Monday, August 27, 2007

New York, New York

Finally – I’m going back…plane ticket in hand, it’s official. It’s been precisely 12 years since I last stepped 16-year-old, shaved head, foot in the big apple. That was such a dramatic time in my life I can barely bring myself to share it. Let’s say this, I had scabies, no money, way too much heart, and I didn’t fit in anywhere in the whole wide world. I thought I’d give New York a try, why not. 6 months later it was sensory-overload, nervous-breakdown city for me. I got bussed out by nearby family members and transported across the country though a network of an extremely concerned uncle, sister, grandmother and mother. Four months after my breakdown I landed right back in Jacksonville Florida (where I had left from) and decided not to ever go back until I was good and ready to face it like an adult.

That time has come – all of a sudden, with an invitation and the comfort of a childhood, turned adult-life friend.

I suspect I will love the city, try to drink it and meld right into it’s overwhelming, enormous, everything-all-at-once-and-everywhere pace. I look forward to riding the subway again and visiting the places I used to live and work at that fragile age of 16 years old.

At the time I landed an under the table job in a fast food chicken joint. The owner constantly hit on me and my co-workers once taped a sign to my back that read “I am stupid”. I found the sign on the back of my tee-shirt as I was changing in the bathroom after a shift. Enraged, I exploded from the bathroom, shirt half on, shaking and wagging the sign in their surprised faces. My wrinkle free eyes were streaming hot tears of indignation and my whole world was echoing with the sounds of my betrayed and embarrassed heart bursting into a million pieces.

They, of course, denied that they had posted the sign on me and I think felt somewhat bad about the whole situation. I threatened them all, defended myself and reminded them that I worked there because I was 16, had a southern accent, no work experience and still had my whole life ahead of me to actually fulfill my dreams. They stared in stunned silence through late 20, early 30 year old, immigrant eyes. Eyes that relied on my innocent and na├»ve disposition to see their own world as better than someone else’s, anyone else’s life.

I walked out of that chicken joint that evening making the first of many promises I have made to myself since; a promise to succeed, to prove them wrong. I cried and cried, running down the street in a blind fury. My young soul taking in my first lesson on how cruel people can be.

Years later in my first graduate level sociolinguistics class, I revisited that episode while internally contemplating the effect a southern accent can have on one’s reception outside of the southern united states. It turns out that moment was a defining lesson in my life that I would never trade in or change into something that didn’t happen.

I have often revisited it, as my “well, at least it wasn’t that bad" example or my “this is what it would feel like to work without papers in this country” example. Anyway I slice it that Belizean woman, Panamanian sidekick and Egyptian owner’s son taught me so much about myself, I really owe them a thank you for it. Despicable as they may be for participating in such a thing, they helped me along the way. yes, their way similar to the "kick in the head" way of teaching someone a lesson, but never the less, I grew from it. And have never wanted to be them, anything like them, or anyone but myself since then.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Electric Burner

Sometimes I think I could have stayed – if it were only for an electric burner. For around 45 U.S. dollars, 35 Euros or 227 French francs– I could have made it through the first year of my contract. I could have brought my produce back to my ‘petite chambre’ in my market bag. I would have stored it on the windowsill in lieu of an icebox in the winter, spring and fall.

I have always known this about the situation. Oh pity be to the languid afternoons and late night sessions over coffee on the electric burner at her place. Oh how I longed for the mini-fridge and food preparation space. Those extra few inches; the difference between here now and there now. My difference, my grave mistake, “Ce n’est pas grave” or as it would come out – “c’est pas grave” it’s not grave – oh yes it was.
The lack of ability to prepare my own meals was the sentence to damnation for my pretty little room in the 16th. I had to leave the family – I had to branch out on my own.

When she went to Tahiti, leaving me the keys to her French business major boyfriend’s home, the first thing I did was buy a whole chicken, with the skin still on, and baste it in a honey-dijon concoction. I roasted that chicken in the precious and practical counter top toaster oven at his place. It was superb.
That meal currently marks, for me, the pinnacle of my self created Parisian homey nights.

I have always been that kind of girl. Without the ability to live in it, cook in it, make coffee and do jumping jacks in it – I can’t be in it – I can’t thrive in it.

Even later, when he put me up in his friend’s place, the studio with the cold-water bath basin in the kitchen, the dishes were too tucked away for me to actually cook on them; I ate left over-take out from the Ethiopian restaurant he worked in.

She came over once. We photographed ourselves, wide eyed, posing with a baseball bat we found in the closet. I know that I will never forget what it felt like to be in my life that afternoon.

It is true that it is useless now to do the what-ifs, when-ifs of the electric burner. Obviously I didn’t try hard enough or it wasn’t meant to be…no, I didn’t try hard enough.

I knew it then – that is the part I never say out loud.

I went after my Parisian life by leaving Paris, so I could do it better. Foolish foolish girl I was at 22. With my clearly distorted notions of what I could actually accomplish, my compulsive belief that I would find my way back. No matter what.

That stupid, ill-planned plane ride home landed me here – smack dab in the middle of my life. My college degree, my ulcer, my chub, my family, my dog, my lover, my neighborhood’s sorry excuse for an open-air market.

My my my – this tirade begs the question, “would I trade it all?” Do I wish stayed? Should I have seen it out, waited it out, worked on my French, met the boy there, gotten a new dog, forged new bonds with strangers that I would now refer to as my family?

The truth is…I would…I would have, if I could have – but I couldn’t. I guess a part of me still can’t…thus is my disorder. Thus is my confliction, confusion and dissatisfaction. Thus I teeter between the now and then, letting whichever mood I’m in dictate my self esteem and personal summary of the events in my life. So YES – tonight YES – I would trade every second of this, for a little electric burner.