Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Moroccan: Juz Wahid.

In the spring of 2001 my mother's knee replacement surgery left her heavily drugged on Lortab and other colorful round pills she kept in an Ibuprofin bottle re-labeled MOTHER by my father on a piece of scotch tape in slanty illegible doctor handwriting. He writes over each letter a few times to make it more clear but actually it looks like the words are vibrating.
I was living with two Spaniards on the other side of the world working Tuesdays and Thursdays as a librarian for the British Council of Tangier. The Brits let me work there even though I am American and most of them never bothered to learn my name even thought they sat in the chair across from me for the full three hours of my shift confiding in me with restless skeletons in the closet or samples of their fiction-writing. They called me "the Moroccan."

I would call to my mother late at night from the Cinematheque when it was still early in New York, to keep up on things. I wanted to know who was getting married and who had died and how they died and who had to perform the burial cerimony. Our Kashmiri community was growing again and was probably bigger than it was at its peak, around the time I was born. Most of the older kids moved away and we didn't really know the new additions that well and didn't know who any of the kids belonged to when they were running around our house at dinner parties breaking things and hiding people's shoes.

When the pain was more acute, my mother would admit her relief at the gradual lack of her social obligations, or even having to adhere to social graces. At some point between '99 and '02 she started to refer to the Kashmiri dinner parties that had formed our social lives until we reached high school as "those weird gatherings." We stopped hosting them. It had been a tradition since the small beginnings of a community in in our small town, and back then we mostly talked about the war. The men would gather in one room and smoke and argue, and the women would drink tea in the next room and make tea for their husbands and talk about their husbands. The kids would set up an assembly line in the basement and make friendship bracelets to sell at the yearly Islamic Convention for the KKK : "Kashmir Kids Klub." We were young.

Most families arrived in the neighborhood between '75 and '80 and all had stories about the blizzard, mostly getting trapped at the hospital or getting trapped at home without their husbands and with two little kids and they didn't speak English yet. She says it was terrifying then but now we can laugh about it, thinking of her there at home confused and frantic and probably cold and taking care of the kids. She likes to tell the story about a different woman who once put laundry detergent in the dishwasher and her kitchen overflowed with bubbles. My mother is one of the only women in the community that is not a practicing physician. We enjoyed having her at home when we were growing up and now my older brother insists on marrying a girl who will do the same for him and for his children, and I am regularly encouraged to practice hosting tea parties for my impending fate since I am not a doctor and clearly going nowhere.

I managed to stay close enough to my mother to warrant calling her every couple of days from Tangier. After the surgery the conversations became mostly one-sided, as though she were sitting alone at home all day and the only time she had a chance to speak to anyone but "cat" was when I called her. The only times I didn't call was when we took trips across the strait to Spain. I can't even imagine how much she would worry if she pictured me on that rocky boat floating from the lips of Morocco to the little lips of Spain, munching on a frozen cheese "sandweesh," watching the waves redirect the boat mid-smooch.