For those who feel torn between two continents.

Art by  Jackie Graham

It is just like any other day. Just like every morning, your footsteps take you to the room where you believe you belong. You walk through that same door today, but the face that greets you is odd and unfamiliar.

She smiles and says, “I’ll be your substitute teacher for today.” The words ring through your ears, echo in your mind, and that’s when it starts to happen -

You sit with your hands clutched, feeling them clam up as the moment draws closer. You purse your lips so tightly that your cheeks hurt. Everyone else is talking, singing and laughing so peacefully. How can they be so calm? You wonder. What’s the difference between us?

It’s only when you finally say, “here,” that all the life comes out of you, and you let yourself drape across your chair in relief. What you heard was not the name that you call yourself, or even what your parents call you at home - but it will have to do, you think. She’s only a substitute teacher. You know you’ll feel at home tomorrow, when the person who has carefully taken the time to call you by the name of your home returns. But for today, these things will linger: the way her brows arched when she saw your name, the way she asked where you were from with such strong, uneasy curiosity, how the smallest giggles and laughs in the room made their way to your little eardrums when you whispered, “here,” and how your cheeks quivered afterward as you thought to yourself, maybe this isn’t where I belong, after all.

.

You grow a little older and notice some new faces around you in your classes. You don’t know them yet, and they don’t know your history - where you’re from, who you are, or what you’ve been called. You decide, then, that you’re going to try something new. If I want to be different, then I have to take the first step. You take a deep breath as you think about carrying out what you believe to be your remedy. Maybe, just maybe, you will start to fit in.

When your turn comes around during the roll call, the words fall off your tongue so easily - “here! But I go by…” - as you wipe away the name you were born with in place of a new one. Your teacher smiles and says, “That’s a lovely name,” and for that moment you feel as though the world is yours. There will be no more “I am sorry”s at the nurse’s office as they struggle with your name. No more “do you have a nickname?”, no more “it’s too hard to say,” no more “it sounds weird,” no more “you have to make it easier for me.”

Your steps are as light as a feather as you walk home that day. You can’t wait to share the news with your family - “I have a cool English name now, so no one will make fun of me anymore.” And when you do, you fail to catch the sadness behind your mother’s small smile or the bitterness in your father’s aged, worn eyes. You are simply filled with bliss because you can say hello to a stranger, loudly and proudly, without them asking you how you spell your name. Now, everybody will understand, you think to yourself.

The next time a substitute teacher calls roll, you’re not afraid. Your arms and hands are lying on your desk, relaxed. You’re talking, laughing, and singing peacefully just like all the others. You so strongly believe that this is exactly what you wanted that you begin to forget a piece of who you are - the child who was lost among all the English signs at the airport, wondering if this was why she left all her childhood friends behind.

This is what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it? You wish that somebody will tell you “yes,” but there is no one there. You keep sinking into your thoughts, wondering if you were right. Everyone has one name. Why should I have two? Why should I make it so confusing for everybody else? Why should I, and how can I expect anyone to know me from the past, and love me whole?

You are still full of so many questions. Perhaps your remedy wasn’t the answer you were looking for, after all.

.

For the next few years, your name is a blur. Your true name is two syllables and a “let me spell that for you”, but your new name is “oh, you can just call me…” plus two completely different syllables. Either way, you feel as though you are settling, and you secretly wish for a way to unite the two and two together, to make yourself whole in front of the world.

Though the world spins by and leaves you undone, you slowly begin to realize that there is a constant in your life called home. Your mother has only called you by your one true name and nothing else (never your new name), and when your father speaks of you proudly at family gatherings, he pronounces you in the two syllables that have sounded so familiar to you since your childhood.

Home is where the heart is - you understand what that means now that you’ve been away and apart for so long. Your home has a distinct scent of its own when you return for the holidays. You feel truly blessed to have a place to call home, to be greeted by those who have loved you since your eyes first opened.

You have contemplated, in truth, throwing away the name your parents gave you for good. You wonder if you will ever use it again, and whether or not you will end up returning to your origin. But every time you imagine your new name taking the place of your old one, you can’t help but feel robbed somehow - as though you are being erased. You wonder if there is anybody else out there who feels the way you do - split between two continents, not quite knowing where you belong.

The notion of belonging, while so natural and easy for so many people, seems to plague you. “Why haven’t you found the answer yet?” it seems to say, keeping you awake at night even when your eyes are closed. It hasn’t disappeared for the last ten years, and you wonder if you will ever find yourself at peace.

Then, it occurs to you that you are bound by something that you have only imagined to exist. For as long as you can remember, all the others believed that you could truly exist in just one place - it was either one country, or the other. But you are hit with the sudden realization that it doesn’t have to be that way for you, because your history is yours and yours alone. You have the power to shape your story and where it will go from here.

You find yourself smiling more as you introduce your name to others. Instead of apologizing and mumbling “it’s actually pronounced this way…”, you choose to laugh and say, “yeah, I know it’s unique.” Every once in a while, others even compliment you on your name, and you are startled because it is so new to you. Instead of standing there with a blank expression and nodding along from shock as you once would have, you now have the grace to say, “thank you, I really appreciate that.”

You are a floater. If home is where the heart is, then your heart is in two places. It gets hard sometimes, because it seems as though every force in this universe is hurling you toward one or the other, but you know that there is no reason to give in. You are loved in two places. You belong in two places. You are two pieces that come together as one.

When you wake up in the morning, you don’t feel like hiding anymore. You want the world to know who you are without shame. You will start slowly, with those whom you love and treasure. You know now, too, that the ones who are able to accept your two identities without question are the ones you need to keep close and never let go. And in time, your circle of acceptance will grow, and you will be able to tell your children: no matter how your identity is formed, never be ashamed of your sense of self.

You know you will never be quite happy with every stranger’s reaction, and that you won’t be able to escape completely from the strange glances and uncertain nods when you utter your name. Once upon a time, your desire to be accepted was as strong as a fortress of war, its walls up so high to a point where your vision was blurred - but that is no more.

Your walls are down. You will open your doors, not to give yourself away, but to display all parts of you. You do belong, in the truest sense of the word. You belong to yourself.

(You have found your answer.)