the first page of my imaginary memoir
I struggle with my paradox, that I exist only because my parents left their home countries, yet I feel incomplete because of it. Because of it, my growth was stunted, and you hear this in my languages, broken, unfinished. I appreciate that life is not only about material comforts, that there is something harrowing and difficult about being robbed of culture, identity, shared experience–yet I know that I likely would not understand this if I had not grown up far from my ancestral homes.
My life has been spent knocking on doors, peering into windows, a visitor asking to be admitted. A ghost asking to be seen. I jump at the sight of an outstretched hand, a warm embrace, a smile. I wish only to be named, included, felt, heard, seen. Accepted.
I worry endlessly about my right to claim myself, to be who I am, where this is not a consideration others have. It is enough to simply state yourself as you are, where I slowly piece together my identity, preparing a legal argument. I release my name, the first piece of evidence; I wait to be cross-examined. I provide rehearsed responses about my parent’s heritage. The best of all is to use, to the best of my ability, the language of the prosecutor, who is then surprised and disoriented. The prayer is that the case is dissolved, that rather than being deported from this frontier of human interaction we laugh at the mere clerical error of my appearance, my face a barcode that scans to nothing. Frequently I am detained for having these incorrect papers, these oddly arranged facial features. Like splatter paintings, some describe them as beautiful — — and yet, they never mean anything, to anyone. They can never be instantly recognized. Always I prepare my defense.
Though I often win these battles, within is still the concern, the whisper. It is a sin to lie, it says, and what is your evidence, when you look in the mirror, when you try to say words and forget, when the languages get confused and mixed up. Where is your evidence, it says, when you’ve lived so far from those ancestral nations, when you cannot possibly understand daily life the same way; are people not right to push you away?
This is what I lost when we came on a Mayflower of student visas and low wage service labor, fueled by the dreams of villages. This is what I lost: a foundation, the deep roots into storied ground, the knowledge of those stories; I am the dream but I lost the village. Now the village is my dream, distant, accessed every other year, imagined through long distance phone calls.
This is what I gained: love and love only, the love of desperation. A deep love, a sad love, a tortuous love. I wander in confusion, in clumsiness; I keep dropping the pieces of myself that I am trying to put together, destroying bits of a puzzle that I have never solved. Despite that, I am flooded with feeling, enough that I am almost numb; I know that I love deeply in the way people only do after they have lost something and know its value.
I know that I love,