Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Finger Painted Black, A Mind Painted Brilliant

With this post, I hereby rechristen "Lisa Malins's AP Lit Blog" as "A Finger Painted Black, A Mind Painted Brilliant."

Here's the story so far:

I was a high-flying, overachieving, university-bound honor student (albeit with a slight handicap— but [lucky me!] even that seemed to be slowly fading into a non-nuisance) planning to follow in my big brother's footsteps to attend UC Davis to study neuroscience.

Then my mom died of a sudden illness, and my wings melted off like Icarus'.

I found myself drowning in my consternation and grief, held under by the weight of my own ambition: I'd signed up to take four AP tests in May, founded and singlehandedly was running a labor-intensive companion course blog, had my duties as president of Anime Club, and committed to playing the lead in Righetti's production of Romeo & Juliet. Even before tragedy struck, it was already too much to bear. My one saving grace was my mom: she was the angel that was always there to give me the tenderest love and support, to cook me special food to follow my doctor's diet (and make it delicious to boot!), and to stop at nothing to make sure I always received the best medical care possible.

But then, with terrible precipitance, she was just... gone. Just like that. We had no warning or time to prepare. Suddenly, the place where there had been music and light was filled with only emptiness, that we dared not even look at lest it swallow us whole.

I was out of school for about three weeks. When I finally forced myself to return, I felt like I hardly knew how to be myself, or even what being "myself" was. I knew I wasn't the same person that I was before. When I looked in the mirror, it bothered me that besides my expression, I looked the same. I was dissonant, and it hurt. I needed to find some way to make my outside match my inside, or I felt I'd tear my own heart out.

I thought about wearing really dark eyeliner all the time, but my mom never liked me wearing eyeliner so I wasn't about to do that. I settled for gray eyeshadow, which I had seldom wore before (I bought it as stage makeup for the fall play, and hadn't touched it since), but from then on wore every day for months.

Still, my outer transformation did not feel complete, because it was only visible when I was wearing makeup. With a clean face, I still looked no different than before. I needed something more permanent. I thought about a tattoo, but wasn't quite comfortable with something that permanent. Was there anything that existed in the middle...?

It finally came to me. My mom and I sometimes liked to wear matching nail polish, especially for special occasions. When she was in the hospital, some of the medicine they gave her prevented the blood from getting to her extremities, giving her a sort of artificially induced frostbite. To match, I went to our shared nail polish box, and painted a single fingernail black.

As promised by the pastor who officiated my mom's memorial service, after a few months the all-consuming shock and grief released me, and I no longer felt the need to darken my gaze with gray eyeshadow anymore. I finally felt free, as if I'd been given permission to be happy again. Grieving is very natural, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, but neither is allowing yourself to move forward and live again. Perhaps most importantly, I know that endless grief and mourning is not the best way to honor my mom; rather, I need to take all the tools and nurturing she's given me and LIVE. Succeed. Dream. Like she always wanted me to. Moving forward does not mean forgetting her or leaving her behind, because she's always right there with me, cheering me on.

That's not to say that I have reverted to the person I was before she passed, because I haven't. I'm still grieving, as I probably will be for the rest of my life. I'm rather quieter and more subdued; I'm a little more cautious and a lot more thoughtful. Although now I carry a certain sadness with me that I did not before, I have this strange feeling that I have become myself. I used to think that whenever a hardship changed me, that I had lost a part of myself or had become warped. But now, I think of it differently. The way I see it now, it's not that a part of you has died, it's that a new part of you has been born. It's like you've shed an outer skin, or that you've molted; and what's left underneath is a truer, purer version of you. I'm not denying my loss in this event, because my loss is tremendous. Rather, I'm recognizing that, like all things, this event contains a balance of good and evil, positive and negative. And furthermore, if you can take an negative and pull from it a positive, no matter how small, you win. If you do that, it can't beat you.

And remember, everything is only temporary. Bad luck can dampen your spirits, but cannot douse your flame. Your vision may be darkened, but your spirit remains untouched.

That's the idea with which I've renamed my blog. It's true, I'm now covered in an invisible veil of sadness, which is why I have chosen to paint a finger black. But ultimately, no one is in charge of my thoughts but me, so I choose to paint my mind brilliant.

I hope you will too.

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