It is my bottle-blonde, insane mother-without-a-clue who has somehow brought me to this place. She has attached herself to a Sudanese man born in Saudi Arabia. She's taken me to his family home with her-to the prying and pinching of women who chatter and gesture and examine me like a hen at market. I am not old enough to become a bride, but this is what it will be like someday when I am. Hummus and sesame oil, and the smell of my fear. The feel of male eyes crawling over me, watching me like a little fruit on a vine, and waiting.
It is the dream I just woke from, it is the class I'm taking, it is the book I'm reading. It was all woven into a nightmare that was a part of my childhood that carved and gouged me; left its design etched forever into who I am. Usually I am sure it has grown over with scar tissue. I just woke from it all in the present tense though, and I can still smell the spices and everything redolent of honey and almonds; thick words I can't understand.
I woke feeling dirty from hands all over me, gauging my shape, the emergence of my little breasts. Women's hands, using a sticky glob of honey and lemon to remove all the hair from my body to show me how a bride is prepared for her marriage bed. A tiny Los Angeles kitchen drenched in dirty sunlight and women who see things very differently, and stay in another part of the house. They are separated from the men, and cast their eyes down even before family members because they are women, who carry platters of food.
Dirty from his probing worm of a tongue in my mouth, thick wet lips pressed to mine. "It's how men kiss women honey, when you grow up you'll get used to it and even like it." It's ok, he's going to be my "Baba" now. Was she going to let them take us to their country? Was I to grow up to become a hairless bride? That never happened, we stayed here, although she gave me to him on my sixteenth birthday to take away for the evening. I was given much alcohol (and I suspect some very strong drugs) and he returned me to her by morning. I have no memory of anything that happened, but she assured me that he said I had a good time. He was an officer in the L.A.P.D. and above the law. He refers to his penis as "the baby" and will say "Shhhhh, you'll wake the baby." You don't want to wake that baby.
It's all dreams and memories merged together this morning, and my spirit feels filthy, saturated in sorrow and abhorrence. To this day the sound of that accent makes my skin crawl.
I'm taking a class: Art History 140-Survey of Islamic art. It has nothing whatever to do with the religion of Islam, it covers a geographic area, a time period, three empires from history. It's fascinating and soothing. The artwork is organized and patterned, held safely within geometric forms that are unable to touch me. Even the soaring arabesques are ordered in a way that are non-threatening. It's all beautiful, intricate, mind-boggling and evokes the chaos of eternity while remaining safely uniform. I am in love with the art. I am in love with the teacher who effortlessly pulls us along like a kites on a string from one area and century to another, letting us look down from a comfortable distance at these almost-impossible monuments to architecture and ornament. Only the recording of the "call to prayer" we listened to on that first night (highly relevant when you're about to spend a semester studying minarets and their ever-present inclusion in an architectural style) that made me shudder; made the membrane between the NOW me and the seven year-old me become so thin.
The class is good, the novel I'm reading again is fascinating, it's only this one dream that has left me a mess.
I grew up to be (in Kelly Cutrone's words) a "Power Girl" who can do anything I want to do. No one yells at me, or touches me, or tells me what to do. It is my world and I'm larger than any other force in it. After being told that I couldn't play the drums in seventh grade band class (nor the trumpet or saxophone) because they were "boys' instruments", after being denied a paper route, after being forced to wear dresses instead of pants until the rules changed in fifth grade, I have learned to disregard my gender and do whatever the hell pleases me. Twenty years ago when I was looking for a tattoo apprenticeship there were very few women in the business. It was a boys' club, and I wasn't invited. I bashed my way into that treehouse and have been a successful, working tattoo artist and shop owner for 19 years now. (subtract a couple of years from the studio-owner number, I was an apprentice first.)
I won! I roar. I dominate and own.
The only residue left now shows itself in an occasional dream, where I'm still little enough to be held by the hands of those who would treat me as a commodity. I awoke this morning, filthy from those hands.