so many feelings, struggling to leave my mouth
and it’s not that rare for me to let myself down
(it’s not the same anymore – rex orange county)
I. I have two memories of my kindergarten orientation. In one, I am getting a snack from the woman who will be my assistant principal for the next five years, and she says weird words that I, as a child raised by parents who are unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of America, will not understand. My other memory of that day is not a true memory at all, but instead a blurry view of the first chair that I sat in at school. It is blurry because my eyes are filled with tears, tears that exist because there are people everywhere, and I cannot talk to them, because I am afraid they will not respond.
My teacher is a sweet middle-aged woman, and she crouches down to my height to ask me what my name is. I cannot respond; I don’t know what my name is. I only know it in the accent of my family, the accent of a culture that does not fit into this small town in Missouri. She waits a few more seconds, and when it seems clear that I won’t respond, she looks at my name tag instead.
She does not say my name the way my mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunts, or uncles do. But when she looks at me for confirmation, eager to change the way she pronounces it so that it is correct, I do not tell her anything. I can’t tell her anything. My head nods, and I lose myself in that rhythmic shake.
When the girl who stood next to me in the lunch line on the first day of kindergarten asks me my name, I say it in the same way that my teacher said it.
And somehow I am not myself anymore.
will you still love me when i’m no longer
young and beautiful?
(young and beautiful – lana del rey)
II. When I come home with no trophy, my mother says that it is because my father and I had chosen a project that she didn’t like. She is half joking, and if I asked her about this moment now, she would deny it, telling me that I had simply imagined it.
I know I didn’t, though. I know because it was this moment that I relived in my head as I cried myself to sleep that night, because for possibly the first time in my life I had lost. Lost in a way that was so much worse than losing to someone else for first, because then I had been important, good enough for something, at least.
The girl who won first, will be the first person who understands me, understands the need I feel to delve into books and experience someone else’s world. She understands my fears of not being someone who makes everyone else proud, because even though I am in third grade, the pressures of my life are already making me crack. She will understand because it is what she feels too, and because of this understanding I will love her with a fierceness that I will never, ever, show someone else.
Then I was gone, floating away in the wind, picked up by aspirations of a better life, the urge to make things better for everyone else. She was left there, and because the wind takes me far away from my only home, I cannot talk to her; I never find her again.
Last Thanksgiving, I got her number from my mother, who got it from hers. I asked how she was. She responded.
I wanted to ask her whether a wind had picked her up and moved her away too; I wanted to know how she was, who she was, now that I had changed so much from when we had known each other.
I never asked her anything. Our conversation was limited to those few words we had typed on Thanksgiving, and now we are an abyss of words that neither of us can say.
Maybe that means she is different now.
i don’t want to play this part
but i do all for you
(softcore – the neighbourhood)
III. Where I’m from, parents don’t find out the gender of their child before they’re born. Girls are commodities, more expensive to care for, what with the elaborate marriages that their families will have to pay, and every other little thing that has made so many get rid of their daughters before they ever get a chance to see the world.
My mother’s favorite story to tell me is that even though they didn’t know my gender until after I was born, both she and my father had known that I would be, to them, a girl. She tells me how everyone thought my father was crazy for buying all of my baby things in pink, but they didn’t care.
I love the color pink.
I don’t know if I feel like a girl.
When my mom asks me about the pronouns in my social media bio, when my dad asks me to explain why people at his work add their pronouns to their emails, when they ask me to explain what it means when someone is non-binary, I don’t say anything about me.
I don’t know how to explain to them that sometimes I don’t feel like a girl, that sometimes I don’t want to exist in my gender and be tied to all the expectations that come with being a woman, a girl. I don’t know how to tell them how I really feel without biting back words in the fear that they’ll take it wrong, and then suddenly they won’t love me the same.
My parents know nothing about who I really am, but maybe that’s my fault too.
നമുക്ക് ചായ കുടിക്കാം
IV. I asked my mom, once, to teach me how to make my comfort food, the food that I ask her to make whenever she can, just because I like to eat it. She blows me off most times; to her I don’t need to know how to make these foods because she can.
When my grandmother asks me if I can make any of the foods that she makes everyday, the foods that she ate her entire life, the foods she made for my mother and my uncle and my grandfather and everyone else who ever came to her house, I say no. I tell her my mom, her daughter, never taught me. She asks me if I know how to make tea. I tell her no again; I don’t drink tea. Learning how to feels like a waste of time.
But when one of my friends tells me she knows how to make tea, it’s like a punch in the gut. Because tea, even though I don’t drink it, is so important. Tea is the first thing we bring to guests. Tea is what people drink as they talk and laugh and connect with each other.
She was born here. She’s lived here her whole life.
I was born there. I’ve lived here for only most of my life.
And somehow, she can make tea, can do something so easy and inconsequential but somehow not being able to do it makes another strike against me, and my identity and culture.
I spent years foregoing my identity. I spent years tired of looking different, tired of being different, that when I’m reminded how different I am, I have no one to blame but myself.
By Aishani Komath