obedient to peace. stay here.
I’m ill. Which gives me a pass at any outlandish gibberish that makes way here, but also allows me enough breathing room to say what I have to say. A paradox. But what isn’t, really. Nothing is ever this or that. Binaries are for people who believe in puzzles and infinite contentment. Hogwash.
I can barely remember this time last year. I had just gotten into grad school a month prior. I was exhausted by the mind-numbing job I was in. I remember feeling overwhelmingly bored and anticipating teaching summer school just to have my own class again and develop new curriculum for 10th grade. Summer school was a real doozy. Eight hours of straight teaching in the heat to alternative ed. students is both the hardest and easiest thing in the world. I loved them. And loathed them. Do you see here, how binaries don’t ever work for me?
It’s spring again. One year of grad school is almost done. I cannot document or begin to explain the gravity of change I feel has occurred over the past year. Externally and internally. Grad school knocked me on my booty. And woke me up again. I love having open mornings, more time to read denser material, more friends my age who are interested in becoming better writers and teachers for reasons that extend beyond pragmatic endeavors and financial securities. To be sure, if you want financial safety, don’t go in to teaching or writing? Ever. This is known. Everyone knows this.
I got out of a pretty unnerving relationship a few years ago, before moving to Asia. It ricocheted me back and forth between certainty and rage for more time than I’d like to admit. I still look back at versions of myself while in my first few months of Asia and shutter at the thought of sitting cross legged on my apartment floor- pictures and letters sprawled out before me as evidence that I was not entirely alone.
Between those first months in Asia and the next year and a half before getting into grad school, I welcomed in new life. I tried to. I attempted a relationship while in Asia and I scrambled into a relationship with someone from my past the summer before beginning school again. I love endings. I’m the one who can throw away. Clear out. Road trip it until you’re in something new. Somewhere new.
I cleared everything out. It’s taken me two years to admit that I’m still so angry at the way relationships have played out. Whether they started with good intentions, bad omens, or were doomed to fail from the beginning- all of them did just that. Failed.
But I still get to sit here, cross-legged in my room, shuffling through old photographs and letters- throwing stuff out. Making way for newness.
It never happens as you imagine. It’s all fragments. Then and now. Even still. Trust it.
When I was much much younger, I didnt know how to smile in pictures. No really. My mom would tell me to “show my teeth” in her headstrong efforts to teach me and I would end up mirroring a patient in a dentist’s chair attempting to prove to their dentist Kyle or John or whatever dark haired white man dentist you landed with—that they did not in fact, have an underbite. I eventually learned. Much like we all do.
A similar sentiment is true for ponytails. I only ever wanted to do my hair in this slicked back banded situation we have happening here, in this current shot. With this too, I learned to assimilate, branch out, blend in. “Put your hair down” as a common phrase makes me want to karate chop a baby.
I spend most of my days reading for grad school or prepping for teaching- and during the in-betweens, my mind wanders and runs in circles until I rest.
I like it this way. Much like how I still prefer ponytails. And pictures like these. Ones that leave room for more human-like qualities. Qualities that are a bit more complex by nature. Qualities that arise at 2pm on a Wednesday. States of being that we experience but dont document or privilege as a society very much engulfed in subjectivity. What do we miss when we obsessively veil the truth of being? Inquisitive, stoic, reminiscent, calm, sly, empowered, frustrated, conscious. No one ever asks why we don’t capture these. Most people just tell you to smile.
What if you didn’t?
Soy un amasamiento, I am an act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.
Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera
April 14th, 2019
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
It seems fitting to start here. With me. There are five of us. I was raised and live fully into the identity of the middle child. For all the spaces and experiences in which I stayed observant, quiet, and stilled over the developing younger years of our family- I’m here now to speak. To disrupt the silence. Some of these words have dripped from my tongue since the very birth of these moments. Over time, they have settled differently, rearranged themselves and changed, naturally. Either way, they’re here to tell the story, or at least, a story. I suppose anywhere is a well enough place to start.
Most of my memory appears fragmented before me. Time pulls and clings, adapts and shifts. I’ve never been able to hold it as concretely as I intend to; the moment changes as soon as I begin to attach words to a person, event, or conversation. Moments line up before me in no specific order or reason, and I wonder about their validity, their potency, their arrival, their purpose. I wonder about the truth of what I’m allowed to say.
I wonder about the skewed nature of a mind, and the ways in which emotions weave and expand. I wonder about the obligation we have to tell the full story, but are drastically limited by our own narrowed perspective, and the weight of unmet expectations, unspoken intentions, and the reactions we hide in one way or another, for one reason or another, time and time again.
I remember there being silverware. Mom would be scrubbing individual spoons and I’d find myself sitting at the top of the stairs, listening to the clinking of the silver against one another. There is a clear therapeutic nature to this tendency. The ability to control. To hold. To watch your hands make something- anything- pure again.
To be fair, the spoons were never dirty. I’d watch my mother clean already unblemished spoons in the middle of the night, but she was never really cleaning anything at all. She was moving. She was enacting purposeful behavior in lieu of the dismembered reality we had come to know.
There’s always a balance in my family. For every mismatched sock, there’s a pair of perfectly fitted ones. For every withheld conversation, there’s an acceptance letter, a better job, a more rigorous workout routine, a healthier goal. There was never anything wrong with us, until there was. And then, when there was, the only remedy I witnessed was the spoons in the middle of the night.
We needed to see something. It was late, and it was a school night. But we needed to see something.
We own a deep maroon leather couch. Two of them actually. They are sacred in our family because they’ve withstood the test of time, the element of many relocations, and the tendency we have to throw things away for no clear reason. We’ve been practicing detachment by way of material goods our whole lives, as it turns out.
The leather couch was cool beneath my legs. I immediately missed being in bed, under the weight and warmth of multiple covers. Tiffany and I sat side by side. We didn’t make eye contact with one another, but I could feel her breathe next to me. My fingers fidgeted under my hamstrings and tightened around the cushion beneath me. We didn’t say a word.
Tahnee’s eyes were bloodshot, but I couldn’t make eye contact with her. My gaze darted from the front door, to her and my dad standing face to face, to my mom standing adjacent from us. We never sat in this living room together. It was a room we passed through to get to the kitchen, or to drop our coats off before we scrambled up the stairs. It wasn’t right to be here now, together, like this.
Beside me, I took in gentle sobs from Tiffany sitting next to me and I froze. Her body shivered and I wrapped one arm around her, reassuring her that this would pass. I’d never heard my dad raise his voice before. Not at someone else. Not at one of us. It was a foreign anger, and it further immobilized me. He was mad for us. He stretched his arms out and dumped Tahnee’s bag out and onto the wooden floor beneath them.
Why were we here? Tiffany and I. Imposters. Here, in this room. On this couch. Dad dragged his head from Tiffany and I to Tahnee until he pointed at us and scolded, “Do you see them? Do you see your sisters? Do you see how scared they are? Do you see what you’re doing to them? To all of us?”
The air fell out of the room. We had picked sides. Inadvertently, we had chosen sides. There were words beyond and between these fragmented moments, but nothing else cements itself here. Tahnee left that night. While we were gathered in the living room, she had never taken off her shoes, her coat, her belongings. She never intended to stay.
Tiffany made her way up to my room and in the dead of the night, before we fell back asleep, there were gentle sobs and an innocent question I can only partially make out now. I heard something along the lines of, Are we going to still be a family after this?
The answer, of course, was yes. It was a moment of time. A fragmented scene. A blip. We would wake up and go about the next days and the following weeks, normally. We adjusted to a new sort of normal. Organically. Without noticing until years later. I still own one of the leather couches. I keep it in the garage. It won’t sell.