1985, we stole fistfuls of change, slipped fingers into jean pockets and cup holders, mined pennies from the asphalt. In school, the nuns lowered their papery eyelids. Ethiopians are dying, they said, and offered us build-your-own UNICEF boxes, corner to corner, flap into slit. We watched videos of the suffering, the frottage of polyester uniforms on our thighs.
Already the nuns had schooled us in tragedy. Pompeii after lunch once, a slide show with a dead dog still wearing its collar. Dead astronauts, Jessica in the well. Over the years, they mastered their delivery, lips apart and together. We wondered about them, about their bedrooms in the convent, their vanities. Imagined each one sitting in a stiff chair, moving a plastic comb from scalp to ears. Butch hair and sallow cheeks, transfers to jungle schools where snakes insinuated themselves into shoe boxes. Most of the nuns kept their suitcases by the door. The one that told us about Pompeii, she was about to disappear to Antigua.
Their eyes rolled over us. We want you to write letters to the children, they said. Be neighborly.
We’d seen the famine every night on TV, between Diff’rent Strokes and Solid Gold. Just look at those people, moaned our parents, bless their hearts. We pressed our bellies into the carpet, not understanding what we were seeing. Flies drinking people’s tears.
To read the rest of this essay, Eight Jokes for the Unborn, please visit The Nervous Breakdown here.
Causes Elizabeth Eslami Supports
Willamette Writers, The Association of Writers and Poets, The Association of Iranian American Writers