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there is ink inside the box above my head
2006-10-01, 10:04 p.m.

I wrote this for a Creative Writing assignment in which we were to compose a memoir based around a single experience or sensory image. I don't know how well I did that, but this is what resulted.

There is no title yet. Any ideas?

Let me know how you like it.


Untitled

No Filipino-American household is complete without an entire closet full of cheap plastic slippers. Known as chinelas in Tagalog, they vary in color and style. Many of them resemble flip-flops, and my mother frequently expresses chagrin at the fact that I now wear flip-flops in public all the time. "You're going out in those?" she'll say, looking at my feet as though they were covered in open, festering lesions. "Yeah," I'll answer. "Why, don't they match my clothes?" She'll shake her head and say, "You look like a beggar."

This coming from the woman who has become famous in my household for her "Bag-Lady" outfits, consisting of Totes brand socks tucked into sweatpants followed by a flowery housedress under a flannel button-down shirt, topped off with a sweater from which Cliff Huxtable himself would reel back in terror.

Growing up, a firm knowledge was instilled in me that chinelas were to be worn only at home. To step outside in a pair of chinelas to do more than retrieve the mail meant you were low-class, it meant you couldn't afford "real" shoes. Conversely, to walk around the house in "real" shoes was considered rude and unsanitary. Filipinos often collect chinelas in every size as security that no houseguest will taint their floors with their foreign footwear.

But to go barefoot in the house was the most odious sin of all. After all, who knows what dangerous objects might meet with my unabashedly exposed feet: splinters from the floor, misaligned nail heads, filthy specks of dustóIíll stop before I get too graphic.

Even as a child, I never understood how chinelas offered much protection from the Perils That Lie Underfoot. To me, chinelas looked much like any pair of sandals. So when I was about 5 and clearly testing the boundaries of my parents' authority, I decided to skip the chinelas for an evening. I decided to unveil my new look to my mother first. Cooking dinner was the most stressful activity in her day, and I always managed to synchronize my tantrums with the moment the fish burned. I strode back and forth through the kitchen a couple times to make sure she would notice my egregious offense. She eyed my feet sternly, then barked the command "Wear chinelas."

I decided to interpret this more as a philosophy or a general statement than an order.

Then she clarified herself: "Melissa. Put chinelas. Who knows what you're stepping on right now."

"But they huuuuurt," I brayed through my nose. "I don't liiiiike them. They make marks on my toooooes."

"Ay, Talaga naman ito..." Which in Tagalog means, "Is it wrong to hate your own offspring?"

She made no more comments. I took this to mean that I was free to continue my experiment, and I got through dinner and an hour or so afterwards without footwear of any kind.

Then my father offered to make me a bowl of ice cream. At this point in my life, ice cream was so precious a treat that I assumed it was made of unicorn milk and fairy breath. I exploded into a dervish of excitement. I raced into the kitchen, bounded in circles, and promptly stomped upon a single grain of dried, cooked rice.

Suffice to say that stepping on a grain of dried-out rice in bare feet feels kind of like being stung by a bee, only THOUSANDS OF TIMES WORSE.

I immediately collapsed onto the floor, convinced I had been attacked by some kind of phantom insect that disguises itself as linoleum tile. My mother, in a moment of remarkable sensitivity, stooped over my little writhing body and stated, "I told you to put chinelas."

Although I have since fallen out of the habit of donning chinelas, the sight of dozens of the plastic sandals stacked haphazardly in the closet in our foyer always brings me back to the first (and certainly not last) time that I learned an unfortunate fact: My mother is always right.

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