“Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.”-Mark Twain
My embarrassment of Daisy made it so that we were awkward with each other for a long time and she withdrew herself in my presence. I thought of her as no less and I appropriately decided to give some needed space. It was at this point during the summer, that I realized that I would become a dramatically different person once the summer was finished. Maybe not as a person that people see on the outside, but as an individual who views himself in a certain light. That light was about to change. A process was occurring where the filtered shroud of self-hatred would finally give away to the pure light of self-love and true acceptance.
Daisy’s shaming lead me to become angry with myself, however. While I was learning to forgive myself, I was ashamed. I perceived it as my first real failure in a friendship. Still angry with this problem, I came to realize that there were other people who had it worse than I. I would realize this after getting to know Michelle a little better.
Michelle’s Korean heritage was obvious sometimes, when she might allow her personality to come through in emotional bursts that people could see as plain crazy. I understood that that’s just who she was. There were other less obvious aspects of her Korean heritage though, which I was able to find out about through unexpected means.
It eluded me that Michelle would reveal to me aspects of her life that seemed like things she would only tell a close friend. It was while I was helping her with an English Honors prerequisite paper that we had to complete during the summer in order to get into the class. It was through this paper that she revealed more of herself to me.
Her loosely organized stream of consciousness was an infant struggling to find its existence, passion trying to become palpable. It had quite a few stumbles, her passion. She had asked me to guide it, to strengthen the shaky foundations of her idea for her paper. “I don’t know what to write,” she told me. She was worried. Absolutely must, must get an A in this class.
“But you have so much to write about,” I insisted. Having talked with her before that, I simply did not understand how she could experience so much and not know what she could write about. It didn’t make sense, but later on I realized that her light was enveloped in darkness. She had a strong light. It acts like a dying candle though; flickering in, out, in, out. Then whoosh, a slightly stronger wind might come in, carrying the flame out of existence.
I worried for her, as I stayed up late at night with my laptop’s screen illuminating my face as I looked at her Google doc. I worried about her light, about her passion that derived from her pain. I admit, when she wrote of her mother, I winced and held back tears. She said she didn’t like to write about her personal life. I only strongly suggested it because I felt that her life provided a lot of material, a lot of passion, to work from. We didn’t have a huge time frame mind you; we just needed to tame the beast as fast as possible.
Still, this last minute piece of work was beautiful in its own right. The struggle of this summer paper was something to be marveled at. It struggled to find its own form, to find its proper expression. It gave me a reason to worry. I worried, that like the candle’s flame, her passion could be extinguished. Even with all the winds she had encountered and all the flickering that had happened already, all that it would take would be a slightly stronger wind. Whoosh. Gone. All that energy just carried off into a different place.
Though, in a way, her energy already was at a different place: Los Angeles. “Home,” she called it. While I’ll never truly understand why, she belonged there. It was where her heart was. That sense of belonging, the need to belong to something or somewhere though, I could understand. It was all part of her passionate struggle. As I read her essay more, I was surprised at how much light she allowed through.
Her light, I realized later, was covered by a veil. A veil of darkness, supposedly protecting that little flame from flickering. A veil created by her own flesh and blood, her own mother. But the most disturbing part was that she allowed it to be draped over her flame without her knowing. It took me a long time to realize I had done the same thing as well to myself.
A veil like this one is thick. Small flickers of light run through some weaknesses in the embroidery, but besides that, the light isn’t allowed to be seen. I believe that there are people who can lift up this veil. I call them friends. I wonder now, if that’s what I did. If I helped her lift it up, even if it’s just for an essay. One time, we talked on the phone and we were talking about Martin Luther King Jr., or at least if the Civil Rights Movement never happened.
“We probably wouldn’t even be friends,” she said. It seemed so casual and normal to mention that probability, but I was surprised. I thought about it for a second. There was a small warmth in my heart. A flame. Even if it was just for a second, to have my veil lifted, suddenly, surprisingly. Its unexpected arrival… I welcomed it. The conversation flowed from there and the veil covered me once again, but I wasn’t fooled. I knew that flame was there.
As I finished editing her paper, I felt satisfaction from getting it done. It took me a good few hours, time mostly spent to try to understand her struggle so I could make the proper corrections. Her paper wasn’t structured well enough to grant her an A, but I hoped she’d get something decent for it (when I found out she got a B+, you have no idea how relieved I was).
I thought back to when she described her mom crying. Crying for her daughter. I felt pain for her mom. I felt pain for her. But I was glad that she allowed me to see her light, even if it was just for her grade. I didn’t realize it then, but Michelle’s struggle taught me how to stoke my own little flame. When I got it to burn bright, it was nothing like I’ve ever felt before in my entire life. It burned bright and engulfed my body. The veil was fully lifted. Whoosh. I believe that by learning of this girl’s perseverance, I inherited her own might to maintain everything that I’ve learned so far.