The problem with specialized high schools is that everyone in them thinks they’re God. In hallways full of Lords on High, it is difficult to be a small, frumpy, and bespectacled seventeen-year-old girl, and even difficult-er to be a small, frumpy, etc., hijabi girl.
It is difficult to squeeze past the ego-glow and rumbling loudness of a thousand Deities to get to my classes. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that The Omnipotent Ones have not yet mastered the art of closing their lockers without denting the metal, and the very souls of nearby mortals like me, every single time. It is difficult to look on as The Sole Creators of the Universe use their tremendous powers for evil, like saying remarkably unremarkable or otherwise presumptuous things in classes I would otherwise enjoy.
My school is the kind you have to test into. Think generic billion dollar tutoring industries, formulaic essays with X-amount of long words in each paragraph, and is-it-wrong-to-check-the-Latin American/Caribbean-box if we go past three generations? Think parents knowing that This Is The School, the one that will lead to The Other Three schools (hint: they start with h, y, and p), before they know what their kid is into — or if they even want a kid.
The Holy Beings know how coveted their positions are. Their every word, action, and breath reflects this Perceived Special. They mourn grades of 90 or less with small funerals. They think “community college” is merely a punch line. They form a hyper-intellectual, skepticism-as-art-form habitat where religion is practically alien.
Which brings us to me, the hijabi. I walk among them, both invisible and loud.
I wear a headscarf and my clothes are long and loose, occupying the uncomfortable interim space between crazed gypsy and Bohemian chic. (In freshman year especially, my fashion sense put the “um” in frump. Actually, it put the “rump” in frump. And I’m pretty sure there were days it put the “f” in as well.)
My only saving grace then was that a lot of people didn’t — still don’t — actually see me from the neck down. I am a floating, bobbing headscarf and any fashion mistake I make is ignored in the face of a much larger one: Being Muslim.
(I must be some sort of cruel goddess or superhero in my own right, the way I make people see in me what isn’t there, words and memories and pictures that reflect tiny dark pieces of themselves, the gaps in between what they know and what they’ve been taught to fear. They may see in me Twin Towers, or Afghani war refugees, or maps marked with airstrike attacks, or Charlie Hebdo, or cut off hands, or swirling mystics, or a giant foggy question mark. In other words, the disillusionment and ignorance of high school doesn’t end when I push through the main double doors and leave campus at 3:30.)
I am Hijabi, Hijabi in Plain Sight, and I have finally come to the point of this column, which is that I am so done. Misunderstandings cramp my style, so I quit. Finito. The shutters are coming down so you’d better watch your fingers. Token Hijabi has swallowed the token, all the tokens. I can no longer sit back while you wonder how long it takes to put on my scarf, whether I shower with it on, if I was even born here, or how I got into a smart school.
You’re going to see me now.