why have you always been a source of anxiety for me?
i used to be blissfully ignorant of your existence during my younger years, oblivious to the pain you would later inflict upon me.
and then i moved from a field of colored faces to become the embodiment of a blatant smear across a white canvas. i was never good enough.
then i scrutinized every bit of myself because they scrutinized every bit of themselves. every untamed hair that grew like weeds, every marble line that appeared not unlike cracks on a marble statue etched forever, every stubborn brown spot. these were the banes of my existence. there was even a summer i refused to show my toes which were imperfect according to one of those many white faces.
body, i was never good enough for you. and my culture and my youth bound my hands with heavy rope. how i fought against those ropes! i screamed and i kicked and i cried, but i was not heard.
and finally, after years of torture, years of daunting, years of questions i could not answer, the ropes gradually loosened, and my 17-year-old self took pity on you, body.
shave those legs.
forget the glasses.
thread those eyebrows.
paint these nails.
wear these clothes.
cut that hair.
always wear jewelry.
and now the behavior. body, work with me here.
i need to show “confidence” right?
just maybe arch my back slightly, just enough to have “good posture.”
hold my smile a little longer, like the people in pages of a glossy magazine.
let my eyes linger and flit about like the twinkling of a firefly.
i think i’ll flip my hair about some more, have it snag in the wind.
crossing my legs won’t hurt either, especially in these heels high as skyscrapers.
and always, always, keep smiling making sure to hold gazes, at least for three seconds.
make yourself attractive, but don’t let them know your schemes.
make it seem natural, like childbirth.
The above was a compilation of the emotions of a blindly stumbling teenager, at least the ones I deemed important enough to acknowledge in writing during my years on the brink of ending high school.
The below is a regurgitation from the faucet of my brain. It has simply rolled out of my fingertips like waves along a coastline and like tears down the length of my cheeks.
this body can be hardly more than a derivative of other bodies, morphed slowly over time through breeding and cross-breeding. a mutt, bred to exist, a creature with the best of all its components.
bred slowly but surely,
a ladder of images climbing to the heavens,
images of my mother
images of aunts
images of bollywood actresses
images of hollywood actresses
images of magazines
images of the television
images of the girls in school
images of the girls on the street
images of the imprint of myself in the mirror
images of all these images, re-and-mis- interpretations.
all of these collided, and after that big bang, i emerged
a new star with elements i snatched, stolen from all of them.
and with all these alterations and this new image, i spawn syncretic identities.
sometimes blending together like some deceptively innocent coffeechocolatelattefoammilkdeliciousness from starbucks,
sometimes curdling like creamy milk and fizzy cream soda, poured respectively into a glass far taller than it is wide,
sometimes mixing, remaining very much together and yet apart at once like chocolate chips in sweet mint ice cream,
sometimes parting, like ice floating to the top, leaving as far behind as it can the savory brown of cocoa beans. and sugar settling to coat the bottom of the glass, disregarding the miserable coffee yearning to make peace between cool ice and warm sugar.
You see, reconciling the body and living these multiple schizophrenic identities has undoubtedly shaped my personality.
You see, the familiar feeling of the string above tightening swiftly followed by an involuntary loosening of my neck into a nod has been a regular occurrence.
You see, growing up a multi-racial West Indian who went to public school in “a good part of Queens” then a “bad part of Brooklyn” then a “mad rich, mad white prep school in the LES” has really done very little for the emotional life of a youth on the brink of adolescence.
You see, feeling like the exception in the room has been the norm for many, many years, so much so that it feels strange to blend in as part of the endless waves.
Today, I see my body as a site of contestation, a site
where the worst of history meets the best of today,
where the past refuses to be silenced,
where cycles begin again.
the past is always with us.
my grandfather’s face,
my grandmother’s hair,
my mother’s smile,
my father’s limbs.
and this strange jigsaw puzzle, pressed together with krazy glue, inseparable and yet separate.
It is the reconciliation of these multiple identities passed down through generations that we must acknowledge in order to understand ourselves. I have tried many a time to run from it, to forget it, to pretend never to have known a native Guyana. And each time I have looked in the mirror, I have found it there, reflected for me and for the world to see, buried within tumbling dark waves and crescent moon smiles. Returning to one’s native land is never an easy task. But it is a necessary one, one we do each time we look into the mirror, each time we are reminded by friends, “You look so much like your mother!”
How strange are mirrors,
distorted images of truth!
With each glance I turn and find yet
another face of a woman telling lies,
weaving lies, like the braid wending
its way down the back of my head
culminating finally into a wisp
of a ponytail that should have
run the length of my back had
I not impatiently let, no forced,
her to finally sever its hubris,
feeling the weight of the past
lessen more and more with
each snip of those scissors.
And though I cut and cut and continue to do so,
each time this hair wraps first my neck and then continues its way down my back.
Each time, the need to shrug off this insistent shawl, shedding bits of myself along the way
like the need to look away each time this deceitful mirror ridicules me.
Each time, it writes a new story.
Two return again and again like carvings on the mast of a ship:
the story of my mother’s childhood snickers;
the story of my father’s incessant drive.
And just so I remain manifestations of these semblances, never quite the same.
Each time, I enter a room –
-with the grace of Alicia Keys
-with the finery of a supermodel
-with the cleverness of my best friend
-with the coquetry of Sharmila Tagore
-with the finesse of my mother
-with the surety of my father
-but never without confidence.
Even though these days I try to convince myself that I do not belong to this hegemonic order worshipping immaterial dollars, my self-presentation often begs otherwise. I’ve got the hair cut in progressively shorter styles, the Western clothing I’ve been donning for a hundred years, the Converse sneakers I choose to wear not just because they’re cheap but because they’re “in style.”
But there are some uncommonalities; the nose-ring is a usual giveaway despite its current status as a “hip piercing for the young.” The toe ring, the anklet, the two yellow gold bangles and rose gold ring that never leave my right hand, they all suggest a covertness. And of course there’s always the brown skin if none of that whispers “other.”
it has been quite a journey, hasn’t it? but i think we understand each other now… if only in that we understand that this relationship we share will be as tumultuous as a ship rocked by the waves and gales of a storm. take care not to capsize this poor ship and leave me marooned on some foreign island,
for in it is carved all of me,
all that i was,
all that i am,
all that i will be.