Operation Desert Storm
My mother grew up in a home on a road that meandered over rolling hills, slow like early suburban developments. When she was in high school, the low long rambler, a perfect space to host cocktail parties and bridge games, became home to boys from the royal family in Kuwait. When the letter from the Foreign Students Exchange Program came, Kuwait hid from my grandpa, who had to put on his reading glasses to find on the big dusty-paged world map.
. . . Kuwait hid from my grandpa, who had to put on his reading glasses to find on the big dusty-paged world map.
Fadel was the brother who stayed the longest, the one who called my grandma “Mom.” He wore strong, spicy cologne, the kind that chokes and stings, lingers long after he has left the room. My mom told me that when he lived with them, he got a brand new car every six months and threw away his undershirts after he had worn them just once. He was a good friend to my dad, Curtis, the dad who I never saw.
Fadel came to visit every few years throughout my childhood, his family growing each time. He’d grab at the fat on my sides while I tried to go unnoticed. He pulled me near, through the fog of his cologne, to whisper that I was sure big, big like his friend Curtis.
Fadel’s new wife, Hannan, would wait until Fadel and my grandfather had gone to look for new golf clubs and she’d pull her veil down, let me play with her hair, admire the span and angle of her arm, her thin wrists, her light smell. Her arms moved like waves. Then turned quickly stone, when she heard them return through the front door. Hannan brought with her across the ocean a bright gold pendant for me, with my name in Arabic. I could tell by the way my mother held it that I must be very gentle with this gift, must cherish it.
Her arms moved like waves. Then turned quickly stone, when she heard them return through the front door.
For Christmas, two weeks after my tenth birthday, my cousin Mary gave me a book called Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Mary and her sisters were older and held proudly the physical features of our Scandinavian heritage, while I wore the ill-fitting brown skin of a white black girl. I read the thin red book day and night, holding my breath. I had nightmares of hiding in small boats across a dangerous sea. Number the Stars made me scared to be half-Danish, scared to be an observer, to carry the duty to save, to keep secrets, to smuggle your Jewish friends in the night to safety.
Fadel hadn’t called in months when grandma got a letter. He wrote that they escaped to Saudi Arabia in the night; Hannan and the children were safe with her sisters. At the video rental store he owned, looters spilled glass and video plastic in the street. Soldiers tore at Hannan’s black veil, ripped and exposed her soft, hairy arms. They stole her wedding dress; one wore it and danced around their living room. Mom quietly read the rest of the letter. She shook her head and covered her mouth.
In Mrs. Fields’s class, we wrote letters to soldiers, men who I imagined were sleeping in the desert, in the sand, in wedding dresses.
In Mrs. Fields’s class, we wrote letters to soldiers, men who I imagined were sleeping in the desert, in the sand, in wedding dresses. She wrote on the board the format we should use for the letters:
My classmates bent over the paper on their desks and earnestly did their patriotic work. So did I.
A month later, in response, I received a package from a soldier. It contained:
- a package of stale Chiclets
- a small, stern-faced military portrait
- a petrified scorpion
- a letter to a little boy named Aaron
- a stamp for encouragement
Erin Sharkey is a poet, essayist, educator, and graphic designer based in Minneapolis, MN. She is the co-founder of an artist collective called Free Black Dirt and serves as the serious personality in a classic odd couple duo as co-host for the weekly podcast Black Market Reads. Erin loves '90s R&B, cheeseburgers, and her sewing machine.
Illustration by Keit Osadchuk.