What died in Georgia thrives in Raleigh now
This Spring, this Quaran-spring, has been the first I’ve spent regularly in the sunshine since…I can’t remember when. There don’t seem to be any markers of time when I look back on my days in the Harris County field that kept me warm and distant through the days I’d honestly rather not remember. I can still remember the 8-digit alpha-numerical password from my AirBnB after one glance, but I can’t remember most of my own life.
Lately, “Assault on Reason” has been my constant companion. While reading isn’t something I often find time to do, having the option of such familiar escapism, so deeply conditioned during those far-off Springs, is endlessly relieving. In the early pages of the book, Al Gore mentions that traumatic memories are encoded by the brain in a very sloppy fashion. Every aspect of the moment gets pulled in with the bad: the lighting, sounds, any physical sensations, tastes in your mouth, all of it. Due to your brain’s rush to ensure you never find yourself in this situation again, the detail of time is often left off.
Imagine receiving an email and having no idea when it was sent or a letter with no postmark. Convention would have you assuming they were recent, new, just received, and you would react to them as such. Writing back immediately, or carrying out whatever appropriate action based on the contents. These undated messages are received regularly, with no clear rhyme or reason: maybe a song plays from your car stereo, a familiar figure crosses your peripheral, a perfume your sister used to wear wafts through the air. It can be an exercise in reason to constantly sort out what the appropriate reaction is to this information.
This knowledge brought me significant comfort as I realized, again, that my reality was merely a symptom and not a character trait. I was not intentionally pigeon-holing myself into a cycle of horror, rather my mind had merely coded some information incorrectly, and coding errors can be fixed. Today, my father taught me this is called ‘iteration coding,’ writing code and fixing bugs you couldn’t have foreseen, running the code again, and repeat.
Quarantine seems to have provided me the energy and time to begin much of this work. No longer merely trying to prove to myself that I can do something no one in my immediate family has done before, I find myself being intentional for the first time since back when I can remember. Once upon a time, I had clear goals; saving up for my first computer, washing my father’s car weekly in hopes he’d see I deserved it one day, spending endless nights with my brother’s best friend learning new troubleshooting techniques. I used to code with Dad for fun, sew to own unique clothes or quilts, and force myself to run high-knees in hopes I’d be a Red Star one day.
Though, at some point it seems that other people’s ambitions became more important than my own. I got rid of my PC at 15 when I was told the way I hollered during Quake 3 Arena was unbecoming, and computers slowly became nothing more than machines for social media instead of feats of human engineering. In moments of fear, my car became a way to show boys I was strong despite my small stature. Even my oldest hobby, sewing, merely became a way to nurture men who I felt needed convincing I was enough.
The last decade was spent grasping for anything that would make me feel valuable to you all: the boy in the garden, the perfect GPA, the friends with the bar, the published thesis, the underdog point-of-view, the hot-girl-fast-car persona, anything. But the things that truly brought me joy were getting buried and serving only as a means to an end. And honestly, I don’t remember how I got there. It’s all just a blur of an attempted survival, a writhing animal hoping their pain will end — and not minding how.
Despite traveling abroad multiple times, having aided orphanages in Columbia and eaten manicotti in Rome, truly appreciating diversity was lost on me. Seeking the approval of others kept the net I was casting extremely wide, not mindful of who or what I was pulling close to me. Drowning in opinions and feeling obligated to appease them all. Where I was raised, there was a sentiment of being in, or out; you’re with us or against us. You are for us or discarded like the black sheep of wealthy families and the new mistresses of old money. The nuances of truly appreciating differences in humanity seemed to be adrift.
A year in, time and distance has begun to health my spirit. Not only from the struggles of my own family but also from the aim of the poorly educated; I am no longer in pain. My life is about more than survival, more than feeling any other way. For the first time, forgive my slow pace, I realize that appreciation is not agreement nor it is enjoyment. It is understanding, it is acceptance. It is seeing something for what it actually is, and whether you think it monstrous, hideous, or despicable, beautiful, or bland, respecting that it is.
Appreciation does not ask you to tend to it, compliment it, or advise it. It merely asks that you see it. Acknowledge its mere existence. If it is not your cup of tea: turn away, go about your business and proceed. If it is to your liking, look closer, inquire, research and maybe you’ll find a joy you’d never have dreamt. But under no circumstances are you required to critique, insult, or change it. That is not appreciation, that is discrimination.
The strong spirited, bronzed in the sun of other states, or clear-minded from time away from society, make it their mission to revive this art back home, and do what they can to soothe over the wounds as the gashes appear, but not everyone is called to suffer in hopes of a brighter future.
Somehow, learning what ‘appreciate’ means has taught me to appreciate myself — I’d say again, but I suspect it may be for the first time. My value matters to me, and more importantly, it matters more than the opinions of others. Putting myself into focus highlighted how my behavior was only causing me more pain; attracting people who had fundamental differences, causing nothing but tension and constant resistance. They did not appreciate me, and in turn I did not appreciate them; but we thought the goal was to find compromise even at the cost of pain.
This is the understanding I take with me now that I have caught my breath, as I finally begin to re-code my memories. I am beginning to delete the broken lines and poor syntax, to remove functions that are no longer required or running properly. Simultaneously I am debugging the areas that bring me joy: late night dance parties, water gun fights, and watching the plants grow above the roof. My passions are the most important thing in my life again. Setting goals, achieving them, and supporting my loved ones are on the daily agenda.
No longer will I accept a black or white stance about what happened. Yes, there was pain. There was violence. People were gaslit. Emotional abuse did happen, and many were involved. But there was also love, passion, curiosity, and camaraderie. Strangers who could have been lovers became enemies before anyone knew and old friends became nemeses without due diligence. There is neither truth, nor is there a lie — because this is just appreciation.
always surv;ve | never surrender