By: Reshma Anil Kumar (they/them), India
“Okay, Reshma, you’re in this group”, my teacher told me.
The last student in the class too was segregated into one of the three groups like a leftover puzzle piece.
And for me, being the ‘leftover puzzle piece’, even though I was more talented and capable than most of my classmates, was an everyday affair. But was I used to it? Not at all.
Each time the group leaders reach the end of the selection process for group members, I’m left out like an unwanted leftover with other students who aren’t good at studying or leadership that our teachers and school wanted.
Even after all those students are picked into groups, I still stand there waiting for someone to pick me like a homeless kitten or abandoned infant, witnessing the group leaders fighting and discussing between themselves so that they don’t have to have me in their group.
Finally, because our teacher doesn’t want to waste any more time on this charade, I get put into some random group with the least number of members whose leader accepts me reluctantly with an expression full of detest.
Even after decades of being the leftover piece, I kept whispering,
“Please pick me, please...I’m capable enough, aren’t I? I’ll do well, so please pick me” like a prayer in my heart.
This prayer was never granted, be it in English class with my favourite teacher or the PE class, my least favourite, even after almost a decade of whispering.
I was a 9th grader at Indian School, Al-Ain, the only school I had and would ever study in, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At this point in my life, being a UAE-born Indian in a mostly Malayalee community in UAE, I was at least not treated like a tiger cub in a zoo like I would be later in my life.
All through my school life, the place where I was expected to have most of my social interaction, I was rather treated like a blind spot in the vision of my classmates as if I was covered by an invisibility cloak. With no one to talk to and share my loneliness with, I grew more and more lonely over the years, with more of those years to survive ahead of me.
“But why? Why me? Why…I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
Years and years of this inexplicably unanswered question revolving in my head kept calling for me to end it all with a slit of a knife to my wrist. As I was spiraling through this void of urges, I was suddenly given a decree that my family was to move closer to my father’s workplace in Buraimi, Oman.
Was this good news for me? No, all I had in me was dread for the new because I had never experienced a better alternative.
“It would just be some new people to ignore me,” was my only thought when I stepped foot into my new school bus which would take me from Buraimi to my school in Al-Ain.
Two bus stops later, a tall senior girl, whom I didn’t know would be the first turning point in my life, entered the bus. Those vibrant eyes of hers shot to a seemingly timid new face in a seat that would usually remain empty on the bus.
“Did our eyes meet just now or did I imagine it?” was the beginning of the line of thoughts running through my head when I heard someone from 5-6 seats behind me inviting me to share her seat.
Neither I nor that senior knew that this interaction would be the trigger to healing almost a decade's worth of scars while leaving a scar, possibly bigger than all those, at the time.
A few weeks of getting to know each other on those cold foggy mornings were followed by visiting and spending time in each other’s houses, sparking in me a one-sided dependence and feelings for that tall senior.
To me, it was the first to find solace in a fellow human being.
Months later, after some bright, fun, and delicious Onam (festival) and Christmas celebrations in each other’s abodes, the tall senior reported at the last minute,
“I’m leaving for India and probably won’t come back for years”
These fell like words of condemnation on me, who was imagining more years of solace and happiness to come. Moreover, in those final moments together, my tears were invalidated by the same person I considered my solace.
As fate would have it, I never got the time to face and deal with my feelings. I once again had to move and that too, back to Al-Ain.
Though with a reflection of escapism, I was grateful for the distraction which changed me like never before. The few months after the senior leaving, when I couldn’t attend school due to legal and documentary reasons at the Buraimi check-post, I had become more confident, taller, and skinnier from that chubby timid little girl, thanks to puberty.
When I finally went to school after two months of being unable to attend it, I could notice how the stares of my classmates had changed. The dark laser of disgust is like looking at something untouchable that had become slightly less potent, coloured with wonder for the superficial outer changes, exacerbated by a faint touch of confidence granted to me by that short period of solace.
All it brought to my heart was one question, “Why?” while being apprehensive of that unfamiliar change.
I definitely knew that I’m different even from back then. But what was that difference?
I had no answer to that and it would take longer and meeting more people and another turning point for me to figure it out.
It’s immensely important for schools and society to help us discover our differences and encourage us to embrace them like it’s a given which was unfortunately never done, leaving me with decades of trauma, scars, and resentment. The lessons from those years might be the seeds that sprouted such thoughts in me while writing this personal story of mine.
But struggles are always going to follow us through our lives and I think it would have been easier for me to survive if I had read the next few words by Roseanna Bisch back then,
“Tears are a sign that something in you is healing. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”
Copyright @Reshma Anil Kumar and @Gulabi Stories
Reshma (they/them) is a second-generation immigrant from Kerala, India, born and brought up in the Middle East for two decades of their life. They're a neurodivergent Writer, Speaker, and Activist, navigating gender dysphoria, sexism, misogyny, and genderism. Now, Reshma has made achieving Gender Equity, LGBTQ+ Rights, and Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice (SRHRJ) their life goal.
Kerala, India (South Asia)
Youtube Channel: https://youtube.com/c/HelloKorean