My Struggle

All the other camps I want to apply to are either full-time off campus positions (which I can’t take if I want to be a teacher for TRIO, and I want to maintain any connection to my kids that I am allowed) or already fully staffed and no longer accepting apps, or have values that are so drastically different from mine that I would not feel comfortable or safe in that environment. I know there are a lot worse things that could be happening to me right now and for the most part I am a very lucky person. But I can’t help but feel discouraged and undervalued. My kids are my life. I thought I was doing well enough that people could see that. Is it just that my methods or mentoring are so bizarre to people they can’t trust me in that role? Is going out of my way to empathize and understand those that I work with so uncalled for? Is taking time to have extra conversations with the ones that are usually ignored really that horrible? Is disagreeing with what my co-workers say and do and trying to have a constructive conversation about that an instant fail? I know I had my off days where I got short with a kid or a co-worker, but doesn’t everyone have those? Why aren’t I allowed that? Just as my self esteem was beginning to blossom I get shot down again because my philosophy on working with kids isn’t exactly the same as theirs. I’m blocked from the Pine Ridge trip because of stupid politics and someone who seemed bound and determined to bring me down by targeting the thing that was most important to me–my work with kids. I was prevented from even applying to CESA 6 and their Youth Mentor Program because my fucking anxiety won’t allow me to be a safe driver. I can’t do TRIO because of “something to do with group dynamics” and a few remarks from kids about me picking favorites when the majority of their comments were positive, saying I was nice and friendly and interesting and even logical. Logical! Do you have any idea what that means to me after years and years of being written off as an emotional nobody with nothing valuable or important to say? At least one kid out their respected the fact that I took time to explain things and went about doing things in a way that made sense to me (and them too apparently).
And now I can’t do any other summer camp that’s come my way, because I missed app deadlines because TRIO took their sweet time letting me know they didn’t want me back, or because I disagree with the mission of the camp, or because choosing that camp would force me to choose between it and maintaining what little connection I still have with the kids who I promised would see me again.
I know that I’m young. I know I’m still learning. I know I have room to improve. I know that, for the most part, I have nothing to complain about.
But I’ve only recently figured out what is most important to me. I’ve only recently begun to take action on it, get myself out there, make myself known. And I am being blocked again and again for reasons that I don’t understand or agree with.
I’m not unused to this. I grew up surrounded by people who loved to shoot me down. Who told me I could do whatever I wanted and then laughed at me whenever I did what I wanted, or showed any semblance of passion or talent.
I guess the difference now is that I’m not going to let stupid petty people get in my way. I’m going to keep fucking trying. Because I might not have the confidence to believe in myself but fuck anybody who thinks I don’t love my kids more than anything else in the world, and fuck anybody who thinks I would ever, EVER give up on them. I won’t be shot down, I won’t be shoved aside, I won’t be disregard or laughed at without fighting back. I study this shit. I know it’s hard on kids to lose a mentor figure even if all that figure was is a familiar face. Let alone a trusted friend, role model or support, which I know I was to at least some of them.
People tell me that it will all make sense some day. They say that this is all a strength test and I will come through better for it in the end. But having started with so little confidence, so little strength, and sop little support, I am constantly afraid that I may physically be unable to come through at all. Things that seem like small obstacles to other people can seem like insurmountable challenges to me, because I have so little experience to go off of. I have only recently discovered my sense of self. There’s not a lot of me that I can carry around or save when things go wrong. I’ve had to start over so many times in the past three years after doing the exact same things day in and day out for seventeen years. I don’t understand life. People terrify me. Relationships terrify me. The future terrifies me. I wonder if I am capable, emotionally, physically, to continue with anything I do. If I am capable of actually being. I let people walk over me constantly. I let people take advantage of me. I let them think I am fine, I am okay, I don’t care, go ahead, you’re more important than I am. And they believe me. I let them think it does not bother me that the things that are most important to me are taken away. That it’s okay for them to define me as something that I am not, as someone who I am not. To pass me off as unimportant. Because guess what? I believe them.
I want to keep going. I want to keep trying. I want to keep fighting. I want to say FUCK YOU to anything and everything that gets in my way. If I don’t have me kids, I feel like I won’t have anything. They are my purpose ad my life.
But I’m scared. I’m scared if I can’t. I’m scared if the day comes and I no longer want to. I’m scared if I lose my support. I’m scared if everything I believe in once again falls apart and leaves me to deal with the pieces. I know that a lot of people have gone through so much worse than I have. I feel petty and stupid even complaining about this. But I am small. I came in here with nothing to go on. I had no self concept except this image of a horrible, selfish, stupid, worthless person. A person with nowhere to go.
But now I’ve found where I want to go. I want to say that nothing can stop me now and these obstacles are just roadblocks that I can overcome. But I’m not sure. I’ve been wrong before. It’s hard for me to remember a time when I was right.

I don’t know where to go

I don’t know where to go

I declined one of the best positions I’ve ever had in favor of something I might not get. I can’t get the job I want, the job that sounds almost perfect, until I get a driver’s license. I’ve already failed twice. My next test is in two days. What if I fail? I still have options. Nothing is ever ideal. I wonder if I’ll ever find something that seems right. What am I even looking for? I can’t trust the people that love me most and the people who are supposed to care the most about me scare the shit out of me. As soon as I love people, I push them away. I expect them to leave. And that hurts them. I’m tired of hurting people and I’m tired of being stupid. I’m tired of being seen as small, dumb, helpless. I’m tired of making stupid mistakes. I’m tired of never knowing what to do. I’m tired of trying and trying and trying but almost always failing to get people to trust me and look up to me. I want to be a help and not a hindrance. I want to believe in myself. I want to make a choice by myself without someone acting like it was a horrible thing to do. I want to be able to push away the people that hurt me and hold close the ones who love me. I don’t want to go, but I don’t want to stay, and I have no where else to go but sometimes it feels like there’s nothing else I can do. Where am I supposed to be? I have no context. I have these people on this side saying these things and those people on that side saying those things. Who can I believe when my sense of self is so off-balanced? There’s so much about me I want to change, but I don’t know what would be left when I’m done. I don’t know what a better me would look like or sound like or act like. I wish I could try on someone else’s brain to see what life would be like. I envy those who can walk through life without my filters. It was almost better when I was younger and just blamed all my stupid thoughts on myself. There was no label I could blame for the way I am and that’s better because it’s so hard to look at a word and accept the fact that you can’t change it. I wonder why I have to live in this world where what I am doesn’t even fucking exist, where I have to rely on exceptional people to just fulfill what most other people take for granted. If I tell them who I am, I could legally be fired or turned down from even applying. Those people that look at me and smile like I’m a ten year old because I guess my grade school kids are right. And there’s nothing I can do. I don’t know how many of my kids in Pine Ridge are still alive. I don’t know why I was prevented from going back when fate brought me there in the first place and going there changed my life. The world is telling me one thing but people keep telling me something else. I don’t how long my kids from TRIO will last or if they remember my face and what I told them. And every minute I remember who they are and how much they’ve seeped into my life and nag at every thought that goes through my brain. Because I want them to keep going so I have to show them I did too. And I keep saying how much I’ve changed but what was there at the start that I could even change from? How is there progress if there was nothing at the start? I wish I could go back but I hate what I would have to go back to. And forward is so scary sometimes I want to forget everything that’s kept me going. And I think that’s the really scary thing. Because if I love someone it makes it that much harder not to stay.

What are we leaving for them?

I came back from volunteering feeling weird today. Usually the group of forty girls I see once a week is lighthearted, rowdy, and fun. Not that today wasn’t; there were fewer of them there because of the weather and spring break, and that actually made it easier to have one-on-one interactions and laugh with the girls. But one of the activities really struck a chord with me. We had broken into smaller groups and I was facilitating six girls in a discussion about friendships and bullying. I asked the question, “How would you feel if you found out your friend was spreading rumors about you?”
One of the girls in my group was of special interest to me. She’d been incredibly shy on the first day and I had to repeatedly coax her back into the group. Since then she’s become much more outgoing, making friends and talking during activities, but she still tended to sit by herself unless I asked her to join the group. She’d asked me several times how old I was, at first mistaking me for one of the students. Sometimes she’d approach me on purpose to simply stand next to me, and I was usually able to invite her into conversations with me by asking her questions she seemed eager to answer in her quiet but energetic voice.
When I asked the question about the gossip and how that would make them feel, this girl put hr fingers to her head in the shape of a gun and said, “It might make you feel like doing this.”
I’m pretty sure this girl is eight years old.
I didn’t know what to say to that except, “That would be sad.” I made her meet my gaze and she did without flinching, and she didn’t seem overly upset about anything, but I was shaken. I told the supervisor what happened and asked the other volunteers to keep an eye on her and I was assured that the girl would b checked on, and that we would talk to all of the girls about what they should do if they were ever feeling very bad about themselves.
About a year ago I was in Pine Ridge and I learned about the three elementary school kids who had killed themselves that week. I remember feeling shocked, feeling helpless, feeling frozen with fear when the other kids brought it up.
Since then I have worked for summer camps where middle and high school kids have expressed to me feelings of depression, moments in their lives they’d considered suicide, ad seen evidence among the ones I was closest to of self harm and suicidal thoughts.
Since then I have been labelled with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and poor self-concept.
Since then I have considered my options more than once but thankfully I have always chosen to keep going.
Since then I have struggled with self harm and its aftermath.
Since then I have interacted with over a hundred kids from troubled households and heard so many stories of kids, each time younger and younger, struggling with thoughts and feelings that no one should ever have to deal with. I can’t believe how young some of these kids are that have these thoughts.
I’m scared for the girl that made that comment tonight and I wonder what she is going through that would make suicide the first reaction she would come up with. I wonder what kind of world we are leaving behind for our children. If seven and twelve year olds are having these thoughts, what will they be doing, saying and thinking as they grow older and more involved in the society we are creating?
I take in the feelings that are expressed to me and sometimes I worry how I will be able to handle the work that I want to dedicate my life to. But I can’t interact with kids like these and then just walk away. I need to do something with what I have learned.
I’m lucky that I have something I’m so passionate about to dedicate my life to, but it makes me indescribably sad to see the evidence of the need for the work I have to do.

Sharpies

Sharpies

 

This time last year, my favorite self-soothing technique was to draw on myself with Sharpie. Whenever I got triggered, I’d take out my box of Sharpies and roll up my sleeves. I always started on my arms, often with the word be on the back of my hand and eventually my wrist. (That would become my first tattoo.) I’d elaborate upon it across my arms: be willing, be real, be true, be brave, and whatever else I could come up with—everything I wanted myself to be. I’d fill in the gaps with swirls, flowers, balloons, animals, mushrooms, leaves—anything to take my mind off the shivering my spine, the spiraling in my mind. I loved watching the broad, bold lines coloring through the bland pinkness of my skin, turning me into a living canvas. The vibrancy made me feel alive; often, the bold colors obscured the scars. And the most important part: I would never cut into skin that was covered in Sharpie.

The first time I went all out with my coloring was the day before we left for South Dakota. I wore long sleeves the night we started out fourteen-hour drive, despite the fact that it was warm enough not to in the cramped and stuffy van. My teammates already viewed me as somewhat weird, often the oddball out. I didn’t want to reinforce that by flaunting the splatters of color on my arms.

I tried to wash the Sharpie off during my first shower at the Ranch, but it was determined to stay. I learned that Sharpie stays on for a very long time.

It stayed on bright and vivid throughout our stay, and throughout my interactions with Ty.

Ty was the tough kid, the one who knew everyone else at the Pine Ridge Boarding School. Ty was the one with the cap and the eleven intricate tattoos. Ty was the one the little kids ran to for comfort, who greeted them with “What’s up, little sister? What’s up, little brother?” when they sought out Ty’s aid. Ty was the master at hackey-sack, the troublemaker in the hallway and the paint room. Ty ignored us all, so we all wanted to be the one to break through with Ty.

Ty was the one we all thought was a boy until I found out she was a girl.

I don’t want to assume anything about who Ty really is; at the very least she’s a very butch lesbian. Her gender expression was masculine enough for a few of us to wonder if she was trans, but with her limited education and few available resources, even if she was, she might have no idea.

I was interested in Ty because I could tell she was on the queer spectrum. I also knew she was the type I could never build rapport with, so I didn’t try very hard. We were painting at the same table once, with one other girl who was more receptive to my conversation. Not that I was saying much. I couldn’t figure out what to say, while it seemed like everyone else from my team was having lively conversations with the kids, gaining favorites, and having a blast.

Ty was ignoring me point-blank even as I tried talking to her and the other girl. The first time she acknowledged me was when she was drawing a hill and a sun set and I told her I liked how she was texturing her work.

“You know where I learned that? Blue’s Clues!” she mocked me, shooting me a dangerous look.

“I like Blue’s Clues,” I said weakly.

I shut up after that.

When Ty was done with the picture she crumpled it up, claiming she wanted to get an interesting texture in it, probably mocking me again. The she threw it at me.

“Here, here’s a present,” she said, and then left to play hackey-sack with the boys.

“Thank you,” I said, opening it to look at the platters of color. “I really like it.”

I think she heard me, but I’m not sure.

I was bad at hackey-sack so I didn’t join in until the third day, our last time there. Most of the little kids had gone home due to the third suicide that week. But all of the high school students were still there, giving us the opportunity to focus our energy on the group that had primarily ignored us. I was afraid; the little kids liked me, thought I was funny, and loved that I’d go along with whatever they wanted to play. The teens would only play hackey-sack. Ty was a master. Ty schooled us. Anytime we served ourselves Ty made sure to catch the sack and chuck it at us—and I’ll tell you that little bean bag hurt when hauled by that kid’s fist. But Ty took the time to hold my foot and place the sack on it, giving me instructions and showing me how to improve.

As we were preparing to leave many of the team members were asking the kids to sign t-shirts they’d bought earlier on the trip. The shirt I was wearing was patterned and left no room for names, so I asked a few of the kids I was closest with to sign my arm. It was already marked with Sharpie, which was faded enough that the kids wrote on top of my pictures without trouble. After most of the little kids I’d played with had signed, I took a deep breath and called out to Ty to sign my arm.

She strolled up to me barking “What?” and I showed her the Sharpie and my arm. “Can you sign your name?”

She stared at me narrowly, obviously thinking it was stupid, and asked why.

“So I can remember you better.”

She shrugged and grabbed the Sharpie, then seized my arm and twisted it roughly as she tried to find an open spot. She rolled up my sleeve to reveal my upper arm and when she looked she stopped moving.

“What?” I asked, but when I looked I saw what she saw.

“It’s okay. We’ve all got those,” she said softly.

I started shaking. Ty scrawled her name on my arm. “I’m going to give you a hug,” she said suddenly. “I think you need it more than I do.”

I coughed in surprise as she clamped her arms around me. She was at least three years younger than me, but was as tall or taller, and had a bigger build than my tiny skinny frame. I hugged her back. I swear I heard her sniff and take a breath. “I’m going to write my name on your jacket too,” she said, and to this day her name is still on the shoulder of my long-sleeved jean jacket.

The next thing that happened is confusing because it was so quick and I observed it from a headlock position under Ty’s arm. She grabbed me, telling me she was going to carry me back to the van. I laughed and asked her to let go but she dragged me, yelling “Make way for my new best friend.”

My team was taken by surprise; some of them laughed and took pictures, others ran after me yelling my name, as if I could break free of the kid’s iron arms. My ex later told me she was afraid I’d been hurt because she couldn’t tell if I was laughing or crying.

“No one else got that close to Ty,” she told me when we talked about it later. “She picked you for a reason.”

Ty dragged me to the vans and finally let me go when I said I had to leave. She hugged me again and watched as I got into the van, watched us as we drove away, and I swear I heard her yell “I love you” before I closed my door.

 

A week later I pulled out my razor and rolled up my sleeve, but when I saw Ty’s name still scrawled across my arm, I stopped. I stared at it, I shivered, and got up to throw the blade away.

A day or two after that I found her on Facebook. She accepted my friend request. She immediately messaged me, “wyd.”

I smiled to myself and took a deep breath, and started typing my reply.

(The name of the student in this post has been changed to protect their identity)

 

 

What I want to tell my crush

 

I’m a broken human.

I’m emotionally unstable and suffer from two, probably three, diagnosable mental illnesses.

I struggle with self-harm and low self-esteem. My brain in constantly telling me that people hate me, that I’m a horrible worthless person, and no matter how much people prove otherwise, no matter that I know the voices are wrong, nothing can convince my brain that I’m worth more than the dirt on the bottom of my shoes.

My gender is non-binary or nonexistent. My body may have been labeled “female” but that has never been the way it felt. Society constantly screams at me to follow rigid norms, to choose one or the other, but I don’t. I can’t. Even trying to use the bathroom can feel like choosing between which leg to chop off. The consequence is that I suffer from dysphoria and a constant anxiety that I’ll never fit in, never be understood, never be fully accepted. That it’s me and not society that has to change. That if I just tried a little harder everything would work out just fine. But I’ve been trying as hard as I can for my entire life. I deserve a break that I’m never going to get.

You’re my favorite kind of person.

You’re quiet but you have the power to speak your mind if people are willing to listen.

You take the time to listen.

When you state your opinions you let people know that’s what they are.

You’re 100% okay with agreeing to disagree. You don’t see disagreements as a roadblock to friendship.

You’re okay with admitting you’ve had struggles, while acknowledging that you might not understand those of others.

You don’t sympathize with people, you empathize.

You understand it’s okay to not like everyone. You get that it’s not your duty to be everyone’s friend. You’re cool with being selective. You understand quality is better than quantity.

You’re fun to talk to. You appreciate popular media but you dig below the surface to see what deeper meanings and implications the stories may hold.

You’re excited to share your passions with others and you are open to listening when others want to share their passions with you.

You’re eager to learn and excited to make an impact in this world.

You seek me out when almost no one else will.

There are few things I want more than to be with you, talk with you every day, feel you holding me so I know that things are eventually going to be alright. To have you around to confide in and share in the intimate parts of your life. I want to know the details of your day. I want to be a part of your routine.

But I don’t want to break you like I’ve been broken.

I don’t want to suck you in to the disaster that is my life.

I don’t want to upset you if you have to tell me you’re not comfortable dating someone who’s not a girl.

I don’t want to put you through any kind of emotional upset.

Because after knowing you for only a few months, I care about you too much.

I can’t be so selfish as to put you through that.

To put you in a spot where you might have to choose. Where you might struggle when I convince myself you don’t care about me. I don’t want you to feel like you have to prove yourself. I don’t want to draw you in and then push you away. I don’t want you to suffer the emotional tug-of-war that was my last relationship.

I don’t want you to care too much.

I don’t want you to become afraid of me.

So instead of telling you I’ll keep it to myself.

Better to see you wind up with someone else than with me.

 

Terminal

Terminal

I’m walking around the darkened, quiet airport terminals at 2am because our flight has suffered a 24 hour delay. Normally, unconventional sleepovers with friends are my jam, but tonight my only company is the three girls from my school whose courtesy doesn’t seem to extend beyond the occasional pleasantry and having agreed to give me a ride to Chicago; and one other guy, an annoying tag-along from another school going on the same trip, who no one had bothered to introduce me to. I couldn’t sleep and was tired of listening to their petty, privileged complaints and ignorant comments. One of them was so angry that we had to sleep at the airport, complaining about not being able to shower or do her makeup. While I was just glad we had a place to stay for free and pleased with the food vouchers they gave us as compensation, she spent quite a bit of time whining and ended with “I think this is the saddest I’ve ever been.” I sucked in my breath silently, thinking, Oh, honey. I’m so glad you’ve apparently never cried yourself to sleep because society hates you, or because you hate yourself, or because the one person you trusted the most broke your heart.

I decided to wander by myself.

The stilled airport was like an enclosed city, an independent ecosystem encased in modern conveniences. There were food courts and restrooms at each terminal, and the lounge areas populated themselves like tiny cities with people sharing common goals and destinations. People lay wrapped in their coats and scarves on the floor and on benches. A few walked around as listlessly as I, but never made an attempt to interact with their fellow ramblers. Humans bedecked in security garb huffed occasionally into walky-talkies, and workers in neon orange or green pushed carts, dragged buckets, or joined the sleepers on the benches, though always in an alert upright position.

I took whatever turn seemed to hold the most surprises. I found a yoga room and itched to practices my poses, but there were people asleep inside, so I walked on. At one point I found an outlet and charged my barely conscious phone, taking a quick nap while I waited for the numbers to tick slowly up. I tried the Internet kiosks, checking email and social media to see if anyone missed me yet.

At one point I passed a small exhibit of an airplane taking off. Pausing to examine the model, I noticed a sound effect of a bird chirping. It was too stereotypical and generic to identify the kind of bird, but the natural sound seemed so out of place in this very modern, very square, very grey structure, I paused in surprise to listen. It sounded so—nice. I’d only been in the airport for ten hours but it seemed like years since I’d listened to a bird…

Well, of course, it had been a few months. It was winter after all and most of the birds were gone…but it was more than that, wasn’t it? I continued to walk, thinking. I tried to remember listening to the birds this fall, or in summer or spring…I couldn’t remember a single moment when I’d sat in the grass and closed my eyes to focus on the gentle chirping. I could pull up plenty of memories from previous years, but nothing from this year. An entire year? An entire year without really listening to the birds? Was I too old? What was different?

Then I remembered.

When you fall in love with someone, it should be someone who makes you appreciate the little things more. Like the rain or the way the sun rises or pinecones or birds. Not someone who—distracts you from those things.

I’d been crying off and on for the past two days, and it seemed like I was going to start again.

How did I let her become such a parasite? Six months after the breakup I’m about to leave the country on my first big, semi-solo adventure and I still want to call her so much it hurts.

So many things remind me of her. A snippet of a word or voice. A flash of an image. Familiar sayings or jokes we may have shared. Or the feeling that if she had been there with me, I wouldn’t have been so lonely.

Despite the fact that being with her distracted me from being myself, from doing what I wanted, from my friends, from the things I used to love.

Despite the fact that our last conversations, if they moved beyond casual life updates and hey-how’s-it-goings, always ended in anger or tears.

Despite all this, she was still someone I thought of as I prepared for my first flight.

I just got over being proud of myself for not wanting to call her the last few times things got really rough. It’s not like I’ve been pining for her non-stop. But the fact that I’ve relapsed into yet another of my bad former habits made me want to end everything, and I’m not even joking. I’ve been more suicidal in the past few days than I have since the thought first occurred to me when I was sixteen. If I wasn’t going on this trip, I’m almost sure I would have done something to act on it. While we were walking around Chicago I thought about “accidentally” falling into the street or waiting till I was alone to flip myself over a bridge. Before that, I’d considered walking alone down the nature trail to the walk bridge or the tower with my razor, two bottles of Advil and the last of my anti-depressants.

Christmas had sucked. My family situation was getting worse—now my mother wouldn’t even hide her disdain for me and my life choices. I know I’ll never be able to tell them that I’m non-binary, and if I get an s/o again my parents won’t even care, but not in the good sense of the phrase. My friends seemed once again to be slipping away, and having seen my ex once more as she prepared to leave still left me shaken and sore. All I could think was her spending time with the family she was becoming closer to and working so hard to preserve while looking forward to train adventures and winter break with her beloved boyfriend, a trip we had almost taken together, a trip that would definitely have destroyed any remaining desire for self-preservation on my part. And despite all that I still wished I had said yes, still wished I was with her right now instead of three almost-strangers with barely any way to contact the people I loved.

How can someone so wonderful, so understanding, so gentle, so comforting, so calm and so kind be such a toxic presence in my life? And why do I want to talk to her about that when all that could possibly do is make things worse?

As much as I want to hate her, I still love her. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. But I need to. I need to move on. I need to be able to open up to others. Maybe if I hadn’t been so afraid, maybe if I hadn’t forced myself to move so slowly, that sweet freshman my sister had tried to set me up with might have been the one I was texting in the hotel and pining for in the airport terminal.

They say there are stages of grief. “Stages” implies that they eventually will end. Mine seemed to keep going in circles, from sadness at my loss to bitterness to regret to anger to acceptance, but almost as soon as I move on to acceptance the fucking universe throws a monkey wrench in there and makes us cross paths, forces us into the same room, lets me hear about the tornadoes in Texas so I frantically message her asking if she’s okay on her train to the bf. And then the sadness comes back. The bitterness. The loss. I tried to make myself angry that night, tried to speed up the process, but the tears came instead, and I sat in the middle of a lounge crying in a pathetic little ball on the floor.

I need to accept it again, and leave it there. I need to let go. I need to move on. I need to let the light back in.

But as I prepare to get on a vehicle no one in my family has laid eyes on, and set foot in a country I’ve never been in and surround myself with strangers speaking a language I barely know, clinging to what I know best seemed like a safe and comfortable defense mechanism. As hurtful as it is in the long run, in this moment I find comfort in thinking of her, no matter how tormented the thoughts may be.

I think it’s weird these places are called terminals. Terminate means end, and terminal implies an ending to something. An end to a journey, maybe, but for me it’s just the start, and for others, it’s somewhere in the middle. The building itself doesn’t even seem to have an end. My initial goal to walk from one end and back again was thwarted when all I found was turns and circles. No end in sight, but loop upon loop of people and places and left-behind feelings. People come in with so much baggage and clutch it to themselves protectively and comfortingly. And then they walk in circles, under the illusion they will eventually find the end, not knowing the place they are looking for might be right next to where they started.

 

What it Means to be Safe

What it Means to be Safe

Each time I think about the subtly spiked looks that spit between us now, or the blunt words that gently bruise my shaken shoulders, my mind spirals back to the dipping of the mattress when your knees joined me on the bed, the faint creak when you leaned across the curl of my body and carefully covered me with the blanket you gave me the night the scars came back.

My head fizzed with the leftovers from my first drink. A newbie, unnecessarily tipsy. My fresh bones ached; my sharp and shiny monsters crept closer, warded off only by the felted warmth of your gift. I remember your hand on my back as I tried to sleep, its careful kindness a soft stone on my skin, and the quiet voice that questioned the sniffs I tried to bury.

There had been a night where it was I stroking your red curls in my lap while your drunken eyes refused to close, two of us on the strange couch, several dark weekends ago. In my bed you watched over me, as I had with you. My pathetic child’s voice crept past my hands. Your softened response: “I’m not angry.”

Your hands on my back sketching love on my shoulders, fingers longer than mine that held a story, that caught my hands, my hair, my hurt, fingers that the night before handed me the glass while wide eyes watched and waited with me when the buzz entered my body for the first time. Arms that curled around me when we sat in the park admiring the midnight haze and rare summer chill.

I remember what it feels like to be safe.

Leaning on you felt like leaning on a tree—broad shoulders like supple branches carrying the weight of life, your spine a sturdy trunk wrapped in the rings of your years and sheltered by experience. You were sturdy and firm. I relaxed into your soft bark, the jacket I’d lent you in the darkened chill. A shoulder to tuck my head into, kinky red hair rustling against my face. A mouth that sighed, happy.

Your legs lead me through the night when my restless yammering took us around campus. My nonstop chitchat fueled by the fizz and my hyper limbs calmed by long fingers sketching love on my shoulders.

And when I remember your calm smile, your wide eyes searching for mine, your tentative laugh at my tipsy giggle, the tree of your body planted near me, I ache harder for the strength of your branches and the calm of your voice. My stomach ticks when I think of you and heaves when I see you. I know the bright green eyes don’t search for me, long fingers don’t reach for me.

Before I can look into your face again I have to hear your voice—quiet, patient, steady. A calm wind where there had been storm. I have to taste the sadness trickling in the darkness, a sorry sap I know I have to tap.

The distance placed by months of crackled words and severed glances slips behind us when you join me on the step. Bitter concrete sends chills seeping up our skins. The inches between us may be miles or years or forests.

But my arms yawn and my spine shakes when my soggy voice creeps out from the crevice of bent shoulders.

You ask before I let your fingers gently draw across my back. A note of kindness left behind. There was a time we could have shared a note of sorry, of love. I missed you.

I need to feel you again. My demons snicker that you aren’t here; your sturdy trunk has fallen to the storm, your branches cracked and splintered in the grass.

I hug you again. I feel your bones again, I feel the fabric of your shirt, the soft and sticky of your skin, the knots of your hair, the firmness of your arms. Your fingers swirling slowly on my back.

I’m sorry. I missed you. Thank you for coming back.

It’s a different kind of touch; beneath your bark are things I can’t see. It’s a familiar sketch, but sullied and softened. I’ll never be a solitary name carved in your trunk. I’ll never hold the secret part of you I’d tried to see.

But this I can hold—this solid body, this sturdy tree. These gentle branches. The lively heart.

I feel you hold me again and remember what it feels like to be safe.

***

Kitties May 2014 082

Sometimes it’s the safest places that become the most toxic. The tree that withers and decays will still give shade until its putrid remains rain down, smothering those who claimed its haven.

There are different methods of coping with the pain. I don’t think anyone hurt me like you.

Worse than the scores by my own hand on this body that is mine. Worse than the sizzle of the two times you hit me when you were drunk.

Jagged phrases, blunt glares and deep silences.

The eyes that searched me for safety now stared at my arm as if shreds of my flesh were falling off like pieces of a smacked puzzle.

The fingers that sketched my canvass with love have by now counted the slices on my skin months after my shaking hands put them there.

The lips that met my cheek after one too many, pressed against my hands one damp midnight after work, now curled with words invented to smart.

Subtle promises and loaded gifts, snapping back with tart glowers if I took my reaction “too far.” Branches that guided and protected now lashing as at intruders in a bitter storm. Your trunk once planted near me now settled firmly opposite on the plastic benches slicked with October mist.

I snapped that night, the night you sat with me for hours in the dark chill jabbing words at me that cut deeper than my lithe blades, leaving marks more sour than the ones already splattered into my skin.

My core shook. No arms but my own shielded me from the midnight weighted down by autumn. Fingers longer than mine extended, curled and waiting, joined by the familiar murmur of my name. I pulled back, refusing the jaded caress and ignoring the cloying softness.

You can’t hold the blade unless I let you, and I was ready to snatch it back.

Our gazes clashed and for once it was you who couldn’t stare back.

My child’s voice broken by months of maybes and sobs you didn’t deserve now lashed out with stinging truths and long-awaited questions that stumped your ready mouth.

The tree never recognizes the wood of the axe that slices at its trunk.

You’d failed to see I had roots of my own. You never noticed the rings of life curling through my trunk.

Our branches had been tangled for too long. I was done waiting for the wind to set me free.

And when you saw how firmly I was planted it was you who took the fall.

The scars will no longer be for you. The pain has changed and so has the cure. I am alone but I am free.
No one’s branches protect me but my own. I’ve learned what it feels like to be safe.

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