Things Fall Apart: A Story in Five Parts
Our parents met by chance on a flight from what would later be called a shithole country. Neither were looking for Love, just the American Dream.
Not too many pages into the story, Reality came barreling in and the Wonder of young love began to fade. Reality’s friend, Resentment, became a frequent visitor on account of the evil machinations of Pressure. “What do you want me to do I’m under so much pressure???”
Question du jour.
At some point it was decided that children would make a good addition to the picture, so we were born. After toddler bliss, Trouble.
The school called us Problem Children and the kids made fun of our hair. “Hey, brillo head! Where do you come from?” Principle Fitzpatrick set things straight, told us to stop being Ugly, sent us home.
But the teachers reassured us: “Follow your dreams. Do what you love.”
I didn’t have the heart to ask—”What if I don’t Love anything?”
“Don’t cause problems.” “Be nice.”
Part II [Mis]education
We pledged allegiance to the Flag and learned about the Founding Fathers, their incredible foresight: If given the chance, we’d all kill each other. The First Principle is Self-Interest.
Before that Christopher Columbus risked his Life to bring us Freedom, Manifest Destiny and squeamish Pilgrims who danced with Indians after Church. Down the Way, Jamestown was named after someone named James who was the first American Entrepreneur of Himself. He came up with the idea of Renting People like the machines at the Stop and Shop. Everything added up to Slavery, which was just Awful, but Thank God That’s Over. Phew!
We thanked The Troops for our Freedom and memorized Fun Words like “ONOMATOPOEIA.” We didn’t have Spell Check.
After school, Gifted Girl Scouts sold their Cream Colored Cookies. Parents swooned. Soccer Moms flew by with baskets of brownies. We hid behind trees after Mrs. Jones glared at us, asked “Where Are Your Parents???”
It took us a couple of Years, but we figured it out: Only beautiful White children are Loved, but it’s not polite to talk about it.
Fast forward on the Homefront: Divorce. That shit happened in slo-mo. Endless fights over non-existent problems--Lies or possible Lies. It didn’t matter. Someone was always Vanishing. In the end: Lawyers sittin’ on a Steaming Pile while we rode around in an Old, Fat Ford.
Right about then, everyone stopped paying attention, so we watched TV—America’s Most Wanted, Law and Order, Cops: be afraid, suspicious, despise the poor, blacks and Latinos. But also: “Oprah! Obama! Omarosa!”
We didn’t have Words. They’d all been eaten up with Individual Efficiency.
Keep it moving.
Part III: Things fall apart 1.0
We discovered Loneliness in high school, right there in the middle of the crowd.
We shuffled in cliques and transactions—”Hey do you have the notes from Mrs. LaFontaine’s class I really need them do me a solid bro you can come to my party!” They knew The Game.
The Beautiful White Ones were still sitting at the top--the top of the class, the top of team, the top of the Food Chain. They pretended not to know us, but we weren’t mad. We didn’t want to know Ourselves TBH.
All this wasn’t good for us, so we went looking for God. Along the way, we met Doctors and Lawyers and Pharmaceutical Reps and Insurance Brokers and Business People we didn’t recognize when they knelt to Pray.
They taught us all of the things God doesn’t like: idolatry, adultery, vanity. We were to hoard our rewards for the afterlife, like a 401(k). They reached out with sage advice: eyebrow plucking is not OK.
Good to know, thnx.
The Community looked at us and prayed. They didn’t want us either.
Part IV: Things fall apart 2.0.
We were grown when Baba lost his job. About a month later, he lost his Mind and flew away on a 747 to rediscover his Life. He wrote back “I found It in France!” and quickly died, his body discovered by a beggar child looking for scraps on the beach.
Mama lost hers too, but she stayed put and piled her Pain into every corner of the empty house. Eventually, Other People’s discarded Things--photo-albums filled with Foreign Memories-- filled the empty spaces too, erased the Years we never had. Buried us Alive.
“Everything is FINE!” She said with big eyes that never stopped.
No need to explain. No one is asking.
The phone never rang because everyone's mouth was full of Gossip.
Our People did that Shit.
“What did you expect?”
The Inside is inside.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, only what you say.”
- The Iraq War never happened.
- 9/11 was the beginning of history
- “Hope and Change”
- “Make America Great Again.”
[Insert positive affirmation].
Besides: No one’s paying attention.
Part V American Dream 2.0, Shithole Country
“You can be part of the problem or part of the solution.”
“Love it or Leave it!”
Heads down, mouths shut. Do our bit, go home.
Still, Brothers joined the Incarceration Nation: Brown souls in Brown Bodies. They never had a chance. Still, we were stunned when the SWAT team showed up with German Shepherds and took them away. We found them five years later, Wilting in the Summer Sun-- gray hair and no soul. Since they were now yesterday’s Trash, they were shipped back to the Shithole, strangers to soil and kin. When they landed, Our People Wept:
“What did it all add up to?”
Shame filled their lungs.
They drank black tea and stared into space.
Twenty years later, they died of Despair.
Across the Atlantic, I sit in traffic, trying to make my way Home. I check the messages on my phone, but they’re from Nobody. My Inbox is also Full of Empty. Still, I empty the Empty. The driver behind me honks. Traffic has moved an inch, but I can’t keep up.
I have Nowhere to go.
The Songs of Abdelhalim Hafiz
أهواک و اتمنى لو انساک
و انسى روحی ویاک
وان ضاعت یبقى فداک لو تنسانی
و انساک و ترینی بانسى جفاک
و اشتاق لعذابی معاک
والقى دموعی فاکراک ارجع تانی
فی لقاک الدنیا تجینی معاک
و رضاها یبقى رضاک
و ساعتها یهون فی هواک طول حرمانی
Abdelhalim Hafiz sang “Toba”
he was the most beautiful man in the world. His heart was breaking
he was dying
the country swooned for him like he would live forever. They knew he wouldn’t and so did you, you loved him too
wanted to be just like him—here for a moment and gone like “Ahwak,” the wind, love, one word meaning two things so alike no one knew.
It was a time like no other.
That’s why he wept.
No one knew.
And no one knew Masr was rising
up from its thousand years slumber to a world it didn’t recognize
a world remade in another’s image.
It was remaking itself.
Abdelhalim belonged to the old world, the old Masr,
the Masr you and your generation were in a hurry to leave behind. That gray, dusty place
too slow to catch up
its cracks left to widen and deepen.
That’s how it was. Sidewalks crumbled
beneath your feet.
So you climbed.
You were the new Masr.
You climbed and climbed
by the light of the lamp your sister lit for you.
They carried you.
The old Masr carried you.
Its ancient footprints your path
but you didn’t know they sold trinkets
woke with the field crickets before the sun came up
and broke their own hearts for you
as you slept with dreams of tumult.
And you climbed because you were afraid of staying.
You were afraid of the sound of the field crickets
the dim light of the lamp
and the crumbling sidewalks
and the smell of rotting meat
and hot street ovens
and dirty children
and poverty that didn’t recognize itself living on less than two dollars a day,
the rolling days one into another
the toothless men sucking sugarcane in the field like it was the best thing in the world. It was.
You didn’t know.
America glittered its promises
you leapt into its arms
headlong you leapt, in love,
your hope boundless.
You didn’t know.
“Ahwak,” Abdelhalim sang.
He could have been singing about you.
And you were gone.
America never even noticed.
MHE: "I live and work in Florida and hold an MA in English and a PhD in Comparative Literature. My work explores the intersection of empire, war and culture. My poetry has been published in The Beautiful Space (forthcoming)."