Friday, March 24, 2000

Fractions


The Stone ship

Every now and then I am overcome by a strong, aching sense of longing, usually in the springtime when the world awakens from it’s slumber. This is when I cannot help but think that another year has passed and that the memories of my friends have faded even more.

This is when I pack my bag and I start my hike, -alone, to the place where we said goodbye to Patrik and Rickard. Though this is not their final resting place, it's the very place that Rickard choose. I go there just as the last snow has melted, and the paths are still muddy and difficult to climb. It’s a way for me to try to make sure that I will be alone and not run into other hikers or tourists. I’ve chosen the long route, it’s a decent walk and I reach the old castle ruins just before noon. I carefully climb up the thousands and thousands of small rocks piled upon each other, and I navigate across the slippery ridge to the point where I have the best view of the lake.

It’s a cold day and the icy water far below blends with the white sky at the horizon.
I take it all in and follow the line of bare narrow birch trees to my left. The forest opens up to a winter green field. I feel calm, but I look for shoeprints in the mud where I stand and I listen for voices and startled animals.
There are 33 graves here but only seven are now barely visible mounds in the grass. In the middle of the field is a stone ship consisting of 28 stones. I take a few steps forward and touch the largest stone, nearly two meters tall and looking down on me. I drop my backpack to the ground and I press both palms of my hands against the wet, lichen covered stone. This stone have stood here, solid and resolute for the last 1500 years, and it will remain here for many more. The surface is flat and there are no runes or markings, because this viking burial ground is in honor of all fallen men and women.
When the stone becomes too cold, I unpack my things and I lay out a thin camping mattress to sit on, and I make myself comfortable.
The only photograph I carry with me is a worn polaroid of Darren, that I found only days ago when I was cleaning out boxes from my old apartment, where it had been forgotten for ten years. Since I have memorized all my photos of Darren, this new glimpse of his life is so very dear and important to me. For everyone else, I create mental images.

If my younger self: -A much prettier and skinnier version, with blue eyes and wild chestnut colored curls, -could see me now, she would not be surprised that I still live here, in the suburb where I was born, or by my choice of partner. But the young idealist with so many dreams would be totally furios of how I choose to make my living. I smile at the thought and take equal care when I first summon the image of Ajje, his brother, and their mother and father.

The air around me fills with the smell of her kurdish vegetable soup and I walk through their apartment, remembering every corner, all the persian rugs and the paintings and newspaper clips on the walls, the heavy red and gold curtains in the windows. Aram is a young carefree child, playing in the living room, climbing on the black leather sofa. But Ajje is in his wheelchair, connected to the ventilator beside him, with feverish blank eyes. I am surprised because I usually picture him a lot healthier. Ahmed places his strong old hands over mine, his familiar mumbling voice tells me how grateful he is and he is asking me not to go. Birit ekem... I mumble back. I stay here for a while, until Patrik intrudes as always and steps out of the shadows as if the two boys were bickering over who meant the most to me.
I grin and I am filled with a great sadness as he stands there unharmed. And I know that the sadness that thickens the air is not only mine as images of Rickard, Jon, Christine and our friends flash by. Images of them gathered around this very stone.
One by one, I tell them everything that has happened the past year, news of family and friends. Then there is Josh. Dearest dearest Josh, for whom I have no news but who fills my heart with light and assures me that I am on the right path in life.  I long just as much for Darren, but I am at a loss of words. I sit there quietly looking at his photo, until the first drops of a light rain starts to fall.
I pack up my things and leave my small offering of berries, nuts and fruits to whoever god or animal that craves them.











Fractions

It is difficult to mend fractions of memories and to make people you have cared for justice with a few written words. Sometimes I am unsure of if a memory is real, a memory told, or something seen in a photograph.

I don't remember being scared until one day in first grade, I'm under Andreas' shoe. But from then on, I'm scared of everything. The sole of his shoe is in my face and just like that he pushes and I roll down the small hill down to the schoolyard. I try to run inside the classroom but our teacher tells me I have to be outside for recess. So I sit down on the grit next to the door, breathing heavily. I knew Andreas was aggressive, but that he would target me was totally unexpected. I have already learnt what happens if you tell: So I don’t. Instead I build a barrier around me while I slowly try to learn what the other children expect of me. What not to wear, say or do to not receive unwanted attention. The only people who can reach through the barrier are my younger brother with whom I spend most of my time, and my friend Anna.

My father is distant and when our parents divorce I don’t miss him, but we have to stay with him at his new apartment every other weekend and he knows nothing at all about raising children, and he doesn't know us. At least we no longer see them physically fighting or throwing plates at each other but they start a blame game with us in between that is unsound.
As mum is upset over the divorce and works a lot, my brother and I stay in daycare with another family across the street after school hours. They have a son who is one year older than my brother, but totally obnoxious. He threatens to tell his parents that we are stealing from them, unless we do as he says at all times. For a while we comply, but we also start to make up mock ideas of how to get revenge on him.
But we don’t need to, because one day his dad accidently shoots himself while hunting, and loses the lower part of his right leg. Recovering from his accident he has to stay at home from work and suddenly, me and my brother have free access to a grown up, something we have never had before. After this, all I want to play is doctor or patient, and my brother happily plays along.
I add pretend limps and what not in addition to the problem I already have with my right foot. Yes I have a limp. But for now as a child and in first grade, I know my shoes don’t look the same, but I’m not aware of having a limp, and while I’m bullied, I don't recall being bullied because of it specifically. All my shoes are bent inwards and it’s like I'm walking on the side of my foot.

When dad starts to kiss me goodnight; on the mouth, like grown ups do, I'm starting to feel even worse about being at his place and I don't want to go to sleep when I'm there. I become more introvert but eventually cause a big scene one afternoon when we are supposed to switch, and they agree that from now on, I can stay with mum also on the weekends. With the promise that I can stay at home, in my own room, and not have to sleep in a strange bed, comes a great relief.

Mom falls in love with a man who has two children of his own. Suddenly we are a family of 3 children acting out and one who shuts herself in. When we eventually move to live with our step dad, both me and my little brother have to change schools. I make new friends down the street and I decide that I want to repeat a class so that I can be in the same class as them. My new class is a lot bigger than my old, but the school is within walking distance from our home. My new step brother has a problem with the attention that his dad gives mom. He learns that the best way to get his attention back is to pester me and occasionally our younger siblings, but he has a way to turn them both against me. He doesn't seem to care that the attention is negative. The things he do goes far beyond normal roughing and rivalry between siblings, and I'm scared in my own home as he proves to be very unpredictable. I’m relieved everytime he leaves to stay with his mom. My little brother escapes -he decides he wants to live with our dad full time, but that’s not an option for me, and I miss him alot when he moves out.

I have to go to these doctors appointments and x-rays and I don't understand why. I sense that mom and dad doesn't agree on whether or not I should be seeing all these doctors. My new step dad does not take any part in it and he remains a big angry man who doesn't care if I go to hospital or miss school.
One morning, dad goes too far and comes to pick me up at school without notice. He takes me to see a psychiatrist. Once there I sit and listen to him talk about how badly treated he feels by mom, by the world, by everyone, but no one asks me any questions. Then dad says that my brother is his favorite child, and that hurts me more than anything he could have said or done. It was probably not the smartest thing to say to an eight year old and I almost long for him to love me and try to kiss me again. The woman says she wants to see him again, regularly, but I never saw her again and I don't think he did either.

By the third grade there is me, Christine, Anna and Jimmy, -who has cerebral palsy, and our protector, Robert, who is also bullied but a lot bigger than any of the other kids, and most of the time they let us be. The fact that Jimmy doesn't talk or move the exact same way we do fascinates me but in secret I have a crush on Robert, or I think I do, because I'm not really sure how the whole crush thing works.
But I start to think a lot about why other kids seem to think that we are stupid or different, and I hate how they talk about -and to, Jimmy. -I’m starting to wonder if maybe, I’m like Jimmy, but that my parents just hasn't told me, or that something else is wrong with me, and I just want to know what and why. Maybe that’s why I had to go to the doctors? I just wish someone would explain it to me. I would probably be relieved to find out I had CP, because then it wouldn’t just be about my personality. The difference between us is so obvious, -the others are not scared to go to school, to take a bus, to speak up in class, or scared to go home.

The bullying continues at home and I lock myself up in my room as much as I can, and when my
step brother is home, I’m always in a defensive mood. It’s not unusual for me to come home and find my room upside down, with holes cut in my new clothes or in the posters that I have on my walls, or worse; my books torn, or to find water poured on my bed, or my music collection in pieces. The mental stress, what I begin to call “the questioning”, is the worst though. He has quickly picked this up and mastered it, because it’s such a simple way to make me panic and feel bad. The difference between school and home is that at school, the kids think they are funny, and they laugh at their own jokes and they laugh at me. My step brother never laughs.
There are still a few things no one can take away from me; I don’t talk a lot in class, but I’m still doing well because I read a lot. -Read and listen to music is what I do when I hide away in my room and I’m already reading books in both English and Swedish. I write poetry and book reviews for class, and after my teacher sends me to a typewriting class, I force mom to buy me one. It’s old, but I love it. I love the smell of the ink tapes and its sound. They can't take away my art, my drawings and paintings. Even when my brother sometimes tries to take credit, I know the art is inside of me, my heritage from my grandfather. 
-The other thing I have inherited from my grandfather is my irrational fear of phones, because since mom was told over the phone that grandfather had died, the phone is a messenger of bad, evil things.

Once we receive our first real computer at home, I spend every free hour on it. It makes my brothers furious that I learn faster than them, but I no longer care because it feels so good to actually be good at something. As I start feeling more comfortable at home, my step brother moves in with us permanently, and because he is in a class above me, we will be going to the same school. Him arriving at our school splits our group of friends. Robert is now best friends with my step brother and no longer my confidant. It feels so awkward and hurtful to see him in our home hanging out with my enemy number one. I can see though in his eyes that he is torn between us and sometimes he tries to talk to me and say hi but I can’t. Still, it means that my step brother is busy, and the pressure is off me for a while.

In the summer of ‘94, mom and stepdad starts noticing signs of my hoarding, because I’m saving newspapers with articles about disabilities. They don’t know that I’ve also taken moms medical lexicon and hid it in my room. I don’t know how to explain the newspapers, I don’t tell them how reading about it makes me feel calm, sad, comforted, curious and excited all at the same time, I only say something about it being “Interesting”, and that I want to keep them. It’s the summer of the football World Championship in USA and Sweden tremendous success revokes my interest in writing and when my uncle sends my texts to different newspapers, I get published in two of them, and I earn myself some well deserved confidence.
My new confidence takes me far -I get a work-experience opportunity with our local community newspaper and while I’m totally freaked out by meeting all these new people, -I feel like I’m flying.

Later that summer, my mom, step dad and me visits mom's friend and her husband on a small island in the archipelago. It’s a get together on a warm sunny day with lots of food and drinks. Everyone is outside except her husband and me who are inside watching a football game, when he suddenly without notice, gets up and slaps me in the face so hard, that I slide across the room, and crash into a bookshelf. I black out and when I come around, he forces himself on me. He is tall, over two meters, his hands are big and he is very strong. He doesn't speak a word during this whole time and when he lets me go I run outside, crying. But all I can explain is that he hit me and pushed me into the bookshelf. Nobody believes me, and I lock myself up in the back of our car in panic, until they finally take me home hours later. They won’t listen to me even after the swelling of my face is starting to show. I can't face mum, and I know that I can never confide in her again.

I still panic in everyday situations and when unexpected things happen. The kind of panic where you think you are choking and that your heart is exploding, where your head spins until the ground disappears below you and you feel like you are falling.
Sometimes I challenge myself to do things I don’t like, hoping it won't be as bad as I fear. I know what the panic attacks does to me; and there are things that I want more.
One of my favorite bands are playing at a record store in town before an album release, and I decide to take the train to the city center by myself. It’s only an hour ride on the bus and train, but I crawl up in my seat hoping that nobody sees me, and god forbid, speaks to me. During the whole ride my heart is pounding hard and fast in my chest and my breath is short and shallow. It’s not that I’m forbidden to go, but I’m scared.
After the show, a man approaches me asking me in bad english if I can help him translate something to Swedish. I don’t know what else to do; I’m highly uncomfortable but I say yes, believing we will do it right there and then, that it will only take a few minutes and that he then will leave me alone.
But he politely takes me by the arm and leads me out of the record store, around the corner, then again across the smaller street away from the busy business area, -and it doesn't take long before I’m completely lost and panicking. He takes me inside an old apartment building, up two marble stairs, and outside one of the apartment doors he turns me around, placing me facing the wall. Standing behind me, he hands me a pen and a piece of paper and he asks me to write;
The men have arrived in Sweden. They don’t have work permits, and nowhere to live.
He asks me how to say work permit, or residence permit, and all this time, he is pressing and grinding his body against mine, asking me if he can love me. I don’t understand at first, and I say yes, confused and shocked. But when the letter is finished, and I understand what I have written and what he is doing, I say no, and he lets me go. He doesn't try to follow me when I go downstairs and leave. In shock I try to look for a street address, a house number, or memorize the way to the house and what the man looked like so that I can go to the police.
Beige pants, short black jacket, brown hair...
But I’m so lost, and I can’t find the police station, and in panic I find my way to the train station and I go home, without ever telling anyone.
Somewhere on the way home I loose myself in my black hole, and I become apathetic, no longer even afraid, only passive. I stop caring, and I stop taking care of myself. I no longer care about what I’m wearing, if I look different, what people are saying, how I smell or even enough to brush my hair. I no longer react the way my stepbrother expects when he bullies me, and he leaves me alone, but with a distaste that he spreads across school. But I don’t care if I find myself alone or even lose touch with my friends, because I'm in a vacuum, indifferent. For a while the bullying in school becomes more physical but eventually they just leave me alone. There is a disbelief, a distrust and sadness nagging in me about why my parents aren’t noticing that something is different.

4 comments:

  1. This is an amazing piece of writing. It is excellent. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

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    Replies
    1. Wow thank you Pepper for your kind words.

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  2. Athira, Pepper is right. This is very beautiful. Thank you.

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  3. Athira, Wow!!! This is POWERFUL. Beautiful, sad, brave, deep. Not sure I have the words, but thank you for for sharing your writing.

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