09 July, 2024

I won't kill anymore




It’s 4:56 p.m. My partner and I have just completed a roughly four-hour work session at the local library, which, illogically to me, only opens from 1 to 5 on Mondays. We walk out the door minutes before closing, and the librarian, an androgynous but well-fitting Brunswick resident, in a paperboy cap, nods their head at us slightly as we squeeze past.

Across the road, we wait for our tram. My bag is taken out of my hand, and kisses are placed on my cheeks—the warmth and kindness of my lover never fail to sweep me off my feet, nor induce anxiety when in a public setting. I try to enjoy the love and admiration, which I still cannot fully accept, when the street lights turn red, cars halt, and I catch the eyes of two girls in the backseat of a silver Camry.

No older than 16, I think to myself as I stare back at them, deciphering their gazes. Were they looking so intently out of envy? Admiration? Desire? The way I had, just eight months ago? While waiting for a friend under the clocks at Flinders Street Station, watching lovers meet with warm embraces; while on the tram home, sitting across from those hand in hand; while standing in line at a restaurant, annoyed and jealous that the two in front of me were so involved in one another they didn't realize it was their turn to order... I wanted to believe so—that I could get what others wanted.

But there is a knot in my stomach. I glance away, hoping they’ll do the same, but I look back up and now their faces are contorted. They bulge their eyes out, scrunch their noses, and push their ears forward; they maintain their eyes on us. On me.

I nudge my partner, gesturing towards him, the scene he clearly hasn't noticed, amidst admiring me. Confused and a bit taken aback, unsure how to respond, we break into laughter. Teeth and all, on display. I make a point of having interpreted the girls’ mockery as stupidity and childish play, but I do not make eye contact again. I hope they can see I’m unaffected. That their measly adolescent immaturity hasn't ignited a rage so searing in me, it burnt away the lid on years of pent-up self-hatred- that pleading ignorance has somehow made them feel ashamed for acting so stupidly, as they sense my bliss.

The tram creeps in, slowly inching towards us behind the piled cars in the forever crimson glow. We walk towards it.

*

A week later, I'm still at that tram stop. My feet too heavy to walk towards the tram, the sides of my mouth pulled and taped towards my ears, perpetually smiling, perpetually performing. I feel too ashamed, too humiliated, to be my 24-year-old self when I've acted like a child- I regress back to infancy. I keep replaying the incident in my head. I keep reimagining what I should've done. I keep hating myself for my cowardliness.

Hadn't years of introspection and reflection taught me to stand up for myself? Hadn't those countless waking nights where I'd thought back and realised the pain I had suffered as a brown child in a Eurocentric environment, left me wanting to assert my dignity? Hadn't I learned to not fear white people? Hadn't I become a strong POC, queer, angry feminist who hated and called out white people on their bullshit?

Then why couldn't my gaze hold itself instead of shying away? What was I so afraid of? The thought that if I had been white, it wouldn't have happened, wouldn't leave my head. The same thought that sneaked up on me in my late teenage years as a fool-proof antidote to what I’d suffered for years in South Africa.

If my brownness had been the reason behind the bullying by classmates and teachers all those years (alongside a childish naivety, which kept me from standing up for myself as it did from understanding their hate at that time)- If I thought of myself as no longer naive but am still unable to stand up for myself, or perhaps even misunderstand the root of their hatred- then how far had I really come, or overcome, any of it?

I couldn't help but conclude that I would be okay with being looked at, with being laughed at, with being ridiculed even, if I knew I was on equal footing with those girls. If I were white.

My inherent brownness keeps me caged because the idea of being othered again, and that too because of something I cannot control, never fails to regress me back a good 13-15 years, where I still haven’t fully grasped the languages in which I’m supposed to defend myself, nor ever had the stability or safety to express what I'd experienced.

How do I know what they did, and why, wasn’t an act of racism? How do I know it wasn’t motivated by my brownness and my partner’s Chinese-ness? How do I know it wasn’t because we, non-white people, were happy and in love and in our own world? How do I know I’m on equal footing with them if they’re white in their white environments and I’m brown in their white environments- even if they’re 16 and in a car and seemingly being stupid and childish? And in the greater scheme of things, does it really matter? Wars are being fought, people are being killed, worse things have happened and are happening, so why does this one silly little incident remain etched into my brain?

If I've misread and possibly even othered myself in this situation, the blame still lies on me. Their eyes are still on me. But how am I to believe there is another reason for it, when I was dubbed unworthy of love before puberty, a curse of my brownness and fatness, in a world of pale angels with wispy golden hair? I couldn’t compete, let alone win.

*

On countless nights since the incident, I thought about those girls. I didn't remember their faces; they were simply splotches of paleness. I tried to find solace in the fact that no one ever says white is their favourite colour (sometimes even disregarding it as a colour at all—ruining the fun as it translated to me: white as the ‘normal’ race, or white at the centre of things—extinguishing, just like that, the hope of hidden word-play solace or an inside joke I could find some cheer in).

Faces that I'd imagine turning red and blue if they’d known I’d killed before. Many times. The corpses of which lay embedded in the walls and ceilings, mattresses and floorboards in houses across Melbourne. Remain buried in playgrounds and stored away in suitcases all around India. Sit at the bottom of the ocean near South Africa, in the trunk of the company-provided white Getz. I’d imagine them petrified, unable to meet my eyes as I revealed to them that most of those I’d killed, remain with me. Inside of me. And that they couldn't imagine the burden, the pain of having done so and that was why I deserved respect, to be their equal.

I’d strategically leave out the part where the victims were myself at different points of my life- I'd had to kill, to fit in, to make palpable. Devouring and digesting any proof of my previously unhighlighted brownness to be on par with their simple white selves.

I'd hope and wish that then they’d see me not as an Other.

*

This pain is one that often feels redundant and pointless to speak about, even among those carrying the same, if not heavier weight. When I show my partner a draft of this piece and discuss my writing, explaining how the incident made me feel, he responds (with slight embarrassment and hesitation), “Yeah, but what does it really matter? What does this do?”

As if keeping it all in is comparable to not doing so. In assuming that our experiences are annoying, or over-felt and over-saturated we do the labour, the injustice of censoring ourselves in a way which then perpetuates these very experiences.

Maybe those girls didn't see my race; perhaps they didn't target our ethnic backgrounds. Maybe their actions weren't fueled by racial hatred but were simply children teasing. However, refraining from expressing my interpretation of the situation—the immediate thought in my head that they hate me because I'm not white—isn't overrated, nor a mark of shame that I need to bury. The associations my brain makes are a fair response learned for self-protection, from circumstances that were racially induced and fueled. It's not like these things don't happen-

Why should it solely be our burden to bear? Why should only our fellow people of colour and therapists hear about it? Why should we feel stupid or whiny about relaying incidents through our colourful lenses—about things that happen constantly and are so widely felt in our day-to-day lives—as a piece for others (white people) to read and reflect on? I refuse to think of it in that way—this version of myself—I refuse to kill off.

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