Monday, 24 September 2012

It's not that I don't have anything to say. It's that I'm too bloody exhausted to look at the computer screen and type.

I did this to myself with specific intention.I've been intimately involved with reverse-culture shock off and on for two decades now. I know better than having hours to fill. I know better than ten-minute breaks from the busy. I know better than sitting in stand-still traffic. I know how to railroad my mind away from reality.

I'd forgotten though that seven-years away make for culture shock. Seven years away, and I chose to return to a part of the country I thought only existed in American fairy stories. My cultural memory is useless, almost as useless as American double sheets on an English bed. I made plans to be run off my feet until I remembered what America is like. Turns out, I should have planned for the sleeping that accompanies the exploration of a new homeland.

And so it is that I'm trying to make a pattern: teach, mark, nephew, mark, teach, mark, sleep, lather rinse, repeat. Come New Year there may be more news.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

First Comes the Thunder

When it rains here, the air remains stolid--as unmovable as my mother's political leanings, as heavy as our dwindling numbers on my heart. The rain here is accompanied by the kind of thunder that I once thought was surely the anger of an Old Testament god and the drops the blood of his legions. The rain here, I am told, is not of its own volition but the moods of ocean, rivers, and bay. I am told that the rain is not the rain but a symptom of a collusion of this land and this water. There is a proper name for everything no matter where your feet touch the earth.

Here the rain is not the rain. It is the storm.

I am to check the basement to be sure the pump is working. To make sure the storm has not attempted to retake its floodplain. To be sure the house built on sand remains upright. I am to remind the pump of its one purpose--to eludicate the earth. Moreover, when the rain has gone for days and days, I am to fit the second pump before encouraging the water back out to the road.

And I can count my gratitude like this: It has not rained for more than two days in a row here. I am no longer a waitress. I still remember my subject. Mangos are large and plentiful and fresh figs easily picked. I know the taste of a fresh fig. I do not break bread alone. And I can count fewer days than books my eyes have finished. And I am smart enough to learn to unpick the convoluted road between here and next year.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

I Love You

I say, "Go wee, please."
He says, "Aunt Rachael says, 'Go wee, please.'"
I say, "Go potty, please."
He says, "My underwear are stuck. They're too sweaty."
I say, "Of course they are."

I say, "The end."
I say, "Now is the time for sleeping."
He says, "You can go away now."
I say, "Sweet dreams."

I say, "I need to do some work."
He says, "Let's make a sandboat."
I say, "Just as soon as I finish my work."
He says, "Let's play in the tent."
I say, "Just as soon as I finish my work."
He says, "Will you read a story with me."
I say, "Do you feel that I'm not paying enough attention to you?"
He says, "Yes. Let's make a sandboat."

He says, "I would like some raisin bread with honey."
I say, "Pah pah pah pah."
He says, "Please."
I say, "Please, will you sit at the table while you eat that."
He says, "I like walking around."

I say, "I love you."
He says, "I don't love you."
I say, "You are not obliged to love anybody."
He says, "Let's make a sandboat."
I say, "Which blanket shall we use?"

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Things I'm Leaving

One pair Alaska gloves. Worn zero winters here. One-quarter kilo freed up for my favorite pillow.
One brown leather briefcase, shed for the sake of the cuddly lobster.
Flipflops. Stained white work shirt. One bottle Marmite. A hammer, screwdrivers, box cutter, and bungee cords. I'm told they sell them in America. A grammar reference. Two copies of a PhD thesis, to make room for my parent's wedding photos, great aunt's 1912 diary, and one Joy of Cooking. A frying pan, soup urn, American cup measures, and the book that taught me how to fry an egg, so that I can have custard creams, pickled walnuts, and chocolate buttons on arrival in Norfolk. Nine pairs socks, 12 pairs underwear, three bottles of shampoo, four t-shirts, and a bottle of sky vodka to fit in one duvet, three blankets, and a plaster-of-paris casting of my left hand. 

And still, I don't have any idea what made it into the suitcases. I will see you in Norfolk.

Rattlers are not the Only Snakes: 3

Next spring, when the country is subdued from all that bitter cold of winter, you'll hear MPs throwing blame from their green leather seats at those men and woman who sit across the aisle. And I'll be in Virgina or California or Illinois or New Zealand or China or some boat somewhere in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Where I won't be is here.

Still those MPs will be talking about me when they admit that no one really knows how many folks are illegally in the country. They'll be talking about me, when they admit that no one is really certain how many students over-stayed their visas, and me when they notice that no one checks to see who has gone over the border, and me when they tell their constituents that they're doing something about the immigrants--they won't mention that they're doing nothing different than the last government.

And I mention this because I want Don Foster, 'my' MP to note that I am leaving tomorrow morning a full 38 days before my visa expires. I am going and the theoretical numbers of immigrants over-staying visas are just that, theoretical. I suspect that it is convenient to let the public believe that all immigrants are here to take advantage of the system.

I say this because as the date of my departure has come increasingly closer, I have heard too many times to count that:

1. I should just get married. Because apparently this is an acceptable way for a white American to remain in the country but not an acceptable way for a desperate woman with a thick accent to remain.

2. That I'm the right kind of immigrant. The right wing is on the rise in the world, and I know this because people I once respected are happy to tell me that I am the 'right' kind of migrant. They are happy to share their once secretly harbored prejudices.

 3. That all those immigrants over-staying their visas are what's wrong with this country. But of course those are impossible numbers to confirm or deny. No one will be checking me out of the country in the morning.

I desperately want to remain here. And I, like many others, am following the rules and leaving in the morning.

Monday, 27 February 2012

About My Neck: Two

When I was five we lived in a duplex. There was chartreuse carpet on the living room floors and pears on kitchen wallpaper. The landlady, a Mrs. Morningstar,  lived in the top floor of the other half of the duplex. She rented out the bottom of half. A lady snake lived under our back stoop. Across the street, two sisters added solar panels to their roof, and down the road, a woman named Fritzi built dioramas inside styrofoam Big Mac containers. I still thought that everyone had sisters who came over on the weekends, that the mild grade in our driveway was a giant hill, and that if I asked the boy down the road to be my boyfriend I'd have to kiss him and marry him.

I wasn't sure I was ready to make that kind of commitment.

I went to afternoon kindergarten. I had the whole morning to play with that boy or to hop off the stoop or to run my fingers across Holly Hobby's face on my pillowcase. Before going to school, I had cheese sandwiches and tomato. Or maybe that just happened once, and it is all I can remember. School had monkey bars, an elephant slide, and part of the child-kidnapping hysteria that was engulfing America. 

Each night my mother checked that the windows were closed, and my father locked the doors. Mostly I dreamed about Muppet-like monsters driving around in wooden racing cars. They never had good intentions. When I woke desperate to urinate, I had to hold my breath so the witch who occupied the front room wouldn't reach out and grab me.

And so, even in sleep, I must have been quite relieved to find myself sitting in my yellow pajamas on the our front stoop--the stoop that wasn't occupied by a snake--in broad daylight with no sign of racing cars or Muppets. I knew that Mom was in the kitchen and any minute she'd tell me to it was time to shut the door and go to bed.

I wasn't surprised to see the Easter Bunny wandering down the street, complete with mesh mouth and colorful suit vest. I knew he wasn't the real Easter Rabbit because the real Easter Rabbit couldn't leave the mall. And I knew, because I'd been told, that I should run inside and lock the door. But my legs had gone numb, and he was half-way up the driveway. I knew, because I'd been told, that I should scream for my mother, but the rabbit had raised his white-mitten hand to his lips. With that gesture, he'd taken away my voice. I knew that it was inevitable, that he'd planned on taking me, and by not running or screaming I'd been complicit in my own undoing. Still I tried to find more screaming voice. The rabbit took his gun and shot me in the right shoulder. I don't remember waking up, only that feeling that I was being suffocated and couldn't unfreeze enough to fight.

I still sometimes dream that I'm sitting on the front stoop in my yellow nightgown waiting for the inevitable. I always know that it's the shock of the thing that will keep me from running. But I have never since dreamed the Easter Rabbit coming up our driveway.

It's the anticipation that most of my nightmares are made of, the knowledge of what will happen if I let my guard down.

I expect that's why I don't worry so much about the rattlesnake simply biting me. It's the length of time, the enforced patience of waiting for her to climb my body, before she struck my neck. It's the knowledge that my hands, like my voice, would lose all usefulness and fail to act before the snake truly stuck.

There are six whole months before September 1st, and I am trying hard to keep my wits about me. I'm trying hard to see more that an arrival in the US without job, without healthcare, without savings. I am trying hard to remember to shake off the snake rather than, in my own inaction, offering it my neck.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

About the Serpent: One

There must have been a sale at Sears.

September is whispering at my heels. Not so much a dog as a great rattle snake, threatening to work its way up to my throat before biting. I'm not sure why it is the idea of  bite to throat that I find so horrifying.

I've lived my life in fear of rattlers--those and bull snakes. They're both fears learned while tracing my fingers through the hunter-green patterns that wound their way--yes, like serpents--through the chartreuse carpet of my first ten years. The carpet was the same chartreuse carpet all writers in their mid-thirties will tell you about. It must have been a Sears' special mid-1977 or so. Or maybe I still have the mistaken thinking of all those years ago, the belief that the world began with me.

Can of beer in his left hand and a cigarette burning down in the ashtray, my dad used talk about the rattlers he'd killed while guiding rich folks about on horseback or the ones he'd found making babies in the brush. My once-rich-folk mother could tell more than a few stories of her own. Add to that the stories of three sisters and a slew of great aunts and the one uncle, and my fear of all snakes met and bred a whole new monster in my small mind.

I revered all those grown-up folks who knew how not to get bitten.

I know it's the sort of pissing contest folks from the Great Plains engage in. In Alaska, it was how nearly the moose had crushed my car or how low the thermostat sat. In Oregon, it was the number of sunless days one had lived through.Here it's the drought of '76 when this small island saw so little rain, or for those in their mid-thirties, the hurricane in the Channel.

The first time I saw a snake, any snake, we were living out in Lakewood in the house on Twenty-Fifth Place. I was big enough to sit out in the backyard on the concrete stoop by myself; though, I wasn't so big that my mother was taken with telling me to pick one, in or out. She wasn't watching me out the kitchen window that day. I'm sure of it because I can still taste the grapevine I was holding in between my molars and my left cheek. I hopped up and down those three steps, two feet at a time. And there she was, a snake as long as my own chubby arm, and moving as fast as her body would take her. And now I think, of all things under the sun, why was she in such a hurry to get through the cracked cement and under the steps. Surely, she wouldn't have headed for the piece of ground on which I was making an unseemly racket. That was the last time that I went down those steps without trepidation.

I learned to leap from the bottom step and well over the crack in the pavement. This despite my mother's reassurance that garter snakes were good: they ate mice, her own deepest fear.  I hadn't even started school, but I was sure my mother was wrong about the snake, and sure she was right about the god I prayed would keep me from harm each time I leapt across the crevice.

I wonder when it is that we stop believing our parents, and start making truths out of our own fairy stories.
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