Every so often, I would be sitting peacefully, not doing very much at all, quietly being, when bam! The subject of identity appears out of nowhere and whacks me over the head with a large stick, demanding that I define myself. So rude…
You see, I had it all figured out once, in the days of yore, when I had pretty much everything figured out. I was, relatively speaking, a toddler, but a toddler with an unshakeable sense of my own identity. I knew my stance on every issue. And if I didn’t know, I’d make it up on the spot and then accept it as absolute truth forevermore. I knew who I was, and both how I was separated and how connected to everyone else, I felt my roots securing me to a particular plot of land, I knew where I was going to go in my life, I knew it all. Every so often I would feel an unexpected tremor in the world outside: a conversation had, a person met, a book read – suddenly things would shift a tiny bit and my narrative of life would have to be adjusted. But nothing more than that.
Then came the earthquakes, the tsunamis, the avalanches, the natural cataclysms of the soul. They raged in me for months, turning into years. The world as I understood it ceased to exist. Afterwards, I walked out onto the devastation of my former self and found it filled with uprooted trees, shards of glass, broken bodies of my imaginary future lives and shattered words.
I was very young. I started rebuilding, rearranging concepts in my mind, clearing off the debris, making space to settle in again. I left Poland, the roots seemed to had been torn out of the familiar ground for good anyway, I opted for replanting. Somewhere new, to build the new me, somewhere with no painful reminders of all the things I’d lost. Because much had been lost. Gone was the self-confidence, gone was the trust, gone were my easy pretty words I used to string into colourful necklaces of story and verse, and so much more.
Understand, I wasn’t upset that I had changed, we all do overtime, or we should anyway. But from my point of view I didn’t change, I simply was changed. I did not calmly, patiently grow up but instead was battered, dismantled and left in pieces, with significant parts missing. One day the world had been full of hope and light, the next replaced by the seemingly never-ending, all-consuming night. When the sun rose again, I wasn’t there. Something was, someone, but not recognizably me.
However, as I said, I rebuilt. It took some time, it never felt as secure a construct as the one before, but I started to know again the person I saw in the mirror. I put down new roots. I had a whirlwind love affair with the city I found myself in. After the first turbulent phase of blind admiration mixed with bitter quarrels and fervent threats of breaking up, we settled into a devoted friendship, forgiving one another our various flaws and quirks. I manufactured from scratch an Irish identity for myself. A Dublin girl, who maybe doesn’t quite perfectly fit in, but frankly, who ever does anywhere?
After a while, you guessed, the dark night came again. First time around it felt like a sudden and incomprehensible disaster, this time, more like a grim inevitability. It ravaged just as thoroughly though. When I ‘came to’ again (and really, this is how it feels, like I haven’t even been properly conscious for months at a time), a whole new set of doubts settled in as I wearily started to glue myself back together. Maybe me, the real story I should tell of myself, was the darkness, and unbeing, and despair? It seemed like the only narrative that made sense anymore. Everything else became so fractured, pieces of the past broken off and drifting lonely and absurdly on their own. I lost coherence, I was full of incomplete sentences and fragments of memories, and syllables. I had no idea how to tell my tale. The darkness was a constant and temping me do define myself by its unalterable presence.
But you see, whatever else about me got lost, at least one core feature remained. I am stubborn. And obstinate. And contrary. And I absolutely refused to accept that state of affairs. And again, with glue and scissors, chalk, clay and feathers, little bits of colourful string, glass beads and dried up leaves I made a new my Self.
Now is the time for the abridging part. There is no obvious happy ending here. This is all going on all the time. Stubborn I well may be but that does not mean I blind myself to the facts. The darkness comes and goes. I’m waking up from a long night right now and dust has not yet settled on the latest ruins. It is a part of the tale. It is a part of me. I will not define myself by it but I acknowledge its existence in me.
When the subject of identity comes over to whack me on the head with a large stick I’m still not sure what to say. The best I can come up with is that I’m all of it. I’m Polish, and I’m Irish and even just a little bit Canadian. I’m every broken off memory absurdly drifting out by itself. I’m the hope and the light, and I am the endless night. I’m every incomplete sentence, fractured word and syllable, I’m the things I’ve lost, and the things I’ve repaired myself with. The things I forgot and these I can’t help but remember. I’m a patchwork of insane patterns, the leaves, the chalk, the feathers, the colourful strings. I’m incoherent in my past, I don’t know squat about the future, the only thing I can hold on to is the here and now and even that is not certain.
So I do the best I can, I stay stubborn and survive. And keep rebuilding myself. Again and again, and again.