I want to know what became of the girl but my aunts don’t know anything more about her, not even her name.
Palimpsest: the term came to me at that moment. I knew the Greeks had coined the term to denote the scraping or washing off old texts from a page—be it parchment, papyrus, or vellum—for reuse, as I knew the word could now be, and is, used figuratively for situations of overwriting or layered meanings. But it was only when I saw the buried texts that I realized my latest purchase was in fact one itself, the same time I understood the concept’s usefulness as a trope to characterize my whole trip.
My mother has what you might call a tradition. Each summer, when the Connecticut heat slides towards 90 and the humidity makes it feel like you're breathing through cotton balls, my mother goes outside to her car, rolls up all the windows, closes the door, and sits in it for as long as she can manage. She alerts no one. Seven to eight minutes later, she throws open the front door, gasping, eyes squinting from the sweat that could no longer be held back by her eyelashes. She smiles as sweat pools inside her shoes and eventually spills out of them, leaving two watery footprints on the floor when she walks to her bathroom for a shower. I wonder for a second what Yemaya would have to say about the oceans at her feet.
First dates are meant to be flirtatious and giggly. In another time, we would be meeting inside a dark downtown bar. Music playing. The stench of sour liquor pinching my nose. He’d ask what I like and order me something smooth. After half a drink, the conversation would begin to flow. I’d ask him a crucial question, “What’s your favorite kind of fry?” He’d say tater tots. “What? That’s not even a fry!” I’d say shoestring dipped in blue cheese because ranch is so over. Later, because he’d be too shy to make a move, I’d ask him to kiss me. This seems to be my move in any time. And we’d make out sitting side by side on barstools all limbs and tongues.
As our shapes re-emerge from the thinning steam, Sheila pushes the button and once more we disappear. She repeats this ritual in silence until my hands and the soles of my feet are wrinkled. I don’t want to leave this white hard shell. I want to stay here forever, tucked away from the world. Invisible. Safe.
Maybe she stood by him no matter what, because she’d suffered enough heartache. She married her childhood sweetheart and had my brother and me before things fell apart. Her father, who had meant everything to her, died tragically in the projects almost a decade ago. Bernard was her one and only son, and even though it could happen, she didn’t want to believe she could lose him too.
During the final stage of the Cultural Revolution, I got hold of a thick tattered book in English through the underground book club. The cover was gone, front and back, and many pages torn out. It had passed through many hands. Many pages were marked with question marks, explanations and comments in English, Chinese, Russian, and in different handwritings. The title Free Women captured my eyes, along with Anna Wulf’s words “stretching myself” and “living as fully as I can.”