I’m sorry. I can’t contain my laughter. just give me a minute.
I just lost brain cells.
“And it upsets me that as I record this video #wewillalwayssupportyoujustin is trending on twitter. I wish all the people who were tweeting that right now would be forced to send a tweet to explain to Katie’s family in 140 characters or less why they would quote always support someone who would do something as fundamentally selfish as driving drunk.”
- Josh Sundquist [x]
“Your name is Tasbeeh. Don’t let them call you by anything else.”
My mother speaks to me in Arabic; the command sounds more forceful in her mother tongue, a Libyan dialect that is all sharp edges and hard, guttural sounds. I am seven years old and it has never occurred to me to disobey my mother. Until twelve years old, I would believe God gave her the supernatural ability to tell when I’m lying.
“Don’t let them give you an English nickname,” my mother insists once again, “I didn’t raise amreekan.”
My mother spits out this last word with venom. Amreekan. Americans. It sounds like a curse coming out of her mouth. Eight years in this country and she’s still not convinced she lives here. She wears her headscarf tightly around her neck, wades across the school lawn in long, floor-skimming skirts. Eight years in this country and her tongue refuses to bend and soften for the English language. It embarrasses me, her heavy Arab tongue, wrapping itself so forcefully around the clumsy syllables of English, strangling them out of their meaning.
But she is fierce and fearless. I have never heard her apologize to anyone. She will hold up long grocery lines checking and double-checking the receipt in case they’re trying to cheat us. My humiliation is heavy enough for the both of us. My English is not. Sometimes I step away, so people don’t know we’re together but my dark hair and skin betray me as a member of her tribe.
On my first day of school, my mother presses a kiss to my cheek.
“Your name is Tasbeeh,” she says again, like I’ve forgotten. “Tasbeeh.”
Roll call is the worst part of my day. After a long list of Brittanys, Jonathans, Ashleys, and Yen-but-call-me-Jens, the teacher rests on my name in silence. She squints. She has never seen this combination of letters strung together in this order before. They are incomprehensible. What is this h doing at the end? Maybe it is a typo.
“Tasbeeh,” I mutter, with my hand half up in the air. “Tasbeeh.”
“Do you go by anything else?”
“No,” I say. “Just Tasbeeh. Tas-beeh.”
“Tazbee. All right. Alex?”
She moves on before I can correct her. She said it wrong. She said it so wrong. I have never heard my name said so ugly before, like it’s a burden. Her entire face contorts as she says it, like she is expelling a distasteful thing from her mouth. She avoids saying it for the rest of the day, but she has already baptized me with this new name. It is the name everyone knows me by, now, for the next six years I am in elementary school. “Tazbee,” a name with no grace, no meaning, no history; it belongs in no language.
“Tazbee,” says one of the students on the playground, later. “Like Tazmanian Devil?” Everyone laughs. I laugh too. It is funny, if you think about it.
I do not correct anyone for years. One day, in third grade, a plane flies above our school.
“Your dad up there, Bin Laden?” The voice comes from behind. It is dripping in derision.
“My name is Tazbee,” I say. I said it in this heavy English accent, so he may know who I am. I am American. But when I turn around they are gone.
I go to middle school far, far away. It is a 30-minute drive from our house. It’s a beautiful set of buildings located a few blocks off the beach. I have never in my life seen so many blond people, so many colored irises. This is a school full of Ashtons and Penelopes, Patricks and Sophias. Beautiful names that belong to beautiful faces. The kind of names that promise a lifetime of social triumph.
I am one of two headscarved girls at this new school. We are assigned the same gym class. We are the only ones in sweatpants and long-sleeved undershirts. We are both dreading roll call. When the gym teacher pauses at my name, I am already red with humiliation.
“How do I say your name?” she asks.
“Tazbee,” I say.
“Can I just call you Tess?”
I want to say yes. Call me Tess. But my mother will know, somehow. She will see it written in my eyes. God will whisper it in her ear. Her disappointment will overwhelm me.
“No,” I say, “Please call me Tazbee.”
I don’t hear her say it for the rest of the year.
My history teacher calls me Tashbah for the entire year. It does not matter how often I correct her, she reverts to that misshapen sneeze of a word. It is the ugliest conglomeration of sounds I have ever heard.
When my mother comes to parents’ night, she corrects her angrily, “Tasbeeh. Her name is Tasbeeh.” My history teacher grimaces. I want the world to swallow me up.
My college professors don’t even bother. I will only know them for a few months of the year. They smother my name in their mouths. It is a hindrance for their tongues. They hand me papers silently. One of them mumbles it unintelligibly whenever he calls on my hand. Another just calls me “T.”
My name is a burden. My name is a burden. My name is a burden. I am a burden.
On the radio I hear a story about a tribe in some remote, rural place that has no name for the color blue. They do not know what the color blue is. It has no name so it does not exist. It does not exist because it has no name.
At the start of a new semester, I walk into a math class. My teacher is blond and blue-eyed. I don’t remember his name. When he comes to mine on the roll call, he takes the requisite pause. I hold my breath.
“How do I pronounce your name?” he asks.
I say, “Just call me Tess.”
“Is that how it’s pronounced?”
I say, “No one’s ever been able to pronounce it.”
“That’s probably because they didn’t want to try,” he said. “What is your name?”
When I say my name, it feels like redemption. I have never said it this way before. Tasbeeh. He repeats it back to me several times until he’s got it. It is difficult for his American tongue. His has none of the strength, none of the force of my mother’s. But he gets it, eventually, and it sounds beautiful. I have never heard it sound so beautiful. I have never felt so deserving of a name. My name feels like a crown.
“Thank you for my name, mama.”
When the barista asks me my name, sharpie poised above the coffee cup, I tell him: “My name is Tasbeeh. It’s a tough t clinging to a soft a, which melts into a silky ssss, which loosely hugs the b, and the rest of my name is a hard whisper — eeh. Tasbeeh. My name is Tasbeeh. Hold it in your mouth until it becomes a prayer. My name is a valuable undertaking. My name requires your rapt attention. Say my name in one swift note – Tasbeeeeeeeh – sand let the h heat your throat like cinnamon. Tasbeeh. My name is an endeavor. My name is a song. Tasbeeh. It means giving glory to God. Tasbeeh. Wrap your tongue around my name, unravel it with the music of your voice, and give God what he is due”
I am weeping.
25 Questions to Ask Yourself Before the End of 2013
1. What am I most proud of this year?
I am most proud of the fact that even though this year has been another year of struggles, I’ve survived relatively unscathed.
2. How can I become a better person?
Take a deep breath and not get so overwhelmed with all of the things I have to do within the day/week/month/semester. Listen more. Don’t jump to conclusions. Be more understanding of the other side. Take better care of my body and make healthier choices. Dance more. Embrace my artistic side again and allow myself to indluge in my creative projects instead of pushing them to the side because I don’t think I have enough time to do them/it’s not worth doing because I’m so busy. Never waste a day.
3. Where am I feeling stuck?
OH GOD. Where do I start? The fact that a lot of people I know have graduated, gotten post-baccaleureate degrees, have well-paying jobs, and are married/have started families does make me feel like I’m behind. There are times when I do feel INCREDIBLY behind or stuck, like I’m not going to graduate, reach my educational and career goals, or be financially stable enough to live on my own again, or be emotionally ready for marriage. I try not to think about it too much because I have too many things that can overwhelm me.
4. Where do I need to allow myself grace?
I need to allow myself grace in my shortcomings. I am incredibly hard on myself, making it difficult for me to gauge whether what I did was truly my best. I always feel as if I can do more. When I first looked back on 2013, my initial thought was, “That felt really short. I guess I didn’t do much.” Looking back, though, I’ve gone through and experienced a lot, and I should give myself credit where credit is due.
5. Am I passionate about my career?
Oh yes. Too passionate, sometimes…I need to learn to leave my work stresses at work.
6. What lessons have I learned?
I’ve always known that there’s an inner child in everyone and that sometimes that inner child gets you to feel and do things that you really shouldn’t do…I usually embrace her in certain circumstances, but now that I’m in my “Holy shit, I need to grow up” phase, I’ve been pushing her to the side. This year, I’ve learned to accept, embrace, and care for her and tend to her needs while still being the sensible woman I know that I am.
7. What did my finances look like?
Sometimes I had a lot of money, sometimes I had a little. But I always had a little something, and that was okay with me.
8. How did I spend my free time?
Playing League of Legends. Lol.
9. How well did I take care of my body, mind, and soul?
These past few years have really shat on me health-wise, but I have been (and still am, amidst a few slip-ups here and there) eating healthier and exercising. I hope to—and WILL—do more next year. I’ve been getting semi-regular massages (I’m addicted, really), doing guided meditation, lighting candles, using aromatherapy, going to therapy, dancing, singing, learning songs on the uke, and sleeping. I love sleeping. I guess you could say I’ve done a relatively decent job given the limited free time I have, but I plan on doing more next year.
10. How have I been open-minded?
When friends have confided in me with their personal struggles, I haven’t judged them. I used to be incredibly judgmental, but over the past decade (lol I’m making myself sound super old even though I’m really not) I’ve learned to try to understand the other side of things. It’s something that I’m still learning and will probably continue to learn for the rest of my years.
11. When did I feel most creatively inspired?
OH GOD WHEN I WATCH YOUTUBE VIDEOS AND GO ON ETSY. There are so many songs I want to cover, videos I want to film, people I want to cosplay as, plushies I want to make…the list goes on. The internet just makes my brain shit creative ideas…I just need to get off the damn computer to actually do it.
12. What projects have I completed?
So recently I procrastinated on these two research papers and I totally finished them in time and I got 100% in both of them. So I’m super proud of that :D
13. How have I procrastinated?
LOL read the above sentence. I procrastinate a lot wiith everything: school, doing laundry, cleaning my room, getting paperwork done at work, etc. The big thng is school, though. At the beginning of the semester, I was SUPER motivated, hardly procrastinated, and was really over-achieving. Toward the middle of the semester, however, it was like I was losing steam and started procrastinating with everything. It was baaaaaad D:
14. In what ways can I re-structure my time?
OKAY so this is kind of genius. So as I said before, I didn’t allow myself to have fun especially when I had deadlines or projects because I felt like whatever time I had should have been dedicated to meeting said deadline or completing said project. As a result, instead of doing a whole bunch of creative projects—or, you know, my actual WORK— I ended up wasting time on Facebook. It was terrible. HOWEVER, I recently started doing this thing where I would schedule in “fun time” so that whatever I was doing that day, I had an hour or two devoted to doing something I liked that wasn’t related to school or anything else. You guys should do that. It will change your life.
15. How have I allowed fear of failure hold me back?
There was this one class this year that had really daunting assignments and I would be so afraid of getting a bad grade so I ended up turning assignments in late :
16. Where has self-doubt taken over?
See above question. Lol.
17. When have I felt the most alive?
On August 1 because it marks the anniversary of the day I was granted a second life.
18. How have I taught others to respect me?
By being a bad bitch and yelling at them. JK that’s how I’ve taught people not to respect me. I’ve taught others to respect me by giving them respect, acting appropriately, and not coming off too strong. I honestly think I’ve been more of a bad bitch this year.
19. How can I improve my relationships?
By not being a bad bitch and yelling at them. lol. In terms of my friendships, I can reciprocate the support they’ve given me and actually hang out with them on a more regular basis instead of just calling them whenever I need to vent/bitch about my life. In terms of my parents, I can be more understanding and communicate with them better; even though I’m 24, I’m still their little girl. Same applies for how I can improve my relationship with Jason.
20. Have I been unfair to anyone?
21. Who do I need to forgive?
22. Where is it time to let go?
What is this question asking?
It’s time to let go of grudges, self-doubt, judgments, and my obsession with social media. Time to turn off the fucking computer and do something with my life.
23. What old habits would I like to release?
Road rage. Driving like a grandma while I’m at work. Driving like Speed Racer when I’m not at work. Beating myself up. All-or-nothing thinking. Procrastinating. Sleeping too much/not enough.
24. What new habits would I like to cultivate?
Sleeping better. Eating healthier. Exercising more. Taking more pictures. Doing what I say and saying what I do.
25. How can I be kind to myself?
GET. FUCKING. MASSAGES.
(I’m not talking about happy endings)
HAPPY NEW YEAR, BITCHES.
Is there something you should be doing?