You are six years old when your mother asks you what you want to be when you grow up. You tell her you want to be a bus driver. You watch your mother’s face grow heavy. Every day, she takes you and your sister on the bus, the weight of the sun on her shoulders, on her broken, overused ankles. This is the world she has shown you and the world you will die in. Your mother is embarrassed and full of shame. The bus is full of pain. But you are young, and you notice that the bus is a home for so many people. You can see it in their eyes. They all want to go home. You want to take them where they belong. You are haunted by this memory. Here, you are all without a home.
You sit in the room, waiting for the teacher to say your name. The white walls tilt, and you feel the insides of the room closing in on you. The way they pronounce your name, the way they stop before even trying. You feel like a burden. You sit down and the sound of it repeats in your head on a loop. You stop saying your own name and wish for another, something that rolls off the tongue. Something without the shame that swallows you. You will always be sitting class, and no one will call on you. You will become invisible.
“Why do you have long hair?” “Why is it always in a braid?” “Why won’t your parents let you cut your hair?” You are different and your beauty does not belong. You learn you are ugly. One day, you find yourself in the mirror. You notice how dirty your skin is, how rough and frizzy your hair is as it sits on your brown shoulders. You notice your large nose and how it stands against your bare features. You look in the mirror, tracing your eyes along every inch of your body, touching every inch of your face and feeling your strange features. You need to change. No one will love you like this.
You pick up the phone and hear your father’s voice. The deep fear of it his shaking voice is breaking in and out. You’ve never heard him cry before. His voice brings you to tears as he asks you how this is possible. How can America speak so much hate against his people and his neighbors? How can this man be the face of America, a place he calls home? In this moment, you fear for your brothers, your father, your friends. You turn to your undocumented friend, your immigrant friends, and you cry until you can’t anymore.
In one dream, you are filled with rose-hips, with eyes of smudged kohl and flesh of tarnished gold. You are living in wrinkled clothes, yellows, whites and oranges that flow with the foreign wind. You are standing in the middle of the grass, and like a child, you spin in circles to become a butterfly. In this dream, you are your mother and your father. You are alive. But when you wake up, your wings are gone.
Preetpal Gill is an editorial intern for TRR. The photo is of her mother.