I started bicycle riding a few months ago after a twenty-five year lull. A fellow writer sold me the bike. She looked concerned when I ceremoniously mounted the saddle and peddled away. I rode a few yards before losing my breath and compromising public safety.
“Um, do you think this is such a good idea?” she asked. I couldn’t hide my wobble. I jerked the handlebars with such violent imprecision that she became visibly nervous.
“I advise that you wear a helmet,” she commented.
I took off the next day to explore the greenway beside my home. One mile in and I became certain that others on the path were secretly laughing at my amateur swerve and heavy breathing.
A week later, I ventured even farther, my lung capacity stretching to accommodate this newfound distance. I discovered hidden geographies and alternate passages to new places that I had missed while in a car. A different world revealed itself, and it was one only accessible by bike.
I have been playing the role of two different people in one body for more than five years. There is one persona who is a strong woman, who is happy the way Allah has kept her, who does not care about what people say and is living her life to the fullest. This woman does not mind being alone.
But there is this others side where the fear of what-if-the-right-guy-never-shows-up is growing intense with every passing day. Sometimes, I am afraid that I am losing the hope of fulfilling my dreams. The idea of dying alone is breaking me from deep inside
I have opinions. About the X-Men.
I’m a child of the 1990’s, so my reference point is the amazing cartoon, “X-Men: The Animated Series,” which aired from 1992-1997 (like “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” the recent movies simply don’t exist in my brain database). Rogue was my favorite, she of the big hair, epic sass, and ability to fly. I had a crush on Gambit, and an inexplicable thing for guys with N’Awlins accents and the ability to handle a deck of playing cards ever since. As I got older, I appreciated Cyclops’ leadership, Wolverine’s unrequited love, and Storm’s wisdom (and seriously folks, that rockin’ mane of white hair was a force of nature in and of itself). Even Jean Grey managed to kick ass as the Phoenix.
But somehow, I managed to largely discount Professor Xavier, the man who created a school for those who were misunderstood or shunned, some even orphaned, literally and figuratively. He was the man with the plan. He gave society’s outcasts a future.
I found myself thinking of Professor X in Pakistan this past August, during my first trip back in ten years. Since coming back, I’ve been ruminating on Pakistan this time around and what it taught me. Pakistan, for all its damage and strange beauty, has always held lessons for me. I was born there, and though I’ve had the hyphenated Pakistani-American identity since I was one year and one month old, Pakistani earth makes up my skin and Punjab’s rivers flow through my veins.
As much as it annoyed my family and my then-estranged husband, I refused to find out my child’s sex before birth. I figured that the world could wait to press its confining gender roles upon my child. I wanted to be surprised by God.
I dreamt of a little girl learning to play catch and a boy learning to cook. I dreamt of children of both sexes learning, growing, and making spectacular messes. I was determined to rejoice in whoever entered my life. What no one told me is just how much determination I would need, and how much I’d already taken for granted.
Alternatively titled: Selected Readings of a Southern Life.
Let us start with a discussion about landscapes and memory.
If you are from the rural American South, know what the dirt smells like. There are fields to the left, sometimes to the right, and maybe on all sides. I grew up in such a place, at an intersection of a river and familial history where fields and dirt roads determine the boundaries of tradition and ceremony. Big Momma’s house stood at one corner of the field. On the other side dotted single-wide trailers that belonged to an aunt and various cousins (I was conceived in one of those single-wides).
Our house sat on the backside of the field, almost at the road’s end. Inconveniently, the hard clay path plummeted into the woods and at the nape of oldest graveyard in the county, one haunted with the Irish-Native American remains of my maternal ancestors who settled this morsel of North Florida in the early 1800s. More cousins lived down the county paved road. Family peppered the landscape in all directions. You could go outside on the front porch, yell for a relative across the field, and they’d most likely hear you.
My family remains on the land to this day. The dirt smells like my history.