Do you remember as a child, playing pretend? Do you remember who you pretended to be, and why? I remembered the other day when I was deep cleaning our apartment, the days I pretended to be a Disney princess. After leaving school, I would go with my mom back to the house she was cleaning that day. I’d often be asked to help her, and in order to make it bearable for myself, to mentally remove myself from it, I would pretend to be Cinderella.
As I cleaned the client’s bathroom, I would sing different songs from the movie in my head. I would think about how like Cinderella, I wanted to feel normal. Like in her story, my life would only change when a prince discovered, fell in love with, and married me. I felt that God would be my fairy godmother and would connect me with that prince when the time came. For this reason, my ninth birthday party was Cinderella themed. I prayed that like her, I would be saved from a life of scrubbing tubs and toilets. For ten years, I prayed.
I even saved myself for marriage. And when I was eighteen, I thought I had finally met my prince at community college. I made him my priority and followed him on a downward path of addiction. I was in love for the first time, I didn’t care how the relationship was changing my life and how it was changing me. I gave it everything I could, because he said he would eventually marry me. I lost my grades, friendships, and myself in this relationship. I devalued my life, holding above all other aspects, the hope of someday adjusting my status with him.
He was not a bad guy. He was nothing but kind and respectful to me. Together we escaped reality, had deep conversations about life and the universe. It took some time, but one day I was able to see clearly what had become of me. I noticed I needed a belt to hold my pants up. My legs looked like toothpicks in shorts. Stepping on a scale I saw my weight had fallen to 98lbs. Internally I was feeling completely empty inside, full of anxiety, and I realized that being in love was not enough. I needed to be with someone who would encourage and support my growth once we were married. He was not the one. He, himself, felt defeated as a black man in America. His brother was in and out of prison, and he was constantly stopped and harassed over “mistaken identity” — though they looked nothing alike — when driving through Hercules.
So, like Cinderella ran from her prince on the stroke of midnight, I ran from him. Years later, when I was granted DACA, I started thinking about what I would look for in a boyfriend at San Jose State. I knew I wanted someone who had determination, like I did. Someone who was not just cool, but was also intelligent. He had to be an interesting person, and treat me well. For the first time, I was looking for someone without thinking about his citizenship status, since soon after transferring, my second application for green card had been approved. I was awaiting my interview. I knew that the kind of guy that I was looking for would be looking for the same in me, and tried to manifest those qualities in myself. Now in my mid-twenties, I was learning to be my best self.
One of the ways in which I did that was practicing Chess. I was inspired by a Netflix movie where an ex-con is released with an acquired interest and expertise in the game, and uses it to mentor kids in the hood. I decided to play online to develop the logic part of my brain. I never expected to meet anyone that way, but I thought it might help to have a “smart hobby”. I fell in love with Chess, and eventually wanted to join tournaments. The first one I attended was at San Jose State’s library.
As I waited for the tournament to start, I notice the man sitting next to me, and we wished each other luck. After the tournament, deciding to schedule practice sessions, I was oblivious to his interest in me. A few dates later, we are married, and he is everything I hoped my prince would be, and so much more.