young, humorous, and grieving

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That Which Is Indestructible

Assault comes up. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s as simple mentioning to my friend M that I’m surprised she’s only had positive sexual experiences, since she’s had numerous, numerous sexual partners.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve had friends, you know, who’ve been assaulted, raped, or, or molested. I had a friend who got roofied twice.”

“Wwwhhhaatt?” D says.

“Yeah, but there have definitely been times when guys have been really, aggressive,” she says to me, her eyes widening, “and I’m just like, ‘nope’ and I leave before anything happens. I think it’s because I was taught to be assertive.”

“Some girls, that kind of stuff would just happen because they wouldn’t want to be rude and say they’re uncomfortable,” D says.

“I’ve always been, definitely, very assertive and I think that’s why that kind of thing hasn’t happened to me,” she says.

“Way to go,” D says and throwing his hand across the table, they high five.

I feel my throat tighten, my smile stick. A second ago I was buzzed bravado, my voice bouncing along the walls of our booth in this dark bar, but I don’t know what to say. “Good for you?” I hear hints of “They could have avoided it,” “They should have known better,” and my mind goes blank. They make it all sound easy. I think it’s all such luck.

I bike quickly home afterwards, slowing down on hills, breathing out hard as I rethink this exchange. The question I’ve asked myself alot over the past five years since I broke up with Izzo, rattles around, “How did I let this happen to me?” “Why didn’t I do the right thing?” The right thing is always not being emotionally abused, not feeling scared and guilted into sex, not continuing to date someone after they tell you if you don’t have sex with them you don’t care about them and therefore there is no point in living.

I scowl and think, “They don’t know what it was like. They like to think if they had been in my shoes they would have acted differently, but who’s to say who they’d be in my shoes? Who’s to say if this ‘assertiveness’ or ‘rebelliousness’ they’ve attributed to many great acts, this foundation of who they are, who’s to say which way it would turn? They can’t know who they would have been with my upbringing, what parts of them are truly unbreakable.

I don’t want to be angry at anyone for the stories they tell themselves to believe they are who they want to be. Could I have acted differently? Maybe? I don’t want to hate who I was back then. She was me, she still is me, and I didn’t know better. I failed myself frequently, daily in the past, and I still wished it didn’t happen, but fuck, is it my fault? Yes, no, no, yes.

I can imagine, if it had all turned out differently, attributing some steadfast internal quality to why I was never assaulted or abused. Telling others I’ve always been a strong person, that that strength kept me out of those situations. I would thank it for getting me through adolescence sexually unscathed, but now, looking back, I see my strength was directed elsewhere. It was what helped me get through each of those days when my family thought my dad would die. It is still what helps me live independently from my family, in another state, working towards goals which will be achieved through my hard work. We don’t know how our core will serve us.


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July 15th, 2015 – Baba’s Lunar Birthday

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 73. I imagine him the same way – slower, in a chair, a sweater tied around his neck, my mom, rounding into 60 buzzing around, clearing dishes away, bringing him carpet samples for a new investment rental, the one she bought alone instead, painting the upstairs bedroom floors a type of “colonial periwinkle.”

For the first time my mom emailed us to commemorate it, ending with, “During our time together – your Father shared his best qualities with us and we are so grateful to him for our time together!”

I think about our last family vacation, Oren, Evan’s new boyfriend, sitting with us around the old cabin’s dining table, asking us to tell stories about Baba.

“Evan, obviously has told me many stories about him, and I can tell how much love everyone must have for him through the love I see you all have for each other.”

“He was so cute,” Evan says.

“Yeah, it was hard to get mad at him,” Julian says from across the table.

I look Oren in the eye, leaning forward slightly, my chest touching the edge of the table where I sit at the head, “No it wasn’t.”

Everyone laughs.

“Classic,” Julian says.

“What? Baba was a great man, obviously, he led an amazing life, but we can’t pretend he wasn’t one of the most difficult people, I at least, will ever meet. He was extremely hard to please, very opinionated, old school. It doesn’t mean we didn’t love him, but we don’t have to forget the other sides of him just because he’s gone.”

Evan smiles at me while Oren nods. He teaches non-violent communication, he’s not going to invalidate my feelings. In that moment I feel the curtain everyone else has drawn around their memories. The faded light, the forgiveness, the forgetfulness even, maybe.

I take a sip of my water and I’m outside my work, reading this email again, trying not to cry in front of people walking by on the corner, in front of the dog lying next to her owner’s feet at the table next to mine.

Were those his best qualities? Is that the right question to ask of anyone you have loved and called family? I think it’d be better to accept that those were their best qualities, but also their worst, that hopefully if we were close enough to them we saw them all, that we saw all that was Baba, not just the best parts, the parts most easily marketed to the hippy ex-best friends he first met in America, the retail workers charmed by his accent and generosity.


To what ends

I sometimes think it would be a lot easier to be mono-racial. Even if races are constructed, we all came from Africa, we’re all part of the human race, blah blah, it still seems like a boon to be on one side of the “us” vs. “them” that happens often in regards to race relations in the U.S.. I used to feel like I was so frequently treated like a “white person,” (I rarely felt that I experienced overt racism) that I had to internally counteract it. I felt if I didn’t distance myself from my white side I would be swallowed up by it. Distancing myself usually meant dissing it and labeling things which I assume a lot of U.S. citizens do, but which I was taught were reprehensible – being focused more on independent rather than collective work, lacking connections to their immigrant roots, etc. – as things done by “white people.”

I am not going to do this any longer. I realized the other day it has manifested as a type of self-hate, which should be obvious because I’m white too. It’s easier to simply identify myself with the struggles of a minority class, without the complications of white privilege, but I can’t. And it is not only white people who do the things which I identify as U.S. American problems, it’s Americans of all races and ethnicity.

Despite this though, I still feel as if I will never be “enough” of a person of color to fully participate in discussions of inequality and racism because I carry the privileges of being light-skinned and middle class. And I never feel white enough to fully connect with Caucasians whose ancestors came to the U.S. generations and generations ago. I do feel an affinity to second generation citizens of all colors, the experience of an immigrant parent is definitely unifying. There is something unique in dealing with assimilation, having a parent(s) who in turn embraces and despises U.S./Western culture. I know I can not help the way I look, privilege is the catch phrase of the year, and I am aware.

V and I got in an argument about “ableist” language.

I was saying I was surprised that “confined to a wheelchair” was on there.

“Not that I’ve ever said confined to a wheelchair, but having to a use a wheelchair to get around is confining, you can’t move quickly without it.:

“You could be in a bed, or lying on the beach, but you choose to use a wheelchair.”

“But having to use a wheelchair instead of being able to walk or run sucks, do we actually have to argue about whether or not it’s bad to be disabled?”

“It’s not really your call, you’re not disabled, you don’t get to decide what they want to be called.”

“Of course, but I’m saying I’ve never heard that before and I don’t see why people have to pretend being disabled isn’t bad.”

“You don’t know what it’s like, and using language like ‘confined’ is putting a judgment on it.”

“My grandma is blind, she talks about how crappy it is.” V looks at me blankly. Was this the equivalent of the “I have a black friend” defense?

“It is in no way better to be disabled than to be able-bodied,” I say to combat her silence.

“Able-bodied is bad too,” she says.

“But you have a body, and you are able to do things, technically.”

“I’m lazy as fuck,” she says, “I’m not in shape.”

“You could be, sure there are Special Olympics athletes that are in great shape and could run faster than us, but we have all our limbs and capacities. We’re able-bodied.”

“It sounds wrong,” she says.

I’m never going to argue with someone in a one-to-one basis about what they want to be called. If you tell me your name I’m not going to argue that you should be called something different. Actually, I totally did that my senior year of high school. There was a junior in my AP Calculus class, his name was Matt, his name should have been Dexter. Besides that one incident though…and now that I think about it, I called M something semi-different from his real name for years after becoming friends with him. Besides those two glaring examples of my complete lack of respect for people’s wishes (I’ve moved past them, they were all educational), I think there is a new response to being politically correct which is to go to the most extremely reductive language. We are told to “educate ourselves” about other minorities, and in doing so we come across internet articles or speeches where essentially people have decided they will be the token of their group. They will be speaking for what their group wants to be called, viewed, their struggles. You can try not to offend anyone, a noble pursuit in the name of respect, but does that mean we should nitpick every word we speak? Be so afraid of offending or fetishizing a person different from us that we can’t speak to them?

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Maybe those people who act like real assholes are the ones who have truly accepted themselves. They don’t have to be nice because that’s not a part of their self-worth. They don’t have to have compassion or respect. Those aren’t important to them. Their simple existence is enough for them. It’s those of us who are working at helping, being the best, we’re trying too hard. We’re letting people know it’s not enough to be, we can’t love ourselves for what we are, but rather, what we do. We are what we do. Others are what they wake up to. They don’t have to try to change, they aren’t working on themselves. God, the beautiful relief.