Illustrated by Chrys Marr (She/They)
This article was originally published in our Spring 2022 print issue “Reflections of Radiance.“
In July 2021, I decided to revisit my childhood school, Eisenhower Elementary. I decided to go because I had felt so many emotions from the culmination of so many situations, relationships, experiences, and lessons, and I was left with this feeling like I was losing myself. I had recently discovered I was attending UCLA, and much of what was tying me back to the Bay Area was slowly dissipating. The days felt like a blur, like reading the pages in a book and realizing you’ve made it to the end of a chapter and you remember nothing. The sense of liminality and being in a transition plagued me. I was looking for definition from the abstract, something concrete from the abyss.
Something about life up until the end of middle school was always so intense. It was the combination of feeling a queerness under attack, a loneliness fueled by apathy, and a lack of community all at once that created a euphoria of emptiness. I’ve heard that word in its many different flavors: euphoric, orgasmic, enchanting, intense, but all I feel is that everyone craves those emotions at their peak. Everyone wants to feel a sense of fulfillment, a: “this is what I’m supposed to be feeling” when they feel great. But what about the importance of lows? What about those of us who have moments, experiences filled with an unavoidable lack of emotions rather than presence?
The car slowly inches up to the curb I walked away from on my last day of school, carrying a Trader Joe’s bag of books I thought I never wanted to let go of; knowing that others had read those words and felt those same emotions emanating from a page provided me with a deep comfort. I recall the cheap fabric of these short turquoise pants I was wearing that day, their brightness symbolizing my effervescence. This child deeply resonates with me. They may not have known it, but they could not get enough experiences. It was not that life had yet to place its rough, coarse palms over their gentle, ductile soul — they had been experiencing what it felt like to be under attack for a long time. But in spite of this, they were voracious for knowledge and their appetite grew daily.
Slowly but steadily, my younger, jovial silhouette starts to reappear, frolicking in the playground with my fairy sandals in the tanbark, swinging on the monkeybars. There were so many times that I fell into the sand expecting to be caught but instead forcefully thrust back up. The sand beneath me did not push me away or refuse me in my most vulnerable self. It gently yet firmly reminded me there is another chance. After every bruise and scar, there was another opportunity to get back up.
It was time for me to make my way to the actual school. I remember peering over the hill demarcating the boundary of school and park where so many of us rolled ad infinitum, endlessly praying we could feel our stomachs swirling and minds racing. But I wanted to give myself time to look at the school properly. That intensity, that feeling that everything was passing me by so quickly, was creeping back into my psyche again; it’s attached to the memories of school. I had to make sure that intentionality followed my every move, because if I did not, I knew I would be replicating the harshness of my childhood that made every moment so fleeting. I don’t have the benefit of the naivety that comes with being outside, every detail from the prickliness of the grass to the amalgamated noise of my peers flooding my mind with stimulation.
“At this moment, I feel all-powerful yet powerless when it comes to my reality.”
There is a family celebrating their birthday with a jumphouse, colored with royal purples and daring reds. Friends, community, and embrace fill the air of the bubble they’ve created. I remember having a similar one myself. This poetic moment is a reminder to keep going, a reminder of why I came to this park. I see cyclicality surrounding me; there was a reason I was called to come here today. It’s so clear that I get to witness a cycle upon its return, and that this child will have a journey in which they revisit this spot, too. At this moment, I feel all-powerful yet powerless when it comes to my reality.
The edges of the portables, pink hues of the swing set, and blues coloring the classrooms intensify, and I’m forced to face the place I once called my school. I recall a memory as I witnessed another group of kids out with their daycare supervisor. Walking back home from a day of seventh grade, I walked through my elementary school on the way. An old supervisor noticed me and recognized me, asking me how I was doing.
“So how have you been? Have you changed the world yet?” they said.
I replied, “What? What do you mean? I’m in seventh grade.”
“I just remember the younger you being so eager to make things different and wanting to change the world. I just thought that you’d continue that in middle school.”
It’s so tempting to shove this particular memory away. It goes beyond hurting, it burns. I want to say I’m sorry to this supervisor, but that’s not the person whom I must apologize to, and I know it. I must say sorry to myself. I must mourn the child who had yet to become jaded, tired, and afraid of what life would bring and for me, the younger me who had yet to see the negotiation of my identities all in one and how those could be my superpower and vice simultaneously.
But I continue to cross the fields. I fall and lay on the ground, touching the grass, absorbing the flashbacks and memories. It’s all important to me. Feeling the overcast project its own, symbolic shadow over my body, the little brown, gay child and their silhoutte reappears. They’re laughing, but scared. They know there’s something in the future that is special for them.
“I must say sorry to myself.”
I chose to come here not just to reminisce. For so many queer folks, who we were as children, when we were untouched by the confines of reality and its harsh preconceptions of who we should be, is who we strive to recreate. The freedom, the unabashed embrace of our deepest selves is something that we have learned to fear over time. The pain that I was looking to heal from will never stop this child. This child pushed and fought at every corner of society that rejected them. They remodeled these corners and built soft edges that caressed them when those hiding in the margins rejected them.
I realized again that this child knew, unlike me, that although other people were going to seem stronger and bigger, they were not going to be stopped by anyone. They knew that their next experience was just another hill to usurp. I had changed by forgetting that. They challenged every interaction with a burning passion so bright that their future reflected onto everyone, demanding to be noticed. This child impacts everyone they come into contact with. This child is me.
My name, Shaanth, means peace in Hindi. I often joke around with my close friends that this is ironic to anyone who knows me. I’ve grown up to become intense, all over the place at times, and unapologetic. But I’ve noticed that this child has lost their name’s meaning over time because of the contortion, pain, and confusion that thrived in their mind. I came to this school to remind myself not why but who and what I am fighting and waking up for. Peace is not a status that exists in solitude or a vacuum; it’s an everlasting pursuit of getting back up, falling through an abyss and clawing your way back to the top. I will find peace; I will find what Shaanth means for myself. I will see this child’s journey through.
“Peace is not a status that exists in solitude or a vacuum; it’s an everlasting pursuit of getting back up.”
This elementary campus is no longer mine. There are new adults, new children playing on the playground and a zipline that I could never manage to actually cross. They have new strengths, challenges, and ideas about the world just as intricate and enthralling as mine, if not more, but their experiences will never be mine and mine never theirs. I must end this revisit and make my way back to where this child’s world has taken them, one experience at a time, onwards toward a peace I’m searching to define.
Author: Shaanth Kodialam (They/Them)
Artist: Chrys Marr (She/They)
Copy Editors: Emma Blakely (They/She/He), Bella (She/They)