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.

Getting Back Together as Friends

I think the most interesting thing about my second relationship is how much my perspective changed afterwards. After dating someone for two and a half months who was so incredibly different from my ex, I had to wonder: was my four months with her even really a “relationship”? Were we actually “dating”? Or was it simply a toxic friendship that became too intimate, too personal?

Because after dating C, I realized what a romance should really look like. It should have everything we had–comfort, support, communication, humor, closeness, mutual respect and affection, and the willingness to try new things, to always ask first, and to discuss every feeling and every reaction that could affect things. My other relationship had almost none of that, even though it was twice as long.

But just as I am now reluctant to call my relationship with my ex a dating/romantic one, I am also very averse to the idea of calling C my ex. The term “my ex” has been used so exclusively for that first person and is, in my mind, intertwined with the memories of her abuse and neglect. The first time I called C my “now-ex” girlfriend, it felt uncomfortable and wrong.

Continuing our streak of impeccable communication, the two of us met up to discuss how we wanted to handle the breakup a few days after the fact. Even though I’d only had the weekend to recover, asking to see her, waiting to see her, and subsequently seeing her did not send me into a panic or an emotional downward spiral during or after the fact. We were both slightly awkward but relatively chill about the whole thing, which was incredibly reassuring as we talked about ways to maintain our friendship.

She even agreed with me about the whole ex thing. “I don’t really consider us exes,” I finally said. “I see us more as friends who dated for a little while.”

I didn’t kid myself. I knew it would be hard. I had dramatic ups and downs, as usual. There were times I wanted to call her, text her, snap her, facebook her, during the time we agreed to be silent. Those feelings, and telling myself not to do it, were extremely difficult.

But in the end, the best feeling was knowing that when I chose to reach out, she was going to be there.

Because C is not like my ex. She understands me. She cares about me. She’s willing to work with me. And she loves me.

More than anything, she’s my friend, and for that reason I see no need to call her “my ex.” I’m going to call her my friend. I hope I can call her that for a long time yet.

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 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.

 

Things My Ex Taught Me

During that awkward time we tried to be friends, my ex kept telling me I’d taught her a lot in our time together and she knew she’d taught me as well. But she never specified what it was we were supposed to have learned. I came up with this list the other day when I was feeling especially vindictive. I realize a lot of my distress stemmed from the fact that I was too afraid to speak up or share my real emotions, but there was no doubt a power play in our relationship, and she absolutely had the upper hand.

Things my Ex taught me

  • It’s unnecessary and excessive to be open about a relationship
    • Ignore each other in public
    • Don’t talk about each other to others
    • Refrain from referring to each other affectionately
    • No physical contact unless we’re alone
    • No couple selfies
    • No profiles pics of the two of us
    • Because only gooey, mushy, clingy couples do things like that
  • The person with the most relationship experience has authority over the relationship
    • They get to decide what’s okay
    • They get to tell you how you should feel about things
    • If this is your first romance, you don’t know what you’re doing, so anything you think and feel is likely wrong
  • It’s okay to dwell over your ex with your new partner
    • And it’s okay to constantly compare them
  • It’s okay to hold your partner hostage emotionally by:
    • Refusing to commit to the relationship
    • Talking openly about other crushes
    • Insinuating that if your partner asks for “too much” you won’t want to date them anymore
  • It’s okay to exclude your romantic partner from your friend groups
    • All of them
  • It’s okay to deny your partner the labels they want and reject all labels rather than coming to a compromise
    • And then go around using your own label without your partner’s consent
  • It’s okay to refuse to admit you might be together for a while
    • And normal to assume that you won’t
  • It’s better to be roundabout with emotion
    • If you’re upset, don’t tell your partner—wait for them to find out and ask you about it
    • If you think your partner is upset, don’t ask them about it. Wait for them to tell you exactly what’s wrong up front
    • If you start talking about emotions stick to the theoretical and avoid the practical
  • Ignore patterns of behavior. Get hung up over the little things
  • Your partner’s concerns and fears will become unimportant if you treat them like they’re not important
  • It’s okay to simultaneously take advantage of and be irritated by your partner’s lack of experience
  • Even though you’re more experienced than your partner, and they’ve never had sex before, and they’re really self-conscious about it, don’t be the one to bring it up or open the discussion. Wait for them to make the first move.

 

I was so shocked that anyone would want to spend any amount of time with me at all, let alone even entertain the idea that she might want to spend the rest of her life with me–that when she refused to commit to me, refused to commit to a long-term relationship, said it was unrealistic for me to expect that of her–or of anyone–I believed her. I believed that no one would want to be my life partner. I believed that she was totally in the right to keep her commitment hanging over my head. Emotional blackmail. I thought it was okay. Because I loved her. And I was waiting for the day she’d say she loved me back. It was worth waking up every morning afraid today would be the day she left. It was worth the emotional tug-of-war. It was worth consistently being told that I was wrong. It was worth the pain of never knowing, only guessing. At least I thought it was. I felt lucky she was giving me anything at all. I thought it was okay. Because she said it was. And I believed her. Because I loved her.

 

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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