a journal’s first lines speak of blooming moments
of pages unfurled to reveal time pressed between them
like flowers picked on the first day of kindergarten
because they were yellow, my favorite color
head plucked from stem, the blossom found its place between the margins of a diary
carefully arrayed to display each thin petal
at the time, no one had ever told me
that a dandelion was a weed
meant to be rooted out, left to die
so i saved it on wide-lined paper

at the age of five, no one had ever told me
that i was different
different because i wore my hair in two braids on the sides of my head
mommy said they were cute
but boys in my class pulled them and called me stupid
i didn’t quite understand at the time
the obvious correlation between my hairstyle and my intelligence
but that didn’t make it less painful
the edges of the field became my playground
and i became the dandelion, petals threatening to fall at any moment

i didn’t know how to do division
but i myself was divided between
becoming a dropout before my teeth dropped out
or fighting back with the double-edged blade of kindergarten vocabulary
it was humble, consisting of farm animals and simple adjectives
but it was enough
i had seen it done before
on the playground during first recess
second graders could make you cry with a single phrase
even at five, i understood that a well-placed blow to the self-esteem could
rip you from the earth and take you down
just like that

elementary school was mostly a blur
i fluttered in the breeze, bright and carefree
i didn’t pay attention to much until i was nine
and at age nine, no one had ever told me that i was different
different because i didn’t match my parents
when i attended school functions with just my mom
the kids would ask if i was adopted
so far they’ve guessed black, hispanic, indian, native american
and one boy thought i just had a really deep tan

my dad taught me a song when i was four years old
about a mixed girl with an oreo cookie
when i was older he said he taught me the tune
so if anyone called me an oreo, i wouldn’t be hurt

he did his best to shield me in my innocence
the young flower i was, stem upright and petals intact
to this day i have yet to be called an oreo
that doesn’t mean i haven’t been called other names
names i’m not inclined to repeat
names that crush me under their feet and tear me from my roots
names that at age fifteen, no one had ever bothered to prepare me for
in the hopes that i would never have to hear them
but i do

if you look around at everyone else who shares the oxygen you breathe
you see that we’re in sync
we exist in the same fraction of space
allotted to us that we might experience
the joy and pain that go hand in hand with our existence
we rejoice in the rain and faint in the sun
we frost in the winter and exalt the springtime
and we are all the same

so if anyone cuts you down
because your words don’t sound the same
because the shape of your soul is different
and the cookie cutter persona that’s expected of you doesn’t fit right
it’s important to know that you can grow however you like
sprout from the grass, from the side of the house, from cracks in the asphalt
it’s okay to be a dandelion
there will always be someone
to press you between the pages of their life
and save you

Jason Carney