I walk the high beam of consequences –

I can – I will land on my feet to stride home proudly.

Fat Sandwich

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Journal

Priyanka liked writing long before she read The Princess Diaries. When she was younger, she had flowery diaries that she would carry in colorful purses, but as she got older, she switched to journaling. Even her best friend Gina didn’t understand that.

“Aren’t they the same thing?” she asked exasperated.

Despite a flare of annoyance at that comment, Priyanka tried to explain. She hoped to show how therapeutic writing could be in contrast to the stress all students came to know with essays. “Diaries are great for jotting down memories, essentially beginning a cathartic or healing process. It’s a great place for divulging secrets too. But journals are more than that. Think of scientific journals or academic journals – when I journal I try to write observations and analysis of events and actions in my life to better understand myself.”

Gina snorted. “That sounds boring. You need a better hobby.”

“No -” But Gina’s attention was diverted by the girls crocheting in study hall. Priyanka was left with the value to herself: journaling allowed her to have a clear mind to assess her problems and find a solution. But not always.

The kids at school saw her as the girl in the back of the class hidden behind her marble notebook. Her family didn’t understand it either. The less people she talked to, the more she poured herself onto lined pages.

Nonna did not like to see her granddaughter reclusive. She was proud of Priyanka for having a hobby that benefited her academics but she feared having a notebook as a confidant would perpetuate her lack of social skills. Constantly Nonna encouraged the whole family to have a weekly session of sharing of their feelings, but it never caught on.

Priyanka did not trust her grandmother. She saw the disapproving tilt in her smile when she wrote in fancy leather-bound journals. Sometimes Nonna would quietly stand over as she wrote and when she tried to cover up her inner thoughts, Nonna would pry. “Aren’t you going to share what you wrote?” Evading the question, Priyanka was faced with her parents wondering what she was always scribbling down.

“It’s not ready,” Priyanka said every time. She would never be ready to share all her feelings with anyone. Partly because most were transient, something she needed to work through. Sick of the constant barrage, she began writing in marble notebooks – they blended in with other school notebooks very well. It quelled her family’s unease. For a safety measure, Priyanka came up with a code word. While writing in the pages of her journal, she would also insert her published school articles and loose leaf that she’d use under the guise of taking class notes. It beefed up her personal notebook – like a fat sandwich. “I’m going to the grease truck in the park to get a fat sandwich!” Once out of the house, depending on the weather she would write sitting in a tree or in the dusty corner of foreign novels in the library. Her plan in successful motion, Priyanka left out her journal on her pillow.

Later Nonna said she was apprehensive of her granddaughter’s eating habits; fat sandwiches were not healthy to eat every day, much less be around! It was as if she purposefully overlooked the fact that Priyanka hadn’t put on weight or had all the money she earned from working at an ice cream parlor locked away in savings for college. But she crept into her room and flipped the pages of Priyanka’s truth.

She didn’t expect it when she came home from school that day. Her notebook was on her pillow seemingly untouched. But before dinner, her mom insisted the three adults have a talk with her about her behavior. Amma forefronted the discussion; Dad could not look at her and Nonna had a gleam in her eyes that made Priyanka want to lunge at her. Such a dark thought she would have expelled from her soul by writing it down along with its causation and a brainstormed solution, but now she didn’t have her best friend, her only friend. Her face contorted as her crimes were listed – having a crush, not paying attention in class, having a Facebook account open to talk to her crush, her struggles to maintain her grades, making plans to go on a date –

Amma told her firmly, “You have to clear your mind.”

Priyanka had bottled up her feelings for so long because she thought no one wanted to hear what she had to say. Her anger bubbled over. Her parents thought she didn’t hear how they fought, but now she tapped into the learned verbal lashing. “But what about my heart? I can’t just dispel feelings away!”

“You shouldn’t be thinking about boys. You should be thinking about how to earn back our trust.”

Your trust? You invaded my privacy. You broke my trust. You could have just asked -” It was hard to make a case when tears are threatening to spill. Priyanka swallowed back her sob. “You never made the effort to ask what was going in my life. It was always ‘how was school?’ or ‘did you do your homework?’ or ‘go study more’. Of course I have more of a life than that! I’m a sentient sixteen year old! And you’re going to judge me on that? And you don’t get to choose parts of my journal to hold over me! The boy is actually Gina’s boyfriend now. But you care too much of what people will think of me to see there’s more to me! I’m great ice cream vendor! Maybe my grades are suffering in what you want to get A’s in but I have A’s in English and History. I’m actually working with the Drama teacher to come up with a modern version of Odysseus. Maybe I’m not the daughter you want, but you’re not the family I want!”

Priyanka stormed to her room. For effect, she slammed her door and her rackety sobs were just as loud. All she wanted to do was write, but as she looked at her overextended journal, she couldn’t trust herself to work a pen. She’d make the ink bleed.

When she was in third grade, Priyanka’s teacher had given the class Harry Potter journals as a holiday present. Her classmates hadn’t known what to do with them, but Priyanka was thrilled. The chronicling of her life was very addicting. It was only when she was rereading an entry, did she find an entry about having a crush but only liking him “less than 3 percent”. It had bothered her that she’d let her fear of what other people thought keep her from fully admitting in her journal that she wanted Samuel Sargeant to be her best friend. Since then her commitment to bettering herself was exploring her flaws in her notebook. But she’d overlooked her hope as a weakness; she wanted to believe that Nonna and her parents would eventually come around to her writing as both a strong character strength and a fortuitous future career.

They didn’t trust her? She’d never trust them again. She’d never look to her family to understand or accept or support her. She was on her own, she and her fat sandwich.

 

Dream Lake

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DreamLake

Dream Lake, Luray Caverns, Virginia

Traveling is harrowing itself and when it is a long-distance roadtrip that is crammed on the two days of the weekend? Not an idea of fun at all. But there were family obligations to uphold.

Luciana’s Tía Carmela was on her first visit to the United States. She had met her aunt twice when her parents had taken her to España for family visits, but they never stayed there long enough to connect. Now, she did not look forward to sharing her room with her Tía for the duration of two weeks she stayed over. But she had excuses to be busy during the week attending school and spending time with her friends after. She came home late as nine p.m. and listened to her dad talk about the New Jersey hot spots or day trips to New York City and Philadelphia he took his sister to.

Every night was the same. “Carmela, you enjoyed today?” Papá asked after giving the details of the trip to his daughter.

“Mmhm,” she’d respond, lost in her S7 scrolling through the new pictures she’d taken to share on WhatsApp.

When Luciana whispered to her dad how her aunt could afford the latest Android, he shushed her. “We save money.”

It was ironic. Papá had come to Chicago to further his studies when he was a young man and he’d worked very hard to settle in America and build himself a future. He always sent money back to España while he saved money in every manner he could here. But it was why Luciana did not connect with her primos: she did not have her cousins’ latest technological gadgets or frivolous habit of expenditures on food and clothes. Learning from the best, she knew having a grand savings account was better than a large checking.

She discreetly frowned at her Tía Carmela for not showing more gratitude to her brother for all the effort he was making to have her feel at home in this country. Lucky enough to not have to interact too much with her, Luciana went about her daily schedule.

Saturday and Sunday were sacred to Luciana. She was not one to sleep in, but they were her two days she could relax however she pleased before nighttime rolled in on domingo and she had to complete all her procrastinated assignments. But it was worth it.

Then the obligatory weekend arrived. She had promised her parents in exchange for not changing her typical juggle of school and social life during the weekdays, she would travel with them on her days off. She knew it had to be a reasonable distance – her mother had work on Monday just as she had school. When she found out they would be driving to Virginia and spending time in Washington D.C on the way back, just the thought of sitting in the backseat of the car with her aunt for fourteen hours round-trip filled her with dread. What was she going to talk about?!

On her fifteenth birthday she had put her foot down about family excursions for her birthday. Just her and her parents, it’d escalate into paramount disagreements over what activity to do on the trip. A fourth wheel wasn’t going to help.

Nevertheless Luciana packed. She woke up at 4 in the morning and mostly slept in the car. Her parents argued over the directions and  Tía Carmela occasionally nudged her to make a comment about the number of trees next to the highway. Eventually the humdrum of the car replaced the silence between them.

The stretches of the highway were long peppered with few exits. Mamá pulled into Maryland’s Visitor Center upon entering the state. “Bathroom and food! Get everything in and out of your system here!” she declared stepping out of the car. She cast a sidelong look at Tía as if to imply she was incapable. Despite years of not being in touch, she had not forgiven Carmela’s disapproval of her marrying into the family.

Luciana’s father made the effort to point out where the bathrooms were to his sister. “El baño está a la derecha.”

“Talk to me in English,” her aunt hissed and marched to the left. When her mom made no effort to guide Carmela in the right direction, Papá cast a desperate look at Luciana. Understanding, she hurried over to lead her aunt to the right where the bathrooms were.

They met up with Luciana’s parents waiting in line at McDonald’s in the food court. Luciana’s mouth watered; she loved fast food. The greasiness alone made her happy she was young enough not to worry about what it did to her arteries. Her aunt, however, did not share the sentiment.

“McDonald’s? Why are we eating here? We have too many McDonald’s in Espana. I come all the way here to eat McDonald’s!” Her voice was loud and accent strong enough that people stared, and Luciana inched toward her parents.

Her father tried to explain. “We will eat in the car so we can reach our destination quicker.”

“Hermano menor,” Carmela said, the word dripping with the reminder Papá was her younger brother. “That is not the way to eat.”

Mamá nodded. “And this is not the way to travel. But we must all make alojamientos, accommodations, for each other, sí? We do not choose our family, but we choose how we treat them.” The insinuation of her tolerance of Carmela’s behavior left no room for backtalk.

Tía chose not to eat, but nibbled a few chicken nuggets from the box of twenty Luciana shared with her in the backseat of the car. The icy hush contrasted the increasing heat outside as the sun climbed higher into the sky.

By noon, they reached the furthest point of the trip, Luray Caverns, Virginia. Stretching their legs as they got out of the car, the mountain air was tinged with a mineral smell. Around them were little buildings of antique car and toy museums.

“Where is the cavern?” Carmela asked Luciana. She only talked to her now.

“It is underground. Let’s go, we have to get tickets.”

“Tell your Papá gracias.”

Luciana resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Her parents had done the same for years, put her in the middle, until she refused to talk to either of them. She wondered if it ran in the family.

Instead, the temperature was cool and Luciana was glad she’d decided to bring a light cardigan inside with her. They trekked downstairs on narrow steps leading to the heart of the cavern, Mamá then Papá, Luciana then Tía. There was a tour guide, but Luciana was too mesmerized to hear all of her speech.

It was not dank as she’d thought it would be. The stalactites and stalagmites – she could not remember the difference – had created an array of natural wonder including a bridge, hanging fish and Pluto’s ghost.

At each marvel, Carmela asked Luciana to take her picture. Both her aunt and mother did not invite the other in the photo with her. Luciana saw her father’s crestfallen face and wished they could at least pretend. After all, she was acting like she comfortable in the situation.

As if the caverns understood what was needed by the visitors, the path curved upward to the biggest lake inside. Eighteen to twenty inches deep at the center, Luciana thought she would be looking at an extra-large puddle. Instead, she had to look carefully to see the ripples to know water was there. The liquid had created a perfect reflection, as if the hanging calcium salt deposits were actually a little town below. The stillness caused the mirage to have the peaks’ tips touching.

Mamá stood next to Luciana at the railing. “I can’t take my eyes away.”

Carmela walked over to stand next to her sister-in-law. “Magnífico.”  Mamá turned to nod in agreement. In the moment of tranquility in the cave and within her family, Luciana learned the power of beauty. There was hope yet.