Witch

Witch

Every year at Halloween I would go as a witch. I’m not sure exactly how the tradition started—it was probably just something cute my mom came up with. Or maybe it was because even then they all secretly thought of me as a bitch. Maybe it was some prediction for how I was supposed to turn out later in life. Or maybe it was just because they finally had a girl—“girl”—and wanted to latch onto gender roles as soon as possible. While my brothers ran around in bedsheets and Ninja Turtle masks and the dragon costumes that I occasionally stole to wear as pajamas, every Halloween I eagerly donned my black dress, striped tights and floppy fake-satin hat. I clutched my purple broom in one hand and my bag of candy in the other and skipped through town, confident that I was the cutest girl anyone had seen that night.

After I while I wised up and realized the only one who cared how I looked was my mother.

When the youngest of us turned twelve we stopped going trick-or-treating, my family still made a pretty big production of dressing up to have dinner on Halloween. I got older too. Wiser even. One year I went as a witch with jeans. That happened to be the year I didn’t give a shit about making anyone happy on Halloween. I really was a witch that night, if you believe my mom. I let myself be snarky and didn’t monitor every single little thing that came out of my mouth. I played the games my little brother invented for us that were supposed to be Halloween themed and let myself be a sore loser and say out loud if I thought my brothers were cheating. I sat sprawled on the floor and threw my hat on one of the chairs. I didn’t even bring out the broom that night but left it hanging, draped in fake cobwebs, by the fireplace.

My family was apparently scandalized at my newfound autonomy. They were shocked that I was not letting everyone walk all over me, as I had done for the past, what was it then, eighteen years?

That winter was the winter my Dad said without hesitation in front of my little brother that I was the most self-centered person he knew.

I did not want to spend another Halloween at that man’s house.

Counselling told me to try again. To make an effort (as if I hadn’t for the past two years I’d been at college). So I tried. I faked happy. I put away the witch costume but that doesn’t mean I changed their perceptions. To them this was a costume. This person. This face. This suddenly-okay sibling. Suddenly interested in what the others were doing. Suddenly not getting into arguments with the father figure every meal.

When that didn’t work I put on another kind of costume. I was as gay as I felt like I could be. I dressed in loose baggy clothes and didn’t take my hat or shoes off inside. I wore rainbow bracelets and scarves. Some days I amped up the jewelry and other days I went around in jeans and a hoodie. I sat on tables and yakked about myself. If they didn’t want to talk to me, I’d talk to them. I chattered nonstop. I made gay jokes. I made romantic, very non-heteronormative comments about female celebrities. I corrected pronoun usage and added endless strings of what-ifs to discussions.

They really hated that.

So I went back to being quiet. Put on the costume of the broody twenty-something. It wasn’t that hard as it was right around my first breakup so I told myself that was my excuse. But less and less I considered that place home. Less and less I wanted to go back. More and more I looked for reasons to not be there on Halloween, which was coming up, and which was normally the only occasion I felt okay spending with my family.

But my little brother was so excited about his costume, and all of his cool ideas for our family-only party. I thought maybe it was worth a shot. Maybe I’d have fun. Maybe it would turn out okay in the end.

He wanted to dye his hair blue, since mine was purple. I wanted us to be hair dye buddies. He was working through his own identity crisis at the time, so maybe sharing a piece of a costume would strengthen our bond.

But of course any similarity to the rebel older sibling was a symptom of my negative influence. My mom quickly intervened and temporary hair chalk was used instead. They did it before I came. I brought a bottle of blue Manic Panic I’d purchased especially for the occasion, excited at the idea of a bonding experience with my favorite sibling. My mom flipped shit, yelling at me about cosmetics and cancer, how could I be so insensitive after Uncle John’s three golf-ball-sized brain tumors, she didn’t care if I’d been dying my hair for months, I could get cancer if I wanted—she didn’t care about that—but how dare I bring it into her house—how dare I threaten her family.

Once again I avoided my little brother’s eyes bulging in astonishment, mumbling at him not to retaliate as I bent my head to my mother’s verbal abuse. With my mother acting as a gargoyle over my shoulder I looked up each individual ingredient to see if they were cancer-causing. After finding them all to be FDA approved my mother sniffed and walked away without a word. I looked to my brother, who shrugged, and said his costume would be okay with just the chalk. Besides, he had rehearsal in the morning. He wasn’t sure how his director would feel about a blue-haired news reporter.

I steadied myself and turned my attention to my own costume. I was going to be Watson. Dr. John Watson, from Doyle’s classics, moustache and all. I blew up snapchat with costume selfies. The hat. The coat. My parents didn’t even flinch at the fake moustache. I was pretty proud of myself.

I never wanted to be a witch again.

Dr. Watson lived for maybe an hour before I had to take him off to cook. My beloved doctor demolished by gender roles. So much for my newfound freedom; so much for sticking the finger to everything Halloween had stood for until this point.

I was a girl again and had to do what girls are supposed to do. I may as well have been wearing the floppy hat and clutching the broom, red-faced and chubby-cheeked, following my mother like a clueless duckling waiting to fall into the water.

What Happens in the Heart Stays There

What Happens in the Heart Stays There

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.

What Builds Me Consumes Me

What Builds Me Consumes Me

I feel like I can never love people enough. Sometimes it physically hurts knowing I will never be able to express to certain people how very much I care about them. And I want to help everybody with everything. I love everyone. I love you just for existing. I want you to exist. I want to help you with every piece of your life. I want to know what’s going on in your day. I want to see you and smile at you so you know I care. And it’s wonderful because it can make me so hapy to know I love people so much and I am so full of love and caring. And it can be horrible because it makes it nearly impossible for me to leave the toxic people in my life.

The people that mean the most to me will never know how deeply I love and care for them, they’ll never experience the intensity of the emotions I feel on their behalf. The empathy that destroys me from the inside out when I torture myself over someone else’s pain. It consumes me. It should kill me. But instead it’s what keeps me alive. If I don’t have people to care about I feel no purpose. That’s why people are so important to me. And that’s why no one will understand. I don’t need people to keep me company and make me happy. I need people to share their lives with me and let me care about them. Let me feel this intensity when they show those special parts of themselves that not everyone knows. To let me worry for them at 4pm because that’s their appointment. To let me worry when I know they’re driving. And to smile when they make it home safe. And glow when they text me. The feeling of happiness I get when someone lets me share their lives is indescribable and incomparable.

It’s the intensity I crave. That’s why I have to work constantly in emotionally exhausting positions where my job is to love and to worry and to care. That’s why I don’t understand people who just don’t care. I feel everything. And I love that. But it eats me alive. And I can’t go much longer. But it’s what will sustain me for years and years and it’s what’s kept me going for the past 21. I dread the day no one is left for me to love. I need those people. I need that contact. That worry. Their voices. Their touch. Give me the smallest part of you so I can expand it for myself and use it to fuel my soul. I love you. To everyone out there, I love you. You exist, you are here, you deserve to be loved, and I love you.

This Summer

This Summer

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.

500 characters or less

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?

We are What we Experience

We are What we Experience

When I have a significant interaction with a person that seems to go pretty well I usually think about it afterwards. I think about how the entire thing was a series of tiny decisions that I stacked on top of one another in reaction to what the other person said or did. And each decision I made can be traced back to something someone taught me. Maybe it stems from my RA training. Maybe it’s based off something someone did for me that I really appreciated. Maybe it comes from feedback given to me by a peer or supervisor when they saw what I was lacking. Maybe it comes from something someone did to me that I never want to see be done to someone else, so instead I do the opposite.
I guess what I’m saying is: we are what we experience. I feel like I started life at 17 with no real basis as to who I was, and in the past three or four years I’ve been putting together the pieces of life that people have given me to make my own. Everyone we meet influences us, whether it’s us wanting to be like them or wanting to counteract what they did.
How we put those pieces together is important, because it makes us who we are.

Contrary to Popular Belief, Inclusivity is Important

It’s not about “not offending people,” it’s about making sure people are safe. I’m not “offended” if you misgender me. I’m hurt, invalidated and dysphoric. I’m not “offended” if you make jokes about suicide or self harm. I’m triggered and sent into a panic spiral that can last for hours or days.
It’s not about policing people’s language, it’s about building a culture of respect and understanding where people are aware that everyone comes from a different place and people are willing to learn from the experiences of others, and respect that certain things are not okay to say. Is that really such a bad thing?

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.

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)