It was late afternoon and my father was standing on a stepstool and hammering in a light fixture when Mr. Carroll, who lived upstairs, banged on his floor on account of the noise.
“If he does that again,” my father said. “Go upstairs and tell him that we wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for 1953 and Mossadegh.”
My father hammered. Mr. Carroll banged again.
“Take your sister,” my father said.
I took my sister and we went upstairs and knocked on Mr. Carroll’s door. Mr. Carroll always reminded me of a character from a Roald Dahl book. No one in particular, just one of those adults who was always strict and frowning.
“My father says he’s sorry about the noise, but he wants you to know that we wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for 1953 and the American overthrow of Iran’s democracy.”
“When was this?” Mr. Carroll said.
“1953,” I said.
“Let me check,” he said. He closed the door.
“He doesn’t know?” my sister said.
“I guess not.”
The next time I saw Mr. Carroll, he said, “It was the British.”
“It was not the British. Was Kermit Roosevelt British?”
“He was working for them.”
I told my father about that and he laughed. “Believe me, when it is time to blame the British, we know how to blame the British.”
The next day, I told my friend Harold Garcia about it. He lived on the fourth floor, above Mr. Carroll. His family was Guatemalan.
“I wish he would bang on our floor,” he said. “Then I would go downstairs and tell him that we wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for 1954 and Arbenz.”
We were looking at baseball cards in his room. It was pretty obvious what we had to do.
We got on his bed and jumped up and down. Before we could find out if the noise would draw a reaction from Mr. Carroll, one of the four bedposts broke. The bed collapsed and we fell to the floor.
Harold’s father ran into the room and yelled at us when he saw what had happened. I imagined Mr. Carroll laughing at us downstairs.
Harold explained the whole thing to his father, including my conversation later with Mr. Carroll.
“Was it the British?” Harold’s father said.
“No, it was the Americans,” I said.
“One year before us,” he said.
“Yes.” Harold and I felt like very good friends. The broken bedpost took on a certain romantic quality, like a battle scar.
“You cannot jump on beds to make Mr. Carroll do something so that you can go and tell him about 1954.”
“Because he didn’t do it. It wasn’t Mr. Carroll who overthrew Arbenz.”
“He should know about it.”
“You’re right. But if someone learns from anger, they are going to learn the wrong thing.”
I thought back to when Mr. Carroll had closed the door on me and my sister. He hadn’t gone to look it up to learn about it. He was going to look it up to have something against us.
“How should we teach him then?”
“I don’t know. Be patient.”
When I came home, I thought of how we shouldn’t have done something on purpose to get Mr. Carroll to bang on his ceiling. It made it feel like we needed someone to be mad at us in order to remember 1953 and 1954, but we didn’t.
After that, whenever Mr. Carroll saw us together, he said hello to Harold but not to me. It burned Harold up.
“He thinks I’m the nice one. He thinks I don’t care about 1954,” Harold said.
“It’s not your fault,” I said, although secretly I felt a little proud, which I also felt a little bad about because I liked Harold’s father and I knew he was right about learning.
“It’s not so great,” I said, “having him not say hello to me.”
But it looked great to Harold. He thought about leaving one of his father’s books about Guatemala outside Mr. Carroll’s door, but there was no guarantee that Mr. Carroll would read them.
One day Mr. Carroll came outside while we were playing catch in the courtyard of our building.
“Harold,” he said. “My brother-in-law is going to be leading a Boy Scout troop. I thought you might like to join. Here is the flyer.”
He didn’t give me a flyer.
“Boy Scouts?” Harold said. “This is worse than I thought.”
“Have fun camping in the woods,” I said.
That night I lay in bed wondering if it might be kind of fun to be in the Boy Scouts. I didn’t like the uniforms, but I liked pocket knives and starting a fire with a magnifying glass. I thought Mr. Carroll should have asked me at least. It really wasn’t that much of a thrill to be seen as the bad one, the one who wouldn’t want to join the Boy Scouts. I would’ve rather he tried to learn about Iran and 1953 to learn about us.
I wondered if Mr. Carroll stayed awake at night thinking about it. I didn’t think he did, but it was impossible to imagine how he couldn’t either. The whole world changed at night, at least at the moment of turning the light off in bed. I always felt like I changed too. It was easy to be angry in the daytime. You didn’t have a long flat dark space ahead of you to be angry in. To be angry at night made the world seem so big that I didn’t know what to do. The way I always fell asleep was to think of one thing that I felt very happy about. It was never things like Mr. Carroll looking at me as the bad one. It was the things that would’ve made me happy even if the world was a fair place.
The next day my sister came home from school and said that her teacher had been talking with another teacher and she had heard them laughing about a boy in her class who only wore two pairs of pants. My sister knew he only had two pairs of pants.
“I am not doing my book report,” she said.
“Why not?” I said.
“It’s no good now.”
“You’ve got a right to be angry,” I said. “What is the book?”
“Charlotte’s Web?” I said. “You can’t hold it against Charlotte’s Web!”
“That’s what I have to hold it against.”
“You’ve got to be reasonable about this. Charlotte’s Web!”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t read it.”
“I think you should read it and write the book report. How is your teacher going to know that you didn’t do it because you heard her laughing?”
“She won’t. But I’ll know.”
“That’s not good enough.” It sounded like a very strict way to talk to my sister as I said it. She looked surprised by it too, but then she said, “All right, I’ll do it.” I was glad she did because if she had asked me what was good enough, I would’ve had to admit I didn’t know.
A few days later, Harold knocked on my door. He looked very happy. He told me he’d gone to the Boy Scout troop meeting. But he’d had a plan. It was to walk out as soon as something patriotic came up. And he’d done it, he said, as soon as they had begun to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I guess now we’re both the bad ones,” I said.
We went out and played catch in the courtyard. It felt the same as when we played catch back before either of us were the bad ones.
One thing was for sure, being the bad ones didn’t change anything about 1953 or 1954. They were exactly the same, like big pits inside of ourselves.
“Do you hate Mr. Carroll?” I said.
“No.” Harold said. “I hate something though.”
After about five throws, I said, “I love something too.”
After another five throws, I said, “If somebody came to my country from another country, I would ask them why. And then I would actually listen.”
When we were going inside, Harold said, “I think my dad is going to make me apologize to Mr. Carroll.”
“If he does, I’ll go with you.”
Harold looked at me with surprise.
“We’re either both the bad ones or neither of us are,” I said.
I didn’t mind apologizing to Mr. Carroll. I even felt sorry for him, because he would never understand what kind of friends we were.
We Are More is an inclusive space for SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) and SWANA diaspora writers to tell our stories, our way. Curated by Michelle Zamanian, this new column seeks to disrupt the media’s negative and stereotypical narratives by creating a consistent platform to be heard, outside of and beyond the waxing and waning interest of the news cycle. We’ll publish creative nonfiction, graphic essays, fiction, poetry, and interviews by SWANA writers on a wide variety of subject matter.