Secrets Kept and Tears Wept

The only apology I will make overall is that I am sorry I didn’t open up sooner.

I was born into a crumbling home, a construction zone. Unplanned and unprepared is how I entered this fallen world and often how I wandered it in the years to follow. My mother says she knew me before I came, that the puzzle was completed (right before the pieces scattered) and I believe her; I don’t doubt the will of God now as I did in my youth. I don’t ask ‘why,’ because it is evident to me now that we were all pieces of something bigger than our five-piece jigsaw, a mosaic still shrouded in dark mystery.

To say that my mother ‘left’ would be too indicative of negative implications, so instead I’ll say that she followed her path, her right of independence, liberation and fulfillment, and I love her for it. For years to come she would apologize time and time again, cursing her decision, pleading for forgiveness that was not required from anyone, asking to turn back the clock and ‘make things right.’ (Mom, you did make things right.) My sister, brother and I lived with our father for the majority of my childhood, visiting mom and my stepfather during the summers. Though there was much confusion plaguing our young minds, unable to comprehend the dissociation of our family, we had each other to relate to. I’ll state now that I have only pieces, fragments of memory from this period of my life. I like to think that God protected my ears, eyes and mind from the sorrowful days we endured, knowing that I was (and perhaps still am) too sensitive to witness these events unfolding. Looking back, it’s as if I was asleep, waking to enjoy pivotal, joyous moments, then slipping back into rest, unaware. Everything between those waking moments has been prescribed to me by people I know, love and trust, and discerned by God. I fully came to attention and consciousness when I found myself alone; my siblings, being closer in age and at a point of accountability for themselves, chose to stay with our mom, make a new way for themselves. It was at this point in my father’s life that he truly turned everything back over to the Lord, surrendering what was left of our household to Him, making a one-eighty turn for the better. This was when life truly began. It was dad and daughter against the world; he told me those ancient accounts of man and God meeting, the glorious event of our salvation when Jesus was crucified for all mankind on the cross, and I felt God’s love pour out on me, too. I was baptized at the age of ten, and though I at later dates would ignore God, He never truly left my life.

My father met my stepmother unexpectedly and it was, from my keen, 10 year old observations, love at first sight. I couldn’t remember having seen him so stricken by a woman in all of my few years of life! We would often visit my cousins who lived next door to my dad’s new flame, and he would always just ‘happen’ to have extra donuts, an extra coffee, this or that to bring to her and her two children. This innocent courtship quickly developed into full on dates; bowling with us kids, movie nights, going to see the Santa Claus parade. I distinctly remember playing out in the snow with my cousins and mischievously deciding to spy on the couple through the living room window… that’s when it hit me, HARD. There was my daddy, dancing with another woman on the other side of that frosted window, closer and closer, and then a kiss. A kiss on the lips, followed by another. I began to sob, and I didn’t know why; I cared deeply for dad’s new friend, I enjoyed all the activities we did together, the laughs we had, but she wasn’t my mom. It hit me like an iceberg to a cruise ship at that moment: mom and dad would never be together again. Any daydream or fantasy I had cooked up suddenly dried to a crisp, crashed and wallowed in my seemingly endless pile of disappointments. For a period of time, I held onto this bitter dart in my chest, let it seep into my heart and turn me cold, angry, disconnected. He asked her to marry him that night and I laughed, hugged, cried happy, convincing tears. “We’re family now,” they said.

They married that following October in our new home in the city. It was a whirlwind of changes; going from our small town, the only home I had truly known, to a larger, meaner city. Transitioning from elementary to middle school with no friends, no idea of what to expect. Gaining two new, younger siblings, always eager to play and antagonize, hug and slap. Gaining a new parent, eager, full of new love for my father, and expectant of a blended home. I will not say that this was an easy task, ‘blending the family.’ I had become accustomed not only to being the youngest of my two biological siblings, but also to being the only child at home with a single parent. I enjoyed my space, my quiet time, and most importantly the fun times my dad and I shared; he coached my soccer team, took me and my friends for ice cream, movies, trips to the park. All of that seemed to be drifting into the past, and I eventually learned to accept it. Change: change is constructive, constant, and one of the only concepts in life that kills before it revives. I saw change in my dad and I can say wholeheartedly that I know he loves his bride, and she him. The rest fell into place (with a lot of hard work).

I have always considered myself to be pretty odd. Now, don’t take this as a statement of self-deprecation; for the most part, it has been something I’ve centred my life around! Being free from the weight of social-acceptability has been so liberating, even from a young age. Always laughing, always creating, always exploring, this has been my existence since childhood. This only became an ‘issue’ in those more formative years when girls and boys turn mean. I am blessed to say that I have never been a long-term victim of the bullying that is all too common and lethal today, but as girls around me began advancing faster and faster toward more ‘mature’ subject-matter, wanting to fit in with the teenagers and adult women around them, I felt more alone than ever. Couldn’t we just continue to play in mud pits and pretend to be spies? I didn’t understand why my playmates suddenly wanted nothing to do with me, so I asked them. “You’re fat, and you’re just too… kid-ish.” I was eleven, I was a child, I was devastated and inexhaustibly offended! I took this matter to the guidance counselor of the school, teary-eyed and broken, and once the words escaped my lips she gave me the most shocking and sympathetic look and said, simply, “Well…. you are a kid.” Oh, yeah. This (obvious) revelation brought me more self-acceptance than I can explain, and I continued (to this day) to keep the mindset and wondrous expectations of a child.

I continued to visit my mother every summer and deeply cherished these times. Seeing her happy and whole is a precious gift I will never take for granted as long as I live. However, this constant trouble continued to pester my mind: which life do you want to lead, which home do you wish to leave? Being so young, so naive and influenced by parental advice, it took all of my strength and will to come to the concrete decision to join my mother in Texas. I didn’t mean to break my daddy’s heart with the phone call that day, and all I could muster on the phone after breaking the news were apologies, apologies, apologies. I look back and ask myself why I felt so guilty; this was one of the most important decisions I had ever made, but even so, I felt a form of responsibility that no child should ever have to bear. I had yet to fully accept the fact that we were two families now, not one, and there was no going back to how things were. So, with the hardest (to my knowledge) part behind me, I set my mind on starting a brand new chapter in a totally different environment, filled with curiosity and drive.

The first two years at Prosper High School were two of the most exciting years of my life. Though I started out quiet, insecure and unsure of my place, I was quickly and warmly welcomed into the strange side of the school: the theatre department. Here, I felt completely uninhibited in expressing all of my strangeness, uplifting that childlike spirit everyday and never feeling judged or compromised by my peers. We must’ve drove our teacher/director insane with our constant sing-a-longs, musings and wildly inappropriate inside jokes that we dragged him into. Regardless of that, we were outwardly the most confident and joyful group of kids around… but to be honest, most of us were just really good at our extracurricular passion: acting. It happened for each of us in different ways and at different times, but one by one, I watched my friends and peers crash and burn, break down and wither, and unknowingly began to shake with fearful anticipation: when will it happen to me?

It began the summer between sophomore and junior year. I had come to the painful decision of breaking things off with my first boyfriend; we had been together for over a year, and though we had many great times together, I was beginning to feel isolated by the fact that we had differing moral views, different future goals, different expectations. I did the mature thing and broke the news to him over a Facebook message, explaining how I didn’t see our relationship going anywhere beyond high school, so what’s the point? He didn’t necessarily understand, because honestly, it was pretty premature to jump ahead so many years in my mind, but he was supportive nonetheless. I spent the summer in Canada using photography as my outlet, exploring these new emotions of heartbreak, liberation, separation, exploration. It was during these months that I dove to depths in my mind that I hadn’t previously realized, and I needed more. I craved this introspective, sometimes dark, world of art. The epiphany of the beauty in suffering actualized itself in my life, and as constructive a sentiment as this remains in my life today, I followed it down a dark path, unintentionally seeking out pain, abuse, misuse.

I had left school for the summer still mentally a child and returned the coming fall a woman, increasing in depth and curiosity. Newly single, I let new boys into my life here and there; falling, crashing into ‘love’ at immeasurable speeds, only to burn out with the same velocity. It became a vicious cycle of passion and self-harm; those creative instincts I had developed stemmed from this heartbroken, love-struck state, and as a newly shaped addict to tragic romance, I thrived in it. I purposely went for the individuals who excelled in the areas of art I admired; the renowned photographer and digital artist, the talented and confident musician, the mysterious and endearing poet, everything I considered myself insufficient in, just to twist the knife in the creative “gods’” hand even further. I needed to know I could conquer them, as if human beings are some quest to be completed, then feign despair and turmoil and watch it corrode, suffer, and die a poetic death. That meant that I won something, almost as if by going through this cycle with these boys, I absorbed their power… this of course is utter foolishness, and I wore away at my sanity, date by date, kiss by bloody kiss. I often wonder how I kept friends during this chaotic time in my life; so supportive, so willing to go down in horror with me, not bystanders to the pain but fully immersed and involved. These are the friends I still keep to this day, and though I am not proud of many, many things in my past, I am eternally thankful for their continued love and support.

I finished my junior year single and several pounds heavier, physically (from alcohol-consumption and overindulgence in chocolate) and mentally. By the end of the semester I was crawling on my raw core to the promise of fleeing the country to Canada for the summer and having another creative escapade immersed in nature. I arrived, tripod and camera on standby, awaiting that familiar wave of inspiration to cleanse my mind and soul. It didn’t arrive. I spent weeks attempting to facilitate some spark of emotion, and nothing arose, my well had run dry. Sober and downtrodden, I decided to direct my intentions into another creative outlet. My mind lingered on all of the essays and creative writing projects I had breezed through in the previous years, so I started there, pouring my heart out onto pages for the first time. It came so naturally… some thoughts that surfaced frightened me, so of course, I wanted more. I shared these beginning pieces with no one, and no one to this day has read what my mind conjured (I’m not sure anyone should). In the midst of this intrigue, I received a message from an acquaintance that would soon turn out to be one of the most deceptive, enticing and important people in this story.

He started the conversation with an Eternal Sunshine quote and from there I was hooked. He was older, 4 years older to be exact, and it showed in his tone and wit. I considered myself to be wiser than the typical 17 year old, so he captivated me too easily with his eloquent syntax and culture references. I had always admired his photographic work along with his taste in music. It was so easy for him to make me fall in love, especially in my vulnerable, hollow state.

Aside: I stopped writing this article for a few days due to an internal conflict over my choice of words describing the person above. I felt vulnerable assigning them such power, such dominance and influence over my life. Let it be known that that power is dead.

I’ll keep things short and simply state the major events. We had a super-powered love for weeks before he left for school in September, then when he left I accidentally said ‘I love you’ over Skype. That moved things along, quick, and I felt a desire so unfamiliar, almost sickening. Being so far apart created an unbeknownst to me sense of civility, property, jealousy. I knew he partied. I knew he was a physical guy, someone who held hands with his friends and gave kisses on the cheek, and I tried as hard as I could to be okay with it; after all, he told me he wanted to buy me a ring, take me away from this drowning town and fulfill our big city dreams. I trusted him until he stopped communicating for several days on end. I begged him, please, I love you, I miss you, what did I do? What could I have done better? After many days spent with my nails dug into my palms and my eyes full of heavy flood, he called, but it wasn’t ‘him.’ He spoke slow with a quiet reserve, cooly asking how my week was as if nothing substantial had happened. I slowly warmed like a tea kettle, easy, easy, then hot again with love; he sensed my temperature and I guess some form of humility fell over him. He told me that he’d met a girl, he’d kissed her, that she was someone he couldn’t turn away from, that if he ignored this ‘opportunity’ he’d regret it for the rest of his life. He sounded like a record label king faced with signing on the Beatles (or Ben Folds) when he’d been previously working with some amateur; “Hey baby, it’s just business. You’re on the decline, but this ones gonna be big, big, big!” In that moment, every moral and emotional compromise I had previously made came rushing back, manifesting itself in an explosive fit of tears and accusations. “So you just wanted someone in each town to fool around with, huh? You think I’m garbage? What, am I just some kid you can take advantage of?” Of course, when someone meets a person who changes them and rearranges things in their heart, there’s no changing their mind. This girl was (and is) his “one.” Who was I to stop him? Just a little girl who fell off the slide and broke her legs. I laid in the dirt and got soaked by the rain. The end.

The remainder of my senior year followed similar trends as the previous year; self-destructive patterns continued, but this time, things weren’t in my control. My self-worth had plummeted to an uncontrollable depth and I was spinning out and closing my eyes, letting the wheel go wild and send me to inevitable demise. Many nights were spent alone, silent, in my room on my bed thinking of the bright child I once was. I held scissors in one hand while I slipped off my pyjama pants, numb from SSRI’s that didn’t work (except to inhibit wise inhibition), and pressed the blade to my thigh. Drip. One tear fell on the scissor handle and I thought of my father and mother in the delivery room holding their chubby ‘missing puzzle piece,’ hesitated for a moment in guilt, but pressed harder, longer, and dragged. The canyon opened wide, inviting oxygen to meet blood cells, bringing the outside in, the inside out, an elegant dance of imperfection and gore. Four times; twice on each thigh, these are my permanent reminders of who I was, who I could’ve remained. I wore shorts once and a friend asked how I got those wounds; I looked down, said I didn’t know, caught off guard and yanked out from my self-orbiting world of hurt. My best friend scolded me and said I needed to be prepared next time, to think of some good lies to tell people whenever I cut. She was the expert and told me to be more careful not to get caught. I nodded to her in the mirror and began again.

During the year of 2013, I spent a lot of time being a person I hate. Financial aid had fallen through just weeks before I was supposed to begin my journey as a photography student in Boston, many of my friends from high school were moving on, one of my best friends had passed away tragically from cancer and I was feeling more hopeless than ever. Ill-equipped and vulnerable, I smoked pot for the first time. And a second time, and a few more times after that. Each time it was the same thing; everybody laughed, I laughed along too, but I could tell something was seriously wrong. There always came a certain point throughout the high where I would suddenly turn and feel an extreme impulse to kill myself, and when your senses are dulled in this inebriated state, what is there to stop you, really? I thank God for the friends I had during this time because truly, if I had been alone, I’m not sure I’d be typing this today… sitting in the library on campus at university, studying in the field I adore (psychology), in a healthy relationship with an amazing, trustworthy man, surrounded by supportive, incredible family and friends, and leading at a spirit-filled church. Happy.

In the Fall of 2013, I met a pastor at a funeral held for a family member. He gave a touching eulogy, spoke kindly of my step-father’s grandfather, and was very personable after the service. In the midst of general small talk, he paused and very ginger yet firmly told me that I needed to be in church, that it was time. A little taken aback (and convicted in my heart), I hesitated, gave a half-hearted ‘maybe,’ but wasn’t truly planning on following through. A week or so later, that same pastor showed up at my work with his entire family and after kind introductions said again, you really need to come to church! A little weirded out yet intrigued, I accept the invitation and went to their pre-Christmas service. The whole drive to church I shook with anxious anticipation, feeling continuous crests of guilt and condemnation smacking me, attempting to divert me, but I had made a commitment and would follow through. Thank God! The pastor’s lovely, gentle, sweet wife met me in the sanctuary and sat me with her and her family, and as soon as the worship service began, I felt an inexplicable presence that I could only trace back to my childhood; people and their surroundings glowed, my body felt lighter, I got goosebumps and yet felt so warm and secure. Tears ran down my face as I sang along to the familiar songs, shards of heart finding their way and fitting themselves secure in their original place of dwelling. I was home.

I want to tell you that this story has a happy ending. No, my life hasn’t ended yet, so you may attempt to correct me on this, but I stand firm. The ending has already been written by the One who knit me together in my mother’s womb. It has been 4 years since I self-harmed, 3 years since I seriously considered suicide (though of course the accuser of brethren whispers temptations to me occasionally), 2 years and 11 months since God turned it all around again. I was high and spiralling, asking again and again, why, what’s the point, who am I supposed to be, when suddenly He spoke to me. He saved me, reached down and plucked me from my turmoil and said “Be who I made you to be.” There may still be dark days but there is never a moment where I dispute His existence and sovereignty. With every attack, every down season, every moment of desperate emptiness, He fills me up. I will never stop pursuing the ultimate goal: to be the woman He made me to be and to fulfill His will for this limited life. Make your troubles count by speaking up. Make your war worth waging. Never back down, and if it feels like your life is over, look up to the skies; they contain the Prize.

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