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Obscured American: Melissa the Iraqi Refugee

By       Message Linh Dinh       (Page 1 of 6 pages)     Permalink

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Scranton, 2015
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With their vast parking lots and chain stores, strip malls may appear generic, impersonal and characterless, but each harbors an intense web of social interactions, with an infinity of stories to tell, but to even state this is redundant, for there's no man, woman, child or dog who isn't, by his lonesome, a**hole self, a thousand-page novel.

In Scranton recently, I was daily dragged by Chuck Orloski to the Dunkin' Donuts on Washington Avenue. From its beauteous and ample plate glass window, I could espy the wondrous China Moon across the street, and Dollar Tree, Rite Aid, Brick Oven Pizzeria, Pro Nails and PNC Bank were all within rifle shot distance.

Chuck knew just about everybody in Dunkin' Donuts but the guy sleeping in the corner, with his head on the table. He introduced me to Andy, Hoppie and Melissa. Behind the counter was Ashley.

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Ashley's husband, Brian, did a good deed two weeks ago. When the temperature dipped into the 20's, Brian went to check on Jimmy, a homeless guy who always slept outside Weiss, the dead supermarket. It's a spot the native Texan liked because it fully caught the morning sun. This morning, Jimmy's teeth were chattering, and it sure didn't look like he could survive the next several days, all forecast to be sub-freezing. With another Dunkin' Donuts buddy, Brian took Jimmy to the West Side Hotel, two miles away, and gave him three nights, at $150 altogether. They also gave him a bag of donuts and breakfast sandwiches.

Ten days later, Brian was $50 short for his gas bill, however, so Chuck lent him $43, all he had in his wallet.

When Chuck moved into Lighthouse, a charity home run by a blind Carmelite nun, Hoppie gave his friend an 8-inch TV, for he was certain Andy Griffith, Columbo, X-File, Gunsmoke and the Philadephia Eagles could divert Chuck from always thinking about his many woes.

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Sitting across from Hoppie, I could see that he was very pleasant, if a bit senile. Next to me was Melissa, an Iraqi refugee. Two of her kids were also at the table. Hearing about her difficulties, Hoppie would exclaim, "God bless you," or, "I'll pray for you."

Turning to me suddenly, Hoppie blurted, "Welcome to America!"

Before leaving, Hoppie pleaded to Melissa, "And please, pray for me too, for I need your prayer." Then he got up and did a lurching jig on the open floor, to the mild amusement of the cashiers. They had seen it. Encouraged by their grins, Hoppie kept dancing for a bit too long.

Melissa has been in the US for 2 years and 7 months. With no husband here, she must manage six children, aged 18, 16, 14, 11, 8 and 5. Her 16-year-old daughter, Melina, wants to be cheerleader, but that's not going to happen, Melissa said.

It's her 14-year-old daughter, however, who's giving Melissa the most trouble. Mina has discovered sex and at least marijuana. "She likes black guys," Melina told me. Mina would disappear for days, and once, drove Melissa's car away and stranded her mother.

Yes, I know Melissa is not yet an American, but she will be one soon enough. Moreover, by wrecking her native country, America has caused Melissa to be here, so she is very much an American product.

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On Melissa's left arm was a heart tattoo with a dagger sticking out of it. Her eyebrows had also been tattooed on. Her head was uncovered.

I never sleep enough. Like, four hours, five hours. That's it.

I work at Dunkin' Donuts, from last year, October.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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