Monday, January 16, 2012

Shedding my skin

Today I am 30 years old. My face has suddenly started looking harder, I've lost a lot of the puppy fat that used to pad the hard edges of my face. Today I am also letting go.

This is a t-shirt I have had for over 10 years. I was 18 years old when it was given to me where I worked (and thoroughly enjoyed my time) as a desk clerk at Wentz Hall at the Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. I had held a job before, but only for a short time, and I had disliked the negative atmosphere there. The desk clerk position which I ended up holding for a year was the first time I was getting paid for being part of a team that was happy and where the dynamics were constructive and cooperative. And I got to smile at boys who'd stop by the desk and talk to me.

I remember the day I got this t-shirt. I hadn't even started working yet, I had just been hired. I had wanted this job for a very long time, it had just seemed like something I would be so good at. It was December, I was going to start working in January. I had attended my first all-team meeting and was riding high. That's where we were all given these t-shirts for free. It had the names of all the residence halls - Wentz, Stout, Iba, Parker - on it in sign language on the front, and on the back it had the categories of the community programmes every floor was expected to organise throughout the year, like health, sexual, social, etc.

I was 18 years old, and the Fruit of the Loom t-shirt was too big for me. I remember that day. I had recently started wearing my long, straight, dark brown hair loose and had even more recently bought my first very own shade of dark brown lipstick. It was the late 90s, makeup was brown back then. I wore the t-shirt immediately after the meeting on top of what I was already wearing and loved the way it fell on my little body. The team teased me for the way the t-shirt fitted me. I was laughing a lot that day, it was a happy day. I remember how on my way back to my residence hall, two Arab guys who also worked at the desk - we called them Omar A and Omar G - laughed and said, "hey Khadija, nice dress!" I was wearing the t-shirt over jeans but it could have sufficed on its own as a short dress, Spice Girls style.

The t-shirt never lost its shape or texture for many years. At first I used to wear it proudly around the university campus. Then it got demoted to being worn under sweatshirts and then with pajamas. It was a nice soft shade of grey, and everytime I wore it, no matter if I was an struggling 22, a disillusioned 25, a worn out 29, I knew I always had that happy day when I was 18, when I really, really felt part of something.

Today I am 30 years old. Today I am in Oman where my parents still live. Today I walked up to my closet and noticed that I had 3 separate sets of clothing. Three separate sets of clothing for 3 separate Khadijas I had been. One was the remnants of my wardrobe from my 10 years in America. This included some work shirts, particularly one orange one I used to wear with my black suit for recruiting events at my university whenever I'd go back as an alumnus from my company. And a Queen t-shirt because I used to believe in their music when no one used to believe in me. Another set of clothing was all the rich satin and silk Indian party clothes my mother would keep getting made for me compulsively in Oman in my absence when I was in America. Most of them I've never worn. They've just hung there, the collection growing over the years, desperate evidence of a panicky mother who wanted to convince herself that her daughter was still with them and that things would never change from when they all used to go to parties together in happier days. The most recent wardrobe I have now is of the cheap off-the-street clothing I had hand-washed and worn to death living by myself, as purification or penitence, in Delhi. Three different wardrobes for 3 different Khadijas, and she couldn't remember being any of them, even the most recent one. It was time to let them all go.

I sorted through all 3 sets of clothing. I sorted through every item, acknowledged the memory of it, the times we had been through together. The Khadija of that wardrobe peered over my shoulder every time. I put aside a lot of items for donation, but for the first time, I decided to let go of the t-shirt I had got the day I had worn my hair long and loose with brown lipstick at 18. For the first time, I didn't feel the need for its armour anymore. So I decided to let go of the girl I used to be because today she is 30, she has lived in 4 countries, worked many jobs and volunteered many places, written poems in secret for men she's fallen in love with along the way, and her body has finally stopped changing. She has figured out how to make make-up work for her. Brown lipstick is even making a comeback. Life has finally come full circle, and another lap now begins.

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