Living in silence was hard because of the black circles underneath my eyes. Every dark, difficult, and demanding day of my life someone would walk up to me and say “You don’t sleep, right?” Put into an uncomfortable position, my immediate answer would always be, “Yeah, I don’t,” a lie that was easy for me to tell. They say this because of my dark circles. The very “art” piece I happened to create with the very fragments of pain, emotional breakdowns, and failures experienced in my life. You’d think I would have been used to these inferences made by others, but every question killed me inside. It made me want to scream. No one knows the real reason. My dark circles tell the story. My story. A powerful story that I’ve kept hidden inside of me. Why do I have dark circles? Because I cry, a lot, but there’s more to it. It all began when my grandmother and aunt told seven-year-old me that I was the unwanted child, and that nobody liked me nor ever would. For years, I questioned this resentment. Why was I the “unwanted child”? What wrong did I commit? I eventually came to know that it was my gender that created so much bitterness. Now, you might ask, why? Any girl born in an Indian family is viewed as weak and inept. Therefore, boys are more desired in Indian families. I recall when I was a young girl, my dad’s insolent mother walked up to me while I was eating a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal on our black sofa. She took the bowl out of my hand and said “Your parents were going to abort you. The only reason you’re alive is because of your twin brother. We don’t need you. Remember that for the rest of your life.” I can never forget that wounding day. It was the first time I cried my heart out. The way I felt that day, I still feel every day of my life. The feeling of agony and loneliness stabbing and burning through my skin. I could have put it past me, but it meant something. It was hate and it left me in a position that made me rethink my character and my life, especially since it was said to me so often. It hurt so much that something out of my control, my gender, was the main cause of all this hatred and verbal abuse. As I reflect at the spiteful words that were said to me, I can only say I know how scornfully abusive it was to me to live with that for the rest of my life. Throughout my life, I have been told I am “incompetent”, “incapable”, and “unskilled” to do anything with my life because of my femininity. While trudging through life trying to prove to everyone and myself that I can do so much more, I have been put down and ridiculed to do nothing but household tasks. Growing up in a Sikh family who have held the same beliefs, that have been passed by generations, that girls have to grow up learning the duties of the house, get married, become housewives, take care of their respective families, and if they give birth to a daughter, pass the same dogma to her, because females are only adept of doing household tasks. Nothing else, nothing more. The way everyone treated me made me feel like I was a catastrophe, that me being born is probably one of my biggest failures. It made me question why I was born. I couldn’t do anything. I felt alienated from myself in the way that I couldn’t accept who I was becoming. It felt as if I was slithering onto somebody else’s canvas, becoming a mere brushstroke, allowing other people to paint out my life, telling me where and how I should live my life. Ultimately, I began to develop wrinkles underneath my eyes because I continuously contemplated my life, my goals, and my purpose of living till late at night with my eyes wide open, hands wrapped around my head, just thinking and crying. I was confused. Every time I would take a step back to look at the bigger picture, I cried even more. The picture I wanted to see was blurred with all the demands life put on me, making me lose the essence of who I was and who I wanted to be. The endless responsibilities at home of washing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms, ironing the clothes, sweeping the house, and mopping the floors pushed me away from balancing the colors of the happy and vibrant portrait I envisioned. I was imprisoned by my duties.
Life was hard, and still is. Crying was just the initial stages causing my dark circles until it went to sobbing, full and intense with tears, snot, and heavy griefs that made my head, throat, and chest ache. The type of sobbing that still carries on today, truthfully speaking. I knew crying wasn’t going to help, but I still did it anyways because at this point it was my natural response to everything. It wasn’t only people censuring me, but also the constant problems and fights between my parents that heavily affected my mental health, compelling me to break down more due to distress. I wanted my entire life to change. I knew I had to do something and take a stance to prove not only to those who I said I can’t, but myself that my life has value and importance. I wanted to fix the fights, the problems, and the terrible challenges put before me. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with others telling me I’m vulnerable and dependent. I chose to alter and transform my present for a better future. Of course, that came with much struggle and frustration because I didn’t know where to begin. From every corner of my life, I felt crippled and “incapable” like others told me I was. To that response, I remember one-night shedding tears on the bathroom floor and suddenly it hit me.
My education. The one thing that no one could take away from me. Ever since I started school, it has always been my priority. Rising to go above and beyond my norms to succeed academically has always been my goal. I’ve made several sacrifices between my happiness and my school work. To prove I was more than just a girl I had to set aside my joy to live life and make my education and schooling my privilege. I couldn’t become a stroke of paint getting stretched thin, with a brush that was starting to dry out. If my parents never came to America, I wouldn’t have the same educational opportunities there then I have been granted here. In India, many girls do not have the right to an education primarily because of their sexual-category. That is why I take my education so seriously. My only key to a new door of opportunity of growth and recognition was through my education. There was a time when I was studying close to midnight, my father came in my room and told me “You’re not allowed to study.” He took my school bag and my books and ordered me to go to sleep. I guess for him, he didn’t believe in me. For him, everything was a show and me studying was fake. 5 seconds passed, and then 10 and 20, and finally the waterworks began. But, I didn’t let this get to me. Nothing stopped me from pursing my education. I worked so diligently in school and never gave up when it came to academics, even if that meant sleepless nights finishing up school work. With school, I became confronted with the statement that girls can’t be leaders or become successful. It reminded me of what I went through at home because the same thing was said to me. Due to these assumptions, I have seen girls degrade themselves and thus their struggle to prove themselves put them on a never-ending treadmill. For myself, I wanted to attest those who alleged that wrong. And I did exactly that. Starting freshman year of my high school journey, I took on an immense leadership role in my school. Starting from Student Government and running for the President position against five other boys allowed me to express myself, my ideas, and my individuality. Since freshman year, I had been the frontrunner of Class of 2018. Excelling from my presidencies in Student Government, I moved on to bigger leadership chapters of my life. This included my prominent roles in a large business club called Distributive Educational Clubs of America, representation in New York City Department of Education Advisory Board at AOFE High School, and increased involvement in community service work at religious organizations that gave back to communities.
Now, these were all my obligations. I was an advanced and assiduous student with a program that was congested with several Advanced Placement and rigorous courses whose assignments and coursework were time-consuming and challenging. With already household tasks on my back, I unknowingly added more duties. More responsibilities gave me more strain, pressure, stress, and anxiety. However, I wanted to do more. At home, my family had no idea what I was up to in school. The way I was at home was completely different at school. I broke out my comfort zone to accomplish things my family members would never think a girl is capable of doing. When it got to junior year, not only was I increasing my leadership chapters and roles, taking challenging courses, but I began working. Nobody can imagine going to work from school, coming home having to spend two to three hours cleaning and cooking, running into the room to quickly start doing homework for the next four to five hours, and then preparing for one to hours on other obligations related to clubs and organizations I was involved with. Senior year, I became Chief Executive Officer running a Virtual Enterprise company called Millennial Money Management. I was overseeing 35 student professionals who took advantage of my kindness imparted on them. Many of their unfinished tasks were given to my hands. It was strenuous to have work piling up you, but I did it. I did feel overworked and overcommitted. With the amount of worrying, hassles, and tensions I had and was taking, there was a severe effect on my health. This long-term chronic stress crushed my immune system, my eating habits, and my sleep, and it wasn’t long enough that I stopped working normally. When it occurred to me I was stressed out was the day I had an emotional breakdown in front of my mother in the car. I told her everything I was going through and how I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. People cope with stress much differently and for, I couldn’t handle it. It felt as if it was menacing my health and well-being. I was restless, angry, sad, depressed and socially withdrawn that I lost myself at a certain point. School work was nerve-wracking. Wearing responsibilities were never-ending, but my emotional breakdown reminded me of why I took on all these jobs in the first place.
I proved that I wasn’t incapable of doing great things. In fact, I achieved far more than my brother did. For my father, grandmother, aunts and uncles, cousins, and those who brought me down because I was a girl, it wasn’t eye opening until my I got recognized by the Woman’s Bond Club with a scholarship and mentorship program that gave me a full ride to the college of my dreams because of everything I was able to attain on my own with no support from family members. You may have noticed I never mentioned my mother throughout all this. My mother is who inspired me to be the very best version of myself. She fought throughout her entire life for her children, and I fought for her. My mother does not have an easy life. She got married to man who doesn’t respect her, who fought with her every single day showing no love or empathy for all that she does for the family, and who doesn’t value her sacrifices. My mom told me “I would’ve left your father years ago but that would ruin your lives. So, I’m here and if you can’t fight through your struggles, nobody else will but only you.” That is why I take on so much. At the end of the day, I’m doing it for her. I cry for myself, for my mother, and for all the battles life brings on. My mother reminds me to keep on going. I cry to do more. I cry to be more. For my mother. As I’ve cultivated and grown, so did my dark circles. They’ll probably never go away because it’s my scar and my trophy. It’s my story.