Growing up, I was always slightly embarrassed of where I came from. Looking back now, I am embarrassed that I ever was. Sure, I didn't always get the newest toys and clothes as soon as they hit the shelves, but I never went without. Sitting in the living room a few nights ago, coming up on 20 years of age, I realized that I had not really missed out on anything. As I sat there in heart of my home, I felt nostalgic about the live I grew up living and how in a less than a year away, I would no longer be in this house. It was all bittersweet. My parents may have not been able to give me the world through material things, but they sure did try when it came to their love and attention. All we ever truly needed was each other, and maybe a dog.
No one ever thinks that the guy next to you at work is the monster. Instead, we search under our beds and down dark alleyways, looking over our shoulders at every glance in fear of a monster lurking in the shadows. But who's to say that we are really safe anywhere? I thought I was safe at work. And I was. But poor young girl, she wasn't. She worked in the same building, with the same people, but her safety was stolen away when he thought he could get away with something. He took every bit of her and broke her down. He belittled her and embarrassed her name, all to get what he wanted. A small office, a young helpless girl, and his restless hands. Where does it stop?
On nights like these, I can almost feel those moments replayed. In my car, I speed down winding back roads, music blaring, trying to block out what used to be. Sadly though, the music isn't loud enough to drown out those dirty parts that make up the mess that is called me. That grief-stricken teen, the one who would have done anything to survive. Those are the things I can never quite forget. As the music gets louder and the roads get curvier, I sink back into who I used to be. But just for a moment. Suddenly, thoughts of those moments where I gave everything away seem to come flooding back in, leaving no room for breathe. That moment where I was trapped underneath him, terrified that screaming would make things worse. Then the moment where I trusted him to take those very large parts of me. Another moment where I thought I couldn't live and almost gave up. All of the moments where people told me I was crazy. The moments I lied and covered up the cuts. The moment where I got called into the office..because people were "concerned." The moment where I wished it would all just end. Then the moment where I took him back, then ran to the next "him." The countless moments I gave myself away, searching for the pieces that the first "him" stole. Every moment that almost broke me, and yet I am still here. Those moments together are who I am today. Though I am proud today, I am ashamed of who I used to be.
For a brief moment when I passed through those grocery store sliding doors, I held my breath in hopes of seeing her there. After all, it had been months. I wasn't even sure if she still worked there. It was just a long shot. But hey, I was in town. It wouldn't hurt to stop by. As I walked through the floral area, it was almost like a fairy tale dream. Flowers everywhere, and time stopped when I noticed her over there in the far corner. She was standing at a register, oblivious to the world in her light blue polo and a pair of the khakis that fit her ever so snugly, but in the most modest way possible. I noticed her hand slightly tug and twist at strands of her hair the same way she always used to do when she was hard in thought. Her hair was noticeably shorter, maybe even darker. But it fit her. She stood there, completely unaware of the beauty she was radiating. On her left hand, lightly sat a ring. Oh, how good that was for her. And though she looked bored with her current surroundings, I could tell she was happy with life. I saw a glow in her face that she had before things went wrong. And that's the moment that I realized what I had to do. I had to smile too and simply turn and walk away. She deserved to stay in that moment of picture perfect happiness that I could never give her.
My family is starting to fall apart. No, scratch that. It has been in the process of developing cracks over the past few years. Even as I write these words, I can overhear screams from the other room. The disrespect, the hatred, the lies that have been injected into all of our minds. I will not say that I am exempt from this madness, but I will say that I wish I wasn't part of it. These drilling times often make me daydream of the parts of life that weren't always this way. I remember the days as a kid, spending family day, going on trips. Now, I am scared of speaking a word in fear that relationships will be tarnished and diminished. I am scared to walk through the door, unsure of which versions of these people that I will find. These people are strangers, strangers in their own homes and bodies.
I met a lady last night that told me stories of how her fourteen year old granddaughter thought she was "in love." As I began to giggle at the silly little things she would say about this situation, I began to see myself in them as well. When she stopped talking, I told her how I used to think I was in love back at that age too. I recalled the moments, even in middle school, when I believed I was in true love. Then the moments in high school when I was convinced that i was going to move five hours away from my family to be with the man of my dreams. I remembered all the silly little promises I made back then, all the whispered "I love you's" at the end of late night phone conversations. I remembered all the highs of being "in love" so young. And then I finally remembered all the heartbreak that followed. I remembered realizing for the first time that I didn't want to uproot my whole life for this man so far away. I remember the moment that I finally understood that true love wasn't supposed to hurt that bad and true love wasn't supposed to break me. I remembered that morning in church that I could barely even breathe. I remembered it all. And last night, I prayed to God that this lady's granddaughter didn't have to go through nearly as much heartbreak as I did. I prayed that when true love comes, she would recognize it. And when love shows up, it would be exactly how she has always imagined it.
In the moment that my friend told me that her views had changed, there was less judgement and more concern. I didn't jump straight to thinking that she was wrong, but rather I was worried about her wellbeing. She is young, naive, always has been. A year ago, she would have been me and I would have been her. You see, I was always the one with a sort of self-destructive streak inside of me. Sometimes it was never intentional, but it was a part of who I was. And after a few good years of living my life, having "fun", I was starting to realize that my views were wrong. I was stealing away the possibility of happiness for myself later on. And now a year later, my friend is doing the same thing. The only thing that has changed our lives is that I have found people in my life who support me in the right ways, while she has simply found one person who is leading her down paths she vowed never to visit. It is just sad, really, because I see myself in her. She has no clue how much she is going to miss those pieces of herself and how hard it will be to get parts of them back. She doesn't even realize she will lose some aspects of herself forever from this point of decision.
Isn't it crazy how we train our minds to remember only what we allow? For the past four years, I have trained myself to become a different person. In no way is this a bad thing; it's just that it hurts a thousand times worse when the past finds a way to catch up with you and forces you to remember what you so neatly tucked away in the back of your mind. For me, it was something as simple as a tv show. As soon as that horrible scene flashed across my laptop screen, my head became flooded with memories. I suddenly remembered the struggling and the screaming and the guilt I felt for months after. I remember being scared to even walk outside of my house in fear that you would be right next door. I remember the months of panic attacks when someone would touch me from behind or even touch me without my consent. I became my own worst enemy. I was scared of everyone; I was trying to protect myself even from the people who didn't even want to harm me. I remember the scars that came along as a result of the pain that I felt in that moment. That moment seemed to last for too many months to count. That moment broke me until I rebuilt myself years later.
As I walked across the stage, I didn't feel my life change. Everyone has always told me that today would be some magical day. But really, I was just counting down the minutes until I could go home and curl up next to the man I love. I wasn't interested in being surrounded by hundreds of sweat-covered adolescents who never seemed to care much for me either. For half of high school, I don't feel like I was ever really there. Freshman year, I was chasing an older boy who lived five hours away because I sure he loved me. Sophomore year, I was just trying to find someone to give me love and ended up chasing right back after the same older guy from the year before. Then junior year came, and I swore I was done begging to be loved by a guy who didn't seem to love me at all. In turn, I fell in love with a guy who tried to give me his all but came up just a little too short. He wasn't quite capable of loving me fully because he too had once loved a little too hard. I spent half of that year heartbroken and searching. By the time summer came, I found the love of my life. I spent my summer then my senior year consumed with this amazing guy. I would count down the days and then the hours until I was out of that place to just spend a nice, quiet night with him. I spent my high school experience chasing after guys and giving my heart away far too easily. But once I met the one who made it all count, it seemed as if these big moments were insignificant. My life didn't change by simply walking across a stage. My life changed the moment when the people in it really started to matter.