Growing up, we played dodge ball at summer day camp. I was eleven, in the prime of my childhood, with a Portland Sea Dogs hat facing backwards on my head and Umbro shorts falling almost to my knees. Despite the joy I felt in the summer, spending time with my friends on the beach and playing card games in the afternoon, recreational activities—such as dodge ball—left me frustrated and depressed. I didn’t have the aggression or speed of my peers. I tried my hardest. I crossed my fingers to improve. I wondered, in fury, why sports came so easily for everyone else. And after all of those things didn’t work, I made a joke of it. I laughed at myself. I sought for the attention I knew they would give me.
That attention mostly resulted in friendly insults. I was a slow runner and uncoordinated. Rather than trying to rise above that status I embraced it. I laughed at myself. They called me Liz, and still do to this day, and encouraged me to take myself less seriously. My friends stood by me the whole way—never meaning to hurt me, but underneath our laugher I always went home frustrated.
To an extent, most of these qualities do define my strengths and my weaknesses. I don’t enjoy sports. I lack the sufficient hand-eye coordination beneficial in a waffle ball game. I’d rather sit in a chair on the beach and read than play capture the flag. But when I was in this space, and surrounded by these activities, these weaknesses started to define who I was and how I measured my worth.
As I got older I started to see what I was doing to myself and could make more sense of the role I’d squeezed myself into. I wondered if I was anything more to them besides a comedic relief. Like Jasmine, I felt that there were parts of me that I couldn’t share, and experiences that I had during the school year that I couldn’t wear on my sleeves for anyone to see and appreciate.
One summer we went on a hiking trip on Mt. Washington, and like most of these trips, I stationed myself at the end of the line, breathing heavily up the steep incline while my friends ran and laughed a quarter mile ahead of me. When I reached the lodge at the top, 45 minutes late, they’d finished lunch. They didn’t wear the hike on their faces in the same way I felt that past 4 hours weighing down my face. They were as energetic as ever, ready to start again.
I took the train down. My dad, with his bad knee, needed a companion, and in tears I waved goodbye to my friends as they trotted down the trail. I was disappointed in myself, and angry that once again, I wasn’t on the same level as the people around me.
I talked to Elizabeth the next day, a friend that couldn’t go on the hike. I told what happened, that my dad bought me Dairy Queen and I took a nap in the front seat of the Volvo waiting for everyone else to return back down. She listened and told me how proud, that she’d always been proud, and that she admired my ability to keep going when everyone else was far ahead. She said it gave me an accessibility that none of our other friends had, and a determination no one else could understand.
No one had ever said anything like that to me before, and suddenly I could feel all the parts of myself, all of my experiences, successes, and failures, joining together and creating a self that I could sit with. I feel like this is the goal that we deal with most of our lives, fusing our experiences into one solid mass, and making them part of our identity. This moment reminded me of Jasmine at the end of the novel, reuniting with Taylor and Duff. Finally, after relationships that only asked for one part of her and split her identity in pieces, Taylor took her in for everything she was. Mukherjee writes, “Taylor’s eyes take me in, the full globe of me” (238).
The challenge the Mukherjee creates in this story is linking Jasmine’s lives, and trusting that there is someone out there that will still love and accept her for everything she has been through. As much as Bud and Lillian Gordon took care of Jasmine, they could not see fully who she was. Like Rushdie, we are encouraged to think of Homeland in terms of people, and challenged to search for companions that won’t shut us into boxes, or limit themselves to seeing one identity. With each realization, relationship, and journey we are born into new selves, but never truly let go of what we had before. This is why I still cringe at the sight of a dodge ball. I know there is more to my life, but those moments are still a part of me, even if they are no longer active.