It’s one thing to talk about what you’ve seen someone else live— It’s another to exist inside the same peril you’re witnessing. Where you voyeured and called yourself a good person for it, I call home.
I’ve heard stories like mine recited by witnesses where they’re the hero in someone else’s survival. Nice, white women from upper middle class and higher know that I don’t belong, but they don’t know why. Nearly 30 and still proud of their pale faces around brown kids, they have “such a big heart”— and the resources to provide trips like that. Others to Paris and Milan. Their teens spun in white debutante dresses while I smelled like subway sandwiches long after my shift ended. Your grandfather founded a titan business. Mine arrived here on a boat with no education past age 11 or 12. We didn’t travel different roads to share this room. We existed on separate galaxies. I am life on Mars to these women— alike enough to validate my existence but dissimilar enough to make me alien, an extraterrestrial. To know me would be to question if I’m capable of surviving your family’s native planet.
I want to tell these women, “I’ve seen how your eyes sink with pity at my first mention of unwanted hands. In an instant, I’m no longer Marisa but a charity case inhabiting a body so similar to yours. You can’t detect any dialect of suffering on my tongue. We sit inches apart in the same overpriced Nikes as you call me brave. What you mean is a sympathy admission. What you mean is a whole pathology around my upbringing. What you mean is that what I say can’t be true because I wouldn’t be here if it were, but here I am and here’s how I arrived. You call me brave as we exit in the same foot ware protecting very different soles.”