Two Summers Later

Two Summers Later

It feels like every summer has a life and a story of its own. The past three have been the most emotional and life-changing of all my summers so far. Mostly, it’s been the camps that make it so.

Before I continue, I want to clarify for some readers who might not have experiences with summer camps. I talk about my camps a lot–some people in my life say too much. But anyone who’s been a part of a summer camp knows–there’s something about them. The closeness. The intensity. The season. The rigor. The relationships built fast and left too soon. The 16-hour days getting up early and staying up late. Getting down and dirty. If you’ve not experienced that, it’s understandable that you won’t feel the level of emotion that goes into my stories about camp. But if you have been a part of a camp, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

There’s a piece of me that will always be stuck with the first summer camp I worked for. It’s a stubborn piece. Some days I want to be selfish and let it go. Some days I wish I could walk away without feeling guilty and broken. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I made some amazing friends at this camp, both with the other counselors and with the kids. I was barely 19, working with high schoolers in my first youth-oriented job. What had even possessed me to apply, and to interview passionately enough to be selected? I credit the South Dakota trip as the catalyst for my desire to work with youth. Setting out on the trip, I was terrified of meeting the kids and convinced that I would fuck up their lives in the three days we were there. I wouldn’t know what to say or do with them or how to interact. Going there and meeting kids from a place and culture I had little contact with shook me. Hearing the stories of the suicide epidemic was what pushed me into the place of wanting to combat youth suicide, which soon turned into a desire to work with kids in any way I could. My experiences from the trip were a huge motivator for me when I interviewed for the job and started working there.

But I forget that I applied for the job before the trip.

I can’t remember applying for the job, writing my application, finding references, sending it in, agonizing over it. I remember doing that for the resident assistant position at school; not for this summer camp. I remember getting the email from my supervisor suggesting the job to me and a few others. I can’t remember what interested me about the job, since I was still pretty afraid of kids. Maybe it was the fact that they would be high schoolers. Maybe it was because it was similar enough to my current position that I felt it would be easy enough to transition to. Maybe it was because I had friends who were applying. Though I wonder about it, I don’t think my abuser had anything to do with it—we were dating at the time; she had no interest in the job at all, so I doubt she convinced me. Maybe it was just because I wanted anything but to go back to my parents’ house that summer and was looking for any way to stay on campus.

At any rate, I got the job.

I felt like I sucked at it. The kids still scared me; I wasn’t always sure what to say or do. But I went through the training, learned a lot, and enjoyed it; I was making friends; I was connecting with my supervisors. By the time camp rolled around, I was excited to meet the kids. I acted as a TA for the first group, the middle schoolers. I learned the names of all the kids in my class and things about them. I made solid connections with several of them, and we talked outside of class. I didn’t have to, but I joined them each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I cried when they left.

The next six weeks I worked as a dorm counselor for the high school campers. I was going through a lot at the time. My abuser broke up with me, but we made the dangerous decision to remain friends. She was running hot and cold with me, sometimes wanting to be my best friend and sometimes ignoring me completely. My family was becoming hostile towards me, offended by my decision to further my education and experience by staying away from home. Thanks to counseling, I was beginning to recognize my depression and anxiety for what it was and put a label on my panic attacks, which was both freeing and terrifying. My self-harm episodes became more frequent and more alarming. During the first week, the head counselor noticed the scars on my arm. She took me aside and I broke down, telling her how much I felt I was struggling, how I felt I was no good at the job and close to quitting. She calmly talked me down, told me I was doing fine, and gave me ways I could be supported.

I kept trying. I made friends with many of the kids and learned all their names, though not as quickly as I wanted. As would become the tradition, the queer kids gravitated towards me. I was teaching a class called Images of Gender and I hit the cap of 24 students. I spent time with the kids even on my days off, having nothing better to do. I enjoyed being with them, though again I didn’t always know what to do or say and sometimes backed off to let the more experienced counselors handle things.

I didn’t agree with their disciplinary methods—making the kids do pushups or having them go on all fours saying “beep, beep, I’m a jeep.” I thought there were better ways to handle behavioral concerns. I felt that having them do those things would humiliate them, and I didn’t like that. If I witnessed a camper breaking rules, I told them not to and explained that what they were doing went against camp policies. If they asked why, I’d say that they were at our camp and needed to follow the expectations of camp while they were here, even if what they were doing was something they would do at home. If I heard one of them swear, I would say “I’m pretty sure you didn’t just say something you shouldn’t say, because I know that you know the rules. So I know I’m not going to hear you say words like that. Right?” It amused them. I never had a case of a camper continuing to swear after I spoke out.

The only time I yelled was when I saw them throwing bananas around the room. I was angry; I hate seeing food wasted. I tried to address the problem by talking to the individuals throwing the bananas, but when they didn’t listen, I stood in the middle of the room and yelled at them to stop. Seeing me—the tiny, timid counselor—screaming at them made them all immediately freeze. Because I never yelled or told them to do pushups, they took me very seriously in that moment.

Many of the kids liked me. Some saw me as their enemy, but I knew that I wasn’t going to please everybody, and each kid was going to have their least favorite counselors. There were some days I simply had to hide. There were some days I took my fears and frustrations out on my fellow counselors. There were some days I was not as engaged as I should have been. I knew this was not okay; I knew I had to work on bettering myself.

I thought I was allowed a few days to be weak; I thought everyone was.

The summer came to a close and the school year began. When I ran into my supervisors, we’d talk excitedly about next summer. I asked several times how I could continue to be involved, attending some of their fall and spring events and keeping in touch with my campers on social media. I asked my supervisors how I would apply for the following summer. I was told I didn’t need to, but that I would be sent an email gauging my interest in returning, and all I had to do was say yes. I knew I was going to; as difficult as it had been, I loved that job. I loved my kids. They cried when they said goodbye to me. I knew I’d made an impact, and a positive one.

I didn’t receive the email, even as the school year came to a close, even as my friends who applied started hearing back. One day I ducked into one of my supervisor’s office, explaining that I had one day over the summer I’d need off and that I hoped it wouldn’t cause a conflict with move in days.

She looked uncomfortable and said, “Oh, this is hard.”

“What?” I asked.

“Well, we’re not hiring you back this summer.”

I couldn’t speak. I could only stare. I felt like piece of me were falling to the floor. I thought of all the kids I’d connected with. The things some of them had said to me, about how I’d helped them, how important I was to them. I thought of every mistake I’d made that summer, of the negative feedback I’d received.

“I hope you’re not mad,” she said.

“I’m not.” I wasn’t. Not yet. “I’m…sad.”

This was worse than a breakup, ironic because later that afternoon my then-girlfriend broke up with me. This was worse than if my supervisor had told me at the end of last summer that I wasn’t coming back. They’d been telling me all year I could. What had I done to change their minds?

I agonized over it for months. When summer rolled around I cried when I thought of what they would be doing without me. I did everything I could to stay in their lives, working three hours a week as an elective teacher and volunteering for field trips. The ones who remembered me greeted me with excitement and love. I made new friends as well, once again attracting and mentoring the queer kids. My supervisors continued to interact positively. They even let me take three of the kids to my on-campus apartment to visit my cat. They trusted me completely. So why hadn’t they taken me back as a counselor?

I attended the end-of-year banquets, crying and watching them cry as they left, tucking away my favorite memories and chalking them up to a summer well lived. Wondering what I had done wrong, why they had rejected me, why it had to be like this. Wondering what I would do next year.

I wasn’t a teacher this summer. My new job schedule conflicted with class times. I’d had so many experiences since that first camp that I went everywhere confident in my abilities to mentor, build connections, lead, love, and succeed. I knew what that first camp had let walk away. They could have kept me on and I would have done better. They could have been straight up with me and told me off the bat I wasn’t coming back, because apparently they’d known all along even as they told me I could.

The only thing I did that summer was sleep over in the dorms so they could maintain the required student-adult ratio, and attend one field trip.

I could barely handle it. I couldn’t stand arriving on campus after most of them had gone to sleep, but at the same time I couldn’t bear the thought of arriving early to spend time with them. I was angry I could only attend one field trip but did nothing to fight for more.

I fostered my existing connections and built new ones. Still, it wasn’t enough. I felt myself slipping from their lives. I became less important. They stopped needing me.

I realized I could not return for another summer without breaking even more inside.

This time when I left, I didn’t say goodbye.

Hurt Worse

Hurt Worse

It’s been three weeks since you carved the word “fragile” into your arm. The letters didn’t leave the rough, deep-set scars you’d hoped for. At the same time you’re relieved that your co-workers don’t look close enough to see the pink raised lines that still whisper the bitter word.

You forgot how warm it was getting. And how intuitive some of them are. That they might notice how you hold the hem of your sleeves in your palm or that you’re wearing sleeves at all.

But no one really notices the way you clutch your arms around your ribs. When the scars start to heal no one pays attention to your itching. Even the people who know. It’s better that way. It’s not like in the movies where one person sees it, touches them gently, and fixes everything.

The last time you gave in like that, there was a backwards spiral. Those aren’t fun. It’s not worth it.

Even if you think the reaction would be better this time—better to just leave them hidden there and hope.

Hope they don’t stretch back open when you couch dance to The Lion King on Friday.

Hope the bleach water and goggles are enough to hide the red lines on Saturday.

Hope your roommates are too tired to look at you twice when they first get back so you have time to throw a blanket over the evidence on Sunday.

Hope that by Monday they’re set in enough that you forget about them and can focus on school and work and chores.

Take one breath every day and hold it till the lights turn out because that’s the only way you can make for even a tiny bit sure that nothing else is going to happen.

Remember the last time something else happened?

That’s where the word came from in the first place, when the best people averted their eyes when you stepped out of the police car clutching your overnight kit and smelling like deodorant from the treatment center.

The only way to prove them right is to take the word and make it real. You can’t think of a better way than with the help of your silver friend.

Remember the time you sliced off the top of your thumb prying it out of the pink plastic shaver? You don’t remember the pain. Only the blood that didn’t stop coming. Sometimes that’s the best part.

There’s that one time you did it in the shower because you thought you’d never come out. Even though you knew the voices in the rooms across the hall. They’d just showered and no one would be looking in for a long time.

There’s not enough gauze in the bathroom this time so you have to deal with it. It hasn’t been this bad in a while. Each step and turn stretches the split skin and there’s this metallic ache in your muscles. You’re not good at sterilizing. Maybe one day you’ll get tetanus. You wonder if it’s as debilitating as people say.

Three weeks later lying on the bed and twisting your arm in the crooked light of your desktop lamp. How did you get the letters in that spot anyway? Three weeks is kind of a long time. A lot happened, anyway. But you’ve managed to hold your breath all twenty-one days.

The ones on your leg stayed better. You wonder if anyone sees them when you’re in the water. They probably notice the hair first. You never shave.

I think you’re wondering if I noticed. If your tiny winces masked by an extra-loud giggle and your hitched breath lead me to some conclusion. If I noticed the way you held yourself. I’m not sure if I did. I wonder what I would have said if I had.

I think part of you wants me to be the one to fix this. Is that what I want? I want you to be fixed. I feel like I’m the last person you should count on to do that.

I think the funny thing is not even knowing how much she hurt you and still comparing myself and asking if I’m hurting you worse.

Then I look at your fake smile and wonder if anyone will ever hurt you worse than you hurt yourself. I think the reason you want the scars to last is because you want them to hurt worse than the pain.

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.

The Worst Best Job I’ll Never Have

The Worst Best Job I’ll Never Have
Today I interviewed for a job that I have to turn down. It pays 13/hour and takes place during weekend nights. I would be working with youth, specifically those with mental/emotional disturbances, trauma, those who have been through juvenile court, and those with nowhere else to go. The goal is to rehabilitate the youth so they can return to society hopefully with a better foundation for which to live their lives.
Sounds right up my ally, right?
I thought so too, until I learned what “emotional containment” means.
The supervisor I interviewed with assured me that the theory and practice of emotional containment has been proven successful time and again, that it was researched and developed carefully by professional psychiatrists and psychologists, that each worker at the facility could adapt to it, and that, eventually, the kids would be grateful for it.
So what is emotional containment?
Emotional containment means that, as a worker at the facility, you are not allowed to express your emotional reactions to the kids’ behavior in front of them. The example my interviewer used was self harm.
“Most kids do it for attention,” she explained. “So if we give them the satisfaction of an emotional reaction, whether positive or negative, it just reinforces their attention-seeking behavior.”
Emotional containment means not asking the child if they are okay.
Emotional containment means not expressing empathy towards their torment and their pain.
Emotional containment means assuming that all the youth in the facility are subversive attention-seekers utilizing extreme behaviors to get them something they don’t deserve.
I can’t work somewhere that has this mentality.
I can’t walk into a kid’s room, see the scars or the blood or the weapon, and not take a deep breath, get as near as they feel comfortable letting me, and quietly asking them if they are okay.
I can’t not ask them if they are okay.
I can’t not react with empathy and the desire to love and to help.
I can’t not check in on them with the intent to give them the attention and care they crave and deserve.
I can’t ignore my gut instinct to coddle and protect those who need it most.
I listened to my interviewer and felt slowly less engaged.
I heard her voice and the words and I felt my intuition guiding me gently away.
Because I knew I couldn’t do what she was asking me to.
When she asked me if that was a philosophy I could stand behind, I hemmed for a moment before looking her in the eye and telling her that was not something I could do.
She nodded and moved on, indicating that I could be trained in this practice, that eventually I would recognize its effectiveness and appreciate it.
That’s when my gut, my spirit, my brain, my pasts lives, whatever–that voice inside me that every day drives who I am, but who rarely speaks out so loudly and so strongly–told me to get out of there, leave, to say no.
We finished up with pleasantries. I thanked her for taking the time to meet with me. I walked out of there conflicted: maybe it was just me. Maybe I was the one who had to change.
Later that night I had job training for my current job, another position working with youth, but this time in an after-school setting. One of our training activities was about body language and personal space, and the demonstration required us to get very close to and touch our team members. My personal bubble is very large, and I am an extremely touch-sensitive person. My arms are especially vulnerable and this was the part our instructors wanted us to touch. I walked away from that activity with my nerves on haywire, trying to figure out if they had been hurt or not. I rubbed my arms to calm the skin and remind myself that I was intact and alright. As I waited for my team to rejoin at our table I glanced at the faded brown lines staggered up and down my forearms.
I remembered my interview, and how the interviewee had described and self-harm situation; how I had been triggered right there and fought to stay professional, struggled to stave off my rising panic. Imagining blood. Imagining scars. Seeing the blade. Feeling the pain again.
I rubbed my arms and wished no one would ever touch me there again.
I wished that someone, anyone, would have asked me if I was okay, that first time.
I wished someone could have caught me in the act–and sat with me quietly, asking what I needed.
I thought of the kids I’ll be working with at the school, and how I could never turn calmly away from them if they expressed pain or distress.
I thought of my TRIO kids and how I could fight to protect them.
I thought of my Literacy kids and how they would let me hold them and kiss their bruises and scrapes.
I remembered the empathy expressed by the little girl, who I’d saved from the slide monsters at the park with my invisible bottle of monster spray. “Tss, tss,” I said, spraying. “Now you don’t have to be scared.” She happily slid down and into my arms.
“I was scared,” I told her later, holding her hand as we walked back to our building–“When you ran into the street, I was really scared.”
She turned to me and pinched her fingers in front of her face. “Tss, tss,” she said.
It took me a moment to realize what she was doing.
She was saving me from being scared, as I had done with her.
Kids are so empathetic. And so intuitive. They know more than we think. They read me better than I read them. And they can tell when I really care and when I’m pretending. They understand what it means to feel someone else’s pain or fear.
I can’t contain my emotions when I know they are choosing to expose theirs to me.
I don’t care how many PhDs reviewed the emotional containment method, I can’t do something that goes against everything I know and see and believe about kids. And I can’t work somewhere that will try to convince me that my intuition is wrong, that could change the way I think and work and live. Chang who I am. Not when I have such huge goals. Not when I see so much more opportunity than that.
Effective as that strategy may be, it’s not something I can do and live with myself at the end of the day. It’s not something I can do and look into the mirror afterwards saying “That was my best me.”
I can’t suppress the empathy I was blessed, or cursed, with, that has literally tried to kill me but also been the only thing keeping me alive.
I turned down a $260/week paycheck because, as much as I need the money, I can’t compromise myself to get it. I’ll work at McDonald’s if I need to. I can’t fathom working somewhere that does exactly what I want to do the exact opposite way I want to do it.

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.

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.

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?