sudoku

I was 13 years old when my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At the time, she was a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, and I was a middle school student at Frederick Douglass Academy IV in Brooklyn, NY. We lived in Harlem, but we would commute to the neighborhood where she worked, and every morning we would get up at 0500, brush our teeth, get dressed, and head down to our car. I would continue sleeping in the car, but mom would drive to work, and my sister, currently in high school at Bushwick High School, would ride shotgun in the front seat.

We did this every day. In the freezing cold, in hail, in thunder, and on bright sunny days. Then one day, we didn’t do it anymore. My world changed, and that morning drive in the Mitsubishi Montero Sport became a train ride on the A and then a transfer to the J train. Each morning and afternoon, I made my way to school and back home. Oftentimes, it would turn into homework or reading time. I must have passed over a million strange faces in all of those hours, but I realize that from a young age I have found the most comfort in solitude. Even on a crowded subway train, I realized that I was alone, unknown. A person with my own identity, my own freedom, and at 13 years old, freedom is welcome.

I grabbed the Metro tabloid every morning and stuffed it in my backpack. I read classified ads, saw movie announcements, a printout of what’s on tv, and I read stories of tragedy; houses that went up in flames, people who saw their last sunrise, and thievery. I was always intrigued by the Obituary column. It mostly chronicled people’s accomplishments while in life, and I wondered why certain things were deemed noteworthy while others were not. I thought, in my obituary, I want them to write down my favorite food, my favorite book. So that people can try them, and then they can say, man, he had some good taste. Or, I never knew he loved pizza so much, let’s go eat a slice in his honor. Instead, they’ll know where I studied, where I worked, and basically how I spent my time.

On the train is where I first learned how to play Sudoku. There really isn’t much to explain here, but it became the sole reason why I grabbed the metro tabloid. After a while, I was less interested in happenings of the world and more interested in organizing these numbers in such a manner that they don’t come into conflict with any other one of their type. And that is essentially the premise of Sudoku, 9 numbers, 9 identities. If I am a 1, I should stand in such a way that if I look up/down or sideways, I shouldn’t see another 1. And there shouldn’t be another 1 in the same room as I. But there really is no competition in this game, so I wonder why it was invented.

Why can’t you have a room full of 1s and 2s, and why must they be ignorant of the other’s existence? It’s a curious thing, but in the midst of my mother’s diagnosis, it was this concept that caught my attention. I wonder sometimes how I was able to cope with all of the changes, what did I do right, what did I do wrong? But I don’t really think there is an answer. The tendency to look inward and solve simple problems in the midst of large problems is the simplest, most effective manner to live life. If you’re stuck in a bad situation, try and figure out something about the world. Perhaps that’s why these games were made, because life was unpleasant at a point. You didn’t have entertainment shows, basketball games, video games. You had life. Sometimes pain, sometimes betrayal, sometimes sickness, and long commutes.

parliament

We dreamed that we’d make it to
parliament on an early Monday.
Instead, we barely made it
to the corner of the street.

We passed our neighbors,
who watered their lawns,
and looked onto us
with the hope of go forth.

Go forth, youth,
and conquer them all.
Hold, in this jar,
my dreams, and ambitions,

because if they remain in this body
they surely will perish. These dreams
are hot potatoes, fried by the French.
Passed on. Or like musical chairs,

the game that taught scarcity
to kids who had too many chairs
to spare and music

that wouldn’t just play.

They’d pause it, and we’d rush to our seats.
And one and another
would fight for what’s theirs.
Then one would take seat,
the other one, beat,
would join in the crowd of have-nots.

Have nots, have you forgot?
A lesson as old as time.
That if you’re too slow,
to stop on a dime, then music will start
and you’ll be left behind.

Parliament doesn’t want,
those who can’t move to the rhythm
anticipate stops,
and ruthlessly,
harsh, I mean,
viciously,
wrathfully,
shove their way to the top.

So, sit and observe,
as Democracy erred,
we voted to somehow avoid the preferred,
but they voted amongst themselves, right?

They said who had rights,
we’d put up a fight,
they’d make us go vote
at the end of the night.

Well, we’re tired, you see.
Tired, you see. Tired,
and sleepy, to tired to be
there at the ballots voting to be free

Ah, but this story is about the cats,
who look out the window, at the world on tv.

giving thanks, in some way

It came from some Thai place. Neither my mother nor my grandmother were able to place a single ingredient in this year’s Thanksgiving meal. I ate it right out of the styrofoam container it was shipped in, drunken noodles with chicken and shrimp, but at least I used actual silverware and not the plasticware supplied.

This isn’t Thanksgiving how you would imagine it. It’s Thanksgiving alone, in my room, by myself. And while I don’t consider myself a holiday person, it mattered a little to me to be lonely on this one of many occasions. Perhaps a sign of things to come. I always wonder about those older people who do everything alone, but what other outcome could my lifestyle birth? However, I am grateful for this completely different feeling of thanksgiving. Because I am not in a room with family and my favorite food at my disposal, and I am not able to reach out to hug mom or grandma, or Ally. They’re not laughing with us, joking, as they are in the memories I replay. The memories of past thanksgivings with the savory tastes of fleeting flavors.

Time is unforgiving, but the beauty is that we have those experiences to draw on at least as a template. Because maybe we can have a Thanksgiving that includes all of those things if we begin to prioritize them.

This isn’t normal. The distance, right now. But it gives a view of all that I’ve missed. I think myself back to the playground where I played basketball with my cousins and uncle. They were older and much much better. I couldn’t dribble very well at the time, and I would freeze when others came to trap me and steal the ball. But the prospect of making one shit kept me in the game, and it was something I always looked forward to. Despite being an introvert, I could be very social on the basketball court. But then one day it stopped. Nobody knows exactly how. We didn’t agree that it would be our last game together, but suddenly people became busy. It wasn’t long until weeks and months passed where we didn’t see each other at all, and that’s when you realize that growing older sometimes means growing apart. Whenever we saw each other, we planned to go shoot around and hoop again. We made promises we wouldn’t keep, and that’s just how that goes.

Maybe one day we can shoot the ball around. I think that would be cool. Nevertheless, I am grateful for having had the chance to grow up around my cousins and learn the game I grew to love.

Life is long. At least it seems that way, and I believe that one-day things will fall into place. Today, Jeffrey told me his friend Neha runs a 5K every year around Thanksgiving with her dad. That’s a tradition I would like to mirror with my own child if I could. And I don’t know, but maybe the future won’t look exactly how I thought it out to be. Maybe a few little details will be changed around. But I think we should have family unity regardless of the other things.

When my mom arrived here, in this country, she probably felt the same way I do now. I try to remember that when things get hard. That she was completely removed from her home, her friends, familiar faces, and she had to adapt to a new language, new customs, new people. And who to trust? Who to invest time in? That brings me to the concept of friendship. There aren’t many friends like the ones you make while growing up. The ones who see you as you are, not for what you have, for what you think, for what you show. For me, that’s Jeffrey, Jojo, and Nelson. I’m grateful for those guys. But when I look at my mom, grandma, they don’t have many friends. They’ve struggled with that, opting for isolation and the comfort of the homes and faithfully committing to servicing family above the community.

So that’s another thing that would be nice. To be a part of a community, and if not find it, build it. Make connections around similar, positive interests. Share experiences with others. Plan trips, even small ones, to a town or two over.

There is probably no other person who means more to me than my cousin Allyson. She is my favorite person, and I am grateful for her too. I can’t imagine the loneliness she may feel at times, but I am also proud of her strength, her curiosity, and her care as a person. I hope I can be of service to her in my lifetime. I hope I can provide a certain kind of hope and direction, and that she may learn the good things I may be able to teach.

Loneliness is temporary although it sometimes seems everlasting. On days like this, I realize how much of a privilege it is to sit together with family and enjoy a warm meal. But until then, I have to keep reading, keep writing, keep mastering my mind and my body.

Happy thanksgiving.