Somehow the emptiness of M street in D.C. made me feel empty inside. R and I continued to walk the bare sidewalks despite our dissatisfaction. She wasn’t happy as usual, but I was. The mall lacked any sense of liveliness. I noticed the Christmas decorations that are always displayed during this time and wondered what they meant to me.
The class was still taking the psychology test. Some kids were done. I finished mine and turned it in. Then, I laid my head down on the desk and stared blankly at the white board to my right. A few minutes were left until the bell would ring and the kids would run out of their classes, screaming from joy down the halls. It was the last the day of the 2005 school year.
I was thinking of how I would have liked to spend my Christmas vacation. A trip to London or one to New York City could have been perfect. But, instead I am going to stay at my apartment in Arlington, sleep-in late, watch Bridget Jones Diaries for the hundredth time, continue listening to Madonna’s new album, drink numerous cups of tea and Starbucks, and write. I am okay with these plans. It’s a new year, a new beginning, and it really doesn’t matter where I am.
Yesterday I came home from school, threw my backpack aside, and found a birthday card on my desk. It was from my sister; she’d forgotten to give it to me with her gift. There was no stamp on the back of the envelope. I read the card, closed it, and believed she really was here, with me, with us.
When L said I was beautiful I didn’t say thank you. I didn’t say how unimportant that word was. I didn’t say that it meant nothing. I only looked into the lens for a few seconds as she focused it on my face for our portrait project. She said there was something about me. She wanted to capture different expressions on my face. She wanted a goofy face for a change, but all I gave her was an indifferent look. I couldn’t pretend. There was nothing to laugh about. I had turned 18. I was wearing the black sweater my sister bought for my birthday and a pair of dangling earrings with a necklace. My weekend had been a happy one, one I would never forget. My girlfriends and I had danced on Saturday evening to a mix of Persian and Arabic songs. We had eaten a mocha flavored birthday cake and a friend of mine had wanted to reverse the 1 and 8 candle sticks so I would be 81 instead. I celebrated that day and “beautiful” had meant something.
Sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes you want more than words and compliments that only last a few minutes before you realize you’re waiting out in the cold and there is no one. Sometimes, words become indefinable, even a simple word like beautiful.
She had waited for a day in which she would go out in the middle of a winter afternoon to a café for hot coffee.
R and I sat in a corner near the window so she could look outside. The round, wooden table was pushed against the window and was decorated with a small flower crammed into a tiny jar. A woman sat next to us; she was alone with her work papers and a bowl of tomato soup. Two women sat by the fake fire place and laughed loudly between their conversations.
Before R came to the U.S., she lived a transitory life in her country. She put everything on hold because her heart belonged to America and her mind to a green, plastic card. She contented herself with temporary relationships and decisions. Everything was on hold including her dream wedding ring and her dream house with the big family photo. It was a life on hold.
Today though, R sat in front of me and smiled, holding her hot cup of French Coffee. While she held the cup in her hands, she watched the snow fall behind the glass window. The coffee and the snow were two permanent things she knew she could hold on to forever.
With numerous letters and e-mails, my cousin Sasha and I have kept our friendship alive. We’ve known each other since we were three. We said goodbye to each other when we were 11 and since then I’ve seen her only once. During these years, we only spoke once on the phone. Phone conversations don’t make much sense when you’re 1000 miles away. You can hear their voice, but you can’t tell how they feel because their voice is distant and unfamiliar. We learn about each other through our many letters. We send each other birthday and New Year’s cards. We say a lot in one letter, at least we try to. Although we’ve been apart so long, I think we know each other quite well. I know her secrets, her desires, her dreams, what she values, what she wants, and she knows that I know. Technology has allowed us to stay in touch. I see her tears and laughter when I read her letters, her smile and frown; she sees mine too. When I visited her four years ago, I thought we wouldn’t know each other, that we’d feel like strangers meeting for the first time, but I was wrong. Our relationship was stronger than before. I was half-American, new and changed, but she knew me. She recognized me; she saw and accepted the old and the new me. I knew her too, she’d changed, her voice, her tone and her thoughts were different. But she was everything I need, the perfect friend and sister.
Now we still e-mail each other to say ‘hi’ and ‘how are you’, and sometimes our sentences cover the whole page. We have kept the memories of our past together and we are still making new ones, even from far away.
I’m drinking a half glass of Ginger ale and listening to Madonna’s latest album, Confessions on a dance floor. I’ve been sitting here for hours, searching through old photos, wasting time, thinking, deciding. “Time goes by so slowly,” Madonna sings. She is right I think. In reality time does go by slowly, but in our head we fast forward everything to the future. Nothing is good enough in the present moment. Why? Is it because we think things will be better later?
I’m going to a graduation ceremony on Friday in Blacksburg, Virginia. It’s a four hour drive, but they say it’s a beautiful city. There was a time when long drives bored me, tired me, annoyed me. But it’s different today. Today, long drives mean I get more time to think, dream, and look outside the car window to what’s out there, whatever it is. I listen to the little conversations we have in the car, the funny or lame jokes, the gossip about the distant friends or cousins, the little stories that are told in great detail. I lean back on my seat, listen to their discussions or close my eyes and imagine my own stories. Time goes by so slowly, yet so fast. It’s strange.
On my way to the laundry room, I lay out the day’s agenda in my head. As I walk through the dark hallway, carrying the heavy basket of dirty clothes that are nearly falling out, I make a list of all the things I have to do. After I’ve put the whites in one machine and the colors in another, I head out and stop by the window right before the elevators. I look out the window whenever it’s sunny. It was sunny today. The remainder of yesterday’s snow is slowly melting, along with my bad feelings. I wait a while, taking in the warm sun, allowing it to pass through me. There are so many things I want, I think to myself. I forget about the list of to-do’s temporarily. I can do them tomorrow, I reassure myself.
I carry the empty basket back to my apartment. I’m alone again. There’s so much I have to do.
Le liked walking through the crowded side walks of Washington D.C, the heart of where she knew belonged to her. She often went by the Potomac River for long walks. She stood, watching the dark water that glowed with the reflection of the stars. People told her she was pretty; she believed them. Le liked watching faces, reading them, observing them. She could sit for hours just to watch the faces that passed her; they all had different stories. While she stood watching, men and women walked in front of her, talking, laughing, and sharing their life stories and adventures. Among them was the usual crowd of women who publicly announced their break ups on their tiny, wireless phones. Le listened to them sometimes, picturing their lives in her head.
There times when Le no longer wanted to watch the couples who held each others’ hand. She wanted to be them. She wanted to break away from her loneliness, her depression. She craved for attention. That was the only reason she wore the make up. She didn’t wear it all the time, but when she did, she felt better, more determined. There were times in which she only went outside just so someone would see her. At the bookstore, she walked by the shelves, glanced at the books, then searched for people who sat across from her. There was an old man who came in on occasion with his drawing board. He drew what he saw, people, the tables and the coffee cups. She liked sitting across from him on a sofa where she read her books. At times she looked up to see if he was watching her. She always wondered if he ever drew her. She liked to believe he did. Maybe he thought she was still a pretty woman.
Le sat on her red rug inside the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Her tears automatically poured out of her brown eyes. Everything was an illusion. She knew she had been fooling herself. She knew they had all fooled her. Pretty, they had said. But, that wasn’t good enough. Pretty hadn’t given her anything. The definition of beautiful and pretty were not the same. Le leaned back on the closed door, still crying.
We had our first snow today. The little white flakes melted in my red hair and landed on my forehead as I walked home from the bus stop. The earlier boring, blue sky was now a mix of pink and blue. It looked more beautiful and I felt a sweet contentment.
The snow has stopped now and I’m wondering whether we’ll have school tomorrow. Sleeping in on a snowy school day is still as sweet as it was eleven years ago. These are the days I get occasional flash backs to those years, the years I now want to relive. Every snow day, every storm, every Christmas and every holiday has its own memories; memories that make you wish time would stop.
In eleven days I will be born again. I want it to be perfect and I think a little bit of white flakes will give it that extra touch.