A Dangerous Nostalgia: by Aaminah Shakur

***TW for descriptions/mentions of abuse, sexual violence, and miscarriage***

May in Michigan makes me miss past lovers. The warmer days (but not too hot yet) lead to open windows, and open windows lead to sensory memories like – bachata from passing cars, the scent of barbecue, and the warmth of the sun even early in the morning. By these senses I am transported to a different time, to a different neighborhood, to a different life I once lived. I find myself longing for that life, because my senses are reminding me of all the good things.

I start to imagine running across the street to the Dominicano restaurant to pick up freshly made tostones and fried cheese. I remember the wild laughter of Friday nights at the pool tables and Saturday nights dancing to rancheros. I begin to imagine I hear the mix of languages – various Spanish dialects, some Mayan, Anishnaabe, Somali, and Arabic. My memories smell of coffee and curry and lime, jasmine and sandalwood, tortillas and spilled beer.

I remember the feel of corn masa between my fingers, patting out tortillas by hand and learning how to make vegetarian tamales with chickpeas from a Salvadoreña. My memories involve a lot of food: fresh avocado with every meal, returning beer cans from the night before to buy the meat and tomatoes for that night’s dinner, chopping up pico de gallo and trying to remember not to wipe the sweat from my eyes after touching the jalepeños. As a treat, when we had a little extra money, we’d go to the Jordanian market and buy samosas, almonds, and dates imported from Saudi Arabia. I still swear everything tastes just a little better with the juice of half a lime sprinkled on it.

I remember the love-making too. Shoes kicked off under the table, clothes across the floor as we made our way up the staircase to collapse into the bed together. Frantic kisses as if we would swallow each other, taste of beer on tongue, second hand cigarette smoke embedded in our skin, sweat rolling down my spine. We would sleep so tightly bound together that I would wake up thinking I might have broken ribs.

It is as if I have forgotten the other memories of those times. The taste of blood on my split lip after being hit, and the sight of his brother-in-law’s face when he saw me the next morning, unable to go to work. The recurring scent of a stranger’s cheap perfume on the seat belt when I got into his truck, him telling me I was obviously crazy. The drunken 3am kitchen arguments over cards and more beer that I could almost sleep through until woken by the smell of forgotten tortillas burning on the stove. Selena and Chavela Vargas on repeat in tearful hours. And constantly having to buy dishes at the dollar store after shattering them on walls and over heads.

The coming summer sun reminds me of fun times, sexy games, and community pow-wows, picnics, and hopscotch with the neighborhood children. It transports me to a fiction where I only remember the comforting things and can ignore all the reasons things had to change. I conveniently forget that I almost died there, more than once. I block out the time he chased me through the house trying to hit me over the head with his mechanic’s screwdriver after I had thrown his cd and dvd collections out the second floor window. I do not hold the sensation of him finally catching me and putting my head through a window, the glass barely missing taking out my eye, as a friend grabbed him and pulled him away.

I remember him comforting me through multiple painful miscarriages, feeding me soup and making me tea. I don’t think about how the fight when we both rolled down the staircase, scratching and hissing like wild cats, was likely the cause of a miscarriage. I don’t think about the time he left me to drive to Chicago to party on Navy Pier and a roommate found me passed out on the kitchen floor from another miscarriage, how the roommate carried me up to my bed and tucked me in so kindly, but also his hands repeatedly grazed my breasts and I could not fight him. My body has long ago let go of the feel of another roommate’s teeth in my throat as he marked me after soothing me during a near-overdose, wanting my husband to know I had been with someone else though I had not been able to fight him off.

I have relinquished the bitterness of phone calls from strange women and finding love notes in pockets when doing laundry. I have even forgotten how and when exactly he shifted from doing the laundry with me to disappearing for days on end and my having to carry the laundry down the street alone.

These memories may come back to me suddenly in the scorching heat and humidity of late July or early August. Autumn brings more honest reflection, and winter is just suffering. Spring is when love blooms with the flowers though, so in May the truth is far from my mind. May and June are for romance and nostalgia, such dangerous months.


Artwork, Memory of an Avocado, also by Aaminah Shakur.

Aaminah Shakur is a multiracial/multicultural queer crip artist, poet, art historian, and culture critic. They write about intersectional life, including disability/chronic illness, race, gender, sexuality, trauma, and of course, art. They are a Writer in Residence and also Senior Poetry Editor at OTV. You can find more of their writing and art at their website, and follow them on Twitter where they rant too much or Instagram where they post too many pictures of their dog.


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5 thoughts on “A Dangerous Nostalgia: by Aaminah Shakur

  1. Your brutal, hurtful honesty is beautifully woven between the descriptions of memories of pain behind a summer’s multi-cultural backdrop. Your food descriptions drew me in with their savory flavors while your realities stopped me cold in fear for you. Brilliantly written. xD.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so sorry you have been through this. Memory is a strange thing. It’s more selective than people want to believe – as you say, you remember the happier memories but have suppressed the bad ones. But they’re there none the less and certain things can trigger them to resurface. I don’t know what it is about summer, but I can relate to having all these memories coming to the front of my mind – good and bad ones. You are very strong for writing so honestly about your experiences and I am sure you are helping lots of people. Wish you healing and better days to come – speak766


  3. Thank you for sharing a part of you! Yiur post caught my eye when you mentioned Michigan evenings with windows cracked and all the various aromas. Beautifully written. I, too, went through periods of domestic abuse, however like yourself I am a survivor. Keep writing, it has a way of healing!!


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