Friday, April 11, 2014

Dark Passenger Part II

Once I became acquainted with my dark passenger, I wish I could say I outgrew her but I didn’t.  Unlike Dexter, I didn’t have a foster father or a therapist (yet) that could discern her signs. She was everywhere in me and I didn’t know what to do with her. At first I wished that the passage of time would rid me of her but she was more than just a “gift”. While I assimilated with my American peers, her form took shape and breathed life in the space inside me.  She lived in the space between my parents and me as we adjusted to our new lives, eventually leaving the safety of my Aunt and Uncle’s home.   She haunted my mother and father and lived in their frustrations. She was in the language unspoken with the people with whom they interacted in their new found jobs.  She was in the language unspoken with my American peers that called me stupid because my focus was elsewhere and I had
neither the language nor the confidence to refute it. She was in the language unspoken between my father and me when he called me stupid because I had neither the language nor the confidence to refute it.  I didn’t know that peers shouldn’t interact that way with each other. I didn’t know parents and children shouldn’t interact that way with each other either. My world was small, convoluted and always on the losing side with regard to power. In those days, the person that now stares back at me in the bathroom mirror veered off the path and my dark passenger took her place. Looking back, it was the writing that became the strand of good that saved me.  While my daytime self grew into a TV caricature of what a self should be (how else would one acquire the language quickly), my writing self found a voice and a vessel to house my growing Rage in response to my dark passenger. I lived a dual life without knowing it. I found an awareness that also grew about an ongoing problem that lacked a solution.  I think we were all living a duality having assimilated into our adopted home while trying to navigate our new circumstance and our unique limitations. I considered myself lucky since we did not share all the limitations that undocumented families experience.  Nevertheless, there were limitations and despite our best efforts there was something lacking in our everyday lives. We were a caricature of a family with jobs and eventually a home but something about us was like the “cover life” led by Dexter. The dark passenger filled our lives, stifling us until we couldn’t stand to be in each other’s presences. As a mom, I am keenly aware of my behavior, my speech because it doesn’t take long before my son repeats my words, my tone of voice and my demeanor.  As I child, I found myself taking on my mother’s anxieties until it became my norm.  Her inability to live a normal life without the fear of someone knocking on our door coming to send us back also became my norm. I also took on my father’s uncommunicative nature, exploding when triggered. We never spoke of our problem without a solution.  My parents used all their strength and resource to push back but without avail.  It became an unanswered prayer and that thing that prevented our daytime selves from completely filling in the space inside us. Instead, the dark passenger inhabited the space.  I tell my mother now that we all had to be strong, damaged as we were, to be able to withstand the time in which the dark passenger inhabited our lives. I tell her that not everyone would have been able to endure. The dark passenger was learning that we were an aberration to our American peers. We learned that we were somehow less than or that we were the “other” although we pretended otherwise.

Like Lestat, I did reveal my secret sometimes. I did it not knowing what it was or its true magnitude. I did know that it was an important part of me and it was the missing piece before someone could truly know me. Often times the recipient of my secret didn’t understand. How could there be no solution to my lack of paperwork? How come I did not resolve this for so many years? Sometimes my secret was understood and I was grateful for someone like my college roommate and my best girlfriend that understood the parts that made up my divided and damaged whole. Other times, to my horror, I came to fear friends that knew this secret and what they could do with it. There was always a real and arbitrary imbalance of power as I traveled with my dark passenger. Sometimes her true danger was upon me. Other times what I was seemed surreal.  I’ve come to find out in my 30s that even individuals whom I consider intelligent did not fully understand the nation’s convoluted immigration system. 
It wasn’t until I entered college that I had a true awareness of my dark passenger and the extent of the damage she has rendered upon me having always been the “other”. There were times that even though I hated the memories of my father drinking that I myself found solace in the buzz of too much to drink. I always seemed to find myself on the brink, always straddling two worlds.

At times I did hurtful things to friends and strangers alike.  I didn’t set out to hurt anyone when I left home. I just wanted to live beyond my restrictions in a place where I knew I could. During one of my college interviews, I was told that college was a dream world. He said that a life didn’t exist where all your friends were within arms reach and your only obligation was attend class.  I didn’t think of college as a dream world, just the start of my escape from my dysfunctional family life. I’m pretty sure as a person, I was mostly a gaping wound with no recourse on how to fix the damage. I was unable to be attentive to the needs of others as I was unable to fix the hemorrhaging in the space inside me. I was also unable to understand or manage the Rage because of it. I surrounded myself with people that saw me in the worst light, maybe because it was how I viewed myself. I did not know how to extricate my actions from my person. I was acting out and questioning if I was worthwhile enough to continue the life I had been living. 

There was a clock tower often depicted in post cards for the school.  I remember smoking a cigarette one day thinking the building was lovely but wanting to jump from it. Being the “other” had followed me so far into the future and I didn’t know how to divert its course. I knew no other way than submit to the needs of others above my own. I thought I would never whole. In not comprehending, a Rage was born that was mostly turned on me.  I was as self destructive as I was a gaping wound, limping along a life that I despised. The irony was that I became an expert on living my “cover life”.  What happened within me was largely undetectable through the veneer.  I had a hard time convincing people that I was not like them over something as simple as a piece of paper. 

(Sturges Hall, Photo courtesy of Google)

My self-loathing lessened during the latter years of my college career. My grades suffered less and slowly but surely I made friends that understood her and her power over me. During my senior year, I spent a lot of time with the students that belonged to the campus Interfaith Center. I sang with the choir and attended Wednesday night pasta dinners. The building itself overlooked the valley and the view was spectacular.

(Sunset over the Genesee Valley, Photo courtesy of Google, sunset gift from God)

The group never asked me what I would do after I graduated, which was nice because after our senior year, so few of us knew what lay ahead in our futures. I was lucky that mass always took place at 5pm on Sunday nights. When I wasn’t with the Newman group or doing school work, I spent a lot of time with my best girlfriend at a fraternity house. The boys that inhabited the house use to be her neighbors. The time we spent with them in our early college years at the dormitory progressed into house parties in our later years. On the weekends we found ourselves awake until 3 or 4 in the morning at their house. In the morning when we had breakfast sometimes, we witnessed the steady stream of women that left their rooms. Other times I would find out our male friends kept their activities hidden from us as their activities progressed beyond smoking and drinking. They never invited my girlfriend and me to partake. Probably because they too were aware that although we among them that we were not of them, still being the “other”. I also had the feeling that our friends honored our innocence even when we didn't
I suspect that things came together for me in the latter half of my college career because I was taking class in the things I loved, mainly literature. I think I was surrounded by people that finally understood me and of course, I was writing more. The writing and the creative process accessed the person in me that wanted to live beyond the “cover life”. I once had an assignment for an African American Migration class. My assignment was to choose a medium of expression to showcase how migration had affected us. The final assignment would be submitted to my distinguished professor but we were to discuss the end product with our classmates.  I chose to do a writing assignment. I recall standing in front of the classroom talking about that assignment as moment of true awareness.  I thought I was writing about vampires. It was the idea of wanting to be more in order to cope with the life I had instead of the life I wanted. It was also the ability to express my Rage safely on the page rather than taking it out on the people around me. My story was about the dual nature of a college student and a vengeful vampire that inhabited her skin and her space  The dialogue that ensued after I spoke was a realization that my nearness to a hot political issue didn’t make me the problem, nor was I a monster despite my self loathing and the ways I sought annihilation. I was a product of my circumstance having migrated rather than its awful source. I say these words because the political climate was so unlike it is now. I didn’t know the word “undocumented”.  I didn’t even know someone like me was like the 11 million others until I met with an attorney, compassionate in his regard of me. He said that word that defines so many without legal status. I had written about my dark passenger and my cover life in that class by accident in a genre I understood.  I didn’t know until now that surviving migration was my greatest accomplishment although I am not unscathed.

Despite myself, I made it through my undergraduate education without destroying myself. Although my judgment was skewed, maybe impaired, I was grateful I had enough soundness of mind to know I could trust my roommate and my best friend’s perception of me. I knew for certain I could rely on the judgment of my distinguished professor. Even though I couldn’t stand myself, they saw the strands of good in my being worth saving. Having found this in those years after feeling so mismatched with my undergraduate culture, I have to echo the words of my distinguished professor once it came time for me to leave. She told me that I got what I was supposed to get out of a college education, which was a “connection with culture”. Despite my silence, looking at myself through their eyes was how I found my path back, regardless of my dark passenger. I don’t want to go as far as saying I made it home at the end of those years. It was more about arriving to a place where I believed such a return was possible. It was also seeing the truth about what actually occurred at the college I once despised. The institution was like a fortress located in remote upstate western New York. Within its walls, students, regardless of their status, were put through their paces to become “of” the institution. Ultimately it was a profoundly beautiful place where students were free to evolve.

(Artwork by Favianna Rodriguez, Photo courtesy of Google)

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