the start/redolent / by Dahlia Dandashi

I wish I could find where I placed that damn binder that started all the commotion in my brain at a very young age. I remember that I was eight years old in a school where I had about five friends and where I lugged around a white binder with my "works" carefully expressed inside, trapped by the lines of stacked notebook paper. I was eight years old and I was writing a damn novel about a boy who loved a girl that wasn't as "smart" as him [whatever that meant] and yet, he would do anything just to grab her arm and go on an adventure. I never even understood why he was so fond of her; she was cute, I guess, and she always seemed poised through the illusion of her tight ponytail and white turtleneck, but otherwise, she was just a girl.

As I've become older, I see that I can now pick at the pieces of my brain and understand what I was thinking about, even at such a young age. I look at the boy and understand that I don't think he ever liked her at all. The girl was perfectly adequate-- she was cute, sweet, creative and fun to talk to. But in reality, she was just a distraction. She was a concept he saw that could save him from all his boyish, teenage troubles, but he didn't love her. It was almost more of an infatuation, sort of how we become infatuated with a piece of artwork or eloquent lines of poetry. 

I went through most of middle school, high school and college feeling just that way. I was lusted after temporarily, itemized as a piece of artwork or as a creative outlet. Either he lived far away or had a girlfriend or wasn't emotionally available, or suddenly thought that I "liked them too much" or "wanted a boyfriend" and they just "weren't there yet." I was never asked about my feelings or what I wanted, so I always found a way to swallow my feelings enough to hide them in public, but still have the capability to scratch my emotions onto a piece of paper.

What begins to happen in your brain is this-- when you feel like several people only see you as a temporary fix, or a cure, or someone that can save them, or a "concept," you start to think that of yourself. I became accustomed to believing that I was just a piece of art on a wall. I was the girl in my book, who was perfectly adequate and a little creative, but was not truly wanted for who she was. I would say it unconsciously to myself, my lips automatically singing the words: you're just an idea, you're just a concept. When I was in the 10th grade, I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind with Jim Carey and Kate Winslet for the first time. At the very end of the film, Kate [aka Clementine] tells Jim [Joel]:

"Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours."

I remember sitting for hours and hours crying in an empty bathtub, my flaccid body heaving and aching from how much I was crying. Even now, when I watch that movie and hear that line, I cry. I don't think I've ever heard something that has resonated with me so much.

I don't remember the exact day or exact time when I decided to change the way I felt about myself. I have become better at understanding that sometimes, even if you have feelings for someone, it isn't always a good fit. Just because feelings are there does not mean you have to "be" with one another. We shouldn't take these things so much to heart, but we do. Most importantly, I have become better at seeing myself as a person, something beyond an idea or beyond a temporary fix. I am still searching and will probably keep searching for my own peace/piece of mind, and I'm okay with that. 

Now at 21, it's strange-- I've become someone who has been lucky enough to be influenced by people who live everywhere in the world. Friends, family, love interests-- everyone has somehow influenced me, even if they were part of my life for a very minuscule amount of time. Funny enough, some people were in my life for long, extended periods of time and I believed they truly mattered. I'm not saying they didn't-- in fact, I think those people were crucial to my growth, but I now see that they have no longer have a place in my life now. They're sort of like those tiki torches you bought on your trip to New Zealand that you thought had a monumental, spiritual meaning in your life, but have just become something you smile at every time you brush past them in your closet. They've become memoirs. 

I see myself in every city I visit, in every friend I make when I travel. I've become a professional at leaving pieces of myself wherever I go, hoping to return to find myself floating in rain puddles or lingering in redolent coffee shops.

Boys were at times part of this process, the process in which I loved a place or city because of memories sparked by that person in that particular place. But now, I see they were never really there. No boy ever walked a city with me to explore for hours, no boy sat with me when I rented a bike by the beach. No boy followed me the countless times I got lost wandering around crowded streets shoving street corn in my mouth. I would walk around aimlessly until my feet blistered or until I climbed a fence so I could reach a rooftop, all because I fell in love. I fell in love with things around me, and I fell in love alone. I did it all alone. 

It's taken me years to realize and accept these things. The boys sort of stuck to me like gum to a shoe, but only for short periods of time and only when it suited them best. I can finally say that I now know I am not an art piece and I am not a concept. I am not a vessel for someone to sail into the distance in order to discover what they really want in love and life. It's time for me to paint myself, love myself and express myself.