Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

Archive for July, 2009

Just one more.

Monday, July 27th, 2009

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Portland was amazing. Photos, mostly not mine, to follow soon.

One more episode (digression: are these “episodes?” “installments?” “chapters?” anyway, there’s one, or maybe two, left), then something a little different.

Update: Ooh, see Ann for some delightful notes we found in the Sweetpea Bakery. Actually, I found them and she photographed them, so it was kindof a team effort. (Either that, or she stole my frag.)

8. grief

Monday, July 27th, 2009

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My mother cries the night before her mother’s funeral. I know this because we—her, the cousins, her brother—are sharing a room, a cramped sleeping space next to a larger one, where her sisters are sleeping. Her brother speaks to her in Hindi for a while, hugging her, but eventually, even he has to go to sleep.

I am sleeping just next to her. She puts a hand on my shoulder; I tense.

“You were always such a beautiful boy,” she whispers in the darkness. “I think I’m losing you.”

“I’m just afraid,” she says.


Some very nice phraseology

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

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I never did quite wrap my head around why the cis- discussion at Pam’s went as it did, with nobody asking why “cis” was such a nasty word, and what we ought to have replace it. Then I got wind of it not actually being about the particular word, which, yes, makes quite a bit more sense.

The argument seems to be that “cis-gender” has been used in anger, with trans activists who will have a prefix whether they like one or not angrily denouncing a cis-centric LGBT movement. And, since “cis” was originally envisaged as a nice, neutral, polite prefix—drawn from Chemistry, for goodness sakes!—meant to just lightly tag—oops! there you go, darling—cisgender privilege, this new use in anger was a very nasty twisting of the word indeed.

Which does seem a little off from where I’m standing. I mean, you name a privilege, it seems more than a little naïve to figure that nobody will ever get angry about it. Hurl it about a bit. Maybe attach an invective or two? “Fucking white supremacists” surely have feelings too, you know, so if you’re trying to be really polite about it all around, it’s probably best to avoid all that nasty “privilege” and “liberation from oppression” business altogether. Just let it drop, bite your tongue, and sweep it all under the rug like you’re good friends who truly can’t stand each other getting together at the only coffee shoppe you can ever manage to agree on for a nice, steamy cup of fair-trade, organic joe. Skone?

Oh, and if you’re cisgendered and feel a bit glum that I just called you such a nasty thing, DGlenn would like to have a word with you. It’s a very good word. (There are tables.)

5. avial

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

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My mother and her brother pick me up from the airport. There would generally be more family members here—her four sisters, perhaps some of my cousins—but I think she wanted to look me over first. I’m simply thankful for the reprieve. I hug my mother, and as she kisses my cheek I can’t help but notice how many grey streaks have appeared since last I’d seen her. My uncle, smiling, tells me I looked very handsome. My mother doesn’t say anything.

We drive through heavy Bangalore traffic for over an hour. Petrol is more expensive, and my uncle’s car, like most in India, doesn’t have air conditioning. It’s well over a hundred degrees as they quiz me about London, New York, Katie, and I reply in the most mundane way possible. New York was nice. London was prettier. Yes, of course, I’m very excited to see everyone.

My uncle’s house is concrete, spacious, and painted a brilliant turquoise on the outside. It glows in the hot sun.

“We’ve been making a lot,” my mother says. Her eyes look sunken when she says it, and I wonder how much sleep she’s had over the last few days, “Cooking a lot. So you and your cousins can eat together.”

I have six cousins on my mom’s side of the family. Present: Akhil, Kavita, Prema, and Swasti. Laksmi and Pravti are in Trivandrum, with their father. They’re sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, talking. They have banana leaves in front of them, but there’s no food on them yet.

“Come on,” Akhil gestures me over, “You all remember ______?”

They all smile, searching my face, trying to find the few hints of familiarity. I embrace them.

“They’ve been cooking for us all day,” Kavita says. “I think it’s helping give my mom something to do.”

“But they didn’t let us eat it until you got here. I’m famished. We cut down banana leaves for you.”

Because, of course, few people in India actually eat on banana leaves anymore. Plates, cups, even flatware, it’s all stainless steel.

There’s a constant presence when Indian families gather. It doesn’t matter if it’s a homecoming or a birthday; a wedding or a funeral. When we come together, there is always food. When a lot of the family comes together, there is a lot of food. And today, with our family grieving, the food doesn’t stop coming.

First, since it’s still morning, there are dahi vadas and medu vadas, idlis, coconut and tamarind chutneys, sambar and dosas and potato pollia. There’s chai and mango juice (the same brand, I note amusedly, that is sold in every Indian store in the States) and coconut water, taken directly from the coconut. And then, almost immediately, there’s lunch: avial and rasaam, channa masala and Bisibelebath.

Each dish, each bite, evokes family. Memories of spices, soft cooking smoke that made me cough as a girl; the sweetness, the simple, uncomplicated pleasure of eating together. That’s the point of this. That’s why my Indian mother, when she took a break, urges me to eat more. She doesn’t think I’m skinny. She had surely noticed that my hips, my cheeks, my chest have all filled out. But she knows the food is a tool of bonding. She is trying, actively and subconsciously, to draw out that connection once more.

She asks if she can feed me some food.

It’s something that mothers and grandmothers do with very small children. They feed them, manually—that is, with their hands. It’s usually yoghurt rice, with salt and cumin, or if they’re older, pilaf or avial. I want to tell her no, that it would embarrass me and her, but looking at her eyes, her hair, I can’t do it. I ask for avial.

She pushes some avial in her plate, balling it in her hands and taking it between her fingers. I open my mouth, and she pushes it in.

Ignoring my cousin’s averted eyes, it almost feels, for a second, like home.

4. liminal

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

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“Your mother passed away this morning.”

“What? Mom, are you—?”

“No, my mother. I’m sorry. She didn’t get to see you before she died. When will you be here?”

“I’m getting on the plane now.”

I enjoy flying quite a lot. I enjoy the parts of it that most people hate. The scuttling, the shuffling—print boarding pass, go to security, shoes off, purse in one tray, backpack in another, x-ray on, thanks ma’am you can go through, x-ray off, backpack on, purse on, shoes on, go to the gate, wait, board. I’ve loved it since I was a little girl, the ritual of travel, the anticipation of change.

This is always better when leaving. Going somewhere new. Returning home has never lifted my heart in the same way.

That night, my backpack felt heavy, my back ached, my purse didn’t sit right. I smoked before going in the terminal, and immediately kicked myself—I wouldn’t have a way to shower before seeing my mother. The residue seemed to cling to everything, my hair, my skin, my lungs, the terminal walls. It was choking—in my mind, it smelled of sandalwood.

The ritual felt like a funeral procession. I suppose it was.

I love taking off, tearing away from the earth.

I like landing, returning to the ground someplace new.

The parts in-between, I could do without.

Whatever your level of excitement, at some point it becomes evident that you are in a metal tube with five hundred other people, and you will be in this tube, hearing every cough, every sneeze, every god-help-you baby’s cry, for the next several hours. Eleven, in this case.

I usually try to sleep, forgetting whatever sleep schedule I had and forcing my body to shut down. I can’t usually read, and for the same reason, I can’t usually write. On a more recent flight, I actually talked to my seatmate. We groused about the movie and talked about our respective significant others. She was in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend—they had sex maybe once a month. I had just been away from my girlfriend for all of a week, and that by itself was difficult. Then we sneaked into the lavatory and I went down on her as she tried not to scream into a regulation blue airline pillow, until the Fasten Seat Belt sign pinged on and an elderly flight attendant tapped on the door and politely asked us to return to our seats, where we groused further about the movie.

On this flight, though, I didn’t feel like talking, and even thoughts of the previous night were tinged with an ineffable grief. For eleven hours, my night, I tried to sleep, and could not.

I arrive in Bangalore. The airport is dirty, though there are a few people cleaning it somewhat forlornly. I wonder how much they are paid. I wonder if they are paid, and if they will ever in their lives be able to take for granted the experience I just did.

Thanks to the miracle and horror of time zones, it’s now nearing mid-day. Through the windows, the sun is obscenely bright. The sky looks perpetually over-exposed.

My family will be waiting for me outside the security area. The security area, in this instance, feels safe. Secure. It feels like the last such place that will ever be.

I contemplate, seriously, finding another flight and getting on it, possibly without a ticket. I contemplate begging, pleading. I contemplate stealing a boarding pass. I contemplate spending the last of my own money. I don’t.

I go into the bathroom and begin to change.

I enter a stall and pull off my t-shirt, smudging some makeup onto it in the process. I take off my bra. From my backpack, from the very bottom, I pull out an ace bandage and some small clips (sometimes, they won’t let you through security with safety pins). The bandage does not match my skin. I wrap the bandage slowly, tightly, starting mid-way up my ribs. It’s uncomfortable. I pull it tighter, until my tits are jammed tight, nearly flat against my ribcage. It’s tight, tight enough, tight enough to hurt, but not tight enough to account for the tears streaking down my face. I clip it securely.

I find another shirt, looser and less revealing than the previous, and I go out to the mirrors. I brush my teeth, getting rid of as much of the smoke taste as I can. I brush dry shampoo into my hair. I carefully reapply my makeup, wiping away smudges and tapping on concealer and finishing powder until my skin is smooth again. I wipe off all the makeup around my eyes. My reflection looks nearly dead. I chide myself for thinking so, then add a bit of lightening concealer beneath my eyes. I don’t wear lipstick, but I wipe off the remnants of my slightly tinted, slightly shiny chap stick, and resolve to buy a new, clear tube.

Thus changed, I go to meet my family.