Somewhere along the way I lost myself. I had a dream recently where I was sitting in a male figure’s lap. It felt supportive and loving. He was teaching me about energy healing and I was chasing light orbs with him pointing them out. I knew I was in middle school because I saw my peers in hospital beds nearby – for some reason being able to clearly point out that it was after a school trip we had where when we returned everyone got sick. That didn’t actually happen as far as I can recall, but in the dream I remember explaining it very matter of fact. The other distinctive feature that I remember in this dream that let me know I was in middle school was that I was skinny with wavy hair and because I was thin you could see that I had a very distinctive nose.
At some point either towards the end of my dream or shortly after waking up I remember having the thought cross my head around who was this man whose lap I was sitting in? Was he trying to take advantage of me? Did he get off on having young girls sit in his lap? These are the thoughts that ran through my head which struck me as odd given how when I saw it happening in my dream all I felt was love and support.
I loved middle school. I recall feeling free, curious, on top of the world. I had a multitude of friends, had supportive teachers, was encouraged to explore artistic mediums such as stained glass, painting, music and videography. The opportunities seemed endless. Fast forward to high school which I absolutely abhorred. We had recently moved from the north side of Milwaukee to the south side. After a brief stint at a public high school (which I enjoyed) because of some questionable life-decisions (as we all make when we insist we are in love) I was forced to attend an all-girls high school. The thing is I came to this school immediately as an outsiders. It didn’t matter that I joined sophomore year because these girls seemed to have been joined at the hip in the endless cliques since childbirth. Many of them attended the same elementary and middle schools, knew one another’s families, lived near one another and just had a basic liking for anyone who looked, talked, acted and sounded like them. All the things I was not.
I grew up in a Mexican household and despite going to a bilingual school and having Spanish spoken between my grandparents I took a liking to English and only English. Up until high school I ran with the black and Puerto Rican crowds who I never felt like an outsider with. My school and living experiences were very diverse in comparison to moving to the south side as a teen with a predominantly Latino-American culture which was also deeply embedded in my high school. So one can imagine the adjusting I had from school, to neighborhood to in general figuring out who the hell I was as a teenager in this world.
And what I realized was that something huge shifted within me between the leap from middle to high school. Yes there were a lot of external changes but it was an internal change that had the biggest impact. And then I reflected on a moment that I have thought about quite a bit in my life and which my recent dream also called to bring my attention to. It was 8th grade graduation. I had on a cute new outfit, along black and white floral skirt (those were cool in the 90s) and a black, ribbed shirt. The shirt was a little short and if I stretched you could see my belly button a bit (scandalous!) but it was also one of the first times that I wore something that revealing and yet I felt cool and confident in it.
As I was standing in line with my classmates in my cool new outfit I noticed a couple boys laughing and snickering. One boy who was particularly mean-spirited usually had “jokes” he made about others but he and I were pretty cool so I didn’t think he was talking about me. But then I heard it, “nariz, Nayeri.” I wasn’t sure I heard him right but then he said it again, “nariz, Nayeri” followed by fits of laughter. And suddenly, in that instant I felt the veil of protection that had been surrounding me my entire life disappear. I felt naked and exposed. From my ugly nose to the fact that my flat butt was showing prominently in my skirt which couldn’t be hidden by my short shirt. And from that moment on my life would never be the same.
While I thought about that moment quite a bit throughout the years I never realized the impact it had on my life. From that point on my inner being and outer being separated and I have been trying to reconnect the two ever since. I’ve never felt whole in my body. I’ve always likened it to a giant or an alien trapped in a body that didn’t feel its own. My awkward limbs, flabby skin. I was the scientist and my body was the experiment – always curious but ever detached. Even as I looked in the mirror I barely recognized the person looking back at me. So I’d surround myself with mirrors just to make sure that I was real because if I didn’t see it I didn’t believe it. And as I grew older the connection between my inner and outer self grew even more distant. As I became more intrigued with my outer self, I shoved my inner self down into hiding. That curious, trusting and insightful girl became a distant memory. In it’s place became someone angry, lost and detached from reality and herself. Someone who no longer trusted the right people and instead invited in all the wrong people. I was confused, I was lost.
The only way I knew how to identify was how I looked and how others felt about how I looked. I was forever on display, a doll at the mercy of its handlers. And it was through others that I sought validation. Because what was inside me had diminished so greatly that I felt nothing but pain, sadness, fear and darkness. An emptiness like no other that I allowed to be filled with the thoughts, opinions and viewpoints of others. Nothing was mine. I was nowhere to be found. And my body, my amazing body took the beating. I left it scarred, beaten and battered. I have been unkind to it, unforgiving and spoken words of hate to it.
So many times I wanted to disappear into nothingness – always feeling that there was an entire half of me that was missing. And in my desperation, I blamed my father for leaving me when I was a child, convinced that he was the reason I felt lost. I blamed my mother for working so much that I was all alone. I blamed my sister for leaving us after high school and never returning. And yet the one thing I had been searching for, that I insisted was the cause of everyone else around me, I realize had been with me all along. I had simply forgotten her.
In my remembrance of that moment in middle school I discovered that beautiful girl curled up in a cage, distraught, fearful, pale and yet still trusting she took my hand. I led her out of her cage into the sunlight where she belongs. I joined hands with her and welcomed her home. The pain and bruising still exist but overtime they will heal. Over time I will trust again, I will become curious again and I will play.
Overtime I will no longer see the scars on my body as something to hide but instead as something to embrace. My nose as a beautiful gift from god that has allowed me to smell my grandfather's shaving cream, my grandmothers arroz y frijoles, my mother's perfume, fresh cut grass, and the sour milk on my children's neck. My butt for giving me the support I needed after a long day at work, a place to rest and bask in all the beauty of Mother Earth, something to smack when I needed a kick.
My body, my scars, my outer self is a beautiful representation of all that I am. My stories, my battles, my glories. All the places I’ve been and all the places I will go. It represents my strength and power to overcome the biggest loss of my life. The loss of oneself.