You look at yourself in the mirror and are confused with what exactly is before you. There you are, at the ripe age of twenty—what is supposed to be the prime of your life. However, your life is anything but prime. Your skin doesn’t glow with youth, but rather is colorless and grey, as if the joy and spark of life that was once an immediate acquaintance to your overall being has been slowly drained as days turned into weeks, that turned into months, and eventually years. You try to bring forth a smile; that smile that you broadcast to the world the minute you step out of your door and into the real world. But the longer you smile, the more it aches and pings your cheeks, making a frown not only relaxing but comfortable as well. You wish that it was more appealing in society to frown rather than to force upon yourself a plastered smile. 

There are bags underneath your eyes. How long have they been there? They only exaggerate the tiredness and exhaustion that has been placed over your head and shoulders for who knows how long. You reach up to gently touch them and notice how dry and brittle your fingers look. Your skin has begun to turn grey and ashy from lack of moisture and the cold winter air, and your fingernails are brittle and slightly bloody from an anxious series of biting. You really are a mess among messes, you think dryly to yourself. 

You look down at your phone and notice that time is slipping away before you have to get ready for your first class of the day. You take out your arsenal of makeup out and start to fix the evident imperfections on your face. You fix your dull skin with some bright foundation, you conceal the bags underneath your eyes with the forty-dollar concealer the woman at Sephora insisted you buy. You add some sparkle to your eye lids so that they can emphasize the fact that you are a hundred percent happy (which you know damn well is a lie). You finish off the look with that one red lipstick that your mama hates because it “doesn’t look good on dark women”. You smack and purse your lips and look at yourself in the mirror once again. You take a deep breath, give that exhausting smile, and leave the bathroom door and out into the real world.

Your car is your safe heaven. It isn’t anything fancy like an Audi or a Jeep, but a simple green Toyota Corolla. It has everything that you could ever want: a back view camera since you’re not really the best at parking, cup holders for your daily cup of caffeine to sit on, and bluetooth so that you can play all of your favorite songs straight from your phone. It is raining, which actually brings you lots of joy. You love the way it sounds when it hits against your windows–it’s almost therapeutic to you. You sit in your car and breathe as the rain continues to pelt down onto your windshield. You would stay in your car forever if it meant staying in this moment. You sit in your car and close your eyes as you listen to the loud shaaaaa of the rain as they pound against the car and the ground. But alas, you realize that you can not stay in this fantasy and turn on your car, the soft melody of Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” flows throughout the car and into your ears as you pull away from the curb and head to campus.

You hate coming to campus. There’s nothing familiar or homey about it. The whole point of choosing a college is to find a home away from home. But you didn’t take into consideration the lack of understanding that would come from going to a school like this.

Everyone looks the same here on this campus: blonde or brunette, with piercing blue eyes and fair skin that closely resembles milk. They wear makeup that is most definitely too dark for them, but only for white girls is it okay for them to look darker and be accepted by society. Those with curly hair never have curls tighter than 3A, but all they have to do is put a little moose in their hair and they immediately get to head out the door and live their lives. No deep conditioning. No twisting or braiding the night before. No silk wrap to make sure that their curls aren’t distressed: the most simple of simple lives.

Your white friends are overall okay. You share laughs with them whenever appropriate, watch movies and do homework together; normal things that friends do. You try really hard not to talk politics with them, because when you do, they never understand. They don’t understand your passions about civil rights. They don’t understand why it’s absolutely devastating and heart wrenching that another defenseless black man was gunned down by the police. They don’t understand why whenever you drive and are right next to a cop car you have panic attack and need to pull over to the side because God forgive if a cop pulls you over one minute and by the next minute you’re laying down on the pavement surrounded by a pool of your own blood. You’ve stopped bringing up such topics because it has honestly become so exhausting to explain yourself. You sometimes wonder if they’ll ever understand.

Throughout your day, things are good and things are pretty bad. You see friends of old and new that bring forth a genuine smile to your face, but also see glimpses of the problematic that only make you feel even more frustrated. You count the number of people that pass by that you know says “nigga” behind closed doors. Before you know it, you lose count. You walk past people who claim to be the most “woke” who are also homophobic and claim that building a fat wall is the only way this country can be “great again”. The more you count, the more weary you get. Someone comes up to you, an acquaintance of yours, and starts talking to you about rap. They start delving deep into the meaning of black struggle and claim that they could never be a black person if that was what they went through. You wonder if they forgot that they’re talking to a black person. You’re so offended and boiling from within and all you want to do is yell and scream at this person for the ignorant words that are coming out of his mouth. But you don’t. You can’t. That would paint you as the “angry black woman”–a label that you know will probably never go away. So what do you do? You awkwardly laugh, punch the side of his shoulder and say the painful phrase, “It really be like that sometimes.” Afterwards, all you want to do is throw up.

As day slowly turns into night, you arrive in front of the door of your most dreaded class. You think back a year and a half in the past, when you were an ambitious, naive freshman who was simply looking for somewhere to belong. You found this program that over glorifies the word “Leadership” and thought that this was definitely the place for you. You were a leader in high school in many various ways, so you thought that this place would be perfect. A leader amongst other leaders, what could possibly go wrong? A year and a half later, you realize that unless you’re a straight, white individual, everything can go wrong. Micro-agressions, lack of transparency, pure ignorance, –you are sick of it. This program has not only caused you so much pain and emotional distress, but you have sit and watched many of your peers cry out in anger and distress over the ignorance that has flooded the classroom over the past year and a half. You close your eyes and swallow. The mantra from The Help swirls in your subconscious and gives you the courage that you need in order to survive this dreadful class: “You are kind. You are smart. You are important.”

Everyone is laughing. Everyone is smiling, People are exchanging words of joy and happiness, but you and your fellow marginalized peers know damn well that everything is a façade. Through glee and happiness there is a thick fog of tension that looms over the class that no one wants to acknowledge. Their eyes dart and glare at you, ready to pounce at whatever slightly aggressive phrase you could say next. There are those who think that all you and the rest of your peers do is complain, ungrateful of the “amazing opportunities that this program has offered you.” There are those who ridiculously believe that the best way to resolve these deep-rooted issues is to simply join hands and sing “Kumbaya”. You sit, you listen, you participate once or twice, but you mostly sit. And listen. And listen. And listen.

The longer the class goes, the more your heart races faster and faster. You don’t feel safe. Nothing is even happening, yet you still feel unsafe in this environment. Your hand is slightly shaking, you dig your nails into your wrist, and your heart feels like it could burst at any moment. You dart your eyes to the left and to the right. You see the man who glorifies Trump as America’s saving grace speaking about his experience with solving conflict at his summer job. The girl that keeps commenting about how “exotic” your hair looks brings up her experiences at her on-campus job. The professor who simply nodded and never intervened when your identity was basically being ignored and attacked applauds the two of them for their participation in the class. You can’t take it any longer. You feel as if the world around you is darkening, causing you to sink deeper and deeper into a world dark and cold. You keep taking quick glimpses at the clock. Thirty minutes. Twenty minutes. Ten minutes. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. The second class is officially over, you storm off, not even giving your classmates a graceful goodbye. You need to get our of here. You need to be alone. You need to be away.

And then you see it. On the black-tar parking lot, sitting in the pouring rain, is your green Toyota Corolla.

You rush into the car, lock the doors, and suddenly a flood of emotions hit you like a baby squirrel getting hit by an eight-wheeler. You’re sobbing. You’re shaking. You’re screaming. You’re not strong. You’re not this bronze statue that can withstand whatever is thrown at it, but rather at times you can be as fragile as paper, especially this moment. You want to go home. You miss your dad’s wise words, your mom’s cooking, you’re sister’s wise-cracking. You miss the sound of Premiere League playing in the background as your sister grunts and groans in response to your mom tugging on your sister’s hair. You miss your girl gang from high school, the ones who understood you despite none of them looking like you. As you sit in your car, your safe haven of a car, it is at that moment that you feel truly alone. Lost. Almost abandoned, not by anybody specific, but rather by society as a whole.

Not good enough.

Not good enough.

Not good enough.

Those three little words echo in your mind over and over again. They grow louder and louder the more you continue to think about them, causing you to dig your nails into your hair. You cry louder to drown out the noise, but it still circulates your subconscious like a never-ending carousel. To them, you are not good enough. You don’t ever think that you will be good enough. You’ll never be the perfect colored woman–someone who just sits and listens and pretends that everything is okay.

There you are, at the ripe age of twenty, crying in your car in the midst of an anxiety attack: truly the time of your life.

After what felt like a million years of tears, you get a text from one of your best friends. She’s checking in on you like the mama bird she always is, and is inviting you to indulge on some wine. You dab away the tears, ignore the rear-view mirror that displays your post-crying face, and reply agreeing to go. You know you probably shouldn’t be alone tonight, plus there’s never anything wrong with drinking wine.

You arrive at the apartment, and a lot of your closest friends are in the apartment, laughing and drinking and full of smiles in the room. They all take one good look at you and know that you have gone through some shit. But instead of holding in your tears and pretending that you’re fine, you become vulnerable and let out every single ounce of frustration that has been bottled up inside of you since you woke up today and looked at yourself in the mirror. But there is a difference that you notice. Instead of feeling even more frustrated than before, you actually feel relieved. You vent for what feels like a millennia, and when you’re finally done, you take one deep breath, and look around you. Instead of looks of sympathy, empathy fills the air. Your friends understand; in fact, they feel almost the same way. They give you warm hugs, they affirm you and the identity that comes with it, but most of all, they make you feel safe. You continue to let the tears fall down your face, but then suddenly realize that you’re wearing makeup. You politely ask your friend for makeup wipes, and she directs you to the bathroom down the hall. As you enter the bathroom, you see yourself in the mirror. Your mascara has created a black trail down your face from the tears, your lipstick is slightly faded after neglecting to reapply, and your concealer and foundation has slightly shifted because of the tears. You have seen some shit. You have heard some shit. You have been through some shit.

You grab the makeup wipe and slowly start to wipe your face clean. Your foundation starts to disappear, revealing your real, beautiful, brown skin. Your eyes no longer sparkle, but look rejuvenated after releasing your inner anger to your friends. Your lips are no longer red, but behind the red hides a shy smile that wasn’t there before at the beginning of the day. After wiping your face, you take a good look at yourself. The bags underneath your eyes have returned, still sullen and dark as ever. The only reason why your skin is glowing at that moment is because of the serum-like residue from the makeup wipe.

Your skin is bare. Your lips are cracked. Your eyes are ridiculously puffy.

There you stand, at the ripe age of 20, and there is still so much life to occur.

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