What Makes Me Human
I tap the icons for the dating apps on my Android, wondering what line others will use to strike up a conversation with me. And then I see the one that makes me sigh in exasperation, leaving me wondering how many times I will get this message because I decided to publicize my sexual orientation.
“You’re asexual? But isn’t sex what makes us human?!”
What makes me human?
When I was 7, I threw my classmate’s prescription glasses out the window of a moving bus because she thought she was smarter than me. It was the end-of-the-year field trip. I saw the glasses drop from the window, the crunch sending a shrill of satisfaction up my spine, the classmate’s shrill of protest distant yet l clear.
I was holding a yellow pencil when I was called down to the office. As I walked down the hallway, I felt slight anxiety but no remorse. The next year, the school put me in a grade ahead of her so we wouldn’t be in the same class. My mother was the principal.
My pride, my determination to be the best, my anger: are they not human?
When I was 8, I got on an elevator in a skyscraper apartment building full of people who didn’t speak Bangla. I couldn’t speak English. I remember a black woman with pink slippers next to me, the look of confusion on her face when I asked her where my mother was.
The basement of the building where I ended up was cold and hollow. The sound of my own voice echoing back to me sent shivers up my spine. An unbidden thought swiftly came and disappeared: would I die here? I clutched the box of donuts that my friend’s mother had given me. To this day, my heart beats faster when I get on an elevator. To this day, I have to remember to breathe, staring at the red emergency button.
Does fear make me human? Does memory?
When I was 12, my parents argued in front of me. My heart rate spiked, the rapid flutter of a hummingbird. Blood roared in my ears. My brother’s intervention, my mother’s stubbornness, my father’s misunderstanding. Relief still blooms in my chest on the days I don’t see my father. I was a different version of myself Monday morning to Friday afternoon.
Was that relief not human? The freedom, the confidence I felt to be myself: are they not human?
When I was 14, I had my first crush on a boy a year younger than me. My cheeks felt warm, blood rushing to colour my golden skin: a feat I didn’t know was possible until my friend pointed it out. Whenever he locked his hazel eyes with me or spoke to me, I imagined the colours of the earth, the lush forests of the world.
On days I walk past my old grade school, where nostalgia takes a corporeal form in front of my eyes, I wonder if he still kept that note I wrote him. I still think about how I didn’t know that he had a girlfriend.
Is that first love —the excitement and embarrassment of it, the disappointment and shame — not human as well?
When I was 17, my physics test had a failing grade, not in red ink to remind me of my academic shortcoming but in ordinary black ink that blended in with the rest of the test, standing out only because of the circle drawn around it, a ring of finality.
My teacher wanted to speak to me but I was too busy crying for hours, mustering up the courage to tell my mother. She had lost her voice and told me, “It’s ok. It is just one test.”
Ambition. Determination. Self-doubt. The expectations I had built for myself, my own fear and disappointment, were all eminently human.
When I was 21, I had dinner in the form of Chinese takeout dangling heavily from each hand. My phone was tucked away in my backpack. As I walked down the street towards the bus stop, a stranger yelled a lewd comment.
And again when I got to the bus stop right after I finished a class on rape culture. I still look behind my back in case anyone is following me. My old yellow shirt and flower-print pants still give me flashbacks to that day. I carry my cellphone in public, and my finger is always hovering near the emergency dial button.
These are the things that make me human.
I laugh about things way after the moment has passed, looking off into the distance in the middle of a task, a smile ghosting on my face, the echo of laughter bubbling.
I always hesitate to tell people my middle name, save for my grade 12 biology teacher who pronounced it perfectly on his first try. I wonder if he’ll still greet me with it if he saw me now.
My long nails look good on me but annoy my parents. I relish the sound they make in harmony with the tap-tap of the keys on a keyboard.
When people ask me where I want to travel, I always say ‘the seven wonders of the ancient world’. A cop-out answer of sorts but one that encapsulates my wanderlust.
A chemical in ketchup turns my upper lip red. Not the kind that I wish could pass off as a lipstick but an angry colour of irritation and inflammation.
Baby elephants make me happy. The regret I feel when I think about the lollipop my mother gave me that I accidentally threw away still creeps into my head at times.
The song I listen to before a test is Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ but Vivaldi is what floods my ears the days of studying leading up to it.
The molecules that make me are the same elements that make the universe.
I have embodied concepts of love and hate, mercy and justice, and I can speak it in two tongues. I am two decades of disappointment and love and grief and innovation and dreams, and cruelty and joy and recovery and failure.
How dare you doubt my humanity.
Hridi Das is an interdisciplinary Bangladeshi-Canadian millennial who is in denial that she is technically a legit adult. When she isn’t figuring out her future, she can be found teaching herself something new every day.