Writing Mariela

Isabella Ojeda-Ahmed
3 min readJan 6, 2023

What is Mariela doing? Who is she, really? What does she want? These are the questions I’m supposed to ask myself about my protagonist. What makes her different than anyone else? What makes me? Suddenly I can’t remember what makes her tick, what makes her cry or smile or want to scream. I know that I want to tell her story, but I don’t know how to start over again. I’ve extracted her from me, but now she seems lifeless, a vague outline of a character but not a person. Maybe it was a mistake to pull my heart out of her. Maybe I can’t invent a new human from scratch.

I think I’ll go outside and walk around a bit. Golden light is just breaking through the seemingly impenetrable blanket of gray that has been suffocating me all day. I wonder if that’s the kind of thing Mariela would like to do. Maybe she likes the gray days, how they make time seem to stand still, how they make a day spent inside feel worthwhile.

I can see how she might appreciate that aspect of this weather. Staying inside on a sunny day, trapped by work and anxiety and a touch of agoraphobia, feels wasteful. On a cold, gray day, we have permission. It’s not laziness, it’s relaxation. Self-care, not self-harm. Maybe Mariela and I are alike.

What plagues her mind? Is it different than what plagues mine? Maybe she struggles with self-isolating, pushing everyone away, and then blaming them for leaving her. I am more obedient than that, unwilling to hurt anyone around me, always afraid I’ve done them wrong. Mariela might be different. She might be more than willing to burn bridges and break bonds, always running from the possibility of safety and belonging.

We both fear those things are temporary, or conditional. But what paralyzes me might spur her to action. The fear may keep her running, always running. I run away in my head, avoiding change, dissociating. She might run away for real, avoiding confrontation, escaping.

Maybe we have the same heart, but different bodies. That might be the key to writing her. I’m writing myself inside out, or upside down. The deep-down hurt, the foundational shit, is the same. But instead of writing what I would do, I’ll write what she would do with the same emotion, the same circumstance.

Both of our journeys speak to the real adoptee experience. I hope when people read it, they will understand. Our story is so important, I don’t care how long it takes to write it. Not because I think I’m special, or what I’m saying hasn’t already been said. Everything we make is a collage of what we know and what we’ve seen, songs we love, and books we’ve read. But the experience of being adopted is so misunderstood. I can’t sit back and let others tell our story, especially those who have never lived it themselves. If I’m going to pursue something as self-important and pretentious as writing, the least I can do is tell you a story that will pry your mind open and ask you to look through my eyes. I need you to see what I see. I need you to know Mariela. I’m getting to know her too.

Originally published at workingtowardokay.com in 2021.

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Isabella Ojeda-Ahmed

Writing about identity, mental health, race, adoption, and more. Follow me on Instagram @workingtowardokay