When I was 12 I played chicken with a cigarette. Your arm is the road and your hand is the driver and the cigarette is the car. We held our arms up side-by-side and placed the lit cigarette between. Whoever gave in to the pain first, lost. I have two burn scars on my left arm. One is about the size of a dime with distinct round edges. The other is blurrier and slants sideways. Less of a testament to my strength. When you’re 12 you don’t get it. The longevity of life, maybe. The longevity of your body. The need of it. How all of these parts are going to keep moving for years, but we determine how well the gears will grind.
I’ve put up with a lot of shit I think because I forget about the longevity. There are a lot of years to do things and a lot of years to get things done. A colleague of mine died just today, and I thought about our conversation in December and how I didn’t think, you will be dead in 6 months. He was bright and kind and easy to speak with. He is dead now.
In the church, I thought about how every moment matters, everything matters, because this is all we get. If I stop putting up with the shit and make the most of fighting the shit, won’t I feel better? The problem is that I was raised to trust the systems. Strangely, raised to believe that somehow the systems were impenetrable. The systems were above us. The systems are part of us, I realize now. The systems are of us. When I was 16 I smashed my pinky in a truck door. Now the nail grows out and it hurts.
We were talking about my nephew and I said, “he’s a good kid. He takes no shit.” And she said, “that seems right for a nephew of Alaina Morales.” And I said, “well, I don’t know. I’ve been taking a lot of shit lately.” But I don’t have to.
We sold feminism to the masses, and now it means nothing
“The problem is—the problem has always been—that feminism is not fun,” Zeisler declares. “It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s complex and hard and it pisses people off. It’s serious because it is about people demanding that their humanity be recognized as valuable. The root issues that feminism confronts—wage inequality, gendered divisions of labor, institutional racism and sexism, structural violence and, of course, bodily autonomy—are deeply unsexy.”
So, no, we shouldn’t stop calling feminists “feminists.” To appropriate Simone de Beauvoir, one is not born, but rather becomes, a feminist. It is a deliberate political undertaking. It is an ethics of daily living, of fighting for gender equality under the law, of fighting for women’s agency and autonomy, of fighting for political power and representation for women. To be a feminist is to fight structural inequality and upend the patriarchal power structure. In this regard, it is inherently discomforting. But feminists are not here to make anyone comfortable—that’s the damn point. And no amount of clever, screen-printed tank tops will change that.
The rain is soft. It pads around. I love these kinds of rain. Everything feels clean and soft. It’s quiet without wind or clouds. I think about the voices that I miss the most. You know, all my life, there were people around telling me what to think. Trying to see if I would think their way. Like them. My big sister and my big cousins and my big brothers and my aunts and my grandma. My uncles. And then one day, they stopped, they were gone. It’s been quiet. The clan. When you’re little you feel it. They’re big and they’re around and they know things and they tell you things and they help you see the world. You know sometimes it’s not right but that’s before you know how to say. Sometimes they don’t teach you how to say. They’re your sense. Your compass. And then suddenly, I don’t know. You look up and you’ve got no map. The horizon is clear. It’s just you. Pop pop. Maybe it was when I turned 18; maybe it was when I graduated college. And it feels like maybe all those things you knew only existed in the context of them. Now there are no voices and when you ask it’s quiet, it’s reluctant, it’s muffled. Suddenly your voice is the loudest and you’re the biggest. People think once you’re grown up you have nothing left to learn. The clan disperses. You’re supposed to make a new one. I’m not sure that’s best. Why make a new thing when you’ve got a good old thing?
It just never is what you expect.
“What other people say about you is none of your business.”
Oh, but I wish it were. Do I really?
I have a vulnerability hangover. I do because I am because sometimes the lighting in the room is low and you treat yourself to tequila and vodka and french fries and tacos and you think…I feel so safe I’m going to explode. So you do, you explode. And then later you hear yourself, you repeat the sound of your voice because you’re not used to hearing it and you so rarely explode. You so rarely come across yourself creating a scene and so once you do once you have you can’t look away because it’s just like a fucking trainwreck.
And you think, what’s wrong with me that I’m so near-sighted and daft and inconsiderate and small? And I think sometimes the side effect of being made to feel small is that you start to act small. Sometimes you forget that small is your safety net is your defense is your fight tactic. I’ll get so small you can’t see me and then you can’t hurt me.
But I don’t have to be privy to what they say about me. In fact I have no right to know. I should be glad for it and I should embrace it and I can only ask myself, do you see as fully as you wish to be seen?
Oooo. I flex my toes in the sun. The blonde hairs reach beyond the skin. Luckily, my nails are short. I’ve brought a book, but I look around. I look around. White couples of friends or lovers or families stroll around me. I watch a little girl yank down a pink-flowered tree branch. Her family is oblivious as the pink petals flutter about in a flurry of motion. I question her tactics, but realize a bird or spastic squirrel or strong wind could have done the same damage, so I leave her be. Her motives for yanking and pulling on the tree with such force remains unknown.
I sit in the sun. I play with a stick. I poke at the grass. I have friends who can walk and talk and sing and dance and eat and drink and look all around. I have trouble enough just being. I don’t know anyone who gets as distracted with being as I do.
I turn my hands in the sun. My skin will have to decide soon, as it does every summer, which skin it wants to be. Will you turn red like my caucasian mother, almost as if you’re allergic to the sun’s exposure? Or will you turn that dusty gold remnant of my father’s blood. You skin.
I play with my hair. I pull the pads of my fingers across my scalp. This morning I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and realized–you’re gone. I can cut my hair. I can change that face in the mirror. As I do when the mourning ends. I don’t feel you around anymore, so this hair has got to go. This place where the American dream is so heavily realized and demonstrated disgusts me, but the fact that I can saunter in to a salon on a Sunday and get my hair cut for less than $20 did not bother me today. You go, USA. As I pull and twist, I notice–there is a small white petal in my hair.
I lie on my back to give my legs more face time with the sun. My back curves against the bumps in the ground. Above my head are leaves interspersed with tiny white flowers. The home of my hair petal. A bee searches among the petals. As he bops, the petals fall. I think about how hard we try to control the universe and how we forget that we can never have full say or the final word. How there are so many small pieces moving about that go unnoticed. All the effects of all the things we aren’t privy to.
The best thing about sitting alone in the sun is that I only have to stay as long as I want.
The sun makes me languid and warm. Later, I will nap so hard on my couch the sound of my own snores will wake me. What a lazy time.
- “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’m starting to wonder what my life would be like if I had been taught ambition. Rather than it being a self-evolved trait. What do I mean by ambition? What do I want from the experience?
I watched Dope and I cried cold, salty tears of understanding:
For most of my life I’ve been caught in between who I really am and how I’m perceived, in between categories and definitions: I don’t fit it. I used to think that was a curse, but, now, I’m slowly starting to see, maybe it’s a blessing. See, when you don’t fit in, you’re forced to see the world from many different angles and points of view. You gain knowledge, life lessons from different people and places. Those lessons -for better or for worse- have shaped me.
What if I were to write the story of a white hispanic girl who was not raised to be ambitious and was taught to respond and to meet the needs of her family and spent most of her childhood befriending the poor kids, regardless of their drug or alcohol habits or their parents’ jobs. What if I wrote the story of the girl who was told…one thing or another. What if I could write the story featuring all the things I’ve been told and all the ways I’ve tried to meet that, process that, live that, escape that?
We tell girls
boys will be boys
There are people giggling in the backyard and I want to have a look. Let them have their moment, Morales. Such joy.
Sometimes I have a thought and my immediate urge is to grab a keyboard and type it out. Whoa, Morales. Like when you feel a sneeze coming on and your instinct is to grab a tissue. Maybe see if the sneeze materializes first. Sometimes it’s better if I grab a pen and paper and work out the thought. The act of holding the pen and moving my hand across the paper is necessary to even complete it.
When I’m home I stand to eat. And I couldn’t figure it out at first. Why?
And then I realized that I’m always semi uncomfortable sitting at a table to eat or sitting at a desk during the day. And then I realized why.
Why I hate sitting so much in general. Most table and chair combos were not made to suit me. They were not made for my height or my proportions. The length of my torso or arms.
When I stand to eat–the angle of my head seems much more natural to the plate. The distance from plate to mouth is much more do-able.
How many things do we adapt to that were never intended for us at all? That weren’t made with us in mind? That despite our best efforts will always make feel a little bit uncomfortable? I think of all the things that weren’t made with me in mind.
And how do we explain this to people who fit just fine at the table? Who have never considered that the way they feel at the table isn’t universal? That someone else doesn’t feel as comfortable just sitting there? It took me 28 years and 10 months to uncover my discomfort, and it has been happening to me.
“The time is just the time it takes for you to talk.”
It’s not that I’ve lost my voice. It’s not that I don’t have the words. I have all the words. The problem is I worry you won’t understand them or that you won’t get it. And that stifles me. But well, why is that my problem. The words don’t have meaning. We create the meaning.