Friday, 14 August 2020

In the months my husband and I were apart, the world changed completely

We didn’t know the pandemic would separate us for five months. ‘People in love never give up,’ a man at his hotel said to me

In March, when I left Beirut, where my husband Felix and I were living, for a new job in Sydney, I knew we would be apart for a little while. It wasn’t a huge deal – if the worst came to the worst, one of us could just jump on a plane.

But 10 days after I arrived in Australia, Lebanon closed its only airport. Ten days after that, Australia introduced a mandatory fortnight of hotel quarantine for all overseas arrivals.

There were repatriation flights but we decided it was best for Felix to stay in Lebanon. He was working for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees and, with the country closed, it wasn’t possible for UNHCR to replace him.
‘In the months since we had last seen each other, the world had changed completely. Had we?’ Photograph: Reuters

We didn’t know the airport’s reopening would be delayed several times. Or that three of Felix’s flights home would be cancelled. We didn’t know it would be five months.

But somehow, in late July, Felix boarded the plane. At 8pm, he landed at a mostly empty Sydney airport, where a border agent, struggling to scan Felix’s passport, said, “Sorry, my machine is shitting itself.” A colleague ribbed him, “No, it’s human error! Human error!” Ah, Australia.

By the time he was at the hotel – the extremely swish Sheraton on the Park in the middle of the city – it was 2am. So I visited him the next day, depositing gifts collected from friends on a gold luggage trolley as, somewhere behind me, the lobby filled with Australian defence force members saying things like “Sixteen-hundred hours”.

Felix’s room was on the other side of the building, 18 floors up. He could see me, but the sun’s reflection meant I couldn’t see him – just the outline of a white pillow he held against the window. I was conscious of how mad I looked to people walking past: craning my neck up at the sky, squinting and yapping into earphones.

The next time I visited, it was evening. The man at the front desk suggested I write a message on a sign I could hold up, and handed me a marker and sheet of paper. “People in love never give up,” he said as I drew a picture of a duck and a speech bubble.

Felix couldn’t make out the sign. But I could see his silhouette, waving, dancing, miming going down stairs and up again. 

Time has never moved as slowly as it did in that last week. But eventually, the day arrived. In the months since we had last seen each other, the world had changed completely. Had we?

At the hotel, a woman took down my details and asked who I was there to pick up. My voice cracked as I explained, and she warned me not to cry, “because I won’t be able to hug you”. As I left the lobby to head to the street where Felix would emerge, I heard her cooing to a colleague: clearly I was one of many pining spouses, and she was a romantic.

As I waited on the street in the middle of the city, I attempted to lean coolly against the blue Toyota Corolla borrowed from my in-laws. To my left, guests emerged, embraced their parents, friends and partners. To my right, every now and then, was someone craning their neck up, smiling as they spoke into earphones.

Then Felix called to say he would be emerging from the lobby side after all. I jumped into the car and turned the key in the ignition. The engine spluttered. The battery had died.

Sheepishly, I canvassed the drivers in nearby parked cars for jumper cables. A hero appeared in the form of Nigel Nazareth, the hotel manager. He and another employee pushed as I steered into the underground hotel parking, and Nigel left to bring his car to jumpstart mine.

As Felix made his way to me, he called and gently made fun of my well-earned reputation as a klutz. Incredulous, I burst into tears.
In the end, we met halfway up a parking ramp. He was gorgeous. I kept crying. Then we packed the remaining pieces of our life in Lebanon into the car, drove home, drank beers, laughed and laughed and laughed, and slept.

On Felix’s second night back – at 3am on the morning of Wednesday 4 August, I woke to my phone buzzing as floods of messages arrived. The Beirut explosion had just happened. At least 135 people would die in the coming days. At least 5,000 were injured.

The site of the blast was less than a kilometre from our old apartment. Some of our friends lived in the same block as us, and many lived on the same street. They were injured, their homes were blown to pieces, but somehow they were safe. Their world had changed completely, again. This time in a matter of seconds.

“I’m just so glad you guys weren’t here,” a friend there said over the phone, her voice scared and small. After finally getting Felix back to Sydney, and despite how irrational we knew the feeling was, Beirut was the only place we wanted to be.

(Source: The Guardian)

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Why Black progressive women feel torn about Kamala Harris

We know we will have to defend Harris’s personal identity, while maneuvering against her political one

Vice President Joe Biden has announced that Senator Kamala Harris will join his political pursuit of the White House.

Women of color, particularly progressives, might feel torn. Perhaps even closeted excitement. Senator Harris is sharp, strategic, and witty, undoubtedly qualified to be vice president of the United States. She graduated from a historically Black college and belongs to a prestigious Black sorority. A biracial woman with Jamaican and Indian heritage, we have seen her break color barriers and shatter glass ceilings, even though poor, Black women have felt and swept the falling shards. Thousands celebrated her Senate seat win and even more were captivated when she picked apart presidential candidates at debates - especially Biden. Her one-liners were unforgettable. Until we remembered that she honed those argumentative skills in court as a prosecutor, including during fights to uphold wrongful convictions.

Then, there’s the fatigue. Progressives will have to defend the California senator’s personal identity, while maneuvering against her political identity. Political accession and racism go together like stars and stripes. First Lady Michelle Obama was horribly depicted as an ape. President Donald Trump called Congresswoman Maxine Waters a “low IQ individual.” Just weeks ago, a congressman called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez “disgusting” and a “fucking bitch.” 

‘Senator Harris is sharp, strategic, and witty, undoubtedly qualified to be vice-president of the United States.’ Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Squad members Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Talib regularly experience xenophobic, Islamophobic, and racist attacks, intensified whenever they offer statements around social justice. Like the rest of these women, Senator Harris deserves safety and protection from harm. Black women, especially her sorors, will likely be her first line of defense.

Yet the defense against racist, sexist attacks must not interfere with the necessary offense required to push the Biden-Harris political ticket, for people who choose to play the electoral politics game. 

When activists criticized President Barack Obama, we were scathingly reminded how hard it was for him to be a Black man in the White House. He had significant executive power and influence to shift resources, call for legislation, and even free people from prison (which his own administration seemingly neglected). We were told to wait. Then, after eight years, we were told that too much was at stake to organize for free college, universal healthcare, the end to police and prison violence, and a clean planet. Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” calls this “do it slow:”

But that’s just the trouble, ‘Do it slow’

Desegregation, ‘Do it slow’

Mass participation, ‘Do it slow’

Reunification, ‘Do it slow’

Do things gradually, Do it slow’

But bring more tragedy, ‘Do it slow’

Since the song’s release, the time seems to never be right to push politicians towards progress.

No more slow. No more imaginary ancestral, postmortem pleas on who died so that we can vote today. People fought and died for lots of reasons alongside voting, but most importantly, for the right of self-determination, which moderates defend for the right and dismiss for the left. No more.

This generational fatigue, from Nina Simone to Nina Turner, from Fannie Lou Hamer to Cori Bush, compounds with the political fatigue of doing progressive work around a party that undermines progressive values. Vice President Biden and Senator Harris will be determined to prove that their party has not been hijacked by “the radical left,” as Vice President Mike Pence described today. He continued, “So given their promises of higher taxes, open borders, socialized medicine, and abortion on demand, it’s no surprise that he chose Senator Harris.” This inaccurate characterization is an unfortunate tactic that will push the Biden-Harris ticket further to the right. Together, Biden and Harris might still reject universal healthcare during the deadliest pandemic in recent memory - a death every 80 seconds. Together, they will promise expensive “common sense” police reform to a movement against senseless police spending. And together, they will affirm the power of the Black vote, while daring, do you really think you have any other choice?

I am reluctant to say that Biden and Harris can be pushed. My hope of being wrong is greater than my fear of being right. That hope comes from countless activists who organize across the state and local level, who are vigorously defending democracy on their blocks and creating care in their families and communities. That hope comes from studying Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, who, facing impossible odds and considerable violence and no resources, decided to forge an alternative to the political establishment. Hamer asks, “Is this America, the land of the free and home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”

If we must support politicians of color seeking office, let’s especially protect the ones in Hamer’s tradition, who risk their lives resisting white supremacy, Republicans, and moderate Democrats. And if we want to truly honor Black women’s labor and fatigue to change this country, the cost will be significantly higher than the price of the ticket to run it.

(Source: The Guardian)

Jewish refugee's wartime escape from Nazis, aided by Japan diplomat, highlights unsung heroes

On a cold evening in Moscow in 1941, Rischel Friedmann was risking her life to reach the Japanese Embassy, knowing it might be her last chance to survive. She was desperate, alone and only 17.

Her salvation came in the form of a Japanese transit visa, an act of kindness from an ambassador who defied his own Foreign Ministry to give it to her and hundreds of others who were fleeing Nazi persecution and the horrors of the Holocaust.
A photograph of Rischel Friedmann (far right) and her family at their home in the city that is now Klaipeda, Lithuania, but was then under Soviet rule. | COURTESY OF AARON KOTLER
On March 23, 1941, when Friedmann, 17, sailed to western Japan aboard a ship that ferried dozens of displaced Jews, she was holding a Japanese visa issued just weeks earlier by Ambassador to the Soviet Union Yoshitsugu Tatekawa.

She had managed to escape before the Nazis invaded what is now Lithuania, then under Soviet rule. Friedmann’s stay in Japan was just a brief stop before her transfer to Shanghai’s Jewish Quarter, and ultimately one step on the way to her final destination in the United States, after World War II, but it was the visa she received from Tatekawa that saved her from the Holocaust.

Seventy-five years on, as the world mourns the millions of victims of World War II, the discovery earlier this year of Tatekawa’s involvement in the rescue of Jewish refugees casts a spotlight on Japanese nationals whose actions echoed those of the better-known Oskar Schindler.

While defying orders from their own government, they continued to issue life-saving transit visas. Their heroic efforts serve as a lesson on the importance of offering a helping hand in the face of a crisis, and contrast sharply with the treatment of minorities today.

In a recent interview with The Japan Times, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, 56, who is Friedmann’s ninth and youngest child, retold his mother’s accounts of her visit to the Japanese Embassy in Moscow, where Jews were lining up to try to get visas, late on that evening in March 1941.

“She is lined up … she goes to the front of the line and she speaks to the guard in English and says, ‘I have an appointment with the ambassador,’” said the rabbi, who heads one of the world’s largest Orthodox Jewish educational institutions, in the town of Lakewood, New Jersey.

He speculated that the guards must have failed to notice the woman was also a refugee, as she was the only person speaking fluent English while others were communicating in German, Lithuanian or Polish.

Yoshitsugu Tatekawa (center) in April 1933 | KYODO

Kotler quoted his mother as saying that on the night of March 8, 1941, the ambassador, who was already retired for the evening, came down “in a kimono-like garment” and, after a brief conversation, issued a visa that was valid for 10 days. 

The ambassador also agreed to let in other refugees who were waiting outside and listened to their plight, the rabbi said. 

Her visa was already the 187th to be issued.

“My family has always had a very warm feeling for Japan — although we were never there — because 6 million Jews were murdered including my mother’s family,” he added. “Europe was a bloodbath for Jews, for minorities.”

With not much more than her determination and the visa in her hand, Friedmann traveled on a train through Siberia to Vladivostok, where she boarded a vessel called Amakusamaru alongside several hundred other displaced Jews.

They eventually docked in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. The cruise liner ferried more than 2,000 Jews to ports in Japan, from where they traveled on to other destinations.

Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Kaunas, also in Lithuania, is already known for having issued life-saving visas to several thousand Jews. He is the only Japanese national to have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government, and was honored in a section of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in January 1985.

Friedmann’s family escaped in the middle of the night as the invasion by the Nazis grew imminent, leaving behind their hometown — now Klaipeda, the third largest city in Lithuania — for Kaunas.

Dangers loomed in Kaunas in early 1941 and the family members’ paths diverged, with Friedmann heading to Moscow alone. She later discovered that her father, a leather merchant, had shared the fate of some 40,000 other Jews murdered there by Lithuanian nationalists under the auspices of the SS. Her mother perished a few months later as a partisan in a battle against Nazi Germans in the Lithuanian woods.

At the time of her escape, Friedmann had a German passport she’d received through a marriage of convenience and was using her then husband’s name Moddel. But even German citizenship would not guarantee her freedom.

“She had the legal right to leave (the Soviet Union) but she had no country to go to, no country (was) going to take her in,” Kotler said. “Almost no country would take (in) Jews in late 1940 or 1941.”
A copy of a life-saving transit visa 17-year-old Jewish refugee Rischel Friedmann received on March 8, 1941, from Yoshitsugu Tatekawa, ambassador of Japan to the Soviet Union, who helped Jews flee Nazi persecution through Japanese ports. | COURTESY OF AARON KOTLER 

Until recently, the role played by Tatekawa and other Japanese diplomats in the rescue of Jews was unknown to the world.

Tatekawa was a lieutenant-general in the Imperial Japanese Army, and was known mainly for his crucial role in concluding the nonaggression pact between Japan and the Soviet Union on April 13, 1941.

He was praised as a war hero in the Russo-Japanese War. But Tatekawa failed to get permission from the Foreign Ministry to help Jews flee Europe.

In fact, according to researchers, around the same as Friedmann’s visit to the embassy, Tatekawa received an order from the Foreign Ministry to halt such acts. Japan was fearful of possible consequences, given that it was allied with Germany.

Nonetheless, even after issuing the visa for Friedmann, Tatekawa continued to issue travel documents for Jews in lieu of visas, enabling them to seek refuge through Japan.

Akira Kitade, a freelance writer who since 2010 has conducted research on Japanese people who helped Jews flee Nazi persecution, speculates that roughly 300 people traveled through Japan with visas issued by Tatekawa and other unsung Japanese heroes.

Earlier this year, Kitade, 76, discovered a visa issued by Saburo Nei, who served as consul-general in Vladivostok in 1941. 

An association established to honor Nei’s role in allowing Jews to flee to Japan announced the findings in early June.

Tatekawa’s involvement in the rescue of Jews came to light after Kotler, the New Jersey rabbi, contacted Kitade and shared his mother’s experience, after reading reports about Nei. Refugees saved by Nei also traveled to Tsuruga port in Fukui aboard the Amakusamaru.

“What I gather from my research is that Chiune Sugihara wasn’t the only one who saved Jews fleeing Europe,” Kitade said in a recent interview in Tokyo.
The late Rischel Kotler, born Friedmann, who as a teenager fled Nazi persecution with the help of Japanese ambassador to the Soviet Union Yoshitsugu Tatekawa, poses in her early 80s in Lakewood, New Jersey, where she setted after the war. | COURTESY OF AARON KOTLER

“You need to get the whole picture to pass down the correct history,” Kitade said of the diplomats’ contributions to the rescue efforts. “Sugihara has been praised as a hero, but there were other (Japanese diplomats) who shared in the efforts behind the scenes.”

Kitade believes that in Friedmann’s case, by saving the 17-year-old woman’s life, Tatekawa had a part in preserving Jewish cultural heritage. After surviving several years in the Shanghai Ghetto — a sanctuary for Jews in a small area of the city’s Hongkou district, where starvation was rampant and diseases like typhus spread — the woman reached the U.S. via Canada.

In 1949, nine years after they became engaged, Friedmann wedded her fiance, Shneur Kotler, who joined his father in developing a Jewish institution in Lakewood continuing the work of the Orthodox Jewish school earlier launched by Aaron Kotler’s great-grandfather in Lithuania.

While Beth Medrash Govoha, where Kotler serves now, was founded by Shneur Kotler’s father Aharon, the late rabbi Shneur Kotler is considered to have developed it into the largest post-graduate institution in the world devoted to the study of rabbinic literature. Friedmann has been recognized for her supportive role in its success. She also helped transform Lakewood into a large Jewish community.

She died in 2015 at the age of 92.

For Kotler, some lessons learned from the war are still relevant today.

“I consider the Jews to be the canary in the coal mine — (a representation) of how a culture is going to treat its minorities,” he said. “Every country will have its minorities (but) the mark of the culture is how you treat them.”

Kotler laments that many political leaders are moving away from the rule of law, and that the world has been returning to great-power politics.

Attitudes of today’s leaders stand in contrast with a greater sense of moral imperative in how a country treats its own people, he said, and the realization of the importance of strong international rules put in place after the war to minimize conflict, as the world recoiled in horror of what had happened.

“I think the world has entered a new and dangerous phase, where the world will turn one way or the other in the next few years,” he said.

Kotler believes Tatekawa’s acts should serve as a powerful message and a call, especially for people in positions of authority and for governments, “to recognize morality and recognize humanitarian impulse.”

(Source: JT)

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

‘They’ve had enough of everything’: Record numbers of Americans are giving up their US citizenship

Handling of coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, and onerous tax filing requirements cited as reasons 

Record numbers of Americans are renouncing their citizenship according to numbers reported by a New York accountancy firm.

Bambridge Accountants reports that 5,816 people gave up US citizenship in the first half of 2020 — a 1,210 per cent increase on the previous six months in which only 444 cases were recorded.

The first two quarters of 2020 also rank as having the first and second highest numbers on record at 2,909 and 2,907 respectively.

In the whole of 2019, a total of only 2,072 Americans gave up their citizenship.


Bambridge specialises in preparing and filing taxes for US and UK expats, particularly those in creative fields such as acting.

The firm cites the pandemic as a motivating factor for US expats to cut ties and avoid the current political climate and onerous tax reporting.

Alistair Bambridge, a partner at the firm, told CNN: “These are mainly people who already left the US and just decided they’ve had enough of everything.”

He adds: “What we’ve seen is people are over everything happening with President Donald Trump, how the coronavirus pandemic is being handled, and the political policies in the US at the moment.”

There are approximately 9 million Americans living outside of the US.

Each year they are required to file tax returns, and report all of their foreign bank accounts, investments and pensions.

Mr Bambridge explains: “The current pandemic has allowed individuals the time to review their ties to the US and decide that the current political climate and annual US tax reporting is just too much to bear.”

On a positive note, those who have retained their citizenship remain eligible for any stimulus payments authorised by the US government in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about the impact of the November election on the number of people giving up their citizenship, Mr Bambridge said: “If President Trump is re-elected, we believe there will be another wave of people who will decide to renounce their citizenship.”

In order to renounce their citizenship, Americans must pay a $2,350 government fee, and those based overseas must do so in person at a US Embassy.

Every three months the US government publishes the names of those who have given up their citizenship.

Department of Homeland Security records show that in 2018, the year with the most recent data available, 761,901 people were naturalised as US citizens.

Rapunzel, draft one thousand

I call the Wig Man. He picks up. “My sister,” I say, “was diagnosed …” He interrupts me because he is driving and he is in a rush. “My store,” he says, “was looted last night.” “My sister,” I want to say, “…” He tells me he gathered all the hair that was left on the floor. “Glass everywhere,” he says. “I filled my Toyota Tacoma with all the hair that was left. I am driving home now,” he says. “Is you sister’s hair long?” he asks. It is. It is very long. “Because if it’s long what your sister should do before treatment begins is cut all her hair off and I will sew it, strand by strand, into a soft net. It’s called a halo,” he says. “I want to help your sister,” says the Wig Man. I imagine his Toyota Tacoma so stuffed with wigs that black and brown and blond hairs press up against the windows. Like animals trapped inside their own freedom. He starts to cry. I am certain he is driving across a bridge. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” he says.

“Neither do I,” I don’t say.

Sewing a wig strand by strand is called ventilating. I watch a tutorial. With a needle you draw each strand through a lace net and knot it on itself. The needle goes in and then out like thousands of tiny breaths. Ventilating a wig takes the patience of the dead. Each knotted strand is like a person sewn into a free country. The knot is tight, and the net is manufactured. “Of course my life matters,” says Eli my six-year-old. “Why wouldn’t it matter?”

My sister decides not to cut her hair. Instead she lets it fall out, slowly and then suddenly. She yawns, rises, and climbs up the stairs. She leaves behind a trail of blondish gold thread, like a princess coming undone. I write six different essays on Rapunzel. All of them are terrible. I help my sister into bed, though she prefers I not touch her. On her nightstand are six glittering tiaras. She wears one to chemo. Another to breakfast. “Isn’t it strange,” I say, “that I write about fairy tales and you are a fairy tale princess?” She looks at me hard. “A sick princess,” she says.

Of all the fairy tales, Rapunzel gives me the most difficult time. “It’s because,” says my husband, “you are trying to use her to write about systemic racism, and protest, and cancer, and a global pandemic.” “Should I just take out the racism?” I ask. “No,” he says. 
PHOTO © SABRINA ORAH MARK

“You can’t take out the racism.” “I know,” I say. “That was a stupid question,” I say. “Can I take out my mother?” “Does your mother appear?” he asks. “I don’t remember your mother appearing.” 

“Eventually,” I say, “my mother always appears.”

I am following my husband around the kitchen. “Should I add how after George Floyd was killed you sat on the edge of the bathtub and cried? Remember how you said,” I say, “‘We’ve been here before’? Remember when you said, ‘When will this stop,’ but you said it like an answer not a question?”

“Thugs,” says the Wig Man. “They destroyed my shop,” he says. “Everything is ruined.” I never call the Wig Man back. Instead, my mother buys my sister four wigs made out of strangers’ hair. Two brown ones, and two blond. My sister refuses to try the wigs on so my mother tries them on instead. In the wigs my mother looks sad and incredibly young. I can see my sister’s face gazing out from inside my mother’s, like a girl locked inside a tower.

My husband sits on the edge of the bathtub and cries. “We’ve been here before so many times,” he says. “When will it stop?” he says. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” says the Wig Man. “Of course my life matters,” says Eli, “why wouldn’t it matter?” “Did you know,” says my sister, “that in Disney’s Tangled Rapunzel lives inside a kingdom called Corona?” “That can’t be right,” I say.

I cut off all my hair. A twelve-inch braid long enough for nobody to climb. I throw the braid in the trash and then remove it from the trash. It’s soft and dumb. “I can’t look at it,” says my mother. “Get it away from me,” says my sister. I put it in an envelope and send it to a dear friend’s brother, an artist who makes Torahs and animals and money out of human hair and skin. I mean it as an act of solidarity, but I get the feeling my sister and mother read it as an act of pointless sacrifice. To punish Rapunzel for betraying her captivity, the enchantress winds her braids around her left hand, cuts them off, then takes Rapunzel to a wilderness and leaves her there. “See,” I say to my sister. “It’s not so bad.” She looks at my short hair, and a small forest grows between us.

Other than Disney’s, in no version of Rapunzel is Rapunzel’s hair magical. It can’t bring back the dead, or heal a broken bone, or keep a woman young forever. It can’t light up dark water. It can’t be thrown like a lasso so Rapunzel can glide from mountaintop to mountaintop. It doesn’t, like his hair does for Samson, give her god’s power or the strength to kill a lion with her bare hands. It cannot keep a man from being shot for his blackness. It’s just hair.

“I’m sure Rapunzel is wonderful and not terrible,” emails a friend, “but also there’s something Sisyphean about Rapunzel …” She’s right. I know what she means. Rapunzel’s hair is no more magical than a mountain the enchantress climbs day after day, pushing the burden of her own spell. I know what she means, but now I am imagining rolling boulders up Rapunzel’s back as she bends down to pick the roots and berries she survives on while pregnant in the wilderness. I roll the boulder up Rapunzel’s back, and each time I reach the crest the boulder rolls back down. Rapunzel, the mountain. Rapunzel, my sister. I am using my sister’s cancer to write about the impossible because it’s impossible my sister has cancer. And it’s impossible my sons cannot go to school or play with their friends. And it’s impossible my husband could be shot for being black. And it’s impossible the air is filled with tear gas and viral particles. I have stolen my sister’s tiara to wear. I am covered in sweat and dust, and on my head the tiara is crooked. I stole the most beautiful one. I stole the one embellished with glass stones and little pink stars.

It is late afternoon and my sister is sleeping. In the dining room, my mother has lined up all the wigs on their Styrofoam heads. Like four extra daughters. She keeps walking by them and smoothing their hair with her hand. She puts one to her face and inhales. The afternoon light lengthens her shadow. I don’t know if she notices I am there. The story of Rapunzel begins with a pregnant woman’s insatiability, her hunger for the finest rapunzel (also known as rampion, or the “king’s cure-all”) that results in the barter and entrapment of her daughter. In Giambattista Basile’s “Petrosinella,” one of the earliest versions of the story, a pregnant woman is caught stealing parsley from an ogress’s garden. She apologizes, and explains she had to satisfy her craving. In the sixteenth century, there was a widespread belief that if a pregnant woman’s cravings weren’t satisfied, the shape of whatever she craved would appear on her newborn. Birthmarks are called voglie in Italian, which means longings. My sister and I have identical birthmarks on the right side of our faces. Near our ears. Like a handful of scattered acorns. I am twenty-five years older than my sister. We don’t have the same father, but we do have the same mark of our mother’s longing.

Every two weeks my mother takes my sister to be infused with poison through a hole in her neck so she doesn’t die. My mother looks over at me. I am writing a birthday card with butterflies on it. “I hate butterflies,” says my mother. “It’s a stupid thing to put on a birthday card. They’re barely alive and then they’re dead.” Every mother has the exact same single greatest fear. It’s the boulder we push while praying for no crest.

“Of course my life matters,” says Eli, my seven-year-old. “Why wouldn’t it matter?”

By now the Wig Man must have stopped crying and arrived home. I imagine he is working in the same afternoon light that comes in through my mother’s window. He is bent over as he sews each of us, like strands of hair, into a soft net. Listen, we are breathing. You are breathing. My sons and husband are breathing. The Wig Man sews and sews. One piece of glass is still caught in a strand but he doesn’t notice it yet. My mother is breathing. My sister is breathing. 

We will make a magnificent wig. Rapunzel will wear us in this lost version of her fairy tale. We are not magical, but at least we are alive. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, / Let your hair down.” When she lets us down what will climb up? We have one last chance to answer right. A revolution or the enchantress who keeps us?

(Source: The Paris Review)