I think sometimes the demons come back because they’re bored. And no matter how many times you tell them, “but I was fine…I was fine…” they just whisper back “we know…that’s why we had to come.”
I think I was ten when I learned what “disturbed” meant. It held such serious connotations. For me it described a feeling I couldn’t shake, something I didn’t like, didn’t understand, but couldn’t escape.
I noticed that when my brothers told me disturbing things, though, they did so with what appeared to be glee. As if they were not disturbed at all.
Maybe they were mocking me. But at the time it lead me to believe that by sharing the disturbing thought, it would become less real and less troubling for me.
I read a lot. I watched a lot of movies. I watched the news. I saw a lot of things I didn’t like, didn’t understand, but couldn’t escape.
If I told someone about them, it would make it less scary and less real.
I lived in a house with five other people. We never got out. I didn’t have friends. It took less than a day for everything one person knew to be common knowledge. there was no escape in my own home.
So I found other ways. I kept a journal. I wrote twisted fiction. I wrote stories about experiences I’d never had and places I’d never been. I wrote about people years older than me. I wrote about feelings I’d never had, feelings so intense I couldn’t find the right words.
I hated not having the right words. So I read more. I got a thesaurus. I read my dictionary. Trying to find the words I didn’t know that would click into the puzzle of the misery I was trying to portray in my stories.
I wanted to describe a misery too intense to be endured by a single human. Because I needed to get it out of my head.
I created characters so I could destroy them. But not completely. Tear them down then wait just long enough for them to rebuild only to be rendered into wreckage once again.
I wanted my words to tear my flesh in a way that I felt my hands never could.
I was trapped in the same way I trapped my characters. Maybe they had an island, or a fence, or a river keeping them in place. I had four walls and five family members who never let me ask the questions they didn’t want to hear answered.
I wrote with a darkness that shamed me. My writing lay stacked in drawers. When I read my works, laughter lashed back. My handwriting became smaller. The stacks grew higher.
As I condemn my characters to thicker and thicker layers of despair, I try to free myself from the sticky strings that life winds around me and sticks to the walls that closed in on my childhood. One time my brothers and I were playing we were trapped in a spiderweb but when the screams became too real I yelled at them to stop and ran out of the room. Then in my head I repeated the screams over and over until they sounded less real and felt less awful. I see the way my words struggle across the pages and the strings stick tighter but there are fewer. I’m still just a ten year old trying to run away from the meaning of a word I didn’t know, I didn’t understand, but that I can’t escape.
On Monday I was planning suicide. I woke up with a grim determination that it was time for my life to be over. I felt nothing. Not when my roommate said good morning. Not when my friend walked to work with me. Not when I taught Safe Ally Training to a bunch of wonderful people with one of my closest friends. Not when I tutored one of my own students, not when my boss joked around with me. I was wearing the mask my mother had taught me to use after years of her isolating me when I showed emotion.
I laughed. I smiled. I engaged in conversation. I was productive. But inside I was numb, burnt out by pain and loneliness and self-hatred. Inside I was convinced my friends had never really loved me, that my close friends would soon cease to love me. Inside, I was ready to die.
A few friends reached out. Noticed I was upset. I felt nothing. I went through the motions. I counted the hours till I could escape.
I thought of asking for help. Calling Crisis.
It never occurred to me to tell a friend. Never occurred that there were people who cared. I was convinced no one did.
I decided to go to work first. The last job of the day. My kids.
As I got ready to go, thoughts of self-preservation left in favor of writing out a will. I left my wallet, my money, and my cards on my desk. I5 gave my cat extra food, extra love. I snuggled the bunnies that didn’t like me. I conversed briefly with my roommate’s boyfriend, pretending I was invested, pretending I wasn’t about to leave and never come back.
When my ride dropped me off after work, I decided, I’d walk away and never come back. I’d find a bridge. I’d jump. It would all be over.
I wore my mask all the way there. Engaged in pleasant conversation with my ride. No one was allowed to see what was going on inside me.
I went through the motions at work. Laughed with my co-workers. Pretended everything was fine. They had no idea.
Then it was time to check in my kids.
I walked into the room where I was supposed to be to check in my 12 kindergartners. Incidentally, the teacher had let them out early today. Over half of them were already there, and they were looking for me. Under the table. Around corners.
They yelled my name when they saw me, and one ran into me for a hug. Several asked where I had been. I laughed and told them I hadn’t known they were there.
“Were you worried I wouldn’t come?” I asked one of the more vocal kids.
He tilted his head in consideration, then shook it definitively. “No, I knew you would be here,” he said.
That’s when the feeling came–for the first time–guilt. Worry. Regret.
How could I leave these kids behind?
I heard them saying my name with enthusiasm. I saw their excitement at seeing me. I saw their pure joy when they received new shoes as part of the programming for the day. I witnessed their sadness and fatigue when they encountered difficulties during the day. I listened to their needs and allowed them to skip homework. Instead, we played quiet games and colored pictures until it was time to go home.
I smiled and laughed with the parents, telling them about their child’s day, saying goodbye to the kids and hearing them chatter excitedly about what they had done and how excited they were to come back.
What was I thinking? I couldn’t leave my kids behind.
I rode back with my ride, in silence this time. I loved my kids. But I couldn’t shake what I had been feeling all day. I made a deal with myself: if she dropped me off in the parking lot, I’d run and find a bridge. If she walked back to the building with me, I’d make up some story about “forgetting” my ID and let her let both of us in.
But when she dropped me off at the parking lot, I walked back to the apartment slowly, and thought about the kids–would they miss me on Wednesday if I was not just late, but really and truly not there?
What about the class I mentored for? They were coming over on Tuesday. Maybe I could still around at least until then.
A stranger let me into my building. I knocked on my apartment door, and my roommate let me in. i bluffed it off. Pretended I’d forgotten. I was just tired. Went to bed.
Her friends came over and I went back and forth, trying to be social, trying to convince people I was fine. But I’d always retreat back into my room, feeling like crying but at the same time too numb to do anything but lie there.
No matter how many times my roommate asked me what was wrong, I couldn’t say anything. I was just sick, I lied, just tired. I didn’t know why I was so sad. There was no reason. I kept the mask on.
Tuesday morning it was the same. I skipped my 8am class. Too sick, I convinced myself, even though it was only a small cold I’d been living with.
I got up ad went to work again. Tutoring. I joked around. But inside I was seething. This time I was angry–angry at absolutely everything and everyone. I even hated being queer. I hated everything about myself and my life. I wasn’t looking forward to anything, I was just sticking around to do what I felt was necessary before I took the next step, whether that was suicide or calling crisis.
My supervisor decided for me. I stormed into the Pride Center, ranting about something or other. She asked me what was wrong. Said I didn’t look like myself.
I told her I wanted to die, but I kept waiting until my commitments were over, but they never were. I was living hour to hour with suicidal thoughts and it was only a matter of time before I did something.
She said, “You need to talk to someone.”
I said, “I know, I will, after tonight.”
She said, “No, I think you should talk to somebody right now.”
I pushed back a few more times. I needed to go to class. To see my students. To attend the club meeting for which I was co-president. Eventually she won.
“Should I see someone on campus?”
They would just tell me to go to Crisis, so I may as well just get a friend to drive me there and skip the police car.
Another friend was there and gave me a few pointers. What to look for. Where to go. I texted some friends, asking who was available to drive me. Within seconds my roommate replied, telling me to meet her outside the Union.
I gathered my things and walked outside. My numbness was wearing off as the situation became more real. Why was I doing this? Why was I so scared? Why did no one trust me to stick around?
I’d had the training. I should know.
I wanted to die.
I wanted to die, and my friends were trying to keep me safe.
Even if that meant going away . Even if that meant being processed by strangers. Even if that meant admitting that I was a danger to myself.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my abuser. She was the first person I ever dated, but more and more I’m reluctant to call what we had a romantic relationship. I used to think I was in love with her. But I’m starting to think it was more of an infatuation. I was obsessed with her. With getting to know her. With being in her life.
And she took advantage of that. She used that to her advantage. She held it over my head. Even if she didn’t know what she was doing. She abused me. She refused to commit knowing I would stick around anyway. She sucked up all my emotional energy to fuel her ego. She flushed herself up on my concern and my care. And she gave me the bare minimum in return–checked in just enough to keep my energy up, touched me just enough to make me tingle. But she withheld real intimacy. She tallied up my weaknesses and methodically touched each trigger when she needed to set me off, needed to steer me a certain way. She held labels hostage. She set all the expectations knowing I had never done this before. She ridiculed my concerns, making it clear that my requests for clearer boundaries, better times, a stronger connection were unfair and selfish. She told stories of healthy relationships with the side note that those relationships were unrealistic, clingy, and gross. I kept most of my ideas for myself. I trusted her too much. I trusted that she knew where to take us. I trusted that what she said was true, that it was normal for couples to refuse to acknowledge they were together, to refrain from making long-term plans, that it was okay and healthy for her to refuse to invite me to her gatherings with her “other friends.” It was fine that we never held hands, even when we were alone.
I was not allowed to ask for more. I was not allowed to expect more. I was not allowed to feel resentment towards her restrictions. If I complained, she gaslighted me or guilted me into taking it back. I had to follow her rules. I had to stay on her track.
She could talk about the man she was in love with even while she claimed she wasn’t attracted to men. She could spend all her time with me talking about him, how perfect he was, and how much she missed him and couldn’t stop thinking about him.
If I mentioned my self harm, it was treated as trivial and unimportant. Not worth her time to discuss or try to help me. Apparently I just did it too often for her to care anymore.
I could not be weak; I had to monitor my emotions by myself and take her for her word without breaking down. I was not allowed to self-deprecate, because comforting me was just too inconvenient.
And yet I could not be strong: I couldn’t stand up for myself, I couldn’t question her, I couldn’t begin to stray away or do anything that indicated I knew I deserved better.
I had to stay exactly where she wanted me, while at the same time she berated me for not growing up, not taking care of myself, not being the person she wanted me to be.
She never said “I love you” until she was blackout drunk.
She never thanked me for staying with her the night she lost her grandmother and drank herself into a stupor.
She never apologized for making me miss the obligations I too readily gave up for her sake.
She never asked me about the scars or the lowering grades, the skipped classes, the guilt spirals, the emotional distress, the self-abuse (mental, verbal and physical).
Everything was fixed with a tight hug, a mumbled excuse, a reminder of how shitty her life was.
I clung so desperately to what little she gave me because I didn’t know anything else. I was used to being taken advantage of, abused, neglected. I was used to being consistently invalidated and mocked. My parents had been doing it to me for 20 years. When she fell into my life, it just seemed natural to let her do to me the things she wanted to do.
She never made plans; I had to deal with her last-minute texts asking me to drop everything and come to her. When it was my idea, the timing was bad, the idea was wrong, the details were illogical. When it was hers, I had no say but followed along because I thought I loved this person.
For four months I did everything she wanted, everything she asked, everything she needed, because I though that’s what I wanted, I thought, that’s what you do for the people you love.
I thought I loved her.
I never really did.
It felt like love at the time, but since then, I’ve felt what love truly is. I understand the difference now.
I was infatuated with her, obsessed with breaking down the wall she’d so viciously built up. I was sure I could get through to her when no one else could. I was intent on learning every detail of her life so I could examine and cherish it.
Since then I’ve felt real love from my friends, my chosen family, the amazing girl I dated for two and a half months, and the incredible people I’ve filled my life with since the abuse.
I thought I had no regrets. I comforted myself with the belief that everything happens for a reason.
I’m sick and tired of excusing her. I’m sick and tired of refusing to admit the regret I feel for every time I let her shove me down. I’m furious that my society had me convinced that in the long run my abuse was worth it, because everything happens for a fucking reason.
Sometimes things just happen.
And you can be angry as hell.
And that’s okay.
Because sometimes there’s no good reason for things to happen. All the lessons I leaned from my abuse, I could have learned from having loving parents and a secure support system. I could have learned it from a better social life growing up, from a few casual dating experiences I was never allowed as an adolescent. I could have learned it from so many other events.
There is no good fucking reason I had to suffer at the hands of a selfish cunt for a year and a half because society allowed me to be stupid enough to believe that I DESERVED IT AND IT HAPPENED FOR A REASON.
I want everyone to take a minute to reflect.
You don’t owe the universe anything.
Sometimes shitty things happen.
And it’s okay to be fucking angry about it.
Because there was no good reason. It just happened.
Allow yourself to feel the extent of that pain, because no matter how shitty it may feel to know you were hurt without there being a positive outcome, it’s so much better than lying to yourself and excusing the actions of your abuser to defend the idiotic idea that people getting hurt is okay.
Moon whispers through the whispy clouds and the shivering trees as we walk. We pause along the way. Air nips but we’re bundled and brave. The sky looks fresh and sacred, deep with night and sprinkled with silver, dashed with garnets of stars. The path spreads curled in darkness to my left and your right, it’s late at night, you’re here. Nothing seems more right. I’m used to darkness spilling in lumps out of my mouth streaked with tears when a hand is offered. But with you all I can think is how happy I am and it’s clear as the garnet stars sending their light in a centuries-long stream ending in our eyes.
Cars croon in the distance and the light from the apartments behind the trees adds an accent to your face when you look into the sky. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the moon.
You sit in the grass on the side of the path and I join you as close as I can get without the tight sadness in my eyes. We talk about the moon and the sky and look across the pond sketched with stars giggling in the nighttime breeze.
We walk again and whisper through the trees giggling into the chilled night and bumping shoulders when we trip through darkness. Gravel grumbles at our feet. My hair is sticky from daytime heat and I feel embarrassed about the oil in my skin, relieved for the thickness of my jacket keeping that from touching you. Your hair seems perkier and your skin smoother. You’re even smaller that I am. I wonder at the conciseness of your body, shaped and sketched from years of editing. Your thesis is finally on your face and it’s a good one.
You don’t like spiders. I try not to giggle when I think of you braving bridges and traffic and people and gowns yet stiffening when the sticky thin strings touch your skin. I know the way better and lead on to a clearer path free of webs. Anyway, we can see the sky better from here.
The golf course is green and well-groomed, almost eerie in the light of the lampposts. Tall spoon-shaped trees create the shadows and a feeling of walls as we walk. There’s a hill, so we climb, and it scoops down towards the street. You ask to see my phone and we lay in the grass staring at the garnet stars and listening to the soft music curling from its tiny speakers and etching into our ears.
I look at you staring at the sky with the tiny light from my phone beaming into your face and I want to tell you, I want to tell you every piece of me that’s ever been missing. When you look at me I close my eyes and wonder if you’re watching me breathe.
You stand and jump to roll down the hill, laughing and hollering, and I scream and join you, spiraling through the moistened grass and landing right into you. You grab me quick, my back pressed into your face, and we lie there laughing like lovers in a John Greene novel. My blood is shivering from cold and screams and spirals and the feeling of your body holding mine.
You roll me over to run your sprinting fingers down my sides and hear me laugh again. I fight back feebly but my fingers flail limp against you and I clutch your fuzzy jacket and scream. You’re on top of me and in my face and I’m gasping for more than one reason when I see your eyes and feel your arms and elbows on my chest.
You ask me how I feel and I try to hide the truth from my reply.
I want you to never stand up but as soon as it starts to feel okay you must think so too because you get up to grab my phone from the top of the hill.
I know I’m wrong and you’re trying, but the garnet stars in my eyes tricked me when I thought it might be okay. You walked me home and then left and I lay in the rug pretending it was the moistened grass of the golf course and the cat on my chest was you.
This time last year I was celebrating the end of a huge milestone in my life. I’d gotten through the most difficult summer of my life so far. I still felt like crap most of the time because I was dealing with fresh wounds from my ex, an unsupportive bio family, and the emotional aftermath of saying goodbye to my summer camp family. But even with all of that I was able to look back and feel a twinge of pride that I had made it through—despite enormous lows, recurring bouts of self-hatred, chronic self-harm and a suicide attempt. Despite struggling to make connections with my kids and utilize my support system. Despite the huge changes that were coming my way. I’d made it through and could feel myself growing stronger.
Now this year the summer is once again coming to a close and once again I find myself looking back at what I’ve accomplished. I thought nothing could be worse than last summer, but this one was—somehow it found a way. Once again I was getting over a breakup, both easier because I knew I would be okay and harder because I was saying goodbye to a beautiful healthy partnership instead of an abusive one. Once again, I had recurring bouts of self-hatred and self-harm, intense lows, and difficulties connecting with my kids. But this time I had more experience with all of that and was able to work through it in a healthier way. Even so, the tangles were harder to unwind and the emotions harder to unpack. And on top of all of this, I was going through identity crises related to my gender (or lack thereof), my name, my role in life, my ultimate goals, and my relationships with the people in my life.
And this time when I tried to kill myself it was a much more serious attempt, one that would have landed me in the hospital if the bottle had had more pills in it.
This summer I was forced to distance myself from the kids that meant the world to me. I spent as much time with them as I could, but it never seemed like enough, and the pain I felt was physical when I saw my friends acting the role that should have been mine as well.
This summer I was given a new group of kids to work with, and struggled to work with volunteers who didn’t care as much and kids so needy they cried over the slightest things when I knew something much bigger was the cause.
This summer I witnessed internalized racism when working with my students of color, and heard real-life stories from all of my minority students about what it’s like to be in high school as part of a marginalized population.
This summer my heart broke when 49 of my queer siblings died at the hands of hate.
This summer my reality was changed when I saw more and more people of color brutalized by the systems that have oppressed them for centuries.
This summer I felt keenly what it’s like to be a queer person in America, from feeling thrills of pride at my local celebration to being mocked on the Internet to questioning my very existence as a non-binary human.
This summer I connected on a deep level with another animal, my soul mate, my emotional support animal, my love.
This summer I experienced crisis counseling and prevention plans when I felt the keen and terrifying option resurfacing.
This summer I became even closer to the most important person in my life as we began our journey as roommates.
This summer I helped organize programs for my school to raise awareness for the struggles faced by queer students.
This summer I spent days alone in my apartment without even a job to look forward to, cast out in a limb by the summer camp I had depended on not only for employment but as motivation for life itself.
This summer I put myself out there as I searched desperately for a job to be rewarded with a $60 check every two weeks.
This summer I was unable to earn $12 an hour for my internship because my dad messed up my financial aid.
This summer I nailed the best interview I’d ever gotten and received word that I had been hired for an amazing job working once again with underrepresented youth.
This summer I visited my sister’s family and experienced for a week what true familial bonds should feel like.
This summer I avoided contact with my family as much as possible when the only interactions we had were upsetting and toxic.
This summer I said goodbye to my brother as he left the state for the first time on his own.
This summer I panicked when I thought I saw my ex, broke down when I saw her one social media, and finally, miraculously, was able to calmly tell her off when she attempted to contact me one last time.
This summer I celebrated her announcement that she would not be returning to my school.
This summer I showed my blog to people for the first time and made the difficult decision to put myself out there as a writer under the name I wanted.
This summer, I told people what my real name is.
It’s terrifying and it’s not over yet. In many ways I’m just getting started. I have a lot to work on from here. But I’m stronger now and I realize that. I’m going to make it through.
Describing my passion in text while applying for still more jobs. Justifying my passion. Trying to figure out how I stand out.
Who else from my trip still talks, a year later, to that kid from South Dakota who admitted to self harm and suicidal thoughts?
Who else noticed the red flags and drew the supervisors’ attention to the girl who otherwise may have suffered without resources?
Who else gets through to the queer kids in a way that they understand and appreciate because I accepted each part of them openly, celebrating each facet of their expression?
Who else recognizes the tiny subtle signs of mental illness, emotional abuse, low self-esteem, self loathing, in the quiet kids, the ones who are not overt “troublemakers,” but who sit on the sidelines, or interact casually, but who hold back in the tiniest of ways, in ways that most people either don’t see or choose not?
Who else sees the flaws in the entire system surrounding child rearing and fights to uproot the ideology that children are the property of caregivers, that they are a chore, that they are a challenge to be overcome?
Who else sees the massive importance in the small things they express, the tiny details of their personhood?
Hopefully everyone. Hopefully every single person that applies, that in any way interacts with a child, has all of this and more.
Hopefully I have these, as I feel I do, and hopefully they are as beneficial as I feel they are.
I’ve seen the evidence of my positive influence on the kids I work with. But it’s almost impossible to express that. Time after time potential employers seem not to believe me. For the first time since I started writing, my words are failing me.
Something like this can’t be expressed, but only shown, and in a field where I myself barely understand the impact of my work, how can I possibly show it in the fifteen minutes or 500 characters I’m allowed?