Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

Walking and ghosts.


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They’ve never sat us down, my sister and I, and said, “It’s time we told you our life stories. We’re immigrants, and it’s important for us to share what that means, and it’s important for you to know where you came from.” I don’t think any parents have ever said that in the history of the world outside of movies. But you pick these things up—a stray word here and there, stories packed up the attic and left to rot. They’re patched and dusty, and they don’t fit together and I’m sure that dates and details have fallen off over time.

My mother came when she was twenty-four. Alone. She came because she wanted an education (education is very important to us), and because she didn’t want to live in a room with her five siblings for the rest of her life. She wanted independence. So she got a Rotary scholarship, stepped onto a plane for the first time in her life, and flew to Tehran.

My grandmother came seeking a doctorate in mathematics (education is very important to us), and she brought her family along. My father was seven, his brother 13. My grandfather was never happy here. Two years after arriving, they went back to India, leaving behind two sons and a bit of money.

When my parents tell this story, it has a very specific ending: “and that is how it came to pass that our children were born and grew to be greater and smarter and wealthier than us.”

That’s how the story goes. You’re can’t change the ending mid-way through. It’s cheating.


I almost don’t recognize that 25-year-old me, and there is a part of me that doesn’t want to own up to the fact of her. She seems so insulated, isolated, self-absorbed and a little clueless. I was already deep into doing social-justice work at that point, yet… ”Jess’s Walk, One

Immediately and viscerally, I feel a pang of anxiety. I’m 24. Am I deep into social justice work? Am I doing valuable work at all? Do I get to claim that, when I live in a nice apartment in a nice part of town? When I have a job that pays well? When I’m not chokingly depressed—and does that mean I’m not a good enough activist? When I volunteer, but the last time I volunteered was for NARAL? When I drive to work? Am I writing enough (subtext: I am not writing enough)? Am I writing too much, and doing too little (subtext: yes, that too)? Am I— Should I—

1. This is a hilarious reaction. It’s okay, you can laugh.

2. “I, I, I, me, me, me…” and what Jess is saying about internalized white-supremacist culture clicks hard. You can’t build a community on those terms. Wait: We can’t build a community on those terms. And I, for one, can’t even move in that claustrophobic space.


I was always terrified of school projects. My parents would spend hours editing papers with me, tutoring me, building science fair projects. We would work on them hours and hours and hours, until I felt sick in my stomach and couldn’t keep my eyes open, and of course, they would tell me to never, ever, ever wait until the last minute again. Don’t I take my education seriously? Education is very important to us.

I got a B+ in some subject or another in the fourth grade. After the term ended, I waited. Every day, I could feel the report card winding its way through the mail system, plodding closer. Every day, I was convinced it was in the stack. I started throwing up whenever the mailman left.


My father tells the story like this: He was 11, and his brother was 17, and they were living alone in Calgary. Their parents paid for a small split-level town home, but little else, so they rented the main floor and lived in the basement. For some reason, my dad started wondering if the arrangement was legal. He called CIC, and they told him in no uncertain terms that it was not legal, and he could not rent space on his visa, and could he please give them his address, so they could clear this up? He hung up, and now, he laughs about it. “We were shit,” he does not have to say, “But we suffered, and went to school, and got doctorates, all so you and your sister could have better lives.” So we could be better than shit.


I spent my third year of high school crying. I know that I also met most of the people I would still consider close friends, but the memory is hazy, and I only know that I knew them because they told the school interventionist, and my parents, that they were very worried about me.

See, there was a girl. But this story doesn’t go how you think it does, because she didn’t break my heart. She was just better. Better. Undeniably smarter, more clever, stronger, faster, more beautiful… And two years prior, I had realized that:

1. I was a girl, and,
2. I was a lesbian.

These were new words for old feelings, but they were unfamiliar and felt too strange to put into my mouth and, incidentally, my body was taking shape and I hated hated hated it.

My mom didn’t know what to do, as I sobbed to her incoherently and inconsolably. And I didn’t know what to tell her. For years, I thought I should have come out with everything, right then and there. It would have been so much easier, my parents could have dealt with the loss—the double-loss of grandkids and their son—and helped me, and we could have moved on. And I kicked myself for not doing this, for being such a damn coward I waited and waited and got worse and worse.

A month ago, my dad tells me: “I don’t know what we would have done if you’d told us when you were younger. We probably would have tried to fix you.”


Ann tells me: “You’re so wonderful at building communities. It’s just natural for you. Like it’s effortless. I don’t know how you do it.”


Look carefully: you can see cracks in the leather, tarnish in the silver, rat shit crumbling in the corners.

My mom stopped talking to us for a time two years ago. She’d call, and we’d say words, and the whole time, she would be on the edge of tears. She hadn’t been home in years; her mother was sick; her father had died almost twenty years ago, and she had seen him maybe twice after she left. She had a doctorate, and couldn’t find a job and shouldn’t she be with her dying mother?

My dad’s own father had died a year before that. The reason they had gone back to India, as it turned out, was that he wanted a car, wanted to make money, and didn’t care that his wife could make more money in Canada. She was shit, she was his, and he beat those words into her body so she’d never forget where she came from, who she belonged to, and what was important in life.

6 Responses to “Walking and ghosts.”

  1. Sarah J Says:

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    This is beautiful.

    Thanks.

  2. ann Says:

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    This makes me want to write, more meaningfully. Thank you.

  3. Lauren S Says:

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    This touched me deeply. I want to hug you. ((((()))))

  4. Medusa Says:

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    I hope it’s okay for me to comment here (as this is a private blog). I just wanted to say this piece was amazing. You’re a wonderful, moving writer.

  5. violet Says:

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    Thank you :-)

    And yes, comments are of course welcome and appreciated. It’s a one-person blog (me), but it’s meant to be shared.

  6. Yoli Says:

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    What an amazing blog you have here. I am glad I found you.

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