jujehpolo: It’s just a nickname.
riversandoceans04: No, I get it. That’s nice.
riversandoceans04: So you’re Persian?
riversandoceans04: That’s so cool. I really like Persian food.
My eyebrows shot up my forehead. Surprised.
jujehpolo: You do?
riversandoceans04: Yeah. I really like hummus.
riversandoceans04: And falafel.
Ah. Yeah. Okay.
jujehpolo: Neither one of those things is Persian.
riversandoceans04: They’re not?
I dropped my head in my hands. I suddenly hated myself. What the hell was I doing? This conversation was so stupid. I was so stupid. I couldn’t believe I turned on my computer for this.
jujehpolo: Anyway, I should probably go to bed.
riversandoceans04: Oh, okay
I’d already typed the word Bye, was just about to hit enter—
riversandoceans04: Hey, before you go
I hesitated. Deleted. Rewrote.
riversandoceans04: Maybe some day you can show me what Persian food is.
I stared at my screen for too long. I was confused. My first instinct told me he was asking me out; my second, wiser instinct told me that he would never, ever be stupid enough to do something like that, that he was almost certainly aware of the fact that nice white boys did not presume to ask weird Muslim girls out on dates, but then, barring that, I was mystified.
Did he want me to, like, educate him on Persian food? Teach him about the ways of my people? What the hell?
So I decided to be honest.
jujehpolo: I don’t think I understand what you mean.
riversandoceans04: I want to try Persian food
riversandoceans04: Are there any Persian restaurants around here?
jujehpolo: Around here? No
jujehpolo: Not unless you count my mom’s kitchen
riversandoceans04: Then maybe I can come over for dinner
I nearly fell out of my chair. The balls on this kid, holy shit.
jujehpolo: You want to come into my house and have dinner with my family?
riversandoceans04: Is that weird?
jujehpolo: Um, a little
riversandoceans04: So is that a no?
jujehpolo: I don’t know
I frowned at my computer.
jujehpolo: I guess I can ask my parents.
riversandoceans04: Okay, goodnight
I had no idea what the actual hell had just happened.
I spent the weekend ignoring my computer.
It was the middle of October, I’d been in school for a couple of months, and I was still trying to wrap my head around it. I hadn’t made any of my own friends, but I wasn’t feeling lonely, which was new. Plus, I was busy—also new—and bonus, I suddenly had plans. In fact, I was getting ready to head out.
Tonight, I had a breakdancing battle to attend.
We were just going to be in the audience, but the prospect still excited me. We wanted to join the breaking scene in this new city and see where it would take us. Maybe, once we were good enough, we’d start battling other crews. Maybe one day, we dreamed, we’d enter regional and state and maybe, maybe international competitions.
We had big dreams. And they had been parent-approved.
My parents were a little conservative, a little traditional, and, in some ways, surprisingly progressive. Generally, they were pretty cool. Still, they had massive double standards. They were terrified that the world would hurt me, as a young girl, far more than it would my brother, and so they were stricter with me, with my curfews, with what I could and could not do. They never tried to cut me off, socially, but they always wanted to know everything about where I was going and who I was going with and exactly when I would be back and on and on and on and they almost never did this with Navid. When Navid came home late they’d only be mildly irritated. Once, I came home an hour late after watching the first Harry Potter movie—I had no idea the thing would be three hours long—and my mom was so upset she couldn’t decide whether to cry or kill me. This reaction baffled me because my social activities were so mild as to be almost nonexistent. I wasn’t out late partying, ever. I wasn’t sitting around getting drunk somewhere. I’d do stupid shit with my friends like wander around Target and buy the cheapest stuff we could find and use it to decorate the cars in the parking lot.
My mom did not approve of this.
The upside of breakdancing with my brother was that my parents worried less when they knew he was with me, ready to punch an unsuspecting harasser in the face if necessary. But my brother and I had also learned a long time ago how to game the system; when I wanted to go out somewhere, and I knew my parents wouldn’t approve, he’d vouch for me. I’d do the same for him.
But Navid had just turned eighteen. He was older and, as a result, freer. He’d been working odd jobs everywhere we’d lived since he was younger than even me, and he’d saved up long enough to buy himself an iPod and a car. It was the teenage dream. He was currently the proud owner of a 1988 Nissan Sentra he would one day use to run over my foot. Until then, my ass was still walking to school every day. Sometimes I’d catch a ride with him, but he had that zero period in the mornings and he usually ditched me after practice to do something with his friends.
Today, we’d be driving that beautiful beast into a new world. A world that would give me a new title and hone a new facet of my identity. I wanted to become a b-girl in the full sense of the word. It would be so much better to be called a b-girl, a breakdancer, than the Girl Who Wore That Thing on Her Head.
The event was even more exciting than I hoped it’d be. I’d seen battles before, of course—we’d been watching old breakdancing competitions on VHS for years—but it was something else entirely to witness these things in person. The space was relatively small—it looked like a converted art gallery—and people were assembled like cigarettes in a pack, pressed up against the walls and doors, squeezing together to leave enough empty space in the center of the room. The energy was palpable. Music was reverberating against the walls and ceilings, the bass pulsing in my eardrums. In here, people didn’t seem to care at all about me; no one looked at me, eyes merely glanced off my face and body as they scanned the room. I didn’t know why it suddenly didn’t matter what I looked like, why my appearance garnered no reactions. Maybe it was because the self-selecting demographic in here was different. I was surrounded by diverse bodies and faces; I was hearing Spanish in one ear and Chinese in the other. We were white and black and brown brought together by a single interest.
I loved it.
Somehow I knew, in that moment, that all that mattered in this particular world was talent. If I were a decent breakdancer, these people would respect me. Here, I could be more than the settings applied to my life by society.
It was all I’d ever wanted.
I came home that night feeling more exhilarated than I’d felt—maybe, ever. I talked my mom’s ear off about the whole thing and she smiled, unimpressed, and told me to go do my homework. School would be waiting for me, bright and early the following day, but tonight, I was still aglow. Echoes of the music were dancing around in my head. I got ready for bed and couldn’t focus on the schoolwork I’d left unfinished. Instead, I cleared a space in the center of my room and practiced the crab pose for so long the carpet began to burn my palms. I kept falling forward—kissing the floor, as my brother liked to say—and couldn’t get it quite right. I still had a long way to go before I’d become even a decent breakdancer, but then, I’d never been afraid of hard work.
My second class of the day was called Global Perspectives. My teacher was one of those wild, creative thinkers, one of those guys determined to make breakthroughs with teenagers. He was cooler than most teachers, but it was obvious, most days, that he was trying a little too hard to convince us of this fact. Still, I didn’t hate his class. The only thing he ever required of us was class participation.
There were no exams; no homework assignments.
Instead, he forced us to discuss current events. Politics. Controversial topics. He wanted us to ask each other hard questions—to question ourselves and our ideas about the world—and he wanted us to engage directly with each other in ways we otherwise never would. Those of us who refused to participate—refused to voice aloud our opinions—would fail.