I have a photo of me when I was three years old on the wall next to my desk – surrounded by pictures of my family. In my childhood picture, my big black eyes are boring straight into the camera, my smooth black hair is pulled back in what seemed like a ponytail with my bangs right above my thick eyebrows that joined ever so slightly, and my hands are fiddling on each side of me.
Whenever I look at that picture, I feel a raw tinge of wistfulness laced with crippling guilt. I looked so innocent in that picture, so uncorrupted. I was my parents’ first-born and only child back then, and sure enough, I was moody, incredibly stubborn and rarely satisfied with anything. I probably made my parents regret their decision to have a child, but nonetheless, they always gave me the best of everything they could and they raised me lovingly, with heartfelt hopes that I would grow up to be a sensible, smart person who would make them proud.
While I’ve never been the perfect child – I’m not half as religious as my parents would like me to be, I’ve disobeyed them and have had angry outbursts with them on more than one occasion – I did manage to make them proud in other ways. I’ve been at the top of my class ever since I was in elementary school. I’ve consistently managed to get outstanding grades at every level of my education, and the peak of it was when I got admitted with a generous, merit-based scholarship into one of the best universities in the U.S. That definitely became a major talking point for my parents to “brag” about me, as parents often do. The fact that I continued to do well in college – getting straight As, taking on leadership positions and bagging a biology internship that would boost my chances of getting accepted into grad school – further assured my parents that I am on the right track.
Why, then, do I get so sad when I look at my childhood picture?
[bctt tweet=”Why do I get so sad when I look at my childhood picture?”]
It’s true that I haven’t always been the most compliant child – my parents know better than to expect me to follow all the rules, although they certainly hope that I am. It’s because while my parents do expect me to make relatively minor infringements, such as having and/or acting on crushes, or not dressing as a modest Muslim should, in their opinion, they most likely would not expect me to commit more serious and flagrant sins such as drinking alcohol or making out with random strangers at frat parties.
So when I look at my picture and reflect on the person that I’ve become, I wonder how my parents would’ve felt at the time if they knew what their plump, solemn-faced little girl would grow up to be. It breaks my heart, and I’m torn between my mature desire to taste the forbidden, to flirt with my boundaries and my longing to return to that innocent, oblivious little girl who didn’t have that desire and hence could never really hurt her parents.
I know what you’re thinking – I could stop breaking the rules right now, if I wanted to. Nothing is lost yet, my parents have no clue about my actions. If it’s really bothering my conscience so much, then it shouldn’t be beyond me to become the model child that my parents want me to.
I guess my only answer is that I’m a weak person. I can’t resist succumbing to the temptation of drinking and feeling the buzz, and I’ve become addicted to the feeling of someone’s lips caressing mine, even though he might be a complete stranger to me and someone I would never consider dating. (Somehow, that makes it even more exciting to me – the knowledge that the guy in question has zero power over me.)
[bctt tweet=”I won’t always be this person, I reason with myself. “]
I justify my actions by telling myself that many members of my extended family have done, or are still doing, these types of things. College is a time for experimenting and being wild, right? I won’t always be this person, I reason with myself. This is just a phase.
But until this phase is over, I won’t be able to get rid of the nagging guilt and regret that I feel whenever I look at my childhood picture, or whenever I see a chubby young brown girl.