For my final Creative Writing Portfolio (: Enjoy.
When you grow up in a strict and protective household, it’s nice when you have the house to yourself for a few hours. It happens very rarely, but even a few minutes of solitude can be bliss in an otherwise chaotic home. Today was a perfect example of this concept. It was a hot summer day, and my parents were both at work, my brother was at a friend’s house, and I had the house to myself. I was doing the same thing I usually did at eleven in the morning: lounging in my room, still in my pajamas, sprawled out in my bed while surfing the internet, checking my phone in hopes of a new text message, downloading applications for my iPod Touch, and listening to music. The same things I do when my parents and brother are home, except today, this was all a habit and not a distraction. Today, the air was cleared of the tension that usually excited between my mother and I. There were no ridiculous arguments going on in the background, and the house did not even smell strongly of spices and my mom’s cooking. Had I been walking around, there may have been a spring to my step but sadly, plans were nonexistent.
My friends were all busy. Every single one of them. And the ones that weren’t were inconveniently back in their own hometowns. I had a conversation going on with a friend who was in California for the summer, and she was bored too. Annoying siblings, annoying parents, and boredom – a tragedy we both suffered from during the summer. Not a terrible mix, but one made worse by the miles that separated us from each other. Skype had its limitations. Our lives weren’t as intertwined as they once were, and I felt sad that this irresolvable conflict would last until the end of August, when we could finally meet up again. When I had first moved away to college, I’d separated from the only home I’d known for eighteen years, but it wasn’t as hard as these three months of summer would be. Changing my lifestyle to fit my own whims rather than my parents – college had been the easy part of this whole ordeal. But having to harshly fall back into it once the school year was over was complete torture. College was freedom, and the more time I spent away from the rules and restrictions, the more I had come to hate them.
Bing. I picked up my Blackberry and checked the new text message. It was only eleven in the morning, and I’d been anticipating a reply for lunch plans, effective in about an hour and a half. But with my friends, plans were made and changed instantaneously.
“hey I’m staying late @ Mt Sinai…sry I can’t make it =/”
Jessica had been much more reliable in high school, when we were such good friends that we felt like sisters. Back then, we also didn’t have any “sophisticated” excuses at our fingertips to get out of meeting up. Mount Sinai referred to her internship, and was a solid excuse I could compose no argument against. Work was her priority now, of course. I threw the phone back into the mess of comforters, pillows, and stuffed animals on my bed and turned back to my laptop with a sigh. My best friends from High School were busy with their own lives. They had their own internships, their own jobs, and their own group of close college friends. Old friendships were slowly unraveling, and the thought of spending an entire summer without my best friend’s company would make living with my parents insufferable. Opening up iTunes, I blasted some music – probably the lone advantage of having the house to myself that day.
When at home with my mother, I seldom had to concern myself with meals. They would simply appear at predestined times, and I would eat. The entire process of mastication seemed tedious, no longer the fun college sport friends and crazy roommates had turned it into. So far, my mother had been bringing food into my room and then sitting next to me and striking up a conversation. This was fun once in a while, but when she then attempted to read my online conversations over my shoulder, I would hint at disliking her company while I ate. This sounds harsh, but I genuinely did not have much to say to her, and it was just awkward for both of us. My mom looked for a best friend in her grown-up daughter, but I already had best friends my age; I just needed a mother.
I had whittled away the better part of an hour by now. I checked the time and then made my way to the kitchen, annoyed that mom hadn’t packed lunch for me before leaving for work. I had come to taking her food for granted, I suppose. I swung open the fridge door, examined what was inside, pulled out last night’s leftovers – some cold pizza – and heated it. Put it into the microwave. Onto the dining table. Into my mouth. Done.
At this point in the day, browsing the internet for any longer was beginning to sound very boring, and I wanted to have some fun. I pulled on my sneakers and ventured outside the house, car keys in hand. A drive around the island sounded nice, but the temperature was so nice outside that I decided against it. It was incredibly hot and my car had been bathing in the sun all day. I could already envision opening the door, almost burning myself on the hot metal. I could already smell the stifling musty heat in the car – it would be so hard to breathe that I’d have to sit around in the sun and wait a few minutes before I could even dare to venture inside the car. It’d spent the entire afternoon toasting in the sun, and I didn’t want to ruin my good mood by stepping into the furnace of my 2001 Toyota Camry – a generous gift from my parents on my 18th birthday.
What did I want to do, then? Going for a run – the one thing I usually dread – seemed like a great idea, especially when compared to my alternative. The sky was beautiful, a blue that reminded me of the Chips Ahoy! package sitting in my kitchen. That was probably a great way to reward myself after my run – ice cold milk and a few chocolate chip cookies. The wind picked up at that exact moment, lifting my spirits as if it also agreed with my decision. Yes, I was going to run.
Once I reached the end of my driveway, I had another decision to make – where was I going to turn? To my left: there was a rather large CVS – they had torn down and cleaned up an old but dear playground that used to exist there. I looked beyond the CVS to the busy roadway. Across the street, if one managed to cross the street safely, with no help from the confusing traffic signals at the intersection, there was a shopping complex. The big blinking STOP & SHOP sign caught my eye; there was a certain endearing quality to the neighborhood ST P & S OP, whose LED letters never seemed to all glow at once. But the weather was thought-provoking, and I wanted to run along a quieter part of town. Somewhere I could run and think and maybe not worry so much about traffic signals and dying.
To my right: the residential street stretched out, a mile of homes. There wasn’t much traffic here, and the only cars you saw lazily strolling past you belonged to homeowners in the area. It seemed like the kind of suburban neighborhood that would be featured on postcards, or inviting “Welcome to Long Island” websites. The lawns were meticulously mowed, and I suspected that the entire neighborhood hired the same lawn care professionals. Judging by the identical length of grass on each lawn and the uncanny use of brick-blockaded flowerbeds centered with blossoming pink trees, I decided, for the sake of my sanity, to assume that the landscaping was not just the product of neighborhood telepathy. As I ran passed the blurred lawns, rainbow flowers and blotches of pink trees, I remembered how amusing my first experience with Long Island Landscaping had been. It was the summer after grade, so that would put me at…13 years old, and was at the point in my life where I was beginning to realize that my mother could be quite annoying at times.
– – – – – – – – –
Landscaping had become all the rage in 2005, and my mother wanted to jump into this trend after our immediate neighbors had hired Long Island Landscaping, a service new to the area, to mow their lawns and spruce up their flowerbeds. Sometime in June, my mother had rushed out of the house to speak with the landscapers as they mowed lawns across the street. I had followed her out automatically, because when she communicated with others, it was usually best for me to be around and correct any potentially grievous errors. There had been plenty of those over the years. Ever since the day she emailed my aunt and told her that she had been “seduced” (read: sedated, or knocked out) by the doctors prior to her wisdom teeth removal, I preferred to be around when any important communications were made.
Another reason I had ventured out into the heat was genuine distrust for my mother’s disregard for being discreet. She would walk across the street and, halfway through, turn around and yell into the air as if her voice would carry through into my room. And it did. What’s worse – she used my Indian nickname, which, although perfectly acceptable around family and other people of Indian descent, was awkward because we lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. If I went with her, she wouldn’t have to yell for me quite as loudly later on.
My mother and I crossed the street together to speak to the landscapers. I stood a few feet away from her at first, hoping she would be able to figure out how to negotiate a deal on her own. She wanted to hire them for just the summer – whether to fit into the rest of the crowd or avoid having to repeatedly ask my brother to mow the lawn, I don’t know – and inquire how much they would charge her for the three months of landscaping service.
I had already taken a year of Spanish by then, and my mom took that as her cue to brag to all of my relatives that I knew how to proficiently speak the language. I didn’t. She went right up to the man mowing our neighbor’s lawn and began speaking to him, raising her voice to get his attention over the loud whirring of his lawnmower.
“¡Hola! ¿Comostas?” she proudly stated. I struggled to contain my laughter. She had, of course, forgotten that the “h” in “hola” was silent – a flaw of hers that I’d been unable to correct all year. The man blinked at her several times, turned off his loud machinery, and then replied. “¿Si? Estoy bien. ¿Como ayúdate? My mother had thrown a desperate glance in my direction, and I opened and shut my mouth several times before deciding that starting the conversation over was the safest option. I said hello – properly – and then stood there awkwardly, mumbling to my mother that I had no idea how to apply what little Spanish I knew to real-life conversations. I hadn’t even gotten past the present tense yet!
I tried my best to explain to him what we needed. Not knowing the Spanish equivalents of “mow” or “lawn,” I improvised. “Necesitamos tu ayuda para nuestra casa. ¿Cuánto dolores para este servicio? ¿Y cuántos tiempos venir a nuestra casa cada mes? I finished with a triumphant smile. I’d conveyed my mother’s inquiry properly – I hoped. Meanwhile, I snuck a glance over to my mother, who was beaming back at me. The slightly arrogant smile said what my mom didn’t: “See, look at my daughter. Isn’t she amazing?”
The worker, after laughing at my roundabout attempt to ask him a rather simple question, answered me back in Spanish. I looked at him. Blinked. He repeated himself. The words blurred past recognition – one long jumbled construct of consonants and vowels that flew right past comprehension. I had no idea how to respond. I had no idea what he had told me.
¿Repite, por favor?
He just laughed, and obliged.
This time, I listened simply for words that I knew, and picked out the following menagerie: “dos, meses, llamate, fines de semanas.” Trying my hardest not to let my mother down, I pieced them together and ventured an answer to my mom, who was patiently standing to the side and waiting for me to fill her in. Her knowledge of the language didn’t extend beyond “¡Hola! ¿Comostas?” This was all up to me, and I didn’t want to go through the annoyance of letting her down once more.
“Mom, they come every other weekend. And they…call us? I think.”
“And how much do they charge per month, beta?” she asked me. I hated that word – beta – especially in public. Why couldn’t she use the English equivalents, words like “dear” or “sweetie,” in front of strangers? He may not have understood her either way, but I wouldn’t feel so conscious of my heritage and skin color if she tried to fit in with other normal mothers. At any rate, I tried several times to relay her question, but each time, the worker did not understand. When he spoke, I couldn’t piece together what he said either. It was a failing enterprise and the worker decided that the best way to be rid of us was to ignore us.
“No speak English. Sorry,” he stated. And with that, he turned away and started up his lawnmower again.
My mother gave me a disappointed look, and told me to go back to the house. “Why do I send you to school? You’ve took Spanish for a whole year, and you can’t even ask a simple question?” she had said. Stinging from the insult, I spun away and ran back into the house, composing a biting reply in my head as I stormed back across the street. I hadn’t looked both ways before crossing, but I guess this was one of those times where I should be thankful that we lived on a quiet street. Back in my room, I took out a piece of computer paper and wrote a long detailed note to her explaining my complaints about her upbringing. At the time, it had seemed like a brilliant plan – the end to all of my troubles even.
I’m really mad that you wanted me to speak to that guy in Spanish. I just started learning it this year, and it’s not fair that you want me to be perfect at it. You have to stop thinking I’m smart – I’m not a natural genius like dad, trust me. And I’m not even that good at math. Spanish is weird, and our teachers don’t really tell us how to talk to people, they only tell us how to correctly conjugate verbs. And I even mix that up sometimes. So maybe in three years, I’ll be able to have a full conversation, but I don’t know enough words to even try to speak to somebody right now. I hope you manage to hire the lawn mower guys though. Also, you need to stop yelling at me all the time. It’s mean.
I had folded up the letter carefully, found a Sharpie, and then carefully labeled the front “TO MOM” in large block letters. I left it on her dresser and went back to sulk in my room.
– – – – – – – – –
I was halfway to Jericho (Street) when I was rudely snapped out of my reverie. I’d run right into a wall of muscle – a wall of muscle named Shane. He’d been jogging in the opposite direction, and I hadn’t noticed him. And it is when they were almost upon each other that he whipped his head around and yelled “Watch out Pry” in caution. But his words flew out in vain, as our bodies collided. I tried to catch my breath and I’m sure his back didn’t really appreciated the impact either. “I’m so sorry Shane! Are you okay? Oh god, I hope I didn’t hurt you. Are you sure you’re okay? Does your back hurt? I..I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention…” I rambled. “Hey hey, stop, I’m fine. ‘Sup?” he said calmly, making me blush at how awkwardly I’d handled the moment.
“Not much, I was just running because I wanted to…run. yeah umm…how about you?”
“Just running for fun too, it’s such a nice day”
“Mhm, it’s nice. And I was so bored at home, this is a good change”
“Yeah, so how’s college been anyway?”
“I love it! How’re you doing at yours?
“It’s pretty chill. I hate driving every day though, you’re lucky you get to dorm”
“Yeah…I was lucky.”
My words were a double-edged sword, and I realized my blunder almost instantly. I had wanted to imply that I was lucky during the school year, and not the summer, but it had come out wrong. I sounded like the girlfriend who couldn’t move in. So stupid of me. “Anyway, it was nice seeing you again I gotta go bye!” I yelled out, and promptly began jogging again. I had to get away from him. He was the reason my laugh had been slightly hollow, and my smile slightly pasted on. Up until then, I’d been doing fairly well accepting the fact that Shane and I were no longer dating. It was a mutual breakup, but no matter how often I reminded myself of that fact, it hurt me that he’d given up on me so easily. He was a remnant of the past, but he was a remnant I wasn’t quite ready to part with. I had gotten through an entire year of college without a single word from him, so I was ready to move on once and for all. Now, when I’d made a whole group of new friends, and had a glorious summer ahead of me – no, he was not allowed to ruin my mood.
So what if I was running from my past with Shane? This was an entirely different story, and not the one I wanted to ponder while taking my relaxing run. I snuck a peek back – Shane had probably turned a corner, because I could no longer see him. Shrugging him off my conscience, I poured my attention into the symmetry and repetition around me. The attempt of such diverse families to make the façade of their houses so similar struck me as so odd. It was so…opposite of what I’d come to expect in the city. Over there, people go at any length to differentiate their dwellings; they make their “cribs” stand out as much as possible. Each building had such history there, and the difference from one tenement style walkup to the other in the village is what made me fall in love with it. It wasn’t necessary to fit in quite so perfectly, and I loved the city for having shown me that.
In the end, New Hyde Park was something to fall back on and Long Island was my haven of familiarity. Even my mother – her rants and her tirades – they were all a part of that familiar world. I loved fighting with her because it was a part of my routine. I thought back to all the weekends during college where I decided not to go home, giving my parents the excuse of homework, office hours, deadlines, or exams. They’d patiently put up with everything I told them, and I’m sure they were not so dense that they wouldn’t know I lied sometimes. That I had some fun, that maybe I explored the city instead of studying 24/7. And they had let me have my fun. I loved them for giving up their totality of control, because the ability to explore my liberated thoughts had helped me appreciate their concerns so much better. When I didn’t see my mother for an entire month, an unfortunate circumstance incurred by the final exams at the end of my first semester of college, I remember calling her and picking on everything she said so she would argue with me. Having a fight with my mother was normal – not hearing her nag and argue with me was too strange. I preferred the normalcy provided by our differing views.
My feet leapt from one step to another, and for the next few minutes, I continued running. There was no sudden revelation today, but running had cleared my mind of some of the preprogrammed resentment toward my mother. It put me in a better mood, and I was glad the run had been of some use. My legs were beginning to ache, an acknowledgment that made me turn around and head back in the direction of my house. It wasn’t too late yet – maybe I’d go cook some lunch for my brother. And boil some tea for my mom – she was due back home in less than half an hour now. I still appreciated her – annoying voice and disagreements included.