This whole America thing has been very hard on Imaane.
She’s fearless. That goes a long way.
But she’s discontent. Restless. Insanely bored.
She knows practically no one her own age in Poughkeepsie, where she lives, except for the adolescent kids that belong to her Moroccan host family.
The Moroccan host family sounds pretty fucked up. At least in the narratives Imaane spins about her own life. The mother, the most vindictive of harpies; the father, the most worthless of unemployed louts. The 17-year-old daughter, a thief who steals from Imaane and spends that money on Victoria’s Secret lingerie.
“She smokes weed,” Imaane says, stretching the word out into three syllables.
And then two weeks ago, the host daughter ran away from home.
“Her mother tell her, You must stay home. But then she sneaks out of house. And then she calls me, ‘Imy, please cover for me,’ because her mother, when she catches her, she slaps her. And I say, Okay, but this is last time. Because it is wrong what she does, she smokes weed, she drinks alcohol. But then her mother catches her and says, Leave my house if you will behave like this! So the girl, she say, Okay.”
“And she hasn’t come back yet?” I ask.
“No,” says Imaane. “And she do not call. They do not hear from her.”
“Well, that’s not a good situation,” I say. Wondering to myself: How does a 17-year-old Moroccan girl support herself when she’s on the streets? “Did they go to the police?”
“No, no. She’s okay. When I call her, when her brother call her, she answers. When her mother call her, when her father call her, she do not answer.”
“But where is she?” I cry, picturing a brothel in the shadow of Poughkeepsie’s one legitimate tourist attraction, the Walkway Over the Hudson. They would dose her with regular injections of fentanyl-flavored heroin. Or maybe they would restrain her with Odalisk-style ankle irons.
Imaane shrugged and did that little French pout thing with her mouth.
“They should call the police,” I said.
Imaane shook her head very firmly. “No. No. In Morocco? We never call the police. You don’t understand.”
Actually, I do, though. I’m American born, white, middle class. But whenever I see a cop car on the road that appears to be traveling in my direction, I start shaking. I like cops, understand, but they scare the shit out of me, and I avoid dealings with them.
I might loosen up on that one if I had a missing kid, though.
It was Monday, but the Literacy Center was closed, so we couldn’t do our regular tutoring session. (I’m forcing her to read Little Women!) So instead, I took her for coffee at the hip café where the Vassar students hang out. And then for an invigorating tromp around the Vassar campus.
Personally, I’m not in love with the Vassar campus. Architecturally, I find it very bland, and I have yet to encounter the ghost of Jackie Kennedy on any of my rambles around Sunset Lake. But I kinda feel like a useless liberal arts education is the Never Neverland all immigrants should aspire to.
Imaane played with photo filters:
As we approached the tennis courts, her phone rang. Such a beat-up-looking thing, her phone, with its shattered screen and its girliest-of-girly pink sparkle case.
Imaane flicked a button, growled some words, flicked another button and laughed. “You know to what I say?”
“It sounded like you were saying, ‘Fuck you,’” I said carefully.
(Of course, I didn’t tell her that everything in Arabic sounds like “Fuck you” to me. Noises you might make while clearing your throat, preparatory to spitting in someone’s face. Very jingoistic of me, I know, I know.)
Imaane laughed. “My boyfriend. He goes to the military in Morocco, yes? The académie?”
“Academy. Yes. It’s an English word, too.”
“He call me every day! He call me two times in a day. Three times! But then he go on vacation, he never call me for three weeks. When he call, I say, ‘Oh, you are bored, so you call me now.’ And he hang up. And then he doesn’t call. Before, I say that and he laugh, say, ‘Imy, you are the most beautiful girl in the world!’ But now, he don’t call back. So we through.”
I nod diplomatically.
“And it’s good. Because he is there, and I am here, and he is military – they would never let him into this country. But my heart, my heart…” She does that charming little Gallic thing that I’ve seen other people do when their fantasy lives are fueled by French colonialism: They beat on the left side of their chest with a cusped hand and sigh dramatically. “I need American boyfriend.”
“Ummmm,” I said. “Imy, you know, relationships in the States are a bit more complicated than they are in Morocco.”
“What you mean?”
“Well, here they often involve sex.”
“Sex?” Imaane wrinkled her nose. “No. I no do sex. If I’m married, I do sex.”
“R-r-right,” I said. “But here, you know, it’s kind of an expectation even if you’re not married. Maybe you should meet guys through your mosque –“
“The mosque is in Peekskill. I don’ have car –“
“You could take the train –“
“Train! Train! It take too long,” she scoffed. “What I do on train?”
The same thing you do off a train, I thought. Text and take selfies.
Else? I spent a great deal of the week associating with people who are smarter than me.
Needless to say, I was bored to tears.
I also toiled for the Scut Factory, which means those tears turned to salt licks.
I did have a conversation with a couple of middle-schoolers yesterday that was right up my alley. We’d all shown up at the Vanderbilt Estate to play Pokemon Go.
“Gotta catch those Onix while you can,” the kid with the glasses told me. “The nest is changing in 40 minutes!”
“Wow. That soon?” I asked. “What’s gonna replace it?”
The kids shrugged.
It dawns on me that the world would be a much better place if all social, cultural, and economic battles took place in a training gym.