When I was around 10 years old, my family and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Dunwoody, Georgia. And we had this AWESOME garage. We actually converted it into this dream playroom for my younger brother and I. We laid out carpet, set up workstations with a dedicated area for arts & crafts and even designated one side of the garage our "dance floor." I remember adoring that room.
That apartment was our sixth or seventh home in the United States since we first arrived in 1995, just months before my brother was born in Houston, Texas. My parents and I were coming in from Saudi Arabia, where my folks were practicing physicians for a couple of years after practicing in India and Pakistan. The plan was always to stay in Saudi for less than three years and end up in the States. The visa program via Saudi was better at the time compared with India or Pakistan. But we could hardly make it to year two. Living in Saudi as a Shia Muslim, or as a woman, was far too unbearable.
It took my parents over a decade to become doctors in America. And it took a heavy toll on all of us. Getting food on the table wasn't easy. Daycare costs were too high. And mentally, my dad was having an especially tough time going from honorable physician to working the Dunkin Donuts night shift and selling phone cards to New York City convenience stores during the day only to be robbed of thousands of dollars. That’s not a knock on folks who do work those jobs, but the truth is, we were really struggling. This wasn't the life they chose for us. Or for themselves.
Around the millennium, we heard of opportunity down south. The tragedy of September 11th, 2001, and the rising Islamophobia, however, delayed things a bit. But my mom was eventually accepted to a medical residency program in Georgia, and we were ecstatic.
One down. One to go. My dad. The man who used to run the pediatric clinic in his hometown.
Those three years of my mom's residency brought little to no money into the home, and my mom was always working odd hours at the hospital. That meant my dad, instead of studying for his own exams to get back to doing what he loves and what he worked his entire life for, had to focus on the financial burden of two growing children, the bills, and how to deal with his own demons.
He fell into this depression that I only remember vaguely because that's the way my parents always were. Some of my best childhood memories were during our worst times. They never really let us feel like we were a burden, or that anything was really wrong. But as I grew older and up, I could pick up on the tension.
My parents sat my brother and I down in our shared bedroom one afternoon. I think it was a Saturday. I was in the fifth grade, my mom was well into her residency and we'd all started to notice my dad was really struggling. It was the little things. Bouts of anger and irritability, and an understandably bruised ego. Insomnia. Puffy eyes. Very low self-esteem. I can imagine worse in his head.
I remember my dad barely saying a word during that entire conversation. He just kept crying.
My brother and I had talked with my mom about possibly spending a year away from home, with close cousins in Houston. To give my dad some time to focus on himself for a change. To study for his exams and maybe even make it into a residency program and go after his dreams and not worry about us so much.
He wanted no such thing. But we all knew it was the right decision. There were tears. Lots and lots of tears. (Totally sobbing right now btw).
It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make.
We'd never been apart. And again, we were and are an incredibly close-knit family. I'm a total daddy's girl. And those three people are my best friends in the world.
My dad called us every single day during our year away in Houston. And every phone call ended in tears. I remember one weekend, they surprised us after school and it was a total laugh/cryfest.
And then December came.
We were visiting our parents that winter break in 2003 and we were so happy to be home, even if it was just for a couple weeks. While my family was on the couch watching TV one night, I asked to use their computer and go online. It was dial-up so I had to make sure no one needed to hop on a call or anything.
The computer slowly started up and right as I began browsing Kids AOL for a good game to play...
"You've got mail."
It was an email to my dad, offering him entry to a medical residency program in Georgia. I read it out loud.
The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's 642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.