I am tired. I joke I will write a book about all the ways in which I am tired (I am not joking). Some days I can feel the empty sigh in the space right behind my eyeballs. It happens often enough to not be a funny cocktail party joke anymore.
I take Ubers and Lyfts and you may ask, how can that make you tired? I am tired of being the token brown woman in the cab, of being the token exception. I am tired of being asked how can a girl like you not be married and would you like to go out for a coffee? I am tired of being asked intrusive questions about my family and childhood and I am tired of my learned niceness. The driver knows where I live, I try to be as pliable as I can possibly be. There is often an edge to my answers (there is an edge to me, to my entire life), but I cloak it with a full-throated laugh. I often arrive home, torn between relief and rage.
I am tired of having to waste brainspace on transport. I am also tired of the voice in my head that tells me I am ungrateful, that this is far more safety than I ever had in India. I don’t always inhabit the world of comparisons well, it is not for me.
I am tired of my own performance. I have this feisty brown woman persona going that gets loud chuckles and aghast gasps. I notice that I pull it out almost unconsciously, at bars and clubs, at parties and at social events, on dates and in arguments. It took a lot more effort two years ago, when I became a brown woman with an (adorable! wonderful!) accent simply by the act of moving to a white country. I have thought of this performance as my armor, an addition to the war-paint of makeup. But I find myself out of words and wilting at the end of these evenings. The next morning, I have the aftertaste of never quite knowing who I am.
I am tired of talking to people. I am tired of other people. I am tired of telling my stories again and again, not the stories about me but the ones about the Indian woman in me. I am tired of my flippancy and I am tired of my intensity.
All the brown women in me are tired. The one who is Indian, the fraud Indian, the never-good-enough Indian, the single Indian, the atheist traitor. I neither belong at home nor outside. I am learning to let go, to reject the need to be enough for anyone other than me. This is not what I have been taught. I have been taught lessons of pliancy – don’t get glasses, no one will marry you; why can’t you simply smile more; don’t ask so many questions; your father gets angry, it’s what men do; aunty means well.
Should I tell you of my most absurd lesson of pliancy: it is tedious, the meet-our-friend’s-son story, I will not bore you with the details. But I learned quickly and heartbreakingly that I was not home when I returned after work (a career was mostly an accessory you see). Instead I was in a war zone, a war zone where my parents sought to convince me even though every single gut cell I had was screaming no. I was told that I should not judge this man by his present but by his potential, that men grow up. Men get the liberty of growing up into who they want to be, I get the gift of watching that disaster unfold. It took me a long time to find the angry brown woman in me but once I did, there was no going back. I have been told all my life that my gut is wrong. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. But I know best and I know better than the people who brush aside boozy hugs from creepy uncles and old wretched, wrinkled hands that linger on your thighs and eyes that look down your t-shirt hungrily while reminding you to not sexualize your own self (as if).
The brown graduate student in me is especially tired. I am done with her. I hope never to go back to her again. She was made wretched by the dysfunction of a school where bodies of color and accents are repeatedly tokenized. That brown woman is especially bitter. There is a sourness that lingers. Don’t give her too many glasses of wine.
The working brown woman in me is also a wee bit worn out. Tired of all the people, tired of the men who think it is beneath them to listen to a small-sized brown woman, tired of having to brush off comments on my ‘cute little outfits’. I am tired of having to prove myself to lazy people. Frankly, I am also a little bored. Ask me interesting questions. Be better.
The bored brown woman in me surfaces often. I see her while bar-hopping, I see her while making small talk (it is the unauthentic-ness of this all I mind, not the small talk). I see her struggling to care about shouting inanities while holding an overpriced drink. I’m told I have an almost compulsive need for meaningful engagement and I would like to own it. I am not interested in intersecting with the petty periphery of your life. Either let me in and let me in deep, show me all the crevices, unlock the secrets or stay away. I do not care much for your tales of Sunday brunch and family holidays and adventures in naming with the Starbucks’ barista. Please don’t also tell me about the time you went to Asia or Africa and it changed your soul and life, I will go home and learn black magic to perform it on you. These stories they bore me, they bore me to death.
I am done. I was done a long, long time ago. But I am especially done as 2017 unfolds, a sequel to the year in which I lost a parent, took a temporary pause in my itinerant life, rollercoastered my way through grief and depression, independent subjects please note. Maybe this is when I bring out the bold woman in me who enjoys the sound of saying no, of setting even more boundaries. This includes the idea of extended family with notions of what my life should look like, online and offline — I am cautious to a mistake about who walks in my social media door, you do not get a free pass for some tenuous, tedious connection that you never earned and often exploited. All the brown women in me are done.