Who are you?
A simple question. Just three words. Nine letters total. Yet, it is the hardest question I’ve ever had to answer.
I’ve been working on my graduate school applications. The hardest part has been the personal statement. Nearly every graduate school requires one, and the two I am applying to are no exception. It should be easy, right? I’m a good writer. I’m intelligent. This should be a piece of cake.
Except it’s not. Because they want to know who I am. And I don’t know who I am.
In the first 29 years of my life, I never had the opportunity to be me. Everything I was, was based on what my mother wanted for and of me. She decided where I went to school. She decided where I worked. She had control over the food. She had control over everything.
That is why I have so much trouble, even today, making any kind of decision. I’ve had to have other people order food for me because I couldn’t decide on what I should eat. I nearly had a breakdown at Dunkin Donuts yesterday. The woman asked if I wanted the doughnut with or without sprinkles, and I froze. She asked again, and I struggled to find words. I wanted to cry. Over sprinkles.
Even the most basic facets of a person’s identity are complicated for me. The only thing I can say for sure, 100% of the time, is that I am a human being. Everything else? Complicated. Am I a woman? Yes, I have the anatomy, I guess. But I can’t tell you how many times I have stood in front of the restrooms in a public place and had to remind myself which gender I was, because there are times when I’m not really sure what I am.
For many, family shapes who they are. I don’t have that. I have no connection to my parents, no connection to my brother. I have no knowledge of my mother’s side of the family at all. Half of my genetic contribution, and I know nothing about it. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Shit, I’m still holding out hope that I was adopted. The very little I knew about my birth was a lie; I found out when I applied for a social security card last year that my place of birth was not what my mother told me. Was anything the truth?
Maybe I wasn’t even born. Maybe I don’t exist at all. I don’t even know anymore. Did I ever know?
Most times I don’t feel myself, if I even knew what being myself would feel like. Is this me, or is it a part of me? I don’t know how to tell the difference. What is my name today? I don’t know that, either. I guess I’ll just answer to anything.
I’ve had an identity that was always based on other people. I was never me, I was always Lori’s daughter. I am feeling angry, this means I am my father. I am a woman, this means I am my mother. I have never been me.
In many ways, my identity was stolen from me. I was never allowed autonomy as a child. I was never allowed to make choices for myself. Every aspect of my life was chosen for me; everything was controlled by my mother. How am I supposed to know who I am now if I never had the chance to be anybody?