“What does Saida want for Saida?” I remember reading the words distinctly. My mother had sent them to me in a text message. She was and is a praying woman. She was praying for me, for direction in my life, when she said she felt those words in her spirit. I still don’t know the answer to that question.
When I was 13 my 8th grade English teacher at the time, John Patrick Murphy as he had introduced himself, gave my class an assignment to start journaling. It was around the time he would read entire chapters of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and be in tears by the end. I wasn’t much of a writer before then, but I read a lot.
I was taking a nap one afternoon sometime before the journal was due when I was jolted from my sleep by this dream I can’t remember. I grabbed a pen and paper and I wrote my first poem. After that, you could always find me writing.
They were terrible poems written in iambic pentameter about heartache and this desperation to be seen. I was always very aware of the intensity of my experiences as a child back then, when death was a familiar thing. When I was nine, my father and grandfather, the two most important men in my life, died within the span of a year. And shortly after, a childhood friend was violently murdered during a home invasion.
I had a cloud around me, this sadness, and I seemed to be like a fly on the wall at home. I looked in on conversations where my sister laughed off my mother’s warnings not to become a teenage mother shortly after our cousin had become one, and my stepfather telling my mother that he wouldn’t stand for another man’s child informing him that he was not their parent in the midst of an attempt to discipline them.
I snuck bowls of his cereal that I was not to eat and cautiously rationed his Cameo cookies in the same vein. I folded laundry and baked cakes and cookies and made french toast. I broke a magic eight ball with a knife to see what was inside, stunned that blue water and white dice had determined so much of my fate. I set fire to paper napkins on the kitchen table and watched the opposite of age-appropriate movies while I mixed flour and water to make my own play-doh that I hid under my grandfather’s bed when he was coming.
Back then I wanted to be an opera singer. I loved Scary Spice and was convinced that we were distant cousins because my grandmother had the same last name.
I see myself now, holding a mirror up to this face, this little girl stuck in an aging body. I miss what I’ve lost every day and struggle to keep grasp of what is here still.
I became so many things because of—I don’t know what—this incomplete amalgamation of dreams that never fully materialized. I don’t know what I love or what I’m good at or who I’m supposed to become. I vacillate between these two worlds, one of dreams and the other of pragmatism, and slowly I am losing the dreamer. I thought I would be so many things by now.
I’ve blamed others for my being here. Never taking responsibility for the role I played. Whatever the particulars, I chose over and over again, to chip away at my dreams until they were a laughable memory, a thing that never could be again.
Now I have to start over. Begin at the beginning. Strip down. Get naked and honest and sit with myself. What does Saida want for Saida? Freedom. To guffaw, mouth open and head held back. Confidence in her skin. To become who she’s always been.