Nameless Like Me

by Saloni Desai

Preschool: I can sense my teacher’s frustration as I revert to the tongue I learned first. By the end of the year, I no longer remember how to speak Gujarati. I will regret this for the rest of my life.

Kindergarten: Mrs. Roberts stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.

First grade: A boy pushes me down after pulling on my dark, unruly curls, and I cry. “Ooh, he likes you,” a friend teases. The cuts on my shins sting, but I brush aside the tears.

Second grade: My mother packed me a special lunch, paneer and rice. I hear comments about the smell and place it back in my lunchbox. When I get home, I request peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the future.

Third grade: “Can you say something in Indian?” The heat rises in my cheeks and mumble something incoherent. “That’s so weird!” Their laughs are unintentionally cruel.

Fourth grade: Mrs. Sayer stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. The class erupts in laughter. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.

Fifth grade: “So where are you from?” “Atlanta.” “No, where are you really from?” “My parents are from India, but I was born in Georgia.”

Sixth grade: I sit in the salon as the aesthetician runs the thread through my eyebrows. I flinch and feel the tears well in my eyes. It’s time to move onto my upper lip. She dips the depressor in hot wax and applies it. I brace myself as the hair rips from my face.

Seventh grade: “Don’t spend too much time in the sun. You might get too dark,” my mother calls as I rush out the door. At the pool, I hardly get into the water and take cover by the umbrellas. I still manage to darken by three shades.

Eighth grade: We are choosing Halloween costumes. We agree upon Disney princesses. I am assigned Jasmine.

Ninth grade: Mrs. Johnson stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. The class erupts in laughter. Some decide to adopt it as a nickname for me. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.

Tenth grade: “You’re pretty for an Indian girl,” a boy I like says to me. I don’t know how to feel about it. I choose to appreciate it, but we never speak after that.

Eleventh grade: My mother tells me to start writing in a journal. She tells me every time I have a panic attack. I have to record it. When the tears come without warning and my lungs fight to breathe, I write. I do it for a week. The panic attacks continue, but I don’t keep track of them anymore.

Twelfth grade: Ms. Greene stumbles over my name. For the rest of the school year, she will continue to mispronounce my name.

First year of college: “You should join the Indian Student Organization,” a close friend suggests as she heads to their first meeting. I refuse to join her.

Second year of college: “The only thing that’s brown about you is your skin color.” I beam with pride at first, but something feels wrong in the pit of my stomach. I don’t like it, but I know it’s a compliment.

Third year of college: I join the Indian Student Organization. I learn to like a little more of who I am. I can look in the mirror and feel pretty. I change my major from Computer Science to English.

Fourth year of college: Professor Baker stumbles over my name. I correct her, and she makes a note. For the first two weeks, she mispronounces my name. I correct her every time. By the end of the semester, she will know the correct pronunciation.

Saloni Desai currently resides in Georgia where she attends the University of Georgia. She is in her senior year at school and will graduate with an English degree in May 2018.