Who Are You To Bloom?
Spring is often a mark for starting over. In countries with four seasons, spring calls for the sun to come out; a sign for you to switch your winter coats to lighter and brighter outerwear. Flower buds would appear on dull bushes on front yards, seemingly out of nowhere, though in reality, everything has been in preparation to bloom. As I reflected on my own blooming this year, I knew it’s only right to talk about the very real experience of non-blooming. Have you been blooming, dear starlings? And if not, why? What are the kinds of conditions in which we wither?
From late December through February, I did research for an article I wrote about the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants on the West Coast on the United States by the government during World War II in 1940s. After the Japanese Army attacked Pearl Harbor, the US government decided to lock up residents of the Allied countries whom they suspected were spies. The twist was that those of Japanese ancestry were locked behind barbed wires at a much higher rates than others. About 120,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and relocated to places that are as close as it gets in US history to Nazi concentration camps for the Jews in Europe. An administrator of a college I attended told me that her older sister was the youngest incarceree from Washington State when her family went there. Her older sister was two weeks old.
Many of the families of Japanese immigrants in the Seattle area at the time were farmers who grew vegetables that would be sold at the Pike Place Market, one of the city’s landmarks. Some have said that upwards of 90% of the vegetable stalls were rented by Japanese vendors. But by spring of 1942, those stalls were emptied as hundreds of thousands Japanese Americans and immigrants were rounded up to go to incarceration camps in the middle parts of the country. That spring, large amount of crops were not harvested.
Many of the young ones obviously didn’t understand fully what was happening to them. But the incarceration sparked a lot of physical and psychological pain for everybody, regardless of age. Some died in the camps, including newborn babies. Some left the camp with depression and anxiety, which affected their daily lives in various ways. They had various coping methods, all in the spirit of the Japanese American sentiment of gaman, which means to endure. I remember stumbling upon a collection of personal essays where one woman wrote about her junior prom that was held in the incarceration camp. She must have been 15 or 16 years old then, ages that we normally understand to be pretty damn important for girls—a period of a significant blooming emotionally, intellectually, physically. Yet, she had prom in prison. She and thousands of others had to make do with what they had to keep sane.
I recently read that a doctor named M.K. Hamza coined a new term for the pain that Syrian children experience in a perpetual state of civil war: Human Devastation Syndrome. Those children see death at an incredible rate. And they don’t see decaying bodies resting peacefully—they see blown up pieces that used to be their parents or siblings. Nine out of 10 times, airstrikes that killed them and their families were launched by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime and his allies. Those children have been internally displaced, having to end up at overpopulated refugee camps, being denied of a stable environment in which they could be carefree. In 2014, the United Nation said that there were nine million Syrians who were refugees in other countries or internally displaced. According to Amnesty International, in 2017, the death toll of this civil war has surpassed 400,000, which translates to the fact that one in every 100 Syrians have been killed. Dead or alive and traumatized, they have been denied, violently, of blooming. The term that is usually ascribed to them, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), just isn’t enough anymore.
Loss of loved ones due to violence is stressful enough. The desperation and the ways Syrian children cope is nothing short of heartbreaking too. Many young girls as young as 8 years old would sell themselves to survive. While people with enough privilege like you and I bloom, Syrian children become hardened.
Non-blooming: an indefinite state of life prescribed and regulated by greedy and murderous governments? What parts of you had to be put on hold to make room for the continuity of your breath and heartbeat?
On Wednesday, March 1st, I woke up feeling euphoric. The light yellow walls looked a different shade. I quickly turned my gaze to the window adjacent to my mattress and I blinked twice to make sure it’s true: the sun came out that morning. It was the first day of my birthday month. I put on my favorite sheer, long-sleeved, light blue top. The deep V neckline revealed the top part of my breasts which were ready to be sun-kissed a little. It was my day off of work and I spent time writing and reading for leisure, drinking coffee and people-watching at my favorite cafes, and soaking in some sunlight. I was glowing all day, especially after I got an impromptu tattoo from one of the best tattoo artists in Seattle.
At 3 in the afternoon I asked myself, “But really, why do I feel so good today?”
I crossed the street with a friend on our way to a popular donut shop on 12th Avenue and East Union Street when I remembered something I had tried to forget all year long: I was a couple of days away from the one year anniversary of a sexual assault that wrecked me emotionally for months. Around the same time in 2016, the sun came out all the same, but I felt so irreparably dark and destroyed. I kicked off my grieving process by running away to the northern parts of India. I was in a study abroad program but really, it was an excuse to be under the harsh sun and the familiar traffic noises that reminded me all too well of Jakarta. I needed to feel a sense of home, even when it only meant being in a country in the same continent of my childhood home.
I came back three weeks later and I was wrecked all the same. As it got sunnier, most people I knew fell in love if not with another person, then with themselves or their craft. On the other hand, I grew to hate everything I was and everything I created. I stopped writing. I stopped editing. I stopped dancing. I was a wilted flower—heck, no, I was a shriveled up flower bud. I had been denied a period of blooming.
The confidence, the glow, the entitlement with which I walked around my neighborhood that sunny and warm day on March 1st, was one year in the making. For this I was lucky. When the conditions are right, we all learn to bloom. For others, how long should they wait for this experience, which is so rightfully, undeniably, theirs?