You want reasons. You keep asking for them. But the reasons I have aren't good enough for you. They'll never be good enough, for anyone.
My parents call me a liar. They say I need psychiatric help; say I must be living in my books, my violent movies and TV shows, to get these ridiculous ideas in my head. They say these things never happened.
Even before all this started (or didn't start…), way back when I was a kid, I would have these memories of things. And I'm not just talking about those distant, hazy images, mere interpretations of things or whatnot that everyone has either. I'm talking about memories that are chock full of information. Sights, sounds, emotions, textures, smells. Living, breathing details.
Like the time, when I was about eight years old, and all the cousins on my mom's side were staying with my grandparents in this mobile home – not those trailers like with parks, I'm talking about the things with sections that squeezed out to make more room and a bed for my grandparents high above the hitch that attached to the truck. They'd make me sleep on the 1-2 ft space between their bed and the wall, and the sour, musty smell of the carpet would keep me awake at night, much less my grandpa's insufferable snoring – at this camp, Valley Vista, for a few weeks during the summer. I'd just come back from the pool. I remember how gross the drain was, because it made me happy for my new flip flops. I reeked of chlorine: from my hair, from my bathing suit (now covered by wet spotted clothes), from my skin. I could almost choke on the smell but thankfully I was reading a book, engrossed in the chapter. I still remember the feel of that worn and beaten cover, held together by tiny stripes of clear packing tape, other pieces completely torn and lost altogether. I'd read the book over a million times. It was my favorite. Still is. I read it, word by word out loud, to my campers one week during camp this summer. Don't Hurt Laurie! I loved that book.
So I was reading it, and not paying attention to where I was going. I walked right into the trailer hitch. I went in to my grandmother, crying. "Grammie help!" She took one, half-eyed look at me, handed me a few paper bills and told me we needed milk from the camp store. I watched her with my big child eyes (though they didn't seem that big at the time, not compared to hers), took the money and tried to wipe my tears. Blood was dripping slowly from my wound into my eyebrow. Superficial, but how was I supposed to know that at eight? It hurt like hell and the dust from the dirt road was getting in my face, sticking to the moisture.
I walked into that store and bought the milk, not sulking mind you, but hunched over more out of embarrassment than anything else, avoiding the workers' eyes at all costs as they questioned. "I'm fine," I squeaked in my little girl voice. Once I was outside and that little jingle bell (I remember thinking it was a jingle bell, like that song, because even though it was the middle of the summer, the bell was tied to the door with red and green velvet ribbons like my other grandma would wrap around Christmas packages) above the door quieted, I took a deep breath to compose myself and – head up – sauntered (as much as possible for a child of my age who didn't even know what the word meant) back to my grandmother. There's still a bump on my head from that.
My mom laughs at me when I try to tell that story. "That's not what happened at all! What are you talking about? She wouldn't treat you like that. Stop making things up, you don't know anything."
This is a common occurrence, though not all of my memories are quite this strong, and certainly not all of the ones I have from my childhood. But just the same, I've given up by now. I've long since realized even my own memories do not belong to me anymore. I don't think they ever have.
You come to stop trusting your surroundings, much less your perception of things. I read this story once, about a little girl who lived with her grandmother – I remember the grandmother part specifically, because I was still at the age when I didn't realize a lot of kids didn't live with a mommy and a daddy – grandmother who would set out different colored blocks – like the ones babies play with, different shapes and sizes - for her granddaughter to identify. The grandmother would hold up a red square and ask her granddaughter what color it was. "It's red." She'd reply, of course. She wasn't stupid. She'd receive a slap to the face, sometimes worse. "NO it's purple you retard!" Then, after much violent prodding, when she finally agreed that it was purple, the grandmother yelled back that it was red; didn't she learn anything in school? Same with the shapes. The granddaughter flunked out of elementary school (and I mean seriously, who does that?). After a while she didn't know what was what anymore. I always wondered what happened to that little girl; did she ever get straightened out? Was there any hope for her? Was she the only one? Were other kids warped like that, or in different ways? But then again, maybe I never really read that story after all.
You start doubting the ways of the world. What's supposed to make sense, doesn't, and the things that sometimes do, shouldn't. The laws bend and mold, shifting around your reality. What goes up doesn't necessarily come down. What goes in doesn't always come out. Love isn't always love; sometimes it appears in the form of hate, or manipulation, or fear, but you take it regardless. Good and bad don't stay in opposite corners, but instead variegate themselves based upon who said or did the thing in question.
When things go wrong, you just cry and wait for it to be over, no matter how long it takes, because you've long since learned you can't change anything around you. But then, when things are "right" again, it doesn't matter. It doesn't help. You can't explain why, but you'd rather go back to things being "wrong". At least you knew how to handle things then. But this, this… eggshell existence. You don't know how to live in this world; all the tools you've created just so you can survive are suddenly useless and extravagant, but you don't know how to let them go because they're all you've ever had. You don't know how to live without them. You just, can't stop yourself from grabbing onto anything solid within your line of sight because you keep expecting the bottom to abruptly fall out from underneath you, just like it always has before.
My brother and I went through this stage when we were growing up, when we had to claim everything in the house for whose it was. Some of the details are hazy now, but there's still visible evidence everywhere. I'm not sure how old we were, but obviously young enough we didn't think about the possibility of getting in trouble for scribbling our names on various items. Two specifically: books and drink coasters. The books makes sense in a way, my family was always reading. I wanted to be sure that everybody knew that this book, right there, was mine and that I'd read every single page of it. Especially the children's books that my brother and I had shared, it was like proving they were mine first (even though I'm younger, so they weren't) would somehow ensure my place inside the family. The drink coasters… as far as I can figure out, that was just plain sibling rivalry. We were always fighting over who got to use which one. These coasters had depictions of golf balls on them, you see, all anthropomorphic. Pretty cute, actually, but nothing special in the long run. Regardless, I had the nerve to scribble my name – my full name – across the back of my favorites, that way anytime my brother tried to use it, I'd have a legitimate reason to fight him, and a sure-proof way to win. Though it didn't quite work out that way of course, but I thought it would. I still have one of those coasters in my room, on my computer desk. It's so old and worn I can't even tell whose name is on the back, all I can see are possible ink impressions of what once was.
From the time I was five years old, the thing I wanted the most were glasses. My brother got his in 2nd grade, my momma had glasses, my daddy had glasses. I was the only one in the family who didn't. I didn't make the connection between bad eyes and glasses, I just didn't want to be different. I begged for a pair. I prayed to God every night to give me glasses. I even refused to eat anything that I knew had Vitamin A in it, and purposefully read as much as I could in dim light. I didn't get glasses until I was 11 1/2 years old. I was ecstatic. (on a side note, why does everyone always push glasses back onto their nose with their middle fingers? Is that something we start as kids, when we don't realize what we're signaling? And why doesn't anyone bother to tell us, so we can break the habit quick?) By 13, I got contacts so I wouldn't have to wear them anymore. Being different than my family suddenly wasn't so bad anymore.
I wrote a will when I first started high school. I didn't own much, but what I did have meant a lot to me, and I knew it was stuff nobody else would understand. I wanted to make sure that, even when I was dead, I still had control over my stuff, the only remnants of my life.
You know, 95 of the time, I am nothing if not productive. "Relax" is a foreign word to me. There is literally, always something going on. I am the "yes" girl, and I will accomplish everything set before me regardless of the cost to myself. I purposefully fill every hour with classes, school work, instrument practicing, music and drama rehearsals, socializing, running errands, cleaning, organizing, working at the school, babysitting on the side, you name it, I've done it and regularly. During the summer I work at camp: a 24/7 job. Even on my 23 hrs off a week, I stayed and made myself useful every chance I got. I like it that way. It's easier not to think, if you stay busy. But that other 5, that'll get you.
It mostly happens during breaks from school, when I'm home with nothing to do. When there's no schedule and nowhere to be, I go crazy. Seriously, it's like I turn into a vegetable. I don't trash my room or anything, but my highly effective level of motivation goes directly out the window. I stay up late just because I can, and sleep in practically all morning for the exact same reason. I lie on my bed with the TV on to random channels and goof off on my computer watching movies or surfing the net. Even the things that seem productive to me – like reading books and writing my fanfiction stories and maybe (sometimes) playing the piano – aren't actually accomplishing anything. I don't eat much because I'm too lazy to waste the effort even though I get more than twelve hours of sleep a night (morning). I spend days in the same pair of pajamas. I get to the point when I not only skip showers, but don't even bother to wash my face. Sometimes, I contemplate skipping the toothbrush at night because I just don't want to move. How disgusting is that? It's a good thing I hide out in my room where no one can see me during those times. Without a solid, undeniable purpose, it's like I cease to exist as a running, functional person.
That's why I need other people to focus all my energy on. I don't know what to do with myself otherwise, and there's a heck of a lot of me for some reason. If there's one thing I wasn't shorted in life, it's personality. I spend so much on other people that I never have anything left for myself in the end. But I hear that's what happens, that's what we do when we can't save ourselves: we try our hardest to save other people.
Not that I'm beyond hope, though I do fall into that trap sometimes. I just, don't see the point. It doesn't seem worth it to me. I'm doing what I love when I help other people, who cares what it does to me inside? So I just… give it all, all the time, to anybody who will take it. But there's a problem with that.
You help enough people, and undeniably someone will try to return the favor, or at least try to get to know you. And that's hard to handle, because the whole reason you're doing things for them is so that you can forget about yourself. It hits you hard, that someone's trying to care. You don't know how to let them in. And then they ask you why; then they ask for reasons.
You will tell me that I am only nineteen, what do I know of pain? I have not lived enough years to have suffered so much. What do I know of horrors? I have many scars you can see and many more that you can't, but nothing I could say excuses their existence. It's true, I know nothing. Compared to most, I have seen nothing, and this puts fuel to my already immense guilt. I have no reasons worthy of explanation. I just have what was and what is and I can't change any of it now.
What I can tell you aren't the things you want to hear. I had a good childhood. I was a good kid. My parents worked very hard to be able to support my brother and I and I will be forever grateful for their efforts. I lost a few relatives, sure, but everybody loses a grandparent or two (or five…), and even though I've known a few, nobody my age that I was very close too. I wasn't a victim of incest, nor severe physical abuse. I rarely even got into trouble. I stole a bit, when I was about ten, nothing all that serious, just gum or small toys or little bits of money from relatives. Never did figure out why, just went through kind of weird klepto stage.
Even when I was a teenager and everyone around me was picking up bad habits like smoking and drinking and partying and sneaking out behind their parents backs to hook up, I didn't. Sure, maybe I played my music too loud sometimes, but it was never the kind of head-banging, girl-bashing, death-wishing, over-sexualized anger infused crap so many kids my age tend to listen too. I've never stayed out past curfew or crashed the family car, I rarely curse and regardless never in front of elders (parents!) or children, I've never been in trouble with the law, I've never been to parties, I've never done drugs, I've never been wasted, I've never even dated much less been promiscuous. I wasn't raped either, like so many other people. Close, sure, but not really and almost doesn't count anyway. None of that mattered. I just pressed on the only way I knew how, overachieving. I did everything I ever could to make sure that I wouldn't fade into the background. Still do. I was so scared of being forgotten and ignored. Still am. I have always been top of my class, taking extra classes in fact. I've always been involved in church groups, shining in extracurricular activities like drama and orchestra, I have always worked in-between everything. I have been nothing if not always responsible. I pick up after myself, I am polite and generous and helpful. I was seriously, a model child. Everybody always told me so. Everybody thought that nothing could be wrong.
But everything was.
All the good things I did, they never meant anything. They are just pretty wrapping on a worthless box. Inside I am empty, drained out and exhausted. You'll tell me my parents' fights shouldn't have affected me so much, that my mom didn't mean what she said to me, that my dad didn't know I needed his support, that my brother's temper was temporary and everything was unimportant in the long run. But that's just it. The long run didn't matter. I needed things then; things I never got, things I still don't have.
But really, the things that did or didn't happen were never the issue, it was that I couldn't prepare for them. Even those that were more regular than others had no true pattern. I had no way of knowing which would happen when, so you go about your life simply expecting the worse all the time, and that will wear a person down in a jiffy.
My mom's only slapped me a couple of times. It shouldn't matter. But it does. Every time she gets angry, I worry. I remember the first time she hit me like that. I'd just started high school, but I was still smaller than her at the time. We'd been out camping with the church youth group they ran (and still run, even though my brother and I have been out of it for years), and we were about to go out on the roads to pick up trash. I wanted to keep my little backpack with me; it had my most valuable possessions inside, the ones I couldn't let out of my sight for fear of other people getting their hands on them. My mom told me to leave it in the tent, but the tent wasn't secure. I couldn't keep my stuff safe in there and I knew it. She pulled me behind a truck by my ear, and proceeded to scream at me about what an insolent and stupid child I was. I didn't understand what the big deal was; it wasn't like I was going to beg her to carry it for me later. I wasn't hurting anybody by wearing a backpack. I tried to tell her that, but she wouldn't stop. Finally, unexpectedly, she whipped her arm up and backhanded me right across the face. Her engagement ring tore a line in my skin. I was so startled I couldn't even cry, or hit her back like my brother or some of my friends would've done. She left then, yanking the straps from my shoulders without a word. She wouldn't even look at me. The backpack stayed in the tent.
The last time she hit me was over Christmas break, my senior year of high school. My dad and I had been spatting a bit all afternoon because I'd asked him over and over to fix something and he still hadn't. My mom came home from work and my dad mentioned it. She started yelling at him. I didn't even bother to pay attention long enough to figure out why. I was watching a show on TV, and when they moved into the kitchen behind me, instead of just turning the volume up (that would've been rude), I scooted forward a bit. My mom screamed at me to shut it off, which frustrated me because I was right at the very end and now I'd never figure out what happened, but I did. Then I went into "the stance" which I had perfected over the years any time someone would yell at me. I stood with my feet planted together, shoulders slumped and head down so I was looking at the floor. I varied my arms a bit, sometimes they were crossed, other times deep in my front or back pockets, often I just played with my fingernails. Anything but on my hips, because that would resemble an attitude, which is never good. The stance usually saved me from the worst of the arguments, because I could just absorb it all and say "Yes ma'am, I'm sorry ma'am, I won't do it again ma'am" (whatever it was) and then surely, finally, I'd be dismissed. But I was about full up on her crap by then, and it was so hard just to stand there and take it.
I probably deserved this slap, come to think of it. "ANSWER ME DAMMIT!" she snapped to my face, grabbing my chin and wrenching it towards her. I don't remember the question now, but I knew I was trapped. Nothing I said would get me out of this one. So I told her that, even though I shouldn't have.
"Anything I say will just make you angrier so…" I didn't get a chance to finish. She didn't backhand me this time, but she did it with enough force it knocked me off my balance, and I was a good 3-4 inches taller and 20 lbs heavier by that time. I bumped into the couch, then looked up at her and – without bothering with a response or even taking the time to raise my hand to the tender spot that was already bruising – went into my room. I was smart enough not to lock the main door, but I locked both my bathroom doors, even though the flimsy locks could never really hinder anyone. Then I crawled out my window and went into the nearby woods. All I had my purse and my phone and the clothes on my back – I'd even forgotten a jacket, and it was already getting very dark since it was wintertime – but I wasn't planning on returning. I'd sworn to myself that I'd never let her hit me again, and for once, dammit, I wanted to keep a promise for me. I called a friend's mom who was kind of a type of mentor at that time. She talked with me for over an hour and a half. When the crying finally stopped and the cold have overtaken me and there was no trace of sun on the horizon, I finally trudged back to the house. My bathroom window had been closed and locked, so I had to ring the front door. My dad let me in, and I passed my mom on the couch before going to the room. We never talked about it, but I think I scared her, because she's never hit me since.
My brother (who is highly histrionic) has hit me a few times, kicked me around a bit when no one else was around to take it. But nothing serious, and even if he had remembered I wouldn't bother trying to prove it anyway. You know how it is, unreliable "fake" memories and all.
My dad (embarrassingly sanguine in public but also profusely phlegmatic) never did anything to help except to accidentally rile my mom (she's very choleric) and brother up more, and we all just ignored the effects of situations. I think that hurt most of all. My dad never said anything either. I don't know if it's because he didn't know what to say, or because nobody else was talking about anything that happened, but we never admitted that anything had ever happened. I'm closer to my dad than anyone else in my family – I was always daddy's little girl – but even he doesn't know me at all. You think because they're your child, all you have to do is look at them and you'll know everything, like your similar genes will just magically connect and transfer information telepathically. But the truth is, we're born a stranger, and some of us die stranger's too.
You know, and none of that even matters anyway. Eventually, the body will heal. It always does. Besides, it's not my body that hurts, it's my heart. I would take all the physical pain in the world if I could just heal my heart. I actually like physical pain, actually. No joke! I crave it, sometimes, and I'll take anything. If I don't do it myself, my body tends to find a way to hurt itself anyway (like a random unexplainable bruise or cut, or a freak accident, or sore arms after a shot even). I figure it's just gotta be what I deserve. I understand physical pain. It just makes sense to me. It's a language all its own, and often times it's the only language I have.
Which is strange to say, because I talk all the time. Write too, about everything and anything (Well, almost everything). I'm the surprising version of sanguine and melancholy. In the crowd, if I'm not running the fun, I'm at least with the people who are. Not to say I've always been popular, certainly not, but I've never had trouble making friends, even in the worst of situations (coughmiddle school cough). I'm not just empathetic but hyper verbal. I actually think I tend to be too much for some people. The problem is I'm also alexithymic. All the words I have for other people, other details and other stories, they do not belong to me.
I can read a book, watch a movie or a TV show, listen to music and get literally lost in it. It doesn't matter if it's an actual person or not, because they are more than real to me. I have been known to jump up in euphoria over their triumphs, or literally stop breathing when they are in dire need and desperate to survive a trauma. I have cried more tears over these types of things than anything that I have ever been through in my entire life. I have so much emotion that I cannot control it, but it has absolutely no connection whatsoever to me.
I think it's because I don't know how to talk to her, the scared little girl inside me. I can't even tell you how little she is, because she's cut me off. She's cut everybody off. Most of the time, I can control her. I have learned to live by the logic in my head instead of the fears of my heart. There are times though, when she freaks over the things that hurt the most, and I lose it. Thunderstorms, confrontation, failure, anger, trust, and love. I have no say over these things. They were never mine to begin with.
It is like I've got PTSD or something, because weird things will set her off without warning. I have a heightened sense of abandonment and massive amounts of adrenaline shot fire through my veins at the first inkling of fear, whether rational or irrational and there's no bargaining with her. It either is, or it isn't. There's no luxury of wading in the gray for a bit to figure things out because all she sees are things squarely inside black or white. I cling to the people around me in hopes of finding the parts of myself that I have lost and yet she can't trust anyone. She can't give in.
You have to believe in something bigger than your doubts. At your core, you have to believe that fundamentally some part of the human condition is decent. Sometimes, I think I finally have her convinced of that and we take a step into normalcy, but then she disappears again. It's hard to function without her, since I am her and she is me. I want to be loved, but she doesn't know how to take it because she can't trust it. I've heard these things take time, but the world doesn't wait for you. There's just too many things that little girl can't face, can't risk it all for something that's never existed for her – no matter how many times you tell her otherwise.
And then we're back to words again.
They say words free you, save you. They say words empower us because they allow us to feel. Words tether us to our own truth, take you back into the memories to find the existence of and know the truth you couldn't see before. We can't rewrite our own histories, but we can learn the truth about them. And in learning, we can find respect, and in respect, there's strength.
I must have respected myself all along, even as she was hurting me to keep me from reaching out, because I never disrespected myself enough to get into all the trouble available in this world, and in general I'm a pretty decent person (don't tell her that though! She can't handle that so far.). But the strength… she's holding that, and she hasn't figured out the truth yet. I try to tell her that it's okay, for us to get better, for us to accept the good things life has to give us in the form of freedom and friendships and joy and safety and above all love. That's the strange one.
I have spent my life desperately searching for love and never knowing the right words or where to go to find it, because whenever I heard it, it didn't fit with what I saw or knew in my heart it should be. But I am learning, and as long as I hold her hand, that little girl can too. I want to tell that scared little girl that love is where we carve out our own lives for ourselves, where we make things right. And I will tell her that all the time, all the time, all the time, all the time. I pray and hope that one day she will hear me, but until then I resolve to press on, half a soul or not. I'm tired of living in the shadows. I'm tired of punishing myself for things I couldn't control. I'm tired of letting her hurt me, and even more tired of trying to hurt the little girl inside me instead of giving her time and space to grow, and the faith to know that, eventually, some day, she'll agree with me, and then things will be better.