maia medicine
 
Picture

1985

The sun hangs just above the roofs of our neighbors' houses. Dad and I, lean and black, are standing in the driveway facing the light. He points to a white pin prick in the purple sky.
“See that star? That is not a star. It is the planet Venus.”
I nod my head.
“You remember I told you that the sun is a star?”
I raise my eyebrows.
“You see these stars in the sky? The sun is just like one of these stars. You understand?”
“Yes. The sun is a star...”
I stare expecting to see the sun burst into a million stars and scatter them over the sky. And then in the morning, all the stars would fly toward each other like iron fillings to a magnet and create the sun.

“Time to go inside.” Dad picks me up and carries me inside the house.


1988

I am reading the biography of Albert Einstein, sitting next to my little brother in the backseat of Mom's boyfriend, Cliff's car. Tomorrow we are going to watch parades and fireworks in the city. Cliff starts the engine. I hear pounding on the car.
“You ain't taking my kids with that man.”
“Oh lord.” Mom looks at Cliff.
“Just taking my kids off with some strange man.”
“Nat, calm down. We are just going to the city to watch the fireworks. We will be back tomorrow.” Mom and Dad argue in front of Cliff's car. I turn my back to them and hold my breath and pretend I am a big blue balloon floating away.
“He is stealing my kids.”
“No one is stealing them. I am taking them to go see--”
“You ain't taking them nowhere.”
Dad grabs my forearm through the opened back door window. Mom snaps his hand off me.
“What is your problem? Look at what you are doing to--”
“I'm not listening to your bull shit anymore. The kids are staying with me.”
Dad opens the back door. “Come on Maisha. Get on out. You are staying with me this weekend.”
“But I want to go see the fireworks!”
Mom hands our bags to Dad. “It will be okay,”she says “We will go see the fireworks some other time.”
I take my brother's hand and we walk to the driveway.
I let go of his hand, stick my fingers in my ears, and watch the balloon burst.


That evening, I curl into the recliner in the living room and read my book. The air is wet and cloudy with cigarette smoke. Dad paces between the kitchen and the living room, mumbling. His shoulders curve into his chest.

“Let me ask you something...” He stops in front of me with his hands on his waist. “Your mom, she ever talk about marrying Cliff?”
“Sometimes.”
“We'll see about that.” His arms fold across his chest. His eyes blink off tempo and slow.
“Your mom say anything else about her and Cliff getting married?”
I look at him.
“I'm sure she told you not to talk to me. She don't want me to know what's going on. Thinks I'm stupid.”
My brother lays his head in my lap.
“You know she ain't coming back. She doesn't want to take care of her kids. She wants to go running off with Cliff. You see how she do. She doesn't want to have nothing to do with you any more. Telling my own daughter not to speak to me.”

The next morning, I tip toe into Dad's room. He is sleeping, his mouth gray like the ash floating in the plastic soda bottle beside his bed. His hand hangs crooked off the side of the bed. I poke his wrist. His arm slightly swings. His head jerks. He opens his eyes.
“You okay?” He asks.
“I'm okay.”
His mustache curls toward his empty cheeks and he closes his eyes. I watch him dream.


He hears the hum of machines and insects. Suddenly the world is quiet. The trees shatter and the dirt becomes black.
He is running, one step too slow to catch his breath.
The Vietnam forest glows neon yellow and the day's humidity seeps into his pants.
He forgets how to smell, to eat, to sleep. He chews bugs like gum to kill the nerves.
He counts the trees, the steps, the men, the ammunition, the hours on the clock, the stars. He doesn't count the nights, the dead, the forgotten.
He never believed in this war, but his fate was drafted. And on the other side of hell, he tells myself on sleepless nights, is a house in the suburbs, two kids, a pretty wife, and a life that is his own.
The air red and heavy. The sky explodes. Everyone is running to the horizon. Trucks with machine guns are lingering in road. He looks at his hand, holding a lit cigarette. Red embers eat the tobacco and there is nothing but ash.



Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Albert Einstein


1990


Mom is driving from the airport and Dad is sitting next to her talking about what he has learned since he moved to California. His eyes sparkle black and his thin arms brush against the car window. He lights a cigarette.
Mom raises an eyebrow. “Just one. I stopped smoking around the kids and I think it has made a difference in their health.”
He exhales. “I have been watching the news. You can't trust them. You think you can trust those people at your job. They got your file and since we are married they are watching you.”
Mom stares at the traffic, clutches the steering wheel and smiles through the rear view mirror at my brother and I in the backseat
“I'm telling you this for your own good and for the children's. They are after all of us.”
She puts on her blinkers. “I'm sure we are safe.”
He shakes his head. “They've got you tricked. They've got you thinking that you can trust them. But they are only letting you keep your job so that they can keep tabs on me. They don't care nothing about you.”
Mom turns the steering wheel to the left. “I'm going to stop and get some coffee.” She looks at him. “Do you want some?”
“Thanks.”
She parks the car at 7-11, opens the door, and walks into the store.
Dad lights another cigarette and exhales out the window.
“How have you been Maisha?”
“Good.”
“You doing good in school?”
“Yes.”
“What are you studying?”
“Astronomy.”
“Your teachers don't ever ask anything about me, do they?”
I shake my head.
“Well, if they ever do. You tell them to mind their business. Don't tell them anything about me.”

The cigarette slips out of Dad's fingers like a falling star detonating on the black top pavement.


1996

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein

It is midnight in the summer. I sit under a tree, my knees pulled to my chest. I am listening to the stars as if they have a secret just for me.
My friends are spending these summer nights drinking, smoking, and making out in the back of cars. I don't do that. Mom says that I have to be careful or I will end up like my dad. Schizophrenia is genetic.
I gaze at the navy blue sky. The stars start to swirl like a circle dance around the moon. The moon and stars become the sun spinning in the zenith.
My mouth opens to taste the light and my hand clutches the bones in front of my heart. I hold my breath and swallow the sun.
It erupts inside of me and fills the sky.
The stars whisper. “This is the light at the end of the shadow of the valley of death. Some are scared and it burns them like the fires of hell. Don't be scared.”

I lay on the grass. The lights descend and blanket me. I realize that in my dad's dreams he runs away from the bright lights because he believes we are alone.

But I count stars and most nights they count me

voces against violence vol. 3
 


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