I was riding the blue line back home after working a double and I started thinking about Friday night. “You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will.” starting playing while we were playing flip cup. Why someone put that on a playlist at a party is incomprehensible. I fled my apartment in tears, pushing strangers out of my way to escape. I was too overwhelmed by all the unprocessed emotions I shoved into Bright Eyes to notice I was making a scene. I’m always making a scene.
I swallowed the lump growing in my throat. I was not going to cry over you. I was not going to cry over you for the fifth time since the new year. For the hundredth time since we broke up. For the uncountable fucking time since I saw you in the cafeteria four years ago. I cannot believe I’ve known you this long, and I have gone so long without you since.
I sat on the blue line tonight and wanted to cry. I listened to Bright Eyes. I pictured you laughing and scratching your stomach, wearing that black and lime green shirt I begged you to let me keep.
But I couldn’t cry. I just ache. I started writing a poem of sorts while riding the train about you. I can’t remember any of it now.
I don’t remember exactly how my mother and I decided to have “the talk,” but I certainly remember repeating it to hapless Darby Kendall* the very next day. We were at our friend Kathleen McDonald’s* birthday party, which happened to fall on New Years Eve. Everyone was giddy and giggly from apple cider and silly string, and I blurted out, “Did you know that your vagina will bleed?” to Darby on the staircase. I think her mother was sitting in the kitchen directly behind us, and turned just as red as her daughter did.
I remember watching the cartoon Braceface on one of those Saturday morning cartoon programs. We didn’t have cable growing up. In one episode, the main character, Sharon, got her period. I was thoroughly confused: What the heck is a period, other than a piece of punctuation? And what the heck is that weird, white sponge she’s holding? Why did it expand in the water? Why is she in pain? Why are her dad and brother laughing? Nothing made sense. This was one of the last times I was ever truly baffled.
I asked my mother what a period was, and she had a look on her face that resembled the one she made when I found out Santa wasn’t real. “What do you mean? It’s just a period. Like a comma,” she said. I knew she was lying. It drove me crazy that she wouldn’t just tell me what it was. I was probably too young. Hell, I was watching cartoons on ABC.
There was another incident, either before or after Braceface. I was at my weekly gymnastics class, and one of the other gymnasts kept talking about “touching herself” while we did our warm-ups on the low beam. I was the youngest in the class, and just pretended I knew what she was talking about. I got home and uncomfortably asked my mother what “touching herself” meant; I knew it had to be something bad if I didn’t know what it was. I don’t remember what she ended up telling me, but I do know that if I ever heard my mother say the word “masturbation” I would never, ever forget it.
Shortly after this incident, my mother told my sister and I everything. We had twin beds in our room, and while tucking us in for the night she spilled. How grown up kisses are different than mommy kisses. How hair grows on where you pee. How daddy’s parts go inside mommies and make babies. We were horrified. We were confused. We felt dirty. Maybe it’s because I pushed her to tell me something I was too young for. Maybe it’s because we were Catholic. Either way, sex was a shameful, embarrassing, and taboo topic to never be discussed again.
When I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real, I told my best friend, Feng Lin Lu, the next day at school. She was a foreign student from China, and didn’t understand much English. Let alone a blubbering third grader whose entire life felt like a lie. When I found out what sex was, I told the most naïve person possible. I needed a reaction, a response.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up and become a geisha. They were beautiful and graceful and I thought they were just more prestigious ballerinas. As I grew older, I knew I couldn’t really become a geisha, because I wasn’t apart of that culture. I didn’t realize until I was twelve, however, that I was white, and I would always be white, no matter how much I didn’t want to be.
I grew up in South New Jersey and was very close to Camden and Philadelphia, two cities that are predominantly African American, according to the U.S. Census Data of 2010. My classmates, neighbors, friends and family members were people of color, and it was never discussed nor indicative of the way we treated one another. It was just an aspect of life that is out of our control, so why let it control us.
I’ve always been attracted to other cultures. In third grade, my school got a grant from the government to teach us Mandarin. We had three foreign exchange students, sisters from China who spoke very little English. I absolutely adored them. I took the sisters under my wing. We would play in silence; they were quite shy and I was horrible at the language. We watched classic American movies like Cinderella and jumped on my trampoline together. Sometimes we would do homework at their parent’s restaurant, and I would watch the chefs cook and curse and once we ate a fish with its head still attached. I knew we were different, but I didn’t know how or why.
Whenever there was a new student in my school district, I always found myself inviting them to sit with me at lunch. My biggest nightmare was getting to the cafeteria, tray in hand, with nowhere to go. When I was in 6th grade, I invited Justice to join my friends and I.
It’s hard to remember the details, but I do know this: I did not think Justice was any different than I. We became fast friends, and eventually sat with our desks parallel.
“You’re lucky,” Justice said to me one afternoon. Her eyes were scanning my outfit, which was probably something bright and new from Limited Too.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Because you’re white.”
Her eyes locked with mine and I felt my stomach turn, attempting to process this information. I had never heard anything like this before in my life. Not on television, not in books, and definitely not aloud. It was one of the rare moments in time where I was truly baffled; there was no previous experience or knowledge to give me any indication of what this statement meant.
“What?” I said. It was all that I could muster.
“I cry myself to sleep every night because I’m not.”
I wish that I had said something, anything, to let her know that it pained me to know that she wasn’t happy with whom she was. I don’t think I said anything.
I had spent such a large portion of my childhood wishing to be someone else. Through out the years I had wanted to be Hispanic, African American, Asian, and Arabic. I read viciously about these different cultures and lifestyles and desperately wanted to be apart of them. As a little girl, I genuinely thought I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t get it; I didn’t know what race and ethnicity was and that you couldn’t just decide one day to be Japanese and that’s that. When Justice told me I was lucky for being white, it made my brain hurt trying to understand what that meant.
I was ashamed. Horrified that my ancestors treated a group of people who didn’t look exactly like they did as their cargo. I was so ashamed to be apart of this race and so outrageously mortified that my new friend, Justice, knew more about it than I did, and felt bad about herself. If anyone should have felt bad, it should’ve been me! I was apart of the reason she felt bad! The reason she wasn’t granted the same privileges as I! I felt sick. I threw up my pretzels from lunch in the bathroom and went home later that day.
Justice and I lost touch in high school. She found a group of girls who understood her better than I ever could. The Chinese sisters moved to a different school district and we also lost touch. But every time I go to their restaurant, their mother gives us a few extra fortune cookies.
For two solid hours I deleted 673 photographs from Facebook. For two solid hours I had to let go of memories I only had through images, friends I’d forgotten and places I’ll never return to. For two solid hours I had to employment-protect my Facebook.
It was nostalgic. It was bittersweet. It was cathartic. But ultimately, it was necessary.
I wasn’t a “bad kid” in high school. I always took honors and AP level courses. I was on the varsity tennis team and president of the French club. Throughout all four years, not once did I have detention. I only got called to the principal’s office once—I was getting awarded for inviting a new student to sit with me at lunch. I was selected to be apart of the elite Teen PEP program and got academic scholarships to five out of the seven schools I applied to. I rest my case.
I wasn’t a “good kid” in high school. I’m not going to incriminate myself this early into my career, but I made mistakes. I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. I was the classic, quintessential American teenager. Right out of one those blockbuster movies where the actors are in their mid-twenties pretending to be sixteen. I rest my case.
For a few years in high school, I deactivated my Facebook. It was depressing.
Like my status and I’ll tell you what I honestly think of you. Inbox me and I’ll rate you on a scale of 1-10. If this photograph gets 2,000 likes, I’ll quit smoking.
He liked her photo, does that mean he doesn’t like me? Why did he poke me? Why didn’t she poke me back? What’s that status supposed to mean? I’ll passive aggressively like it, even though I know it’s totally about me. I’ll change my religion to his so he thinks I’m Catholic, too (true story [a friend, that is]).
Double gag me.
I really only reactivated once I moved to Chicago, so I could keep in contact with everyone else who left and everyone else who stayed.
What’s changed since I’ve been back on Facebook is peculiar. The desperate need for validation, attention and reassurance has transformed. It would be social suicide to post a status saying you’ll rank whoever likes it. Instead of posting whatever you pleased for the sake of having a platform to save your photographs, you only post what you know will get enough likes to sate your self-esteem. You take “candid” photos at a “raging party” with all of your friends hugging and smiling and laughing because you’re having a good time. And everyone needs to know just how much fun you’re having. If you go to a frat party and don’t post an entire album of the party, did you even really go? Why do we feel the need to prove to all of our “friends” how great our lives are? Why do we take dozens of selfies before we find the perfect one to post, and then delete it if it doesn’t get enough attention?
I don’t mean to scoff. It’s just depressing.
When I first deactivated, I went through and deleted hundreds and hundreds of “friends” I had acquired throughout high school. We met at a random house party in Philadelphia? Friends. Oh, your boyfriend was there, too? Friends. We graduated together? Friends. You graduated four years before me? Friends. It was ridiculous. Not only was I friends with people I didn’t care about, I was exposing myself—my bizarre status updates, photographs, and taste in movies—to complete strangers.
What I should’ve done as well was remove all of the photographs my friends tagged of me with said “friends” met at random parties in Philadelphia. So for the past two hours, that’s what I did.
On the surface level, they were unflattering. I looked fat. I wasn’t wearing any makeup. I wasn’t ready for the photograph. The list goes on. For a long time, I was very okay with having unflattering pictures of myself on Facebook, but as I get older and can finally add my old high school teachers and college professors, I don’t necessarily want them seeing me look like—for lack of a better word—a derp.
On a deeper level, they were inappropriate. I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to publicly broadcast all of the things I was desperately trying to hide from my parents.
On an almost-meta level, did I really want this on the Internet? I know that “once it’s on the internet it’s there forever” or whatever, but do I really necessarily need to personally direct anyone and everyone to a photograph of me with a SpongeBob tattoo on my clavicle? No. The answer is no.
I know that the entire world probably isn’t looking at my Facebook page. But in the event that they are, they don’t need to see photos from my senior year’s class trip to Disney World. They don’t need to see photos from my family’s vacation to Mexico. They certainly don’t need to see photos from my angst-ridden teenage years.
Of course at one point I did think so, otherwise I wouldn’t have allowed the photographs to go up in the first place. I really did think that if only five people liked my profile picture, only five people thought I was pretty. That everyone would think I was a loser if I didn’t post a picture at the huge house party everyone would be talking about in homeroom on Monday.
I wish I could shake myself and say, “Don’t you realize how trivial and insane all this sounds? Do you really think anyone of this matters?” But I’m learning as I go. Maybe, five years from now, I’ll regret this entry and this entire blog. But for now, I remain unshaken.
I don’t need to validate myself through photographs at a party having the time of my life. I don’t need to spend my entire afternoon taking selfies to get enough “likes” to feel good about myself. I don’t need thousands of Facebook friends to feel popular.
I don’t need to prove anything. To anyone. Ever.
Except my future boss. I promise I am an excellent (maybe a bit eccentric) and upstanding lady.
I love to write. I realized a while ago that as much as I love writing, I love explaining more. Explaining this thing that grows inside us — all of us — that I’m not quite sure how to define. Maybe it’s humanity. Maybe it’s Hell, swallowing us from the inside. It gives me this deep yearning; an innate need to justify. Justify myself. Justify the company I keep and the company I lack. Justify the random, the insignificant. What I don’t understand, what I fail to grasp. The entire universe is a spindle rotating due to our rationalizations.
I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say. I’m not really sure what I feel or what I want. I am certain, however, that there is this pressure. This hot, sticky pressure piercing my chest and if I let it prod for too long I am certain my limbs will be magnetically pulled aside while my torso erupts into searing flames.
There’s no bluebird in my heart. There is no thing with feathers floating around my chest. But there’s something, something that makes my fingers shake as I type and my jaw unhinge as I try to find the words that are trapped in the cavities of my lungs. I guess you could call that passion.