I wake up rubbing my eyes, angrily thinking what abomination early rising truly is and if I ever came across that person I’d banish them to Iceland during the months when the sun doesn’t set for eighteen hours. Must be a man, I seethe inwardly, settling on my one reason for all calamities that have befallen mankind since the Big Bang. It has to be a man, I convince myself, as my mom slams more pots in the kitchen and the kettle whistles feebly in protest to being put to work so early in the morning.
My countenance clears up considerably as I peer at my teenage face in the mirror and don’t see the zit staring back at me. This morning is already starting to look up, despite early rising and all.
My mom, a thin woman with enviable stock of manic energy when she is cooking, slaps two pancakes on my plate and shoves a glass of juice towards me.
“Is it orange?” I ask, casually. It helps to engage your parents in mundane things so they don’t complain later how you never talk to them.
“Does it look orange?” She counters, reminding me why I hate her generation so much. They can’t ever be not defensive. They can’t answer respectfully ever.
I know today I need her to drive me to school as I’m not going to get on the bus and mess my hair so decide to reserve this argument for another day. She turns to my brother and commandeers him,
“Eat or I’ll throw it out”.
He grimaces. A tear is threatening to leave his left eye. I try to act cool and distant but he’s only five. When he was born, I was thrilled to find out that I had a sibling after about ten years of doing this thing solo. I was dreadfully reminded, at the same time, of how my parents were potentially still having sex. The thought can turn me off on the best of days.
“Boys don’t cry”, I advise gently, “Toughen up. It’s just a pancake”.
“I don’t like it”, He whispers, tears flowing freely down his cheeks now, “I asked for a waffle”.
Waffle? I swirl my juice in its glass. What an absurd food to introduce to our repertoire of questionable breakfast foods. It’s like a relative of the donut. Is the donut breakfast or dessert? Is it sweet or savory? Is it related to the bagel or is it its own class? I know that if you add cheese to a bagel, you can go from being a Brooklyn resident to being someone who works at the Wall Street. Or if you get your donut from Dunkin’ Donuts but insist on the coffee from Starbucks being the only one that hits the right spot then you could be the next best thing like Marc Zuckerberg. It’s all about what you eat for breakfast. Everything else follows from there.
Before my mom can make a dash back to her room I stand up and call,
“Mom! Can you please drop me off today?”
She turns around, never one to just dutifully say, “Yes, dear. Why not?”
I feel her eyes on my push-up bra and how my breasts have grown to luscious proportions overnight. I can tell that she knows. All’s fair in love and war, I justify my attempt at deception. It’s just so my personality can get noticed. Ironically, my personality comes so many miles behind my breasts, always trying to catch up, that all male attention that I have ever had a chance at has started and ended at my nonexistent breasts.
Until…. The push-up bra came to support me.
For some reason, she averts her gaze and asks, nonchalant, like she has no clue what being in love means,
“You’re very dressed. Something special at school today?”
I’m always so doubted by my own family that I don’t miss a beat anymore.
“It’s cotillion day”.
She frowns. Cotillion, to a Muslim mom who still has regular Iftar and Eid parties, is like heresy. She can’t see me dancing, particularly like those French women.
“Didn’t know you enrolled in that”, She says evenly, grabbing her car keys and leading the way.
I notice her measured tone. Part of being a mom is being with tons of situational awareness like a quarterback. Another part of it is being cool with all situations.
I shrug my shoulders noncommittally. It doesn’t always help to keep prolonging a conversation.
I flip my phone open. A text message from my best friend is winking at me,
“We are going to be at the basketball courts”.
Twenty minutes later I’m walking to the basketball courts.
As soon as I get there and make myself comfortable, all the while careful to not make eye contact with him, I hear one of my friends rattling off the latest gossip. I’m not interested but because some of it is about him, I listen with some attention.
Finally he looks at me. We make eye contact. The world stops. To find him, the only Muslim boy in this suburban American school, is like a miracle of the highest order. I had always thought I’d go through high school without dating or kissing. He looks like he has the same conundrum. The commonality of our misfortunes isn’t lost on me but also, suddenly, doesn’t look so bleak either.
It’s all over in a second. A blonde girl with pigtails blurs my field of vision. She hurls herself on him and they engage in a deep,passionate kiss that lasts for what seems like hours. They finally disengage themselves, while he’s still holding her, his dark hair and skin a stark contrast to her blonde hair and even blonder skin. The push-up bra is suffocating me.
The rest of the day is the same old drill except there’s no cotillion because that was a lie. My breasts remain small and my esteem has taken its beating for the day.
I step out of the building and my mom is waiting for me. I had thought I’d take the bus but maybe she was in the area.
“Thanks”, I say as I get in, nodding at my little brother as he slurps on his slushee.
“How was your day?” She asks, reminding me that riding with her came with the inherent hazard of making small talk and acting like I was into her so much.
I shrug my shoulders and make a sound that should tell her that my day was okay and I’m not in the mood to talk simultaneously.
“Is cotillion something you want to do?” She asks again.
“I gave it up”, The only thing worse than lying is covering up the lie.
“Good”, She nods her approval and turns to my brother, “Is it so yummilicious?”
He nods enthusiastically and leans over to me conspiratorially,
“I got chicken nuggets too”.
What the hell! Why is he talking to me like we are siblings or something?
But maybe, when you’re five, chicken nuggets is a big deal. This is another pyramid of achievements that we can build upon rather quickly. Next would be pizza at seven, then pasta at ten, then Mexican food at twelve and finally, when you’re sixteen, you hate everything. Nothing tastes good. Nothing feels good.
It’s my left eye that’s burning now. Oh great! Turns out I am related to my brother.
I get down at the driveway, directing my mom on how to parallel park with my dad’s Camaro. Her Toyota Corolla seamlessly gets in and shyly stands next to his beast of a car. I wonder why he’s home so early.
He opens the laundry room door and welcomes us in. He’s smiling and that’s usually a good sign. Until the conversation begins. Dreading his knack for asking uncomfortable questions, I make a beeline for my room.
By the time I have cried my eyes out over lost love there’s another zit on my chin. Stress zits! What else is new?
I sit down at the table, my eyes on the food, my ears blocking the questions that my parents fire at me every few minutes. My mom has made her famous biryani so I’m supposed to enjoy it. Nothing tastes good. Maybe if I was blonde and white! There’s no push-up bra for that. It won’t happen. Even if I dyed my hair, I’d be like one of those women who go through “identity phases”. No one will take me seriously.
“Why’re you not eating?” My dad asks, concerned as always, wondering where he went wrong with raising a teenager.
I decide to answer this by loading my plate with some more biryani.
“Honey!” My mom takes something back from my plate, “Take this”, She puts something back in my plate. I know what happened. I dare not register it. My problems at school are so much bigger than my mom swapping out a chicken leg for a chicken neck that the frivolity of it could eat up my whole life.
My brother looks at me with triumph in his eyes,
“I got the leg you took”, He sing-songs, “Mom gave it to me.” Then he adds for extra effect, “Cuz I’m her favorite”.
She smiles at him indulgently before returning to her plate.
“Can I be excused now?” I ask politely. “I’ve had enough”.
“What is it?” She narrows her eyes at me, “You’re upset because I gave something to a child. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m not upset”, I sigh, “I have homework”.
“What’s the homework about, honey?” My dad, the ever-involved peripheral parent asks as he flips channels on the TV.
I mumble something about long division. He doesn’t catch it but smiles benevolently anyway.
I drag my feet upstairs. I turn on the radio. Bryan Adams is singing about the Summer of 69.
“Was he a brown Muslim girl in the summer of 69?” I think with mounting bewilderment.
I finally give up all hopes of this evening going my way and sleep. Again. I have a dream. A wet dream. Finally! I smile happily as I turn. One thing that a white man enjoyed in the summer of 69 is mine to claim too tonight. I sleep peacefully. Maybe Marxism will help me achieve some greatness after all. Slowly but surely. It only took…… I doze off again.
I wake up the next day, the sun bright in my eyes, my insides cursing the powers that be, a slight tension in my body probably from losing all prospects of dating and hooking up the halal way yesterday.
I traipse down the stairs. I sit at the table. I remind my brother he’s a five-year old delinquent. Business as usual!