Mon Mar 22 2021 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
Dear 12-year-old Aria,
It’s 2012. During a regular day in your life, you are probably waking up for school with an alarm you set on your flip phone the night before. You quietly start on breakfast for Yana, your little sister. You don’t make anything for yourself. She likes microwaved waffles and while that heats up, you tip-toe to your mom’s room to wake her up.
As you navigate your two-bedroom, shoebox-sized apartment in Jamaica, Queens, which sometimes gets roaches and mice no matter what you do, you stress about the time and rush your sister to hurry. Once you leave the apartment and drop Yana off at her elementary school, you realize you’re late. You go to your underfunded, sub-par middle school with other kids also dealing with poverty, but you don’t know that then.
You try to get through school but you can’t. The pressure of taking care of your family as a kid weighs on you. You have no friends and you’re bullied for being too mature, too serious, and not fun. How could you be? You’re thinking about whether you’ll have food on the table, if your mom is safe working blue-collar jobs, and if Yana ate at school. The last person on your mind is you.
When the school day ends, you pick up Yana and walk back home holding her hand. She is too small for her big backpack. Starving, you get home, tell Yana to change, and make lunch. You feed her and yourself bhaath with daal, dherosh, and murgi with your hands.
You don’t know this yet, but what you’re doing will impact the rest of your life. You’re subconsciously rationing each piece of chicken and portion of rice, so you and your sister both have enough to eat. Yana still to this day makes fun of you for feeding her ‘dry bhaath.’ You had no idea that you were frugal in everything you did because you grew up poor.
You hear a door open and realize that your dad didn’t go to work again, leaving your mom to work in their fabric store in midtown, alone. Worried, you think about how she’s managing and whether she’s eaten. You take care of your mom more than you can comprehend. Every day, you try to convince her to be strong and divorce him. You try to convince her that we can have a better life. We don’t need him. You tell her that we don’t deserve this oppression, this abuse, this sadness.
You make your dad food as you normally do, exchanging no words. But today something different happens. You learn that he was on the phone with family members in Chittagong, Bangladesh, talking about wanting to get you married, a 12-year-old child. You laugh at the thought. This can’t possibly be real. A Brooklyn-born girl, going to Bangladesh to get married before she’s even a teenager? No way.
When your mom comes home she is furious. She’s still afraid of getting divorced. What will people think? What if she loses all the people she loves? Will she lose respect from her family? You keep telling her to stay strong, that this is the final straw. We will do better without him. No, we will NEVER blame you for leaving him. Please stop worrying.
She still says to this day that YOU are the reason why she has a better future, a better life. You, who always took care of her, your little sister, and yourself, are the reason she left her abusive marriage of 15 years. And your mom saved you.
Aria - I’m crying writing this because I can’t believe what you were put through. While most kids around you were making videos on Youtube, having fun, and trying new Snapchat filters, you were surviving on your own. You had no one looking out for you, but you looked out for everyone else in your life.
And you don’t know this yet, but because of what you're going through right now, you'll be able to create something that NO ONE has ever imagined. You empathize with what it is like to be unheard, underprivileged, silenced. Nearly a child bride yourself, you will create change.
This is just the beginning of a beautiful revolution. And for that, I am proud of you.
Love, 21-year-old Aria
Family, Trauma, Women's Rights