When people ask me how I ended up in West Virginia, in this endless sea of white, I always say it was because of the major I wanted or the high acceptance rate considering my GPA at the time. I never dare say that I wanted to drown in these waters, to wash the brown off, or to at the very least stand out in the current. I could never articulate that I wanted, desperately, to get away from la raza, la patria, la familia.
I grew up watching white TV. You know, those Disney and Nickelodeon channel shows with all those perfect, loving and understanding families that talk through their shit, that forgive transgressions by the end of the third act because at least the kid learned something. Never did I see the tense dinners that start one night and go on for years. Never did I see the teenage daughter crying for being screamed at because she was learning to be human. But I didn’t need to see that to know that it was real.
I never got bruises or scars, but I can’t hear a door close down the dorm hallway in the middle of the night without flinching and lunging to hide my computer, pretending to be asleep. I can’t talk to or trust authority figures because it’s been nailed into my head that I’ve already disappointed them and punishment is inevitably on the way. I can’t say I love you because I didn’t hear it until it was expected of me as a natural exchange, as if it weren’t something novel to my ears in my 20s.
I just bought a Puerto Rican flag for my dorm room. I had one before, but this one is bigger and finally the right shade of blue. It’s the color of the sky, a lot lighter than that royal blue that was so asphyxiating. It’s a color that finally allows me to begin to breathe.