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uncertain certainties [narrative]

the feeling of not knowing but wanting to

I first felt certainty at my masaní’s (grandmother’s) farm. I felt safe in her hogan, curled up with blankets, the stove fire hot on my cheeks, side-by-side with my younger siblings. I’d listen to their breathing, a steady rhythm accompanied by soft crackles from the burning wood. Through her living room window, I’d watch as the wild cats slept in the old pine tree. I was so sure they’d come around one day, and accept my love for their scraggly, matted selves. 

I felt certainty again later that morning, around my masaní’s peeling green dining table, eating homemade flour tortillas with Spam and potatoes for breakfast. I could see the sun rising through her rickety metal screen door. I could feel its warmth on my nose, just like at the fireplace last night. 

Take another look before it goes

Days are only footprints in the snow

How far away can I walk

Till I'm way too far from home

I wish I knew, I wish I knew

I want something more than

More than restless mornings

Getting by's so boring

“Fever Dream,” Mxmtoon

I can name moments at home where I’ve felt the most certain, the most safe, the most reassured and cozy. These moments come easy, like yellow leaves that twirl and flutter in the air before falling; a satisfying crunch on a wistful walk. And a part of me wonders if it’s because, when you’re little, everything feels absolute—you’re not looking into the future, because no six-year-old plans the specifics in their career, especially when their attention span barely covers the present. Being certain in elementary school means knowing which bus to ride to your nalí’s (paternal grandmother’s), and how much you hate riding the bus because it is either too hot or too cold. It’s watching leaves change colors and thinking to yourself that looks pretty without knowing the hows or whys of seasons. 

I took a train back to Providence recently. As I sat in the cafe car trying to write emails, I stared out of the window a lot. I lingered on the thought of certainty: New England weather is awful, but goddamn, the autumn trees are beautiful; the lakes surrounded by said beautiful autumn trees amplify the scene’s beauty tenfold; if I could, I’d ride this train forever, watching as streaks of crimson blur over into dark yellow and lime green. 

Do you ever get a little bit tired of life

Like you're not really happy but you don't wanna die

Like you're hanging by a thread but you gotta survive

'Cause you gotta survive.

“Numb Little Bug,” Em Beihold

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From my experience, feeling certain as a kid essentially came down to safety. “I know my masaní’s farm is safe,” “I know once I’m on the bus I’m safe,” “I know school is safe,” “I know my mom is safe,” “I know I must keep my siblings safe,” “I know doing well in school will help us be safe.” But as an adult, who doesn't have to live in constant fear anymore—at least, in terms of domestic abuse—feeling certain has moved beyond the bare minimum of physical and emotional safety. I don’t have to always be in survival mode. I’m allowed to think about the future. I’m allowed to be excited for the future. I’m allowed to feel both certain and uncertain about the future. 

If I smile with my teeth

Bet you believe me

If I smile with my teeth

I think I believe me

Oh please don't ask me how I've been

Don't make me play pretend

Oh no, oh what's the use?

Oh please, I bet everybody here is fake happy too

“Fake Happy,” Paramore

Obviously, the future brings more uncertainties—not because I don’t feel safe, but because I’ve never visualized a place, somewhere down the line, where I’m certainly happy. I never thought I’d make it this far in life. Sometimes a voice in the center of my throat, heavy like black tar, says I don’t deserve it, that imagining a future isn’t possible. It makes me second-guess: I erase applications, rewrite to-do list after to-do list. I feel like giving up on school and moving back home, where things are chaotic and toxic, but ultimately familiar and straightforward—where certainty becomes “just be safe and survive,” because that’s all my life should amount to. 

Every other day I’m wondering

"What’s a human being gotta be like?

What’s a way to just be competent?"

These sweet instincts ruin my life

Every other day I’m wondering

Was it a mistake to try and define

What I’m certain’s mad incompetence?

These sweet instincts ruin my life

“Imposter Syndrome,” Sidney Gish

I was at work when I finished writing my latest to-do list. On down-time, when there’s no one in the store, I try to catch up on school work or other responsibilities. Every Tuesday, a friend stops by to say hello before their shift. We catch each other up on our lives, and they offer me a small break from the dissociative state that comes with working 12-hour days. 

They took one look at my long list and groaned. 

I sigh, but smile. “Yeah, there’s always something.” 

“Break it up into smaller lists.” 

I look up from my notebook. 

“Maybe put them into genres. But just make it smaller, because looking at that is making me anxious.” 

It’s a small thing, making multiple lists, breaking things up. But I didn’t realize that making things “smaller” makes them less overwhelming and a bit more achievable. 

Everything stays right where you left it

Everything stays

But it still changes

Ever so slightly, daily and nightly

In little ways, when everything stays.

“Everything Stays,” Adventure Time / Olivia Olson

My aunt used to tell me, “If you’re not feeling good, drink some water and look up. Looking down makes you feel stuck.” She then proceeded to laugh a bit when she realized looking up at the skyline is a bit more difficult here—surrounded by brick buildings and hills—than it is back home. But her words stick with me. Just as my friend’s seemingly simple suggestion sticks with me. 

The idea of breaking it all down into more manageable pieces. I can lose track of all the branches, zigzagging and crisscrossing between paint-splattered trees. I can lose track of my footprints amongst all the fallen leaves, covering and uncovering my path. When I feel the most lost, I’m scared I won’t feel certain about anything, that I’ll always be in a strange state of not knowing where I’ll be in five years. 

But, like with my long anxiety-inducing list, I need to take a deep breath and step back. I’ll pick and pluck the small things I need to do and the small things I’m certain of to keep close. The small things I need to do to be certain. 

If I can’t see a whole future for myself, I should start visualizing glimpses of a future. Me and my siblings. Me and my cat Nicole. Me and bits of my writing. Me and pomegranates, because it’s pomegranate season. Me and the people I’ve met here in Providence. Me and the smell of the coffee I make before my morning shift. Me and the comforting food of my roommate, my aunt, my significant other. And, on the rare occasion I have an evening off, the food I make for myself. 

My uncertainty won’t disappear. But I know I’ll always feel certainty with my family, on my homeland, and with those I love. For as long as I can remember, it’s always been this way.

Maybe if I hold onto that, then someday I’ll be able to see certainties, a long-lived future, as clear as the sun’s warmth that childhood morning in my masaní’s hogan



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