August 8, 2016

Passenger (Nonfiction)

This is my car, madam, wherever you wish to go. Backpack, passport, journal, hiking boots, antibiotics, and dollars: to you, I was these, from Delhi to Agra. After the Taj, you took me to a nearby restaurant for tourists like me. Rich girl, Westerner. You sat across from me, watching me order food with your chin on your hands. You refused to order, so I shared my meal, which you didn’t refuse. The manipulation wasn’t subtle, but I admired the technique.
I was nearly engaged to an American. You were betrothed to an Indian girl since her family promised her years ago. We passed aromatic dishes in silver bowls between us, hardly talking, but for a nod, a glance, head gestures I’d learned from tuk tuk drivers and the hostel’s proprietor. When I paid the bill, you flitted your eyelids and smiled, palms together. Thank you! Wifey! and you opened the back door for me, closed it after I sidled into the car, feet last.
On the day we got to Pushkar, it was my birthday, an already dripping hot morning. You dropped me off at the temple, and, having explored the dozens of its ancient rooms, found a path that wound up to the fortress on the hill. A young man in a tunic and jeans asked me if I wanted a ride up on his motorcycle. He offered no helmet, and I didn’t care. Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me. He gave me his card, in case I needed anything in Delhi when I returned from the north. When I told you this on the ride back toward my hostel, you were furious. I was only to trust you, only to ride with you.
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August 3, 2016

Eight Minutes, Thirteen Seconds

One child, our oldest, our daughter, is on the baseball field, our two younger boys are at the adjacent playground: one asks to go to the bathroom. I attempt to lure the youngest, the three-year-old, from the monkey bars to come too, but he is adamant to stay, and the other boy is holding his knees together and cupping his groin. It’s okay, my friend says, I got him, I can watch him. She is watching her young daughter, too, and in this moment, I just want to my five-year-old to make it to the bathroom to avoid an accident.
It is blazingly sunny, one of the first hot days of summer. The darkness of the bathroom is suddenly chilling. I wait outside the stall in case he needs help re-fastening his baseball pants. Mom, he says to me and anyone else in the bathroom, do you know that I had two popsicles after the game? One was blue and one was yellow, so wouldn’t that make green in my tummy? His voices echoes off the tile walls. We can hardly hear the screaming, yelling, cheering of the many baseball games in the park.
There is no soap to wash with, and I rinse his hands for him because he can’t reach the faucet. I rinse his hot, dusty face, and splash water around his mouth where the green popsicle residue seems permanent. I splash water on my neck and arms to cool off.
When we exit, we are strolling leisurely, and the sun feels so good on my face. It isn’t until we’re just feet from the playground when I see my friend waving her arms, frantic, yelling I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, and there’s no sign of our small, blonde child—I looked away for a second and he was gone—usually it’s his hair we see first, duck fluff I call it, I’m scanning the playground the parking lot the ball fields the playground my friend’s distressed face, she’s running through cars in the parking lot and looking under them, and I call 9-1-1.
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June 1, 2016

Summer Jobs & Teens: Watch Your Back

Yesterday, our next door neighbor, who has just finished her first year in college, texted me: she asked if she could list me as a reference for a summer job. I enthusiastically told her that she should, and asked her what kind of work she would be looking for. She texted back that she is hoping to get a job at a coffee shop, but that she'd "pretty much take anything."

This is an open letter to her, but really, to myself, and all parents who are nudging their teens into working back-breaking jobs this summer. 
source: SILOK.webarchive

Dear Young People On The Cusp of Your 20s,

Welcome home from your first or second year of college! Your parents have had a taste of what it's like with you out of the house for more than a month away at summer camp, and frankly, they like it. They've had plenty more time to focus on your other siblings or--miraculously--themselves, and since they're eyeing this summer as an opportunity for you to begin building your resume and making a little bank, they're going to suggest or demand that you get a job this summer. 

That's not a bad thing. Working is great: it's a means, however small, toward your independence, when one day you will realize that it is not your parents' job to financially support you any longer (even though some will, and do, and that is really really nice of them).

But I'm here to offer you some wisdom that it took a couple of decades to cultivate. 

Do NOT get a job that hurts.

When I was 19, and home from my first year away at college, my parents had already found me a job working for their friends, a husband and wife, who owned a law firm. It paid a little more than minimum wage, and wasn't a far commute--just the next town over. I didn't put up much of an argument: it didn't sound thrilling, but I consented. 

I thought that maybe I'd shuffle or file some papers, do errand work--which I did. And then, one week into working at this firm, the family friends/firm owners told me that I'd be helping them with a major project. 

This involved moving an entire warehouse of boxes and boxes and boxes of files of paperwork to another location, from one part of the city to another. I'd be working with a woman named Mary. 

Again, it didn't sound too bad, and at least I'd be getting to drive around a few times a day. So again, I consented. 

Overhead lifting, throwing boxes on to a cart, carrying them (!) to my car in a parking lot, hoisting these boxes in the trunk, lifting them out of the trunk and onto a lift and then on to other shelves. . . you get the idea. Mary and I were dirty, head to toe, at the end of those days: sweaty, covered in dust and grime, and I will never forget how creepy those old warehouses were. All Mary and I had to keep us company was a transistor radio.

Once in a while, I'd remark that I'd felt a little give in my back, and Mary would yell, "C'mon! Get tough!" What I thought was tough was staying quiet, telling myself how lucky I was to be going back to college, when that was not at all in Mary's plan. Mary would say things like "You're going to have great muscles this summer," and "Just think of all the exercise we're getting." Those twinges in my back had a great way of convincing me that I was better off hauling boxes than lazing around a store, getting paid to hang over a counter. Mary had two kids. She didn't go to college. I counted my blessings and recognized my privilege and shut up about how much lugging boxes hurt.

What I didn't realize, at 19, was the toll that lifting hundreds of boxes of files (most of these weighed over thirty pounds) would have on my body later. 

When late August rolled around, I went back to school. I moved into my own dorm room, and I couldn't have been happier to be back. Until one night when I went to pull on my pajama bottoms. And my back gave out. 

I couldn't move without screaming. I couldn't walk. The young women on my floor had to practically carry me to my bed, where I would lay for another week. 

I missed a week's worth of classes; I had to withdraw from two of them and make up that credit later.

Little did I know that I'd be suffering that kind of pain for the rest of my life.

Back pain so severe that I'd be flat in bed for at least a week--once a year. It has been almost 25 years of doctor's appointments, shots, pain meds, ice packs, heat packs, physical therapy. 

Back pain so severe that I'd have to limp, barefoot, as a bridesmaid in one of my best friend's weddings--because wearing the red heels that matched the dress was too excruciating to bear. 

Back pain through three pregnancies that sometimes made feeling the baby move unbearable. 

Back pain through parenting, when I can't pick up my children. Can't go to work. Can't walk. 

Young people, recognize that you'll need the body you have, G-d willing, for years to come. Some of us, yes, will do manual labor for a living because that's what calls to us, or that's the lot we find ourselves in. but if you can avoid it, do. As I write this, I've missed two days of work--for which I will not be paid, because they follow a three-day weekend--and am on prescription pain medication. I could not move out of bed this morning without yelping and gasping for air, like someone had smacked me with a 4x4 in the back, and I couldn't lift the toilet seat--I had to use my foot to do that. 

Save your bodies. You only get one. Listen to it.