Thursday, September 30, 2004

Autobiographical Essay Final Draft

Autobiographical Essay
By Jessica Long
English 321
Dr. Mitchell

REHOVAT, ISRAEL
1990-1991

I am one of the two blond-headed kids in the room, and can only speak to two boys who know English. We all sit in a grey classroom with desks grouped together in units. The building where I go to first grade is a large concrete rectangle with a large square, dirt playground. I know a few words in Hebrew but the ones above the doors are strange and looked like straight lines that have gotten lost and have run into each other. Some of the letters look strong and powerful like a bridge with arms. And some of the letters look wispy, like a sigh. And it’s hard to figure out the difference between the girls’ and the boys’ bathroom.

Father gives me a gas mask.

Both recesses are fun. The boys and I jump off the rough, concrete walls onto the bright sand below. One of the stones in the schoolyard has an old bloodstain on it, and my classmates tell me that’s where a boy cracked his skull in a school fight. When we come back in, I go to a different classroom where a lady can speak English. She pinches both my cheeks and exclaims what a pretty little girl I am. I wish she would say it without pinching me.

And he shows me how to put it on my small face.

The walk home is always hot. My mother makes me wear pants even though the pavement makes the air feel like a toaster and smell like burnt leaves and acorns. There are two different ways to go home. One is the sidewalk that is long and boring, and the other is the shortcut through the straggly brush that ends up at the apartment dumpsters. Mother tells me not to take that path because the snapping turtles will bite me. She is afraid that I will also fall down and hurt my knees. My brother fell on the pavement in the apartment complex a couple weeks ago and got a scar on his knee that looks like a small grub.

I run to the mirror and laugh.

The tree on the patio of our apartment has rough, crumbly bark but my brother and I still climb it. We pretend to be monkeys and sloths. But since we don’t know what sound a sloth makes, it’s easier to be a monkey. He also has a potato gun and chases me around the grass outside with his mushy ammunition flying high in the air.

I look like a black, rubber bug.

Jerusalem is tall. The walls look so old. A nice man gives us a tour and we look way down at the traffic and the open-air markets. I can see the bits of paper in the Western Wall that holds prayers to God. My father tells me the men in the large, black, woolly hats that are bowing, are Orthodox Jews. I asked if the funny hats keep them from hitting their heads on the wall. He laughs and holds a finger up to his mouth to show me that we should be quiet so we can let them pray. They look like they are praying very hard.

Father lines the bottom of the bathroom door with something.

I love getting fresh pitas from the bakers. They are soft, still hot and so large in my small hands. Mom spreads humus, a spicy chick-pea spread, on it for me and I get to put the tomatoes and the lettuce on it just the way I like it. I eat pitas and humus everyday. And if I’m good and take a real nap, then I can watch Yogi Bear.

We play a game where we all go in the bathroom and sit on the floor together.

The orange and grapefruit groves hold great potential for fun. We go with dad and pick oranges as big as softballs, and wear our matching Wake Forest shirts. One of the American soldiers that are visiting us makes a face when he eats a grapefruit. My brother and I laugh. On other days we go to the playground that has a Donald Duck slide with our friends. They live on the top floor of the apartment complex and often come out to play. The pool is rowdy and exciting. A boy there tells us that we speak like cowboys. “No, I don’t, cowboys say howdy.”

My teacher shows us how we can decorate the boxes that hold our masks.

The night the air sirens go off, I wake up crying because I think they’re ghosts. Mom and dad scoop us up and run to the second story with a little red wagon in tow. It is so loud. We go to our friend’s apartment. Their baby girl is in a plastic crib with an air supply, so her mother can’t hold her to keep her from crying. My brother puts on his mask that makes him look like a fighter pilot. He is very proud of his mask, but mine is the only one with a straw.

Our school has its very own bomb shelter, just like our apartment building.

Mom has brought coloring books so we busy ourselves while the adults speak with muffled voices through their masks. The first bomb falls six miles away from our building, but we still feel the vibrations.

There is a man pleading with us, trying to find out where we got our masks. He is holding his little daughter.

We fall asleep even though mom is afraid we might not be able to breathe. Someone has told her that it’s possible to suffocate in the mask while sleeping. When we wake up the noise is gone. We are hungry and stiff from sleeping the floor so mom lets us have our special crunchy, sweet cereal, which is a rare treat. The crisp texture of the cereal is a welcome difference to the air of the gas masks. And as we watch our milk turn colors from the marshmallows, the horror of last night is forgotten.

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