In the midst of darkness, this little one was a light ray. Tiny, with a Minnie Mouse voice, this daughter of my spirit had finally made the long trek westward, into the bowels of this man-made hell, situated in the south-central Pennsylvania boondocks. She, like my other children, was just a baby when I was cast into hell, and because of her youth and sensitivity, she hadn’t been brought along on family visits until now.
She burst into the tiny visiting room, her brown eyes aglitter with happiness; stopped, stunned, staring at the glassy barrier between us; and burst into tears at this arrogrant attempt at state separation. In milliseconds, sadness and shock shifted into fury as her petite fingers curled into tight fists, which banged and pummeled the Plexiglas barrier, which shuddered and shimmied but didn’t shatter.
“Break it! Break it!” she screamed. Her mother, recovering from the shock, bundled up Hamida in her arms, as sobs rocked them both. My eyes filled to the brim. My nose clogged.
Her unspoken words echoed in my consciousness: “Why can’t I hug him? Why can’t we kiss? Why can’t I sit in his lap? Why can’t we touch? Why not?” I turned away to recover.
I put on a silly face, turned back, called her to me, and talked silly to her. “Girl, how can you breathe with all them boogies in your nose?” Amid the rolling trail of tears, a twinkle started like dawn, and before long the shy beginnings of a smile meandered across her face as we talked silly talk.
I reminded her of how she used to hug our cat until she almost strangled the poor animal, and Hamida’s denials were developing into laughter. The three of us talked silly talk, liberally mixed with serious talk, and before long our visit came to an end. Her smile restored, she uttered a parting poem that we used to say over the phone: “I love you, I miss you, and when I see you, I’m gonna kiss you!” The three of us laughed and they left.
Over five years have passed since that visit, but I remember it like it was an hour ago: the slams of her tiny fists against that ugly barrier; her instinctual rage against it—the state-made blockade raised under the rubric of security, her hot tears.
They haunt me.