My big sister, Debi, woke me for school. She put her face close to mine and whispered, “Leslie Pie.” Even in our bedroom, I could smell my father’s Turkish coffee, which he always made for himself before he went to work.
I was in the second grade, living with my family in an apartment across the street from P.S. 99.
I got up and dressed and went to the kitchen to make instant coffee for my mother. The cup was
white with blue flowers with a matching saucer. I carried it in my wobbly hands to her room
where she was sleeping, her tussled black hair peeking out from under the covers.
“Mom,” I said.
She took the coffee and poured the spillage from the saucer back into the cup. After her first sip,
she pulled herself up, untangling her silky nightgown from beneath her. Then I handed her the
elastic ponytail holder with the marble-like balls on each end and a plastic brush with a skinny
point that had Debi’s blond strands in it. She smiled at me, the kohl from the night before still
lining her eyes.
She patted down the duvet and I sat, giving her my back. I could see myself in the mirror on the
wall, my long brown hair in her hands as she tackled the nest of knots.
“Tell me the story about you and Daddy,” I said.
“We met on the beach in Beirut,” she began, and I felt myself sink into her. The brush’s bristles
on my scalp, her fingers in my hair, my mother’s voice murmuring my favorite story.
It was winter, she told me, not the season to go to the beach. My mom had asked all her friends
to go with her, and when she couldn’t find anyone, she went alone. My dad was there during his lunch hour. They knew of each other from the community. I couldn’t help thinking that their meeting was so random, the only two in all of Beirut at the beach in the middle of winter. And that my whole existence depended on my mom not finding a friend to go to the beach with her and the sunny day that allowed my dad to take his lunch to eat by the seaside.
They ran into each other a few more times like that, my mother continued. “And then, one day
Daddy said, ‘Ana bahebbek.’”
Like I Dream of Jeanie, dusting her bottle, I thought, as I did each time I heard this story
“And then?” I asked.
“And I said, ‘I love you too.’”
I had to close my eyes at this part. It seemed too intimate.
I kissed my mom before she slinked back under the covers. “Bye, Lellybelle,” she said.
I grabbed my bookbag, threw on my maxi coat with the corduroy ribbing and the fake fur collar, and buckled my shoes. The sound of the wind in the hallway made a rushing whir as I opened the door to our apartment. I had to press my hands on the outside of the door so it wouldn’t slam shut.
And there was Claudia, my best friend who lived down the hall, waiting for me by the elevator. My hair fluttered behind me as I ran to her.