The fact that I did not care about what people thought confused my parents and it was the subject of many of our fights. They believed that appearances meant everything and it was odd how my mother became more that way over time. Their control over my every day routine got worse and one day I got scolded for being fifteen minutes late. Their excuse was, “who’s going to do the dishes if you’re late?” Most people had beepers, even in school, but we could not afford that and my parents saw no point in it. So, they were left without any mode of communication with me and it made them worry often. My seclusion got deeper and so did my obsession with the Kabuki comic book series. We had a graphic arts class that I opted for as an elective and I found my chance to create a custom made Kabuki notebook and notepads. My teacher brought me to the side one day to talk about my notepad watermark which said “for the fallen, who believe in miracles.” He said that only people going through a midlife crisis write about stuff like that and wanted to know what the deal was. I brushed it off at the time and told him that it was just something from a comic and, even then, he insisted that it wasn’t something that a normal person would be fascinated with. When he saw that he would get nothing out of me, he dismissed me. Our teacher/student relationship was as decent as they came, but it nosedived because of an incident with Melissa, a classmate that was also in Upward Bound with me. I had volunteered to work on the Upward Bound class year book with her and we made a date to meet together during lunch to create in the graphics arts classroom. I showed up at the appointed day to do it and she never showed up so I designed one myself and even bought special paper for it. Two days later, the teacher confronts me about not being around when Melissa was to work on the yearbook. She had came in the day before and he told me that she scrambled to get it done. I just looked at him and shrugged since nobody told me that wasn’t going to show up the first or that she was going to show up the next day.
It was also in that class that I learned about an old classmate from elementary school who had died from alcohol poisoning at a frat party. He was an odd one who liked to wear black nail polish and loss fitting pants, a self-proclaimed goth, which was rare in that area. He would go around collecting people’s hair for what he claimed to be voodoo spells. There were a string of notable deaths in school and one of the most notable was a car crash that killed 6 students. It was nearby and the students were all Indian and Pakistani, who made up a good part of the student body. The school excused students who went to the funeral service being held nearby and, one day, someone that I did not know decided to talk to me about their feelings regarding the event. I was on my way to class and we were alone in the morning since we both had special passes from teachers to be let in early. It was an invaluable thing to have since we had a new vice principle that had the school on lockdown. Students were not allowed entry without student IDs and everyone had the same schedule so the crowding was significantly larger. Doors and gates were locked when class was in session at all times and there was a countdown before each bell rang for class. Lateness was considering as being an amendment to the seven deadly sins.
The new world order related to the death of my Spanish 2 teacher who died only two days into the semester. We had a ridiculous amount of substitute teachers and the spot was never really filled full-time. We had a rash of bomb threats made to the school daily, a lot of them during my Spanish 2 class. The new management were on a witch hunt to find the culprits. Weekly, and even daily, locker checks became more frequent and things like beepers and CD players were confiscated indefinitely. They resorted to recruiting snitches in the student body by offering a reward and promising that all personal information would remain anonymous. Eventually, they caught the person doing and it turned out to be a guy in my Spanish 2 that flirted a lot with a Lebanese girl who seemed much more experienced in many things that I was. One of those things being gambling with cards. Several other students and teachers died during my time there, which was bound to happen given how large the school was. Years of alcohol abuse and cancer seemed to strike the teachers down. Gang violence and drug abuse is what usually killed the students.
The events of 9/11 created did not stop school from happening, but it did slow things down for a time that day. People were watching it happen from their classroom windows and one teacher was old enough to say, “I watched them being built and now I watch them being destroyed.” My father had picked back up with the wholesale business in New York despite it being only half as lucrative as it was in the eighties and early nineties. He was in New York during this time and I remember vaguely worrying about how we were going to survive if something happened to him. School was let out early because many students had family that lived and worked in New York. Some were standing distraught in the hallways and one girl told me about her brothers and father who were in the region. The months that followed had bad repercussions on the local Muslim community. Many families were broken up due to mass deportations, green card or not, and secret arrests with no explanations given to anyone about them. There were also families grieving for the loss of their loved ones from the incident. One day when I was walking home from school, I spotted two younger children being attacked by some boys from my school who were throwing stones at them. I recognized them because I knew their family from my days at the mosque and I helped them escape. It wasn’t hard to do since the boys ran away when I got to the scene. My mother got cornered one day at Journal Square by two boys who told her to go back to her country. She stood up to them and told them that this was her country and from them to go back to theirs. It was a public place and she looked like she was about to fight back, so they backed off. My father used the incident as another opportunity to spread his Jew hate and conspiracy theories. Clearly, the Jews had orchestrated the entire event and the proof was the supposed fact that none of their people were killed during the attacks. The entire Muslim community and Arabic TV channels were whispering about this. They claimed that all the footage of Osama Bin Laden was doctored up and was a product of Western propaganda. If you did not believe any of these things as a Muslim, you were considered a traitor of your brothers and sisters in Islam in a less fortunate position than you.
Out of the one thousands students that were in my freshman class, only four hundred and eighty of them graduated with me. Everyone was excited about the prom and the drama that came with, from the famous lesbian couple to the usually quiet South Asians, it was a big deal. Some could not go either due to being poor or being denied participation by their parents. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to participate in any of it since my mother disproved of the sex that she knew went on at those events. A date would also be necessary and that was out of the question. Brother A and I joked that he would be my date to our imaginary prom. Graduation day required an ironed gown I had told my father about it days beforehand. My parents were having one of their bad fights during this time and he went off on her when he saw her ironing my gown. He took it and threw it on the floor because she wasn’t doing what he had wanted her to do. I told him to stop and that it was for my graduation which was in a few hours, but he told me to shut up and stalked off. My mother and I decided leave for my graduation after he left the house. I didn’t get any special mentions or awards due to my lack of involvement in any extracurricular activities, but I was thankful that I did not have to wait for all the Patels to be called to get my diploma. We left as soon as I got my diploma and got something to eat as a way to stall our eventual return home. My mother seemed to be disappointed at how things happened, but I reassured her by saying that none of it mattered. I hadn’t even bothered dressing up for it. Neither of us did. It was all very last minute. My yearbook did not have my picture because I would not go take one for it. My name was listed, but there was no other mention of me in there. Despite that, I had some people that I thought mattered a little bit, due to past friendships and a brief shared history, sign the back of it when the books were handed out in the cafeteria.
High school seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. SATs were taken and I scored average, but good enough to get into Rutgers University of Newark. My father and I had an endless feud about the issue of majoring in pharmacy. It came down to him telling me that I could do research that would prove pharmacy was not as profitable as he thought and that something else of my choosing would be. The problem was that I did not know what I personally wanted to study. I wanted to go into liberal arts to discover what my strengths were, but he wasn’t having any of that. None of my research disproved his assertion that pharmacy was best, so that’s what I had to put down as my major. Somehow, I had gotten into the school’s special pharmacy program where students spent their first two years in Newark then were automatically transferred to the pharmacy department in New Brunswick.
But that fight was not over by a long shot.