Karsen Thompson :: The Fracture of My Shadow ::

Creative Non-Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I hope this story touches you guys just like it did with me as I wrote it down in my grandmother’s old rustic house in Georgia’s humid state. I remember crying and eating her delicious sweet potato pie that brought happy tears to my eyes, so I aim to have you guys feel the same way I did eating that pie, as you read my sad yet optimistic piece of work.

The Fracture of My Shadow

 It’s 2012, and my parents wave their goodbyes. It was my first day at school, but little  did I know what would be in store—butterflies crawling all inside my stomach. I didn’t know whether my body was telling me something. Before I stepped inside the school building, everything about this place felt out of the ordinary. Even the air felt different; inside this realm, I was trapped for the next six years, unable to breathe. Plotting an escape and gasping for air, I hoped that I would be put off of this misery. But I finally got my second wind and swept away the demons who called this place home. 

“Show them what a bright girl you are,” my father exclaimed as I entered the angelic, old-fashioned Victorian building with biblical stained glass windows and cross-covered walls.  Observing my surroundings, hoping to run home for a convincing story to tell to my parents, and expecting a new chapter of my life to unfold, I quickly came to a halt. Instead, as I sensed lingering eyes from my new classmates starting to slowly fixate on me as I walked high and proud, wearing my Catholic school uniform with my hair in two braided pigtails, the chapter ended abruptly. I took a deep breath and continued to summon a smile to make my father and mother happy. But I begged to ask what made them feel I was intruding on their ”safe place”? Suddenly, the walls began to cave in on me. The gleaming and radiant light inside me turned off as I found my way to class orientation with all the new kids, noticing no one looked like me. I searched in disbelief, praying that someone with a similar background or skin complexion would appear–but I was all alone.    

Facing the hardships that come with being an immigrant did not come easily, as my father was assimilating into certain crowds that society advises you to join to attain the American dream. His story of immigrating from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica to the borough of Bronx, New York, has always stuck heavily with me. Based on the lessons he taught me, as he had to stray away from his Spanish roots to accommodate the oppressor, I knew that society urged my people to fit into their ideal standards.

Anxiously sitting down as I shook my wobbly legs under my tiny wooden desk during history class, I glanced all over the classroom for a short while and saw a large American flag plastered on my teacher’s wall. This filled me with an odd out-of-body experience knowing the flag exudes justice, equity, and freedom, virtues that felt nonexistent as all the groups of kids were forming their cliques, while nobody thought to include me. I wanted to weep, begging someone to accept me. The history teacher, who had long blonde hair and blue eyes, walked table by table, handing out a pamphlet that contained a short story.

The story was about a girl who was the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis. I saw her image on the front page and wondered why she had a big bright smile. I asked myself if her smile was like mine, a fabricated lie to prevent others from deeming her less worthy. Then I realized that the universe had given me a gift: I could follow in this young girl’s shadow, and she could guide me to find the light again. That girl was Ruby Bridges.  

I felt hopeless most of the time, as no one thought I belonged in their “space.” Still, I never wanted to disappoint my family as I tried to reward their commitment to send me to an institution where they believed girls like me could potentially flourish. From a young age, I knew I had to carry that bravery just as my father, ancestors, and Ruby Bridges did. 

Following Ruby’s shadow allowed me to gain another conscience. In her shadow, I learned my worth as a human being and as a young Black girl in this inhumane society. But then I slowly broke away from the comforts of her shadow as I felt I no longer needed to conform to it. I imagined her facing me with that same bright smile that once illuminated a path for me out of the darkness. I emerged from Ruby’s shadow, turning my failures into successes, which allowed me to regain my sovereignty.