I was given a voice & I can’t let fear be the thing to halt me & keep me from moving forward.
Fear has been a driving force in my life and has informed too many of my behavioral choices to the point that it’s ingrained in me. Fearful thoughts are the first thing I hear. With that fact echoing in my head, I still have to step forward. I won’t grow if I don’t.
And my biggest fear is being stuck. Never growing. I have to hush these voices if I want to step into the light, out of my comfort zone towards true authenticity.
There is no other option. My parents cannot speak, so I speak for them. I won’t let fear blind the path of potential any longer. Sure, I’ll always be afraid, but I won’t let that be a reason for me not to speak. I will feel that fear & go. Feel the fear & go. Go.
“Hitam manis” (Indonesian for sweet black) is not a compliment. When you first hear it, it may feel like one, but after the 100th reminder that you are the “black” exception to a long-held standard ideal of beauty, it is a slap to the face. And the sting resonates long after the words are spoken.
It’s the same as hearing “oh you’re pretty for a dark skinned girl”. Sometimes it’s said like the words are a gift of light I’ve been searching for in a dark room of insecurity and uncertainty. Quite the opposite. It is not a confirmation of beauty; it feels like words urging me to hold tighter to the foundation of what I consider beautiful: An all encompassing, infinite beauty. An all-color, all-shape beauty. I am not “Hitam manis”. I will not claim something that negates someone else, my history and the history of others.
I am beautiful. Plain and simple.
Before I came to Indonesia, or even applied to the Peace Corps, I felt an anxiety that focused on one unrelenting thought: “What about my hair?” This dread battled with the joy I felt at having the chance to go on a life-changing journey. The trouble was that my hair, in all its curly coiled goodness, was a loud, proud symbol of my blackness. There was no way I could hide it and my fear was rooted in the fear of rejection. I convinced myself that I was over-reacting and tried to push these unwanted concerns away.
Now,I admit it seems that some of those feelings were justified. I am picked apart and assessed ,by some people I know and don’t know, before I can speak a politically correct, PC-approved word. The tough skin I had starting out gets thinner with every question of “Why can’t you just straighten your hair?” or “Are you absolutely sure you’re not from Africa?”,the skin lightening indoctrination that makes me feel like I am the Anti-Everything, and the people trying to help me out by telling me that I should use an umbrella outside because “you don’t want to get any darker”.
There’s a wonderful song by India.Arie called “I am not my Hair” and the chorus reads,”I am not my hair/I am not this skin/I am a soul that lives within”. I have always lived by this mantra, hoping that if I repeat it enough times, it would become a magical incantation that, when said, would make people see past my skin, or at-least attempt to be as conscious/open to my culture (or even me) as I try to be of theirs. It hurts that you are defined & judged by some people entirely by the summation of physical features that you were born with and are beyond my control. Still, I remain steadfast in my commitment because of the open & encouraging words of fellow PCVs and Indonesian friends who overwhelm unfortunate experiences with support. I am taking it one day at a time.
It is so easy to lie to yourself. I’ve been taking the easy way out for years. I call it “self-preservation through denial”.
After 8 years, it stopped working. Life slapped me hard and I didn’t recover fast enough. The lies I told myself for years were exposed and they couldn’t hide from my scrutiny.
Rather than facing a hard truth about myself and then deciding to re-bury it like I’ve done hundreds of times, I pushed it to the forefront. I acknowledged it as a truth. It was a brand new feeling: knowing exactly who I am at the moment and what I do not know and what I want to know.
It was a huge relief. I was tired of treading lightly in my head.
I write this to say that it is so very,very important to be honest with yourself. Feel what you feel in that moment in its entirety.
It was in these moments of honesty that I formed a new kind of preservation that was all about becoming a better version of myself. It was through this process of honesty that I changed my lifestyle. I ate more (I hardly ate food before) and when I ate food it was good, good food. Real food. I exercised often despite every excuse I made for myself. I walked, dance, kick-boxed and moved more than I had than I had in my 22 years of life. Nothing that happened in my life, I decided, would get in my way. I let go of placing blame on the people I’d blamed for my choices. This time, even with team-support from family, I did not stop when they stopped for whatever reason. I didn’t want to look in the mirror and see all of the empty promises I made myself. It was never easy, it still isn’t, but I think it gets easier. The difference between me now in 2013 and 2012 isn’t just the 60 pound weight loss:(1) I have a much stronger, more urgent need to pursue my goals, (2) I am much more grateful for everything in my life (3) I am happier because I was honest about the things that made me unhappy.
I was waiting for a magnificent change in my life. It took honesty for me to realize that I’m waiting on borrowed time.if there’s something you want, go get it. If you think you can’t get it, try to get it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? Now that you know all of the things that could possibly happen: do it anyway. Feel the fear and go.
My Parents owned an impossibly high and wide bed. To my nine year old eyes, the wide bed was like King Arthur’s bouncy castle, it was magnificently sprawled across the small Master bedroom, filling the entire room and leaving little room on either side. The room was the bed. My parents’ bed was my place of refuge. It bore the perfect ratio between comfort and substance that my bunk-bed would never accomplish. Who needs a floor with space when you can bounce, roll, and flip to where you need to go? I would scramble onto the foot of the bed, my sisters squeezing on either side of me, and prop my head in my hands. We’d stretch as far as our limbs could go in our limited bubbles. We would watch movies on my Parent’s tiny TV in our t-shirts and eat Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn with extra butter. We’d spend hours watching Aladdin, Belle, and Hercules in a world we conceived in our minds existed somewhere. My Parent’s room was where my family and I would sing together because the walls of the room emphasized our harmony. My Parents’ room was also where my sisters and I would listen, on edge, to Daddy talk about his adventures as a Corrections Officer. My sister Alleyah was always the first to slickly swipe Daddy’s glowing handcuffs and leisurely cuff and un-cuff her hands while he told us his story of the day.
Daddy would come home exhausted, looking as if he had never had an ounce of sleep in his life. When he kicked off his shoes and flopped down at the head of the bed, a sudden animated spirit would revive him from his restlessly dormant state and give us our news for the day. We would hear about men who taunted guards, men who fought other men, and men who were just plain insane. We would hear about the crimes they committed and the crazy things that some inmates did to pass the time. The rise and fall of his voice matched the motions of his hands as he gestured the story into life, ushering the story from his mind before our eyes. He would censor the stories, shielding our eyes from the severity of life outside and behind brick walls. Although I was attentive to the stories, I mostly looked forward to Daddy’s animated face and his booming laugh that erupted from his belly and seemed to interrupt him mid-word.
Even Saturdays, when I often tested the strength of the soles of my bare feet on the earth of our back yard, I could hear Daddy’s laughter fill the universe. In me, it confirmed and ingrained a feeling of place. Here, wrapped in the arms of apple and pear trees, away from the rowdy, intrusive Brinkley Road, I was safe to do anything. I knew where I was in my family. I was the eldest of four kids in a family of six. I was my sister’s adventure doctor and my baby brother’s diaper changer. I was my Father’s little girl and I was my Mother’s diary of secrets. All that mattered was where I stood among the most important people in my life.
The grass in our yard was green and full of rabbit holes. My sisters and I would carefully run around, being careful to land our feet like astronauts on the moon. The holes led to the unexpected, and in our minds, either led to a twisted ankle or a trip to China. The trees that surrounded us bore a story themselves. The previous owners were an old married couple who planted their own food and were married for a lifetime. They had been the original owners of the brick rambler and raised a family in my home. I often wondered if their kids ever climbed the trees their parents grew or peeled the bark off the base of the apple trees as I would often do.
The yard was electrified with lively fireflies at night in the summer. I felt as if these bugs had invaded the solitude of our open yard, disturbing an unspoken balance. Although I was logical and knew that the living light bulbs could not harm me, I never approached them without a pair of gloves and a jar. When I encased them in the glass, I was not filled with some awe-inspired feeling of wonderment. I was glad I trapped the “bugs that won’t stop following me.” I fell asleep in comfort knowing that the Lightning bug inmates couldn’t harm me or my family with no way of escape. I was the unspoken family guard.