I am seven years old. I come to a friend’s house after school to play and she introduces me to her big brother. “This is my friend Chris,” she says. “Is that right?” he responds. “’Cause she sure is ugly.” I don’t say anything, just smile coyly because that is all I know. I float above myself, above him, above the three of us. The distance I feel from myself, from him, from everything tells me that he is only twelve and we are only seven. That what he has just said is not true, yet I cannot fathom the possible origins of his meanness.
I am nine, celebrating my birthday with friends from school. My mother brings out sandwiches that I watched her prepare hours in advance. Some kind of salami, pickles, mayonnaise on tiny slices of bread. All the kids start whining, “I don’t like mayo!” “I hate salami!” “Yuck, pickles!” My mother says “OK” and brings out a plate for the kids to pick off the things they don’t like. I say nothing. I stare at them readily picking apart my mother’s work as the plate fills, expressing disgust, gobbling up the little that was left after they finished. I understand that they are just children and that not everyone likes everything, but a part of me hates them all. It wants to yell at them and chase them the hell out of my house, because they are terrible and ungrateful and I want them all gone.
I am eleven. MIGs are bombarding the TV tower a mile north from my school, and the ginger boy who sits behind me, whom I kind of like and am friends with, asks me “Can you read Cyrillic?” “Yes,” I respond, knowing that it is a loaded question and that he had an answer ready before he even spoke, yet I wouldn't lie. He comes back with an ethnic slur that doesn’t even apply to my heritage. I turn back to face the blackboard and say nothing, realizing I might have just lost a friend. He would inquire about the sincerity of my Catholicism just weeks later. I float above myself, above him, above his deskmate and mine, as nobody says anything. My eleven-year-old self feels like there should be an adult here, to tell him adult things in an adult voice and set him straight. There is a war going on beyond our classroom, and you and I are just children. There are kids disappearing from our class daily, because their parents no longer feel safe. I know you don’t even realize what you said right now. You heard your family say some thing or other as they watched the evening news, and you repeated it because you didn’t know any better. You will say hello to me in a coastal town ten years from this moment and make small talk about how far we've come, and even though you won’t say anything about the war, I will understand that you came to apologize.
I have always floated above myself, one part of my consciousness dissociated from the rest of me. I have always had a double understanding of things. How they are, and how they strike me at any stupid, vulnerable, helpless moment of unripe response. I have observed myself facing an infinite choice of reactions, and watched myself take the one that I was safest with, as my then self was not prepared, brave, or woman enough to brace up.
I have done things backwards. I felt out of touch and stupid before I realized I am me. I was quiet before I was loud. I was strict before I was soft. I was old before I was young.
Stitches popped one by one. Valves exploded without a sound. Now that the gates are open, it’s a question of how loud, how soft, how young. Parts of me are missing, some of which I wish I could have back. It is hard to keep quiet about anything anymore. It itches insanely to stand still and wait my turn for anything because the universe is too fucking slow. Next to impossible not to say “Yes” to chaos that keeps knocking on my door.