When I think about my life, I think about it in phases or segments. Its compartmentalized to different years like before I moved to Houston or after I was sent to boarding school or after I had consensual sex. I don’t think of my life as a fluid progression. I almost feel like a different person at each stage.
I think about childhood being a time period that was brief but pretty normal, aside from wanting to watch MTV Spring Break constantly when I was about 6. When I think of my life between 11-16, all I see is red, I don’t have that many happy vivid memories and I have only a few pictures. My therapist asked me to think of any happy memories I have from middle school and I couldn’t think of any. I just started crying. You know, the kind of tears that hurt. Like if you don’t just let them fall from your eyeballs that your head will start throbbing? Yeah, those kind. I usually ask her “Why are you doing this to me!” and we laugh for a second. “So, just tell me about middle school then..”
I didn’t really have that many words during our session, but now I do.
As far as general memories, I think about the constant fighting between every member of my family. I think about the time I tried to jump out of my own bedroom window and my mother pulled me back in. I think about the times I told my family I wished they were dead. I think about the time that I was taken away by a police officer to stay at a group home.
All I see is chaos,
My adolescent room was a mix of childhood items and someone attempting to break into adulthood. But, I guess that is what adolescence is right? I’m not really sure what normal adolescence looks like or feels like because mine was too ripe. I had a fuzzy sparkly purple comforter and matching curtain set that my mother surprised me with when I was about 13. It was from JC Penny and not something I would have chosen but I was happy that she got it for me. I had the lyrics to a Green Day song printed out and framed on my wall. I remember bringing it to my Mom and brother and showing them. “Look! I figured out how to work the printer!” There wasn’t much of a response.
I had stuffed animals on a high shelf around two walls of my room. Some of them had the seems ripped open and marijuana stuck inside. Recently, my mother gave my daughter a blue bunny to play with that she found in an old cedar chest in the upstairs room, sure enough, the back was slit open. Nothing was inside of course but it still flooded my mind with unwelcome and unexpected discomfort. Sure, I laughed for a second but then my mind drifted to a place of loneliness and thinking “Why didn’t anyone see how sad I was?”
I spent majority of my time alone in my room. I was not attending school. In the 8th grade, I think I had missed a total of 46 days by February. Turns out, there isn’t really a way to force a teenager to go to school. Yeah, your mother can beg you to get up..but nothing really happens and then she will just walk off and go to work. I will say, eventually a truancy officer will come by and act very nice so that you ride with him to school. The whole thing happened without asking “Why don’t you want to go to school?”
I would stay up all night until the sun came up. I felt safer to sleep when the sun was shining through my window. I would say, the movie, The Ring had something to do with this, but I didn’t sleep well as a young child either. When I was little, I would sneak down to my parents room and make a pallet on the ground, finally feeling like I could relax because I knew someone was near. I remember holding my breath in my room and then being able to breathe once I reached my parent’s room. The french doors in my mother’s room led out to the pool. The moon would shine in and sometimes the branches from the trees looked like they were moving arms. When there were thunderstorms, the lightening made the whole backyard light up for a few seconds. As I was running down the stairs and through the living room that had a whole wall of picture windows, I was hoping that nobody would be looking back at me through the trees in those few seconds of lightening.
In adolescence, we lived in a different house and my parents were getting divorced. Their room had hard wood floors so making a pallet wasn’t comfortable. Instead, I would make a pallet next to my own bed and pull the covers up to my ears. For some reason, I felt like the bed between the door and I, would keep whatever I was afraid of, out.
After I slept for a few hours in the morning, I would get up and cook for myself. I’d watch hours of daytime TV and fell in love with Dr. Phil and Snapped. Sometimes, I would bake cakes for my family but when they got home all they would say is “This is what you’re doing instead of going to school”
I had friends. I can’t remember some of their names but I did have one really good friend. I met her the first day of 6th grade when I had just moved to town. To say that our relationship was complicated would be an understatement. I choose not to share details of her and some of our shared memories out of protection for her. I will say, within our friendship there were elements of childhood mental illness, self harm, early sexual experiences, co-dependence and we smoked weed with my babysitter for the first time together when we were 13. I remember my friend saying:
“I think I just saw a monkey dancing on the side of the road.” – her
“This is weed, not LSD” – me
Have you heard of the movie 13? That was us.
When I think about my life, I think of sadness. I think about how much of my life feels wasted on trivial things like spending time with boys and men, trying to be cool or being so far down a rabbit whole of depression that I didn’t even know it was depression. I tell my therapist often, I feel like I’ve been asleep for 15 years and I just woke up. I feel like I was on auto pilot just going about life without really thinking and now I am fully present wondering what happened.
You know that line in Titanic where Rose says “I feel like I am standing in a crowded room, screaming at the top of my lungs, but no one even looks up” I have felt this. I feel this. This was my adolescence.
So my question, often to my therapist or friends, is why am I still thinking about these things? Why do I feel like my life is replayed on a loop to remember the most painful of moments?
Why do I think about hiding behind a tree with my anonymous friend, after we both just “did stuff” with a man several years older than us, then being picked up by the police and taken home to our parents. My Dad said he smelled alcohol on me but it was just a hairspray bottle that had spilled in my corduroy PacSun purse.
Why does my mind often wonder to the hotel room that I shared with my Dad on vacation where I asked to borrow his laptop computer to upload/send/delete naked pictures of myself to the same man above after he threatened to show my parents if I didn’t.
Why do I still feel like I can’t breathe as I write about sneaking out of my nailed shut basement to let the same person who yelled “Why is your face so thin” and “You are seriously so ugly” to the entire bus, finger me as I laid in the grass in front of my neighborhood’s sign?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. I don’t know why I think about the past so often. It isn’t that I am bringing these memories up in conversations, I just tend to let my mind wander, and these are the places it wanders to. I don’t think it would be helpful to just stop thinking about the things that I have done or that have happened to me, although I did ask my therapist about shocking my brain into not having memories once though.. I was sort of joking.
The thing that really gets to me is when my therapist asks “So when all of this was happening, where was everyone else?”
Making meaning is central to my life. While I don’t know why I still think about these events so often, well.. actually I guess I do. I know that I have PTSD. But I wish I could pack them away instead of doing the hard work of working through them. I know that throughout this journey I can still talk about them in a meaningful way. I know that it is therapeutic for me to discuss my feelings. I know that I have already helped many people by just being myself and talking freely.
What would I say to my 14 year old self now, if I could?
Read Part Two here!
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