How to Be, Part IVa: Reflection

Continued from June 26, 2014 post, How to Be, Part III: The Ingredients

photo 2I was eighteen years old, a few weeks out of high school, when I wrote my first journal entries from a spare bedroom in my high school sweetheart’s house. He was a charming, boyishly handsome young man from a village near the Four Corners, who’d come into my life at the national student council convention in Prairie View, Illinois the summer before my senior year. Ours had been a long-distance relationship, maintained by late-night phone calls, letters, and the faith and naiveté of those whose hearts have never been broken. I was a good daughter, and so, as a graduation/going off to college/you’ve suffered enough being separated from each other gift, my parents allowed me to visit him. My mom and I drove to Albuquerque, where I dropped her off at my aunt’s house in the South Valley. I continued solo through Bernalillo, past the red bluffs of Jemez, and the pumping jacks outside Farmington. We spent a day with his friends at Navajo Lake, played board games with his middle schools nieces and nephews, talked and talked about our future—our imminent cross country separation and our dreamy post-college life, complete with international travel and children we’d already named. We road-tripped to Durango, where we took pictures next to a big stuffed bear outside Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and wandered a bookstore hand in hand. It was there that he pulled a burgundy and gold journal off the shelf and offered it to me, as he might have offered a bouquet of roses or his hand.

“You need to buy this,” he said.

So I did. In my journal I asked God to keep us together once I left for Harvard, to make me more patient. Love made me vulnerable. It made me honest. I confessed what a jerk I was being to my parents and little brother, and maybe if I’d spent more time writing instead of worrying that summer, I would have unearthed my conflicting excitement and dread over leaving my family in that small New Mexico town and going to Harvard, my deep knowing that I wasn’t prepared, my fear that I would fail and that the tiny door through which I’d been allowed to slip would be forever closed to other young, brown, working class girls.

September 6, 1990, Somewhere bet/ EP & DFW

Here it is—the day. After the long summer, it hardly seems real. I’m going to Boston….

I wanted to write something…poignant, so that 20 years from now, I could pick this book up and say to myself, “Boy, that was touching.” Now the best I can hope for is, “I was a total basket-case that day.”

Friday, September 28, 1990, 2:19 AM

This inferiority thing is starting to be a real problem for me. I don’t feel special here.

There were other entries. I miss him. I don’t fit in. I wish I could call home. How will I ever finish this essay in time? But as the academic year progressed, the gap between journal entries widened, and I found myself approaching each stint at the journal as though I were making up for lost time. I haven’t been here in weeks so I better make it good. And this is what I ended up with:

January 17, 1991

My country is at war!

Saddam Hussein is a madman!

photo 1

I didn’t write about how much I wanted to go home, how snobby I found my roommate’s friend and frequent visitor. He had three names and a boarding school upbringing. He mocked my accent—an accent I didn’t know I had—and the white brick house and dirt yard I lovingly displayed in a framed photo on my desk. I didn’t write about how I just wanted him to like me, not in a girlfriend kind of way, but in a see the goodness in me kind of way. I didn’t write about my other roommate’s mood swings. I didn’t write about my need for touch, how much I missed waking to the sound of my parents’ voices at the kitchen table, a kiss on my cheek, a hug as I left the house for school. At home somebody always knew where I was. I expected the same feeling of family, so one Saturday as I headed out the door, my backpack in tow, I told the moody roommate, “I’m going over to the language lab. I should be back in an hour.” Without looking up from her book, she replied, “I’ll alert the media.” I didn’t write about the friend from Deming who had transferred to U Mass Boston because he wanted more than anything to be on the East Coast. He’d grown up on a farm south of town. His first language was Spanish. I remember his mother in a pink housedress and apron. She and I couldn’t talk to each other, but she was always so kind to me, always so happy to see me. The day I got my ACT scores, H. explained to her that my 27 was good, and she held me to her and squeezed my nose as though I were one of her five children. In Boston, H. would change his name to Alexi and dye his hair blonde.

At Harvard, I introduced myself as Karen, my first name (passed over when my Grandma China couldn’t pronounce it and said to my mom, “Pues, dile Michelle”). I didn’t write about how I wanted to be somebody else, somebody smarter, somebody wealthier, somebody who belonged.

To Be Continued Tuesday, August 5, How to Be, Part IVb: Más Reflection

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Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 11:59 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve read every one of your blogs and while the stories, places and people differ, I feel like I relate deeply to the themes you bring up in each piece. Thank you for sharing Michelle.

    • Thanks, Jocelyn. I’m enjoying your reflections on art and Puebla.

  2. How I wish I had known you freshman year!

  3. M, as always I am rereading some of your writings as I do intermittently and just wanted to let you know you have so much to teach me and others. Your comment about love making you more vulnerable and honest is so important for all of us to learn and experience. I was thinking about it when I was with our grandkids and wondering how they learn or become aware of it and at what stages of their development might a conversation take place. See you soon. N


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