Memoir Musings: The Swimsuit

Swish.  Swish.  Click.  Swish.

I watch the fan blades slowly move above my head, the stutter just a part of the rhythm.  I’m laying on the family bed upstairs, limbs askew, full from lunch.  As though from a distance, I hear the cars pass by on the street below, the chatter of the goatherds taking their animals through the town, the occasional lorry taking an illegal shortcut through our street, cutting through to the warehouse district, the food vendors hawking their goods, loud, poetic, repetitive.  The wail of a baby in the house next door slowly rises until it abruptly stops.  I wonder briefly, did it suffocate?  The thought floats away, followed by nothing.  I gaze up at the blades, willing them to move faster.   The fan is helpless in the face of the stultifying heat; it is high summer in Coimbatore.

I think longingly of the pond in my Thatha’s village, envisioning the cool, wet mud under my feet as I wade into the dark waters, pushing away the tendrils of the lotus plants, beautiful but treacherous to the unsuspecting.  If only we were there, I think.  Then I sit up.  I remember the overflow tank next to the well at the back of the property.

I open up the camphor chest at the foot of the bed, lifting out the wooden trays, old linens, saris, searching.  And then I find it: my mother’s old swimsuit.  A pale salmon one piece with ruffles all over, I’ve wanted to try it on ever since I saw it earlier that week.  My mother had been putting away some of her out-of-season, elaborate saris, and had come across her old swimsuit.  She sat there for a minute, holding it, lost in her memories, and then showed it to me.  I wanted to try it on, but she was impatient to be done and took it back.  It has been calling to me, every time I walk by the chest.  Now I have a reason to wear it.

I lock the bedroom door and take off my cotton shift.  Do I take off my panties too?  I’m not sure, I have never worn a swimsuit before.  I stand there, holding it, turning it this way and that, trying to find a zipper, some way to open it up so I can put it on.  Tears of frustration well in my eyes, until it clicks: I have to step in and pull it up around me.  Of course!  I quickly take off my panties, and looking over at the locked door, surreptitiously place one foot and then the other into the suit, tugging it up and over my hips, and then feed my arms through the straps.  The crossover straps  thwart me at first, but I pull them over my head and force my arms through.  Sweating, I stand there, successful, in my mother’s suit.

Now the fear starts to build.  What if someone walks in?  No, the door is locked.  What would they think if they tried the door and found it locked?  What would I say I was doing?  Panicking, I unlock the door, then crouch behind it, holding my shift in front of me, a thin protection.  I think of the path I have to take through the house, all the opportunities to be seen, half naked, wearing a swimsuit, and I almost give up.

It is however, that dead time between two and four in the afternoon, when everyone in the house is taking their afternoon nap.  I should have been as well, but I hadn’t been able to, the heat was so unbearable.

Bolstered by this thought, I inch down the stairs, through the dining room, into the laundry and mud room, and then finally ease the back screen door open.  I wait to see if anyone has heard me, then head down the few steps to the back patio.  The old well looms in the distance, framed by Thatha’s coconut trees.  Looking back towards the house one last time, I pick my way past the rose bushes, lime, mango, and pomegranate trees, to the back of the property.

The well is large, grey cement, circular, with a great pumping mechanism built into the top, a mesh screen to prevent debris from falling in, and steps spiraling up to the rim.  The overflow tank is to the left of the well, a brown square cement tank, with a couple steps up.  The top of the tank is high above my head, as I stand there looking up at it.  It sits there, brooding, waiting.  I can hear the occasional caw of the neighborhood crows, and the noises of passersby on the street seem distant.  A slight movement at the edge of my vision makes me jump.  Panicking, I look over, but it is just a scrawny tabby, hunched on the wall, watching me.  I stick my tongue out at it, laugh, and climb the steps up to the tank.

From the top step, I can just reach across the gap and touch the top of the well.  The cement feels cool and grainy under my fingers.  I flatten my hands on the top, getting ready to hoist myself up when I hear a distant plop…Thatha had told me that frogs lived in there.  I shudder slightly, thinking of the slimy creatures moving around at the bottom of the well, and step back.  Looking back at the tank, I notice that the water is more than three quarters of the way full, and completely still.  There is a thin, oily film on the surface, and then I see a dragonfly alight, breaking the surface tension.  The ripples are miniscule, and seem to take a really long time moving to the edges of the tank.

I have never been this close to the tank before; Thatha had always warned me away.  Exhilarated at what I am about to do, I shiver a little, and then with quick jump, lift myself onto the top of the wall.  Overbalancing, I feel myself slide down the other side and catch myself, scraping my legs, frantic not to fall into the water.  I laugh at myself, not fall into the water?  That’s why I am here!  “Silly goose,” I mutter.  I look at the still water again, and then slowly ease my feet and legs in.  The cool water accepts my limbs, soothing the angry welts and calming me.  The dark tank walls make it so I can’t see very far into the depths, but I can see, faintly, the top of my feet, floating gently below the surface.  I waggle my feet, watching the ripples.

Seeing movement again, I look over to see that the tabby has moved closer in, watching me intently.  As I meet its eyes, its tail twitches, ever so slightly.  I look slowly away, uncertain, feeling hunted.  Gazing back at the water, I think about the village pond again.  I had walked in, my Paati next to me, the cool mud always under my feet, the water at waist level.  I hadn’t gone any further, staying at the edges, safe.  I think about my mother, wearing this suit, swimming in a large pool, in a foreign land.  None of my friends have ever swum before.  I have never swum before.  A sudden bolt of jealousy sweeps through me.  How hard could it be?  I think.  I’ve seen people swimming in movies, their arms and legs moving in unison, cutting through the water in effortless motion.  Squeezing my eyes tight, I try to remember the sequence of their strokes, their movement.  I think I have it.  Arms first, then kick both legs together.  Opening my eyes, I see the cat, now on the well wall, crouched, motionless.

I slide into the tank.

The cool dark waters envelope me, the sounds of the street and crows disappear, and all I can hear is the thrum of the bloodbeat in my ears.

Thruh Thrum.

Thruh Thrum.

I open my eyes.  Sudden burning.  I open my mouth.  Water floods in.

Thruh Thrum.

Thruh Thrum.

I can’t remember the strokes.  I can’t find my arms.  I look up and see the distant square of the afternoon sky, murky, receding.

And then an arm.

Grasping.

Snagging my hair.

Pulling.

Noise.  Angry noise.  Street and crows.

Face down on the dirt.

Water pouring out of me.

Thruh Thrum.

Thruh Thrum.

Lists.

I wrote this post on my other blog, earlier in the year, about taking the next step.  In it, I refered to a list I made at the start of the year, a list of values and attributes that I considered important in the man I want to be with in life.  Here is that list, in no particular order:

Honesty
Atrractive/ Fit/ Healthy
Spark
Humor
Ambition
Passion
Energy/Energetic
Spontaneous/Initiates activities or time together
Calm
Caring
Affectionate, and shows it
Loving
Family is important to him
Empathy
Has a good circle of friends and close friends
Has interests that are varied
Trust
Respectful
Spiritual
Education – ongoing learning is important
Creative

I wote that list, looked at it, and thought it was a little like whistling in the wind.  The universe/God/higher power looked at that list and took up the gauntlet.  I am now with a man who has all of those values and attributes.

The universe/God/higher power has given me what I’ve asked for and it is up to me to take up this chance, this soul lesson, and open myself up to whatever I am supposed to experience, and yes…learn.

Scary?  Most definitely.

Liberating?  Most definitely.

Withe my eyes wide open, heart in my hand, and my soul ready, I recognize this gift I have been given.  My task is to nurture it, treasure it, nourish it, and watch it flourish.

Day by day.

 

Memoir Musings: The Chocolates

A memory:  Late summer, 1988.  Thatha, standing at the Borneo House gates, still handsome with a big toothless smile on his face, slightly stooped but regal, one hand resting on his beloved black-handled, rubber-tipped aluminum walking stick, the other hand raised high, waving me goodbye.  He’s wearing a white tee shirt, his lungi- the traditional wrapcloth worn by Tamil men- firmly tied around his waist, and a small bag of foil-wrapped chocolates tucked inside.

I have just given him those chocolates that morning, the last morning of my visit, before heading back to college in the States.  I remember how happy he was to get them, eyes lighting up as he took them from me.  Paati said, “See?  She kept them hidden until now, just so you could have them after she’s gone.”

He nods, glowing with happiness at this meager gift from his granddaughter.

I smile back, taking their praise at my strength of will in keeping the chocolates secret.  I kneel down in front of them, silently asking for their blessings.  I touch each of their feet and then my forehead with my right hand, feeling their ritual touch on my head and then seeing their proud smiles as I stand up, my Thatha’s eyes cloudy with tears.  I hug them both gently, saying the traditional farewell in Tamil, “I am going, but I will return.”

They look at each other in wonderment, amazed at my words, since all they have ever known was my rebellion against anything traditional.  “Go, but come back,” they both give me the reciprocal response.  “Go, but come back.”

The car to the airport pulls away as I twist around for one last look at them out of the rear window.  They are both standing there, waving, framed by the swirling dust kicked up by the car.  I strain to keep them in sight, turning back to face the front when I can no longer see them.  Watching the familiar streets go by, the neighborhood teashops, the food vendors, swarms of people, the stray dogs, I think about the joy on my grandfather’s face when he saw the small bag of chocolates.  I can’t get that image out of my head.

—————–x—————————x———————————x——————————-

I had arrived three weeks earlier, on winter break from college.  I was in my old room upstairs, the one I stayed in for that brief and eventful six months in late 1982.  I looked around, my old schoolbooks were where I’d left them on the little desk, dusty, undisturbed.  Eighties Bollywood actresses stared up at me from old entertainment magazines, stunning in all their airbrushed beauty.  I looked out the windows at the majestic chickoo tree that dominated the front garden, my friend for all those years of visiting my grandparents, a watchful confidant, home to the resident fruit bats that kept me company through long sleepless nights.

Shaking away the memories, I unpacked for the stay, setting aside the gifts I had brought them: a scarf for Paati, Wincarnis tonic wine for Thatha, other little sundries that they had requested from overseas, things that were unavailable at the time in India.  I pulled out a large bag of foil wrapped chocolates, the ones with the gooey centers, the ones I knew he would like. But at the last moment, as I was gathering up the gifts to take downstairs to give them, I tossed them back in my suitcase.  Our favorite Swiss chocolates, Toblerones, were included in the pile of gifts.  That would be enough, I reasoned.

Later that night, as I lay in bed, windows open to let the cool night breezes waft in, listening to the rustling sounds of the bats in the trees, I unwrapped one of the chocolates and popped it in my mouth.  As the creamy deliciousness melted in my mouth, I closed my eyes in guilty pleasure, smoothing out the creased foil paper with my nails, bringing it back to a fragile smoothness.  I tucked the paper away in my bag, and went to sleep.

I ate those chocolates meant for my grandfather, night after night, for the rest of my stay.  During the day, I would watch him set aside his hated dentures, carefully portion out the Toblerone, cutting one triangle into halves, sharing them with me (Paati didn’t want any).  We would eat them together, relishing the nougat, sucking on the piece to make it last.  At night, I would take the same care with eating one out of the stashed bag, taking my time, rolling it around in my mouth until the last bit had melted away.  Then I would smooth out the foil and tuck it away in my bag.

The morning of my departure, I had maybe twelve of the chocolates left.  By now I was slightly sick of them and taking them back home with me seemed ridiculous.  I’ll give them to Thatha, I thought, he’ll love them. 

—————–x—————————x———————————x——————————-

I sit in the car, watching the city fall away, coconut tree plantations and farms slide by, the agricultural college, seeing it all from behind a veil of tears.  I picture his toothless grin, his joy at seeing those chocolates.  I can see them both, in my mind’s eye, standing there at the gates, waving, happy, proud.

“Go, and come back.”

“I am going, but I will return.”

I will return.  And I will make up for this insult, I will bring you bags of chocolates, more than you will know what to do with.  I promise. 

That was the last time I saw him on his feet, conscious, fully alive.

Venue Review: Bows and Arrows

It is hard to categorize this place, which is why I titled this piece “Venue Review.”

An odd concept: clothing (some new, some consignment) for sale up front, the a large empty space (for performances), local artist endeavors on the walls, a lounge/cafe selling some alcohol, soups, salads, sandwiches, and then an adorable patio out back.  It all seems oddly disjointed, and I never feel quite comfortable enough when I go there.

I’ve attended a couple of events there over the past few months, most recently to watch a friend’s husband’s trio perform.  It seems to be a popular space for local writing groups or performance artists to use for their events, and I look forward to attending more events there in the future.

1815 19th St
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 822-5668

Restaurant Review: Seasons 52

I recently attended a low-key, understated, yet elegant affair hosted by Yelp at Seasons 52 to welcome in the Fall food selections on their seasonally-changing menu.  It was such a treat to be able to mingle with the other elite members, have conversations that lasted beyond a quick hello, and to not have to defend myself from flying elbows and spilled drinks.  Keeping the guests to 70 or so elites made this a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable event, one that helped showcase the beautiful and intimate banquet room we were in.  Wood paneling, rich shades in the carpeting, wood, and muted decorations all made it feel very elegant.  The floor to ceiling windows were left open; though we could see the mall shoppers walk by and look in, it still managed to keep the setting elegant…nicely done, Seasons 52.

I was very impressed, as before, by their knowledgeable and approachable staff, some of whom I remember from prior visits: Michael (serving up the amazing Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with pesto) and Mingo (clearing the plates and helping out in general).  Passed appetizers included flat-breads (Garlic Pesto Chicken, Trio of Mushroom, Artichoke & Goat Cheese, Blackened Steak & Blue Cheese), Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms (delicious), Tuna Tartare Sushi Rolls, Braised Beef Crostini and Cider Glazed Chicken Skewers.  I enjoyed the Macedon Pinot and made a note of the Viognier, one of my favorite types of wine.

1689 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95815

Restaurant Review: Monsoon Cuisine of India

I have eaten at some great Indian-fusion restaurants in large cities (Manhattan, the SF bay area, Chicago, etc.) and was excited that Monsoon touted itself as one.  I have been there a few times, twice for dinner and twice for their late night happy hour.  I prefer the dinner seating…service is friendly and quick, and the wait staff are pleasant.  The late night happy hour lacks the same friendliness: the bartenders tend to keep to themselves or talk to one of their friends, and the customers are mostly inebrieated and look at me as an easy mark when I walk in, not an appealing atmosphere.

The food is good…I used a groupon the first time I went, and the server pointed me to a couple of entrees on the menu that she recommended as being a good value for the groupon.  She was very helpful in deciphering some of the complicated-sounding cocktails on the menu as well.  Some of those drinks are no longer being served, more’s the pity.

Samosas are delicious, as are the chaat masala-dusted fries, and my friend loved the tamarind wings.

1020 16th St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 469-9999

Rage

I made my boyfriend rage and break down in tears this weekend. “I am an ASSHOLE!” he screamed at me. “And you have made me this.”

I have the most amazing boyfriend. He gets me. He completely gets me. He knows how to read me and can call me out on my issues as soon as he sees them.

I love him. He loves me. I pinch myself every now and then, from utter disbelief that I am so lucky to have him. And because my feelings for him run high, so also does my fear. Fear that I am going to lose him. Fear that he will find someone else, that I am a stepping stone, a stop gap.

Because as I see it, he is an amazing man, and couldn’t possibly want to be with me. So in order to prevent him from leaving me, what do I do? I preemptively drive him away, by having jealous fits, making up stories in my head and out loud, of him cheating on me, being attracted to other women, not being enough for him.

And he puts up with this, but only so far.  And then he loses it.  Dramatically.  Enraged at my lack of trust, my inability to see his integrity, he screams at me, and then cries when he realizes what he has become in that moment.

Rage.

Point, counterpoint.

One day, we will have equilibrium.

I pray that it is the equilibrium of peace and love together, and not apart.