Cyber Hugs, Cyber Kisses, and All the Cyber Birthday Wishes

I have a confession to make: I never post Happy Birthday wishes in social media outlets. I am always afraid that I will miss someone, and that person will feel slighted. So while I do think about each one of you on your special day, I keep it all inside. I wonder what your plans might be, I hope someone buys you something nice, and I wish you a day full of joy. But today, I was flooded with well wishes from the very same people I silently said Happy Birthday to. The amount of love from everyone is overwhelming. Even folks I haven’t seen since high school have reached out to wish me happiness on my day.

I’m sorry for anyone who may have felt ignored. I’m sorry if your day wasn’t extraordinary, and I am part of the reason. I know that my presence doesn’t hold much significance in the lives of people I only interact with online, but I would hate to be that one person who could have made a difference and instead opted not to act. So, thank you for all the well wishes. Each one of them means a lot to me, and holds its own special place in my heart. I’ll always remember that despite how hectic our lives can be, so many people took the time to let me know they were thinking of me.

And I’m sorry that this post sounds a little sappy. I’m quite hormonal (as usual in my old age) and instead of raging today, I’m overjoyed and can’t stop tearing up. Thanks for being a part of it.

Grocery Store Cowboy

A couple of years ago, I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store when I noticed that the man in front of me kept turning around to stare. He was a white guy with a ruddy complexion and handlebar moustache. Clad in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a flannel shirt, I automatically assumed he was trying to come up with a nasty comment. I was already on defense, trying to decide how I would respond to his “ignorance” without being a complete ass. I put my food on the conveyer belt, slamming each item down a little more forcefully out of irritation. 

“Cowboy” cleared his throat, and my spine went stiff. My jaw was clenched, and I struggled not to make eye contact, lest provoke him. “Ma’am,” Cowboy began. “I don’t mean to be out of line, but that color looks absolutely beautiful on you.” Wait, what? I deflated like a balloon, expelling on the bad energy that I had bottled up inside of me. Setting my own ignorance aside, I smiled and thanked him, and he went on his merry way.

I thought about sharing this story for a long time, but I was too embarrassed to admit that I judged someone solely on their appearance, a quality that I strongly dislike in others. I expected this man to be antagonistic, and was pleasantly surprised by his compliment. We’ve all been taught not to judge a book by its cover, but it’s not always an easy rule to apply to real life. I’ve gotten a lot better at not making assumptions about people, and have built some pretty amazing friendships as a result. I imagine life would be pretty dull if I “stuck with my own kind” and didn’t step out of my comfort zone once in a while.

 

The Foot Man

When I lived in Buffalo, I didn’t always have a car. I had to rely heavily on public transportation to get me where I needed to be. That was perfectly fine because Buffalo’s public transportation system is really quite efficient (take note, Orlando). It goes without saying that you can meet some pretty interesting people when you ride the bus or subway. You may have heard horror stories about subways in places like New York City, but Buffalo’s subway is nothing like that. The stations are pretty clean for the most part, and the people on the trains tend to mind their own business. Unless you happened to be The Foot Man. The Foot Man did not mind his own business, unless you considered your feet part of his business. 

My first encounter with The Foot Man was on Court Street, right outside of Moura’s Deli. There was no more space on the edge of the giant stone planter to sit, so I stood under the shelter at the bus stop and nibbled on my bagel with cream cheese while I waited for the No. 2 Clinton bus. I was approached by The Foot Man, who introduced himself by offering his hand but forgetting to offer his name, which is why he is still known as The Foot Man. Not wanting to be rude, I shook his hand and turned my attention back to my bagel. Suddenly, I was forced to balance on one foot. The Foot Man went down on one knee, pulled my right foot into his lap, and began stroking it. This is how I knew that he was unstable. Those who know me personally, know that I have the ugliest pair of feet on the face of the earth. Years of cramming my feet into too-small shoes to avoid the stigma that came with wearing a size 11/12 resulted in calluses and toes that resemble claws. But when the weather was nice enough, I didn’t hesitate to put sandals on, ugly feet be damned.

 Anywho, I was forced to grab the side of the shelter with my bagel-free hand and yank my foot away, still trying to maintain my balance. The Foot Man was not giving up without a fight. The harder I yanked, the tighter he held. His face never displayed a bit of exertion, though. He held with one hand and stroked with the other, all while gazing at my toes lovingly. The bus arrived at that moment and distracted The Foot Man, allowing me to finally free my foot from captivation. I boarded and flopped down into my seat, exhausted from the unexpected workout. As the bus pulled away from the curb, The Foot Man’s face displayed his feelings of betrayal. In his eyes, I was a monster for taking his beloved foot away to a place where he couldn’t follow.

 My second meeting with The Foot Man occurred in the Utica rail station. Engrossed in a book, I was completely unaware of his presence until my foot was jerked from the floor. My body turned on the metal bench involuntarily as he sat next to me and placed my foot in his lap. “Hi,” he said flatly, not looking up from my foot. “Umm, hi?” I responded, attempting to pull down the skirt that was now hiked up to my knees, while trying to regain possession of my foot. Passersby looked over quizzically, but didn’t break their stride to intervene.

 Eventually, an guard stepped out of the security office and sent The Foot Man on his merry way. Apparently, I wasn’t the first person he accosted that day. Shaken, I put my book away and vigilantly watched my surroundings. I would not be caught unaware again.

 Our third meeting was at the Juneteenth festival. I sat in the grass between my friends with my legs stretched out in front of me, enjoying a beef patty. A shadow fell over us, and I looked up to see that The Foot Man stood in front of us, admiring three pairs of sandal-clad feet. “No,” Stephanie said firmly to him. “Don’t come over here with that mess.” I soon discovered that she had also been a victim of The Foot Man, which is the same name she used for him. Thankfully, he was too intimidated to stop, and sought a new victim elsewhere.

The last time I saw The Foot Man was while manning the register in my brother’s store. “Do you have any bird seeds?” he asked, visibly frustrated after walking up and down the aisles. My brow furrowed in confusion. “We don’t sell bird seeds,” I responded apologetically. “Only human food.” He huffed and stared at me, trying to force me to understand what he meant by way of glaring. “BIRD SEEDS!” he exclaimed. Oh, sunflower seeds. That had to be what he was looking for. I came from behind the counter to show him the rack hung with bags of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts and raisins. Abruptly, he lost interest in the bird seeds. His chin dropped to his chest as his attention turned to my feet. I rushed to get back behind the counter with The Foot Man close on my heels. He realized that he couldn’t follow me behind the counter, and stopped in his tracks. 

 The bell chimed as Dannie, a regular customer who lived a few houses down, came into the store. She grabbed a few snacks and brought them up to the counter. The Foot Man stepped back swiftly, allowing Dannie space to pay for her items. That was odd. I’m pretty sure she had on sandals when she came in the door. Why wasn’t he drawn to her feet? Then he spoke: “I won’t come to you house anymore,” he said to her without making eye contact. “No, you sure won’t,” Dannie responded. “You’ll probably call the police on me again,” The Foot Man said solemnly. “Yes, I sure will!” Dannie said cheerfully, and grabbed her bag off of the counter. The Foot Man watched her exit with sadness. After a few moments, he exited the store. His bird seeds lay on the counter, forgotten in his quest to find a new pair of feet.

The Helpers 

 A while ago, I wrote a post discussing how human beings often form bonds through mutual dislikes. Unfortunately, Muslims are still a strong contender for the “Least Desirable Citizens” title, thanks to people who call themselves Muslims, but commit acts that are very much opposed to the teachings of Islam. 

After September 11, 2001, many of us found ourselves on the receiving end of hateful words and angry glares. Fortunately, social media was no more than email chains. I may have known that the people on the subway were displeased with me as a person, but I didn’t know how John from Ireland felt. I didn’t know Yoon from Korea wished he could see all Muslims exterminated.

With the prevalence of social media, it’s hard not to feel as though the whole world is against me because of the way I choose to worship God. Twitter is full of posters who wouldn’t mind seeing us all rounded up and pushed into a hole in the center of the earth. When you are bombarded with these messages, it’s tough not to get discouraged. It’s even harder not to lash out. I want to respond to hateful comments with my own rage-filled vitriol on most days. But then I take a deep breath and remind myself that lashing out accomplishes absolutely nothing.

Fred Rogers said that when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news, his mother would say to him: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I find myself applying this method of thinking to my own life a lot lately. Sure, there are people out there (even presidential candidates) who voice their contempt for Muslims at every opportunity. These people tend to be the loudest, and are thus granted the most attention. While the hatred boosts ratings of news networks, folks with beautiful hearts and open minds are combating blanket stereotyping. I have received so many heartfelt messages from friends of all faiths, reminding me that there are people who love me and have my back. 

To each of you who have reached out to me to show your support, to those of you who have prayed for me, to the strangers who have stopped me in the grocery store to offer kind words and smiles, and to those of you who have either loudly or quietly voiced your opposition to prejudice: thank you for being the helpers that I can look for when my heart aches and my hijab feels heavy.

 

Minecraft, and other random tom foolery

Thing Two: I found your kitchen. There’s a cat in it. How many cats do you even have?
Little Linebacker: I can’t remember. I think four. Leave my cats alone. 
Thing Two: Ha! I just stepped on one. It’s not dead though. At least I don’t think so. 

Little Linebacker: You stupid jerk! I told you not to touch my cats. [Hits Thing Two in the face with a sofa cushion]

Thing Two: It’s just a stupid computer cat. 

[Electronic cat meows in the background]

Little Linebacker: You’re not a cat person. You don’t love cats as much as I do. 

Thing Two: [Highly offended] You don’t even know. I’m the biggest cat lover after mom. 

Little Linebacker: Just get out of my house. You shouldn’t come in people’s houses without asking, anyway. 

Thing Two: I need to eat. Get some food and meet me at the beach for a picnic. 

Thing One: [Looks up from her book] You guys are such idiots. Read a book, or do something constructive. 

[Little Linebacker throws sofa cushion at Thing One.]

The Power of a Kiss

Like most men and women, my husband and I don’t always see eye to eye. We naturally interpret things differently, and life experiences sometimes cause us to form opposing opinions. This is hardly ever a problem because as adults, we understand that our personalities won’t always be in sync. The PMS version of Afsana doesn’t get this, though. She views a difference of opinion as an attack on her character. And yes, I am referring to myself in third person. That’s what PMS Afsana does. Deal with it. 

I can’t remember what I got my drawers in a bunch about most recently, but it was likely something political since that’s where my husband and I disagree the most (despite standing on the same side of the fence). He made a comment that rocked me to my core, and I started to wonder how I managed to stay married for almost ten years to a man I had absolutely nothing in common with. In reality, we have plenty in common. To PMS Afsana, we are as different as night and day.

 After the one-sided spat, I went to our bedroom and flopped down angrily on my side of the bed. I couldn’t recall exactly what I was fuming over but dammit, I was entitled to my anger and I was holding on to it. I turned toward the window, wrapping myself up in a blanket I was determined not to share, no matter how bad my hot flashes got. He could cover up with a pillowcase for all I cared.

 My hands were balled up into fists and I was curled in fetal position. I heard the door creak open and ground my teeth, knowing my husband was the only person who would dare enter without knocking. I cringed as I heard his footsteps come closer. Feigning sleep, I held my breath and waited for him to leave the room. Instead, he stood over me for a few seconds. Then he leaned in and pressed a tender kiss to my temple. Suddenly, holding onto my fury was like trying to catch water in a colander. My body relaxed and against my will, a smile crept onto my face. In that moment, even with my PMS symptoms at their zenith, I was reminded of why I fell in love in the first place. 

An Unexplored Angle

Thanks to the prevalence of social media, our news feeds are filled to the brim with videos of police committing acts of injustice. Recently, a video surfaced showing a police officer slamming a female student on the floor. Many people defended the officer’s actions, stating that had she just complied with his request to leave the classroom, this never would have happened. I am by no means a person who can be convinced that snatching a student out of their desk and slamming them on the floor is acceptable. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think the problem is larger than anyone considered. 

When someone commits a mass shooting, say in a church or movie theater, there is an automatic assumption that the perpetrator was plagued by mental health problems. Yet, this girl who sat stubbornly in her chair and refused to leave the classroom was automatically considered to be a problem child. No thought was given to the possibility that a behavioral disorder makes it difficult for her to conform.

 I am not trying to turn this into a racial debate, but we would be fools if we didn’t acknowledge the racial disparity when it comes to the way noncompliance or crime is handled. I’m not implying that the only people of color who commit crimes are the mentally challenged. There are plenty of folks (of all colors) who simply suck at being decent. But there are also many who are plagued by mental health disorders.

 Let’s look at Autism as an example. Anyone who parents an autistic child knows the challenges involved with getting their child to function in a society with little tolerance for anything not considered normal. There are many degrees of autism from highly functioning, to requiring care around the clock. It’s hard to say how many people are truly affected by the disorder, though. It is proven that white children are much more likely to be properly diagnosed than black children. This is not information I am pulling out of my behind, I can assure you. This is a documented fact. Black children who probably should be classified are often cast aside as problem children in general, or slow learners. They are placed in a “normal” classroom setting and expected to function without additional assistance. White children are more likely to be classified and have an EDP (educational development plan) in place. Can you guess what happens to the child who was never classified, barely making it through school? There’s a strong possibility that they don’t grow up to become productive adults.

 Take a moment to think of how education has evolved over the past few decades. Kindergarten is no longer a place to learn by way of playing and singing songs. Instead of learning about geology by playing in a sandbox, children now have research projects to complete. Human brains haven’t evolved enough to keep up with the evolution in education (in my opinion), but we expect our children to perform in a way that we wouldn’t have been capable of performing at their age. Throw in a learning disability, and you have a recipe for disaster.

 The disparity between blacks and whites doesn’t stop at medical diagnoses. It leaks over into the media. Pay attention to the way these kinds of situations are covered. I won’t bother to elaborate any further, but I’m sure you are all smart enough to figure out where I’m going with this. Obviously, we can’t blame all of our problems on mental health. But we can’t continue to turn a blind eye to the lack of/misdiagnosis of behavioral and mental disorders when it comes to minority groups.