“Your name is Tasbeeh. Don’t let them call you by anything else.”
My mother speaks to me in Arabic; the command sounds more forceful in her mother tongue, a Libyan dialect that is all sharp edges and hard, guttural sounds. I am seven years old and it has never occurred to me to disobey my mother. Until twelve years old, I would believe God gave her the supernatural ability to tell when I’m lying.
“Don’t let them give you an English nickname,” my mother insists once again, “I didn’t raise Amreekan.”
My mother spits out this last word with venom. Amreekan. Americans. It sounds like a curse coming out of her mouth. Eight years in this country and she’s still not convinced she lives here. She wears her headscarf tightly around her neck, wades across the school lawn in long, floor-skimming skirts. Eight years in this country and her tongue refuses to bend and soften for the English language. It embarrasses me, her heavy Arab tongue, wrapping itself so forcefully around the clumsy syllables of English, strangling them out of their meaning.
But she is fierce and fearless. I have never heard her apologize to anyone. She will hold up long grocery lines checking and double-checking the receipt in case they’re trying to cheat us. My humiliation is heavy enough for the both of us. My English is not. Sometimes I step away, so people don’t know we’re together but my dark hair and skin betray me as a member of her tribe.
On my first day of school, my mother presses a kiss to my cheek.
“Your name is Tasbeeh,” she says again, like I’ve forgotten. “Tasbeeh.”
Roll call is the worst part of my day. After a long list of Brittanys, Jonathans, Ashleys, and Yen-but-call-me-Jens, the teacher rests on my name in silence. She squints. She has never seen this combination of letters strung together in this order before. They are incomprehensible. What is this h doing at the end? Maybe it is a typo.
“Tasbeeh,” I mutter, with my hand half up in the air. “Tasbeeh.”
“Do you go by anything else?”
“No,” I say. “Just Tasbeeh. Tas-beeh.”
“Tazbee. All right. Alex?”
She moves on before I can correct her. She said it wrong. She said it so wrong. I have never heard my name said so ugly before, like it’s a burden. Her entire face contorts as she says it, like she is expelling a distasteful thing from her mouth. She avoids saying it for the rest of the day, but she has already baptized me with this new name. It is the name everyone knows me by, now, for the next six years I am in elementary school. “Tazbee,” a name with no grace, no meaning, no history; it belongs in no language.
“Tazbee,” says one of the students on the playground, later. “Like Tazmanian Devil?” Everyone laughs. I laugh too. It is funny, if you think about it.
I do not correct anyone for years. One day, in third grade, a plane flies above our school.
“Your dad up there, Bin Laden?” The voice comes from behind. It is dripping in derision.
“My name is Tazbee,” I say. I said it in this heavy English accent, so he may know who I am. I am American. But when I turn around they are gone.
I go to middle school far, far away. It is a 30-minute drive from our house. It’s a beautiful set of buildings located a few blocks off the beach. I have never in my life seen so many blond people, so many colored irises. This is a school full of Ashtons and Penelopes, Patricks and Sophias. Beautiful names that belong to beautiful faces. The kind of names that promise a lifetime of social triumph.
I am one of two headscarved girls at this new school. We are assigned the same gym class. We are the only ones in sweatpants and long-sleeved undershirts. We are both dreading roll call. When the gym teacher pauses at my name, I am already red with humiliation.
“How do I say your name?” she asks.
“Tazbee,” I say.
“Can I just call you Tess?”
I want to say yes. Call me Tess. But my mother will know, somehow. She will see it written in my eyes. God will whisper it in her ear. Her disappointment will overwhelm me.
“No,” I say, “Please call me Tazbee.”
I don’t hear her say it for the rest of the year.
My history teacher calls me Tashbah for the entire year. It does not matter how often I correct her, she reverts to that misshapen sneeze of a word. It is the ugliest conglomeration of sounds I have ever heard.
When my mother comes to parents’ night, she corrects her angrily, “Tasbeeh. Her name is Tasbeeh.” My history teacher grimaces. I want the world to swallow me up.
My college professors don’t even bother. I will only know them for a few months of the year. They smother my name in their mouths. It is a hindrance for their tongues. They hand me papers silently. One of them mumbles it unintelligibly whenever he calls on my hand. Another just calls me “T.”
My name is a burden. My name is a burden. My name is a burden. I am a burden.
On the radio I hear a story about a tribe in some remote, rural place that has no name for the color blue. They do not know what the color blue is. It has no name so it does not exist. It does not exist because it has no name.
At the start of a new semester, I walk into a math class. My teacher is blond and blue-eyed. I don’t remember his name. When he comes to mine on the roll call, he takes the requisite pause. I hold my breath.
“How do I pronounce your name?” he asks.
I say, “Just call me Tess.”
“Is that how it’s pronounced?”
I say, “No one’s ever been able to pronounce it.”
“That’s probably because they didn’t want to try,” he said. “What is your name?”
When I say my name, it feels like redemption. I have never said it this way before. Tasbeeh. He repeats it back to me several times until he’s got it. It is difficult for his American tongue. His has none of the strength, none of the force of my mother’s. But he gets it, eventually, and it sounds beautiful. I have never heard it sound so beautiful. I have never felt so deserving of a name. My name feels like a crown.
“Thank you for my name, mama.”
When the barista asks me my name, sharpie poised above the coffee cup, I tell him: “My name is Tasbeeh. It’s a tough t clinging to a soft a, which melts into a silky ssss, which loosely hugs the b, and the rest of my name is a hard whisper — eeh. Tasbeeh. My name is Tasbeeh. Hold it in your mouth until it becomes a prayer. My name is a valuable undertaking. My name requires your rapt attention. Say my name in one swift note – Tasbeeeeeeeh – sand let the h heat your throat like cinnamon. Tasbeeh. My name is an endeavor. My name is a song. Tasbeeh. It means giving glory to God. Tasbeeh. Wrap your tongue around my name, unravel it with the music of your voice, and give God what he is due.”"
i understand that school is important and education is important but i feel like there’s a huge difference between a healthy amount of challenge in order to do better and being so stressed about school that you break down and cry
It’s taboo to admit that you’re lonely. You can make jokes about it, of course. You can tell people that you spend most of your time with Netflix or that you haven’t left the house today and you might not even go outside tomorrow. Ha ha, funny. But rarely do you ever tell people about the true depths of your loneliness, about how you feel more and more alienated from your friends each passing day and you’re not sure how to fix it. It seems like everyone is just better at living than you are.
A part of you knew this was going to happen. Growing up, you just had this feeling that you wouldn’t transition well to adult life, that you’d fall right through the cracks. And look at you now. La di da, it’s happening.
Your mother, your father, your grandparents: they all look at you like you’re some prized jewel and they tell you over and over again just how lucky you are to be young and have your whole life ahead of you. “Getting old ain’t for sissies,” your father tells you wearily.
You wish they’d stop saying these things to you because all it does is fill you with guilt and panic. All it does is remind you of how much you’re not taking advantage of your youth.
You want to kiss all kinds of different people, you want to wake up in a stranger’s bed maybe once or twice just to see if it feels good to feel nothing, you want to have a group of friends that feels like a tribe, a bonafide family. You want to go from one place to the next constantly and have your weekends feel like one long epic day. You want to dance to stupid music in your stupid room and have a nice job that doesn’t get in the way of living your life too much. You want to be less scared, less anxious, and more willing. Because if you’re closed off now, you can only imagine what you’ll be like later.
Every day you vow to change some aspect of your life and every day you fail. At this point, you’re starting to question your own power as a human being. As of right now, your fears have you beat. They’re the ones that are holding your twenties hostage.
Stop thinking that everyone is having more sex than you, that everyone has more friends than you, that everyone out is having more fun than you. Not because it’s not true (it might be!) but because that kind of thinking leaves you frozen. You’ve already spent enough time feeling like you’re stuck, like you’re watching your life fall through you like a fast dissolve and you’re unable to hold on to anything.
I don’t know if you ever get better. I don’t know if a person can just wake up one day and decide to be an active participant in their life. I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that people get better each and every day but that’s not really true. People get worse and it’s their stories that end up getting forgotten because we can’t stand an unhappy ending. The sick have to get better. Our normalcy depends upon it.
You have to value yourself. You have to want great things for your life. This sort of shit doesn’t happen overnight but it can and will happen if you want it.
Do you want it bad enough? Does the fear of being filled with regret in your thirties trump your fear of living today?
We shall see."
Dear Future Daughter:
1) When you’re at some party, chain smoking on the roof with some strange girl with blue hair and exorbitant large dark eyes, ask her about her day. I promise you, you won’t regret it. Often times you’ll find the strangest of people have the most captivating of stories to tell.
2) Please, never mistake desire for love. Love will engulf your soul, whilst desire will emerge as acid, slowly making it’s way through your veins, gradually burning you from the inside out.
3) No one is going to fucking save you, anything you’ve read or heard otherwise is bullshit.
4) One day a boy is going to come along who’s touch feels like fire and who’s words taste like vanilla, when he leaves you, you will want to die. If you know anything at all, know that it is only temporary.
5) Your mental health comes before school baby, always. If its midnight, and you have an exam the next day but your hands have been shaking for the past hour and a half and you’re not so sure you want to be alive anymore, pull out that carton of Ben and Jerry’s and afterwards, go the fuck to bed. So what if you get a 68% on the exam the next day? You took care of yourself and at the end of the day that will always come before a high test score. To hell with anyone who tells you differently."
When Love Arrives by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye
I knew exactly what love looked like – in seventh grade
Even though I hadn’t met love yet, if love had wandered into my homeroom, I would’ve recognized him at first glance. Love wore a hemp necklace.
I would’ve recognized her at first glance,…
a girl’s feet will tangle yours under sheets you just bought for a night like this. the price tag is still glued to the plastic wrapping stuffed underneath the bed. her feet are frigid and feel like frostbite against your legs when you fall asleep, but they’re like mittens roasted over a fire when the sun blinks through the curtains.
a girl’s legs are taut and thick. they’re flexible and enclose you in a straightjacket at 2 am when they knot around your waist and pull you just a little closer. if she’s still sleeping, it’s even better.
her thighs will make you forget about your calculus homework and your french exam. they will make you forget about your father’s affair or your best friend’s disorders. they will make you forget your name and they will make you forget who you are without them. hold them as tight as you can. i promise, she loves it.
when you were in fourth grade, they taught you stop, drop, and roll at the sign of a fire. when you’re in her bedroom on the second floor, her quivering hips will trick-start a similar fire in your teeth, and you’re going to want to listen to your fourth grade teacher, but don’t. if you stop, whatever it may be that you’re doing, she might kill you.
so in health class, they’re supposed to teach you that your hands will never fit somewhere like they will on a girl’s waist. it doesn’t matter if it’s wide and soft, or small and hard. your hands will adapt to her waist like the heart to your blood. they’ll feel as natural as fingers on an instrument.
sometimes you can see her ribs; sometimes you can’t. they flicker like an old grainy movie under her skin, and they feel like sharp magma in your palms. they’re structure — they protect her. hold her there if you want her to feel like this house isn’t caving in on herself.
her chest. promise her you’d never want anything more or anything less. if you don’t mean it, stop reading, and find someone else.
taste her collarbone. dip in the crevices and valleys and plant trees at the bottom. root down, cherish the nature, and never ever underestimate a girl’s collarbones. they’re a place to sleep when its -11 outside. write scripts on her collarbone. they are forever.
if you don’t know blueprints to her neck with your eyes closed from tracing it with your mouth, you’re doing it wrong. learn it. memorize it. you better know her pulse like counting with your dominant hand. kiss it like it’s her mouth. her neck will change over time, yes. but make sure you can change with it.
kiss her before she brushes her teeth. make fun of her morning breath. kiss her after, and make fun of the flavor of her toothpaste. kiss her when she’s angry and throwing the vase your mother bought her, and kiss her when she can’t stand and she bubbles over with tears like hot water. kiss her if she’s laughing and tell her it’s because she makes you happy. kiss her if she won’t stop talking because you want to taste her voice. kiss her when she isn’t talking because you miss it. kiss her in the shower and kiss her everywhere. if it’s raining, kiss her, and kiss her again when she calls you a cliche. kiss her in public because you want them all to know, and kiss her in private because you don’t need them to either. god, just kiss her on the mouth. nothing else matters. just fucking kiss her.
is it morally okay to pray that your crush’s relationship doesn’t work out