I quit 2016 at the lowest point of my life. To overshare: my sleep schedule for the first seven months of the new year was wildly out of control, a floating bedtime from anywhere between 10pm – 6am; I survived almost exclusively on packages of microwave noodles; I gained weight, despite exercising more and eating less, probably because of my reliance on frappuccinos as a quick pick-me-up; I could not be in a room with children, including the lights of my life—the infamous niecephews—for longer than 30 minutes without having to remove myself to a dark, quiet space. It took me months to crawl back up to basic human capacity, to wrestle with the gremlin in my brain that yes I am worthy, no, I am not a piece of junk, God, no, I haven’t failed.
The fall I contracted carpal tunnel I used to cry myself to sleep, thinking that at 21 I was kissing the cadence of my handwriting goodbye. Most people with whom I speak about my writing are familiar with this vanity: that I love the look of my handwriting as much as your enticement with oven-fresh cookies, and that to me, flipping to a random page of a notebook and finding my script in fine graphite is one of the warmest comforts.
How I began is this.
featured image by Gabrielle
Aladdin was my Disney Prince. I had a crush on him for as long as I can remember; as a kid I watched the library’s copy of Aladdin and the King of Thieves enough not only to internalize every scene and song, but to run the VHS tape beyond repair. He was my Prince because he was kind enough to offer his bread, because I had a penchant for rogues (or perhaps for this he and Peter Pan are together to blame?), and because he was painted familiar: Tanner skin, black hair, shalwar, and Robin Williams’s suggestion that we “brush up [our] Sunday salaam for Prince Ali” while he rode on “Abu.”
(Incidentally, my father’s favorite way to annoy me was to pronounce my boy’s name “Al ad-Din,” to which I’d immediately stomp my foot and correct, “No, it’s Aladdin.” Embarrassing in retrospect.)
The house is on fire, like it has been for ten years or fifteen or thirty-five, when a legitimate parking dispute in a residential neighborhood turned into Republican racism. No, they said, you can’t gather here, although you can pray in the basement if you must. For your community, we suggest the next town over.
Then they lit matches and handed them to worshipers like a present. Divide them–divide them however you can, geographically or by the geography from two generations ago, it doesn’t matter. Once you light the fire they’ll fight amongst themselves.
When is the moon and where is Ramadan and what is Eid?
“I want a community,” I said at my interview last summer. “That’s why the pay doesn’t matter. All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is a group space that clicks and where I feel like I’m doing something useful for us. Where I’m an asset. Where I belong.”
When did I stop making that du’a?
Oh Dream, when did I quit you?
Was it in college, or once I graduated, or that first direct deposit?
“I came here to fulfill myself and I am torn at the seams.”
Where did I lose you?
“Maybe it is still here, your dream. You have no way of knowing. You have to fight.”
It always feels like I was better yesterday, that every moment I march toward death with a blacker, harder heart.
Smile, it’s Sunnah. “Maybe I don’t.”
I know I am yet worthy.
Please, come back.
My school had an established universal signal meant to garner instant silence whenever a teacher so required. It was done in kindergarten, it was done in middle and high school, and—I caustically informed my class—it was even done in staff meetings.
You, the authority figure in the room, are supposed to raise your hand. Thereafter everyone else is meant to quiet down and do the same. A successful signal is fully effective in seconds. My signals took minutes at best and would flat-out be ignored at worst. Of course, there were the poor kids who I can only compare to Hermione—their hands would shoot up and stay shot up as I leaned against the SmartBoard for spinal support.
I can’t keep my hand raised. Doing it at all peeves my pinched nerve. It’s the same reason I can’t use a stress ball (tl;dr: an administrator noticed my fidget and recommended one, I tried to use it, my back screeched. Next time, I’ll go for the cube).
Minutes into an attempted signal, I once barked a frustrated, “Do you guys know you’re physically hurting me right now? I have an injured shoulder and this awesome thing called carpal tunnel and this is literally putting me in pain.”
It shut them down for the day.
Not so the next time I signaled. But at least one of the Hermiones cried out, “Guys! Quiet down! I’m gonna get purple tunnel!”
Bless him, really.