I'm really angry with my parents, and I feel like a child when I feel my anger in my heart. It feels stubborn and stupid, and to even admit this anger elicits a minor shame.I have expected too much from my parents, I suppose. Their only crowning achievement at this point in my life is managing to keep me alive and moderately meeting my needs. There's not much to be said for the relationship itself though. It seems to have been fractured beyond repair by anger and the overall weirdness that comes with being at cultural crossroads.
I was raised first a Pakistani Muslim girl. My name is not pronounced Amber, but rather Umbur. Soft and round, a name in most instances, impossible for the structured Western mouths to express. My father insisted upon a strict maintenance of culture and upon beginning primary school he did not permit me to change my name to Amber for the students. No one could pronounce Umbur so everyone settled with Omber.
Pakistan cannot and never will translate in the West. Even my fathers attempt to retain our cultural identity through my name failed. I was neither Pakistani nor was I a westerner. I became my own strange awkward looking and awkwardly named entity. The name gathered more strange momentum when we were learning the names of food in french class and my exceptionally fat and bespectacled french teacher taught us that a hamburger was pronounced "Ohhmberger". Upon hearing this the class froze and turned to Omber and one of them whispered "Omberger". My fate was sealed (a tip for current friends: don't try it).
There were attempts to teach Amber how to pray. I resisted. There were attempts to teach her Wudu, I resisted. There were attempts to teach her Arabic so she could read the Qu'ran. It was hopeless. I fought all of it. I remember when I participated in an art class at the mosque, my cousin sent the Imams daughter (who was very nice, very good, and very smart) to teach me how to do wudu. She was polite through the process and did not snicker at me as though I was stupid.
I remember Arabic school. My dad stuck me in the 3rd grade because I was in 3rd grade in the Canadian school system. Another horrible translation. I did not have 3rd grade knowledge of Arabic. I had no fucking clue what was going on. Our teacher was an ill tempered Arab man who scared me. He would ask me questions and because I had NO idea what was going on I would consistently answer with "Alif". He stopped asking me questions or would roll his eyes and curse "Alif! Alif! Always Alif". I resigned to drawing and one time drew a beautiful picture which, upon seeing, my teacher crumpled up and threw away. I was the class dunce. Even Aisha, the other Pakistani girl, refused to talk to me because of my well demonstrated stupidity.
On our last day of Arabic school we had a giant contest, the winner of which would receive a beautiful set of colored pencils. I remember bombing the contest (obviously) and crying because I did not win the prize and instead got a shitty pencil. The well versed Indonesian girl in a hijab had flitted off with set, which was of no surprise to the other students.
My childhood was awkward. I was hyperactive, a loner. I used to talk to the sun in the morning and thank it for rising. I had issues throwing away candy bar wrappers because I imagined them to be living things whose feelings would be hurt if I let them go. I hated spiders, especially the giant ones that lived under the siding in the portable classrooms. I remember eating my fruit cup one afternoon only to be chased by a wasp, at which point I threw the fruit cup at it and ran. I remember attempting to steal snow from some boys for a giant boulder we had built, at which point I was rudely punched and the wind was knocked out of me.
My mother said I was hyperactive and impossible to control. I remember being slapped a lot. The worst times were at dinner parties where a large audience would watch my mother slap me. I have so many memories of my mother slapping me while a group of people looked on. The shame it produced was wretched. The feeling of love mixed with shame and unworthiness still sits inside me and I have yet to let it go. My mother always told me our relationship was fractured by the stress produced by the realities of being an immigrant in an arranged marriage while trying to raise two kids and assemble a life in Canada. These realities seemed to have evaporated as my mother is now living quite comfortably in Ohio as a Marriage and Family therapist.
I am the product of multiple realities.
For much of my teenage years my concept of self was framed in the parameters of "bad" and "stupid" and "evil". I remember my parents venomously spitting out that I was evil. "Amber lies, Amber fights her brothers, Amber has bouts of jealousy, Amber manipulates, Amber is Evil". When I was born my mother said her heart dropped and when she saw my personality unravel she knew why her heart had dropped. When I was in college she was fighting with my father and swore at him "I've known she was cursed since the day she was born".
Starting at the age of 12 I attempted to scrub off the ways the devil had infected me. I became consumed with a desire to do good and I was always guarded and cautious with my choice of actions, words. I was terrified of people getting to know me as though if they were to look at me they would see the truth of my being. All that work I had put into being good was a fucking lie. I was evil, I was rotten, I was useless.
I spent college over working myself to earn my parents praise. They thought I went out too much so I stopped going out to make them happy. I tried to get good grades all the time, "look I made dean's list!" moments. Nothing. I swore to myself I would never date, I would never have a boyfriend. I would never fuck. I would live up to the request of purity that had fallen upon my feminine virgin frame.
The negativity in our home was fermenting and at some point was bound to explode. It did precisely at the beginning of 2008. The bitter reality that my mother had attempted to deny about her home, her husband came forth and consumed us. That winter the lights that kept us warm and happy died and I was emotionally devastated. To keep reality at bay I spent lots of time outside of the home. The day after Valentine's day I stumbled into the Shi Sha Lounge and curiously eyed a Chinese boy with red lips that bloomed out of his mouth. A few months later I kissed him in his bedroom and then a few months later I kissed him again in a way my body would not forget.
Image: Madonna, 1984