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The Memory Index: W is for Witch “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.”

Life is memory in motion, and who we are blends into that. This project explores each letter of the alphabet through memory and identity. I am but a brain with a body, with something snarky to tell.

I am the witch they would have burned. The woman they would have institutionalized to quiet the discontent of her raging soul against the well-oiled machine. As a girl I watched the cruelness of the world unfold from the crystal lens of my spying orbs. I cleaned while my brother played video games, helped my mother tend to children and boiling pots as my brother competed in martial arts tournaments. I loaded laundry from basket into machine and back again and my brother loaded food onto plate collecting dishes he would never pick up and walk over to the sink.

In grade school I drank blood—Hawaiian punch—out of my Barbie thermostat and scared my classmates with curses and tales of mutant dogs. I had an evil twin, whose name I cannot remember, that would make appearances from time to time. I hummed rap songs and Blondie as I drew skulls and colored Lisa Frank ponies during religious studies, and never won a Quran contest. I pissed my pants so I could change out of my uniform, the ugliest green jumpsuit, and into my favorite puppy cardigan and plaid skirt because I hated looking like everyone else. I ran around my basement with candlesticks slaying monsters, Lara Croft exploring tombs, Rouge from the X-Men defeating the brotherhood, Barbara Gordon kicking alongside Batman — I was different.

On a memorable Saturday, I protested outside a boys’ basketball game with a blunt sign, sleepy-eyed and forever fifth grade shy; Girls deserve a team too!!!! ☮ ? ?” heartbroken after another dissolved sports team. Soccer — my arab true love — first, and now, basketball. The mosque’s private school money gods scraped and pinched and crammed us tight like sardines in classrooms and in knowledge, teachers changed like the season, but when it came to boys, they made miracles happen.

I battled Pokemon, and Yugioh and bothered male cohorts until they let me play football, even though “girls couldn’t play” or win. I tussled and wrestled in the dirt and jumped over fences, ripping holes in pants that I blamed on the washer.  They called me tomboy and spread nasty rumors. So, I buried my nose in books waiting for spells and secrets to reveal themselves to me, convinced the world’s ugliness — that rivaled my school jumpsuit and then, mandatory 3baya, combined — could be vanquished. I remember unraveling the microscopic black strings of my yellow marble buttons and bracing my legs against the green fabric, stretching to free my blue jeans. They called my mom, “Your daughter is making trouble again.”

They called me tomboy and spread nasty rumors.

Fast forward past secondary awkward years of team sports, shifting friends, and self-loathing. After sweatshirts in the dead of summer and “tomato face” when I spoke out loud. Past the thousand hours of volunteered house arrest when I barely came out of my room. My true self was borne under soft glow of the moon, through the rose colored lenses of insomnia.  I never saw more clearly — the secrets of the universe poured from the books I read, God spoke and he held me accountable for my being, just me, and no one else. What “they said” and thought, were just that. And what things actually were, we could not tell by looking. It was the first time in my life I understood the allegory of the cave, and the age of all black everything and punk defiance emerged: I didn’t give a damn.

“What will the neighbors say,” my mother’s patented catchphrase as I brought home stray dogs appropriately named Meth(I, II, & V)  and took up free-running. Dora’s Arab cousin: Yasmine the Explorer was seen all over town climbing schools, crossing bridges and kicking rocks, walking in broad daylight along the railroad tracks, hugging the sidewalk with her battered converse. I blared heavy metal from my open second story window and in the car, louder against my white mother’s “Devil’s music” protests. My parents didn’t mean to raise a witch, honest. They wanted me to wear green and mind my manners, to be compliant and quiet — instead I fell from their graces and crossed the river Rouge into the unmapped forest of mosh pits, skinny jeans, political debate clubs at community college and boys.

Boys like witches, but they can’t handle competition or stick to platonic script. Boys told me I wasn’t like other girls, and I thought this a compliment. I wore black nail polish and burped in public, laughed at the politically correct and collected hearts of coal inside my jar. I thought myself a lone wolf, above the falls of female friendship and fires of young love. Guys called me back, and then a bitch when I didn’t laugh at their jokes, and then I called myself a feminist because the sort of magic I believed in, existed. I could be that magic. I found that magic in others; the misunderstood, the marginalized. First, in my longtime enemy, love, second, in the hopeful words of a poet, “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.”

I am a woman and the world is still cruel, but the flames are cold against my skin and the padded walls are canvases for my art. With my polished crystal orbs I have spied past the future and see a tidal wave of change with witches leading the way.

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