For the Girl Learning to Choose Herself

Forgive me guys. I haven’t sat down and typed anything for the blog in a long while, as y’all know. My fingers don’t fly like they used to, and the words are stuck deep in the cobwebby bits of my brain. And this isn’t so much a fully formed post as a 1am thought brought about by looking at family pictures, and thinking way too much, and brewing another cup of coffee. But it’s here, and so am I. And this probably won’t be the most eloquent thing I’ve ever written, but it’s honest.

My brother graduated from college about a week ago. My father cried. My father isn’t a man who cries for nothing. Which is not to say that he doesn’t cry, but to say that the reasons he cries are always significant. I have seen/heard my father cry four times in my life.

  1. Once after a car accident that very truly could have killed my family.
  2. Once while on the phone with his siblings, discussing the erosion of their familial ties.
  3. Once about a month ago while on the phone with me, discussing a chasm in our relationship–opened by disappointment and widened by misunderstanding. The sound of his sobs on the phone springs into my head unbidden at all hours of the day/night, and I don’t think I’ll forget it for as long as I live (aaannd there go the waterworks.)
  4. The last time, at my brother’s graduation, hugging my brother fiercely, his face buried in my brother’s shoulder, recounting their phone calls over the last year in the period following my parents’ discovery of my brother’s ongoing battle with anxiety and depression.

For people of color, at some point fairly early in our development, it becomes clear that we are not living our lives solely for ourselves.

I believe this trend manifests particularly in children of immigrants but can apply to any children of sacrifice. If you didn’t grow up in one of these households it might be a strange concept to wrap your head around, “it’s your life, who else could you possibly be living it for?” The thing to understand though, is that our choices are predicated by the sacrifices made to make those choices possible. Thusly, choice is very wrapped up in family ties, and loyalty, and allegiance, and gratefulness, and, in a lot of ways, reciprocity. We are indebted to our families for the freedom to make our own choices. And so, conversely, we owe our future choices to our families.

I didn’t graduate from one of the best engineering programs in the country to be a bad bitch engineer. I graduated from one of the best engineering programs in the country to make my father, an engineer who graduated from the same program, in an age when he literally had to sit at the back of the classroom and was told by his professors that he would not graduate, proud. And I was fine becoming an engineer. I, like children the products of blood and sweat and love the world over, wanted, want, to make my parents proud.

But I quit my engineering job 3 weeks ago. I sublet my apartment in the city I hated and moved to Oakland, California to live with my brother, something we’ve dreamt of doing since we were young and dumb enough to look forward to adulthood. I have no new job lined up. I am still not 100% sure what I even want to do, carrying only the vague sense that it should have something to do with interpersonal communication, and writing, and helping people.

And if it were only me I had to think about all of this would be fine. I’d be sitting in a coffee shop in 70 degree weather every day, sipping chai lattes, applying only to jobs I actually had a vested interest in working, going out Thursday – Saturday, joining a club, finding a tribe, and generally what the fuck I came out here to do.

Instead, I hear my parents’ voices constantly. I hear my mom saying “all the best.” I hear my father’s sobs on the phone. I hear their disappointment, their disapproval, their anguish. I hear my mom saying she feels like she failed as a parent. I hear my father calling my decisions selfish. I hear the stories of my grandmother, a double amputee and single mother, first black female to graduate with a degree in Accounting from the University of Oklahoma, working for ExxonMobil in the fucking 80’s, advocating for an accessible ramp to be installed at her office so she wouldn’t have to take the service entrance into her building. I see my father’s mother, raising nine children in rural Texarkana, TX (seven of them boys) to see one of them, my father, attend a four year university. I see my father’s face buried in my brother’s shoulder. I hear my father’s sobs on the phone.

And I can’t move. I open tabs but never click apply. I research poetry nights but never put the dates in my calendar. I think of walking to the coffee shop, of feeling the sunshine on my face, of exploring the city I now call home. Instead, I wake up at 11am. I eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I turn on a very okay TV show under the guise of background noise to increase productivity. There is no productivity. I binge watch the entire show.

I feel like I’ve failed before even allowing myself to try.

I know this isn’t how this post is supposed to go. I’m supposed to talk about how happy I am to no longer be living in Dallas (fact), and the sense of ease I felt walking out of my office the last day. I’m supposed to talk about impromptu road trips to San Antonio, and Dinner in the Woods with my brother’s friends, and the farmer’s market I took myself to last Saturday. I’m supposed to talk about sitting across from my brother in the living room, each of us a book in hand, candles burning, and feeling like I’ve made it home.

And all of these things are true. But I guess I’m also saying that the move came at a cost. Freedom to choose for myself, and using that freedom to actually choose myself, incurs some disappointment. And I’ve never seriously disappointed my parents before, so I’m still learning to live with the pain caused by that decision.

I don’t regret my move. I’m learning to take pride in my own choices, to find the validation I previously relied on from my family in God and within myself. I am learning to cope with knowing that choosing myself means disappointing the people I love, and still deciding to choose myself anyway. And I could write a thesis about generational trauma, and entitlement, and privilege, and this theory I have that being provided more opportunities than our predecessors and clinging to the same tried methods of achieving sustenance and success is a poor utilization of the freedoms they’ve afforded us. And probably one day I will. But right now I’m just trying to choose me. And being ok with whatever the hell that means.

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