Hi Friend! I am so glad to be back here with you. I know that I advised you yesterday not to post anything when you are feeling emotional, but I’m in my feelings right now and there is no one else around to talk. Do you mind if I vent for a minute? Okay, here’s the situation…
Before I can begin to get into my current frustration, I have to provide a little background. My childhood was not easy. Like I mentioned, my family was poor. Just after my kindergarten school year, we moved from the only life I knew in New Jersey to live with my great-grandmother in North Carolina. Many of my mother’s father’s relatives lived in that small Linden town, but they were less than welcoming toward us. We were strangers despite the fact that we were technically family. No one was outright mean, but, even as a kid, I knew that something was off.
A couple of years after our arrival my great-grandmother went into the hospital, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within one week. The house that she was having built for us had not been completed. Friend, I have no idea what happened with those finances, because I was a kid. All I know is that we lived in an incomplete house (meaning no plumbing, no electricity and no walls) until I finished 3rd grade. As sad as that sounds, it was also sort of fun for me and my siblings. We often climbed up to the rafters and played silly games we’d create for endless hours. But it sucked to have to run extension cords from the power box for lights and relieve ourselves into a bucket. Yeah, that really sucked.
Now, this next bit is a story that I’ve never fully relayed to anyone, but I feel like I’m ready to be completely honest. Sooo…when I was seven, I tried to kill myself for the first time. The life of abject poverty, physical and sexual abuse and depression weighed on my youth like a two ton uranium shackle, so I decided to end the pain. I took 2 of my mom’s prescribed medications and 4 of my older sister’s, because I knew she had not been taking them. The funny part about that was, I didn’t take too many because I was afraid that I’d be in trouble if my parents found out. Duh! I’d be dead if my plan actually worked. How would they punish me? Obviously, the plan didn’t work. I wound up crying myself to sleep that afternoon, having an extremely bizarre dream and waking up the next morning.
Fear of getting in trouble possibly saved my life. Sheer stupidity saved my life the next time. I was nearly fifteen, an excellent student, a cheerleader, a churchgoer and the primary housekeeper of our home. Though my sister and brother were several years older, they had social lives and friends to visit (my sister may have moved out by then). If I didn’t clean the house, it did not get cleaned. My parents were divorced, and my mother had to work a lot of hours at a factory job to make ends meet. I don’t remember seeing her very often except occasionally on weekends. To be honest, I don’t remember my mother much at all during my teen years. She was always at work or off doing her own thing. I was always at school, cheerleading practice, or hanging out over my friends’ houses. The point is, I was a good kid. I felt sad for my mom and didn’t want to do anything to make her life harder. When she wasn’t working, she spent many nights crying alone in her room. My older siblings had caused her enough trouble, so I tried to be the perfect child. Except one time.
I really wanted to go to my boyfriend’s house party. His mom was cooking arroz con pollo, which was my favorite dish (minus the pollo). Their parties were always so much fun, and a couple of our mutual school friends were going. My mom said no. She was not going to be home, she didn’t trust those people and I wasn’t supposed to have a boyfriend anyhow. So, no.
Of course, I went. My boyfriend convinced me to sneak out after my mom left. Since my brother was watching t.v., and no one else was at home, it wasn’t really like sneaking out. I just walked out of the back door. I felt like all of my hard work and goodness deserved a little leniency, so I disobeyed her just this once. My mother checked in about an hour later to find me missing and sent my brother to fetch me from the party. I tried to plead my case, but she was not having it. I must have said something that struck a nerve, because she slapped me. HARD. I was so pissed off by the injustice of it all, but I refused to cry. I balled my fists, squared off and stared unflinchingly into her eyes. She slapped me again and called me an “ungrateful bitch”. Then, she left for the rest of the night. I was used to getting my ass beat, but that was the first time I’d been slapped.
I took a handful of the only pills I could find and downed them. I tipped the bottle to my mouth and swallowed the remainder. After all I had endured and all I had sacrificed to be the perfect child, this was my thanks. Ungrateful bitch? I never asked for anything, because I knew my mom couldn’t afford the things I wanted. Ungrateful bitch?! After all the cleaning and cooking I did so she didn’t feel like an unfit mother, she had the audacity to call me an ungrateful bitch. I knew that none of my actions would ever be good enough. I’d show her an ungrateful bitch! Alone in my room, I finally allowed myself to cry. I didn’t just cry. I flew into a fit of rage, turning over every piece of furniture and throwing everything I could get my hands on as hard as I could.
About ten minutes into the fit, my body betrayed me. Instead of slipping into an everlasting sleep, I vomited violently into the toilet. My stomach hurt worse than it ever had before. There were no words to describe the pain and weakness I experienced as I hurled until even the bile had been exhausted from my body. I crawled back to my bedroom, retching and crying, not having the energy to slam the door behind me.
Some time later my brother stood in the threshold with the empty bottle in his hand. “Were you trying to off yourself?”
I pursed my lips and remained silent. I suspected that he had been the one who dropped the dime on me, so I intended to ignore him for those last moments of my life. He’d be sorry when I was gone.
“These are vitamins, Dummy. For someone so smart, you sure are stupid.” He rolled his eyes.
I was incredulous. How dare he insult me in my moment of crises? Wasn’t he supposed to comfort me and call the ambulance? Shouldn’t he be crying with me and reminding me of all the reasons I have to stay alive? That’s what the after-school specials told us. (By the way, I never thought of suicide as an option until I saw an after-school special intended to prevent suicides. I’m just saying…). I was about to flip him the bird when he turned to leave.
“Life is hard,” he called over his shoulder. “That doesn’t mean you just quit.”
What the hell? Who did that dude think he was acting like a big brother? How dare he inject sobering words of wisdom into my pity party. I was trying to have a proper cry-for-help, drama queen, “poor Tonya” event. It didn’t matter that I didn’t take the time to read the bottle of pills. Phah shah shah. It didn’t matter that his callous words probably helped me more than words of sympathy would have. Tssk. It didn’t even matter that my anger provided me an avenue to discover my power for the first time in life. Ughh. The only thing that mattered was that he had trampled on my woe-is-me moment. Dude!
I picked myself up as soon as I regained strength and began to clean my room. I rearranged the furniture until it felt like the home of the new person I had just become. It felt goood to get angry and throw shit. It felt really good to curse and be mad at my mother. It also felt good to know that nobody cared about the melodrama that was going on in my head. If I killed myself, all they would remember about me was that I quit. I was not about to be remembered as a quitter.
The next day and every day after that, I painted a smile on my face and acted like I was bulletproof. I stopped trying to please my mother, because I didn’t think she would notice any difference. I was right. As long as I continued to get good grades and behaved in school, she did not seem to care what was really going on in my world. I stopped going to church, because I had given up on religion. I refused to believe in a god who would let kids, good kids, innocent kids like me, suffer even though they did their best to be faithful, loving and obedient. I made up my mind to have the façade of the perfect child in public while I did whatever the hell I wanted to do behind closed doors. That was my modus operandi for the remainder of my teenage years into early adulthood. Oh yeah, I also started having sex with my boyfriend. I liked having sex a lot. Like, A LOT, A LOT. I cannot stress enough how much I really enjoyed having sex. However, I digress.
The final time I attempted suicide doesn’t actually qualify as an attempt. I spent the weekend taking long baths, sleeping and imagining how the world would go on without me. I had married that boyfriend, had two unplanned pregnancies (proof that neither withdrawal nor oral contraceptives are preventative methods) and had recently filed for divorce. I thought that, at that point in my life, I would be graduating college and on my way to becoming a trailblazing CEO of a major, multinational corporation. Instead, I had become a teenage mom with no credentials and no prospects for the future. In that moment, I was sharing a home with a man that I did not love or respect, buuttt the sex was good. (Don’t judge me) He was also there to split the rent, and, mostly, because he cried when I tried to break it off four months into our relationship. Instead of dumping him, I moved in with the guy! Go ahead, shake your damn head. I know.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I had planned out my eulogy, written goodbye notes to my babies and pondered the most peaceful way to do it. Then, the thought struck me that one of my children might discover my dead body. How much damage would that reek on their psyches? A wave of questions crested over me. Did I really trust their father to raise them the way I wanted them raised? Who would they call “Mommy” after I was dead? Who would teach my daughter about becoming a woman? Or a period? Who would teach my son how to be a gentleman? Could I trust my ex to choose a woman good enough to be their mother? Would they only remember me as a quitter? Aww, hell no!
Instead of finalizing my plans, I wrote with the same fury that drove me to destroy my bedroom seven years earlier. I wrote all of the things I intended to accomplish before I died. I wrote all of the goals I thought I should meet to be the mother my children could respect and be proud to claim. I wrote all of the reasons I could not go gentle into that good night…at least not yet. At the top of that list I wrote my brother’s words. “Life is hard. That doesn’t mean you just quit.”
I dumped that guy, got a tiny townhouse I could afford alone, enrolled in community college and found a part-time job. I gave myself a year to party, be young and have fun. My sisters and best friend served as my backbone as I slowly grew into my fledgling independence and began to find my voice. I allowed myself to make mistakes and have setbacks without deeming myself a failure. I knew that I could never fail unless I quit.
On my journey, I met an angel of a guy, who showed me that men can be gentle, loving and kind. His love was sweet and patient. He absolutely adored me with all of my faults and flaws. Through his eyes, I was finally able to see my true beauty. He helped me find confidence to continue through my first year of school when I experienced imposter syndrome. He helped me recognize that I did not need to act as a doormat in order to deserve anyone’s attention or affection. He also helped me find the strength and courage I needed be happily alone with myself and by myself. In eighteen magical months, my guardian angel helped me grow into the warrior I know myself to be today. I will forever love and be grateful to him for that gift. Alas, we imagined different futures for ourselves and eventually parted ways.
By the time I was a junior in UNC-Chapel Hill, I was a divorced, 25-year-old, mother of two and a year into a new relationship with the man who would become my husband. On the outside I appeared to be fine. For the most part, I was fine. However, I had become accustomed to putting on a façade to hide the reality of my world. People would complement my beautiful smile and ask the secret to my extreme happiness. All the while, I still flew into fits of rage and occasionally suffered from mild bouts of anxiety and depression. Since I was able to manage my day-to-day functions, no one was the wiser.
Though I had not reached the point of complete self-acceptance, I was confident enough to expel the toxic people from my life. My circle had collapsed from the dozens of friends I called and visited regularly to a handful of folks whose company I enjoyed. I stopped looking to someone or something outside myself to validate my existence. I didn’t need friends, family or even religion to approve of my life decisions. I found highly effective ways to deal with my issues, namely yoga and meditation. Through my practice, I was able to heal my inner child and accept the responsibility of my own wellbeing. Plus Oprah kept telling me to love myself first before I could take care of anyone else. Thanks Auntie!
My journey to wholeness continued through books, my old friends. I read when I needed to draw on the wisdom of others (aside from Oprah). I discovered Confucius, Laozi Buddha and Zhu Xi in one of my anthropology classes, Chinese Traditions. From there I found the Tao, Koran, Sutras and Torah. The more I read those holy texts, the more centered I felt. The more centered I felt, the more courage I gained to achieve another goal on my list. In a short time I had graduated, married the man of my dreams, bought our first home and had our youngest child.
I owned my life and was finally mentally and emotionally healthy. It took me many years to find a sense of peace. I have put in the work and no longer suffer from fits of rage, depression or anxiety. I am fortunate to have friends and family (especially Honey)who love and support me, though I don’t rely on their constant attention for my wellbeing. I have tools for that.
When I feel anxious, I write. When I feel lost, I read. When someone crosses me the wrong way, I snatch them up by the…nope, not that…woo-sah. I breathe. I breathe, and I remember to put my wellbeing first. I refuse to allow anyone else’s crap to intrude on my wah. I continue to evaluate relationships and feel no guilt in regulating who has access to my inner circle and the extent to which that access is granted.
That brings us to now. That is a lot to digest, Friend, but at least you know the herstory of my ire. I will finish venting in the next post. It’s time to get the kiddo from school. Don’t worry. I’m not quitting, just taking a break until tomorrow.