November 28, 2016
by Jasmine Powell
by Jasmine Powell
A young writer confronts the permanence of ink on paper in her endeavor to answer a most difficult question.
In the ninth grade, ink crept under my fingernails for the first time. In creative writing class, I wrote the first words in my journal on the topic--What makes life worth living? That night, I sat at my desk, turning over the inky thoughts in my head as I stared at dark walls. ‘We are told to have faith in a world that is against us, that doesn’t see us at all. We’re invisible to everyone--no one even hears us, not the ones we love the most.’ Instead of thinking of all the beautiful things this life had to offer, like my peers, I found myself writing against it. Because what could possibly be beautiful about knowing that this life was only temporary and that you may not have a beautiful ending like the ones in fairy tales?
Like ink gliding on paper, I attempted to bleed everything that kept me up at night in my notebook, all the things I couldn’t dare confess to my family, nor anyone else--much less, myself. I ended up with simple sentences, jumbled together with dependent clauses that didn’t give way to my deep emotions or feelings. The repetition of ‘You’s and ‘Him’s and ‘They’s indicated my lack of pronoun 'prowess', my unwillingness to be open, uncensored, and myself. My simple verbs and lack of adjectives made my craft look undone and in the end, unworthy. My writing teacher’s red ink stained my paper (and heart) a few days later: “Who is ‘him’? You’re being quite vague’. As painful as it was to hear those stern words come out of her mouth, she was right. I wasn’t ready to spill my heart out. I couldn’t dare to shed all of the hurt and pain I kept inside myself for so many years on a flimsy sheet of paper if I had not the words or the courage to articulate it. With sadness and frustration, I threw my pen in my bag and left, leaving behind my teacher’s blunt critique as well as the thought of ever letting the world see the scribbles of my heart.
I could not handle such honesty and permanence that I couldn’t change. So instead of being brave, like the heroes and heroines in the stories, I picked up a pencil--the only thing that I could hide behind and remain anonymous, the only thing I could use to erase the truths and secrets that were tucked away and for once write about blooming flowers and faceless moons in the distance. That night, amidst the storm of angry nouns and explicit metaphors between my mother and her husband, I cried soundlessly, wishing that I could write a conclusion to this life and start a new story.
Just what made life worth living?
In the tenth grade, I had a rough draft due. I had to recall an adventure I’d been on, an experience that defined who I was. Something that defined who I was? Fear, doubt, anxiety. What I’d experienced? The torment of having a stepfather who didn’t know how to control his anger, and having a mother who had a tongue of needles and pitchforks. The experience of having clutched a telephone one too many times, the thoughts of three numbers that made my fingertips feel as heavy as lead. The feeling of being told not to tell anyone, to keep everything inside like a vault with no way of opening it. The ability to keep secrets like a saint, to watch but never tell, to feel like a wilting flower in the tundra, to feel--and be--alone in a room full of laughing children. I could neither write of carefree experiences or of uncontrollable laughter and endless adventures with friends. The only ones I had were stuck in digital screens, fighting off demons and ninjas with weapons and foreign language, or in novels, sharing intimate kisses with princes and gazing at the stars with wide-eyed children. I couldn't write, nor could I speak of any positive experiences I had with people. I was boring and at the same time I wasn’t; I was interesting, yet nothing special--loved, but unwanted. Tired of having to scratch out my lies, I put down my pen once again and pulled out a dulled pencil before impassively writing about a journey that had occurred on a clear summer day, a journey I had never taken upon in the first place.
In the eleventh grade, one of my pens exploded in my backpack. The black liquid stained the bottom half of my sack, soaking the bright canvas in the messy substance. I grabbed it, mistakenly staining my palms with the ink, which found a way to stain my mouth as well. I grimaced at the poisonous taste as I wiped my stained hands on my jeans before grudgingly tossing the broken pen in the trash.
The ink started to expand in the month of December. Depression. Days passed slowly, the clouds in the sky, dark. For every dark cloud in my sky, I had a shower of tears to provide for it. My mother looked at me with desperate, tired eyes: "Why are you like this? This isn’t like you." When I couldn’t give her an answer, I cried. I didn’t know what was wrong, or why I could feel painful needle-pricks in my heart. I tasted ink in food, I saw ink in the clouds, I felt the burning pain of ink behind my eye sockets when I looked into the mirror. Most of all, I saw ink in my dreams, nightmares of pain and death that caused me to fear the thought of closing my eyes and never waking up again. Continuous depression. I could see the tears in the school counselor’s eyes when she looked at me. I wish I hadn’t, as I could see sadness and pity there. Because of me. The ink expanded and soon covered me in darkness. One of my classmates saw me for the first time: "It’s going to be okay, Jasmine.” I took his words as a sign that things would get better, that help was there if I needed it. And for the first time, I didn’t feel so alone. I managed to get most of the ink off, though I still found dark smudges and specks on my clothing months later.
Just what made life worth living?
On New Year's Eve, my aunt bought me a gift I was expecting to receive. She always gave me a card and signed it, her cursive penmanship intriguing yet strangely forlorn and forced. I put on my best smile as I thanked her and watched her leave to go back to her vacant house without a gift or a loved one to share the occasion with. My heart pulsated quite harshly at the scene because I didn’t have the nonchalant demeanor of my family. Because even though no one saw me, I could see them, and if I didn’t acknowledge the pain of the ones I loved, I wasn’t human. When I looked at my aunt, I saw someone who’d been misunderstood, someone who’d dealt with heartbreak a few times, someone who knew the feeling of abandonment. Someone just like me. When dusk settled into the sky that night, I grabbed my pen and wrote to my aunt, my true feelings and honest opinions of her taking up every nook and cranny of the blank card. It was the first time I heard her stern voice crack.
I started to use my pen more often when school started back.
In the twelfth grade, teardrops blotched my ink for the first time. I sat, unmoving, in pain and agony, wishing that I could grab a pencil and erase the blotches, a sign of my wretched weakness and vulnerability. My hand shook as I tried to recall any good memories of my first love. When I couldn’t find any, I balled up my paper and slammed down my pen. I couldn’t write a sonnet, poem, nor an essay of the special words we’d shared. I couldn’t write of his smile, of the feeling of his hands when they held mine, nor the warmth that fluttered into my chest when he kissed my forehead. Those memories were fuzzy and old. I couldn't write of his gentle ‘I love you,’ nor his ‘I miss you’. Each one of his words lay flat, vacant, like generic hallmark cards.
So, what could I write about? His empty promises over the phone. The recurrent feeling of emptiness in my heart when the early sun drifted into a twilight sunset as I waited for him. The list of excuses he used to justify his lack of arrival, excuses that proved that personal engagements and old friends were more important than the time spent with me. I’d known for a long time that I wasn’t worth his time and love, but I couldn't face that truth because I still loved him. He was a part of me; through his eyes I saw my own. If I didn’t have him in my life, I would fail to understand who I was, who I was supposed to be, and why I was this way. He was the canvas of blank space that my stars relied upon. I loved him, unconditionally, and I would continue to...but I knew I had to let him go. I had to tuck away the memories I shared with him between the folds of torn notebook paper. I had to erase his lies, his promises, his sweet kisses and warm embrace, his entire presence, and just learn to love him still. In the end, I would find myself. I gently pulled out another sheet of paper before picking up my pen with trembling hands. I clutched a piece of my heart and started to write out its autobiography, its memoir, its last and final love letter.
I wrote of its ache and pain, how it wished to be whole once again. I wrote to the first person to ever make me feel invisible, to the first guy to ever break my heart: ‘Dear Dad…’
‘Just what made life worth living? The hope that one day, hopefully someday, you can finally breathe.’
I laid my pen down when the ink was low and when my heavy heart got lighter.