Lynn Sheikh Moussa
I would like to think that my grandmother is an immensely patient woman. For much of my time with her, with amounts to almost all of my childhood, she has chosen me nothing but a calm, collected appeal. That is, until I set foot in the kitchen.
To her, there are three absolute untouchable things in her life: Her children, her grandchildren, and the order she sets and maintains in every aspect of her life. If I come too close to her cooking station, she will make sure to reveal to me every dark, cynical aspect there is to her. In fear and most certainly with much respect, I recede a few steps and head back into my sitting room.
On the days where my mother and father were at work, this was what I did mainly. In the mornings, she’d turn on the cartoons for me as she scooped up cereal with steaming hot milk. I was attentive and under control during these first few hours, but at the time when my least favourite shows I came on, I found it necessary to occupy myself with other things.
I knew me spiralling out of control bothered her, but I felt it necessary early on to prove myself in life. I felt unnoticed and hushed away, and my mind had so many bold statements running through it my physical body felt it necessary to express something, even if it wasn’t necessarily what I was thinking.
I would stand on the balcony and dream of taking a long walk by myself to the store just downstairs. I could easily do this, with the help of a nanny, but I wanted to do it by myself. If I didn’t get to go, my dreams would vividly picture the crushing feeling of jumping down from my grandmother’s fourth floor apartment down. I never made it to the shop in my dream, because the rush of falling and the complexities of landings jolted me awake. This was how my fear of heights and falling first started.
As my grandmother beckoned my aunt to take me out of the kitchen and away from the genius she was cooking up, I would stumble into the halls and loose myself on the way to the bedroom. I ended up in grandmother’s. I found it to be prettier, more intimidating, and even as a child, I thought of growing up and sleeping in it one day. I pictured myself in long white robes, awakening to the smell of tea.
I stood in the mirror and intently questioned my features. I didn’t question their beauty per se, but their form. I thought of how they came to be or for what exact reason. I wondered why our features were 3D and how inside, there was something that could think, talk, feel. I could not understand why I was an existing entity, and what would become of me if I no longer existed. What did people think of me? Why did I think of people?
My grandmother should have let me stay in the kitchen. I wouldn’t think as much in the kitchen. My aunt plays in the piano at the Eastern extremity of the house. While the room is tucked away under folds of rustic furniture and vintage couches, the sound is very distinct. You can hear fingers sway above the keys, touching each one gently with every bob of her head. Sometimes she’ll subconsciously sway to the sound, indulging in her favorite past-time before she returns to indulge in the sound of her toddler’s screams.
She’s taken care of five children, only one of which is hers. My cousins have now grown past their years of math tutoring and potty training, and she thought the job had ended when the third middle child graduated from college. It didn’t.
That was around the time my mom had me. My aunt thought she had enough yelling and fighting to last her for a lifetime, and didn’t intend on having a child just yet, but then I came along and she couldn’t refuse. She was unable to refuse.
My mother never knew how to care for herself, so caring for a child proved to be quite difficult. She was unaware of the perils of motherhood and had yet to learn how to put a baby to sleep, so the childrearing load fell on my grandmother’s and aunt’s shoulders.
They fed me, bathed me, and taught me how to walk before anyone even considered putting a baby on two legs. I spent most of my childhood at my grandmother’s house rather than mine, and for the first few years of life, this drew lots of confusion. I wondered why we left at night to sleep, because it felt more appropriate to fall asleep in the warmth of my grandmother’s lap than in the coldness of my bed. At night I would lay and think of how the long walls at grandmother’s house seemed more welcoming than those in my room. The gigantic dressers that panned her walls seemed like undiscovered houses for me, while my own closet felt like a cave that would consume me. The safety of my grandmother’s frail hands were more welcoming than that of my own mother’s because they were more familiar, gentle, and caring. They carried me from bath to bed and I knew them to be the safest hands that will ever hold me.
While I knew this to be true and while I felt it to be much more comforting for me to stay at my grandmother’s than my own house, it was impossible.
My parents owned an apartment, so we had to live in it. Yet that did not prevent me from enjoying and savoring every minute I got to spent in my grandmother’s house. It was everyone’s sanctuary, since the days of the civil war. My mother hid here, my cousins spent their summers here, and I was growing here. So while my mother was off at work, trying to keep a household she feared would die afloat, I spent my days with my aunt and grandmother, and we three loved every minute of it.
My aunt taught me how to press a few keys on her aged piano, and my grandmother fed me raw meat long before my stomach could handle it. It was blissful. My preschool days are a blur, but I remember coming home with the distinctive feeling of satisfaction and happiness. My primary school years proved otherwise. I cried on the first day of school drop-off, and thought myself strong enough to stand in front of my dad and push him off. My dad just kept walking and my feet slid across the pavement before I almost tipped over. He grabbed me from my armpits and carried me on his side. I cannot remember what he exactly said to me, but I knew it gave me goose-bumps. It frightened me, as he always has.
The first few days were rough. My school principal saw me cry my eyes out so much she took me in to her office one day to inquire the reason.
“Why are you always crying so much?” she asked.
I couldn’t answer. My heavy breaths were dominant after two hours of wailing, and she decided talking might not be the best method to go about things. She begged me to instead write down my thoughts, and handed me down what would become my school journal.
The first words I wrote down were “I miss my mom and dad too much.” I didn’t see them enough, and I had somehow created this bizarre idea that when I was done with preschool, I would be done with school forever. That would give me more time to see them, and maybe the room would feel a little warmer.
My principal called me in a week later and opened up the book to see what was wrong. She read it, nodded in my direction, and told me to go back to class. My parents found out and put in much more effort to spend time with me over the weekend. They took me out to wherever I asked. I ate pizza every Saturday at my favorite restaurant. Our community of three felt more like a family of three.
One day, my classmate picked the journal up and read what I wrote. He bullied me up until we reached 5th grade. I felt like missing my parents was the act of a child and I could not be so stupid as to do that. I wanted to grow up. I was 7.