When I was born my mother said it rained harder than ever before.
The skies welcomed me with storms, lightning danced in my eyes like a grandmother's smile.
My father says that I am only truly fluent in the language of water.
My body knows to forget gravity each time I step in a puddle.
I have always found home among the waves.
I am not but a tenant of the ocean, too scared to buy my own land; I cannot commit to the water.
I once tried to.
The bathtub was warm and welcoming, and when my wrists gave out I could hear sirens singing their sweet taunting melodies.
I forgot that even though my body felt like dead weight, I could still float.
Instead of becoming one with the ocean, I let my tears feed into the stream,
And filtered myself through this thing we call reality.
The scars on my wrists and the cuts on my arms remind me of the shipwreck I can become.
The oil spills I can make my brother cry.
My existence is nothing but a reminder to others to stay in shallow waters,
And fear the undercurrent.
When I submitted this piece in a poetry contest at school, I received a message from the Writers Club to go to the Main Office at the end of the day. I expected nothing more than the Vice Principal looking at my arms and giving me one of those ‘mom’ looks. It made sense, the subject matter that I was writing about was not my typical witchy feminist style; it was raw.
I somehow got much less and much more.
A meeting with the school principal, telling me that the content I wrote about was not appropriate for school.
Teachers telling me that what I wrote about sent the wrong message about myself.
I was warned by friends that if that piece ever went online my scholarships would leave just as fast as they came.
I accepted my sentence and retracted the piece.
The truth is, it was a cry for help.
I’m what some people at my school call a legacy. I’m not saying this because I think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread, people just call me that; they don’t use my name anymore. I’m the president of the Green Council, Equity Council, Relay for Life Committee, Black Women’s Club, Muslim Students Association, French Club, Peer Support Association, Pluralism Awareness Council, and the Feminist Forum. I play thirteen instruments and am a part of 3 choirs, 1 of which I am a student director of, 2 orchestras, 1 of which I am the Concertmaster of, and 3 symphonic bands. Students hear me every day on the morning announcements, and laugh at my ridiculously terrible corny jokes at every school assembly. I am the team captain of the girls soccer and softball teams, as well as an active, energetic member of the volleyball, swimming, and flag football teams. My name is the one you hear in congratulatory announcements and the one you see in the monthly newsletters sent home. I hold an overall average in the 96th percentile and received acceptances from Harvard, Yale, and Stanford with a score of 1585 on my SAT’s. I’m the class clown and class president. I never fail.
My friends tell me I’m every immigrant parents dream. My teachers say I’m every student's goal. I’ve been told I’m the woman lowerclassmen want to become. My smile is something that my friends depend on if they see their calculus marks dropping, or when they’re having boy troubles. People look to me for hope. The last time I performed at a school event, my principal called me the most “genuine, kind, honest, responsible, selfless, and humble person” he knew.
The truth is, my entire life is a lie. The smile I wear is to convince others that I’m okay, and that they can be too. I’ve helped so many friends with their trauma but refused to recognize my own. The scars on my arms that I expected my VP to look at? Covered by henna, one of my many supposed “talents”. Disguised as art so no one looks twice. I’ve learned that keeping busy allows me to forget the thoughts in my head that want to destroy me. I’ve figured out that the orderliness of calculus distracts me from the swirling pool of entropy that is my thoughts. Good grades = no stress, no mess. It means no suspicion.
The thing is, I really miss hearing my name. You’d think being called legacy all day would be amazing, but it’s just a reminder of the lie that consumed me. At home I never hear it roll off of my mother's tongue; my family believes that your identity only matters when you have earned someone’s respect, and I have not. I am the disgrace of my family, pursuing a career in my tongue, abandoning medicine, engineering, and the prosperous STEM field in pursuit of justice; the reason why my parents came to this country. I am never good enough. I am the worst example of an oldest sibling. Never smart enough, ‘there will always be someone better’. I wake up and immediately feel guilty because I know someone, somewhere in this world, is working harder than me. Every morning I have to tell myself that I am not dead weight, that I will make it.
I constantly feel like I am being crushed. By the competition, by my family, my friends, by a crumbling sense of self.
I have the power to make it all go away but I can’t seem to let go of the pain that holds me together.
I have a secret that hides in my stomach, and it has for a year now. I’m starting to think that it’s the reason why I haven’t had a meal in 329 days without throwing up. The internet told me that it was my fault, that the tiny holes in my jeans and the short sleeved shirt I wore after years of having a body complex somehow made it okay for someone to do that. And even though I had rallied for so many men and women’s justice on this ‘plague’ of the 21st century before, it meant nothing to me. I’ve believed that my sexual assault was my fault for 329 days.
I am one of the nameless, faceless men and women who didn’t report their case because I was afraid of inconveniencing strangers. One of the many people who wanted to never speak about it again because I was convinced that one day I’d just forget. I am one of the many men and women who is scared to become a statistic. I am the oldest child of a one-income, five person family with immigrant parents who cannot work any harder for much longer.
But most importantly, I’m the President of 9 Clubs, Councils, Forums, and Associations. I’m the choir director, Concertmaster, and soloist. I’m the team captain, the MVP, the first one in and the last one out. I’m at the top of the honours list, the class clown, and the class president. I’m that kid with 3000 community service hours. The one with 3 jobs and 2 businesses. The legacy.
I'm the one who can decide to lose it all.
But it’s day 330 and I’m done blaming myself.
My trauma is not me. I am not my trauma.
I am every single one of my accomplishments and failures. I’m every song that I’ve ever sung, every spike of a volleyball, every goal I’ve ever scored. I’m every mountain peak on the patriarchal range I’ve had to climb as a African-Asian Muslim Woman. Every peak and every fall.
I am the ocean that refuses to stop expressing gratitude to the shoreline, the sunrises that I wake up to watch. The finger paint from my childhood that never questioned the beauty of motion. The forest that is just as beautiful inside and out.
I’m my poetry, my speeches, my music. Every word I’ve ever spoken, every conversation I’ve ever had.
Every breath of air I’ve ever taken.
But I am not my trauma.
I am a Survivor, not a victim.
But I am also so much more.
Written by: Serena Allidina