Sarah Elgatian is a second-generation Armenian American with a lot of questions. Her paternal grandparents came to the United States through Ellis Island, barely escaping the Armenian genocide. She was born and raised in the Quad Cities and later moved to Chicago and Seattle before returning to Iowa. As a writer, she primary writes nonfiction and lyrical essays focusing on survival. Her writing has been published in The Atlas, Fragments, and more. She lives Iowa City, Iowa, with her partner and works at the Midwest Writing Center and with the International Writing Program.
“Annig had a face like a knotted tree. You could hear dust on her tongue when she spoke, and she spoke like a crow—flat and shrill and always half yelling. Her life was built like a folktale, with poverty, war, running for her life, refugees, exotic islands, and a mail-order marriage to a man she didn’t know. She held a country between her shoulders and ten children in her womb. A life of survival taught her mind over matter in all things. Her morning sickness she treated by playing cards. Her hunger she treated by turning rocks into dice.
I remember her in her small kitchen shaped like a crooked L. She had three chairs at a lopsided table covered by a clear plastic sheet and a pile of junk mail. One chair was in a corner blocked off by a counter, another was in the way of the walking space, and the third nearly touched the front door when pulled out. This is where Annig sat and shuffled cards and drank tiny cups of thick coffee.
Annig was Armenian, a survivor, who was born during a genocide, learned to read and write at a refugee camp in Syria, and came of age in Batista’s Cuba. She had browned olive skin; thick, coarse black hair; and an undisguisable accent. But I only knew her seated in that chair by the door with a demitasse tilted toward her and a stack of frayed red-backed playing cards in front of her.”