Michigan in Color: A love letter

Teresa Mathew/Daily

BY SUMANA PALLE

Published April 15, 2014

Upon extending an invitation to the fabulous Kayla Upadhyaya for a brunch/arts and crafts/day drinking party wherein I confessed that the entire thing would inevitably become a long love-letter-writing session for me, she replied “That’s such a Sumana thing to say.”

This is not a profound article about oppressive systems or a brave narrative of a journey to self-love; this is a love letter, with all its humble simplicity, plainness, and rambling, to myself, and through myself, to you. This is just a love letter, nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

I know how you have been feeling lately. It is okay that you’ve had a really rough day, week, month, year, life. It really is.

It is okay to not want to look at the mirror because you look like shit and can’t stand to look at the tinge of madness in your eyes. And it is okay to not stop staring at your reflection because you cannot believe how exquisite you are, how beautiful you have come to be and that you want to take in this beauty, are desperate to take in this beauty while this self-love lasts. So revel in yourself, caress yourself, and be in awe of yourself; you have earned every ounce of admiration and respect you have for yourself. You have worked to love yourself, you have fought to love yourself, and to this day, it is a still a struggle, you still spiral into bouts of self-destruction. You have to persuade yourself, discipline yourself, sternly chide yourself to stop drowning and to pick up the bruised, mangled, and fragmented pieces of yourself tenderly and lovingly to put them back together, to create a wholeness that would not have been there were it not for the brokenness. You were not given love and had to create it, earn it, deserve it, discover it and that’s okay because you are here now, you are here and only here, nowhere else.

It is okay to admit to yourself that your ballet teacher is racist; her first question was not “What is your name?” but “What is your nationality?” followed with a “Why are you in Michigan?” as in “Why are you here?” It is okay that you still love her, with her snow white hair and her snow white skin, a wrinkle for every hardship she had to face in her eighty-odd years, all etched onto her face as if Tchaikovsky had used her ancient skin to scribble his notes on. You love the twinkle in her eye and her sheepish grin, letting you know she saw your shitty pirouette, as much as you hate the worried look as her eyes scan your brown body which is too small for most stores to carry sizes for but too curvy for you to do your frappes properly.

You love her slight frame, tired legs, and even more exhausted voice begging you to relax, breathe, relax, put your shoulders down, relax, it will come to you, relax, take your time, relax, do not push yourself that hard, relax, do not bend your body if it is not ready, relax, surrender yourself to the music, relax, relax, relax, your perfectness is not in the quickness of your legs but the dignity with which you hold yourself. It is okay to be reduced to tears as the music flows into you, becomes your blood and spirit, your food and wine, your pleasure and your worry, your body and soul, and you understand why your ancients proclaimed music makes serpents dance and mountains melt because your heart, with all its icy frigidness, just did.

It is okay to be reduced to tears when this old white woman, this stranger you are bound to only by ballet ribbons, who cannot pronounce your name as easily as she can the blond-haired Ashleys’ and Angelas,’ who knows nothing of your life except that you are terrified of yourself, with all your rage and sorrow making you heavy, tells you to take up space, this room is yours to fill, it is all yours, do not worry, you will not run into anyone, just do it, jump in the air, leave all your grief on the ground, at least for a little while, fly, fly higher, just fly, it is okay if you fall, just finish, just do it, just fly, fly, you can do it, fly, you belong here, you belong here, with your sloppy pirouettes and your broken frappes, you belong here, not because I tell you but because you know how to fly. It is okay that this woman, with all her ignorant elderly whiteness, with all her indifference towards your past and your future, with all the time it took her to pronounce your name correctly, was the one who taught you to fly and those who gave you your name were the ones who commanded you to shrink, to stay on this earth, you do not deserve to fly, you have no business in the air, men do not like it when women fly, you are small, remain small, even if it kills you.

It is okay to dread calling home because you do not want to hear the tragedy that is your mother, with all her broken dreams choking her voice and shortening her breath, and you do not want to hear the wounds in her words, the helplessness in her “How are you?”s, the desperation in her “Call me soon”s. It is okay to break up with your father, to tell him that you love him but he is your poison and you can no longer be together because you are trying to heal and he is shattered glass, with shards that pierce your very being. It is okay for your heart to drop at your best friend’s call at 5 in the morning because you do not know if it will be boisterous drunken love ballads or quiet pleas for help, asking you to save him from his knife, his car, his gun, his thoughts. It is okay to be haunted.

It is also okay to be crazy, frenzied and intoxicated with life, delirious with passion and fervor and grief, it is okay to be in the clouds, to fly with mockingbirds, to live in other worlds because you are stardust and where else would you be but scattered and glimmering in the boundless heavens. It is okay to be alone because who will love you more than yourself and it is okay to be powerful because you are powerless to be anything else. It is okay to be indefinable because you are not obligated to make sense.

They call you Indian as in India and you tell them you are a mondaine as in cornucopia of nations, travels, languages, a childhood with no hometown, a life with no lasting settlement. They call you Indian as in Bollywood and you explain that you are Telugu as in heritage of poetry with a sweetness and a richesse they cannot fathom. They say that you are not Indian because they are Indian and you are not like them. You say that a bindi is not more Indian than your soul. They call you Indian as in sari, a piece of fabric, and you say that you are Indian as in sari, the armor a legacy of warrior queens have bequeathed upon you to assure you that you are made of the stuff of tigresses, that they have spilled blood so that you do not have to bow your head. Sari as in the piece of fabric your grandmother drapes over her rotund body and uses to wipe your tears, sari as in the piece of fabric your mother wore when she was given to your father.

They will call you straight because they have seen you with men and they will call you queer because they have seen you with women. You explain you are attracted to souls, not bodies, that sexuality and gender are not real, that you have pressed your lips on the lips of your friends, felt their words and worries melt in your mouth, yet you have never even touched some lovers, making love to them with only your eyes and using only conversation as your love bed. You explain that your love is not finite or definable, that it is human and truth, fluid, dynamic, and ever-transforming. You quote Anna de Noailles and say Il n'est rien de réel que le rêve et l’amour and they tell you that they do not know the language you are speaking, that they cannot understand what you are saying. They place insufficient words on you, cold metal cages, to make you smaller, more digestible, to shackle you because the clouds you live in are too far for them to reach. Resist. It is okay to not make sense.

You are complex, paradoxical, bewildering, and so incredibly vast. You are like Krishna who you love so much - you contain the cosmos inside you, you are the supreme ruler of the totalities, harmonies, and creations that make up your being. You are ineffable and so much more than words. Every empty question about your identity, your sexuality, your politics, your radicalism, your you is devoid of meaning because it is filled with words and words do nothing to explain you, to justify you and all that you are. Do not apologize for yourself. Do not explain yourself. Do not justify yourself. You are so much more than words, you are so much more than words.

It is okay to be Atlas, carrying the immense, undeserving world on your shoulders and it is okay to weep because your shoulders ache relentlessly and unforgivingly. It is okay to put the world down, even if just for a moment, to hug yourself, caress yourself, wrap your arms around yourself, hold yourself, and tell yourself everything is going to be okay, you will be fine, that this too shall pass, even if it is a lie. Things fall apart, universes collapse, and gods shed tears. You do not have to wear a guise of invincibility. You can cry in front of those who revere you without fearing the loss of their respect. You are worthy of failure and you are worthy of pain and you are worthy of weakness and you are worthy of sadness.

You are so much more than words. Please remember that you are here, you are here, you are here. You have lived, you live, and you will live.

Love, peace, and power,
Sumana

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.