by Maria Perilla

When I was four years old, I came to this country a running bubbling caramel colored fast talking thing. I held my mom’s hand when our plane took off and from what I remember that was the scariest part. We rented the top floor of a house in Shaker Heights so weren’t allowed to jump up and down. Every week my mom let my brother and I pick out a toy from the dollar store. English was a new taste in my mouth, as was pizza and PB&J.

For the first time in my life, I saw snow.

I believed in the American Dream because I believed in my father. I believed in working hard and hand me downs. I believed in the dream because that’s what it was. A dream. A miracle of a thing: four Colombian immigrants inside a warm house, a yellow stripped school bus, a box of 64 crayons, a Wendy’s, a blue truck, a pink tutu, a green card.

On November 9th, I woke up to a world that did not feel mine. I woke up to the darkest despair I have ever felt in my life. I saw the people that I love looking hollow and defeated. I saw the heaviest sorrow settling onto their brilliant minds. I searched for something to hold on to, but it was too dark, too grey, too cold, and too dead to want to try. I wondered if there was anything left to salvage.

I am still wondering it now.

I read somewhere in the storm of tweets and posts that grief is work. My English teacher, red hot with rage, handed me an essay by poet named Hanif. It ended in, “I think we’ll make a way. Despite.” I don’t know if we are supposed to hope now, or fight now, but I think we ought to try. Or at least keep moving, keep writing, keep marching and roaring. I am not going to pretend that I have any of the answers although I have searched for them in so many eyes.

At least, I cannot deny this: even through our tears, even in our mourning, I felt a fiercely courageous resilience in my friends. My friends who are my teachers. My teachers who are my friends. All the people that have become my family. They held me up that day, and yesterday, and today.

When I went home after swim practice, the sun still colored the sky violet, and the trees still stood raining gold. I may be afraid, but I am still American and I define that as “Making a way, despite”. I may be lost but I am not alone. I am here.

We mourn, but we move. We mourn and we march on.