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Split Seeds

Lehi Naseem

My mother and I sit side by side in the garden. Sunlight sneaks through entangled

grapevines above. In front of us, pistachios and pumpkin seeds are scattered in bowls

beside gilded teacups. Crushed cardamom rests at the bottom of each glass.

“At your age,” she tells me, cracking a seed in half, “I was pregnant with you.”

Dread washes over me. She reminds me often how different her life was in her twenties. 

Her mother did not afford her the patience she has given me and my sisters. In the span of three years, my mother had a career, a husband, and a baby.

Meanwhile, there are butterfly hair clips in my vanity drawer and dirty sneakers under my 

childhood bed where I still rest my head every night. She pats her belly with disdain and complains my sisters and I stretched her once delicate body into what it is now. My body looks just like hers.


I pull my knees close to my chest. “Why don’t we go back home this summer? Just you

and me.” Though there are miles between us here, in Kurdistan we are united as if I’m

nestled back inside her womb. Uncles and aunts blithely remark how I am the only

daughter who resembles her. Our names are called in succession. My presence, the

features she gave me, are tender reminders of her youth. But in America, where there is an unwritten competition on raising daughters correctly in our community, the pleasant feelings are replaced with a gnawing reality: her almond eyes, her cheekbones, and her honey hair wasting away atop my unmarried, barren body.


“Ask your sisters.” She shudders with embarrassment at the thought of returning to her

father’s home, four withering branches, 3anes, trailing behind her.


My best friend’s nikkah was yesterday. I am the last among my friends with a bare ring

finger. They have started to plan dates without me. My problems seem trivial compared to my mother’s therefore I am not permitted to complain. So what if I lose a few friends to their husbands?

I will never understand the pain of escaping a homeland with a man I only met six years prior.

Or how strange it must have been to learn to survive alone in a foreign place where fried

food is handed to you through car windows. Over twenty years later, she feels more at

home in California than I do.


Whether I am dancing in dimly lit bars with friends I don’t trust or grocery shopping in my village in an abaya with my Uncle’s wife, I am consistently caught between what I am and what I am not. I realize enduring an everlasting diaspora identity crisis is a privilege. I could be in Kurdistan under the thumb of incompetent leaders, under the rubble of imperialist destruction, or nearly as horrifying, under a husband my parents have vetted for me. 


Before my mother longed for a single son-in-law, she dreamed of giving birth to a son.

Like an unforgiving avalanche, I blessed my family with the shivering disappointment of

femininity. And like the heavy silence after a disaster devastates land, I was the fourth

and final daughter. My existence evidence of my parents last failed attempt at building a

sufficient family.


I envision a life where I was born a son—tall and charming with obscure hobbies not

intended to pad my potential as someone’s spouse. Maybe she would like me then.

I imagine we’d laugh more and I’d spend less time inside my own head.

The house is quieter than ever before, a family of six only a trio now. I fear if I leave

home, I will lose the last thread connecting us. I often wonder what kind of person I’d be

if I came from a vibrant family like the ones in Arab cinema: loud, playful, and intimately

interwoven. Most of my nights are spent wishing my sisters were kinder to me or my

father could carry a conversation longer than fifty-three seconds without arguing. I dream

about my mother telling me her regrets, joking about her past lovers as they do in

American sitcoms. I pray one day she’ll see me as more than a reflection she can openly



I’ve inherited my father's stoic nature. Soft-spoken and unsure, I never believe men

when they tell me I’m pretty. I grew up the youngest in a family full of women who were

taught to hate themselves. My mother has never been fond of the way I cut my hair short

or how I apologize for things out of my control. I fear she resents me for showing her an

ordinary woman in Kurdistan is still ordinary in America. Unremarkable women tend to

be forgettable wherever they go.


I carry the empty glasses and bowl of split seeds into the kitchen. At times, I picture my

mother exhausted, her body aching in a hospital bed. Snickers of women with herds of

sons drown out my desperate cries for her milk. Only a few hours old, I am freezing and

hungry begging for affection from a woman who has nothing left to give. A glimpse of

us: a mother yearning for a life unmarred, a daughter yearning for her mother. The two of

us frayed from the beginning.

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