“After great pain, a formal feeling comes –Emily Dickinson
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –“
*Triggering Content Warning*
It has been quite a long few months since my last book excerpt share. It’s still new and a bit emotional each time, no matter the number of details or how often I do it. Reminding myself that it is ok to talk is an exercise just as much as a headache, at times.
I cannot remember the moment I took better hold on my self worth and separation from toxicity. I had relied on validation to such a fault when I was younger that I would fall into such deep depressions when it was not there. I would wallow in self pity and hide from the world, grossly engulfed by the idea that if I was not being used, I was not useful or important. It has taken a lot of unlearning to dislodge this ridiculous thought process. I still struggle and fall into feeling that way about people, even now, who would literally jump in front of a train for me.
Still, these feelings are always deeply rooted from past traumas that were never dealt with properly and can come back to bite me, knowingly or not. As is probably obvious by now, every so often I work out some of these thoughts into chapters. Writing what I know is…what I know.
So here we go, again…
“You have no idea what it means to be a Black woman, ya know.” My father once stated, staring me square in the eye with a hint of a serpent’s grin. He enjoyed bringing up my flaws and failures regularly in conversation, sometimes completely out of left field. I internally recoiled into the awful, oversized, leather couch while asking what exactly that meant, getting no answer of use in return.
I was in my early twenties, only working just a few years at that point, and was still learning how real world racism worked outside of cult life racism and where exactly I fit in with folks. I was also on the slow road to learning how to recognize that abusive and toxic relationships can shape how you live and think. My own path to just learning self respect would, unfortunately, come way too many years later.
My father was correct in many ways, I truly did not know what it meant to own my confidence and represent as a Black woman at the time and, at that point, I had no mentors to turn to. Outside of learning more about my hair and how to care for it from the internet, I was still learning a lot about myself. Up to that point, all of the friends closest to me were either white or mixed, like myself. Making friends would not end up being my forté in life early on. I was too sheltered and had no knowledge of social cues or the dos and don’ts of how to be treated correctly by others. I did not understand other people and I had no idea what self respect meant. Many incidents along the way should have taught me better how to care for and shield myself but not comprehending how to understand others was not a great start.
I was a sucker for love and attention, I craved care so badly that it pushed my heart into many circles it should not have been and many harmful situations that were tough to get out of. Manipulation and control seemed to be what I was most subconsciously attracted to in other people. I found myself in relationships where I was the butt of the joke, the annoying fool, the last picked, and the most naive. The singular Black girl at every birthday and slumber party who believed she looked like everyone else and fit in just the same.
Some incidents proved minor with major impact while others have become difficult to acknowledge. Setting them aside, I fully dissociate with them at times, saying to myself, “That did not happen to you, that was a different girl.”
Some humiliations, though, will never be shaken no matter how far dissociated they are driven. Middleschool slumber parties, waking up to the giggles of girls whispering while fixing and pouring their breakfasts without you. Your hand submerged in a glass of warm water and your body wrapped in a urine soaked sleeping bag. Trying to remain calm and laugh it off like everyone else, “Guess the experiment worked, huh!”. The tears would come later, back home when you are alone. You should never be the kid to ruin a party by crying, I had unfortunately learned the hard way. It was always tough being the target and it never got easier.
High school and the years that followed are still a mass of locked away memories that are better left on dusty shelves, however, certain traumas are a bit more difficult and painful to detach from. One, in particular, a most poignantly degrading moment in my youth where time felt to have frozen in a moment of shattering glass; the realization of feeling lesser than a fellow human being and more “in my place”.
I thought I was one of the cool kids back then. You know, those friends that are maybe a year or two your senior who had their own cheap vehicles to get us wherever we wanted to go, whenever we wanted to go. I knew I was not the most popular or the pretty one in the group but I was alright with it as long as I could be included. That is what I craved, to be included. In those days I was still a tomboy, even after school was over and done, so I was always comfortable being one of the guys. I felt like I was a part of something that others looked in on from the outside and it felt kind of good. Until that day.
Back then, my church friends and I loved the joy of camping. Tents, cabins, sleeping bags, campfires, waterfalls – you name it, we did it. The rugged outdoors was a place to plant your feet into a sense of freedom and a general release of your inner animal. Dirt, fire, and swisher sweets for a full holiday weekend twice a year. Sleeping under the stars on the clear nights and huddling near fires together on the cold ones. It was heaven. I still miss that feeling.
I tended to be a gofer in certain circles. The fetcher of things, bringer of items, carrier of bags. I figured it was a sort of dues to be inside with the cool kids. People pleasing was already my ultimate passion and “Sorry” was my second middle name. I did not like people feeling anything adverse towards me, especially if it meant a compromise in our friendship.
It was a camping weekend much like all the others. We had recently arrived, unpacked, and settled together in the dining hall, and were ready for a popular tradition; visiting the local town just a few miles outside the campsite. We would plan an early weekend pile into multiple cars and drive into town for supplies and snacks we either forgot to pack or did not feel like purchasing ahead of the journey. It would also give us a chance to hit up our favorite local diner and old time ice cream shop.
As usual, there was always a large group of us that wanted to tag along so the carpool plans were haphazardly organized, and seats were eventually filled, only occasionally (and accidentally) leaving a fellow man behind. I tagged some friends from a former life as my ride, and slipped into the back of the four person full car, a frat boy outfitted vehicle, blaring overdone indie rock and wreaking of axe body spray. I was ready to begin this leg of the trip.
As we worked our way slowly over the dirt and gravel roads away from the camp, ensuring not to pop a tire, we passed through my favorite stargazing field, across the road from which sat a large set of dumpsters. The dumpsters were strategically placed near the entrance of the camp ground in order to herd bears away from the primary areas where people gathered to prevent attacks. Makes one wonder what the fuck we were doing stargazing right across the way, but I digress.
As the dumpsters came into sight, my thoughts of later stargazing were pulled through a fog by a voice saying, “Stop! Can we make a stop at the dumpsters?” I was still in a daydream when I was snapped back into reality by the realization of what was happening.
Undoing her jeans and reaching in casually, as if somehow suggesting a picture of normalcy or decorum, this person yanked a tampon from her vagina and threw it into some nearby trash from the car floor. Wrapping it quickly, she shoved it in my direction and ordered me to walk it to the dumpster. She was just “too tired” to do so.
At first I thought everything occurring was a bad joke or a terribly confusing dream from a twisted and unknown subconscious. “Is this happening to me right now?”, I thought, “do people do this? Am I supposed to say ‘yes’?” The damage of embarrassment was boring into my brain by the time it had all begun to register. I looked around waiting for the uncomfortable males in the front seats to say something but, no. Why would they, they were guys, I am sure it was a first for them too.
Completely reserved as well as shocked, I quietly and quickly exited the car and walked the refuge to the dumpsters, staggering back to the car, confused and humiliated. I covered it up as if it never happened and tucked it away, as if I should have been the one to feel shame. Abuse had shown me so many masks at this point and humiliation was a popular one used to remind me of my place.
“It did not happen to me,” I echo, still today, “ that was a different girl.”
~ For No One, by A. L. Stippich
When a situation is wrong, you can feel it. Listening to your gut rarely steers a person incorrectly, and if something is questionable, there should always be people to ask and defend you. Unfortunately, ‘always’ is not true for everyone and trauma comes in all shapes, sizes, and in every shade of ugly. It’s important, when being afraid to talk, to remember the joke is most definitely always on the abuser. No human wants their evil on display and no human deserves to be treated as less than.
This was a tough segment to share, for sure, but one I felt needed sharing. I think this can only be best concluded with a friendly reminder:
The world is brimming with some amazingly good souls. Find them, love them, and cherish them as often as you can. Do not let the persons blocking your view prevent you from seeing the whole of the masterpiece.