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[Unpublished essay.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…]