Alone in a foreign country, I had to plan my escape on my own.
I was 6 years old when my two older sisters went to Palestine to “visit family.” At least that’s what my mom told me.
I was born in Chicago, like my sisters, but our parents are Palestinian, born in Jerusalem. I was four-months-old when our father died — he worked at a gas station and was shot during a robbery. After that, the four of us moved into the basement apartment of my mom’s mother’s house, where my sisters and I shared a room.
I worshipped my oldest sister growing up. She was rebellious and loved pop music and makeup, which my grandmother and mother couldn’t stand. We were raised Muslim, and while my mom didn’t make us wear hijabs — headscarves — to school, we did when we went to mosque on the high holidays. Every other day, we wore long-sleeve shirts and pants or knee-length skirts.
I don’t have too many memories of my sisters, but I do remember how much my oldest sister loved Usher. She was 13 and she’d sing along to his music on the radio in our room. She bought a poster of him, shirtless, and pinned it to the wall next to our bed.
He didn’t last long. My grandmother saw the poster one day and ripped it off the wall. She was screaming at my sister, and my sister yelled right back — she was feisty! But it didn’t matter; Usher was gone. And a year later, so were my sisters.