Yousif Al-Amin, 129 TESS
I started writing as a kid, imagining stories in my head and then jotting them down wherever I could: notebooks, napkins, even providing unsolicited edits in the margins of books by acclaimed authors. I never felt like I fit into the narratives that dictated adolescent life, but I found space for myself in my favorite novels, and eventually in the stories I would create myself.
Then, life happened. High school came around and I had to ‘grow up;’ time once spent losing myself in the world of pirates, fairies, and elves was instead lost to the SATs and AP classes — I would later learn that ‘growing up’ is just a euphemism for dampening those parts of you that make you so inherently you. Reading and writing, pastimes which had once brought me so much joy, began to feel cumbersome and manufactured. Time previously spent creating new worlds was spent churning out research papers, which were subsequently poked and prodded like cattle on their way to slaughter.
By the time I started college, the light in my soul had been dimmed. I wasn’t writing anymore, not creatively, and only for the rare, occasional liberal arts class I was forced to take to balance out my Neuroscience degree. Reading for me consisted of research papers and medical journals. The metaphorical dimmer turned into an on-off switch when my brother died unexpectedly five years ago … you can probably guess which direction that switch went. I felt lost, angry, and helpless. The little boy who once felt so much control over the narratives he read and created was now a young man whose life was spiraling down, deeper and deeper into a loveless, lifeless abyss.
Then, one day, something changed in me. I started writing again. The anger and sadness I carried with me found a home in my journals, and I realized that, unlike with people, I could tell my stories of despair, vent about my frustrations, and dump all of my emotions without feeling like a burden. As the days went on, the entries grew lighter and more full of life. Every so often, once my confidants were full to the brim with the past few months’ going-ons, I would do one final read-through before putting them away for safekeeping, ready to provide future Yous with perspective and reflection when needed.
When I arrived to San Francisco for my cohort’s staging 26 months ago, I brought with me a brand new journal to chronicle my journey. The first one lasted about a year, and now, as my close-of-service approaches, the second is near completion as well. Each entry has the day’s date in one corner, and the number of days since leaving for staging in the other. Writing became a daily ritual, without which I couldn’t sleep soundly.
Thailand gave back to me so much of what I thought I’d lost over the past decade. Those quiet days in the village allowed me the time and space to breeze through books I’d been meaning to read for years. I became a reader again. I moved in with my host family at site and gained a grandma, a grandpa, and two younger sisters. I became a brother again. I lost myself in the pages of my Moleskins, jotting down poems, analyzing dreams, registering victories and challenges alike. I became a writer again.