Sadness is your natural habitat. You carry sad with you everywhere. It slips into your moments quietly. You are bright almond eyes and so many questions.
You are the girl who stomps onto the front of the stage, black doc martens clumping with a heaviness you’ve learned to hide . They call you fearless because your voice doesn’t shake from the words, the monologues, the expressions you can change like liquid armor.
You are the great pretender.
“It’s going to be rough, Alia. The roles just aren’t there for your type, kiddo. But you’ve got real talent. Don’t give up, but don’t expect too much. You’re going to have to fight for roles harder than others. The world is changing but acting has always been about casting people into characters,” he says.
You are an actor. You are so good at it. You’ve lived your whole life doing this.
But you’re all wrong. Unless they’re casting for South Pacific, you never fit. Directors scratch their chins and call you back again and again and you read and leave it on the stage every single time but in the end you never look right.
You learn once again you are a character, a type, an other.
No amount of stage makeup can take away your slanted eyes, your Asian roots.
You’re not afraid when you’re someone else and your body knows you are a character ever-changing.
It moves into parts when you get A’s on your tests. Your body knows how to sit up and pay attention, raise your hand to answer the hard questions, it’s always been so easy you don’t even have to think. You make honor roll, saying all the right things. Your teachers all write you recommendations.
“Asian students are always the smartest,” Mrs. Wilson says as she hands back your essay, scarlet A+ scratched boldly across the paper. You add it to the stack of roles you can play.
So when you change characters, and ditch class and fold yourself into the booth at Village Inn with the black rimmed pot of coffee that sat too long, filling ash trays and journals alike, they believe any excuses for your absence. You sit in the haze of cigarette smoke and bad lighting, slumped down into the corner, legs pulled up against your chest and scribble hard and angry across the pages. Who are you?
Your body learns how to belong before you ever do.
It sways lazily with hot swigs of peach schnapps as you lean on the prettiest boy. You smile small, more of a smirk really. You look up through your lashes so he leans closer, you always know how to make them come closer. You stumble a bit and laugh, you tilt your head back let your hair fall long across your shoulders, you can feel the wanting as his eyes search you. As the script goes, you are so much fun to be with. But you’re safe because he can’t really see you. You aren’t even here.
You are a girl who runs to loud to keep from having to sit in quiet. You turn up the volume and live a blaring existence. You don’t want to sit with the questions.
And later, you toss the sweet stuff and boys and plunder your lungs, with crackling and the sweet inhale. You feel like a god for a moment. And it scares you. Because there might really be a god and what then?
You think god might be real. You have vague recollections of truth. Maybe they were all imaginations and pretending too. You were just a girl at the throat of the Himalayas. You remember voices lifted in song, strings plucked and strummed into beauty. You remember eyes closed and peace. You remember the questions didn’t seem so unanswerable then.
You remember the look of the saved. The ones who came and heard and believed. They looked like every sort of person. Not a type at all. Not a character.
But you’ve had too much hard in between since then. These memories seem flimsier each time you look back.
You roll the window down all the way and let it blow your hair wild like the frenzy you feel inside. You thump your fist against the wheel and take deep sips that burn your throat. You ride along the windy mountain roads and each switchback pushes you up against the cold door frame and you try to keep the embers of your cigarette from burning holes in your clothes, as you flick the ash into the empty black.
Your soul burns with questions as you drive on into the night. Going nowhere at all.
But today you wake and you don’t feel fearless, because you’re only unflinching when you’re playing a part. And your life is no longer staged.
The most vulnerable place to be is with your true self. And that will always scare you a bit. You’re just you and you’re still not always sure who that is. You’re ok with that question now. The answers become clearer with each telling. You are not scripted and performing, instead you are formed and free.
Each year you’re finding the right roads to travel. You’re letting your body relax. It’s not instinct anymore to just play along. You have to fight harder for the place to belong as yourself, but you knew that from the get-go didn’t you? You’re ok with that too. You always were a bit of a scrapper. You find you just might be worth it.
I am linking up with Elora Nicole and the women of story sessions in the prompt: The Girls We Once Were
I think I could have written a thousand different girls in my lifetime. She’s been so many people. So many versions of her. Not all of this girl is gone. Some of her still remains. The brave parts are still there, I think. The voice that doesn’t shake. I still know her. The one with all the questions. She’s definitely still alive and well.