“i think who you are is everything. and so when who you are is invisible, butchered, undesirable, and so on, it can do a lot of damage. so being a brown woman growing up in the west, where the ideal woman was white, sent me on a terrifying journey.” — rupi kaur
I haven’t been myself lately.
I haven’t mentioned this to many, only my intimate partner, who is thousands of miles away on a metal carrier in the Persian Gulf. It is frightening how far away he is. And after I hit 25, these past two years—of him being here, of him being gone—have been compounding. It’s hard to admit it, even to write it, but during the past years, the past months, my C-PTSD has rippled through my body more than it ever has before. Or maybe it is because I started therapy—because I started this terrifying journey into healing, healing this body, healing this psyche, healing myself—because my illness is no longer a unseen ghost, it is now rearing its head and has made my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression terrible culprits of its existence. There are days when I would wake up and stare in the mirror, imagining the woman’s glaring face melting off. This is what you call depersonalization.
Every morning has been a silent battle. I get up, wash my face, take a shower, brush my teeth, get my clothes on, put on my make-up—my made-up face, which is a ritual I’ve come to love, a ritual that builds my pretense, a shield, a way to cope through the day, a way to act as if things are fine, a way to combat anxiety, a way to say I am in control of something, even if it is my melting face—and somehow survive the traffic on the 405 to get to work.
I know I am lucky to be back in Los Angeles. I am lucky to be able to return home, live in the extra room at my father’s small apartment. I am lucky to have won the Poets & Writers fellowship, I am lucky to be working with amazing, radiant people in the literary world, I am lucky to be living, I am lucky to have found kindred spirits, people I can truly call friends, familia, I am lucky to be breathing.
But it’s hard.
L.A. has a way of fucking up your sense of direction, dizzying your perceptions, burning up your desires by making you stuck in traffic for years.
My mind melts because of the traffic.
So, what I’ve been doing lately is taking refuge in art museums.
It started when I was in Hawaii. When I had a big fight with my father.
At the Honolulu Art Museum, I came across these large words plastered on the wall, like it were a gift:
What do you say in response to this? To surviving?
This is a strange blog post, because I am in a strange place.
I don’t know where I quite am anymore.
I am battling the deepest of my insecurities.
I am letting myself open. This past week, I let another person, besides my intimate partner, in—I revealed to her parts of my self I never show others, my crazy worries, my anxiety, reached out for help on a terrible bad, bad day of anxiety, and she was incredibly healing, a friend I have found and am so shocked to have found. Doing this—being open—is something that scares the shit out of me, something that is was will always be terrifying. When I called her, this was repeating and repeating in my mind: Wow, I can’t believe this I can’t believe this I can’t believe this you’ve actually letting someone in you’re letting someone in.
It was a good voice. More so saying: This is strong for you.
Strength. It’s something I’ve lost since I’ve moved back to L.A., something I’ve been trying so hard to build.
I’ve been realizing that L.A. could never really be home again, but it will always be the place of my birth.
And with all its contradictions, it holds for me what it means to be an immigrant daughter.
Adrift and unanchored.
And I have been writing. Slowly. There have been blockages. Mental. I’ve been fermenting. Interviewing. Reaching running plunging my hand in the deepest of my memories; it’s why I haven’t been quite myself. Home means facing all the fractured traumas that occurred here, bled and dipped into the horizon, the landscape, the streets. I can drive by that house on Dolores Street and see all my grandmother’s hard work, flowers, wall of cacti, dissolved. Gone. I’m slowly writing it out. I’m trying hard to be gentle. I’m trying hard to let egos slide off. I’m trying hard to find myself again. To not clasp the melting skin but let it fall, let my face be anew, fresh again, have this burning so I am returned, nascent, here.
Today, because I couldn’t write, I visited the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach. I thought it was pretty crazy how I grew up just a few miles from this beautiful space and this was the first time I visited. There was an exhibit there, called “The River Paintings,” by Victor Hugo Zayas. What struck me the most was the opening film by MOLAA, where an unnamed filmmaker interviews Victor on their drive to the L.A. River. They walk into its muddy waters, its almost burnt up, dried up canal. Victor talks about how he can no longer be an artist that paints a landscape just for the sake of it. How this was the mark of his growth as an artist. How this behemoth, this urban monolith—L.A.—has failed to notice the slithering river that travels, disrupts through it. He says: Water is life. Since the beginning, cities were always built by water.
I sit here in this new, trendy coffeeshop in Long Beach, the Brass Lamp, and think of the body that was found in the L.A. River in 2011.
That body was a black body.
That body was my friend’s body.
That body belonged to a brilliant UC Berkeley student, who loved lumpia, who grew up with a lot of pinays as friends, who interned for Barbara Boxer, who loved being queer, who had a Baptist family who loved him—but—they were Baptist, who was raped by a doctor at the UC Berkeley student medical center, who who who who who…
This list could go on.
I think of the L.A. River. I think of this never-ending drought. I think of my melting face. I think of Zayas’s melting paintings. I think of my beloved friend’s body. I think of the rollings hills of dried grass and the expansive Pacific roaring besides us and the cliffs of Palos Verdes and the snaking freeways and the scorching sun, the scorched earth.
I have not been myself lately. It’s appropriate. I have been burning off this ego, this persona that is not me. I think of the research I’m doing right now. I think of these old, medical documents that detail my grandmother’s brain surgeries. I think of the phone call I had with a kind neurologist who explained to me these documents slowly, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, and this image stays: They burned the vessels to stop the bleeding. This is normal.
I say to myself: This is normal. Burning my face—burning the recognition of my face—burning my old identity—burning my million of identities—this is normal. This stops the bleeding. The agitated heart. The anxiety building rippling through my veins.
I return to poetry, often, when I am this lost. To poets. To the words of poets. I think of rupi kaur’s words: “sent me on a terrifying journey.” It’s been terrifying. Terrifying still. But like the river that’s keeps flowing, despite the sun, I swallow it up. I think of my grandmother’s words: small but terrible. I go to her grave, on these green hills facing single-family homes sprinkled about and the sea, and I eat this sandwich I made the night before, I play a song by The Kinks, I cry, I hold my face, I answer the sky, I become the grass, I imagine falling deep beneath the dirt, lie besides my grandmother’s bones, and it is there, in this terrifying wake, in the coolness of the earth, where I hold her bones and she holds me back. It is here, here, where I find myself again.