In those dreams I would say, Oh my gosh, look at this! I can ride a bicycle. I'm running. What was I worrying about? My leg is just fine! I don't have those kinds of dreams anymore. Now when I take off my prosthetic leg at night, I feel like I have always been this way. Although my mind remembers another time. They say that amputees can feel their missing limbs, but I never have. I don't feel pain, absence, presence, or any other sensation where my leg used to be. My body knows it's gone. It's just my mind that sometimes forgets. The other night I woke up thirsty and wanted a glass of water, so I automatically started to get out of bed. I almost fell, and then I remembered that I had to put on my prosthesis.
My mother and I are safe now, living in Carol Stream, Illinois. We have good food and decent shelter, and I have a dear friend. I should be contented now. I should be happy every day, every minute, every instant. It troubles me that I'm discontent and sad so much of the time.
In that last hour of school each day I'm so tired that my body hurts, and I say to myself, As soon as I get home, I'll go to sleep, first thing. But when I get home, I feel restless. Then I have to finish my homework. After that I eat dinner and watch TV. By ten o'clock I'm so sleepy that I hate TV, even if a good show is on. I turn it off and think, Now, finally, I'll go to sleep. As soon as my head touches the pillow, however, sleep scatters to the winds. The anxieties begin to churn. If I was lonely that day, I'll feel it more intensely now. If I did poorly on a test, I'll begin to worry about it now, with the lights out and the darkness all around me.
And then some little thing that happened during the day will trigger a memory from my past. I'll get to ruminating about where I was then and where I am now. I'll start to mull over how it would be if my father were alive today, if Afghanistan had not plunged into war, if I were living in Kabul now, if I still had my whole family. Maybe I would be married or at least have prospects. Probably, my life would be calm. I would not have to struggle so hard each day. My mother would have grandchildren from her sons. My father would be happy, and his business would be growing.
I think of all that could have been.
And yet our life here is good. We have everything we could ask for, God be praised. I don't have to worry about money. We get disability from the government. I just have to go to school. I come home to a nice apartment. I see my mom and know she is feeling much better. Then Alyce calls, and we tell jokes and trade stories about our day. I feel loved.
How can I possibly feel unhappy sometimes? I have no right to sorrow. And yet at times I find I can't enjoy what I have. I come home through empty streets to our quiet little apartment, to my mother, who sits in her chair, rocking relentlessly hour after hour, lost in her thoughts, and I start to feel so lonely. I eat something, and the food seems to have no flavor. I worry that I've lost the capacity for excitement that I used to have in such abundance as a little girl, living in Afghanistan with my family.
I remember the mealtimes of my childhood--I don't mean the great festival days, just the ordinary, everyday meals. My parents served all five of us children off of a single platter. When they said, "Dinner is ready," we rushed the tablecloth, hands unwashed. They sent us back. "Wash your hands, children!" And then we'd all be scrambling and jostling around the water pot, splashing one another and giggling. I remember the excitement of dinnertime. Five of us siblings clustered around one platter, banging elbows, chattering and gobbling. My father would tell us sternly, "It's time to eat, not talk!" And then if we were hungry, we'd worry that the others would eat up all the food before we got our portion, because we were sharing from a single platter. So we'd all settle down to win the competition, each of us cramming the food away by the fistful as fast as we could. Crowding and gobbling-it was so much fun to be one of five children eating together from a single platter. How we laughed! The taste of the food that I ate eleven or twelve years ago remains in my mouth more vividly than the food I eat today, because that's actually the memory of a kind of fun I can never have again: I'm remembering the flavor of being with my family, part of one big, loving group. We aren't that big group anymore. It's down to just the two of us now-my mother and me.
Text copyright (c) 2005 by Nestegg Productions LLC.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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