When you just survive your childhood, you don’t learn the growing up skills that your contemporaries do. You don’t learn how to be funny because funny might offend. You don’t learn how to be outspoken because outspoken might mean trouble. You don’t learn to try and fail because failure isn’t an option.
You don’t learn your value, you learn to accomplish and to look up for approval. You learn to keep quiet unless the thing you have to say will benefit the people around you.
So you push. You stick to something practical. You create your own space. And you find your own happy. Often that happy is enhanced by making others happy. By treating people the way you want to be treated.
But I never learned how to cope with toxicity. I learned how to fight against it. I would try to remedy or rectify or redesign and, if all of that didn’t work, I would run away. Fight then flight.
When you just survive your childhood, your lifeline is the black and white of your brain’s moral compass: good or bad. Right or wrong. Yes or no.
But, what to do when flight isn’t an option? You never learn living in purgatory. In the in-between.
When you just survive your childhood, you spend enough time playing pretend, convincing everyone—even yourself—that it’s okay, that, when you grow up, you can’t imagine pretending for another second. You seek people like you. People who want to build the kind of life you’ve been dreaming about since you were old enough to dream. And, some mornings, you wake up before the sun only to whisper to your youngest self , you found the one to build it with.
But, even when you plan and execute, and dream, there are things you can’t control for (no matter how hard you try). When you just survive your childhood, you try to control for everything. So that, when you have children, you can give them the everything you needed. You still need, some days.
So that, in your adulthood, you can rebuild a foundation strong enough to hold both you and your imagination. You give. Deeply. Desperate for a return, from the people of your adult life. Afraid to repeat a past you didn’t pick. Some pandemics are international and some are internal. In both you learn to survive.
But, when you just survive your childhood, you do things in the wrong order. You give before it is deserved, you fight harder than you’re supposed to. You don’t understand when things don’t work out. You create simple expectations and tack value to them: If I get the lead, people love me, If I get straight A’s I’m going to live in New York someday, If I run eight miles people will think I’m beautiful. If they call, they apologize, they wear burgundy, we matter. Arbitrary but everything. Everything but arbitrary.
And, without the skills to better pretend, your sleeves are bright red and thumping with every heartbeat. You’re inside out. Your palms are scarred. It’s a big deal.
When you just survive your childhood, you’re used to being misunderstood. To people forgetting that you’re a person. In fact, you know they will (but you hope they won't). They will forget that you have feelings if they don’t love you. And maybe this is just the value you’ve tacked to it. But that’s your truth. That’s everything. You don’t know how to have boundaries, how to give a little, how to pretend.
And to learn diminishes you--
Diminishes everything you’ve survived.
You have brought more confusion, chaos, heart-ache, healing, drama, peace, promise, love, loss, laughter, than a year should. But, when I struggle, most, to wrap my head around it, I focus on the good. On all that is still standing. I am grateful. For cuddle breaks, new recipes, new students, the way it sounds to say husband and wife, the magic of finding a new rhythm, as a new us.
You brought a perfect weekend and, with it, a million memories. Thank you for the kind of weather I had never imagined, a world of people who did everything to make sure the evening went off without a hitch and so many of the everythings we dreamed up.
Dear Scrapbook Paper,
You made advisory better, my activities livelier, and place settings more Pinterest-perfect!
Thank you for dancing in the kitchen, for singing the greatest co-MOH speech in the history of speeches (autotune and all), and for all of the ways we are alike and all of the ways we differ. I don't know how I got so lucky.
Dear Cinnamon Tea,
Thank you for being warm and comforting. No matter the time.
Thank you for being the greatest officiant a girl could ask for. And, even more, for being my brother in New York. For dinner dates and late night chats. I am so grateful you are here.
Thank you for teaching me what is real and true. For showing me, again, what I ignored the first time.
Thank you for keeping my secrets.
Thank you for marrying me. For the first kiss of my dreams. For being my partner in this crazy life. Together, we can do anything. I know that. Always.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.