Tag: Sketch/Vignette (Page 1 of 7)

From Afghanistan to San Francisco, with hardships and hope

Mohammad was my driver on a busy Friday night. Amid the bustle of cars coming and going, I almost missed him. He had dropped someone off ahead of me, farther down the street, but I didn’t know that and kept waiting for him to pull up. Finally I caught sight of his white Camry and got in. He said hello and started driving.

He was a large man, dark hair nearly touching the roof of the car, but he had a gentle aura, and a quiet voice to match. As we left the Mission District behind in a blur of lights, I asked where he was from. Afghanistan, he said. There, he was an orthopedic surgeon, until the Mujahideen started a civil war. Then he fled to Pakistan and worked with a Japanese NGO. His three children were all born in Pakistan, and grew up speaking Pashto, along with Mohammad’s native Persian.

As things in Pakistan became more turbulent, they moved again, this time to Canada, where his medical license no longer held meaning. After 25 years as a doctor, Mohammad had to start over. He decided to work in a research lab, and studied for a new license. Not the same, but related.

A few years later, his family relocated once more, to Sacramento. That is where Mohammad and his children call home now, although he spends many nights at his sister’s place in Fremont, so that he can drive for Lyft and Uber in San Francisco. Neither his Afghani medical license nor his Canadian research one are valid here in the United States. Another new beginning, another dead end.

I shook my head, incredulous and yet not surprised. I wanted to apologize for the way his life had been upended so many times.

Instead, I lamented about the “issues” in our country. Mohammad brushed off the criticism, and his tone changed. He had spoken about Afghanistan and his past with pride; now he spoke about the U.S. and his future with hope. His long arms seemed to embrace the car while he drove.

He told me that in many countries — one example he gave was Saudi Arabia — it was impossible for a foreigner to buy property in their own name. You could put up the money, but a native Saudi had to sign the papers. Here in America, though, what you paid for belonged to you. Like his car. It could not be taken away. It could be used to make a better life.

By this time, we were nearing my destination. In the silence that settled over us, I thought about his words. About how he carried his hardships and frustrations right alongside his gratitude and optimism. About how easily and serenely he had shared his story in a fifteen-minute conversation with a stranger. About how fortunate I was to have met him and listened.

Finally, we arrived. We thanked each other and said good night. I got out. He drove away.

His story continues.

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Home (part 5)

It’s the first house in weeks that has caught your eye. Timeless brick, attractive landscaping, and oh man, those hardwood floors. You click through each photo, waiting for the “but.” The catch. The compromise. But there is none.

It’s even better in person. You’re not supposed to fall in love — not yet, not yet — but how can you resist that sunny window seat in the attic dormer? Or the inviting front porch where you can unwind in the evenings? Or the fenced, shaded yard where your dog can roam and your future children can play?

It’s what you’ve been waiting for. The “quickening” sensation in your chest that your realtor described. A sense of rightness. Of possibility. You spend several days walking the nearby streets, poking into local businesses and getting a feel for the neighborhood. No, you’re not supposed to fall in love yet, but something is blooming inside you. Your lips flower into a smile.

It’s a whirlwind process. Offer, counter offer, contract, loan, inspection, negotiation, closing. Less than 30 days after you first set foot on the property, someone hands you the keys.

It’s so surreal.

It’s yours.

OUR NEW HOUSE

It’s over a hundred years old, but brand new to you. You can barely take it all in. There’s so much space. So much to learn. Cast iron radiators, plaster walls, knob and tube wiring. You have no idea what you’re doing, but that’s what makes this an adventure. Even the dog has to discover all the sunny spots anew.

It’s a blank canvas. An eternal work-in-progress. You both want so badly for it to be just right, right away. But perfect doesn’t exist, and even good enough doesn’t happen overnight. Take a breath, take a break. Take it one day at a time. If you just keep going, you’ll get to where you want to be eventually, probably without even realizing it. (There’s a writing metaphor in that, by the way.)

It’s dripping onto the baseboards when you’re painting a room. Then fixing a leaky valve in the basement. Breaking the blinds when you’re cleaning a window. Then finding a cool new light fixture for the dining room. Hitting brick when you’re trying to hang a picture. Then hosting a dinner party for some wonderful friends, and realizing that this — jokes, drinks, warmth, love — is what it’s all about.

It might not be guaranteed, but it’s more than a maybe.

It might not be forever, but it’s a future.

It’s a dream come true, and a dream unfolding.

It’s a mix of hopes, expectations, and the unknown.

It’s the next chapter in your most treasured story.

It’s time to turn the page.

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Home (part 3)

It’s a strange mix of exhilaration and mourning as you drive away from the house you grew up in. A new chapter of your life is beginning. Your most essential belongings are packed into suitcases and boxes, and squished into the back of the car. You lean your head against the window and watch the miles blur by.

It’s the point where two rivers meet. The intersection of pierogies, Warhol, and the Steelers. You’re lucky to have relatives in the area, and they gather together to welcome you. But after they leave, you’ll be living alone with strangers. The warmth of your family’s love is a guiding light into the unknown.

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It’s a brand new dorm. Clean and lively. 52 other students on your floor, roughly 250 in the building. You keep to yourself at first, but you leave your door open as a sign. Over time, you make friends and develop crushes. You join late-night cram sessions in the lounge. You listen to your roommate’s laptop moo at all hours of the day.

It’s the smell of fresh snowfall, and gusts of wind that bully you across campus. Flashing lights and loud music at frat parties. Buses that always run late and then arrive in clusters. The clunky old piano in the practice room. The closet crammed full of costumes for dance club.

It’s sneaking into places you aren’t supposed to go, like the roof of New House, or the basement of Doherty, or that hidden part of Hammerschlag Hall.

It’s the humility of attending tutoring sessions for the first time in your life, and then the first-pump of pride after you ace your final exam.

It’s the horrifying realization that your double major is making you miserable, and then the relief of walking away.

It’s the heartbreak of not being chosen as a Resident Assistant, and then the courage to apply again.

It’s the slow-burn discovery of a person whose soul is so strong and so bright that being with him feels like riding a shooting star.

It’s the best four years of your life, so far.

And it’s going to set you up for even better years to come.

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Home (part 2)

It’s only a few minutes away from where you used to live, but this new neighborhood feels like a different planet. Free-standing houses bordered by driveways and fences. Sprinklers spitting water over grassy lawns. Golden Retrievers prancing with leashes in their mouths.

It’s a tranquil street connected to a busy road. Transco Tower winks in the distance. An occasional siren interrupts the night. Just around the corner, well-lit stores and restaurants buzz with traffic. The press of the city is comforting, in a way.

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It’s dark wood paneling and big bubble skylights. The double-sided fireplace and a bookshelf that swings open on a hidden hinge. The plastic Christmas tree that never gets taken down, only put out of sight. A cardboard cutout of Captain Picard that you begged Blockbuster to give you.

It’s the packet of seeds you plant haphazardly in the backyard. (They never even sprout.)

It’s the jar of bitter sauce your mom brushes onto your hands to stop you from sucking your thumb. (You hide the jar and then claim the housekeeper must have misplaced it.)

It’s the tap on your window at five in the morning, the chili cheese fries slipped through the mail slot, and those furtive hours spent discovering both your body and his. (You love him, but you know it won’t last.)

It’s climbing the roof and writing song lyrics until the stars come out. Raking the leaves with your dad on a Sunday afternoon. Eating candied yams and Japanese cucumber at Thanksgiving. Dancing in the bathroom and learning how to drive. Pimples and cover-up and worrying about your weight. Birthday parties and Homecoming mums. Calculus and Nora Roberts.

It’s over twenty years of memories and secrets, conversations and tears. Impossible to capture.

It’s a place you take for granted, to be honest.

It’s stability and comfort, even in its decline.

It’s not going to be there forever, though. Appreciate it while you can.

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Home (part 1)

It’s where they brought you after the hospital. Your very first bed. Your very first everything.

It’s your betta fish named Rainbow swimming in her bowl on the kitchen counter. Your rabbit named Thumper running circles around the legs of the dining table. The piano in the corner of the living room, where you practiced “Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow.” The bookshelf that nearly fell on you.

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It’s is the Old Farmer’s Almanac in your dad’s study, with its wispy gold-edged pages. Your bedroom window looking out over a giant tree and the neighborhood basketball court. The teeny tiny snow man you made on top of the hedges when you were four. The vanity counter you used to sit on while your mom dried and brushed your hair after a bath.

It’s chicken pox and sleepovers and Easter Egg hunts. Sitting alone in the car in a darkened garage because you yelled “I hate you!” during a fight. The calendar in the hallway that everyone forgot to update. The soft blue sofa that you jumped and slept and watched TV on.

It’s the tears you cried when you learned that you were moving. Your certainty that nowhere else would ever be as perfect. The moving truck slowly filling up while you sat inside pouting. The staircase that you hugged goodbye.

It’s the playground you took your husband to the first time he came to visit your hometown. It’s the gazebo you still drive by sometimes.

It’s a collection of old memories, faded and dusty like photographs in a shoebox. But precious nevertheless.

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