The House

Ashleigh Rolle

A few months ago I was asked why I found Global Dignity so important. I gave a short succinct answer because in truth there are many reasons (most of them being personal) as to why I jumped head first into the project. If the person that originally asked me that question is reading this now. I would like you to know some of the answers that were floating through my head at the time. This house and what it represents is one of them.

This is the house that stands in the city that my holistic idealism thought that I would make it big in. Dreams of playing the female lead in an August Wilson play at the famous Fox Theatre seemed within my reach.

There stands the house where meals were withheld until I met the weight goal of the boarder and where ironically enough I was force-fed raw ginger embedding within me the irrational hatred of the poor root, the indescribable fear of a literal inanimate object. You are looking at a house that even though I have not stepped foot in for almost four years, it has been almost five that I have been able to look at a can of ginger ale and not battle with a slight bought of anxiety.

This is the house where fat turned into ugly turned into stupidity turned into shouting turned into a cold night alone. On that red brick porch where I saw snow fall for the first time but had the experience tarnished by the soundtrack of my own flesh and blood screaming at me to freeze my weight away.

This is the house where I assisted my cousin with the intricate details of the zipper on her prom dress.

At the back of the door in the very same room that we shared, hung a beautiful pink gown that I was meant to don but told that the young man who invited me was surely joking and therefore I would have no need for it.

This hell was where I learnt that black should be the only colour that I ever have the nerve to wear. That food is a thing that I never dare eat. That life is a thing that I never should be so bold as to enjoy. Where love was a thing that I could never hope to feel.

It was in this empty building that I truly learnt what the ramifications of psychological abuse truly entail.

Life between then and now has been somewhat of a blur. But somehow I’ve been able to trek through the rainforests of Brazil while simultaneously cursing finger monkeys for stealing the things that were kind of important to me.

In the four years since I set eyes upon this derelict structure I’ve been to Switzerland in as many times to date.

While trying to overcome my fear of ginger, against my mother’s wishes I hopped on a bus from Boston to New York using Fung Wah and to any New Englander or New Yorker reading this you know that I probably took the biggest gamble of my life seeing as “Fung Wah bus is suspending all bus service to compliances requested by US federal motor carrier safety administration for inspections and repair services.” Relief was evident when I set eyes on Canal and Bowery for the first time.

The owner of the house didn’t know that just two years from that moment I would go on to be in the same room as president Bill Clinton or meet respected professor Muhammad Yunus.

The owner of that house did not dare think that one day I would be apart of a global cast invited by Mikhail Gorbachev to perform at the Palais des nations in Geneva. Or invited by Arianna Huffington to have my voice heard as a contributing blogger on the Huffington Post.

She did not stop to consider that one day I would visit archbishop Desmond Tutu’s house, have a personal conversation with Ahmed Kathrada on the grounds of liliesleaf where Nelson Mandela himself conducted secret ANC meetings or walk the streets of Soweto creating within me a deeper appreciation for the rich South African culture.

She did not think that I could create a global network of immensely talented friends that spans the surface of every continent (except Antarctica) that love me whether I’m 40 pounds heavier or 100 pounds lighter.

And for all of this I thank her, had it not been for this house in this forgotten neighborhood, I would not have found my strength. In 2011 I would not have been able to fully embrace the concept and the importance of dignity if I didn’t have it stripped away from me by the very person my parents trusted to uphold it.

The reason I became so fully immersed in the project first started by Prince Haakon, John Hope Bryant and Pekka Himanen was because as cliché’ as it sounds, I realized that life is a journey and through them I discovered that we should all be allowed to explore it with dignity.

My aunt showed me what she interpreted as my limitations and in turn, I defied them.