You lived and died by your Walkman. Even now years later I still remember the order of songs, ACDC She Shook Me All Night Long into Welcome to the Jungle into Kickstart my heart.
We lived in a white trash apartment complex in Richmond, Virginia. It was the shape of a square with the apartment clubhouse in the center. You had to drive up a curvy hill to get to the center entrance and our 3 bedroom was on the bottom left. My 3 sisters shared a room and I had my own. It’s odd how my memory has little vignettes of stories seared in. Swimming in the pool by the clubhouse with my friend Chris. Riding my BMX through the woods behind the apartments. Setting off M-80s in the forest. Swinging across the big ditch by grabbing the vines of the weeping willows. Watching the older neighbor girl in her daisy dukes. In every way I was a typical American kid but I was the loud Indian kid who’s house smelled funny.
There’s so many stories I want to hold on to from that time. The hurts and digs that made me me. Getting in a fight with the little black kid who was my neighbor sometimes and sometimes my friend. The apartment complex over the next hill where it was nicer single family houses with the basketball court we all played at until it was so dark we couldn’t see the ball anymore. Stealing Garbage Pal kids from the local 7–11. The first time I played doctor with the Patel sisters during one of my parent’s pujas.
Through it all I remember being intensely lonely. There was some pine trees on the side of the apartment building. I would climb up by myself and sit in them. So many times the nicks and cuts would just add to the bruises from home on my way up. I never felt like I could fly from the trees but it was the only thing I wanted to do.
Her name was Farah. My sister baby-sat a neighbor’s little girl and Farah would come over, I’m not sure how she was related. We would watch the Jungle Book which was my favorite movie (little Mowgli). Farah had that light skin that brown people have when they are young but it would tan to olive as the Appalachian summer got hotter. Around 4th grade we went to the same summer school and even at that age she had a magnetism that everyone around her wanted to be around.
We had first met a few years before but in summer school I didn’t really exist to her. Farah wore Jordache and white short shorts and while we shared a pottery class together most days I just day dreamed about making her my girlfriend even though at 11 years old I didn’t even know what that meant.
I don’t know where she is right now. I’ve thought about looking her up but all I have is her first name.
Silly summer fantasies of little hairy brown kid. I had changed my name to Keith. No one could pronounce my name and I wanted something cool. Keith was cool. Ketan was not.
It’s an odd mix, Bollywood dal and Americana Mac and cheese. I remember hating the smell of meat. It smelled like death to me. But I learned to love mashed potatoes and fruit roll ups and air Jordans and I learned I would never be the same as the kids around me.
I gave Farah a ring I stole from my Dad. It looked expensive. She didn’t want it. She threw it on the sidewalk and I watched it roll into the drain. Her equally gorgeous dark haired friend was laughing. So I got back on the bus. Put my headphones on. You lived and died by your Walkman.
This is the second chapter in my upcoming book. You can read the first chapter Karen here.