From the Editors
The New York Times says Jadaliyya "Brings New Life to Arab Studies." Read about it by clicking here.
Most of the Mohawks in America are unincorporated territories, areas that lie outside of any municipality or township. I didn’t even know these places still existed. Apparently, unincorporated territories are either so small, destitute, or isolated that no city, town, or respectably incorporated area has seen reason to claim them; neither have the people who live in these unincorporated territories seen fit to claim themselves. I still can’t figure quite why these places would all be named Mohawk, but maybe it has something to do with a Mohawk being a sort of inherently in between space. There’s Lake Mohawk, New Jersey; Mohawk, Indiana; Mohawk, Oregon; and Mohawk, Tennessee. These are all described as unincorporated areas. I looked it up. This last year I’ve been trying to find out as much as possible about Mohawks. The term Mohawk, of course, comes from a Native American Tribe. The Mohawk Indians originally lived in what is now New York State. The indigenous word for their tribe meant, people of Flint. Mohawk meant eater of flesh. And they only wore their hair in what we now refer to as "the Mohawk" when they were preparing to go to war.
There are all kinds of Mohawk haircuts today that have nothing to do with unincorporated territories or war. You’ve got the Bi-hawks, Tri-hawks, Cross-hawks, Curly-hawks, Fauxhawks, Nohawks, Shark fins, and my favorite, the Psychobilly Mohawk, which is really just a spiky quiff; a lock of hair running down the center of the head and combed to one side. Quiff also means a promiscuous woman, and I liked the idea of wearing that on my head all the time.
Maybe it was that kind of thinking that started this mess. I never did get a quiff. I don’t have any of those others I named, either. I’m the only person with this particular type of Mohawk I’ve ever met or heard of, and if more people had the kind of hair I have, I promise you, the world would be a very different place.
It was almost a year ago today. I had a huge crush on this girl, Beth. I’d been trailing her for a couple of weeks since we made out at this anti-valentines day party. But she’s a kind of wholesome do-gooding sort and was making me work for my dinner, so instead of ever inviting me out alone, she invited me to group events. On Sunday morning we cooked breakfast with Food Not Bombs and served homeless people in the park. On Friday I rode a Critical Mass with her. It was nice going out with her those two weeks and seeing lots of people, I admit. I’d been spending too much time at my jobs, or alone sketching and submitting portfolios to galleries, most of whom were turning me down. But to be honest, I was kinda just chasing her tail and getting nothing but community activities in return.
The third time we went out, she invited me to a political rally. She said we could go to a rock show after, so I thought, why not? I’d done my share of rallying. I cared about things. And this came with the added plus of a pretty girl.
The rally was about Palestine and Israel. It was back when Israel was going hog-wild and just bombing the fuck out of Palestine, in retaliation to rockets being launched into Israel. I’d seen it all over the news for two days, and yeah, it was awful what was happening. But there are awful things happening everywhere all the time. Just not usually here.
So, I met Beth at the rally in Union Square. We stayed for two hours. It was nothing out of the ordinary. People were really upset and solemn and sincere. Then there were a few fiery speeches, as well as a small group of Zionists pinned in holding counter-protest signs across the street. A band played, and Beth held my hand and skipped around in a circle. One of her sandals came off and she scratched her foot, so we went to sit in the grass. I bought us two soy-dogs. We ate them. Hers had relish and mustard, mine had ketchup. I’m recalling all of these banal details because it seems so outlandish to me now just how ordinary everything was then. Nothing remotely strange happened. I keep playing that whole day and night over in my mind, trying to remember some sign of something, anything exceptional. But there was really nothing. It was an uneventful political rally that I went to because I had a crush on the girl who invited me and nothing exciting happened.
After finding a band-aid for Beth’s foot and sitting around a little while, we went and got two cups of coffee then headed over to this place called Arlene’s Grocery for the concert. Beth did a lot of dancing. I mostly sat on the couch drinking and listening, thinking how much I missed CBGB. But then I thought maybe it wasn’t CBGB I missed, but being twenty and feeling like I was really doing something drinking with a fake I.D. and being able to drink as much as possible without really feeling it, and most importantly, everything, absolutely everything being new and exciting.
It just doesn’t feel the same listening to live rock when you’re going to be thirty in a year, and your second drink is already making more tired than drunk and you can’t help but worry you’re going to feel a little sick and depressed the next day. My mind started wandering to sort of existential crisis thoughts, like the fact that I’d been trying to convince art galleries that my charcoal comic strip sketches were gallery worthy since I moved to the city, and I wasn’t getting much farther with that than I was nine years ago, and I can’t blame it all on being a boi instead of a boy, and wondering if I even still really liked live rock; wondering if I even still liked anything really, cause the things that used to seem so exciting now seemed so commonplace. Was it actually those things I liked, or was it just the newness?
(I don’t worry about that kind of stuff anymore.)
Beth came and interrupted my quarter life drunk think. She handed me a beer, and smiled, then sat down next to me, her leg crossed in my direction, touching my knee. I remember this very clearly. She took a sip of her beer, tousled my hair and giggled. “You’ve got such a great, thick head of hair, Sheldon. It’s really…..” She paused long like she was wondering whether or not to say it. She’s a few years younger than me and seemed to be getting pleasantly drunk. “Sexy,” she said, and smiled, leaning in.
I gave her a sort of signature nod I have, and tried my best to look as sexy as she said I was through my increasingly tired version of buzzed. “Yeah,” I said. “You know what I’m gonna do tomorrow? I think I’m gonna do a Mohawk again.”
“No way! That could be really good.” She started twisting my hair around one of her fingers. I don’t think it really was at the time, but I remember it now as a mystical few moments, when she kept touching my hair and talking about it, smiling too big and leaning in, giggling over nothing. The light was dim and the place smelled sweaty. The music was loud. Mediocre and insanely attractive people were dancing and beginning to make out around us. “What kind of Mohawk exactly are you going to do?” She took my brown hair in her fingers like a comb and held it up in the center then tilted her head, trying to picture it.
“I was thinking about doing a quiff.”
“No. Quiff. With an i.”
“Yeah.” I described a quiff to her and then told her that quiff also means promiscuous woman, and I said that I like having promiscuous women on my head. She blushed and went, “Mmmmmmm.” Then she crawled on top of me, straddling my lap, and we made-out till the band stopped playing.
We walked together to the subway. I asked her to come home with me. I really thought she would, but she said it was already two o’clock and she had things to do the next day, “Sorry.” She kissed me on the cheek and went to her side of the subway. That moment really sucked. So I waited thirty minutes for the train, alone, feeling not drunk enough and too tired, frustrated and lonely, my hands shoved in my pockets, watching some junkie not fall repeatedly until the F came. I got into my apartment and just crashed on top of the covers, in my clothes.
I usually would have slept until at least noon. But I woke up really early, like at eight o’clock. I couldn’t figure out was wrong for a second, then I realized my head was itching like crazy. I sat up in bed and started manically scratching it, but that only seemed to make it worse. As I was scratching it, I was shocked to feel tons of little things moving around on my head. “Bed Bugs!” I thought. I stood up and pulled back the covers. They were all clean. But god, that itching was awful. I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.
I think it was Dr. Phil who said there are out only about five principal events in every person’s life, after which they will never be the same; five events that change you forever. Like you become a markedly different person after those things happened and there’s no going back to who you were before. I only have two, and I doubt I’ll ever have anymore. The first one was my top surgery; when I decided to do the tea and get the surgery and become a real boi, when I was twenty-four. My second “principal event” occurred when I looked in the mirror that morning.
For a while I just stared at it. Then I started feeling around very gently patting at it with my hands, mumbling to myself, my mouth opening and closing slowly like a dying fish. I watched very closely, mesmerized by what I was seeing; the soldiers standing guard at the check point, the line of cars and people at the base near my neck and the empty deserted area near the front, where, on one side, every few minutes, I thought I could make out some people shifting in the nearby bushes. I fingered the wall that ran like a Mohawk down the center of my head. It was solid, hard stone and did not give under the weight of my touching. Suddenly, I felt something singe my finger tip. I pulled my hand away and jumped back to the tiny sound of three little bombs exploding quickly. I put my hands in the air and pressed my back against the wall. I could make out the microscopic sound of screaming. Something fell from my head to the floor. I got down on my knees and pressed my cheek to the tile to get a good look. It was a little bigger than an ant. Well, I shouldn’t say it. He was a little bigger than an ant, a miniature man wriggling on the floor, blood gurgling out of his mouth in bubbles. By the count of five, he was dead.
I jumped out of the bathroom, grabbed my keys from the table and bolted out of the apartment, faster than I’d ever run. I didn’t even think to try to get on the subway or grab a bus or even a cab. My body just started going and didn’t seem to want to stop till I got where I needed to be. I think it only took me twenty minutes to get to my doctor’s office. I’d never wanted to see a doctor so badly in my life. It seems silly to me now, that being my first inclination. But in those twenty minutes, I just kept telling myself that all I needed was a doctor.
I slammed open the glass doors and slid along the tile floor, my sneakers squeaking as I landed at the counter, panting beside the line of people waiting to fill out their forms. The man at the front desk started. “Excuse me! Can I help you?” His face went sprintingly from annoyed, to startled, to curious, to horrified as he looked at me.
“I need to do an emergency walk-in! Okay?”
He began breathing through his mouth and nodding unconsciously, the way people do when they are mesmerized by something. The people in the line next to me were staring too. A couple of them had stepped away. “Uh hu, sure. Have you…” his eyes scanned my head, “been here before?”
“Yeah. Yes,” I hollered, leaning over the counter and pointing at his computer. “My doctor’s name is Murphy. Is she in today?”
He looked from me to his computer to me again, his eyes wide. “I think so.” He typed something on the screen. “Your name?”
“Sheldon. Sheldon Peters.”
“Okay, um Mr. Peters. What seems to be…” he paused again, just staring at me. I looked around quickly. One of the women in the line had backed all the way up to the door and was holding it open, watching me warily. “I’m sorry.” He blinked and tried to smile. “What seems to be the nature of your emergency?”
“I… I..” I coughed and leaned over toward him. I pointed at my head, and I meant to whisper it, but instead I screamed, “I’ve got the Gaza Strip on my head!”
He shot straight up, tipping his chair over behind him, then stiffened. “We’re going to get you a wheelchair,” he told me emphatically. “Nurse!” He looked at me for a couple more seconds, then turned and disappeared through the door behind him, shouting for a nurse.
They were very sensitive to differences in this place. It’s a special sort of clinic geared toward trans and queer people. I’m sure all the staff had been through all types of sensitivity trainings, but I could tell I was pushing their limits. The walls were calmingly purple. I tried to block out the sounds of machine gun fire and shouting, which luckily is only loud enough to hear if you get very close to me. While I was waiting for my wheelchair I read the mural on the wall. It was a quote by Audre Lorde: “Every woman has a militant responsibility to involve herself with her own health. We owe ourselves the protection of all the information we can acquire. And we owe ourselves this information before we may have a reason to use it.” I read it twice. Even though I was no longer a woman, it comforted me.
The guy came out running with a nurse and a wheelchair. The nurse shoved me down into the chair. The line parted for me and the nurse kept patting my shoulder, telling me everything was going to be okay, all the way up the elevator.
The nurse who was patting me left as soon as another nurse came into the examination room. This woman was large, rubenesque, and tough-looking with lots of eye make up and a rose tattoo on her arm. “What do we have here?” She put her hand on her hip and tapped her foot. “They tell me you’re a real special case. But I seen everything. I’m from the Bronx, you know. So go ahead and try me.”
I shrugged and directed her gaze to the top of my head. “I think I’ve got the Gaza strip on my head.”
She clicked her tongue, unimpressed. “Mmmmm hmmmm. And what are your symptoms?” She tapped the pen on the clip, appearing slightly bored.
“Mmmmhhmmm. That’s what I said.”
“Well, uh. It’s the Gaza strip. And it’s on my head. See.”
“Fine. Let me take a look.” She laid the clip board aside and took me by the chin, turning my head side to side slowly, getting a good look at it, then released me.
“I don’t know,” she said, “that looks to me like it might be the great wall of China.”
“I don’t think so.”
She rolled her eyes, annoyed. “Are you a doctor?”
“Well see now. Neither am I, and that’s why I got to get your symptoms. We’ll let the doctor do the diagnosing, Okay?”
“Okay.” I nodded and scratched.
“Don’t you start scratching.” She smacked my hand away. “That’s the worst thing you could do. Now what symptoms are you having that makes you think this is the Gaza thing?”
“Well,” I thought hard. It seemed strange to think of them as symptoms. “There’s a check point. I mean, it seems to be a check point.”
“Okay.” She wrote it on the paper. “Check points. Go on.”
“And there have been ongoing bombings mostly landing on the right side of my head.”
“Bombings coming from the east going to the west?”
“I mean, that’s assuming my face is south, and also depends on what area of the wall I’m dealing with here, right?”
“She raised a painted brow. “Hey, we don’t even know that it is a wall yet. Any other symptoms?”
“Yeah well, earlier a miniature man fell out of my head, and…. well, he seemed to have been shot, and he died.”
“Dead men falling.” She wrote it down and placed her pencil behind her ear. “The doctor will be here in a minute. You just hang tight.”
She left the door slightly open. I could hear the news on the television in the waiting room. I walked to the door and listened. They were talking about Israel. I heard the word, escalation, and then fourth day of fighting. The doctor knocked on the wall. I went back to the wheelchair as she entered, my hands folded tensely in my lap. She smiled too big at me. I tried to force one in return.
“Well Sheldon, haven’t seen you for a while. I hear we’re having a bit of a special problem today.”
It wasn’t long before I realized there was nothing any doctor could do for me. First, doctor Murphy had asked me where I got my hair done. I had to explain to her that I didn’t do it on purpose. This whole thing just sprung up over night. She kept me in there for five hours, bringing in almost all of the doctors in the building. They took my blood and urine and my entire life history. Dr. Murphy, at first, was worried it was a side effect of the tea and surgery. But they quickly ruled that out. A few of them thought it was a virus and one of them was dead set on it being a genetic mutation. But no one could come up with any answers. I was in and out of specialists' offices for two weeks. One of them even paid to have me flown to L.A. so he could observe me for three days. I lived in a little room with a double mirrored wall. He wanted to keep samples of the dead people that were falling out of my head, but I wouldn’t let him. It’s my body. Well? It is… I mean, they, are coming from my body. I let him test one then give it back to me. It’s weird, the relationship I have with them, the bodies.
At first I was keeping them in a glass jar in my room, with the intention of throwing the jar away when it got full. But that didn’t seem right. There are tough looking guys with guns, but there are also old ladies, little kids, old men and frail looking people. I went to the ninety-nine cent store by my house and I found these little glass, kind of jewelry boxes. They look like pill holders, but they have like twenty-four square compartments and each compartment has a tiny little plastic sparkling jewel in it. It’s just ninety-nine cents each for one of these boxes. I guess the things are like little sequins girls collect to decorate clothes and phones and things. I bought a ton of them. When dead bodies fall, I take out a little plastic jewel and put in a dead body. I hope they don’t mind sometimes when I put the Palestinians and Israelis in the same box. They have different compartments, so, I think it’s probably be alright. It doesn’t happen often and who’s going to know, anyway? I keep the plastic jewels in a scrapbook with a date written by each one. It’s easy to do because the jewels are sticky on one side. Then, when all twenty four little compartments are full, I find somewhere to bury the glass box. That’s not easy to do. I know this all sounds morbid, but I’ve gotten used to having a bit of morbidity as part of my everyday life. I’m not going to say I understand what’s happening there better than anyone, cause I don’t at all, but I think I get it better than anyone who’s never been there.
All the specialists confirmed that the thing on my head is indeed a section of the barrier wall running along the Israel, Palestinian border. The best explanation I found was from the guy in California. He deducted that these weren’t the actual people from Israel and Palestine on my head, but flesh and blood animated replicas. It’s a living scale model. He deducted this, seeing nothing I did, like shampooing or combing seems to affect or hinder their actions. They are not aware of me or my head. I don’t understand at all how this happened, but the specialist said something, which I wrote down, about Chaos Theory, and explained to me that everything only has the slightest probability of existence. He said that we know this is true because, and I wrote this down, ‘It is impossible to simultaneously measure the velocity and position of the divided nuclei in motion.’ So, he deducted, if everything only has a slight possibility of existence, then things that cannot exist have an almost equal possibility of existing. In other words, if everything is barely possible, then the impossible is not far from possible.
I feel like I’ve lived ten lives this last year. I’ve had so many opportunities to go places I never would have and speak in forums I never even imagined I’d be granted access to. After I got back from California, I had to start to try to live my life again. But it was hard. Israel and Palestine have a seven hour time difference from New York, so it is much easier to sleep during their night than mine, because that’s when my head is the quietest. Although it hardly ever seems totally quiet, I’ve also learned to deal with the symptoms pretty well.
Sometimes there are moments I almost forget it is there, or that it wasn’t there to begin with. It sounds mostly like white noise to me now. A lot of people think I should go there, to Gaza. But that would really freak me out, being in the place, standing on the place that’s standing on me.
When I got back from California, I had a ton of messages from friends and everyone. I hadn’t spoken to anyone for nearly three weeks. I hadn’t wanted anyone to know. I thought I could get it cured and come back like nothing had happened. But like I said, I had to go on with my life. We all do.
Beth had actually left me three messages, the first one was sweet, and the last two sounded increasingly concerned about my sudden disappearance. I was terrified of calling her, but I figured maybe she could help since she seemed to be up on the situation in the Middle-East.
When she first saw it, she just sat me down on the chair and circled me, watching my head for like an hour, like it was a documentary or something. She even told me to be quiet a couple of times, bending close and trying to listen. But it’s not possible to pick up any one distinct conversation. There are so many of them, and I’m sure most of them aren’t speaking English. Groups of people chanting, shouting or screaming is pretty audible to me or if you put your ear close, as are loud machines, gunshots, bombs and things like that.
“This is amazing. This is a blessing in disguise,” Beth told me, clasping her hands, looking excited and solemn. I told her I just wanted it gone. She said that she would help me. That there would have to be someone out there who could do something for me, and we could put ads up on craigslist in lots of countries and cities. She also begged me to go speak at a rally the next day. I told her I didn’t really know much about the situation in Gaza. “What do you mean?” she squealed. “It’s on your head. Just speak about that. Speak from personal experience. That’s the most powerful thing anyone can do.”
I don’t know if she’s right about that, but I agreed. She offered to stay that night, finally. I told her no, though. I definitely didn’t feel like doing anything with her, and I doubted it would be comfortable to sleep next to me. I hadn’t told her about the falling people yet.
She was getting her bag and about to leave when it happened. She later said she could see little rays of light like glitter bursting above the wall, and there was a sound like tiny firecrackers, then twelve people fell off of my head, onto the kitchen floor. Some of them were already dead when they landed, but a few of them were having seizures. We could see them moving for a moment before they became still.
“Oh no.” Beth dropped her bag and fell to her knees, carefully inching toward them. I hung my head, ashamed. “Oh god, no,” she whispered. “How is this possible?”
I shrugged, feeling like I wanted to cry, but not in front of her. She looked up at me, her eyes reddening and filling with tears. “Turn on the news.” I walked over to the television and powered it on. Beth stood up and started flipping channels until she found a news station. They were talking about the economy. But it was a split screen, and on the bottom it showed live footage from Gaza. The footage was just dark and then there was a sudden burst like fireworks on the screen. “Oh my god! That’s what just happened on your head!” The strip running below the footage said something about cluster bombs. “Those bastards!” Beth said. “You know what cluster bombs are?” I shook my head no. They just disperse a bunch of tiny little bomblets over a really wide area. It’s completely indiscriminate.” She wasn’t really talking to me, but sort of making and outraged speech, like she was at a rally. “There’s no way to use one without risking killing everyone around. They are the worst for civilian casualties. How can they say they’re targeting Hamas when they’re using cluster bombs, for fuck sake? The United Nations should outlaw them! I can’t believe they haven’t been sanctioned!” She stared down at the floor. “Oh hell, I can’t believe it. You have evidence right here. We can just look and see if they’re civilians.”
“How can you tell?”
“If they have weapons or not.” She pulled me down to the floor to inspect the tiny dead bodies, but once she got down where she could really see them, her face paled. She was completely silent just gazing at them. So was I. After a long time watching them not move, she asked me in a whisper, “What do you do with them?”
I stood up and turned off the television. “That’s personal. I’m sorry, but I just want to be alone now. I’ll see you in the morning at the rally."
Beth stood up and gave me a long hug. She left without saying anything else.
That first rally I did, I just got on the microphone and spoke for five minutes from my personal experience. I said how awful it was what was happening, and that the fighting had to end. I said that I for one knew this was no way for people to live and that it was costing countless innocent lives. Everybody cheered. I could see a few people were crying. After the speech, a few Palestinian New Yorkers and even a couple of Israelis came up to me and wanted to look at my head to see if they could make out any of their relatives. I let them. They didn’t find who they were looking for. I was nervous the whole time that someone was going to fall out, and that it would be one of their relatives. Luckily, no one did. I got away as quickly as possible, and told Beth that if that I was going to do that anymore, I would need to know that no one was going to come inspect my head afterward.
That evening, Beth came home with me again. We wrote an ad together that she posted on like every craigslist site in the world.
The next day I had about two hundred new messages. None of them were from specialists who wanted to help me. They were all from Journalists who wanted to interview me. The first interview I did was with the Daily News. I was on the cover the very next day. They called me “The Gazahawk Man.”
I didn’t even have a chance to see it for myself that morning before my mom called, totally going out of her mind. She insisted I come home right away. I thought it was better for her to see for herself that I was still alive and healthy. I took the train to Jersey and met her at home that afternoon.
She was waiting by the door when I walked up. She pushed me inside fast, I think before the neighbors had a chance to see me, then she locked the door behind her and peeked out the window like maybe I was being followed. She sat me at the kitchen table and served me a bowl of the chicken soup she had already prepared. I reminded her I was a vegetarian. “Well maybe that’s why this sort of thing keeps happening to you, Chelle,” she said.
“What do you mean?” She insisted that I eat it. I took a couple sips of the noodles and laid down the spoon. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me.”
“Oh no?” She motioned to my flat chest.
“Mom! That’s totally different. That was surgery. I chose that.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t a choice.” She buttoned and unbuttoned the top of her shirt, like she does when she’s upset. “Well, which is it? You can’t have it both ways, Chelle.”
I sighed and leaned back. “It’s Sheldon now mom. Sheldon. Is that so really so hard?”
“Oh no, no, no,” She was starting to tear up and her voice was getting squeaky. “It’s not hard. It’s easy! It’s always sooo easy with you, Sheldon.”
“I didn’t come here to fight, Mom.”
“I know. I know. But, this is really a lot, Chelle. You have to understand this is a lot for me.”
“It’s a lot for me too, okay?”
She nodded and pursed her lips, then wiped away a few little tears. “Do you really want to walk around with the Gaza Strip on your head for the rest of your life?” She stood and put more soup in my full bowl. “You really should think about this before you commit to it.”
“Mom. God. I told you, this wasn’t my choice.”
“I know. I know.” She sat the soup bowl down and waved her hands in the air. “I know we’re all different in some ways. But first it was girls. And I said, okay.”
“Ummmmm, NO you didn’t.”
“And then it was a different name and baggy jeans and I accepted that.”
I rolled my eyes and groaned audibly.
“Then it was the surgery. And Chelle, I just don’t know. But now this. What am I supposed to do with this?” A series of pops started going off. I grimaced and sneezed as little flakes of dust rose and fell around my face. “Oh lord have mercy!” My mother jumped back and crossed herself. “Is that what happens when you get upset?”
“No, jeez. I don’t know why I came here.” I let out a long sigh. “Can I have a glass of milk? My throat’s dry.” She nodded and opened the fridge. “It’s not me. It’s Palestine and Israel, okay? I don’t know if you know, but they’re fighting right now.”
She put the milk back in the fridge. “Don’t patronize me, Sheldon. I know about Israel and Palestine. I keep up on current events, too, you know.”
She leaned down and handed me the glass of milk. As she did, her gaze was caught, and she stood, titling her head and watching closely, little sounds coming from her, little ‘ohhh’s’ and ‘oh dears.’ “Mmmmm. Well, would you look at that?” I sipped my milk and hunched my shoulders. Her eyes sparkled, transfixed as she watched. “Have you tried shampooing?” she asked in a whisper.
Two days later, I went on CNN. They actually paid me to be one of those talking heads (I guess that term has a new meaning for me) in the split screen boxes. It’s crazy how they do it. You’re not actually in the room with anyone you’re talking to. They just sit you in front of a screen, mic you and put a little headphone in your ear. Then suddenly you hear a bunch of people who are also on the screen in front of you shouting in your ear. It was really awful for me, because their shouting was competing with the ruckus on my head.
The interview consisted of me, a Rabbi, and Israeli spokeswoman, a male Palestinian Professor living in the U.S. and a Barbie blonde female moderator. When the sound came on they were all in the middle of shouting at each other. The Palestinian Professor was pounding his fist, saying that Israel fired first and broke the treaty. The Israeli spokeswoman shouted back, very flustered, her sentences breaking. “If Israel hadn’t started firing first in this case… you know, Israel had security reasons. There was no real deal. Israel always reserved the right to go in and attack if they felt that there were real security breaches, and there were.”
The Palestinian shouted, “What are the breaches that merit this level of response?”
The spokeswoman became breathlessly upset. “Hezbollah has been firing rockets for several weeks into Israel! We believe a team of Hamas fighters were digging a tunnel to kidnap Israeli soldiers.”
“AND YOU ASSASSINATED THEM!” The professor hollered back. “You have not even any proof that is what they were doing! It was a tunnel for smuggling food.”
“Okay, okay.” The moderator interrupted. “We are being joined now by a special guest, Sheldon Peters, also known as the Gazahawk Man. Mr. Peters, maybe you can help us clear some things up. Yours is a very exceptional situation. For those of you who don’t know, what seems to be a life and blood animated replica of a section of the Gaza Strip has grown on your head. Is that correct?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“Can we get a close up on that, Larry?”
The camera zoomed in, cutting away from the other guests, and I saw, magnified on the screen, the wall, the people, the houses and trees and all the things happening in the little world on my head. The camera pulled back. All the guests were squinting dumfounded into their screens. The Barbie moderator was still smiling, unfazed. “Which section, exactly, of the barrier wall were we just looking at it?”
“Well. I’m not sure exactly, but I’ve been told it’s definitely on the Palestine Israel border, and I think it’s somewhere near the town of Kahna.
“Why is that?”
“Well, because it’s a stone section, not the wire fence, and also some of the recent events in that area sync up with what has been happening on my head.”
“So the events in this section of the barrier happen in real time on your head?”
“Yes, that seems to be the case.”
“So maybe you can tell us once and for all,” the moderator continued, “Who fired first?”
“This is irrelevant,” The Rabbi shouted, waiving his arms. “This is not a political matter. This is a personal, spiritual phenomenon!”
I held my hand up. “I don’t know anyway. It didn’t happen until two days after the siege started.”
Everyone, except the moderator, nodded and looked relieved. She leaned in and clasped her hands in front of her. She seemed to shine with clean white makeup and polished hair. “Can you speak just from your personal experience, Mr. Peters, and tell us who you feel is at fault here?”
“This is ridiculous,” The Israeli spokeswoman said, leaning back and almost laughing. “One person’s experience of having the Gaza Strip on their head for a couple of weeks can not define centuries of history and struggle.”
“I have to agree with her there,” the Palestinian professor interjected.
“Well I’m glad you can finally agree on something. But this is Mr. Peter’s turn to speak and I think the world is interested in hearing his side.” The moderator nodded, “Go on, Mr. Peters.”
“Well, I don’t know who’s to blame, but I know it’s definitely much more itchy on the Palestinian side of my head.”
“What does that mean, it’s itchy?” the Rabi asked.
“It’s more itchy because there are a lot more people in a very small space. And there are mostly all the gunshots and bombs on that side, you know, going to that side.”
“Is it affecting your health?” The moderator asked. “Do you think you have any symptoms of Traumatic Stress Disorder?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“The fact is, on the twenty-fifth, Israel fired fifty missiles into Palestine.” The professor said, leaning in. “Mr. Peters, can you account for any disparities in casualties?”
“Oh yes. There was a cluster bomb fired into Palestine the other night. I felt that. And there were at least twelve casualties from it.”
“You see.” The professor continued, “And how many casualties from Palestine total have you… experienced?”
“It’s hard to say. More than sixty.”
“Just on this section of the barrier, and just in a mater of weeks!” he went on, “And Mr. Peters, how many Israeli casualties have you experienced?”
“Two. They both appeared to be Soldiers.”
“The fact that there are not casualties in Israel shouldn’t be held against us.” The spokeswoman said emphatically. “There are thousands of Israelis living in bomb shelters all over Israel right now. We are being held hostage in our own homes.”
“Can you corroborate that Mr. Peters? And do you have any knowledge of the tunnel that was allegedly dug from Palestine into Israel?”
“No. It’s only what’s happening above ground… on my head.”
The moderator tapped her pen thoughtfully. “I have a question for him,” The Rabi said. “How can you be sure of the exact number of casualties and if they are soldiers? It appears very small. It would be hard to know for certain. Where are you getting this estimate?”
“That’s a good point. It’s very small. It would be difficult to count the number of dead or wounded without a magnifying glass. Do you check and watch every day?” The professor asked.
“No Ummmm. No. Not exactly.”
“You see. There’s no way to justify his statements.” The Rabi said, waving his hand as if swatting a fly from the room.
“No… It’s not like that.” I said lowly, my voice cracking.
“I’m sorry Mr. Peters. You’re going to have to speak up,” the moderator told me. “It’s not like what?”
Everybody waited. “It’s … well. I know the number for sure because, when they die, see…” It was hard to say.
“Yes, go on.”
“When they die, they… they fall out. They fall off my head. The bodies, when they’re dead, they fall.”
For the first time, everyone was completely silent. The moderator didn’t look so shiny right then. “Ohhhhhhh,” she whispered. The Palestinian professor swallowed hard and nodded. The other two sat still, stiff. The moderator regained her glistening smile, turned to the camera and segued into a commercial break.
I did a couple more interviews like that, acting as a commentator. I didn’t really like it, but the money was good. I was also asked to go on these daytime talk shows. The only one I said yes to was Oprah. I was getting kind of tired of the exposure, but who says no to Oprah? I had always thought if I was on Oprah, or doing T.V. interviews, it would be to talk about being trans. In a way, this has helped with that. Now, the last thing on anyone’s mind is my gender. I’m just a man. That’s like one of the least interesting things about me. Even Oprah only brought it up for a second. It was like; “So, Sheldon isn’t your original name, is it? You were born a woman, and you transgendered. Is that the right term? Transitioned. Okay. And one day recently, you woke up with the Gaza Strip on your head? Is that right?” And that’s all she really said about it.
In the middle of the second month, the whole thing was driving me crazy. I hadn’t yet learned to live with it like I have now. The fighting was still pretty intense. I felt desperate for some peace, so I went on the news one last time and made a statement that I wished to meet with the president in person. He said yes. I guess it was a good P.R. move. I actually got a ten minute meeting with him in private. I thought maybe I could show him the direness of the situation.
Beth prepped me before the meeting. I was going to ask that he stop funding the Israeli Military. I took a very special gift for him that I kept tucked in my shirt pocket.
I couldn’t get through the metal detector without beeping, obviously, so they patted me down and metal detected me all over with a hand-held device. Four secret service officers led me into the Oval Office. The president stood and shook my hand. He directed me to sit in the chair across from his desk. The presidential seal is really intimidating, and whether you want to be or not, you can’t help but be intimidated by the president. Beth had warned me, “Don’t let him intimidate you,” so I tried to push through it. Luckily, he was obviously intimidated by me too. That day, there was a lot of machine gun fire on my head, and even though he’s always really cool, I could make out his right eyebrow twitching each time the sound of little pops emanated from my neckline. “That’s near the checkpoint,” I told him. “There are some activists there today hammering at the wall.”
“I see. Yours is a very exceptional situation,” he told me. He’s a very earnest man, not only on the television, but even in person. His calm, earnest manner seems very sincere, but there is something infuriatingly impenetrable about it as well. “I just want to start by expressing my deep sorrow that a civilian has had to experience these types of… upheavals.”
“You mean an American civilian.” I was proud of myself for starting strong, like Beth said to do.
“Look, let me be clear.” He knocked on his desk. “I do not support the level of the recent retaliation of the Israeli government. I condemn the killing of innocent civilians. I am doing everything in my power to ensure that peace has a chance to re-emerge.”
“Then are you going to de-fund the Israeli Military, at least momentarily? Can you make sure that U.S. money isn’t going toward weapons like cluster bombs?” Sure, Beth had coached me a little, but I meant it. This was my only chance to talk to someone who might be able to give me some peace, finally.
I don’t remember what exactly he said then, because he talked for several minutes. He said something about Gandhi being a good man, and that he was trying to continue to foster a nation where people like Gandhi could exist, and he loved Gandhi, but he’s not Gandhi, He’s the president of the United States and the issues are complex.
I was very frustrated by the whole thing. I told him that I wasn’t going to pay my taxes until the U.S. stopped providing the weapons that were being fired on my head. He told me again that mine was obviously an exceptional situation and that he wasn’t quite sure what the legal implications were, but that I would most likely still face an audit if I chose to do that.
I stood up and bent down, shaking my head and pointing to it. “You would find a way to stop this if you were me,” I shouted. “This should have happened to you, not me. This is on your head more than mine.” He leaned back, clasping his hands in front of him.
A secret service officer steeped up and took hold of my shoulder. “Sir, you’re going to have to calm down or I will remove you.”
The president lifted his hand. “It’s okay,” he said. “I can understand why you are so upset. “ We stared at each other for a second, not saying anything.
I turned to the secret service officer. “I have something to give him, okay? I’m going to get it out of my shirt pocket now.” I didn’t want them to think I was pulling out a weapon. “Mr. president, I have something for you.” My mouth went dry as I reached into my front pocket. The secret service guy was watching very carefully, standing shoulder to shoulder with me. I held out my cupped hand. “I hope you’ll take her, and keep her as a reminder.” The president looked from the officers to me, wonder crossing his face. I waited. He held out his open palm below mine. I dropped her in. It wasn’t a bomb, but it almost might as well have been. Amazing how something so tiny can have such an effect. But I guess a corpse is a corpse, no matter how small.
His hand trembled as he cradled her. Hi mouth fell open and his face paled. He limpened. The secret service officers did not react, but I saw one them looking. “Who is she?”
“I don’t know. She’s just a kid who fell out of my head a few days ago. I don’t know her name.”
“Thank you Mr. Peters for illuminating the full weight of your situation. I appreciate it.” He nodded at the officer. “Would you please show Mr. Peters to the lawn.”
I was escorted out. Twenty minutes later I met the president on the lawn. The press took pictures of us shaking hands. The headlines read “GAZAHAWK MAN AND PREZ TALK PEACE.”
That’s it. It’s been more than a year now. Nothing has really changed. I got some gallery offers. Maybe I’ll do a show. Only, I haven’t produced any new work for a while. Somehow I have a feeling that won’t matter. It’s not about the work anyway. Now I’m known, I have a name, a public identity.
My mom sends me new shampoos every week. Beth still comes around. But we’re just friends. I think she’s more intrigued by my head than she is by me. Mostly, I keep to myself. I spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. Maybe I’ll start sketching some self-portraits. I always thought that kind of thing was indulgent, but now I’m more than myself. Maybe I always was. I can do sketches close up and far away. It wouldn’t just be me I was sketching. It’s all there, on me, part of me, falling from me.
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It is the curse of al-mahjar, the diaspora, no matter how long you have lived away from home, a part of you is uprooted every time you leave.click | email | tweet
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