Category: Essays

Traveller Identity

 

Ever since I can remember, I’ve questioned my cultural identity.

I am, technically, a white-skinned girl of Polish American heritage from northwestern New Jersey—past the mixed urban jungles of apartment blocks, past the hive-like Italian-filled McMansion suburban developments, past the clustered mixes of second- and third-generation Irish and German families who lingered in haphazard neighborhoods that evolved in awkward shapes from farmlands sliced by interstates. I grew up in the woods, part of a blue-collar family, the kind that clings tightly to red county lines and pick-up trucks and little league football games. My heart and mind have never been contained within those cultural boundaries, even though I was groomed from childhood to carry on that tradition.

There is a pattern in my memories being a little girl, watching my dad move through his day: When the work day was over, the 8 or 10 hours of manual labor at his construction business, my dad came home and plopped in front of the boob toob, downing glasses of vodka, stopping to eat dinner with my step mother, then consuming sandwich after lunch-meat laden sandwich (after-dinner snacks), and watching whatever was on Fox or ABC that night. Later, in the middle of the night, the phone would ring—his shop’s lines were forwarded to his house—getting him out of bed to do something for somebody. There was always something he needed to build, fix, excavate and in the winter, plow. Eat, drink, work, repeat. Do, do, do.

As a little girl, I watched his routine and thought: How fucking boring?

I was home alone often. My dad called the house repeatedly throughout the day, but never said, “Hello” when I picked up. He always asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m sitting around, thinking.”

“Get up and do something. Go feed the chickens. Go mow the lawn. Go clean out the—“

I usually hung up mid-sentence.

[Unpublished essay. To read more, please inquire…]

Choosing Me

There was a particularly cold winter in Kingston, New York, a few years ago, and I had a hard time going out. I don’t mean going out as in to a bar or hanging out with friends, but as in I could barely walk out of the house and down the street to buy a cup of coffee at the deli. Each attempt to do normal activities was an excruciating task: my legs didn’t work. They didn’t want to walk me. My torso and upper body didn’t work. They didn’t want to be unglued from the bed I’d pegged myself in.  My brain didn’t work.  The voice inside me said go somewhere, but the brain said nope, not moving. My rogue body followed suit and ignored me.

There was an art store down the street, closer than the deli. I liked the motley medley of crafts made by local artisans, exquisite etched-glass tiles with medieval symbols, colorful felted hats, cotton underpants with oogly-eyed creature designs, one-of-a-kind jewelry handmade from copper and glass. There was a steady sound of 90s dance music dashed with chunks of Bjork and boogaloo.

The woman who owned the store entertained my occasional and abrupt visits with a worked-in-retail-a-lot chagrin. She was able to strike up and sustain a conversation with me, even when I wasn’t able to sustain a conversation with me. Even when I walked into the store slowly, bundled up tightly during that cold winter, and just stood there.

It’s in bits and pieces, the memory, of a particular night during the particularly cold winter. I was, like usual that winter, just standing there, stiff, wrapped, awkward, surrounded by things that I would have loved if I were me. But I wasn’t right then.

[Unpublished essay. To read more, please inquire…]

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