I am standing in the middle of a great, pristine valley.
The sky is a dusty periwinkle fabric of all that there is, and all there ever was, above me, puffy white clouds blemishing all that I've dreamed and all that could've been.
I can feel the ends of the pale green grass softly tickling my ankles, an occasional twig blowing from the skinny branches of sturdy tree trunks on a pungent breeze. It smells of the sun beating down on my skin and the plasticity of my Old Navy windbreaker, nauseating almond butter and euphoric apple cider vinegar.
It is April, and the water of is starting to gather in puddles at my ankles. If I move out of the position I'm standing in, I'm certain it will soak through both my shoes and my socks.
The first time it happened, I was nine, and he was fourteen, and my best friend's older brother. He told me he liked my hair, my nails, my shoes – everything. I thought it was normal, because it was normal for boys to like girls and to tell them nice things. But then the next day he was showing me his camera, and then his mother yelled at him for quite some time, and soon I learned it wasn't.
The second time it happened, I was thirteen. He told me I was beautiful. I didn't turn around. He told me I was a bitch. I kept walking. It happened again when I was fourteen, and my mother was with me.
The third time it happened, I was seventeen. He told me I was his and he was mine and sent me paragraphs upon paragraphs of gaudy romanticism and sickening compliments, obsession winding itself into the space between every capitalized letter and every period. I blocked his number, and he showed up at my doorstep the next day, demanding me to press "send" in person instead.
The first time it happened, I didn't tell anyone. I let the wide-ruled pages and a dried-out black Crayola marker do all the talking, leaving the faucet on as the confusion poured out into the basin of my diary for a total of three days. I misspelled every other word, and seemed to forget that commas existed, but the purpose was as clear as the marbles perched atop my nightstand that I polished everyday with the translucent corner of my jacket, and the greenness of my eyes just after crying. How could he?
The second time it happened, I remember feeling scared, jolts of discomfort and disgust firing up through my stomach and lacing themselves throughout my lungs; it was as if someone had crumpled my alveoli like tissue in the palm of their hand, all the oxygen and all the life spilling out of them in one swift, stinging motion. I filled the Notes app on my phone with accounts of drowning and sinking and becoming stranded on some distant island for about a week or so after, my thumbs and index fingers furiously hitting almost every letter in a frenzy of processing and proclaiming, avenging and accepting. How dare he?
The third time it happened, I told my AP Language teacher. With reddened eyes and shallowed cheekbones, I turned in six pages denouncing the patriarchy and calling out boys for "all their shit", drops of my literal blood (I gave myself a papercut while stapling it all together, unfortunately), sweat, and tears splattered upon every page like some kind of morphed Jackson Pollack painting. I gave him no more than half the second page, maybe less – it's what he deserved. How can I?
In El Ciduad Juarez, Mexico, a woman sweeps her paintbrush over traffic cones and the sides of the brick buildings that gave her everything while simultaneously taking it all away, lavender crosses coloring the spaces where another set of hands should be learning how to braid hair and make generations upon generations of hand-me-down recipes. No matter how dark the shade or how many strokes she paints, someone always paints over it, and tells the world her work was never there to begin with. Someone always talks over her.
In Tripoli, Lebanon, a young girl covers her eyes as the soul who brought her into this world cowers under the shadow of the man who's supposed to love her, not daring to peek out from the space in between her fingers like she sometimes does in hide-and-go-seek. He raises his hand again – yet she cannot utter a word, not even make a sound. Someone always tells her that it's "for the best."
In Hollywood, California, a valiant actress steps into a room full of scanning eyes and wrinkled noses, the ends of her flowing black dress getting caught on her six-inch stilettos as she marches down the carpeted aisleways. Amid the sea of stares, she is interrupted, her prose now tangled in a cacophonic web of music that didn't play so early when he spoke and gentle pushes that didn't turn to shoves when they told him his time was up. Someone always tells her to protect her image, to seal her lips and not say anything else at all.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a college student sits at her dorm room desk writing this in indignation, steamrolling in a different direction every time a fork in the tracks appears. In a frenzy, I let every thought pulse from brain through the veins in my hands down into my fingers, the keyboard not working fast enough as I attempt to rip the duct tape off the mouths of those whose hands are tied, to give a "voice to the voiceless." Maybe I shed a tear, maybe I don't; maybe I just let the words take me where they think I should go without a second thought. Someone always tells me to stop, to close my computer and to just go to bed.
This is why I write. This is why I love writing.
Men, let us shout over you.
World, don't shout back.
I am standing in the middle of a great, pristine valley.
Only now I realize, it's not so great.
The sky is a radiant orange movement, with drops of lavender nationalized marches and crimson specks of popularized PSAs now visible as clouds resembling Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir softly part and fog the top of my forehead.
The grass no longer moves, the wind finally stuck on pause and instead the chirping of the birds and the humming of the bees and all that is beautiful and strong, kind, nurturing and noisy, now stuck on play. The smell of honeysuckle intoxicates me as I realize I am falling down, down, down into the rabbit hole of my own mind, eyes rolling in the back of my head as I realize perhaps I am still drowning, but in a very different way.
I can now make out the colors of the things that flash before my eyes. I can now hear the words behind the music that blares in my ears.
They are singing the time is now, the time is now.
I pick up the pencil.
I begin to write.
New Draft – writing as a way to process my own emotions