When my mother and I moved to America, there was suddenly a space between us, and it grew exponentially. Her life was trying to regain the little she had in Odessa, fast fast fast, and it turned out she had quite a lot – a language, friends, a city, movies, a job as a programmer that she loved. Now her life was night school and odd jobs and welfare and where to buy the cheapest vegetables and how to fill out forms and how not to cry in front of her kid at night.
My life was trying to understand everything all at once. School was so different, and the kids were so grown up, and I was so lonely and bewildered. There were suddenly outfits, and coolness, and making out, and knowing what was on TV. I came from a world of uniforms and being a straight-A student and being so good at words that I didn’t have to take my Russian final exam, which was something to be proud of there, but not here. I was growing up but didn’t know how to be a girl and I didn’t ask my mother because she was trying not to drown and I didn’t want to cling to her neck and drag her down faster. I knew where babies came from, but not where smelly armpits came from. It turned out they came from me. It seems like such a simple thing, knowing when to use deodorant, but I didn’t really understand I was changing. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want everything to be different all at once. The other girls were wearing what I found out were called training bras under their shirts. I was alternating between two white tanktop undershirts, with a little red cherry or strawberry emblazoned on the left. Everyone’s boobs were in training, but mine were just slightly bigger than a boy’s, and I hated them. I would lie on my back at night and stretch my arms as far back as they would go until my hints of boobs became flat like a boy’s again. I wanted just one thing to stay the same.
Everyone at school talked too fast and I didn’t understand what kids laughed at, even though a lot of the time it was me. I’d only ever been around white people, but at my new school they were the minority, and they were cruel and stuck-up and nothing like me at all. The kids who were nice to me were Catholic Mexican girls, who were taught to be nice to everyone and whose mothers cleaned houses like my mother, and me sometimes. There were also black girls who would laugh and tell me I was weird but would teach me the tootsie roll and the butterfly, and brush out all my curls into an afro they would cornrow during health class. We all wore shoes from Payless and didn’t see enough of our mothers.
There was also Kareem, my first American crush, who winked at me and joked with me when I was starving for anyone to see me as a person, much less a girl. I didn’t joke at all because I didn’t understand anyone that well, but he gave me the gift of being funny again, in English this time. He was confident, handsome, with a huge toothy smile and dimples, and everyone loved him. He didn’t have to be nice to me at all. When we had school pictures taken and he gave me his, I kept it in my wallet, behind my bus pass, for the next seven years, and sometimes pretended he was my boyfriend.
It was my first lesson in real kindness, in the equality of the outsider, in socioeconomic status being a bond, and my first understanding of how race didn’t mean unity or likeness or affinity. This was before I had ever heard of Martin Luther King Jr. or the impact of slavery on this country, or really understood about why there were so many Mexicans in Los Angeles.
I told none of this to my mother, who was suffering through this new country and wasn’t home a lot. That was the beginning of the distance, us trying not to cry in front of each other at night and just muddle through everything with Russian work ethic and Jewish guilt, my mother guilty for bringing me here to this cold and confusing place, and me guilty for not appreciating her bringing me here in the first place. We would come back to our tiny carpeted room in Hollywood, each to our separate homework of English and Appreciating This New Place, and we would hope that the other didn’t notice we were dying of loneliness. It worked. We grew stronger and separate and we didn’t understand the language of each other’s misery.
All we had was each other, and it was not enough.
Boy in school runs our branch of Kony 2012. Doesn’t research it. Surprised to learn of its less beneficial side. Continues campaign anyway.
I’m just checking out my stuff here.
On another note.
THE COOPER UNION HOME TESTS ARE THE GREATEST THINGS EVER
I mean it’s a lot of drawing since I’m doing both Art + Architecutre tests
BUT HOLY CRAP IT’S SO INTERESTING.
They give you all these really abstract prompts.
I wish every school tested their students like this.
So many great thinkers would take the spots of the kids that just fill up their resumes with stupid stuff.
(Actually, Barnard College had some engaging prompts. I liked those.)
Thanks to charn14 for this one! :]