the beauty in differentiation

at age ten,
a weasel-faced blonde boy calls you fat
because you consistently get
better grades than him
& insists a brown girl doesn’t belong
at a school with (superior) white kids.
you quip that you live in
a nicer neighborhood than his,
but the real reason you’re better than him
is that he’ll always be a covetous jerk.

at age twelve,
a freckled ginger boy scrubs your arms
with a pool brush after swim practice
& claims that he thought the white splotches
(of sunburn) on your dark skin was dirt.
you shove him into the pool
& watch him sputter,
coughing water in surprise.
your coach’s punishment is that
you have to swim extra (victory) laps.

at age fourteen,
a thin brunette girl snidely snickers,
“you’re not pretty. you’re cute like hello kitty.”
you weren’t allowed to wear makeup
or dress like her eighteen-year-old sister.
after braces straighten your crooked teeth
& your only growth spurt sheds baby fat,
you decline her offer to be friends —
even then, you’d rather be alone than have
catty friends you didn’t like (& vice-versa).

at age sixteen,
(until almost a decade following)
a parade of basic white guys marvel
over the fact that you’re the first Asian girl
they’ve admired who defies stereotypes —
you’ve inherited your mother’s feistiness
& your father’s no bullshit attitude.
though your temperament mellows over the years,
you loudly continue to refuse to be fetishized
& mock white guys who should check their privilege.

at age twenty-three,
your handsome ivorian friend becomes more.
you’ll never look like models in magazines,
but you’ve learned to appreciate that
your black hair is unruly
& your skin’s base tone is deep tan.
the ways that you look different
no longer (solely) define you.
he knows all of you & loves you
because of (not in spite of) it.

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Three speeches I would’ve made for closure (if it existed)

(Zero)
Closure doesn’t exist. I don’t believe in it. No one really gets closure when a friendship or relationship ends. People grow up and apart. There’s no particular catalyst that sets off the dissolution. Fondness fades into apathy. Relationships in which people become ambivalent tend to disintegrate slowly over time.

People purposely hurt each other and don’t take responsibility for doing so. They become passive or blatantly aggressive. They play emotional chicken, baiting (daring) each other to break it off first. Toxic relationships tend to fall apart as they began — abruptly. I don’t believe in closure, but if I did, there are three speeches I would’ve made to obtain it.

One
I wouldn’t have survived senior year of high school without you. Neither of us belonged in Alpharetta. We had aspirations beyond suburbia. You sketched and painted. I wrote. Our goal was to get the hell out. You were the smartest girl in our class and my closest friend. Instead of going to keggers with classmates, we spent weekends watching foreign films and listening to indie music.

Though you went to college up north, we would have long phone calls a few times each semester. We hung out during Thanksgiving and winter breaks. During one phone call, you nervously told me you were queer. I didn’t think of you any differently after that. But if I had to pinpoint it, that was when you stopped returning calls or texts as much.

You posted articles about gender being a social construct and the need for LGBTQ safe spaces without heteronormative influence on Facebook. When I called you by your name, you explained that you wanted to be called a male name and be referred to with male pronouns. I did so without a second thought.

The last time we had lunch was a few summers ago. We went to one of the few decent sushi places in Alpharetta. You had just started working for as an LGBTQ advocate, focusing on teens and young adults. Your work was inspiring. I realized that I’d never be able to empathize with you about the struggle you went through in discovering your gender identity. I’d always be part of your past, when you hadn’t figured it out yet.

Thank you for being a great friend when I needed one. I wish we still hung out. I hope you’ve found happiness and fulfillment (or at least closer to it now).

Two
I’m not sure why, but even though I hadn’t spoken to you in five years, you insisted that I was your best friend. You’re the antithesis of everything a woman should look for in a man. When a woman sees you, she should immediately run in the other direction. My friends referred to men like you by your name — you became a common noun synonymous with the worst kind of douchebag.

You knew me best when we rode the same school bus to high school. I was triumphant. After you teased me throughout elementary school, you recognized I was better than you — in academics, besides math and science, and as a person because I was sympathetic to a fault, while you were oblivious to a fault. Yet, every time you would date someone new, you would talk to and hang out with me more. Your mother would harass you when I wouldn’t stop by because you would inevitably fall to the wayside without my guidance.

The last straw was when you expected me to sleep with you when we weren’t together. As if that wasn’t insulting enough, you were still dating your jailbait girlfriend. It was a disgusting plan (even for you). Cutting you off was one of the wisest decisions I ever made. Talking to you just to hear your pathetic apologies was hilarious. It was equally hilarious to discover that you haven’t changed a bit.

Thank you for being the biggest asshole I’ve ever met. I kicked you out of my life for good and everything fell into place. You were the archetype for everything I didn’t need. In being that point of reference, I found the man who is everything that I could ever want and need. I hope you never change, for entertainment’s sake.

Three
You were a two-faced redneck bitch. I knew that when Ames and I met you, but I was naïve. I didn’t trust my gut as much in my younger years. As I’ve gotten older, I discovered that my first impressions of people are usually correct (for better or worse).

You were a fun party friend we met through a mutual acquaintance (your boyfriend at the time), but we ended up hanging out aside from partying. Then we found out that you talked a lot shit — about us. You blamed us for any time you cheated on him or got blackout drunk. You lied to him and said you were on the pill, in hopes of getting pregnant. You were the trailer trash cliché of a woman trying to entrap a man by having his baby.

Thank you for reminding me to always trust my instincts. You inadvertently introduced us to one of our other friends — his ex. I hope to see you on Maury one day.

“What are those things under your shirt?”

As a teenager, I babysat rambunctious boys. They destroyed everything in their path. They brawled to resolve arguments. Their parents laughed, “Boys will be boys!” when I described their aggression.

When a couple down the street asked me to babysit their demure five-year-old daughter Ana, I was relieved. Playing with Barbies and reading stories would be a welcome break from the chaos of babysitting boys. I wouldn’t have to stop fights or put valuables in unreachable places.

After going over Ana’s bedtime routine and their contact numbers, her parents left for their date night. We had pizza for dinner and played hide and go seek. (Not as difficult with two people, she discovered.) Before bedtime, Ana insisted that we have a tea party. We sat at her pink table and sipped invisible tea out of matching teacups.

“Samantha, how do you like my tea party?”

“It’s the loveliest tea party I’ve been to, Ana. Thank you for being a gracious hostess.”

“What are those things under your shirt?”

“You mean…my bra?”

“What’s in your bra? My mommy said those are called breasts, right?”

“Uh — ”

“My mommy and daddy are doctors. They say you should use the real words for privates.”

“Scientifically speaking, I have breasts under my shirt.”

“When will I get those?”

“It depends on when you go through puberty.”

“What’s that?”

“When your body changes — actually, you should ask your mom about it, not me.”

“My mommy and daddy aren’t regular doctors. They talk to people to make sure their brains are happy. What’s that called?”

“They’re psychiatrists.”

“Why are they white and I’m brown?”

“…”

“My hair doesn’t look like my mommy’s either.”

“This tea party has been a fantastic one, but it’s your bedtime, Ana.”

“Already?”

“Teeth brushing and pajama time for you!”

“You’re not making me sleep early because I ask lots of questions, are you?”

“Not at all!”

While Ana slept, I decided two things:

  1. I would rather broker peace between battling brothers than field more awkward questions from this observant little girl.
  2. I would never babysit for a couple of psychiatrists ever again.

“K-Mart is a real romantic place!”

My favorite question to ask couples is: “How did you meet?”

The way they respond reveals a lot about their relationship. New couples are hesitant and reticent. Couples who have been together for a long time alternate who tells which part of the story. They exchange smiles. The narrative flow is perfect. Some couples bicker over the details. They argue about who approached whom first and what the other was wearing.

The way a couple shares the story reflects their everyday dynamic. It’s more telling than proposal stories. The majority of proposals are orchestrated. There’s nothing natural about a carefully staged time to “pop the question.” Proposal stories are sweet. But the story about the first time a couple met is usually more magical.

I’ll be sharing the best “meet cute” stories that I’ve been told in this post and in future posts. (I have yet to check the veracity of my coworkers’ stories with their spouses.)

Dusty, how did you and your wife meet?”

“We met after I got back from the Marine Corps.”

“There’s gotta be more than that.”

“Well, I was workin’ on my truck and realized I needed to change out the oil, so I went to K-Mart to get some.”

“Was she shopping, too?”

“Nah, she was workin’.”

“This sounds like the beginning of a Jeff Foxworthy joke. You might be a redneck if — “

“K-Mart is a real romantic place!”

“You were saying…?”

“There I was, wearin’ a white t-shirt with cut-off sleeves ‘n’ ratty jeans — ‘cuz nobody ever wears his nice shit while workin’ on his truck –“

“Some girls are into that.”

” — ‘n’ that’s when I saw her. I thought she was real cute, so I went to her checkout line to talk to her. After tryna flirt with her, she gave me her number!”

“Clearly, your wife liked the greased up mechanic look.”

“Keep in mind, this was after I got outta the Marine Corps. I was in the best shape I’d ever been in.”

“I knew there was a reason you’d wear a shirt with the sleeves cut off.”

“Gotta work with whatcha got.”

“Why would girls wear filmy sundresses and cowboy boots on the train?”

Whenever Mike rides Marta to (and from) work, he asks me questions about the fashion trends he sees.

“I rode the train back home last night and saw somethin’ strange.”

“Was it the lady who holds the standing rail between her buttcheeks instead of her hands?”

“No! Nothin’ that exciting.” Mike laughed. “I was just wonderin’ — why would girls wear filmy sundresses and cowboy boots on the train?”

“What age group were the girls?”

“High schoolers. Their moms were wearin’ the same type of outfits! What event has that dress code?”

“Were they white girls?”

“Yeah, most of ’em were blondes.”

“There was a Taylor Swift concert at the Philips Arena last night, so that’s probably where they went.”

“That’d make sense! They got off at the Civic Center stop.” Mike frowned, “My spouse would be appalled to see their impractical use of boots.”

“True, your wife wears boots because actually works on farms with horses.” I added, “She’d also think Taylor Swift was pop, not country.”

“I heard that song about some guy bein’ trouble walkin’ in.”

“What’d you think?”

“She’s definitely not country. Plus that song’s got that womp-womp-womp dubstep echo shit y’all like.”

“Valid points.”

“Whatever happened to Dolly? Or Reba? Even she was more country than that!”

“Dolly still performs, though the excessive Botox seems to limit her range. Reba is an actress now.”

“I’ve lost all hope for the future of country music if it’s come to this.”

“Maybe Taylor Swift will go back to her roots after this album.”

“The girl’s from suburban Pennsylvania — her roots are less country than yours!”

“I lived in Birmingham for eight years.”

“Exactly my point.”

“You haven’t heard my awesome rendition of ‘Friends in Low Places.'”

“Karaoke night for the next company outing! Gotta let everyone in on your secret penchant for Garth Brooks.”

“I just like that one song.”

“That’s what they all say.”

“Okay, there’s also the one with my name in it that’s decent –”

“You have his whole anthology, don’tcha?”

“…”

“I knew it!”

“You can’t tell anyone!”

“Nah, you’re losin’ your street cred today, ma’am!”

When they stared (we exchanged smiles)

During high school, I was one of four Filipinos.
It made sense that we were two of the “exotic friends” 
at a (high school) friend’s wedding.
When they stared, I squeezed your hand
(we exchanged smiles).
Birmingham is (perpetually) decades behind.
People claim,
“I’m not racist — I prefer that folks
stick to their own kind.”
Upon returning to Atlanta,
I breathed a sigh (of relief)
because here, when they stare,
(we exchange smiles)
and brush off comments like,
“Y’all will have the most beautiful children!”

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

As with most kids, puberty wasn’t particularly easy for me. Angst and self-loathing plagued my middle school existence. In order to combat this, my mother and I talked constantly. She gave me formative talks on how to have self-esteem as a chubby kidthe importance of family, why religion is essential to being a good person, and how sex ruins an unmarried girl. I absorbed every word.

At the time, my mother and I were each other’s sounding boards. She discussed fights with my dad; I psychoanalyzed his motivations. I told her about petty drama at school; she insisted that friends came and went, but family was always there. We watched TV shows and movies together. We were best friends. Like Lorelai and Rory, we consulted each other on every decision. We had inside jokes. I idolized her.

When I met Andrea, I found a kindred spirit in someone my age. During high school, I made more friends of my own. My mother lashed out. She couldn’t understand why I would want to spend time with people who weren’t family. She didn’t comprehend why she wasn’t the only friend I needed.

By the time I got to college, I recognized that I had to escape this unhealthy codependency. It wasn’t fair for her to confide in me as a friend (about her and my dad’s marital woes) one moment and in the next moment, snap into mother mode, trying to dictate my every move. She always claimed she was psychic — that she would know when I was being disobedient. College proved that when I didn’t tell her anything, she had nothing to zone in on. She couldn’t interrogate me so that I’d crack and “confess.”

Though I’m the most stable and happiest I’ve ever been, my mother is always angry at me. She belittles every choice I’ve made without her. I’m the biggest disappointment of her life. These days, I’m like Lorelai (the supposed rebel) and she’s like Emily (the bourgeoisie housewife who insists that her daughter should have the best, which is her life).

We used to be like Lorelai and Rory, but I’m thankful that we haven’t been for years. It’s impossible to be friends (much less best friends) with your mother when she refuses to acknowledge you’ve grown up. It’s unlikely to get better until she realizes that we can have a relationship as adults. One day, I hope she understands that trying to control your daughter’s life isn’t the same as wanting what’s best for her.

Knowing how stubborn my mother is, though, I’m not holding my breath.