I’ll Be Back

I don’t pretend to have myself or the world figured out. There are still many aspects of my life I am unsure about; I have always identified as bisexual but I recently realized I might only be attracted to girls, sometimes I get an overwhelming urge to call my mother and just ask her to put all of this behind us so she can hold me again, and I occasionally wonder if I should even be putting time and energy into journalism when creative writing is my true passion… but that is the beauty of life. I don’t think we ever really figure it all out. It’s impossible to know and understand everything. But I do think it’s important to continue to grow, because that is something we will always have room for.

One of the most important skills I developed this last year was self-awareness. For a while, I lied to myself about many things; I lied to the people I love too. I was scared of the truthterrified of what it implied. As a result of the multiple life altering experiences I’ve gone through this year, I realized that I have to be honest with myself and others if I ever want to be my truest self. The truth is scary, but it’s almost always worth it. For the majority of my life I had this overwhelming desire to please everyone and not be an inconvenience. I believed this stemmed from years of living in other people’s houses and always feeling like a burden in a home that was not my own. I didn’t feel comfortable taking up spacelet alone explaining how I was feeling. So for a long time, I let others take advantage of me. In an old journal entry of mine, I wrote:

 

they take and they use and they break and i let them. i let them because i have convinced myself that if i allow them to take enough pieces of me, they will eventually fill my missing parts with their own. they never do.

 

I love to give. That is a piece of myself that will never change, but I’ve learned that I can’t give to the point where I stretch myself too thin, like a bed sheet too small for a mattress, desperately clinging on to the corners, hoping to fill the holes with over kindness. I can’t talk to every single guy that comes up to me on the street asking for my number and make it seem like I’m interested just because I’m too scared to hurt their feelings by rejecting them. I can’t listen vehemently to my friends when they point out my flaws that affect them, but never point out their own that affect me. I can’t get in these non-relationships anymore when I know they don’t work for me. And I can’t let people think it’s okay to be with me and be with others at the same time. I need to be honest about what I want, because what I want is just as valid as the desires of others. 

I think a lot of us devote our lives to othersleaving no time nor space for ourselves. Growing up, we are never taught to think of ourselves as a person. We would never tell others that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, but we whisper those hurtful words into the mirror. And we carve out time into our day to hang out with others, but we don’t do the same for ourselves. Why don’t we view ourselves as highly as we view others? Why do we bend over backwards doing everything for everyone, but struggle doing things for ourselves? We are definitely deserving of it. It is not selfish to take care of one’s self. By being loving and giving toward ourselves, our hearts open wider for others. 

In society and many cultures, mental health is not something that is taken seriously. Therapy is viewed negatively and is only supposed to be utilized by those with severe mental illnesses. They treat it as if it should be kept a secret when we are suffering. None of this is true though. Society has shaped an atmosphere in which it is taboo to talk about our suffering and our trauma. But I believe if we open ourselves up and create safe spaces to have these conversations, we will learn that many people have had similar experiences. So many people struggle on a daily basis with anxiety and depression. So many people grew up poor and abused by their parents and have been sexually assaulted. I created a perzine last semester that showcased the majority of my trauma. I utilized poetry and letters that I’ve written as far back as when I was in middle school. Creating the perzine was both a cathartic and painful experience. Sharing it in front of my class was terrifying. But the three people that came up to me separately afterward and told me they experienced similar trauma growing up made it all worth it. They knew that they were no longer alone. I was no longer alone.

We have to open ourselves up to be vulnerable more often. It is not strong to bottle up emotions so that you never cry, that is weak. It is also hazardous to your mental health and the people around you that you’ll subsequently take that out on. I think real strength and bravery is found in vulnerability. It can be terrifying to share how we’re actually feeling. The fear of judgement is overwhelming sometimes. But it’s worth it. When you realize that you are enough and your own feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s, nothing else matters. Others opinions can’t bother you when you love yourself entirely. Once you find your own validation, no one can take that away from you. 

Another beautiful process that aids in returning to one’s truest self is returning to one’s culture. Being Latina played such a large role in shaping who I was when I was younger. It is a part of that naked and bare version of myselfmy honest self. It is also a reason I face adversity, but accepting and loving my culture combined with the immense pride I feel for it makes it all worth it. Now, I would never want to be anyone or from anywhere else. I love myselfwholeheartedly. And I love Puerto Rico and Cubadeeply. 

My eyes opened to the reality of the world far too young. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a close family member once told me, as morbid as it sounds, there was beauty to be found in that chaos. While going through the storm, it almost feels too difficult to live. But sometimes, I think you have to see just how dark life can get before you truly want to live. I never want to go back to that dark place, so everyday I strive to share light. The world is fucked up, but if I can leave an impact on just one person’s life, it all feels worth it. 

I think we often chase younger versions of ourselves. I long to be a small child again, with my two front teeth simultaneously missing, clinging onto my father’s legsbefore the pain. When my mom and dad were still together, when my sister lived with us and my brother was in diapers. When we lived in the stunning yellow house my father helped build in Puerto Rico. I look back at the very few pictures of the five us and my heart aches. I yearn for those times still. But I know they are over now. The days of waking up to the smell of Papi’s food and salsa blasting through his speakers have dissipated. The realist in me wants to say that all that remains of him are the bones in his grave. But the poet, and the dreamer in me says that I am left, and so is my brother. He and I resurrect our father. We keep his memory alive by being our truthful selves.

~~~

I once had a dream that continues to haunt me in the most beautiful way. I was walking through the forest. I couldn’t tell where I was or why I was there, but I knew that I had to keep walking. I knew I was moving toward something. It was almost as if I was being pulled. I walked for what felt like hours in the dream world, but I never grew weary. Suddenly, the trees cleared and I felt like my breath had been knocked out of me. 

I had made it. There was a lake that went out as far as the eye could see; it went out so far that it wrapped itself in the sky. And the sky, it was unreal. It was full of the most vibrant shades of pink I had ever seen in my entire life. The water reflected the sky. Everything was pink in the most beautiful way. I felt warm. Tears began to roll down my cheeks. How could this much beauty exist? I had also figured out it was a dream at that point, but I never wanted it to end. I didn’t want my eyes to open. I didn’t want to leave the pink.

A hand grabbed mine. I looked down and I could see every hair and vein. I could see the scars on his wrist I spent my childhood tracingtrying to heal. I could see my father’s gold watch. My eyes met his. Papi. He wiped my tears with his free hand. 

“I don’t want to go back Papi.” I grabbed his hand on my face and held it there.

“It’s going to be okay Chispy. You’ll be back. Until then, make me proud.”

 

I hope this makes him proud. 

———————

By Jaelynn Grace Ortiz

Jaelynn is a rising sophomore at NYU majoring in Journalism and Social and Cultural Analysis with a focus in Latino studies and is minoring in Creative Writing. The list of her hobbies is almost as drawn out as her majors are. She writes poetry, essays and stories, she dances, mentors high schoolers in the Bronx and often plans environmental events in NYU Residence Halls. She has a poem published in the introspective study Inside My World by the Live Poets Society. Despite vehemently condemning social media, she ironically has instagram which you could follow her on. 

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