I sat facing a mirror and looking at myself in the eyes. It's actually much harder to do than you would imagine. It was the type of eye contact that makes you feel invaded. In a mirror, you are twice as far from yourself - you can stand right up to it but the reflection holds the same distance so you can never quite get close enough for a personal conversation. You sort of hold yourself at this judgmental distance, perfect to get a full picture and still have plenty of pimples showing. It was in this impersonal arm's length that I found myself invaded. Too much eye contact with anyone, it turns out, is too much. I had originally not wanted to do the exercise. There's a lot of darkness in there that somehow only shadows some things, but much too much to seriously explore. Much less in front of spectators.
The game was simple: you have three minutes to look at yourself in the mirror. During those three minutes, you will describe aloud what you see. Your team will sit and watch and listen. This is your time, whatever comes up is okay. It is no one's job to take care of you, you must take care of yourself - even if that means opting out of the game. After your three minutes, you will rejoin your circle but sit facing out. Your circle will discuss what they witnessed. Notice that this is a game of descriptions, this is not a game about exploring emotions, triggers or inclinations. More like: She looks tired, as opposed to: she must not have gotten any sleep. It takes practice, I promise, and we are terrible at following directions.
My friend Sky had gone first. She is one of these people who's soul is light. When I say that, I don't mean that she is shallow, or that she is dumb. She is just a person who does not have trauma. She is open and loved and grew up open and loved and I have literally seen her cry in empathy for the pain that dark people, like me, carry. She sits in her reflection and she describes exactly what she is. I can't really remember the words but I'm pretty sure "joy", "peace", "balance", "effort" come in. She is all of those things. She is all of that and more. But she is so so strong so so effortlessly, I knew it would be fine to play the game with her.
So I'm in that place where my eyes are raping me, and I immediately start to cry. I didn't think it would happen so soon, but by now I don't really care about other people.
What do I see?
"Beauty". I am so beautiful. Strangers stopping you, beautiful. Interrupting your sentences, beautiful. Can't focus on your message, beautiful. Can't. Have. A. Break. Beautiful. Can't. Not. Say. Thank You. Beautiful.
I say: "Heavy". I am so heavy. So heavy that once, laying under a lover, I cried when I told her I just am so so sad and there's never been a reason and it's never going away. And begged her to stop asking why.
"Lucky". Lucky to be small and skinny. Lucky to be given everything I've ever had (yes I have worked hard but we all know you can work your ass off and nothing comes and there are people working their assess off this very second who are not getting paid tonight and when they complain ICE shows up to clean up the protest and off that employer goes to the new batch of hopeful hard workers). I am lucky I am pretty and that when my teeth came in so crooked that it would've hindered any possibility for a career where people had to look at me, my family could get me braces. I am lucky to be so emotional, lucky that I shatter in heartbreak when I can't just reach out to hear his voice, and alternatively fall in love with strangers wherever they stand. Lucky that I found orgasms young, and had them often, and that they feel like skydiving. Lucky to be so passionate, so helpful, so broken.
"Privilege". I was raised in a home where we used the right silverware, where it mattered to put your napkin on your lap and chew with your mouth closed. Where we had to finish our wine. We believed in education. We believed in intelligent conversation into any hour of the night, and of the importance of listening to the other side in a debate, regardless of how many years you had circled the sun. I woke up to Frank Sinatra on the surround sound on Sunday mornings when my mom set up her wine tastings. I have always known to walk with my key between my fingers through parking lots at night. I have no accent, as long as I don't drink too much scotch, and I have learned to love scotch and to order it while holding that type of invading eye contact with bartenders when someone next to me is saying I'm beautiful.
I cry harder to talk about the word "privilege". I heard it said that privilege is not what you have had to live through, it's what you haven't had to live through.
I have never shaken while getting out of a vehicle, terrified that if I move my hands slightly too fast I will be deafened by the last sound I ever hear. I have never aimed a weapon at a suspect that I have been trained to believe will kill me. I have never been beaten by an angry spouse. I have never been, really, all alone.
I lose myself in the shame of it. I am ashamed of my privilege. I am ashamed of those like me, that do not see it. I am ashamed of the man who, in an argument about why my daughter cried to know that Trump had won the election, told me that "[I] may not agree but, his grandson is just as important as any girl". I am ashamed that it sounds ridiculous for me to cut off friendships because their idea of a joke is to laugh at the millions of people losing rights in this country - all while saying "can't we all just get along?"
If you were to go out, drink a little too much, and find yourself walking home with a stranger... realized the next morning there was a friend of yours at the bar the entire time. They noticed you were there. They knew you were not safe. They knew you were unable to advocate for yourself. That's not a friend. Or at least, not any friend I want to have.
I want the friend that will march my protest even when I am unable to. I want the friend telling me to get a second opinion when a doctor is not changing the treatment plan. I want a friend who complains about the unfair way her fellow humans are being treated, and that recognizes that she has a special type of power to change it. The table has always been set for rich white men, I want to friend that wants me to pull up a chair- and if he can't- I want him saying that I need it.
I want friend like Sky that, when I rejoined the circle, did not feel the need to cheer me up. A friend that with open heart, after seeing and hearing me break completely down every shell of myself, has the strength to say I am "aware".