The Protective Spells of Childhood
When I was in the ninth grade, my best friend Maryam and I used to wake up early and eat bucket loads of Lucky Charms while watching Saturday morning cartoons. She Ra, Princess of Power and Thundercats were my favorites, but there was also a good X-Men series cartoon. It was an unparalleled and sacred ritual, an embodied experience of profound enjoyment and camaraderie. Maryam would come from the San Fernando Valley to Newport Beach and stay the weekends with me, and we ate, slept and even went to bathroom together. We were inseparable. I honestly think if I hadn’t found her, I might not have survived the immigration process. I had just come to California from Iran and had left my mom behind. Fourteen years old now, I was living with my father for the first time since I was eight. My dad was (let’s be genrous and say) emotionally and psychologically unstable and couldn’t handle the drastic changes in my appearance and behavior. He was violent and abusive, and I may have just killed him at some point and ended up in jail for the rest of my life were it not for these transcendental weekends with Maryam.
During the week, I had to go alone to a school where I was the least significant person on the totem pole of vicious high school hierarchies. Even the lowest of the lowly nerd felt justified in making fun of me somehow. The extra mean kids used to throw Twinkies at me during lunch. But on the weekend, Maryam would come, and we would stuff ourselves full of Lucky Charms and spend the days either at Disneyland or at Balboa Island eating burgers and playing video games (Crystal Castles) at the arcade. My dad would often give us a $100 each and drop us off at Disneyland on Saturday and Sunday. We learned the whole place by heart and had some great adventures. For Christmas that year (1987), I got a scooter, after which Maryam and I were on the road all the time. I don’t recall ever studying or doing homework, but I still got straight A’s.
Now I live in Roanoke. I came here because my younger half brother had to immigrate to America all by himself to go to college and I felt compelled to come over here and be nearby so he’s not all alone in a foreign country. His favorite cereal is Lucky Charms. I always have some around for when he comes to stay with me. About two weeks ago, I felt hungry for something I couldn’t identify. But suddenly, it hit me from somewhere deep inside, and I ran to the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of the magical cereal and brought it to bed with me. I watched some program while eating the cereal and it occurred to me that I know this particular flavor and texture, this smell and taste and tendency of its unknownmatter to become slowly softened, the way the bits float around in the milk and jiggle, the satisfying crunchiness and the perfect mixture of dried up sweet marshmallows with milk in the mouth, I know all of these things better than I know my own soul.
I can see now that the ritual of Lucky Charms was not just a sugary childhood whim. It was the intuitive casting of protective spells. Maryam had seen the violent storms that roared out of my father on a regular basis. She knew what I had to deal with during the week when she wasn’t there to protect me. Lucky Charms became just that, literally. They protected us both as we navigated the exceedingly tricky and troublesome terrain of the first generation immigrant whose parents are often so preoccupied with their own lives they can’t fathom the existence of an emotional life in their children.