Maybe it was the ocean that convinced me to go.
So I could stand at the edge of a place it was okay to be still.
Pack layers, she said, ocean weather is unpredictable.
I rolled up sweaters, pulled a wooly hat from a closet, and hoped she was right.
I wanted to hide in layers and folds.
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We met for the first time, over a home cooked meal, in a welcoming, warmly-lit room.
Each of us carried there by our own reasons.
I went in knowing we would use one another as subjects.
I understood we would have to be vulnerable to do it.
But our teacher, she knew more.
She understood we would have to share our stories, before we could find them in front of the lens.
She called out our names one-by-one, and then paired them with another.
She asked us to sit face to face and eye to eye.
She told us to speak and listen.
Who are you?
We asked each other in turn.
And I thought of the last time I had been so honest in answering those words and how long it had been since I laid myself bare and let real words like scared and sad, instead of good and fine, tumble from my mouth.
Who do you think I am?
I asked him while focusing my eyes on the wall over his shoulder; I was afraid to catch the look on his face when he answered. We were together for a few months by then, and I knew something important was happening between us.
We were beginning to share our stories, and we were at the beginning of our own.
I had done some hard work to move past my childhood insecurities and embrace my biracial heritage. I had reached a place of gratitude for who and where I came from. And yet, because I wanted him to feel about me what I felt about him, in those earliest days together, I told myself it was easier to pretend I was whoever he wanted me to be.
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But we can't stay hidden in layers and folds.
Who are you?
She asked again, before telling us we could only find the answer if we asked ourselves, too.
So we stood and posed and stared into the lenses of our cameras, while daring ourselves to peel away layers and encouraging others to let go of theirs.
Because life is as unpredictable as the ocean where I went to stand.
And though we dress in layers to insulate against fear and pain, we can undress and heal again and again.
My guess is Polynesian princess, he said, because that makes a good story.
But if it turns out you're not,
if you're just you,
I'll take you just the same.