I’m not the girl you think I am. I’m sure it looks as though things were easy for me. That maybe I’ve lived a charmed life, and that I don’t know what it’s like to struggle. I’ve gotten that look plenty of times. That judgmental glare that someone else’s life has been harder than mine, and that I couldn’t possibly understand them.
Sharing a story as personal as this, is always pretty terrifying. There will be people who judge, who have something negative to say or who just won’t care. But, exposing myself to our readers is something that I feel needs to be done. We’re all in this together and if I don’t show you who I really am, I may miss some of you. Some of you may go on feeling as though your life has shaped you into a certain kind of person you are bound to be, not knowing that you have the power to change and to achieve your dreams. No matter who you are. The beautiful thing about life is that it’s filled with choices. No matter how it may feel, you’re in the driver’s seat and you and you alone, get to decide where you’re going.
Little Girl Lost
Unlike many children born to parents in their early twenties, I wasn’t an accident. My mother wanted me. Needed me. She needed someone to love, who would love her back unconditionally. When she held me in her arms for one of the first times I would ever be held, my father closed his hands around her neck–and choked her.
The world I was born into and lived in for my first six years of life, was one of fear. I witnessed countless acts of violence towards my mother from the man that was supposed to protect us both. The man I was supposed to model my future relationships after. I was absolutely terrified of him.
My parents were divorced a year or so after my sister was born and my mother’s focused shifted. I was no longer the only one she needed. I felt I was an unwelcome reminder of my father. I began to suffer from insomnia and night terrors. I walked around feeling a mixture of confusion, sadness and extreme jealousy.
When I was 12, it all caught up to me and I was sent to live with the monster that abused my mom for 7 years. For the first month or so it was fun. He was trying to be the “cool parent” but it was clearly too good to last. After awhile, it was though I couldn’t do anything right. Sure, I was a normal teenage girl, with flying hormones and a small rebellious streak (I would change on the bus and wear makeup when I wasn’t supposed to), but I wasn’t really bad. It started with slapping, and then hitting. It progressed to being thrown around, choked and kicked.
After a year a friend convinced me to tell the school guidance counselor which led to a whirlwind of child protective services, my mother worrying, zero action and my father threatening to kill me if I ever said a word to anyone again.
I believed him.
I shut my mouth and stayed with him for another year. I was smoking, sleeping in my closet instead of my bed, and had begun to cut myself. The cutting started out as “fun” where I would just make little shapes like hearts and initials, and then it escalated to the point where I was using it to focus me, to sooth me. To feel something and to take away all the pain I felt at the same time.
I knew I was just existing, rather than living and my entire life revolved around fear. I knew I had to get away or I wouldn’t make it. I called my mother and asked to come home after the school year ended.
Navy Blue is the New Black
I barely lasted 9 months at my mother’s house. The psychological issues I’d had before I’d gone to live with my father, were compounded by all the new ones I’d gotten from living with him. My insomnia and night terrors raged, my sister and I fought, and my mother was convinced that everything I did was a personal dig to her.
I woke up at 4am on April 10th 1998 to a strange man and woman standing in my room, telling me they were taking me to my new school. Disoriented, I went with them and arrived 4 hours later at what would be my new home for the next four years or so.
The Desisto School was like a coed version of Orange is the New Black (a show about a women’s prison), only they had shanks, shower curtains and a bit more freedom. Some of the kids I lived with had major mental illnesses and belonged in a hospital, some were drug dealers and probably should have been in jail. There were girls with eating disorders, cutters, adoptees with abandonment issues and pissed off kids like myself.
I can’t possibly condense the four years of hell into this article but trust me when I say:
I know discipline. There were times where I needed to wear a jumpsuit and ask to do everyday basic things like read, write, cross my ankles, sit and stand.
I know loss. Runaways. There’s no feeling like loving someone and then the very next day they’re gone. Waking up countless nights to a flashlight in your face, and you could only hope it wasn’t someone you cared for. Sometimes, it was your best friend or your boyfriend and another girl, who happened to be a friend of yours too. And their absence always led to several different emotions. Jealousy at their freedom, sadness at their leaving, anger at… Everything. And a sort of numbness that crept on little by little.
I know madness. When I was 16 I ran away with my boyfriend and was dragged back about a week later. Part of my punishment was to sit in the corner and write my story. Then I would have to wait until I could be allowed out. I waited more than a month.
Imagine waking up at 7am everyday, raising your hand to ask to shower and get dressed (in a jumpsuit). Raising your hand to ask to sit in your metal chair, in your corner and then just…sitting there. Hands flat on your lap, feet on the floor, not being allowed to talk to any of your peers, and only being allowed to talk to staff after raising your hand and being called on. You’re instructed to bring your metal chair to a table 3x a day to eat, and then back to the corner it is, until 9:30pm when it’s time to get ready for bed.
I did this day in and day out for more than 30 days and I knew many others that suffered far longer than I had to.
I know what it’s like to have nothing. Living in a place like this, even your bed is temporary. After I ran away I came back to find that all my shit had been sent to Goodwill. Even the things I’d brought with me ended up getting “lost in storage.” I had to buy back my wardrobe with my own shitty allowance and items I plucked from the lost & found at SeaCamp.
I know patience. When I came back from running away, I decided to plot my next escape for two years later. I collected and stashed money, moved my way through the ranks and kept my eyes on the ultimate prize: freedom.
My Life, My Rules
The summer after I turned 18, I packed everything I wanted to take with me into a laundry bag and left in the middle of the night. There were certain staff members notorious for finding runaways and tossing them back into a school van. There was no fucking way I was going to allow that to happen, so I trudged soaking wet through the woods. It took me 4 hours to get to a phone.
That day, I promised myself that I wouldn’t allow my past to haunt my future, no matter how hard it got. Instead of spiraling into darkness and filling the never ending void with the kind of bullshit that would never make me whole, I vowed to do whatever it took to get better and to learn from my mistakes as I made them. (And if you’ve read my book. I’ve made a lot of them.) I even went to AA & NA for the first year, to establish a safe place to return to, should I have needed it.
There are times when I feel so very old, and my soul is so tired. It’s a strange thing not feeling wanted for the majority of your life. It later leads to testing those that claim they want you, and proving how human they are, and how they’ll break when it comes time to demonstrate their dedication. I even packed up and moved often, leaving state after state, not really caring and not really missing anyone. To this day, I question why I’m wanted, why I’m cared for and why I’m loved. It’s all my heart wants of course, but my mind doesn’t always buy it.
When it comes to forgiveness, it’s not that I don’t want to forgive. In my heart I know I have. I’ve forgiven so many people for so many things. But these are now things deeply ingrained in my psyche that I didn’t intentionally put there. I can’t help but feel a sense of bitterness and extreme emptiness at times.
We all have our demons.
Getting My Due
There’s a feeling that I’m owed something. Like there is something more out there that belongs to me and me alone. Not that the world owes me or that I’m entitled to something– understand the distinction. But, it’s like there’s a train inside me, hurtling along the track, not sure where it’s going or when it’ll get there but I keep feeding it fuel.
I know that hard work always pays off. I know that I’m deserving of happiness. I know that I’m worthy of love, from both others and myself. And, I will keep fighting the emptiness that practically swallows me whole from time to time.
I will continue to show others that no matter what has happened to you, you are in charge and you can make your dreams come true. I work at it every. Single. Day. You can too. We aren’t different.
I could have gone down a different road, a road many are surprised I didn’t slide down and it’s a question I get asked often: “How are you not like, a total drug addict/prostitute/insert fucked up fate here??”
Because instead, I choose Badass.
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