9/11 Pinto Beans

I left a hatch chile in our vegetable basket that hangs from the kitchen ceiling. It went from green to a light red after a few days at which point I stuck it in fridge so it wouldn’t go bad.

I woke to the sound of my mom yelling at us to get up because we’d been attacked. She might not have said “we” because she excommunicated herself from white America despite being from Montana and unmistakably white. I got out of bed and saw footage of people running from the clouds of dust that ended up killing people years later because they were breathing in a combination of the jet fuel, pulverized human bodies and all the other buildings materials. I had my theater class so I got in the car and drove. Every radio station was describing what happened. I turned off the radio and put in Led Zeppelin I. Bonham’s drums kicked in. Good times, bad times.

Everyone in class went around in a circle talking and emoting about how they felt. I didn’t go to the mosque that day. They said things like “I love God, my country…” before breaking down in tears. I pretended like I barely knew what was going on. I left class and wandered around campus, thinking of my friend that I grew up with, Osama Solieman. I wondered if he even left his house that day. My friend Casey worked at a kiosk nearby called Cokes n Smokes and I would hang out there between classes sometimes. I told him I’d heard that people were getting harassed going into the mosque, which was a block away. That turned into friends calling me and wondering if I was okay, which I was, of course. I hadn’t been there in a few years and by now it’s been even longer. After a while you forget what made you so angry in the first place.

I used the chile tonight, adding it with some minced garlic to some onions that were sauteeing. I deglazed with cooking sherry and let that simmer for a few minutes before adding pinto beans. Basmati rice on the other burner. After adding the beans I cut up a couple of pearl tomatoes dropped them in and turned to a low heat. Salt, pepper, paprika and chili powder from an unmarked jar. Covered it and let it simmer on a low heat for 15–20 minutes. It came out hotter than I expected.

I found out that day that I was able to float through the streets anonymously after we thought it was open season on our kind. I don’t look like what I am. Like my mom with her American background I kicked myself out of the religion and stayed outside for those first few years, rehabilitating my social skills and finally utilizing the ethnic ambiguity. When you’re with them inside, underneath that golden dome which rises just above the minaret, they don’t really teach you how to acclimate to the outside world they plopped themselves right in the middle of. After years of Friday prayers of trying to stay awake during the sermon, failing, and then falling asleep in my dad’s lap I was ready to move on to something else. There was something more dynamic out there and just as I was getting used to it the towers felt. Did that mean there was now a choice to be made. Who did I stand with.

The atom of dichotomy splits endlessly. Once you realize you can make it outside, fit in and speak their language because you almost look like them the ease sets in until that suspicion that brushes the edge of their eyes makes them ask what you are. It was the same inside. The jealousy of thinking we had it easier on the outside.

Inside the mosque there was a hallway that bordered the enormous prayer room. I remember its path being octagonal, the gradual turns leading you to the outside courtyard. The first part of this hallway was lined with pegs for hanging backpacks for the college students. I never went back there during my semester and a half. When I was younger I’d go through some of the bags when no one was around. There was a Carl’s Jr. right next door and with the money I stole I’d buy a piece of chocolate cake, eat it there, and come back for the evening prayer. It’s been seventeen years, and even longer since I’ve been in that mosque. After a while you forget what you were so angry about in the first place.