I’m writing this knowing that I won’t be able to publish it for awhile yet. I am also aware that I might revise this thing to death and it very well may never be finished… or even good. But if you read this and still resonate, I hope it finds you in a happy place. I hope you feel at peace with the way life has gone so far. And at the very least, I hope it’s an interesting read.
I never had to brace myself to tell my parents. I never needed to rehearse how I was going to say it. I feel lucky for that. I remember coming close to pouring my guts out while it was still happening, but: Mom, I need help was all I had prepared in my head. I had gone home for the weekend and my parents and I were talking over dinner, the TV was droning on in the background of our conversation. Something said on the news caught my attention: sexual assault allegations against a professional athlete who has since gone on to make millions and millions of dollars and now lives a more than comfortable life. Say something, I thought, this is your window.
“That poor girl,” was all I could come up with.
“Yeah. If it’s true,” I don’t even remember who said it… regardless, they agreed, “you never know these days.”
The window slammed shut.
Anyone who has joined my family for dinner knows that we are not modest people; I did not grow up in a sheltered home. My parents said they were relieved when my first word was “mom” instead of “shit”. Truthfully, I don’t think my parents realize that “shit” is, in fact, a cuss word. Sometimes it felt like there was a silent competition among my relatives to see who could make our guests feel the most uncomfortable. That being said, my parents were and still are incredible parents. They took in anyone who needed help, no questions asked. They loved all of my friends as if they raised them themselves; sometimes it seemed like they had. I am actually grateful for my family’s ability to openly discuss topics like sex and relationships and other unpleasantries but at the time, I didn’t realize that what I was going through was an unpleasantry. I’m sure my parents kick themselves for the way we talked about those things blatantly, completely unaware that the boyfriend I kept bringing home was hurting me.
I asked my mom to help me find a therapist before she knew why. We had a sturdy system established where she knew I’d tell her anything she really needed to know. She bailed me out of whatever I got myself into and cleaned up nearly all of my messes. She found the birth control I’d secretly gotten out of fear that one of the times he did something, I’d wind up pregnant. She didn’t ask too many questions and she helped me find a more suitable prescription under our family’s insurance plan. I had to go to the hospital once. There was a lot of blood and I wasn’t sure if there was serious damage that needed attention. I drove myself there but I knew I couldn’t hide the medical bill from her since I was only 18. Like always, she showed up, listened to whatever explanation I could offer, and relentlessly supported me. My mom didn’t know anything, but she also knew everything. She was there for all of it. So when she finally picked up enough pieces that I had been leaving behind for whoever was still there, I didn’t have to say anything to help her put them all together.
To this day, I have never properly brought it up – the big it. When is the right time to tell someone that you had to learn how to foster a healthy romantic relationship? How do I delicately mention that I never went to war or anything but I still have a PTSD support dog?
Later on in college, I dated someone for a year and never spoke a word of it until it spilled out of me like cement during one of our fights, making me feel horribly ashamed and him feeling lied to and betrayed. In November, I was comfortable enough to pour my heart out to this guy after knowing him for a few weeks. I’m talking emotional trauma, my shortcomings, really bad things that I’ve done and all the ways I still obsess over them… the whole nine yards. After tip toeing my way through the “get to know each other” game for awhile, the way I go about dating has shifted. I talk about love like it’s an abstract concept despite the fact that I’ve had plenty of it. When November Man told me he wanted to know everything about me, the cynical side of me dropped all of my “baggage” in his lap to see what he’d do with it. He told me I didn’t have to be so hard. My beating heart was wide open in the palm of his hand and I was still coming off as “hard.” The thing I find asinine is that I wouldn’t take it back even if I could. The difference between the version of myself that men get now versus the person I was over the last few years is that not only am I no longer seeking love, but I am coming off of a period of time when I was strategically, consciously avoiding it. I didn’t want it, so I said whatever I felt like saying with no regard for whether or not it would turn someone off. It was this last one that struck a chord… what is the point in doing that? Can my present coexist with my past? How do I find the middle ground between neglecting its existence or letting it consume my identity? I didn’t want to speak out too much out of fear of the pressure to be an advocate. That’s why this is my first time ever mentioning this part of myself in writing. So how do I let something casually roll off my tongue after it sat rotting in the back of my throat for so long?
If there’s one thing I gathered from healing, it’s that my mother is a saint. Not everyone cares to put together a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle without any help or assurance that the product will be a beautiful picture. In the same respect, no one wants a “here, hold this” followed by a heavy bag of demons shoved in their hands.
I am far too young to claim to be a novice relationship-er (yes, relationship-er, let it be) and I have very few words of wisdom to share thus far. But there isn’t a good book on being vulnerable. Ending every seriously raw statement with a glint of dark humor or a flippant “lol” helps. Lol.
I am an ever-changing ratio of hard and soft with hints of unapologetic confidence and overwhelming bouts of self deprecation. I read a poem once and I can’t remember who wrote it (please forgive me) but the last few lines stuck with me:
“and if he wants to leave,
Let him leave
You are terrifying,
Something not everyone knows how to love.”
To think that my crass upbringing and incidental trauma will lead to a perfectly cliché fairytale is naïve, and perhaps it’s true that no man can live up to the one in my head. But talking about it is a start.