A Graduation Epilogue: What I Can’t Say (But Will Anyway)

Graduation

A month ago, I graduated from college.  I graduated Magna Cum Laude.  I defined myself by these things: my academic achievements, officer positions, social networks.   It’s privileged Darwinism, a gilded pissing contest.  Competition is everything.  It isn’t trying unless you are gasping for breath.  There is no effort without sacrifice, and at one point or another, I became the only thing left that I hadn’t fed to the Gods of my Ego.  The funny thing is, you don’t feel it when ego inevitably claims yourself as well.

It was the end of my junior year when I realized how consumed I was by what I was.   Drowning in commitments, overworked, out of sleep, and marooned on an island of my own achievements, I ran into a friend of mine from freshman year.  We began exchanging pleasantries.  She asked me how I was.  I replied with, “good”.  “Good” is the default, despite graying under eyes and hollow lungs and the feeling of cement hardening on my shoulders.  Still, “good” comes out for fear of being seen as damaged, broken, or scary.  She called my bluff.  Tears began running down my face.   The emotions I carefully sequestered inside of me burst out in tears and gasping for breath and a total lack of composure.  I found a patch of authenticity to rest the remainder of my collegiate career upon after that point.  But even in that space, I was still me.  Still ravenous for success, for mobility, and I didn’t have to alter these behaviors during my senior year.

And I know, before I continue any further, that these are privileged grievances.  While I bemoan selecting a job that’s the right “fit”, there are people my age living lives I cannot fathom.  I don’t know survival for food or shelter means or access to education or teen parenthood.  Some of us are born into resources.  Education, white collar employment, these things are expectations.  So, I began applying for jobs in November of my senior year.  I flew to cities for interviews, conversed with supervisors on the phone, but whether I turned down the position or they went with someone else, I sat at my graduation jobless.   In less than thirty days, I have applied for forty jobs.  My apartment lease expires at the end of next month.  I have to leave my part time job by August because I am no longer a student.  Life feels netless.  I’m waiting for some gut instinct or sign, but everything (except my head) is silent.  I feel like this is the part where intuition is supposed to kick in. Like I said, they don’t prepare you for this part of graduation.

Some weeks were so gloomy it was painful to survive them– this might be my greatest achievement thus far. They might happen again.  During those weeks, I rarely left my bed.  Rattled by anxiety, there was no motivation to settle my frenzied insides.  I didn’t (and to a certain extent still don’t) know what a day feels like without a million obligations to juggle and a bag bursting at the seams with changes of clothes and snacks.  I refuse to shame myself for feeling depressed and anxious.  But I was also too proud for those weeks to call my incredible support system for help.  I felt like I couldn’t claim these part of me, couldn’t verbalize a feeling of personal failure without letting people down.  Pride is a carnivorous spirit, one that corners me with a salivating mouth.  Eventually, I decided no longer be it’s prey, to divest in a life of perfection. When I finally did reach out to my friends, it felt like silencing a menacing alarm in my head.  I don’t mean to articulate this in post-language.  This might happen again, and if it does, I hope I summon the grace to ask for help and know that I’m not alone.

Panting from this dead sprint, I realize it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.  I found no answers, only distractions.  Worse yet for a type-A personality , there are no answers or secret formulas to life.  As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no rules to this thing”.  We are cartographers mapping this journey ourselves.  God entrusts us with a pen and the gift to fail spectacularly.  I tell myself, “a job is not the answer”, even though it feels like it is.  I have to remind myself that how I make a living will not be how I make my life. This doesn’t make post-grad life any easier.  It doesn’t assuage the anxiety I wrestle with.  But, I hope, establishing these thoughts now will aid me through my professional career.  I sacrificed watching the Oscars with friends, going out for ice cream on a Tuesday afternoon, or bs-ing for a single night because I was too consumed with my jobs and activities to give the tiniest sliver of me to my friends and family.  I regret that so much.   You can’t think of your career college and beyond) as a reciprocal relationship.

The thing they can’t tell you about post-grad life is that it’s messy and unstable.  Maybe they’ve been telling me this all along, and it just didn’t register until now.  Nothing is guaranteed anymore.  I feel like I’ve been wired for this track that someone forgot to finish.  Like, it’s all a neat path, and then, all of a sudden, I’m in the jungle and all they handed me a butter knife and a really cool hat to fend for myself.  In reality, I reached the end of the track made for me, and God has handed me some construction tools and said, “it’s up to you now, kid”.   I don’t want it to be up to me.  I want carrots and goals and all the higher-ed lingo I have to choke down truths my mouth never learned to articulate.

I don’t mean to portray this as all bad.  It’s a mixed bag really.  It’s nice to remember what food tasted like before I scarfed it down.  Sleep isn’t such a stranger after all.  It’s scary to ask myself what I want because I might not get it.  But that’s what this is now—a giant leap, followed by landing on a pile of rocks and ordering a pizza while giving myself a break, only to leap again.  I don’t  love it, but I’m learning not to hate it.  There’s a grace I’ve found inside myself that I am still learning to honor.

  1. I’ve compared myself to my peers, not as competition, but as puzzles more complete than mine is. What I fail to recognize is that I am a painting.  Things are not neatly cut out for me.  Instead, it’s always a process of creating, adding, correcting, and sometimes taking a second to enjoy
  2. I understood myself as a conjunction. I functioned as glue linking independent entities together.  There’s a certain self-sacrifice to this.  Involvement is great.  Activities foster community, a routine, stability, strong resumes, but they aren’t a substitute for self.  I guess that’s the positive of graduating without a full time job.  I’ve learned I’m not a conjunction, glue, defined by an activity or a metaphor at all.
  3. If there is any indicator that I did this college thing right, it isn’t in finding the job. It is my world-class support system.  The friendships and mentorships I belong to have really held me together.  I don’t know how I’m going to make a living.  There is a chance I will know the scarcity of a pack check to paycheck life.  But I would gladly take this over knowing emotional scarcity.  No matter how hard it is to admit that I’m not ok, I know my vulnerability will be met with kindness and a receptive ear.

It’s ironic that a life phase ushered in by the grandeur of caps and gowns is so anti-climactic.  Post-grad is learning to navigate life on uneven terrain.  It’s sloppy half the time.  Okay, a solid 80% of the time.  It’s answerless and scary, and there is a real fear I don’t have what it takes to be the person I thought I should be.   I am petrified.  Life reveals a lot of jagged-toothed truths after graduation.  I’m not going to romanticize what everything feels like right now.   I’m going to try to keep myself authentic and raw through all of this, resist the urge to hide behind a veneer.   And as things fall (I hope into place), I’m going to trust myself on whatever path I blaze.

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I Hope You Know (Uncelebrated Wonder)

I hope you know you’re special,

And yeah, we all are,

But this poem is for you,

Not for the many mused names in book dedications,

Not for famous.

But for you.

I hope you know how the universe hung the stars around you,

Hanging lanterns to guide you home.

I hope you know

That the moon is your personal gemstone in the sky.

The Grand Canyon envies your depths,

The Great Pacific shrinks in your presence,

And your smile illuminates the earth.

You might doubt me,

Reduce yourself.

I urge you to take up space,

Rule the things already bowing to you,

And carry that sunshine crown like the royalty you are.

Like I said,

This poem is for you,

And while this dedication is black and white,

Others salute you in raised goosebumps,

Blushed cheeks,

And unbridled laughter.

So for you,

My uncelebrated wonder,

I hope you know you’re special,

That lightening bugs soar at the sight of you.

Your spirit is the wealth of the heavens,

And I just hope you know

How special you are.

We Weren’t Always Strangers

In the stale kisses, tasting like leftovers on your lips,

Concern loomed.

And in our clasped hands, we held the doubt we were too cowardly to share

Little by little, we shared less.

Our lives split like Pangea,

Into separate continents we formed,

Our climates no longer compatible for one another,

they bred tropical storms in contact.

So we connected less,

Concealed more.

Resounding conversations eroded into small talk on deaf ears.

I used to feel like I came from your rib—

That my side fit perfectly into yours.

But we are not puzzle pieces.

Love is not the security of a confined space.

I don’t know what the strategic interactions of ours were, but it wasn’t love.

Wasn’t dedicated, enduring, demanding of a full heart.

The sum of ourselves wasn’t built for that.

I knew it was over when having the courage to say goodbye felt like an anthem,

When I realized your presence was not my oxygen,

That we were never each other’s halves

Because I am whole.

To My 12 Year Old Self: A Love Letter

Dear Marisa, age 12,

I love you.

Dear Marisa,

The chronological canyon, spreading nine years between you and me, will teach you that

Life is not binary black and white.

It is shades of gray.

But even in a muted landscape, this existence is the most spectacular spectrum of silver I have ever seen.

You are the product of tangled genealogies,

Of love in broken tools,

Held hostage to the legacy of hurt that made them.

Of a tribe always looking for welcome mats,

Never planting roots.

Home is a stranger in your vernacular,

Something so foreign to articulate.

You will chase picket fences, postage codes, and people for something that may never be.

Home is yourself.

Home is when you baptize your body as something other than a burial ground.

Honor it as atlas and ecosystem.

Temple cannot convey the wonder that houses you,

The soul inside towers over the chaos around it.

You waste wishes on life in a smaller body,

In a body without memories,

Any flesh besides this pasty prison,

Pave your pain into your wrists,

Engraving the sagas you have weathered in the only language you know.

And still, this frame breathes.

Refusing to surrender the worth reveling in its atoms.

Knows you are your own best friend, soulmate, and compass.

Refuses to be reduced to a fraction when it is whole.

When we are whole.

Marisa, your heart is a semi’s engine.

You cannot measure the love in your life by someone’s inability to open their arms.

Maybe caring too much is a medical condition

The kind with purpose coursing through your veins and feminism in your marrow.

Marisa, widen your wingspan,

Let others etch their messages on your limbs

And know they don’t define you.

What defines you lies between your lungs.

You will heal from plagues of perfectionism,

Sweat out feverish doubt,

Speak to yourself in a cadence besides cacophonies. Dialects that aren’t self-depricating.

Understand that the cracks are where the light gets in.

Learn to applaud the parts of yourself that don’t receive standing ovations.

At twenty one, you will still be unlearning.

Still be unlearning how your ears fish for beautiful in a sea of compliments,

Like your veneer is all the depth you have,

Like your insides don’t matter.

Marisa, if someone reduces you to one dimension, respond with one finger

Dear Marisa,

Survive and apology share no letters.

This is not a coincidence.

You will wish your words are anything but the color of fire.

In prayers to a star-fashioned God, you will beg for silence,

Sever the enflamed tongue,

Shrink into some fabricated softness that never came.

You are a blazing tapestry.

Something fierce, fragile, vivacious and vulnerable.

A frenzied complexity unmeant to be untangled,

The kind who shuttles from instant to intimate,

Knows no surface, only the deep end.

You spend eternities staring at a blood orange sun

Feeling like you are a skeleton of safety pins.

It is always the eve of something, never the arrival,

How you’ve mapped future sensations like a hopeful cartographer onto your feet and hands and heart.

They are packed into your nerves.

And then, you will blink.

Airtight nerves surge a reflex that closes your eyes for nine years.

And you’ll find yourself there.

Beneath gushing waterfalls, atop Arthur’s seat, inside families you never knew you needed, friends who love you even when you can’t offer it to yourself.

You’ll find yourself in the calculable power of linked arms and laced fingers.

For You,

Girl with safety-pin skeleton, semi’s engine heart,

Stratified on a silverscape with citrus sky,

I wrote this for you.

I wrote this in complete awe of and gratitude for you

Molded this in the language of the love that will fill your life,

Will overtake you like the flood you never prepared for.

Will raise your skin to Goosebumps and render you speechless.

The People in your future make fireworks look like flickering fluorescent lights they are such tangible celebrations.

Dear Marisa age 12,

I owe it all to you.

Dear Marisa, age 12,

I love you.

Involvement is a Bad Boyfriend: Admissions of a Recovering Hyper-Achiever

Involvement is a bad boyfriend,

The kind who calls in the form of officer positions.

Sometimes the receiver is silent because I was passed over.

Then, he calls.

Only the date is draining, is too many hours,

Is nothing I thought it would be.

I feel like a hamper for his needs, just filling and filling me until I overflow.

My relationship with involvement makes me a canvas for commentary.

And some days, my affair is villified.

Others, Bae and I are everyone’s “relationships goals”.

My bad boyfriend is pretty on the outside.

He’s tempting, boosts my ego, and bears the bells and whistles.

He is a conversation piece, social butterfly, and sometimes he can be really sweet.

Involvement monopolizes my social media posts.

I’m way more into him than he is into me.

I stalk his Insta, Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter,

Hell, I even go on his LinkedIn for a feeble acknowledgement in his universe!

But he reserves no spaces for me.

I was the one who reorinented her landscape for the beautiful sight of him.

It’s his interior that’s lonely and sour.

My bad boyfriend doesn’t love me back,

Doesn’t see how he is a larger priority in my own life than I am,

Makes me cry over silly things because he has consumed so much of me I don’t know where I end.

And he won’t notice when I Ieave because he’ll be too busy seducing an unsuspecting freshman.

He never had a problem attracting new paramours to a toxic romance.

Involvement is my bad boyfriend—

My main squeeze who squeezes too hard,

Called a Boo because sometimes one day, he’ll be a ghost in my memories.

But like all relationships,

It’s not all bad.

Involvement is growth, connection, daring greatly, and failing spectacularly.

Involvement is an experience, not a life.

Do not mistake involvement for love,

Awards for worth,

Or title for self.

You will laugh over past sobs when involvement broke your heart,

And warmly reflect on happy times you shared with involvement.

So, Bridget Jones incarnates who inhabit the Union,

The sleep deprived social butterflies slaving for pride’s sake,

Involvement is everyone’s bad boyfriend.

But…

You will survive involvement and realize it was never about “winning” the break up.

It was always about moving on.

For Girls Like Me

Dedicated to the women who have given me the privilege of sharing their stories and those who shoulder the burden alone.

Girls like me know hide—

Know what parts of ourselves are not made for polite conversation.

Know normal as the spine-tightening at a crash.

Registerthe bellow of a man’s voice like an alarm.

Girls like me don’t know sleep without phones at the bedside.

Girls like me have hearts so big they’re like sponges—

Soaking up everything around us.

Girls like me don’t know self-forgiveness.

We know excuse, quiet, face to cold tile floor,

That bruises are best covered in stage make up.

But have yet to muster the self-love to pry ourselves permanently from things we never deserved.

Girls like me know shame in jokes about our experiences,

Know how to translate the language of misogyny and regurgitate it to assimilate.

Know “no” is a whisper swallowed by the monstrous night.

How are stories are met with silence or tears,
Know how to make you uncomfortable.

Girls like me don’t want your pity.

Don’t need condescending,

Are not a haphazard apology in the wake of shame.

Girls like me don’t know how to differentiate sympathy and pity.

So married to being strong,

To avoiding the caverns that made girls like us

That we aren’t sure who to let in.

Who can carry us?

Who can love us?

Girls like me are not the inventory of our scars,

Even when it feels like it some days.

Girls like me that survival in the light is the scariest thing in a rape culture.

It should be.

Girls like me are not sorry.

Girls like me know survive

Girls like me know thrive.

Girls like me know rise.

Girls like me know this is for the sisters before, with, and after me.

We are the mothers and sisters and families formed like constellations post-trauma.

We are the red worn like a crown,

Wings made in the connection.

Girls like me—be seen.

Girls like me—be heard.

Girls like me—it happened.

Girls like me—it’s not ok.

Girls like me—it’s not your fault.