Never Forget

Never Forget

One year ago today, forty nine queer lives were lost in the Orlando Pulse night club shooting. Many of them were young. Most of them were Latinx. All of them just wanted to go out and have a good time.

Being queer has always been dangerous. Whether you’re out or not. In many places it’s still a crime. Sometimes punishable by death. Even in America we’re seeing backlash against our fight for equal rights. The new administration has and still plans to reverse what little progress we’ve made, and has encouraged an increase in hate crimes against the queer community.

Since Marsha Johnson threw the first high heel through the window of the Stonewall Inn, June has been a time of pride and action for the LGBTQ community. Even so, the month is marked with the anniversary of the tragedy in Orlando, Florida.

Thanks to America’s anti-Islam agenda, many innocent people were blamed and targeted after the attack. Because of course one American man isn’t capable of committing a hate crime.

He wasn’t alone. His accomplices were hate, bigotry, stereotyping, and queerphobia.

It was not because he was mentally ill. It was not because he was Muslim. It was not because he himself was gay. Even if any of these are true, they are not what caused him to take his gun into a gay night club on Latin Night.

It was a hate crime. That’s it.

I can’t even comprehend why people would then want to counter hate with more hate. Why use this massive tragedy against one group to fuel your own hatred of another group?

There’s a lot of hate in this world right now. Across the earth lives are being lost in unimaginable numbers. It seems every day brings on a new tragedy. It’s heartbreaking knowing that while some of us eat and work and sleep, others are dying and being killed.

Love is not a cliche but it’s treated like one. Existence is not mundane but it’s taken for granted.

Take care of each day as it comes. And take care of each other. Be aware. Learn. Love.

Be an active part of the solution.

Today we remember the 49 lives lost to an act of hate. We gather to remember. We light candles to remember. We walk to remember. But don’t walk away and forget. It’s painful, but we need to keep the memories as long as we can. So we can continue the fight.

Never stop fighting.

Tiny Smiles

​I saw two kids (siblings) from one of my old groups at the store today. I noticed the older sister first and did a double take when I saw her, which unfortunately drew attention to myself. We made eye contact a few times. She said hello, so I said hello back. She was staring at me pretty hard. I think she was trying to figure out how she knew me. She poked her little brother, who was sitting in the seat on their parent’s shopping cart. She asked him who I was. He looked at me and his happy little face glowed with a warm smile. “Hi Tonie!” he chirped. The sister looked back at me and said “Oh! Tonie!” she ran over to give me a hug. “Hey sweetheart” I whispered before she ran back to her confused looking parent. They left the store, the little boy waving at me from his seat. 
I almost cried–I miss them so much, and it’s amazing to witness their happiness when they see me again. I hope that in my future, as I continue my work with youth, I have many more moments like this.

Looking from the Outside

When I look at myself from the outside, I see someone who’s successful. I see someone who’s composed, eager, passionate and grounded. I see someone with a good sense of humor who’s willing to laugh at themself. I see someone who’s face many battles and come out strong. I see someone with boundless energy, who never wants to stop trying. I see someone beautiful. Someone whose expressions change with the mood and whose watchful eyes follow the quiet people, the ones who can’t speak out. Someone whose outsides change with the season, whose thick and vibrant hair pokes out from under cozy hats, whose bright face is punctuated by studs and rings. I see a tiny body vibrating with energy and pain. I see hands rough from a lack of self-care. I see skinny limbs wrapping around a broken heart. I see a spirit worn from what it has seen, a world of people full of pain and love and joy and heartbreak and betrayal and learning and power and gains and fear. I see an open heart willing to take in the greatest burdens in hopes that it will grow enough to help everyone it encounters. I see ears tender from listening to the voices all around it and a mouth well-used defending the rights of those they care about. I see a world of words pouring forth from their brain and an intensity of emotion boiling inside the small figure. I see marks on the pale skin, ridges built from pain too massive to contain. I see ready hands and a comforting smile. I see elegance; I see flaws. I see fear in the watchful eyes. I sense anxiety behind the comforting words. Nervous ticks punctuate their movement. I see sadness hidden behind the colorful attire. I see someone who acts like they know who they are but in reality is struggling and fearful of never knowing. I see someone who’s been trying and is afraid of the day when trying is no longer enough.

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.

Garnet Stars

Garnet Stars

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.

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.

An Open Letter to the Summer Camp that Broke my Heart

An Open Letter to the Summer Camp that Broke my Heart

Dear TRIO,

I’m writing to ask why I was not hired for the summer of 2016.

Is it because I refused to make the kids do pushups, instead taking the time to patiently explain camp policies and values?

Is it because I connected with the queer kids on a level no one else could, and was able to talk with them about their coming out, dysfunctional families, fractured support systems, and questions about their gender/sexual identities?

Is it because when one of the girls was in danger of harming herself, I was the one her friends told when asking for help?

Is it because I spent two hours of one evening answering one student’s fascinated questions about the lgbtq community, saying things some of the other RAs in the room didn’t even know about?

Is it because I made food for the kids and helped them out in the kitchen?

Is it because I made coconut ice cream for the vegan student when all the other students got ice cream?

Is it because every Wednesday and Friday I made sure there was a vegetarian option for the orthodox Catholics who couldn’t eat meat on those days?

Is it because after an argument with one of the girls about race and labelling others, I told her it was okay to be angry and walked with her as she explained herself and cried?

Is it because I told the kids that as RAs we were not infallible, and that we were learning from them as well?

Is it because I made boob jokes with the high school senior who later wrote to me thanking me for being the older sister she never had?

Is it because I had fascinating, productive conversations about gender theory with the philosopher kid no one could stand?

Is it because when the large, scary-tempered middle schooler got yelled at for not doing his homework, I took him aside afterward to thank him for reaching out and apologizing that I hadn’t helped him sooner?

Is it because when one of the girls showed signs of depression, I talked to her to find out what was wrong?

Is it because I asked one of our Latina girls to teach me phrases in her language?

Is it because I listened to the annoying kid’s rants in my class and thanked him for his contributions, seeing the big grin on his face when he heard those words from me?

Is it because I sat through a Batman marathon with the two kids that wanted to because no one else would?

Is it because on my days off I continued to plan activities with my kids and tell them I would be there to do things when they asked?

Is it because when one girl forgot her money, I secretly bought the gem stone she’d been admiring to surprise her with later?

Is it because I listened to all the random thoughts of the sweet little boy the teacher ignored?

Is it because I explained to the girls no one likes what they were doing wrong, and continued to face their wrath at every step despite the fact that they showed that they hated me?

Is it because I hosted a hair dye party in my room when my queer kids initiated me into their peculiar brand of punk culture?

Is it because I listened to the boy with Asperger’s as he ranted or looked into the tiniest of things when most of the others ignored him or tried to get rid of him?

Is it because I listened to the white ghetto girl who didn’t know shit about diversity, but who still had things to say and needed someone to tell her what she missed?

Is it because I volunteered to teach my class even after being told I could not be paid for it?

Is it because I cried in front of the kids because I was beyond not showing them I was human?

I’m not dumb, I know none of these are reasons. But maybe when you read them, you’ll understand what you lost when you fired me.

I know you probably fired me because last summer I was struggling with depression, self-loathing, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. It’s probably because I needed a little extra support from my supervisors to get me through a week. It’s probably because I was honest with the kids and told them I’d been through a breakup and when my uncle died. Or maybe it’s because of my gender identity, and that’s why you can’t tell me about it.

Or it’s for other reasons I don’t know, which apparently are not worth telling me so I can grow from them.

I hope the first day of training goes well; I hope the new RAs get along with the old ones, and everyone has a chance to learn and tell their story. I hope you all have a fantastic summer–and even if it doesn’t sound like it, I mean that sincerely.

Because who could spend a summer with those kids and not chalk it up with the best days of their life?

You’re never going to read this letter, because it wouldn’t do any good if I sent it. But I hope at some point you reflect on the person you rejected and wonder what it would have been like if you’d kept them.

Because every hour of every day this summer I’m going to think of those kids. I’m going to wonder what they’re doing and ache over the conversations and experiences I’m missing.

Have a great summer. Tell the kids I said hi. If they ask, I’ll leave it up to you to explain why I couldn’t come back.