You Will Know Your Name


A few weeks shy of turning forty-years old, editor, writer Deonna Kelli Sayed, pens a letter to her twenty-year old self.  Listen to the audio to hear Deonna read this piece, accompanied by music haphazardly composed and performed by the author.

Dear Deonna,

You will be forty-years old in a few weeks. Here is it, birthday you’ve dreaded: the big 4 – 0.

It came so fast.

I want to take you back to your twenty-year old self. I imagine another version of me hanging out in a parallel universe with her hand on the pause button, bending an ear to what her future self is trying to say. Maybe this letter will find a way to her and when she lands in the fortieth year of birth, perhaps she will write something very different to her interdimensional twin self.

From all the way here the future, I know how secluded you feel. Even at twenty years old and in that youthful cusp of life, you are covered with sheen of loneliness.  At forty, that look will fit your fat ass like designer clothes.

I wish I could say you will have the company of family, friends, and a partner to share that day. You won’t.  You are a solitary vagabond, so it is oddly appropriate that you will be thus on the first day of your 40th year.  This may seem depressing and pathetic. This is not as horrifying as it sounds, at least, not for you.  But I do write this with a tinge of sadness. For one thing that won’t end in your fourth decade:  you will continue with struggle between your introverted desire for solitude while also longing for someone brave enough to bear witness to your life.

Girl, you are going to have quite a life.

Solitude will be a theme of your existence, but your presence will be so large that it will span cultures and continents. Yet during every epiphany, dark moment, and triumph, you will be in single player mode.  This will be painful, I admit. You won’t know any other way to be in the world, and this will speak to profound perseverance and resilience

Forty years old is the peak of adulthood.  It is when you are supposed to have life figured out.  You won’t have a clue. You will reinvent yourself so many times.  Because of this, many stories may remain unfinished.  Your life will not be half-written.  You will never be stuck in one life groove.  If anything, your existence will create a few beautiful skid marks in places off the terrestrial map.

I know who you are at twenty-years old, and I know that you will undervalue your existence for the next two decades.

So, let’s review.

Remember the time you were twelve-years old and those boys did what they did and everyone in the school, the town, and the county knew about it. That horrific moment changed everything.

What happened six months later in the court room,  when that mean lawyer spat at you with the words: “You were so big, couldn’t you have fought those boys off?”; that one phrase forever altered the way you viewed those who were supposed to protect you. From that point, nothing seemed sacred. Not your body, not traditions, not the concept of home, not white culture, not the legal system. Those events left you feeling that you were somehow metaphysically flawed, fat, and unworthy of love, self-compassion, or forgiveness.

You will have to wait until you are thirty-nine years old to realize this imagined deficiency has a name.  This discovery will make that abusive inner script less powerful, but you will have already lost two decades to this fallacy.

Then, on the first day of high school, you sat in study hall. One girl leaned back in that lunchroom chair, perked like a hissing cat on its hind legs, and howled got raped you got raped you got raped.

Her smile oozed attack mode cruelty.  In drama class a year later, a class you’d waited your entire academic career to take, those boys walked in on the third day of school. You performed an improvisational skit in front of the same people who pinned you against the wall two years earlier and threatened to kill you, among other things.

That is when you realized you had one chance at high school and you were tired of walking the halls with your head thrust so high pretending to be so fucking strong. Every day – every single day — you had to fight a titanium force voice in your head that yelled you are shit you are shit you are shit.

Your mother sent you across county lines to another high school. You were fourteen-years old, driving alone and illegally, just so you could have a normal day.  And every day,  you traveled across a bridge your grandfather helped build, a passageway to another life, and you hoped for the promise of expansion at a school smaller and more rural than tiny one you had left.

It was the year you renamed yourself.

You were in class when you scribbled a rarely used middle name on piece of paper and declared that it was good. You took that name and reinvented your life, and you have done so ever since.

Girl, you were so brave.

In that one act of renaming, you changed the trajectory of your existence. You were just fourteen-years old and already, you knew how to alter your time and space. It will only take twenty-five more years before you internalize this power.

Look at you, at twenty-years old, the year you said there is no god but Allah and Mohammad is His Prophet. Even then, you would not take another name.

And, at twenty-seven, you will ask that man to marry you, the one that will carry you around the world and who will give you a son.  Part of this man’s name will cling to yours, but that will be right because your world will exponentially expand because of his presence. And how large a world!  You will raise six children. Six!

And – check this out – you will be in the same room, the same dinner table, as famous economists, queens, kings, humanitarian workers and others who will make history tick with force. You will do all these things– yes, you! – and it will take years before know how to put those stories into words.

Then, on another day, you will leave it all behind to start over again, just like you have always done.

You will keep your name.

But be prepared: you will lose years in college due to depression. You will be unable to write for decades because you will feel that your voice is off-tune, incomplete.   Yet, at forty-years old, you will say that you’ve had a good life. You will be healthy and your son, the only child you will ever birth, will be kind and smart.

You will know your name.

You will spend your life understanding that you are complicated and complex.  This will make you powerful. You will have the ability to move time and space. And so many people and places you touch all around the world will be better because you pass through. You are so amazing, and if there is anything I could change about you at twenty-years old, it is that you won’t have to wait until you are forty to figure this out.

Right now, at this moment, I want you to value your awesome bravery. In your lifetime, you will swallow the world and you spit it out again, and it will be more fragrant and wonderful because of your presence.

Happy birthday, you resplendent woman. You may go at life alone, but go you do.  Here is what I want you to do for the next forty years: love yourself, love yourself, love yourself.

Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor, a editor, and author of Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits. She has also contributed to and Muslimah Media Watch. Deonna is currently working on a memoir. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.

6 Comments on “You Will Know Your Name”

  1. Reblogged this on Deonna Kelli Sayed and commented:
    My latest column at Love, Inshallah.

  2. Alia says:

    Love it….my 30th is approaching Inshallah & I’ve been depressed because I haven’t accomplished a single thing I thought I would by now. But boy do I have a lot of advice for my 20 year old self

  3. amandajeanbrennan says:

    This gave me goosebumps and made me cry. Beautiful.

  4. Valerie says:

    Happy belated birthday, I admire your strength and your ability to see yourself and love yourself. You make it seem easy..