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Don’t wake it, the memory too big and rich to swallow, like the soapy tasting gumdrops rolled in sugar we bought on Citroën cab rides to Tehran’s corner shops — dastè râst, dastè chap, turn right, turn left, nearly all of the broken Farsi we could recall. Everywhere, the women in black veils like dark ghosts who came alive when the autumn winds threw open their chadors to expose rock concert T-shirts, Chanel skirts, the wrists laden with gold bangles snapping the cloth closed again, a magic trick almost too quick for our eyes.
I look at her bed and imagine her in her faded nightgown, lying sleepless, a thin arm outstretched to my father’s bed alongside her.
I look at his bed and see his pillows smoothed and propped up, his sheets tucked tight, his blanket folded at the foot.
I planned my outfits each night before performing arts school. If the theme was turquoise, I’d wear every turquoise thing I owned: hand-painted circle skirt, 40s pajama top dotted with sleeping kittens, Lucite earrings embedded with tiny sea horses. If I didn’t have turquoise shoes, I’d spray paint cowboy boots on our front lawn.
One morning the husband came in, alone. He sat by the window and when I came to take his order, his eyes traced my body. I was wearing a black skirt with white socks and I became suddenly aware of my bare knees. He asked my name, and I told him, though some part of me wanted to keep it for myself. He left me a five-dollar tip for a six-dollar breakfast.
A man stops and stares at the water for a long time, looking for something. A while later, he walks away. You see him from a distance. You are sitting, watching, you realize, the man watching the water. Did he find what he was looking for? You decide to approach the water to see if you can find it […]
January 20th, 2000, The Netherlands Believe it or not, nobody objected. Not one of us stood up in the bedroom and said, “Don’t kill him.” Neither did anybody else in the house for that matter, the cleaning lady, the unobtrusive nurse. We all accepted my father’s fate with eyes wide open and mouths shut. Imagine us […]
1. The BECU parking garage with the small set of stairs we ollied down across from the church our fathers made us attend, where the middle-aged pastor whom I loathed and admired had said Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” When the cops pulled in, lights flashing silently, we fled into the rainy […]
On the Aegean coast of Turkey, the sea casts rainbows at olive trees, and mountains stretch eagerly into the open water, creating sheltered coves. My American husband and I arrived in one of these inlets soon after our wedding in Istanbul—though we live in Brooklyn, we were married in Turkey where most of my family […]
The leg juts at an unnatural angle from a mound of dirt in the middle of the rolling hills of Iraqi desert hardpan. We have not slept in some hours. We have been rained on for days. We have not been warm in weeks.
I’m seven or eight and I dig my hand into the wet sand in search for clams. The water on Playa Guacuco is cool, with small waves that crash so consistently, you could count time with them. My sister, one year younger than me, is doing the same thing. She’s wearing a bathing suit with […]
I am eight. The lights of the farm across the road from my home are an archipelago of hovering dots. Moos float disembodied in blackness, startling me. White noise in the dark night. My father works there. The family business, generations old, the farm Upstate. He is inside one of those lights, birthing a calf. […]
Once, as a child, I almost saw a man kill himself. The boys up at the wall looked down at him as he, weeping, put his head on the tracks. I stood back, watching them as they watched him. Or that’s how I remember it, but I also remember his face, so I’m not sure […]
Giant hail, spontaneous combustion. I’m twelve. My mom is annoying, but I love her. I need to keep her safe, so I try to imagine all the ways she could die right now: She could have a seizure and drive into the river. A dog could dart into traffic causing us to swerve into a […]
We drove through Oakland, a desultory meander along the estuary in the warehouse district where the Port boom cranes line up in a string of white horses and the big freighters hug the shore waiting to be relieved of their cargo so they can turn around and get more on the other side of the […]
When I was six, I developed a spiritual disorder. I started believing that someday, I would find a message in a bottle. Over the years, the condition mutated from the gnostic persuasion of a 6-year-old into a belief system more commonly found in those who have seen Jesus in their toast. The conviction broke out […]
Here’s the tradeoff if you’re a male bee.
He looked like that writer Denis Johnson on a bad day.
She pointed out sticks for me to pick up. The sticks needed to be long, but not too long; thick, but not too thick; and straight, without leaves. It was August in England, and although we’d had a fine summer, it had been raining all day and the sticks were muddy. I picked them up without complaining. My daughter didn’t speak much, even though the idea that we should recreate the US cover of my novel had been her suggestion. Still, I was happy to be spending time with her, because she is seventeen and I don’t get to do that very often any more.
When all the other girls in our class were fawning over Justin Timberlake and Nick Carter, we were in love with a crocodile hunter.
My brother turns to me. He says: I want to go home, but I don’t know where that is. I say to him, so do I. In time, I’ll repeat that line to him. He’ll agree, and we’ll order another round. Neither of us lives on the street. He lives in an apartment. I doubled […]
I owe my love of literature to growing up closeted in a culture of homophobia. While other teenage boys pursued girls, and even caught a few, I found everything I needed on the printed page.
Gary and I were going to make love. For several weeks, I planned to linger after the bell rang with the excuse of needing help with homework. Once my classmates filtered out, I’d saunter up to his desk just as he was preparing to score our worksheets on the multiplication tables. As his back tensed […]
Imagine the quintessential fresh-from-the-land Midwestern bounty of my Mennonite childhood and you might also imagine the quintessential spread this sort of landscape suggests.
My mom did most of the cooking—fried chicken, meatloaf, pot roast—but my dad fed me.
Excerpts from “The Other Side” Coming from Tin House Books July 2014