KISSING ASPHALT by Delicia Niami is sad, shocking, and humorous in equal measure—but the author never loses her positive outlook on life, despite encountering setback after setback. Delicia’s unusual journey begins at age four, when her Iraki father kidnaps her and her brother and flees with them to Baghdad. After nearly a year of haggling, Delicia’s mother gets her children back to the United States. But the situation is anything but stable: the family moves frequently; Mom is a special-ed teacher, as well as a bar owner; her busy work schedule doesn’t leave much time for parenting; and Delicia pays for her mother’s neglect. At age seven, Delicia spends a lot of time wandering the neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she befriends a nice man who eventually turns out to be a pedophile. This is the first of many sexual predators Delicia will encounter in her young life, and she spares none of the details in her graphic recounting.
The bad that befalls Delicia is not surprising, given her lack of parental supervision. At age 13, she convinces her mother to let her stay overnight at her uncle’s house in Las Vegas so she can see a double bill of The Bangles and The Go-Gos, her two favorite bands. The concert is magical, but her uncle molests her afterward, combining heights of joy and sorrow in one short evening: “How was it that little Delicia was never allowed any amazing moment in life without a monstrous occurrence that would balance it out?” In her teens, Delicia discovers marijuana and becomes a dedicated stoner, even following The Grateful Dead for a time. She’s not a big fan of the music, but the parking lot scene is a drug supermarket: “By my junior year in high school, I had experimented with almost every drug known to man.”
Despite her repeated sexual abuse (and daily neglect), Delicia’s joy of living shines through, which is ultimately what makes KISSING ASPHALT so uplifting. As the Chumbawamba song says, Delicia gets knocked down—but gets up again. Nothing’s gonna keep her down. Delicia craves the love and acceptance she never got from her blood-relatives. Being kidnapped by her father wasn’t an act of love, but of lover’s revenge, and he abandons Delicia and her brother once they return to the States. In Iraq, Brother Nile was Delicia’s protector, but he drifts away during her teenage years. Delicia’s mom is an overworked flake prone to fits of abusive rage. Again and again, Delicia places her love and trust in people who betray her. There’s no turn-around or great revelation here; Delicia’s character arc is a downward spiral. Instead of getting help for her abusive past, Delicia adopts a reckless lifestyle and self-medicates into oblivion. She doesn’t learn from her mistakes (or even realize she’s making mistakes).
This first volume of Delicia’s memoir ends right after high school graduation, just as her adult life is about to begin. Surely the author will fill in the missing details in the next volume, but as it stands KISSING ASPHALT feels very incomplete: the disturbing first act of a tragic play that may still end in triumph.
The sexual abuse of a child is never easy to write (or read) about, but the depiction of an abused child growing into a troubled teenager in Delicia Niami’s KISSING ASPHALT manages to be unflinching yet still remain positive.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader