Friday, November 25, 2011

The View from my Room

I have a room here in Palestine. In my room I have my water bottle I bought on a rainy day early last spring on the Jersey Shore. My parents and brother and I were visiting my grandparents at Easter. My grandfather can’t walk more than a few steps now. We love him and struggle to see him like that. He feels worse than he has to because he lets himself get dehydrated. It’s very hard on my grandmother to care for him all the time. After a while in the living room, with the TV turned up high, we get a bit of cabin fever. When it’s cold and cloudy like it was this Easter we don’t really want to go to the beach, so we go the mall. That’s where I bought my water bottle.

I can sit in my room here and notice my bottle and remember that afternoon with my parents and brother and how we laughed about how we dislike the mall. That afternoon my brother moved an expensive copy of the Bible to the “Religious Fiction” section of the Borders Express.

On my desk here I have a postcard of the Cloisters in New York. I lived in Inwood off and on for nine months and spent afternoons in Fort Tryon Park reading short stories and noticing the seasons changing. That’s where I read the first story of Dubliners and thought of how cruel the sun is to leave us as it does after the summer. How quickly it seems to lose interest. Of course the first cool day feels great. To be warmed by our bodies inside of wool or cotton rather than the fire of the sun. We warm ourselves! But by March we are very cold. The park is also where I sat and thought of how Tegan too cooled to me. I walked through the park when my heart was still beating hard knowing I was moving to Palestine. I walked there before I told my parents.

From my room, I hear fireworks most nights. The first time I was very scared. My first night here I heard booms from the street. After the booms I heard bottles breaking. I was nervous and didn’t know what I could be hearing. It wasn’t fireworks. It sounded like demolition maybe. I didn’t know what demolition sounded like. I went to sleep.

My second night here I was taken out for argelia and tea. We smoked a block from the huge ugly wall those who follow events here, hear so much about. It’s covered in political paint: slogans, maps, promises. That night my hosts drove me home. We turned a corner and found Israeli soldiers blocking the intersection to my building. One of them pointed his rifle at us and screamed “lech lech lech” (go go go) as he approached our car. It was dark. I think he was scared. The other soldiers kept focus on the men down the block.  The men down the block stood behind dumpsters tipped on their sides in the road to block the army jeeps. They knew the soldiers would come that night. The dumpsters make booms as they are pushed on their sides and bottles fall out and break. It hadn’t been demolition.

We made a three point turn and drove away from the fighting. I was in the back seat and shaking. We drove to the back roads. I asked my host if he was scared. He told me only a little, and that Kevin Costner was one of his favorite actors. I thought of Field of Dreams and playing baseball with my father. On weekends he took me to the little league field and pitched to me and hit me ground balls. There were no soldiers on the back roads. When I got to my apartment my hands were still shaking when I unlocked the door. And still when I locked it behind me.

The third night here I stayed in. I spent the night with my laptop. I like telling people that Barack Obama gave me my laptop. A year ago I was in Poplar Bluff working for the campaign. I spent days organizing democrats and nights reporting numbers and printing canvassing materials. By the end of the campaign I had a guard with a gun at the office twenty four hours a day. It was also a scary place to be at night. I don’t tell many Palestinians that Barack Obama gave me my computer. Many would not be impressed. It was the third night that I first heard fireworks. I didn’t know they were fireworks. I did know there had been street fighting the night before. I thought the new booms were guns. I would have enjoyed a quiet night, and think many others might have also, but a wedding calls for fireworks here, and the show goes on. The happy nights and the terrible ones both come with booms.

Many years on the Fourth of July, my parents took my brother and me to see the Pittsfield Mets play in Wahconah Park. They were a triple A team, full of young, hard-working players chasing their major league dreams in a park named after a princess of an exiled and exterminated Indian tribe, in a city depressed by addiction and the closure of the General Electric plant. After the Fourth of July games, fans could walk onto the field and watch the largest fireworks display in the county. I remember feeling the booms in my ribs and leaning against my parents. I only came up to their chests then. After the fireworks we would avoid the heaviest of departure traffic by going through the back streets of residential Pittsfield. In that neighborhood, fat old white women watched us pass from their porches where they had also watched the fireworks. On those car rides home, I usually fell asleep.

October, 2009.

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