Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Moonshine and Hickies

Standard

We were young.  He was not my first boyfriend, but he was the first (and last) to write me a song.  He was the first to be insanely silly.  We were innocent together, and I laughed more than I thought was even allowed in a teenage relationship. My regular group of friends didn’t understand my new relationship, he was not a part of that group.  Not that we were cooler, by any means.  We just thought that high school was a time for drama and end-of-world scenarios.  I needed a bright light.  They could see it.  He didn’t wallow.  He bounced.

Like Tigger.

We bounced through our time together, listening to music, telling stories, as I gradually corrupted his sweet soul by introducing him to the alcohol of my homeland.  Siddiqui.  Moonshine.  We got loopy together, and boy, if I thought he was silly sober, drunk was like stand-up comedy hour.  I was so crazy in love, having so much fun, that I smuggled booze OUT of Saudi Arabia for him to have the opportunity to taste a beverage that could make you blind and possibly tear an actual hole in your liver.  If you aren’t familiar with Saudi Arabia, it is a dry (Muslim) country and alcohol is highly illegal.

To bring into the country.

From outside the country.

I’m sure there’s not even a law about bringing it out of the country because that doesn’t  make sense.  Why would anyone be that stupid? You can buy the real stuff on the other side.  Stuff that will probably not eat the bottom out of your cup. Stuff that will only make you blind if you drink 8 bottles in a row.  But, I thought I was just so damn special, I wanted to share the often lethal crap I drank at home. The question was, how to smuggle it out.

In the 80’s we used some nasty liquid chemicals to clean our contact lenses. (Seriously.  We had to clean them.  They were so expensive that you made one pair last a year.) We had these little containers that they would sit in, and you’d pour some bubbly acid over them to allow them to marinate overnight, magically cleaning them and prepping them to be popped back into your eyes the next morning.  This was all entrusted to a teenage brain.  I don’t even know what AoSept was, but it was not a nice liquid.  Once, in a moment of sheer brilliance – while attempting to become a pot head (a career move that didn’t pan out) – I mistook AoSept as saline solution and squirted into my dry eyes.  This is the same developmental brain that is trusted with driving, often while texting, always while day dreaming.  Makes you want to stay home.  I screamed like someone had ripped my eye right out of my head, and shoved a cup full of salt in the raw open hole.  Still, it was probably not as bad as the moonshine we drank in Saudi, so logically I decided to smuggle it out in an empty AoSept bottle.  It was a plastic, squeezy thing, and I spent the better part of an evening gradually sucking the Siddiqui up from a glass and into the container. Fortunately, I was smart enough to empty it out first.  Like swapping poison with poison.

Somehow I made it all the way back to New Jersey with my AoSept-Moonshine.  I felt so mighty, above any school rules, displaying it with my other toiletries in my dorm room.  I felt I was truly “winning.”  (see Charlie Sheen?  “winning” is often correlated with behaving like a stupid ass.)  My boyfriend was impressed.  Well, he was probably just drunk, but I translated that into impressed.  And then we got horny, as teenagers do.  I mean, that kind of horny that ONLY teenagers can manage.  Like being satisfied with a quick squeeze, or a brief grope, or a bare skin sighting.  That was all it took!  Confusing, and exciting, and confusing again. Weren’t the teenage years a blast?  Especially when a giant constellation of zits would pop up just from being groped one too many times in a particular area?  Or when a hickey appeared the next day, but you couldn’t remember receiving a hickey because you were drinking too much contact lens fluid?  That was fun. This was that boyfriend.  I never had so many hickies in my life (other than the ones I had given myself as a kid, as I practiced what I thought would later be considered “kissing”).  I’m not even sure why hickies are a part of the whole sex category.  I mean, you put your mouth in one spot and suck on it until you cause vascular damage?  Is that where spider veins come from?  Are all those damn hickies we got as teens waiting beneath the surface until our 30’s and 40’s to pop up in an even less flattering, and far more permanent form?

I cry, UNFAIR!!  Where’s the humanity?

I want my spider veins to be a result of Johnny Depp’s stubble irritating my skin too much.  Not that I have spider veins.  Or Johnny Depp.

We were teens.  Add some 180 proof alcohol.  Slap on some hickies.  Life was good.  We were at a boarding school, parents were not around.  Life was even better.  There was a school event taking place.  Everyone was there.  Except me and my hickey giver.  We snuck into my dorm room to do what we did best.

After rolling about and having the safest sex around (the kind with your clothes on) for nearly long enough to wear holes in those clothes, or at least create a friction fire, there came a sound.  No.  I didn’t fart.  I was more embarrassed of such things in those days.  There was a sound in the hallway.  Everyone was supposed to be at the event, everyone besides us and other random couples who were probably doing the same thing that we were.

Whatever.

Probably just the wind.  Or an ax murderer.

Back to business.  We don’t want this fire to burn out!

There it was a again.

Footsteps.

Voices.

We sat perfectly still.  I mean, layed.  My door was locked.  What were we afraid of?  We were afraid of being kicked out of school.  Of having our smoldering pants detected.  Of being caught being teens.

“It’s okay.  I locked the door.  We can relax.”

Relax?  Well, not exactly.  We continued trying to suck each other’s teeth out.

And then there was a new sound.  More voices, footsteps, and a jingle jangle that distinctly resembled keys on a key ring.

We froze.

Our hormones were having a hard time switching from sex thoughts to fight-or-flight thoughts.  There was a ridiculously long moment in which neither of us could even move.  This must be why the people having sex in horror movies always get killed.

And there it was:  the key in the door.

“What do I do?”  My hickey giver started running around the room in circles, looking for a place to hide.  Of course, there was nowhere.  I was such a slob that my closet was crammed full of dirty laundry.  I spun my head around.  There was a window.  Maybe I should push him out.  I looked out, and besides the fact that it was one story up, there were people outside.  People.  Tours.  Prospective students.  I guess a current student falling onto their heads might be a bit disheartening.

“Just sit there and act like nothing is happening,” I suggested, displaying impressive skills at thinking under pressure.  Yes, my instinct in the wild would be to play dead.  I’m that sort of person.

He did.  He sat on the bed.  Probably with a pillow on his lap.  I sat at my desk, trying to look normal, pretending that my hair wasn’t all over the place and my clothes weren’t smoking.

The door opened.

The student giving the tour looked at us in shock.  The family touring the school looked like they could smell the smoke of our friction fire.  No one commented on my hair.

“Um.  Oh.  I didn’t know anyone was in the dorms right now.  I’m sorry.”  Said the poor student, struggling to come up with a way to make this seem like a normal part of life at our school.  Like we had been studying.

“Hi!  Welcome to Blair!”  said my giver of many hickies.  Tigger.  Always personable.  Outgoing.  I was just happy he didn’t stand up to shake their hands.

“Uh.  Yeah.  Welcome.  We were just talking.  Where is everyone?  Are we missing some sort of event or something?” I wisely pretended.  I’m sure they were fooled by my 16 year old acting abilities.  This was a school where boys weren’t even allowed into the girl’s dorms.  If we had any functioning brain cells we would have just thrown a dress on him and pretended he was a chick.  Anyway, the family looked embarrassed and the student giving the tour looked embarrassed and we looked like we’d been caught with our pants down.  Our work there was done.

No one had noticed my AoSept.  Winning!

Advertisements

oh crash my bash it’s bang the zang fourth woosh of baroom july whew!

Standard

Every August, we’d collect the giant paper bag of illegal fireworks from my Grampa, and set them off, one by one, over the lake (a few feet away from the giant paper bag).  I’d get burned by sparklers.  I’d fall over logs escaping bottle rockets.  My dad would do a funny little trot to avoid getting blown up by the roman candles that he lit.  I loved that trot.  Even more than the roman candles.

August?  Yes.  That was when we typically escaped the heat of Saudi Arabia and returned to the U.S. for about a month.  The temperatures in Saudi Arabia at that time of year hovered around 120 degrees F and the humidity all but matched that. When I swam at the pool I had a difficult time discerning when I was and wasn’t under water.  Washington was frigid by comparison.  We dove into ice-cold water that snapped you awake in a heart beat, instead of into the Arabian Gulf, which was only about 10 degrees cooler than the oppressive desert air.  Of course, we had missed the Fourth of July, because obviously Saudi Arabia has absolutely no reason to celebrate the Fourth, and to be honest, they’re more than a little on edge when it comes to loud booms.

Some people in America find it odd that we didn’t celebrate this holiday in the Middle East.

I find it odd that some people in America don’t know that the entire world is not American.

The Fourth would arrive, and I would get a little sad.  Clapping just wasn’t loud enough.  Saying Shel Silverstein’s “the Fourth” poem out loud over and over didn’t appease my desire for partying.  As I grew into the late teen years, I heard about some kids going to the military bases on the Fourth.  That sounded fun.  Hot young soldiers and a party?  Wow.  That totally trumped watching St. Elmo’s Fire for the 23rd time.  I eagerly awaited my invitation.  Year.  After.  Year.

I never was invited.

Not that I was a total social pariah.  Not many people were invited to these things, unless they had military ties.  But still, I somehow imagined that if I obsessed about it long enough, someone would read my mind and want to ask me along.

Never happened.  Also, Johnny Depp still hasn’t called.  So, apparently mind reading is not as easy as you would think.

When we finally got back to the states, we blew shit up – like good Americans.  So what if it was like August 11th.

We also ate gobs of hot dogs, another sign of a good American.

And then there came a day when I was in the states for the Fourth of July.  There were too many people around.  There were mosquitos biting me.  The fireworks were so loud I started having flashbacks to a war that I never fought in.  My heart changed it’s rhythm at least three times in one show.

And then, I got dogs.  My dogs quivered in fear.  I locked them, and myself, in the basement – turned on the sound machine, played soothing music, and they were still terrified – and I was still trying to not have fictitious flashbacks.

And then, I had a baby.

For two or three weeks before the Fourth of July I became consumed with a hatred far beyond that of any intense PMS.  It was the hatred of people who dared to wake my baby.  I wanted them killed.  I would stone them to death, myself, for having the nerve to enjoy this damn day.  I could imagine myself picking them off, one by one, like some mommified version of a slasher film.

I have a neurotically active imagination (and a healthy dose of mental illness in the blood line).

I understand the pretty colors and a dramatic boom, but what’s with the booms that are so loud that my various sphincters shut their doors for business?  I can’t fart for at least a day.  And by the way, if it gives ME flashbacks (and sphincter issues), what the hell does all that booming and bright flashing do to the minds of the soldiers who were just in a war?  Essentially we’re celebrating soldiers by throwing them deep into their own trauma.  That doesn’t seem like the best thank you ever.  I’m sort of morphing Veterans Day with the Fourth of July, but there is a similar theme.  Patriotism.  And closing sphincters.  I just love the word.  What can I say?  SSSPPPPPPHHHHHHINCTER!

In my mama bear psychosis I called the cops almost nightly to report illegal fireworks.  Karma giggled.

“Really?” she said.  “You don’t remember keeping people up in the middle of August?  After they’d already survived the real Fourth of July?”

At least I only called the cops.  My husband would go to the park, sneak up on the small-minded teens (who are always wearing wife beaters.  why is this?) trying to impress their girlfriends by blowing off their own digits, and suddenly shine a flashlight in their faces, booming (almost as loudly as the professional fireworks), “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING OUT HERE?!”

They’d inevitably reply with some intelligent response like, “Dude, we’re just celebrating and having fun, man.  Mind your fucking business.”

If you’ve met my husband, you’d know that this is the wrong answer.  His voice alone makes people crap themselves, daily.  A hot wind of loud words would push their way out of his mouth and up against their pimply teen angst; a warning about fireworks being illegal and how they had woken his baby and that if they didn’t leave, they would probably never be able to make their own babies because all their baby making parts would become a part of that next firework that they shot off. They’d inevitably run and he’d come back home, feeling the pride that only a papa bear can feel when he successfully scares the poo out of people who have bothered his baby girl, people who are at least 25 years younger than him.  Man, I bet that caused a giant cluster of new zits on more than one teen.

Obviously, over the past fifteen years I have come to dislike this time of year. When the fireworks were cancelled last year I was ecstatic, knowing that I’d be going to bed early and my dogs would be free from tumultuous bouts of diarrhea. (Weird, when you think about it.  Stress seems to loosen their sphincters.)  YES! But this year, we’ve had rain.  The whole month of May was a drippy mess.  That means, you guessed it, FIREWORKS.  As I come to accept my fate and the inevitable doggie squirts, I realize that I am being a great big grump about this. This is not the example that I want to set for my daughter.  I want her to be excited to make some noise, and to perhaps even be a bit patriotic.  I am a struggling-startle response riddled-pathetic example of a patriot (if you haven’t noticed), but her dad is a veteran, so I’m always trying to improve.  It’s good to love your country, especially to appreciate all of the freedoms you have.  Women in Saudi Arabia are STILL trying to just get the right to DRIVE!  Imagine.  And that’s just the beginning.  They can’t speak their minds without serious ramifications.  They can’t wear shorts if it’s 125 degrees.  They can’t work in whatever field they want to – a large majority can’t work at all.  They DO still have arranged marriages (not everyone…but again, it’s more common than not), and they are often forced into marriage before most of us have started reading the Twilight books.  Women are still not entirely equal in this society, that is obvious, but man… we have it SO good by comparison.  This country of ours gives us options and choices and even best of all,

A VOICE!

oh…and the right to bear explosives that may or may not blow off your own fingers.

I guess it’s time for me to realize what the fireworks represent.  It is only one day, and it’s not in August.   I will drink beer.  I will eat a hot dog (granted, it’ll be a nitrate free turkey dog) on a (whole wheat) bun.  I will set off a stink bomb or two – and not the ones that I normally set off – the ones with the putrid colors.  I will cheer at the spectacle in the sky.  I will thank my lucky stars that my dogs are getting older and can’t hear as well.  And, most importantly, I will wear earplugs.

Hoppy Birfday!

Standard

I’ve had birthdays before, quite a few, actually.  Some of them were in ice cream shops, some were in Middle-Eastern Chinese restaurants, one was in the ICU after jaw surgery, one was with friends surrounding a whole lamb on a plate of rice, some were at the beach, a couple were in New Jersey, I’ve blocked the ones out that I had in Washington (or my brain cells were too alcohol saturated to retain the memories).

There have been good ones and bad ones.  I always loved the birthdays in Saudi Arabia at the Al Hambra.  As long as you could get in before the call to prayer, there was almost never a long wait.   Not only was the Arabic-Filipino-Indian version of Chinese food exquisite, but after your meal the Filipino waiters would sing, “Hoppy birfday to you, Hoppy birfthday to you!”  My sister and I would giggle (with the blind racism of youth), almost hard enough for the Bebsi to shoot out of our noses.

My sixteenth birthday in New Jersey was a treat.  I was in a fight with my two best friends and my parents forgot what day it was.  Have you watched those teen drama shows?  Those kids had nothing on me.  I wallowed in unprecedented amounts of self-pity, comparable only to the irrational behavior of Brittany Spears (only, I always wore my undies).  The pity party was my birthday, until…

My friends surprised me with more than birthday candles and gift wrap.  I was (gently) kidnapped from my dorm, blind-folded and led to the high school gymnasium.  It had been such a bad day that a small part of my brain envisioned a not-so-happy-birthday-like horror movie scenario.   Instead of a chainsaw, I hear Madonna coming from the pathetic speakers of an oversized boom box (like an Ipod, but capable of playing plastic tape cassettes, and terribly hard to transport.  John Cusak would have never had any muscles if Ipods had been around when they filmed Say Anything).  My blindfold was removed as two of the hottest post graduates (meaning people who were hot enough, but not quite bright enough to get into college, and repeated a year of high school to bring up their GPA’s).  They danced and shaked their booties as they stripped for me.  I was redder than my super cool red scrunchi in my hair.  I was redder than the kick-ass lip gloss I was sporting.  I was on fire.  They went all the way down to little tiny, skimpy, shiny, reflective undies.  It was awesome.  Embarrassing as hell, but awesome.  My adult mind is saying, “how gay can you get?” But, in my teens I still thought George Michael was just my type. Of course, even if George had been dancing in front of me, with just his guitar, I wouldn’t have allowed my sixteen year old eyes to look anywhere lower than his scruffy chin.  I must admit, as those post grads walked out of the gym, I may have sneaked a peak at their well-toned scantily clad buttocks.  Hey, I was human.

The day before my birthday this year, we spent the about 8 hours outside, playing.  There were no strippers.  We took the doggies swimming.  We ate Nepalese food and drank beer.  I learned that combining vast amounts of chicken korma with Mercenary Double IPA and sunshine can create a seriously lethal amount of gas.  For 24 hours I tried my best to rid  this country of our need for oil with the wind coming from my lower intestines powering most of the mountain states.  My daughter had numerous nightmares as the wind shook our house (the outside wind was ferocious, as well).  I awoke on my birthday feeling older than my 38 years.  This year my mother-in-law called (for the first time in the 13 years since I have been married to her son!!!), my parents remembered, my sister gave me a card and as she watched me read it, laughed like a loony-tunes character (it was a funny card… don’t fart in a wet-suit… you can imagine) and coffee money, and best of all, I danced for a full five minutes to Ben Harper, with my daughter gazing into my eyes.  Someday she’s going to look at a boyfriend like that, but for now, the love is mine.  I was the most important person in the world for five whole minutes, and I basked in that like I had in the sunshine the day before.  And after all of that, I was ready for some chocolate cake.  My intestines weren’t, but my brain was.  It was good.  The wind continued to blow.  But don’t worry, I’m starting to recover…

My two girls

comparing noses

This (diet coke filled, boy crazed, jean wearing) American Life

Standard

I was fortunate enough to go to a boarding school for high school.  This was not because my parents were rich or I got an amazing scholarship, no.  It’s because my parents worked for a company that paid for it.  Maybe you think that a fifteen year old is too young to leave home?  Well, let me tell you, I was nervous, but I was ready.  My raging teen hormones had reached a level that was seriously conflicting with my mom’s menopausal hormones.

Hey nature!  This is a stupid trick!  Menopause should be dependent on when your child leaves home.  If they stay forever, at least you’ll be able to think, “gee, I never had to go through that damn menopause crap.”  After all, you’ll have to find some bright nugget if your kid is still at home on their 50th birthday.

I sat down before my prospective school catalogues.  They were all on the East Coast, except for a Catholic all girls school in Washington State.  Yea.  Right. Like I would consider that.  I started taking note of the ratios of girls to boys. Once I had narrowed the stack of catalogues down to the few that had at most a ratio of 1:3 I began to look at the stock photography.  Well.  Sure, I can lay on the grass in New England like anyone.  BUT, can I do it in a uniform? Ew!  I was totally grossed out.  Out of the stack went a few more catalogues.  I was down to two.

Blair Academy and Suffield Academy.

Essentially the same schools, just slightly different New England locations.  One was in New Jersey and one was in Connecticut.  Did I mention that I had the option to go anywhere in the world?  You’d think that at a time like this your parents would step in and tell you that “you are an IDIOT! Go to Spain!  Go to Italy!  Go to Aruba!”  Instead, they left the decision up to me.

I was an American teenager living in Saudi Arabia, and I have to admit, I missed the idea of being American.

The idea of being American to my teenage self: hanging out with Cory Haim and Cory Feldman, drinking can after can of diet Coke, going to the mall, wearing current styles (not the styles of 6-12 months ago.  Madonna was already on to her pointed bra stage when we were sporting lace gloves and perms), listening to boom boxes while people break-danced on a piece of cardboard next to me, going to fast food restaurants (with my boys, Cory and Cory), and for some reason imagining boy after boy hanging on my every word.

I was going to be an American in America!

I poured over the catalogues again.  Suffield or Blair.  Blair or Suffield. This was a big important decision.  I put it off.  I turned 15.  Time was running out.  I grabbed those catalogues a final time.  My best friend was going to Suffield.  This should be a no brainer.  BUT. Suffield didn’t allow jeans as a part of their dress code.  How the hell were boys going to fall madly in love with me if I couldn’t wear jeans?  Really?  Sorry BFF.

It came down to you or the jeans, and I chose the jeans.

The ratio of girls to boys wasn’t too shabby either.  I was outnumbered 3 to 1.

I packed my 15-year-old valuables, which consisted of my vast tape cassette collection and  jeans.  We flew to New Jersey.  We got lost at least ten times. Then, in our rented van, “Red Red Wine” came on the radio.  I stopped listening to my parents argue about directions.  I looked out the window.  There were gorgeous giant trees.  There were rolling hills.  This was actually quite beautiful. Maybe I’d learn to drink some red wine at a place like this.  We pulled up the “driveway” along with the exquisite cars of the other parents that were making giant pools of drool fall from my dad’s lips.  I unpacked and settled in.  My parents left.  Without shedding a tear, I might add.

I was free.

I was at boarding school!

I ate raisin-ettes by the crateful, danced to Two Live Crew with my best friends, I fell in and out of love (sometimes in the same day), and sometimes I scrounged up enough change in the couches to buy a diet Coke.

It’s official:  I was American.

Not quite all I hope for.  As I traveled back and forth across the word, writing love letters to my boyfriend of the moment (who was NEITHER CORY) I started to see the reality.

No one I knew could breakdance.

Most people ate McDonald’s DAILY, and it showed.  Sometimes the ratio of boys to girls means there’s more boys around, but our of that 3:1 ratio, 1/3 are red necks, 1/3 are gay, and the other 1/3 are not even close to resembling a Lost Boy. Americans really did have a tendency to be loud.  They often exhibited a certain arrogance.  While traveling, they were unattractive in almost every way (myself included – never could handle that red red wine – memorably demonstrated on a flight to Amsterdam when I released that red red wine in a most unglamourous fashion).  What had I done?

The important thing here is that I got my wish.  I was born American and I had returned to my country of origin.  But I missed my shwarmas.  I missed the random garbage smell that would knock you over from a mysterious direction.  I missed the incense.  I missed the women in their black abayas casting sheepish, curious glances our way.  I (almost) missed the stares of the Arab boys, because in Saudi I was different.  I was blonde.  That was enough.  In New Jersey, I was one of many (yes, I know you are weeping for my hardship).  But I kept my bubble strong.

With denim.

I wore jeans almost every day for three years.  And while I never saw either of the Corys, but I did see Lou Reed.  Americana personified.  Black leather, sunglasses, in the rolling hills of Jersey.

Good thing I was sporting my jeans.  I’m sure it mattered to Lou.

MacGyver would have used more duct tape

Standard

I was in junior high.  Now they call it “middle school” – same idea:  the kids are awkward, covered in acne, sporting braces, wearing stirrup pants, getting periods, all sorts of fun.  I even knew a boy who got a perm.  Unfortunately, everyone else in the school knew he got a perm, too.  It wasn’t just a “body wave” it was a tight perm.  He ended up looking like an albino black kid with a nice blonde fro.  I was as uncomfortable as the rest of them.  I religiously curled and hairsprayed my bangs, put on my light blue mascara, and called my best friend Lillian to make sure that we were going to be wearing almost the exact same outfit as one another.  Junior high was not a time to stick out in the crowd.  You wanted to blend as much as possible, so maybe no one would even notice  you were there.  But if they did, they’d be blown away by those electric blue eyelashes and probably fall in love with you in an instant, claiming adoration of your hot pink stirrup pants as they fell to the ground at your feet, and magically Patrick Swayze’s She’s Like The Wind would start playing in the background.

As if I wasn’t feeling self-conscious enough, in April of the ninth grade I was booked to have major jaw surgery.  I was living in Saudi Arabia, but my doctors were both Americans.  Steffan and Cobetto.  They sounded like a Private Investigator Team, and for some reason that made them cooler.  I imagined them living like Magnum P.I. – Dobermans at their sides, fixing jaws in their free time.  They discussed what they were going to need to do to my poor head, but I tuned them out, hoping that if I didn’t know what they were going to do, it wouldn’t hurt as bad.  This was similar to the technique I employed with child-birth.  It does not work.

Still completely in the dark, and day dreaming about Corey Haim or Corey Feldman (which was the cute one?) I checked into surgery.  My anesthesiologist was an Arab man with a Texas accent.  I panicked for a moment because the only other Arab man I knew with such a strong Texas accent was the shrimp man who drove his Toyota pickup door to door through our compound, selling his little edibles.  Okay.  Not the same man, I finally convinced myself.  He said, “Now, we’re going to listen to some music and I’m going to have you count backwards from 100 and you’ll fall asleep before you know it.”  He turned on the music.  OH GAWD!  Willy Nelson? You’ve got to be kidding me.  I tried to tell him how much I hated country music, and could he please put on some sort of top 40 Eurotrash, but the gas mask was over my mouth and he just thought I was counting.  And then I was asleep.

I woke up some six hours later, in intensive care, with screaming ripping pain – coughing and gagging and the tube that had been in my throat was pulled out.

Then I was asleep again.

I woke an hour or two later to a flash going off.  Was I stroking out?  Was I supposed to go towards a light?  Wow.  It was my dad.  He was taking pictures. Really?  We need to remember this with a Kodak moment?

I willfully returned to my coma.

I next woke up to “Happy birthday to you…” as the doctors and my parents and sister sang happy birthday.  It was my fifteenth birthday.  Joy of joys.  This is just what I always wanted.

I fought back some tears, clutched my childhood cozy blanket, shut my eyes and went back to sleep.

I woke a  few hours later and realized that they had not done jaw surgery, they had actually amputated my feet!  Oh Lord!  How would I ever find a boyfriend if I had to attend the dances with no feet?  Oh man.  I guess it would be easier to carry all of my books if I was in a wheelchair though.

I started crying again.  I tried to talk, but apparently they had done something to my mouth as well.  My mom appeared and said, “What honey?’

“mmmfffffft  hhhhhhhhhrrrrpppppttttttt…. uuuuuuuugggghhhh…. sniff sniff sniff”

My mom looked at me quizzically.  She smiled a little, I think she was trying not to laugh at me.  She said, “Oh babe, I just can’t understand a thing you are saying.”  The room was dark, so I hadn’t realized my older sister was in there.  She unplugged her Walkman briefly and said, “Duh, Mom, she said her feet hurt.”

Wow.  My sister was my psychic advocate.  I loved her so much at that moment.  I almost forgave her for trying to kill me with a butcher knife two years before.

My mom rubbed my feet that had been bound for the last day in the intensive care’s version of a hospital bed.  Oh.  They just needed blood flow.  Heaven.  Then back to sleep again.

Next I awoke to some stranger giving me a sponge bath.  Oh the horror.  I was fifteen.  I was naked.  Some lady is bathing me.  Please oh please oh please don’t let my dad walk in with his camera.

Then back to sleep.

I woke up next in a regular hospital room, with some angry Indian nurses who spoke only bits and pieces of English.  Interesting.

And.  Where. Is.  My.  Cozy.  Blanket?????????

After panic and a toddler sized meltdown, my cozy was retrieved.  I held it tight as the pain started to build.  In Saudi Arabia, narcotics are highly illegal.  They have had phases of this being included in medical settings.  At this time, they were not completely illegal in the hospital, but the choices of drugs was limited.  Stadol was all they had.  It was an injection that burned like hot gasoline being knifed into your tissue with a salt rub to follow.  I hated it more than that bitchy popular girl on my swim team.  I waited too long to ask for the next dose.  Way too long.  My whole head felt like it would explode.  I have spared you thus far, but maybe I should explain what happened in the jaw surgery.  They actually sawed out my upper jaw (maxilla) and reshaped it with the medical world’s version of a file, and put it back into my head… with a few screws and wires to hold it in place.  They put braces on me again, to “wire” my mouth shut with really tight rubber bands.  It hurt.  Perhaps I should have asked more questions before it all began.

Finally the pain was just too much.  My mom and dad had left.  My sister/translator had left me her Walkman and a pad of paper to communicate with the staff.  I pushed the call button for the nurse.  I wrote down on my paper: PAIN KILLERS NEEDED!  She glared at me, for some weird reason.  As I rocked out to some Duran Duran (the Reflex, flex flex flex flex flex…) and tried to forget the pain, she returned with my pain medication.

In PILL FORM.

What the fuck?  My mouth was banded shut.  Did she really expect me to swallow a friggin’ pill?  Jesus.  I lost my fifteen year old mind and started screaming (with my mouth closed… it’s just not as effective) – I threw my snotty kleenex at the nurse, tears flew from my eyes, and I prayed my head would soon burst and cover this stupid woman with my brains and blood and that would SHOW HER!!!! For some reason my mom walked back in at that moment.  I was screaming, and probably drooling quite rabidly.  She told the nurse that I needed an INJECTION.  I was terrified.  This woman who I had just thrown something sticky at (granted, it was soft) was going to give me an injection?  Oh.  And let me tell you, she put some muscle behind it.  I was violently stabbed in the ass with a giant needle.  Fortunately the pain was soon gone.  I forgot how much I wanted to kill that nurse.  I forgot how frustrating it was not to be able to yell.  I even forgot that I was listening to Duran Duran.  I slept.

In the morning I had one more rude awakening.  My mom was there with me.  I had no feeling in my face, below my eyes.  I had a giant, swollen, cotton head.  My mom was making me sexy by cleaning up snot that was collecting in my nose with a Q-tip.  All I could feel was a slight pressure.  As she was pulling a nice long string of snot from my face, like a bungee cord for a lady bug, in walked my swim coach and two of my friends from school.  If I could have just stuck one of those pain shots into my brain at that moment, I would have.

I survived my jaw surgery, and in my bubble I am amazed by what they did.  I don’t know if I would have done it with the knowledge I now have, or the realization that at age 37 I now have a long screw poking into one of my sinuses.  You think I’m letting anyone operate on that part of me again?  No thanks.  I simply have an excuse for my erratic, goofy behavior.

I have a couple of screws loose.

Yes, for some reason, I also developed a Dad Sense of Humor.   I think it may have been a side effect of all those illegal narcotics.

Orange Juice Jones

Standard

I went to boarding school for my high school years.  On breaks, we returned to our sandy, over heated, oil drenched homeland, Saudi Arabia.  We reunited with our childhood friends and hung out with our parents, whom we hadn’t seen in nearly three months (wow.  imagine.  having a teenager…and getting three-month breaks.  that’s not really fair.)

We had changed.  We had boyfriends, or new boyfriends, new hairstyles, more ear piercings, and stories galore.  We rehashed our tales over glasses of illegal siddiqui (known during prohibition and still – for some reason – in the south, as MOONSHINE).  We would steal the evil 180 proof alcohol from our parents and meet at a house to imbibe and be ruthless teens, while hopefully avoiding going blind in the process.

I had a routine.  My parents would be watching a video.  I would sneak into the garage.  My dad had put his 400 lb tool box conveniently in front of the still room door.  For you novices out there, a still is what you use to brew your moonshine.  They are dangerous and a really bad idea.  That’s why we go to liquor stores and consume alcohol from companies that have to pass certain tests, in this country.  Chances are that a fifth of Baccardi won’t blow up your house, or make you go blind.  I pushed that tool box out of my way.  Was I super human in my quest to get loopy?  Nah.  There were wheels on it, silly.  Once that was a few inches to the side, I would squeeze into the still room and fill up a cup of siddiqui.  It didn’t take much.  Normally I would fill up a jar or a Tupperware cup, but one time I made the mistake of filling a styrofoam coffee cup.

The bottom fell out after 45 seconds.  Well.  Hmmm.  Wonder what it is doing to my liver?  It eats styrofoam.  Anyway, I am a teenager, who gives a damn.  I just want to have an illegal drink!  So, I grabbed another container to put it in, instead.

And off to the party.  Parents none the wiser.  I always added some water to offset what I had stolen.  Since they rarely drank, I think that by the time they got to their stash a few years later, it was 95% water.  I probably saved their livers.  Mine probably has mutant life forms attached to it by now.  Sorry liver.  I’ll make it up to you now by giving you all sorts of organic produce.

I arrived at the teenage drunk fest, siddiqui in hand, and ran into a guy who had orange juice.  Yay!  Chasers are a necessary part of drinking 180 proof alcohol.  There is no enjoyment factor, it is all about getting it down and attempting not to taste it in the process.  And so I began my evening.

Swig.

Oh GAWD… give me that chaser dude… QUICK!

Gulp Gulp Gulp.

Ahhhgggghhhh!  That’s not orange juice!  It’s orange juice CONCENTRATE!  So not helpful to my revolting stomach.  Of course, being a stupid teenager on a mission, I continued to drink it.  Durh.

Somehow I ended up back at home, very very very early.  My parents were still awake as I stumbled through the kitchen, looking for the bread-like equivalent to a sponge… hoping to absorb some of the alcohol.  I wasn’t even laying down and I was spinning.  I managed to get my drunken teen ass into my bed, and after writing the 80’s version of a booty call to my boyfriend back in the states, and cutting off a piece of my hair to mail to him, I passed out.  I only briefly woke up when I realized I had barfed in what was left of my hair.  I washed up, and went back to bed.  I’m sure it was the orange juice concentrate.

At the crack of dawn, my parents woke me to head out to run errands.  I managed to grab the milk before we left.  The gallon of milk.  Oh.  It tasted SOOOO good.  I just kept drinking it and drinking it.  I must have consumed half the gallon before we left.

Did I mention that I was in Saudi Arabia?  As in, the desert?  Not the most comfortable location for a hangover.  If you think they hurt in the cold, just hop in a sauna and see how you feel.  You feel disgusting.  Trust me.

I made it through the grocery store.  I groaned as my parents started munching on fragrant donuts.  I staggered into the gold souks.  It was shiny and pretty in there. Red velvet walls.  The smell of incense floated around my head.  über gorgeous gold hung from every wall.  For some reason it reminded me of intestines.  Aesthetically pleasing, yet kinda gross.

All the bling was messing with my guts.  Or maybe it was the milk.   My parents haggled.  The owner of the shop bargained.  They haggled more.

A wave of milk was rising in my stomach.  I fought hard.  I swallowed it down.  I did not want to mess up that man’s velvet walls.  And then my parents made the mistake of asking my opinion.

I ran.  It was just too much.  The milk and the orange juice concentrate.  The heat.  The smells of sewer mixed with donuts.  The haggling.

The siddiqui.

And there it was.  I ran to save the gold.  I ran to save the walls.  I ran to save my parents.  I aimed for the gutter.  Unfortunately I missed and nailed the sidewalk in front of the beautiful gold souk with what resembled cottage cheese.

Too.  Much.  Milk.

My parents laughed.  I sniffed.  They laughed some more.  The poor store owner came out and mopped up my whole evening of illegal boozing.  I crawled into the air-conditioned mecca of our car and covered my face.

All I heard from the front seat was laughter, the entire drive home.

I’ve learned some lessons in my bubble…

Number one: don’t drink homemade moonshine.  Not ever.

Number two: don’t drink concentrated orange juice.  Not ever.

And number three: never follow up a night of 180 proof teenage angst with milk.  It curdles.

I wonder if my boyfriend was confused when he got my hair.  Well, at least that was one thing I hadn’t puked on.

Wait, unhand those tampons!

Standard

The first time that I realized Saudi Arabia was totally different from Idaho was when I was in the airport, age nine, and got hauled back by the biggest man I’d ever seen in my life, to the airport security room.  Yes.  Age nine.  I was bored, we were waiting for our bags, so I decided to play with my dad’s telephoto camera.

Zoom in.  Zoom out.  Zoom in.

Zoom out.

You’d think that in zooming in and out I would have noticed the signs on every wall that had a basic drawing of a big camera  with an “X” through it.  oops. Fortunately for me, my dad has a (sometimes annoying) ability to speak to absolutely ANYONE. It’s like his superpower.  He started his funny babbling engineer speak, which consisted of a lot of  “well, she’s just a kid.  the camera has no film.  don’t know the culture.  i’m an engineer.  i like to tell stories about molecules and metals. you want to hear one?  well, even if you don’t I’m gonna tell you anyway.  even though you don’t speak english. if I just keep talking eventually you’ll get so sick of me you’ll let me and my infidel nine-year old leave your security office…etc…etc”

It worked.

When flying into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there were a series of predictable events that took place.  First, all the women on the flight who were wearing jeans and designer t-shirts suddenly were replaced by Arab women in abayas.  Next, the lights would be dimmed and prayers would begin.  Maybe this was only on Saudia Airlines, I can’t quite recall.  What I do recall is the first time I experienced it.  I was sure we were crashing.  No lights.  Call to prayer.  Um.  And then, aha!  There’s the runway.  Jesus.  Let me just go ahead and pull my intestines out of my left eye socket.  I think my fingernails drew blood from the arm rest.  Messy.

Once the plane had started to land, you immediately surveyed your surroundings to see if a Pakistan International Air plane had just landed.  If they had already entered the terminal, you may as well succumb to your fate because it was going to take at least 2 hours to get through immigration.  If they were coming in behind you, you knew it was time to wake those flaccid limbs that had not moved in eight hours and SPRINT.

After disembarking the plane you either began that Olympic sprint to the airport terminal, or you boarded an overcrowded little bus that would transport you through the oppressive heat to the terminal.   The sprint was painful, but always the better option.  It gave you a false sense of control over what would happen once inside the airport.

Once inside the airport, you entered a very long immigration line.  This was never the right line.  Just like at the grocery store.  It may look shorter, but it never is.  There’s some invisible hold up, someone who thought they were in South Africa instead of Saudi Arabia.  Someone who left their passport in London.  Someone who thought it would be wise to get totally trashed before landing in an alcohol free country.

As you slowly neared the immigration agent behind his little plastic window, fears of forgotten booze that may have some how fallen into your suitcase start to mess with your sanity.  You wonder if maybe someone at school could have accidentally stashed a joint in there when you were packing your bags.   Even if you had absolutely nothing to hide, you would start to sweat as they perused your passport, looking at you for any possibly signs of… what… I don’t really even know, but it made me sweat even more than the 100 plus degree temps.  I remember being terribly thirsty, thinking,” god I want a giant glass of water… but this guy’s looking at me like I’m hiding hash between my butt cheeks.” So instead of swallowing my dried up saliva, I batted my blue eyes.   My contacts stuck, but I just tried harder.   Ah.  He smiled.  The universal symbol that you are not being regarded as an imminent danger to society. Sometimes you have to break out the big guns.  Even if it’s just to get closer to a water cooler.

Finally, you would get to reclaim your baggage, provided it had actually made your flight.  Then there was the luxury of walking with all your crap through the customs lines.  This was fun.  Fun like the dentist.  The customs agents would literally take EVERYTHING from your suitcases, feel the sides (for a fake wall or maybe an inflatable woman?), open your novels, tear pages out of your People magazine (or just chuck ’em), and poke fingers into your chocolate .  The finger poking was to see if there was alcohol in the chocolate.  Sometimes the customs agents would make the baggage handlers eat a bite.   Then what.  They’d return the remaining piece to you.  yeh.  Thanks.  I suppose it was all a bit demoralizing, but it was how you got home.   There were no other options.  It helped to remind us how much we valued chocolate, especially the liquor filled kind, and non-torn magazines.

It helped realign your priorities in life.

All that may sound bad to you, but trust me, it was nothing compared to the departure.  On your way out of the Kingdom, you’d arrive at least two hours before your flight left.  After waiting in lines and walking through multiple different x-ray machines, you would approach your final station like the mud pit at the end of the obstacle course.

The Search.

Okay people.  You think that this x-ray stuff in the U.S. airports is scary and bad.   Try having your tampons dumped out of your carry-on, in front of the teenage boys you go to boarding school with. Try having your little teenage bras and undies spread over a table for all to see.  Try being taken back to another room for the “search.” This was a lovely process in which a woman (or possibly a wookie, who knows.  She was camouflaged in her abaya) took a handheld, beeping, metal detector and ran it over your body.  I mean, touching your body, beeping, mocking – your ENTIRE body.  I stood stock still (didn’t want to show fear.  I think they pick up on that… like horses and some spiders), grimacing, while simultaneously trying not to grimace, because if you were uncooperative you would be sent into the “OTHER” room.  I held my blank stare and focused on my still fresh embarrassment over the poured out tampons.  Don’t glare.  Think, tampons.  Think, boys snorting about tampons. Think, I must buy some better bras.

My bubble was once a humid, hot, shwarma filled place.  It was my home.  In order to get to and from my home, I had to go through security that was just a tad more intense than LAX or DIA.  I didn’t have rights.  I didn’t even have a voice.  I did have tampons.  I was embarrassed, but safe.  I survived more than 13 years of flights.  I like my safe bubble.

Though, I could have done without the beeper thing on my crotch.