Age: 16, Grade: 11
School Name: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Educator: Nicole Cusick
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
Let’s Face Reality
Tendrils of incense tickle my nose as I tighten my dome-shaped earrings and my sari. The vocalist and violinist are discussing plans for the next piece while the drummer is tapping something on his lap, a pattern he’s just come up with and doesn’t want to forget.
My dance teacher gives me the signal to enter and I walk in, the bells on my feet singing a prelude to the piece to come. I hear the violin and bow flow mellifluously together, and before I know it the piece has started.
I never used to be able to let go of myself completely. I knew I was going to mess up and dreaded the day when everyone would finally look at me and cluck their tongues before going on to live their mess up-free lives. My palms used to take cold sweat to another level. But in these practice sessions surrounded by music and incense, and yet so beautifully alone, I find myself.
I find myself because I let go of everything that seems to define me. No, now I am the innocent deer grazing in the meadow by the banks of the Yamuna river. And now I am the river itself, flowing from the top of the frost-bitten Himalayas, where the only light to be seen for miles is the fire of Lord Shiva’s third eye. And lets not forget that I am the small child who watched his parents die as a part of a vengeful king’s master plan. I am a demon covered in warts and scars as punishment for the sins I committed in my previous life. I watch in glee as the city I set on fire burns to ashes, because it’s easier to be hated by everyone else than to hate myself. And then I am a rebellious teenage girl falling deeply in love with a handsome suitor, who just happens to be the all-powerful all-knowing universal conscience we call God.
And it is the simple complexity of the rhythm and melody, the delightfully painful love, the irresistible lust, the anger, the fear, the aching of my body and feet after hours and hours of painstaking dedication to this art, that make me who I am. All of a sudden, the shine on my palms and my sweat-stained sari and people surrounding me really don’t mean much at all. I discover myself in the rich green jungles of India, in the deep black of unrequited love, on the cold stones of an abandoned temple. This world that I created for myself is infinitely more real than the one I used to live in, the one in which I defined myself as the way others defined me.
Then the music stops.
And for a few moments the magic is still there. In me, in the musicians, in my parents watching. Their eyes dance, each story playing back like a movie on double-speed.
The small child inside me delights at their reaction, and the teenage girl gives herself a high-five.
I used to live in an escape of a world. I used to let the world decide who I was for me, because it was easier to play by their rules than to take that responsibility on for myself. Now I know that reality is nothing but a mix of the insecure demon and the terrified child and the innocent deer and the sanctity of the river. Reality feels like the frost-bitten mountains during winter-break hiking trips and the blazing sunsets of India summers. It feels like the school-girl embarrassments that I will laugh at years later and the risks I’m going to take, leaps of faith I’m going to make, rules I’m going to break.
Reality feels like it could be anything.
And God, does that feel good.