My father worked the night shifts at the 7-eleven, and one night he fell asleep behind the wheel, and had a fender bender. It was then that my mother persisted he find another job, one where he would not work the night shifts.
But car troubles continued, for we could only afford used ones. They broke down, one after the other, bringing everything to a halt. Nothing was stable. That, I learned to be part of immigration. The instability, the transience, the uncertainty of things, of ways of life, of the path we had taken on. For me, it wasn't just survival. I hadn't left a war-torn country, I hadn't suffered, but only the absence of my father as he spent his first few years ill in the States, undergoing multiple grave surgeries. No, I hadn't really suffered to be in need of survival. But rather, I was trying to make sense out of the new life, and to accept that I had to assimilate, that I had to learn English as perfectly as possible to fit in and belong. I had to figure out how to carry myself, how to dress, how to be. It may be too extreme to say immigration was like a rebirth. But then again, what I was 12 years ago bares almost no resemblance to what I am now.
The apartment complex began to make me sick, not physically, but mentally I wanted to get out of it. I knew we wouldn't stay there forever. I knew my mother wasn't the type to sit still and let it grow on her. She got her driver's license, despite my father's lack of support, and she changed her job, and she attended her English classes. She was my hope, my only hope that there would be a brighter future.
But it was a slow process. Too slow for a restless child like me. I had trouble in school, not because I was doing poorly, but because I was not good enough for myself. Even when I passed the test to move to a regular English classroom with native speakers, I knew I was behind. I knew I had taken a test to be there, and I probably never really gave myself credit to have passed it.
I never trusted myself to speak out loud in class, for fear of making a speech error. So I reverted to writing only, and unless I was called on, I seldom raised my hand.
It's been 12 years now, and I take voice lessons, where I get to sing. But even now I have a hard time hearing myself. It is not an error of speech I am looking out for, but my voice itself that startles me. It's been quiet for so long that now as I am trying to let it be free, it frightens me, and I almost wish for it to not come out. It used to embarrass me, my voice. And I must let it be free now, for it's been silenced. It was in the first grade when my elementary teacher in Iran called me out on being too talkative. I learned to silence myself, and though the new country encouraged me to speak, I didn't allow it.
It is easy to assume one is free in a democratic country, in a place where no dreams are banned. But when the soul itself has been imprisoned for a long time, when the person holding the voice captive is afraid to let go, one is not yet free.