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The System Is Broken: On Porochista Khakpour’s ‘Sick’

Paige M. Ferro
Jun 18, 2018 · 10 min read
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Photo: Harper Perennial.

“first few years on this earth, early PTSD upon PTSD, marked by revolution and then war and then refugee years, a person without a home […] a brown woman of Middle Eastern ethnic makeup, here in the U.S.”

“illness, or some failure of the physical body due to something outside of me, that I did not create […] my body never felt at ease; it was perhaps battling something before I knew it was. It was trying to get out of something I could not imagine [. …] I have started to consider that I will never be at home, perhaps not even in death.”

“I have been sick my whole life. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in some sort of physical pain or mental pain, but usually both [. … M]y first memories are of pure anxiety.”

“from age five through high school, the four of us, two upper-class fallen aristocrat Royalist Iranians, who left everything behind and raised two lower-middle-class children in a tiny apartment in South Pasadena, California”

“‘This isn’t your home,’ my father would say when we got to the U.S. ‘We’ll be going home again one day soon.’ He said that for three decades. Maybe he still says it.”

“My parents always called me a wanderer, poked fun at my comfort with a sort of homelessness, my wanderlust something chronic, less leisure than discomfort.”

“I am not a poster girl for wellness. I am a sick girl. I know sickness. I live with it. In some ways, I keep myself sick.”

“[took] an interest in two things: my not being married and my name. Eventually we got into it: Iran and Muslims and 9/11 and the Paris attacks, and after I realized this man was not going to hit me, I was so focused on not letting him hurl anything racist at me that I barely remembered the accident. At one point he said, ‘I’m gonna be honest with you, you Arabs have not been my favorites, you know?’”

“I had my first good experience with an ER doctor […] who knew Lyme well and who nodded knowingly when I repeated my concerns about race and ethnicity [. …] It was a godsend when someone would understand me in these moments. When someone would get that I’m a former addict. That I don’t look like what you might expect. That I’m a brown Middle Eastern woman, though every time illness turns me white — thin and pale to the point where everyone congratulates me as I transform to my sickest, a white woman in appearance [. …] Every part of me in illness became the white woman of their dreams.”

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PAIGE M. FERRO is Deputy Editor at Alternating Current Press. Her fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and Lit.cat. She holds degrees in Creative Writing, Literature, and Spanish from the University of Montana, and her writings focus on Queer Studies. You can find her online at her website.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Paige M. Ferro

Written by

Queer writer, memoirist, and editor currently living in Bend, Oregon. Writer on books, polyamory, humans, sex, love, and cats. Paigeferro.com; @Ferro3Paige

The Coil

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Paige M. Ferro

Written by

Queer writer, memoirist, and editor currently living in Bend, Oregon. Writer on books, polyamory, humans, sex, love, and cats. Paigeferro.com; @Ferro3Paige

The Coil

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

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